Franchise Thoughts

Having just returned from the International Franchise Association show, I am prompted to a handful of observations:

1. Orlando in February can be cold, really quite cold. Not Nebraska cold, but nippy none the less.

The economy is clearly on the move again. Franchises represent a great deal of the economy. From fast food to window treatments there was a distinct uptick in sentiment and a lot of interest in what we were offering.

What was especially interesting to me was the recurring theme that “we want to do more online but we can’t figure where the value is.” Time after time we heard the same story – some of the franchisees are doing almost nothing online, most are trying something, and some are spending a lot of money. I won’t name the accused but several names came up time and again as the main culprits. I was a little surprised as the accused are not fly-by-night companies. There was a distinct feeling that the local franchisees are feeling ripped off by the purveyors of clicks and website visits. The message we were leading with resonated with the folks we were talking to. We were focusing on our Pay Per Call lead based program. We drive that through local SEO and SEM but we don’t charge for either. We only charge if we drive interested potential clients…not clicks, but qualified calls.

2. There were a couple of interesting keynote speeches. I thought the Google guy did well to keep a straight face when telling franchisees that they should spend lots of money with them (indeed, if they don’t they will lose up to 88% of their traffic) and be sure that every penny they spend goes straight to Google rather than be spent with an evil advertising agency. 

3. The Facebook guy was interesting, but didn’t really have much of a story for local businesses other than “connecting with clients is good” and “Facebook is good,” but hey, it’s a start.

4. The other observation I had was that Bill O’Reilly’s speech needed a little work in terms of relevancy. His speech to the assembled ranks of the IFA was packed with the kind of “aw shucks folks, it’s just little old me on your side,” and without any real effort to tailor it to the audience.

Farmer vs. Panda

The recent departure of three of the founders of Demand Media marks if not the final chapter then perhaps the penultimate chapter in the whole content farming debacle of which Demand Media was the poster child.

For those who haven’t been following the Farmer/Panda saga here’s the Cliff Notes version. A few years back some very bright folks figured out that if you searched the query logs of the big search engines for popular search terms and created content which exactly matches that request (even if that content was poorly written and in many cases just wrong) you could land some serious search engine visibility.

They then slathered those pages with tons of ads and got the content created for pennies by freelancers. Bingo…instant content farm. That worked for a while but (as always) it’s a horrible idea to base your business on hoping that Google will not notice what you are doing.

Well, just about a year ago Google released the dreaded Panda algorithm update and that was game over for the farmers. Now if you want to get good placement you had better have great content with minimal ads.

The other shoe to drop was (of course) Facebook.  Facebook is always the other shoe. People share cool or funny stuff on Facebook and whilst search is still huge, people who are creating useful, cool or funny stuff are increasingly finding that their content is being discovered through Facebook sharing rather than search.

That’s not to say that you can’t make a good business out of creating great content, especially if the content targets topics people are interested in. Meanwhile, the funeral of the farmers will be held at the zoo in the Panda compound … rest in peace.