Restaurant owners and managers are no strangers to competitive pressures in the marketplace. The digital age in which we live has turned up the heat even more for entrepreneurs in the foodservice industry. With 75 percent of consumers making dining decisions based on online search results, restaurateurs must step up their digital marketing efforts or risk getting overlooked. Like it or not, search engine optimization (SEO) is becoming an increasingly critical element in restaurant marketing.
Checklist of Restaurant SEO Must-Haves
A Mobile-Friendly Website
Just three years ago, in 2015, people in the U.S. began doing more Google searches on mobile devices than on computers. Also in 2015, Google started giving better search results rankings to websites that are mobile-friendly.
Putting search results aside for a second, consider that people are more likely to leave your website and go to a competitor’s if you don’t have a mobile-friendly site.
If your restaurant’s website isn’t mobile-ready, talk with a website design or development company about your options. If you’re not sure how well your website performs on mobile devices like smartphones and tablets, use Google’s free Mobile-Friendly Test tool.
Fast Page Load Speed
We're in an age of instant gratification. Not only is it essential that your website be built for mobile use, but it must also deliver information quickly. People who are searching for where to eat want information immediately, and Google has found that users abandon mobile websites if pages take longer than three seconds to load.
To test your website’s loading speed, consider using Google’s Test My Site tool, which will analyze your site’s performance and suggest ways you might optimize it.
Keen Use of Keywords
Keywords remain an essential element of SEO success. They're important in your website's text, title tags, meta descriptions and headers — and in the filenames of the images on your site.
To arrive at keywords and phrases that will attract prospective customers to your site, start with some basic keyword research:
Brainstorm relevant keywords based on the search terms you believe customers will use to find establishments like yours and the types of food you offer.
Type those terms into Google’s search bar and look at the bottom of the search results page for other related search terms that people are using.
Use free keyword tools like Google AdWords Keyword Planner and SEMRush’s Keyword Research tool to get a grasp on how many people use specific keywords when searching online.
Use a competitive analysis tool like Moz’s SERP analysis tool to assess how difficult it will be to rank for the keywords you intend to use.
As you’re developing your keyword strategy, consider the evolution of voice search technology. It’s estimated that two in five adults use mobile voice search at least once daily, and by 2020, 50 percent of all searches will be voice searches. As more people begin using voice search and buying smart speakers like Google Home and Amazon’s Echo and Alexa, your SEO efforts will need to include attention to not just what people type, but also what they will say when looking for dining options.
According to BrightLocal’s 2017 Local Consumer Review Survey, people read restaurant reviews more than reviews for any other type of business, and 85 percent of consumers trust online reviews as much as recommendations from people they know.
Besides making a great first impression by earning plenty of positive reviews from satisfied customers, having online reviews also has an impact on SEO. The 2017 Local Search Ranking Factors Survey by Moz found that online reviews are among the top 10 factors that affect search results.
A Savvy Social Game
Even though a direct correlation between ranking on Google and social signals hasn’t been identified, experts agree that social media engagement does have an effect on SEO. If your restaurant isn't sharing content and interacting with its social media followers, you are missing opportunities to increase your business's online visibility.
Like review sites, social media has tremendous word-of-mouth value. When people mention your restaurant and share and like your posts with their friends and family on social media, you expand your reach and increase traffic to your social media page and website.
In addition to that organic exposure, consider paid options that can generate even more brand awareness for your restaurant. The overall reach of business Facebook pages has diminished as the platform has tweaked its algorithm in the name of providing a better user experience. Other social media networks have been following suit. Fortunately, social media advertising offers flexibility and affordability as it enables businesses to target users based on age, gender, where they live, what their interests are, and the other information they’ve readily shared about their lifestyles and preferences.
Dig In — and Don’t Dine and Dash
The longer you wait to address your restaurant’s SEO needs, the more difficult it will be for you to compete for customers’ attention online. The checklist I’ve shared here offers some basic considerations to set you on the right path. Realize, however, that SEO is not a once and done activity; it requires consistent effort and evaluation. If you don’t have the expertise or time to tackle it on your own, seek the help of a reputable, experienced SEO firm to assist you.
Dawn Mentzer is a contributing writer for Straight North, one of the leading Internet marketing agencies in Chicago that provides SEO, PPC and web design services. As a solopreneur and freelance writer, she specializes in marketing content and collaborates with clients nationally and globally.