In an era where online marketing dominates the restaurant industry, search engine optimization, or SEO, serves as a critical touch point to grow your business. A recent study by Chadwick Martin Bailey revealed that a whopping 92 percent of consumers search for restaurants online before making their dining decision. The key to success comes from getting these people to actually find your restaurant website.
So how will you separate yourself from the hundreds of thousands of restaurant websites out there? The answer [or at least some of the answer] comes from understanding your target consumer, what they search for online when trying to find your restaurant, and how you can best include these elements in your restaurant’s website.
For the sake of simplicity, we’ll just use Google when talking about search engines. And when mentioning a restaurant’s website, this can include its Facebook page or any other platform you use for your restaurant’s online presence.
SEO is a term thrown around quite a bit, often misused in the process. For those unfamiliar, SEO involves using relevant keywords to get your website to appear as high as possible on a search page. For example, a Mexican restaurant in Summerlin may include phrases like “Rated best Mexican restaurant in Summerlin” and “Summerlin’s favorite Mexican Restaurant” throughout its website in order to be at the top of the list when someone Google’s ‘Mexican Restaurant Summerlin.’
SEO is all about content. The more key phrases you type into your website, the higher your restaurant will rise toward that critical Google page one spot. And now that we’re on the same page with SEO, let’s outline the process for determining keywords to add to you website’s content.
Know your target customer
Who do you want to find your restaurant online? While the obvious answer is ‘everyone,’ think critically about what type of person is conducting a Google search when your restaurant ideally pops up. If you’re a family place, do parents look you up as a place to take the kids, or do the kids look you up as a fun place to celebrate a birthday?
Knowing who exactly is looking for you helps determine the approach and dialect to use for your keyword content. Parents may search for ‘kid friendly’ while kids may search for ‘yummy pizza.’ Next is forming the content itself.
Know your distinguishing terms
Typing ‘Mexican Restaurant Las Vegas’ into your content will throw you in with places on the Strip and across town while a simple change to ‘Mexican Restaurant [shopping center or intersection X] will draw in the customers in your area. On a related note, Google automatically filters for geography, so you don’t have to worry about including your exact location every time [Google won’t bring up restaurants in Seattle for someone conducting a search in Las Vegas].
"Give yourself opportunity to include more content with more keywords and you’re well on your way to break away from the pack."
Are you known for a specific dish, dessert or drink? Highlight the items that make you famous, in the frequent case where people search for terms such as ‘Best guacamole downtown.’
Additionally, promote features such as outdoor patios, views, date night and reservations. Consumers will typically search for a restaurant by feature, and while sites such as Yelp have these built in, you’re at an advantage if someone can skip that search entirely and just go straight to your website.
Where to put these keywords
To increase SEO, the natural response would then be to add more content to your site. Include an ‘about us’ section, history, locations and customer reviews that mention these keywords as often and as naturally as possible. Give yourself opportunity to include more content with more keywords and you’re well on your way to break away from the pack.
Just remember to keep content first, and that SEO will only get people to your site. Good content is the only thing that will keep them there and get them on the path to walking through your actual doors.
Common pitfalls to avoid
Optimizing your website for keyword search is critical for attracting new customers, but equally critical is balancing SEO with ethical online marketing practices. Resist the temptation toward no-no’s such as ‘keyword stuffing’ [i.e. typing “Mexican Restaurant” hundreds of times and hiding it behind your color background].
Those who pursue unethical SEO are subject to the ‘Google death penalty,’ where your business will simply not turn up at all on a Google search. And in the world of internet law, there is no fair trial. If Google determines that you’re engaging in unethical practice, they’ll take you off their search platform without ever informing you. Google ‘BMW Google Death Penalty’ for a hard-hitting example.
Benjamin Brown is a seasoned restaurant writer and hospitality consultant, serving up SoCal's hottest food news and reviews.