Regardless of how your restaurant website has performed in Google to date, there are always opportunities to improve your search engine optimization (SEO) and increase your Google rankings.
Improving your search visibility will drive more hungry customers into your restaurant or place online to-go orders.
Investing in SEO is a must for restaurants today. You can use locality, structured data, customer sentiment, and more to your advantage and boost the rankings for your single or multi-location restaurant chain.
Below are nine quick tips for where to focus your time to boost your website in the search results via SEO.
1. Define Your SEO & Content Strategies
Before jumping into a myriad of tools, platforms, and engagement channels, define your SEO strategy. This will help greatly narrow your competition and give you a quicker road to driving quality traffic to your website.
Start by defining the geographic area you want to own (where must of your customers will come from because they either live or work nearby or are visiting). This will help shape your SEO and content strategies.
Next, research what keyword terms and phrases your audience uses through Google Keyword Planner or a third-party keyword research tool. (For more on how to do keyword research, read SEJ’s keyword research guide.)
There are a few distinct groupings of terms that you want to group and classify properly that all have different levels of competition.
- High-level restaurant terms: Terms like “restaurants” and “Kansas City restaurants” are some of the most generic variations a searcher might use. In the Google Keyword Planner or other third-party keyword research tools, you can set your geographic focus to the area you identified and use both the generic term by itself (“restaurants”) and with the geographic modifier (“Kansas City restaurants”) as well as other general variations related to what your restaurant is about.
- Niche-specific terms: The next level down of terms relates to the specific categories your restaurant would fall into that might be searched. Examples include “Mexican restaurants”, “pizza”, “romantic restaurants” and other unique features. If you’re struggling with what specific categories or wording you should use, take a look at Google Maps, Yelp, and TripAdvisor and use their filtering criteria in your area to see the general categories they utilize.
- Brand terms: Don’t take it for granted and assume you’ll automatically rise to the top on brand searches. Know how many people are searching for your restaurant by name and compare that to the high-level and niche-specific search volume. You’ll want to ensure your site does enough to outrank the directory and social sites in your space for your restaurant as the value of people coming to your site is higher and trackable.
Once you’re armed with search terms and volume data, you can narrow your focus to the specific terms that fit your restaurant at high, category-specific, and brand levels. Covering this spectrum helps you focus on what to measure and define your content.
2. Dominate in Local Search
Start by claiming, standardizing data, and optimizing listings for your restaurant across all of the major and relevant local search properties. This includes a mix of search engine directories, social media sites, and industry-specific directory sites.
Moz Local and Yext are two tools that can help you understand what directories and external data sources are out there and then you can ensure they are updated.
Accurate NAP (name, address, phone) data that is consistent across all data sources is a critical foundational element of local SEO.
Beyond that, you can then work on optimizing the fields of information like the business description and business categories to align with your focus terms identified in your keyword research.
Put your focus on the directories that matter. Start with Google My Business then branch out to Yelp, TripAdvisor, Foursquare, CitySearch, various yellow pages, and other emerging niche review websites.
All of this will work together to grow your online visibility.
3. Engage with Customers on Social Media
Even though social media’s direct impact on SEO has long been debated, we know that social media engagement can drive users to your site.
Social media can be a powerful touchpoint of the customer journey, showcasing what customers can expect to experience at your restaurant. A strong social presence often correlates with a strong organic search presence as content, engagement, and popularity align with the important SEO pillars of relevance and authority.
Develop a social media strategy and follow through with implementation. Make sure to engage with followers and reply to inquiries promptly. How you communicate online sets a perception of your overall customer service and approach.
Find your audience, engage them, and get them to influence others on your behalf.
Ultimately, through engagement with fans and promoting content on social media that funnels visitors to your main website, you will see an increase in visits from social networks. This will then correlate with the benefits from the rest of your SEO efforts.
4. Encourage Reviews & Testimonials
It’s nearly impossible to do a search for a restaurant and not see review and rating scores in the search results. That’s because people click on higher star ratings.
Reviews are often considered as part of a social media strategy and are an engagement tactic, but have a broader impact on traffic to your site through search results pages as well.
Through the use of structured data markup, you can have your star ratings appear in search results and provide another compelling reason for a user to click to your site versus your competitor’s site.
If you have online ratings that don’t reflect the quality of your restaurant, come up with a review strategy now to get as many reviews as possible to help bring up your score prior to implementing the code that will pull the ratings into the SERPs.
A higher star rating likely means a higher click-through rate to your site – and more foot traffic.
5. Create Unique Content
If you have a single location, your job is a lot easier than the multi-location local or national chain. However, you have to stand out from the competition by ensuring you have enough unique content on your website.
Having a wealth of engaging and helpful content on your site will serve you well if it is valuable to your prospects and customers. Building a strong brand will translate to better rankings, higher brand recall, and greater brand affinity.
Keep in mind that content doesn’t all have to be copy and you have an opportunity to feature unique content through the ways you present your menus, through video, photography, and graphics. The search engines are focused on context and not just wording on your site. By identifying and regularly generating new content, you also can keep the pipeline full of engaging material and ways to stand out from your competition.
For example, if you have a niche restaurant, embrace that and set yourself apart from the generic chain down the street.
Share information about the founders, the culture, and most importantly – the product. Give details about your menu including sourcing of ingredients, how you developed recipes, and the compelling reason your chicken marsala is the best in town.
6. Consider Content Localization
Again, single location restaurants have an easier road here. Based on decisions you’ve made about your market area, make sure you provide enough cues and context to users and the search engines as to where your restaurant is and what area it serves.
Sometimes the search engines and out of town visitors don’t fully understand the unofficial names of neighborhoods and areas. By providing content that is tied into the community and doesn’t simply assume that everyone knows where you’re located, you can help everyone out.
A way that I helped a 100-location chain tackle this in the past was through starting small with a single paragraph for each location that was written in a way that was tailored to the store, local history, neighborhood, and community engagement. From there we were able to then find other areas to scale after we took that quick initial step and it worked well to differentiate stores from each other.
7. Apply Basic On-Page SEO Best Practices
Without going into the details of all on-page and indexing optimization techniques, I want to encourage you to not skip or ignore the best practices of on-page SEO. You need indexing to ensure the search engines know you exist and on-page to ensure proper classification of your content. You can spend a lot of time on a full SEO strategy, but I recommend putting the rest aside and starting with these two areas.
When it comes to on-page, ensure that you have unique and keyword-specific page URLs, title tags, meta description tags, headings, page copy, and image alt attributes. This sounds like a lot, but start with your most important pages like your home, menu, about and contact pages and go from there as time permits.
8. Think Mobile
Mobile accounts for a high percentage of visits to restaurant websites. July benchmark data from Google Analytics shows nearly two-thirds of all traffic is from mobile or tablet devices.
Additionally, the search engines have been moving toward a mobile-first experience for users including a rankings bonus for having a mobile-friendly website and the eventual rollout of the mobile-first index.
Hopefully, you’ve already created a responsive website.
9. Implement Schema “Restaurants” Markup
Another area where we can build context for the search engines and gain exposure to more users in the search results is by using structured data.
In the restaurant industry, implementing the Schema.org library for restaurants is a must.
This task requires a developer or a website platform or content management system with the right plugins or built-in options.
If you want to make sure your restaurant is full day in and day out, people need to be able to find you online. Once they find you, you need to quickly win them over with a great website experience and drive them to your location. These nine tips will help you accomplish both of those goals.
Once those customers get to the restaurant, it’s all up to the staff. Remember, no amount of SEO can save a restaurant that consistently leaves a bad taste in the mouths of its customers.
Subscribe to SEJ
Get our daily newsletter from SEJ's Founder Loren Baker about the latest news in the industry!