A lot of factors have put an increasing amount of pressure on restaurants to improve their online presence.
Whether through disruptions due to the pandemic, increased competition, or changes in the importance of having a strong online presence, we know we have to up our game.
Right now, improving visibility at the local level is essential for both in-person dining and carry-out options.
There are a lot of paid ads, partner services, and referral options for gaining traffic. However, rising to the top of Google in the organic search results and Map Pack are effective, often lower-cost ways of getting the most relevant and direct traffic to turn into customers.
In this column, you’ll find 10 restaurant SEO tips to help you gain more visibility, traffic, and customers.
1. Define Your SEO & Content Strategies
Before jumping into a myriad of tools, platforms, and engagement channels, define your SEO strategy. This will help to greatly narrow your competition and give you a quicker path to driving quality traffic to your website.
Start by defining the geographic area you want to own (where most of your customers will come from because they either live or work nearby, or are visiting).
Next, research what keyword terms and phrases your audience uses through a trusted keyword research tool like Moz Pro, SEMrush, or others. (For more on how to do keyword research, read this 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 keyword research tools (each tool will vary on locality options), you can set your geographic focus to the area you identified and use both the generic term by itself (“restaurants”) and geographic modifier (“Kansas City restaurants”), as well as other general variations related to what your restaurant is about.
The next level relates to the specific categories your restaurant would fall into. Examples include “Mexican restaurants,” “pizza,” “romantic restaurants,” and other unique features and types of cuisine.
If you’re struggling with what specific categories or wording you should use, take a look at Google Maps (the Google My Business listings), Yelp, and TripAdvisor.
Use their filtering criteria in your area to see the general categories they utilize.
Don’t take it for granted that 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.
Ensure your site outranks 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
To dive into 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
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 on your site versus your competitor’s.
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 written copy; you can present your menus, in-house promotions and more through video, photography, and graphics.
The search engines are focused on context and not just the keywords on your site. By identifying and regularly generating new content, you also can keep the pipeline full of engaging material that helps you 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.
One example of this is a 100-location chain that started small with a single paragraph for each location written in a way that was tailored to the store, local history, neighborhood, and community engagement.
From there, we were able to find other areas to scale 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 the proper classification of your content.
You can spend a lot of time on a full SEO strategy but if you’re just getting started, I recommend putting the rest aside and starting with these two areas.
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 First
Mobile accounts for a high percentage of visits to restaurant websites. Google now focuses on the mobile version of a website for understanding its content.
Hopefully, you’ve already created a responsive website or one that passes the necessary mobile-friendly tests.
But that’s just the beginning when it comes to mobile.
It’s also critical to think about page load speed, proper rendering, and providing a great mobile user experience.
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, website platform, or content management system with the right plugins or built-in options.
10. Measure Your Efforts
This could have been tip #1, but I’m including it here as the last one for restaurant SEO as it is important throughout the process. With the previous nine tips, there’s something to do and implement.
But before you embark on any aspect of optimization, make sure those efforts are measurable.
When you’re investing in your strategy, you want to know what aspects are working, which ones aren’t, and where your efforts were (and are) best producing a return on investment.
Track visibility, engagement, and conversion metrics as deep as you can connect them to your business.
Beyond that, you’ll need to identify the right progress metrics tied to goals so you know you’re moving in the right direction.