Like many restaurateurs, you probably see a lot of new faces in your restaurant every week. But where are all these new diners coming from? Most restaurateurs we have spoken to believe the adage that “the only marketing a restaurant needs to do comes from the kitchen,” and that word-of-mouth is responsible for bringing in most new customers. As catchy as that sounds, it isn’t necessarily so.
Right now, you may be thinking “Who cares how they found us? As long as they come in and eat.” The answer is simple: if you don’t know where your customers are coming from, then you have no hope of controlling how effectively you attract new customers. We have yet to meet a restaurant that didn’t want to attract new customers.
For the past two decades, study after study has demonstrated that the internet has surpassed all other means by which people discover restaurants. If you have not considered how and where your restaurant appears in search results (if it appears at all), you may be losing opportunities to create new customers and increase your local visibility. Local SEO is the marketing tactic that puts your restaurant in front of consumers when they are deciding where to dine.
Are you interested now? Let’s dive in deeper and learn a little more about what trends are driving the need for Local SEO and how to use it to drive more customers to your restaurant.
Why Local SEO is Important
Location, Location, Location
It has long been a restaurant maxim that the three most important decisions when opening a restaurant are location, location, location. Unless you are a destination restaurant, customers will not travel far to visit you. According to Brightlocal, the average time a consumer is willing to spend traveling to get to a restaurant is 17 minutes, which in most cities could represent just a few miles. This means that the majority of your customers are likely in a limited geographical area, or in other words, “local.”
According to research conducted by SinglePlatform, 75 percent of consumers say they frequently choose a restaurant based on local search results.
“Siri, I Want Tacos”
Most local searches are conducted on mobile devices, a trend that has only increased since the release of digital assistants such as Siri, Google, and Bixby. This “voice search” technology allows users to request information and the device searches the internet for the best response. When a user makes a request such as “I want tacos,” the device assumes that the intent is to find nearby taco restaurants. When your customers ask their phones for tacos, does it send them to you or someone else?
What is Local SEO?
Local SEO encompasses several activities aimed at helping businesses promote their products and services to local customers. Whether you are a single restaurant or a multi-location chain, local SEO can help customers find your location at the moment they are most likely making a dining decision.
There are several elements to an effective Local SEO effort, including directories and citations, reviews, website optimization, and local link building.
Directories and Citations
Citations are defined as any online mention of your business name, address, and phone number. You may find citations listed in local business directories, social media platforms, or websites and apps. The purpose of citations is to help users find local businesses in their area. Citations also influence the results you may see on local search engine rankings like Google Maps or Bing Places. For this reason, you should make it a habit to manage your business’ citations to ensure that they’re accurate.
Since the number of citations for your business has an impact on Local SEO, your restaurant locations should be listed on as many local and industry directories as possible. This is easier said than done, as there are typically dozens of directories with new ones emerging almost daily. There are at least 13 core local citation websites in the U.S. that you must be listed on.
Here is a list of just some of the directories for restaurants to be listed in:
- Apple Maps
- Google My Business
- Urbanspoon/ Zomato
There are three main ways to perform citation management, manually, semi-automated, and automated. In manual citation management, you manually build and manage your citations. This is extremely time consuming and error prone. For this reason, we do not recommend this approach. Semi-automated citation management occurs when a firm uses an automated service to manage some citations while building and maintaining others manually. This service is provided by a number of vendors and is one we often employ for our clients. Automated citation management is wholly automated by service providers such as Moz Local or Yext. This can be the most cost-effective method of citation management.
If you decide to choose a semi-automated or fully automated local citation service, make sure to ask the service provider what happens should you decide to cancel your service in the future. Some vendors will claim ownership of your citations, which means you will have to go through the process again if you terminate your contract with them.
Optimize your citations
In addition to the number of citations your location may have, it is important and vital that your citations are accurate (and consistent). You should pay special attention to the Name, Address, and Phone (called the NAP), and make sure they are spelled EXACTLY the same way as they are listing on your Google My Business profile. If you fail to remain consistent, it may result in duplicate listings, which could negatively affect your local rankings. This is because Google recognizes it as two different addresses and will believe that you are two different businesses instead of consolidating it into one. You should consider your customer as well, as you want them to easily find you online and know where you’re located. Don’t confuse or frustrate them with multiple listings of your business.
Regardless if you choose the manual, semi-automated or fully automated citation management system, you will always want to maintain consistency with every citation. Optimize each listing with additional information such as business hours, contact information, photographs, and other useful pieces of information to the user. Remember to update the listings frequently, and have a system or process in place should you need to change them.
Reviews, Reviews, Reviews
Did you know that Google will serve restaurant results with the highest reviews and closest proximity in a local search? According to a collection of online review stats by Vendasta, star rating is the number one factor used by consumers to judge a business.
While that may be specifically tied to your rating on your Google My Business page, the more positive reviews across a various number of review websites, the better. Consumers are heavily influenced by online reviews and for a good reason. Quality, frequency, and variation are what customers are looking for. Here are a few stats from Vendasta’s series that are of particular interest to restaurant owners.
- 92% of consumers read online reviews
- 88% trust reviews as much as personal recommendations
- 95% of consumers suspect censorship or faked reviews when they don’t see bad scores
As you can imagine, it’s important to have a system and policy in place for handling customer reviews. For the positive ones, always make sure to thank the reviewer for their input. For negative reviews, always acknowledge them so that your audience can see that you care and are responsive. Next, try to take the conversation offline by directing them to a survey form, email, or phone call, depending on the nature of the complaint. For more information on how to handle negative online reviews, please visit our blog here. (link to how to handle customer complaints)
Is your website optimized?
There are several on-page SEO factors that play a role in helping or hurting your restaurant from ranking locally. Having a footer with your NAP displayed is highly recommended to make sure your contact info is consistent with your online citations. If your business has multiple locations, building a relevant landing page for each of them would be a best practice as well.
As for the specifics on your website, there are some parameters you can edit to get the most local SEO oomph. Let’s imagine that you operate Bernini’s, a fictitious Italian-style pizzeria in Hyde Park in Tampa. We recommend optimizing the following:
Page Title– This is the title of the page that the user will view on Google’s search results. In this case, we’d recommend you change it to something like, “Bernini’s Pizzeria | Authentic Italian Pizza Serving Hyde Park since 1981.” Try to summarize your business with as much information as succinctly as you can, so that the user can understand where you are and what you offer by taking a few seconds to read it.
H1 – This is the main headline of the page, and should describe what the user will find. An appropriate H1 could be, ‘Bernini serves Italian-Style Pizza in the Heart of Hyde Park.’
URL/ Slug – WordPress allows you to edit the slug of a webpage so that you can include keywords as well. You should include the name of your restaurant, in addition to your location. For example, this is the text in the address bar containing the website name, ‘www.berninisitalianpizza/tampa-pizza.’
Page Content – Here you have a blank page to tell the reader (and Google) what your restaurant is all about. Be sure to include your target location, in addition to relevant keywords. You should aim for 300-500 words here, but make sure the content is valuable to the reader.
Meta Description – Under your page title in the search results, you have a snippet of text available to describe what users will find on that given page. In December 2017, Google officially expanded its snippet length from 160 to 230 characters. In your meta description, be sure to provide a brief description of your business, location, at least one important keyword, and a call to action!
Local link building
If you ask any SEO, link building is one of the most important components of a successful SEO strategy. Link building involves acquiring links back (backlinks) to your website from high quality and relevant websites. The more links you receive from trustworthy and authoritative websites, the more trustworthy and authoritative your website will appear. Google’s (and other) search algorithms weigh backlinks very heavily when determining rankings. Since newspapers, magazines, and niche publications are typically both trustworthy and authoritative, receiving backlinks from this sort of publication can help your website rank higher for local searches. You should also reach out to bloggers and writers in your area to be featured on their local blogs and publications. Link building can be a very time consuming endeavor, but it is crucial for increasing your ranking in local search results.
Getting in a local pack can be very challenging, depending on your local competition and your digital marketing efforts to date. However, it’s not impossible. Developing a strategy to improve your restaurant’s local presence is a multi-step journey that takes time and cumulative effort. To get started on a local SEO strategy to boost your restaurant’s local visibility, contact the Tampa local SEO experts at Absolute Marketing Solutions by calling 813-908-6862. We’ll craft a unique digital marketing plan that addresses your business’ objectives and goals.