SEO for Restaurants: Driving Foot Traffic with Local Search Optimization

The primary focus of this guide is to bring to your attention the importance of NAP consistency and the steps involved in local SEO. For those of you starting from scratch, this guide will help you set up the vital components of possessing a strong web presence. For others who already have a website, it will provide an understanding of what it means to be a true local business and steps that must be taken to increase site traffic. This is a tall task and even more so for restaurants seeking to connect with consumers in their area. Because of this, we have taken certain measures to ensure that you can easily digest and understand the information presented.

This is an opportunity for search marketers to dip their toes into local search optimization – if your business doesn’t have much web visibility at the moment, you can take the lessons learned from this guide and apply them on a national level. On the other hand, if you already have a basic understanding of SEO and why it’s important, you can skip to section 2 (though we’d still recommend skimming the best practices of any other SEO vertical).

Importance of SEO for restaurants

Of course, the end-goal of search engine optimization is to increase the amount of traffic that is going to your site. For example, if you are a restaurant, then you likely want more patronage to your establishment. You could use SEO service to increase the amount of people searching for “local Chicago food” that are then led to your site. If the SEO is successful enough, those searchers will end up translating into actual visits to your restaurant or food establishment. In this way, SEO has the potential to more directly affect the amount of sales that your website produces.

SEO, or search engine optimization, is the practice of implementing tactics for a website to garner a higher ranking within the search engines. By obtaining a higher ranking within the search engines, more traffic will be sent to that website. The reason this is important for restaurants is that 80% of all restaurant traffic originates from the search engines. This is a very high percentage and something to not be trivialized. If you can optimize your website to achieve a high ranking within the search engines, then you can tap into that 80% of traffic looking for your restaurant.

Benefits of local search optimization

When seeking to locate a product or service, more people are using a search engine than ever before. This is especially true among potential restaurant goers who are hoping to find a place to eat. Technically, all searches are a matter of seeking information with the intent to purchase or carry out some other action. This is especially true with terms concerning local restaurants. These are the people who have already made the decision that they want to eat out and now just need to decide where to go. When potential diners are motivated into coming across your business while seeking somewhere to eat through using a search engine, there is every chance that there is a purchase to be made. All that needs to be done is to make yourself the obvious choice.

Local SEO can often feel like the lesser cousin of more broad terms search. Restaurants and small businesses can often feel that they’re at a disadvantage when it comes to creating a recognizable online presence. Many small businesses rely on the footfall customers to survive. By using local SEO tactics, you are able to better position your business and promote what you have to offer to local customers. This will, in turn, help you increase footfall and sales. Local SEO is the best tool at your disposal when trying to increase the prominence of your restaurant in the local community. By creating a specific targeted geographic area, you can build your profile and reach your customer base with relative ease. This is one of the reasons why it’s so beneficial to smaller firms.

Optimizing Your Website

It is very important to understand the words that potential customers will use to find your site. These keywords will be the foundation for your URL’s, Title Tags and on-page content. There are several ways to go about doing keyword research, the easiest way is to use common sense and make a list of relevant keywords that you feel potential customers would search to find your restaurant. For example, Italian Restaurant, family restaurant in [city], best sushi New York City. At the same time, it is always important to validate your list using an SEO tool so that you can gauge search traffic for the desired keywords. An effective keyword research tool to gauge search traffic is the Google AdWords Keyword Tool. This tool also has features so that you can match the right keywords to your business by looking at competition level and estimated CPC. Finally, you can also ask customers which keywords they would use to find your restaurant. The keyword research process is ongoing and has to be continuously adapted according to what keywords are driving traffic to your site.

Once you’ve established a strong foundation with local listings, your website is the next success factor for local search visibility. There is a common school of thought that having a website is enough, yet many restaurant websites have poor search visibility. This section will focus on the main components for optimizing a website to be search engine friendly including keyword research, on-page optimization, mobile compatibility and building relevant content.

Keyword research for restaurant websites

Keywords are the SEO words and phrases used to drive traffic to a specific website or page via a search engine. Keywords and keyword phrases are constantly changing with the trends and local events. Consequently, a successful restaurant website needs to be updated often to reflect what is popular in their community at a given time. The first step to optimizing a website for local searches is researching the keywords that best describe what the restaurant website is trying to accomplish. However, a mistake often made is creating keywords based on a restaurant’s general perception of themselves, and often terminology that is known specifically within the industry. Instead, there should be an effort to consider what the potential customers are looking for and what type of food, deals, or other information would best guide them to the restaurant in question. This difference between industry terms and layman terms can often be quite drastic, so it’s important that the research is based on actual data as opposed to a general idea.

On-page optimization techniques

Title tags and meta descriptions have to be unique to every page. A title tag tells both users and search engines what the topic of a particular page is. It is the featured blue link on a search engine results page to the left of the URL. Title tags are important because they are in control of how your content will be portrayed across different social media and sharing sites. On the other hand, meta descriptions are brief summaries of a page’s content. This will sometimes appear as the text beneath a title tag on the search engine results page. Adding meta descriptions does not specifically improve rankings, but it will add to the likelihood of a user clicking on your page. Both title tags and meta descriptions are HTML elements and can be found in the appearance of a page. A majority of content management systems have an edit section for title tags and meta descriptions making this task a lot simpler for anyone who isn’t too familiar with HTML.

URL structures should be simple and easy to understand. The best URLs are just the standard page name, such as pages like “about us” or “contact”. Pages should not include ID numbers. An example of a clean URL would be, “”. An example of a URL with an ID number is, “”. Too many numbers and letters dilute the URL of the intended message and it lacks readability. The reader should be able to guess what they will find on the page by the URL.

Mobile optimization for better user experience

Second, when someone mentions mobile optimization they could be referring to creating a mobile version of your website. In today’s marketplace, mobile websites are quickly becoming a hot item as smartphone adoption continues to increase rapidly. Creating a mobile site is beneficial because it provides an optimal viewing experience for your customers which could lead to increased sales. A mobile site will create a better user experience because it is designed for the small screens and touch screen capabilities of smartphones. Furthermore, most users are accustomed to tapping and swiping on mobile devices and may feel uncomfortable navigating a traditional website that is primarily designed for mouse and keyboard. Creating a mobile site should help increase the amount of time that a user spends on your site and decrease bounce rate. Since the mobile site is designed specifically for mobile users, there will be less loading time and users will not need to pinch and zoom in order to access site features which can deter users and lead to a high bounce rate on traditional sites.

Mobile optimization can mean a couple of different things. First, it can mean ensuring that your website is well structured so that mobile users can easily access site features and navigate around the site. An example of this is ensuring that your website has a sufficient amount of white space so that the text is not too cluttered and is easier to read on a smaller device. White space will also make clickable buttons easier to access. Another primary aspect of structuring your website for mobile users is to avoid using flash. This is because flash is not supported by most mobile devices, therefore users will not be able to access flash features on your website. This can cause a high bounce rate for mobile users when they are not able to view your site content and may be frustrated from not being able to access certain features on your site and then leave.

Creating compelling and relevant content

Your website’s primary function is to transform visitors into diners. While we can’t ignore the importance of usability, functionality, and ease of access are sometimes at odds with the need to grab a user’s attention through imagery or copy. Crafting a good user experience and persuading someone to visit your restaurant are two very different things – and these are steps where many restaurant websites fall short. With relatively low technical know-how, basic SEO skills, and a smattering of marketing knowledge, the average restaurant owner is able to do more harm than good. Most website building platforms make it easy to carry out on-site changes that have an effect on your website’s search engine ranking. Meanwhile, a lack of knowledge about SEO practices and how they tie in with the creation of compelling content means many restaurant websites are over-optimized or under-optimized. This can easily damage a website’s appeal in the eyes of the consumer or hinder the site’s ability to draw in traffic from qualified customers. So how do we find a happy medium between a website that’s search engine friendly and one that’s persuasively selling our restaurant?

Local Search Optimization

Optimizing your GMB listing starts with accurate and consistent information across the web. Your NAP (business name, address, and phone number) information should be exactly the same on your GMB listing as on your website, as well as any other directory it’s listed on. This is the first step in building “local citations”, which we will discuss in 3.2. The next step is to provide as much information as possible within your GMB dashboard. Uploading a variety of relevant photos (interior, exterior, food, etc.) has been demonstrated to improve engagement. Restaurants can also add and update their menu within the listing. This resource may prove to be valuable in the future, as Google has recently begun testing ads in the local panel. Lastly, it is important to use the GMB listing as a customer interaction platform. Responding to reviews (both positive and negative) has been shown to have a positive correlation with improved search rankings. Additionally, the newly implemented GMB posts feature allows businesses to publish short text, image, or video updates. As of now, it is unclear how much of an impact this has on search rankings, but it is best to take advantage of all features Google provides to local businesses.

Your Google My Business (GMB) listing is quite possibly the most important listing for a local business. By claiming your GMB listing, you have the ability to manage the information Google users receive when searching for your restaurant. You can provide and update business information such as hours, address, phone number, and website URL, as well as respond to customer reviews. Once you have claimed your listing and verified your business, you can begin optimizing it to have a greater impact on local search results.

Claiming and optimizing your Google My Business listing

A key factor for the success of any restaurant is to enable would-be customers know where they are and how to get there. Claiming a listing for your restaurant on Google and Bing is a good start. It costs nothing but a bit of time, and it’s a great way to increase your restaurant’s visibility on local search engine results pages. The even better news is that if you are finding that your restaurant already has a listing, you can go through a verification process that will give you control over this listing and enable you to say ‘yes this is my business’. For Google My Business, you can search for your business on maps and if a listing appears there will be an option (in most cases) to claim this listing. You then go through a verification process which is usually done by a postcard with a verification PIN on it. For Bing places for business, the process is similar and you will see a link on the right hand side of the search results which says ‘Is this your business?’. This will guide you through a process to verify and claim your business listing. After having claimed and verified your business listing, you will then be able to edit the information on your business to ensure it is correct. This is a crucial step; if a potential customer is trying to find your restaurant but the location information is incorrect, this can be harmful to your business. By claiming your listing on Google and Bing, this will also present an opportunity to improve the information within your listing to ensure it is rich and meaningful. This is much more advantageous in comparison to the basic listings that may have been created by search engines from information gathered from other sources. By providing rich content and detailed information about your restaurant, you are making your listing a more effective sales tool. The goal here is to make your business listing informative and appealing to potential customers, with the ultimate aim to drive them to your restaurant. Regularly logging in to your Google and Bing account to review your listing is the best way to manage and update your listing information. Both Google and Bing offer analytics to see how often your listing is being viewed and what areas in which you can seek to improve your listing to further increase its visibility.

Building citations and online directories

Citations are an important step in getting your restaurant found online. In the simplest terms, a citation is where your restaurant’s name, address, and phone number are listed on a website. You may think that a citation is only from major platforms such as Yelp, Yellow Pages, Facebook, and Google, but that is not the case. Citations can also be found on blogs, event listing pages, and other websites. Citations are important specifically for restaurants because they help customers who are searching for your business to discover basic information. Usually, they just need a phone number, address, or even the hours of operation. The more citations a restaurant has, the easier it is to find the basic information and the higher the possibility of the customer visiting the restaurant. For example, if a college student is searching for a good place to eat near campus and comes across an event that your restaurant is having, there will be a higher possibility of this student looking further into your restaurant and possibly visiting. Lastly, citations are important because search engines can discover the legitimacy of your business. If they find your restaurant on a large number of sites, this builds your restaurant’s validity and the search engine will trust the existence and legitimacy of your business. This could lead to higher rankings in the future. At the end of the day, a restaurant’s main goal for local search is higher foot traffic and later revenue. Remember, the majority of customers are looking for basic info when they try to find your restaurant online. Citations will guide them to this information and make your restaurant more appealing. Building citations is a cost-effective way to reach this goal, and it is a step that cannot be missed by restaurant owners who are looking to utilize the benefits of local search optimization. Step one can’t be completed without a cost-effective step two!

Encouraging online reviews and managing your reputation

Step one to managing your online reputation is listening to what your customers are saying and being responsive and quick to make amends when negative feedback is left. In the event of negative feedback, it is important to take the time to address the customers’ concerns and attempt to mend the relationship between them and the business. With a strong effort, many times it is possible to get customers to either remove or edit their negative review.

Encouraging customers to leave reviews can be tricky. There are several ways to ask for reviews, whether it be asking them while they are still at the restaurant or posting signs around the restaurant or on receipts asking for a review online. While incentives can be an effective way to get customers to leave a review, it is against many websites’ terms of service to offer any sort of incentive for a good review, also known as astroturfing. A well-known way to solicit feedback from customers is by sending a follow-up email. An effective way to do this is by using an email marketing tool to send a survey to customers asking for feedback. This is an advantageous strategy not only for getting a direct link to where they can leave a review but also to find out what kind of experience they had for the customer and what you can improve.

Consumer reviews are an important contribution to business in the restaurant industry. Reviews offer consumers firsthand accounts of others’ experiences, helping them to make a more informed decision. According to a study by Nielsen, 70% of people surveyed said they trust and use information from online reviews. The same study showed that consumer opinions posted online were the second most trusted form of advertising. Therefore, having positive online reviews can have a direct impact on the number of potential customers who walk through the doors of your restaurant.

Implementing local schema markup for search engines

Local schema markup is code that you put on your website to help search engines provide more informative results for users. It’s worth taking the time to create schema markup, as when added it can help increase click-through rates and improve local SEO efforts. Adding local business schema will help search engines understand more about your business, and can even result in rich snippets, an additional visual feature in the search results. A great tracking method to check the progress of schema implementation is using Google’s structured data tool. This tool lets you see if there are any errors in how the markup has been implemented and shows the type of results that can be expected following its implementation. There are a variety of markup types available, and depending on the type of business or organization you are running, you’ll want to use different markup to achieve the best results. For example, if you are a restaurant trying to markup your operating hours or customer reviews, you’d want to use local business schema with aggregate ratings markup. Meal kit brands and food delivery services that want to tag eligible on-site jobs would use delivery schema. Restaurants offering diners the option to make a reservation would use the reservation schema, and so on. Always remember to resort back to the structured data curation to see if the added markup is generating the expected results.

Optimizing for voice search

Given this trend, it will be essential to build content that answers the who, what, where, when, and how question phases. By using conversational question phrases when building your content, you can optimize for voice search. For example, “When is the best time of year to eat crabs in Maryland?” as opposed to “Best time crabs Maryland.” With the explosive use of Siri, now available on Macs, the Bing search engine, and all Apple mobile devices, it will be important to add Siri and iOS to the list of location data aggregators in the near future.

When people voice search, they use more words and more question phrases. A simple keyword search might be “pizza new york,” but a voice search would be “Where is the best place to eat pizza in New York City?” Even though voice search is part of the mobile and local search, it is a huge part of its own, and we are seeing these numbers increase with no signs of stopping. With the increase of people using mobile phones and hands-free search, voice search is becoming more and more the way of finding information.

Social Media and Online Marketing

Leveraging social media platforms for restaurant promotion. This chapter reveals the influence of social media on customers’ perceptions and decision-making processes, and how restaurant owners can connect with potential customers through online social networks. In the age of Web 2.0, customers are no longer passive receivers of information. Rather, they are active participants who are engaged in shaping brand images. They share their thoughts, opinions, and experiences with others through blogs, podcasts, videocasts, and social networking sites. They co-create the brand image that is emanated throughout popular culture. User-generated content has become an influential form of word-of-mouth communication which often impacts consumer evaluations about brands. A recent marketing study found that user-generated content has a significant effect on purchasing behavior, with customers who interact with it spending 30% more time on a company’s website and spending 25% more on products compared to customers who do not. For restaurant owners, social media opens up new possibilities for interacting with customers and prospects. Sites such as Twitter and Facebook enable restaurant owners to keep in touch with their customers on a personal level and at a time when they are not directly engaging in a transaction. By regularly updating followers with news and events about their restaurant, owners can maintain mindshare with customers and cultivate stronger relationships. Restaurants can also use social networking platforms to engage customers in two-way communication. A recent study found that customers have a more favorable impression of companies who respond to customer comments on social networking sites. By responding to both positive and negative comments in a professional manner, restaurant owners can show that they value customer feedback and are dedicated to customer satisfaction. This can help build customer loyalty and enhance a restaurant’s brand image.

Leveraging social media platforms for restaurant promotion

Utilising social media is now one of the main ways of obtaining publicity. It can be cheap and in some cases free, and can allow for two-way communication between the restaurant and its customers. This means feedback can be instantaneous and action can be taken if necessary. Platforms such as Facebook allow for free promotional activity. Companies can design business pages, create events/promotions, and post menus, all of which can easily be shared among users. You can also track how many people have viewed your page. Twitter can be an effective way of spreading the word. A restaurant simply sends out a tweet informing their followers that the restaurant is offering a special promotion on a specific night. Hopefully, the tweet will then be retweeted, meaning reach is multiplied. High-quality content in the form of daily or weekly blogs or vlogs can attract customers to a restaurant website. Engaging in meaningful conversations on food-related forums and responding to food bloggers’ reviews can generate buzz about the restaurant. Step 1 for social media marketing would be to listen to what people are saying online about the restaurant or the industry. Tools such as Google Alerts or Twitter Search can help to monitor online feedback.

The main ingredients for any restaurant’s marketing mix are the 4P’s: 1) Publicity 2) Promotion 3) Product 4) Place

Running targeted online advertising campaigns

An online marketing plan cannot be complete without a targeted online advertising strategy. This is essentially paying to have your advertisement featured on other webpages, through Google AdWords, Facebook ads. This is paid advertising so the advertiser will have to pay each time the advertisement is clicked. The advantage of online advertising is that it doesn’t cost much to get a simple advertisement up and running, but the return on investment can be great. Online advertising is a broad concept, and the idea here is to advertise to potential customers who are likely to be interested in the product being offered. So for a local restaurant in Ottawa trying to bring in customers through the door, it wouldn’t be very efficient to have an ad for the restaurant displayed to internet users browsing the web. But by placing that same advertisement on a local food blog, or the website of a local entertainment magazine, the advertisement is now much more targeted. With PPC advertising there is often the ability to select which websites your ad will be displayed on, this means ads can be placed on websites which are related to the restaurant’s product offering. Another option for ad placement is using AdWords to have your advertisement displayed when certain keywords are searched. This can be quite effective, for example having an advertisement for a steakhouse displayed when someone searches “where’s the beef?”. Finally, online advertising comes with the great advantage of being able to track its success. Through the use of web analytic tools, an advertiser can see how many clicks an ad received, the path that those clicks followed through the website, and if those clicks resulted in a conversion. This is useful information as it allows an advertiser to see the effectiveness of the advertising campaign and modify it accordingly.

Implementing email marketing strategies for customer retention

For a restaurant to effectively communicate with its customers or to encourage repeat business, it must strive to offer something of value in order to get something in return. Email marketing is a direct channel to your current customers. Unlike traditional forms of advertising, you can leverage email marketing to track detailed information about your restaurant’s customers. By understanding the habits and preferences of your customers, you can tailor your restaurant’s offerings to better suit the needs of your customers. Segmentation of email lists allows you to offer targeted promotions aimed at specific groups of customers. For example, you can have an email campaign promoting a special offer on your higher margin dinner items to past customers who have only visited during lunch hours.

The email-marketing channel is one of the most cost-effective modes of online communication available to you as an ambitious restaurant owner. A well thought-out email campaign can increase customer retention and drive traffic to your restaurant. With email marketing, restaurant owners can keep their brand and offerings in front of their current and potential customers on a consistent basis. Considering your customers may only visit your website once a month and may not have visited your restaurant lately, it is important to stay top of mind. By consistently staying in touch with your customers, when they are ready to make a purchase, your brand will be at the top of their mind.

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