SEO for Restaurants

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Crushing Competition and Compelling Growth

First, let's begin with the obvious: perhaps there is no bigger industry - in terms of the number of establishments doing business - than the restaurant niche. According to recent statistics, as of FY 2020 there were over 125,000 businesses operational in the U.S. This figure represents a 1.4% growth (year-on-year) from the period of 2015-2020. Restaurant chains are expected to grow even more, expanding significantly in the southeast portion of the country.

While the growth is truly amazing, the flip side is that every day there are new restaurants and other food-offering establishments springing up. The competition in this niche is relentless and crushing. And many startup restaurants are not able to make the cut.

Who is Competing for Your Customers?

As we start to think about the subject of SEO and how it might benefit your restaurant, we need to consider the issue of competition. Seeing the value in SEO results from understanding just how difficult and complicated the situation is, as you face up to ALL of your true competitors.

Fundamentally, you need to realize that your competitors are not just those with establishments similar to yours, but also businesses that can operate very differently.

Let's suppose you operate a traditional diner. Your competition is not just limited to other diners, but also:

  • Big chain restaurants
  • Fast-food outlets
  • Bars and hotels who offer food
  • And any other local restaurant - even a food truck or hot dog stand is competing with you!

This means that the first step in effective SEO for restaurants is to begin with a comprehensive competitor analysis. You cannot plan for your SEO needs until you understand the nature of the competition that you are facing currently.

A good SEO company - especially one with experience with actually getting restaurants ranked and visible to online searchers - has the tools to pull all this information together and can help you prioritize what your first actions should be.

But Why SEO? Why Not Just Advertise?

You may be asking, why even fool around with SEO? Why not just stick to the tried-and-true approach of traditional advertising?

While we are not advocating abandoning advertising completely, we would argue that this approach has some serious limitations:

Customer Intent: It's not just enough to get your ad out there. Even if hundreds - or thousands - of people see it, you will not get any replies if the people you are pitching are not interested. Traditional advertising misses more than it hits, regardless of the medium, because ads will be ignored by those not currently interested.

With traditional advertising, it is hard to pinpoint customer intent in-the-moment. But the essence of SEO, as applied to restaurants (or any other type of business really) is to get in front of human eyeballs when they are looking to buy what you are offering.

Print Advertising: Lots of restaurants still spend huge amounts of money on print ads such as the local daily newspaper. Posting coupons - printing ads with your current menu and pricing - announcing the opening of a new location. All types of approaches have been used. But the results are often disappointing.

Why? For one thing, newspaper circulations are dropping nationwide. For example, the New York Times weekday edition circulation has decreased by close to 80% from 2013, and many lesser newspapers have gone out of business. And this is reflected in nationwide newspaper revenue: down 25% in 2020 ($9.6B) from 2019.

The bottom line is that newspapers are a dying breed, their audience reach is declining and since newspaper ads are expensive, this means an ever-declining ROI for print ad spend overall.

Radio: Is radio a good alternative for advertising a restaurant? With a current audience of 244.5 million adults in the US, it might look attractive. But consider the limitations. Are you able to target people at their moment of interest? Or are you blanketing an area with a radio spot and hoping that people remember what you said when they are looking for a place to eat?

And remember that radio comes with its own built-in limitation: radio is just SOUND. All radio ads are just talking - noise, really. Is the best way to "sell" your restaurant to have someone TALK about it? Radio is not a visual space to advertise in, so forget about posting pictures of the interior of your establishment, or enticing then with a photo of food you have prepared there.

Television: Why not just advertise on TV then? You can do much more with TV advertising than when you are just on radio. This much is true. But again, there are inherent limitations:

  1. TV ads are short - usually 1 minute or less. Will your message really get through? Will the messaging be retained?
  2. TV ads are expensive - If you want to advertise nationally, it will cost you around $120,000 or more. Even if you just stick to local TV ads, they will still charge you $200-$1,500 for a 30-second ad. And that's just for one airing! The average 30-minute TV show has an average of 4 commercial breaks - totaling about 8 1-minute or 16 30-second commercials every half-hour.
  3. Competition from chains - Evening is probably the best for restaurant TV ads during the week, but that gets you into the prime time slot, which is usually the most expensive to buy. And that time is often saturated with ads from the big chain restaurants and fast-food outlets.

Yes, it's true, you do have options for advertising your business. But when you start to realize that these ads cannot really focus on true customer intent, that they are expensive to run, and that some ad channels are vanishing, then the ROI for these types of expenditures becomes very questionable.

By contrast, the advantage to SEO for restaurants is that you are targeting customers when they have the need for your services - in this case food or restaurant dining.

And here's another little secret: the highest dollar spend for Organic SEO is front-loaded. You spend the most at the beginning to climb the search engine results, and get placement over your competitors. Once you get high placement, typical SEO costs to maintain that high ranking are typically much lower.

This is far different from traditional advertising channels which require high levels of ad spend at all stages of marketing - stop spending, your ad disappears and so does your exposure. But a highly-ranked website, with just a (comparatively) small maintenance budget, will maintain that ranking long-term.

The Online World: Where Are Your Customers Coming From?

In addition to traditional advertising channels, which as we have pointed out is limited in effectiveness due to lack of audience ready to buy, high cost, and media saturation by the big-budget food chains, you have other options when you go online -

  • "Menu" Platforms: You know these sites - they feature your menu (often an old and out-of-date menu) and they may be ranked higher than your restaurant site in the SERP's. But did you know that with the right SEO strategy in place, you can successfully compete with them and sometimes out rank those sites?
  • "Review" Sites and Platforms: Similar to the menu platforms, and often combined with them, are review sites. Here your SEO tactic changes. You don't need to outrank them, but you do need to manage your reputation so that there are lots of great reviews and very few (if any) negative reviews. As these are third-party owned sites, good reviews there can greatly influence people to visit or order online from your establishment.
  • Direct Website Traffic: This is the motherload. If you can get people to your restaurant website you can give them the whole treatment, the grand tour with plenty of pictures (both of the décor/seating as well as food items), locations and directions - and plenty of testimonials of happy, full and satisfied patrons.
  • Word-of-Mouth: Online traffic from word-of-mouth? Certainly. If you get people talking - positively - about your food - what will others do? Well, they will "Google" you to find out more. (And this is precisely the strategy behind SEO social media marketing, because social is where all the talking happens today).

Restaurant SEO is LOCAL SEO

Keep in mind that all restaurant SEO is LOCAL SEO.

Even if you are in charge of marketing a national chain restaurant, and there are properties opening coast-to-coast, you still need to market each location as a stand-alone marketing effort with a local focus.

Why? Because when people want to eat, they are not interested in finding out about all restaurant locations everywhere in the U.S., but only those near their location.

That means that restaurant SEO must be focused on such searches as:

Restaurants in [city or town]
Restaurants near me
Restaurants open late
Fast food near me
Drive thru restaurants


When these types of searches are done, search engines like Google will present you with "local pack" listings, usually with a location map:

Local pack listings the coveted spot in the SERP's, and you cannot "force" search engines to give you placement there. But you can manage your site and online business - including its reputation - in such a way as to increase the likelihood that you get one of those spots. But for this you need to do it right - you need SEO expertise from those who understand what Google values - and what it doesn't. This is one of the most critical aspects of SEO for restaurants.

Making Your Restaurant Visitor-Friendly

Some SEO providers want to play a cat-and-mouse games with the search engines: rely on a bag of tricks to get results, guessing at what SE might value. The ethical ("white-hat") alternative is to cater to humans, not search engines. Provide what's good for humans and search engines will eventually discover that, and if you are best-of-class in your area, you'll rise to the top of the SERP's.

Here's some things to work on:

  1. Mobile friendliness: While it is not impossible that someone would sit at a desktop computer and do local restaurant searching, let's face it - most restaurant searching online is done from mobile devices like smartphones. But have you ever taken the time to examine how your site looks when it displays on a phone? Sites that look great on a desktop computer may not display properly at all on a smartphone, the text may be the wrong font, images may not re-size properly, navigation elements may be difficult to find or use. If your site does not look good on mobile, or it is slow to load, you need to get that fixed ASAP.
  2. Content: While your website does not have to be a culinary encyclopedia, it should have, at a minimum, pictures of both the inside (showing seating and décor, especially if you are trying to get bookings for groups and events like award ceremonies and weddings) and outside (to help people to find you on your street). You can also have pictures of what the food looks like, but don't overdo that. If you have a menu and pricing information - and you should - remember to keep this information up-do-date.
  3. Searcher Intent: In general, your restaurant website will need to accommodate two types of visitors. Firstly, those investigating you and comparing you to other restaurants in your area. These people need to know exactly what type(s) of cuisine you offer, pricing, menu/menu extracts, and testimonials/reviews. The other type of visitors are those ready to eat. For them you also need information on pricing, as well as directions on your location/how to find you, or how to book a reservation or even order online (if you offer that).
  4. Reputation Management: Whether your customer reviews are featured on your own website, or you use a third-party platform to secure reviews, you want to make reputation management a continuing high-priority. You may have stellar reviews today, but if you don't manage the situation all the time, negative comments can begin to creep in. Keep in mind that once posted, negative reviews cannot always be removed. Even one bad review or negative customer experience can cost you lots of visits/orders - and you will continue to be penalized as long as that review is visible. Please contact us if you need help with RM or have been a victim of a false or underserved negative publicity campaign, as we have helped many businesses overcome this challenge.

OK I'm Sold - What Do I Do Next?

So, despite what other SEO companies do, at Posirank we don't want you to open up your wallet - not just yet.

We need to talk to you - to find out the details of your situation, your website, and your current challenges and goals for your business. We don't charge for this service, and it won't take up a lot of your time - and at the end both you and us will know if we will be a good fit for each other.

You're looking for SEO solutions - after all you've read this far, haven't you? We stand ready to help. This is what we do. Everyday. And have been doing this continuously since 2013.

You can call us, contact us by email, submit an inquiry form, register for free dashboard access, or book a call with our staff. But whichever you choose, you have to reach out first. Ready? Good! We're waiting to hear from you today!

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