Anymore, if a person wants to find, say, the most authentic Czech restaurant in Iowa, or the sexiest cocktail lounge in Sacramento, or the best seafood in Oklahoma, they don’t canvas their extended family or call up those respective chambers of commerce. Nope, they consult a search engine. And while this person might skew niche by hitting up Bing or DuckDuckGo, usually they’re going to consult Google, the oracle of last-minute dining decisions.
Now, does Google have a grandmother from Prague? Has it ventured on a dozen awkward Tinder dates over Negronis? Has it personally navigated Muskogee’s sushi scene? It has not. Yet we trust that it has some idea, at least, of what we’re asking. This is because restaurant and bar operators, plus the people who visit such places, have put enough information online that Google’s algorithms can parse it with a few educated guesses.
As a restaurant operator, then, you’ve got to stack the odds in your favor. If you actually do make the Quad Cities’ heartiest hovězí guláš, and you want people to know this, you have to incorporate a bit of SEO, or search engine optimization, into your online marketing. This means, in the simplest terms, you need to make sure you’re communicating with the bots that Google uses to scour the internet. After a while these practices will be second nature, a key component of your restaurant's digital marketing.
To get started on SEO, says Lorrie Thomas Ross, the CEO of an optimization firm called Web Marketing Therapy, think along three lines: architecture, content, and linking. With Ross’s guidance, here’s how to think about the space.
Simple SEO guidelines for your restaurant website
When you’re laying out your website, consider how its architecture will affect SEO. You’re going to want to code a fast, easy-to-navigate website that Google’s bots can find and scour easily (probably via a sitemap). You’re also going to want to give your site pages appropriate meta titles and descriptions, as well as image names that support search.
For example, your restaurant’s website might have Cafe Vito as its title and Serving St. Louis Gourmet Italian Cuisine Since 1950 as the meta title. The beautiful meatball sub photo on the front page shouldn’t be titled “sandwich123” when it could be something like cafe_vito_stl_mo_meatball_sub. This will help Google find the photo in the event someone raves about that particular sandwich in a review and sends other folks searching specifically for that item, which in turn can grow your customer base.
Content is pretty intuitive. Do the words you (and others) post online match the words and topics others are searching for? And how often do you update the site? Your profiles and reviews on Yelp, Tripadvisor, and various social media channels all matter here, and they make it easier to keep your content fresh. “It’s such a kinder, gentler SEO world these days,” Ross says. “And that is completely due to social media.”
You don’t want your only updates to be on Instagram or Facebook, ideally. For the best returns on Google, update your restaurant’s site with posts on new menu items, holiday specials, events, or whatever else you might be up to. As Ross puts it, “Blogs are the nucleus of social media marketing.” If you’re strapped for time, cross-post, at the very least, when you update your Facebook page or Instagram feed.
The third fundamental to master is linking. Google is looking for two kinds of links. Internal links go from your own site to another page on your site. These are easy for you to control, so go ahead and take the opportunity. Link to phrases you want Google to associate with your pages — so, you know, hyperlink a phrase like “best Negroni in California” instead of, say, “drink.”
External links come from other sites: foodie blogs, local news sites, a visitors’ bureau, neighborhood associations, other restaurants. Creating alliances with local publications can be a good investment, wherein you link to their site and vice-versa. You can also embed your restaurant into Google Maps. And make sure you set up a profile on Google My Business to create a free, highly visible online space where you can upload photos, request reviews, and update changes to your hours.
SEO tips you can follow right away
Let’s say you’ve already got your site in place, and shaking up the architecture and links are a hassle. You can still make a few simple changes that might help your visibility online.
Make sure your site mentions your restaurant’s location frequently. “It can be as simple as putting it on the footer of each page,” Ross says.
Post only high-quality, professional photographs. No one wants to link to or forward sub-par photos. Professional photos have a great return on investment — and if the goal here is to raise your visibility, you should definitely make sure what you’re showing off is the best it can be.
Get chummy with influencers. They’re real, and they don’t have to be obnoxious. There could be a supper club in your area that reviews restaurants on social media. There could be a journalist with a politics newsletter that includes lunch recommendations for a bit of levity. Be creative and reach out to people who can goose your online presence. “It’s my perspective that you have to look at SEO marketing holistically and in conjunction with social media,” Ross says. “It’s like ecology. Looking at just one aspect of it is incredibly myopic.”
And don’t get overwhelmed! Ross says you don’t necessarily have to hire an SEO company and pay a monthly management fee. “You might consider looking for a web marketing firm that does blog posts and social media marketing and of course, knows SEO best practices,” she says. “All of those are working together to support your visibility.” Some digital firms can train members of your team, so it doesn’t necessarily have to be a long-term investment. “If marketing feels icky, messy, or expensive,” Ross says, “you’re doing something wrong.”
[Photo by Pavel Danilyuk via Pexels]