What The Heck Is SEO?
The fact that you’re here reading this article probably means you have a little bit of an understanding of SEO.
You know it’s important for your restaurant but most likely have no idea where to start or what actions to take that’ll benefit your business.
To an SEO newbie, it can feel pretty intimidating and overwhelming, which is why we will stick to semi-technical steps that can still have a considerable impact on your restaurant.
Let’s cover a specific definition of SEO, then give an example.
SEO, or Search Engine Optimization, is the practice of improving the ranking of a website on search engines like Google. The goal of SEO is to increase the quality and quantity of website traffic by making the site more visible on search engine results pages (SERPs).
Before we get too far into this, we should note that there are multiple search engines, like, Yahoo, Bing, and Safari who, each have their own SEO metrics—but because Google holds 83% of the global search market, we’ll focus on Google for this article.
Ok, now, let’s talk about SEO more plainly and put it in a context that applies to restaurants.
When potential customers in your local area are hungry, they turn to Google for restaurant suggestions. Google then gives a list of what they believe to be the best restaurants in their local area.
Since 75% of people never look beyond the first page, it’s in your best interest to be at the top of that list—aka, search engine results page (SERPs).
SEO helps your restaurant be at the top of that list, which translates to more web traffic and more paying customers.
For example, let’s say you’re in Lakeside, CA, and you and the fam are craving some Italian food—naturally, the first step is to jump on Google.
After the search button is hit, Google will provide a list of local Italian restaurants.
Since we know that ¾ of the people searching Google never look beyond the first page, getting your restaurant in those top positions is imperative.
Now, Google doesn’t just randomly grab the first Italian restaurants it can find in Camarillo, then slap them together on a page.
Google’s algorithm crawls through every website looking for indicators that show Google it’s a good answer to your search query; then the search engine ranks them in the order they find to be most helpful.
The better your website matches the searcher’s question, the higher Google will rank your website.
Google uses over 200 different metrics when trying to match searches to results, and it would be impossible to address all of them—first because Google doesn’t publicly display all their metrics, and second, Google constantly changes these metrics, so keeping up is difficult.
Luckily for us, we don’t need to hit all of these metrics to make a dramatic difference for your business.
This is why we will focus on the 5 steps every restaurant owner can perform using SEO to improve their restaurant’s online presence.
5 Steps Using SEO To Improve Your Online Presence
The following steps are simple enough that anyone with a basic understanding of how to use a computer can easily knock these out.
By completing these steps, you’ll see a noticeable uptick in web traffic and foot traffic coming into your restaurant.
Think about it, thousands of people in your local area are searching for a place to eat every day.
If you aren’t on that first page, it means you’re relying on people randomly coming across your website online (not likely), word-of-mouth, or return customers.
If you follow through with each of these 5 steps right now, there are two things on your side.
One—the vast majority of local restaurants aren’t taking any steps toward using SEO. This means that you have a huge advantage over your local competitors.
In time, these restaurants will eventually realize they need to strengthen their online presence, but by then, it’ll be too late—everyone will be rushing to do it.
Two—the longer your business occupies the top space on a Google SERPs page, the harder it will be for other restaurants to knock you out of that spot.
By starting now, you’ll be so far ahead of your competition that they’ll have to put in serious work to claim a position at the top.
While other restaurants are scrambling to learn about SEO, you’ll have secured your spot and will be earning hundreds of thousands of dollars because you decided to be proactive and not reactive.
Let’s get to work.
1. Perfect Your Google Business Listing.
It’s wild that only 20% of restaurants are optimizing this underrated tool.
It’s relatively easy to complete, free, and gets you in front of customers who are actively looking for your business.
I’m going to say something you already know, but it’s applicable to why you should complete this step.
Restaurants operate at a local level—meaning your customers all live relatively close to your business.
Since 84% of people use the internet to find a local business every day, that means you need to do everything in your power to show up in the search results of local residents.
But it’s not enough to just show up; the information given by Google needs to be accurate, thorough, and detailed.
If you aren’t familiar with Google Business Listing (also called Google Business Profile), I guarantee you’ve seen it before when searching for a local business.
Below is an example of Ottavio’s Italian Restaurant’s Google Business Listing.
As you can see, a Google Business Listing contains all the information a customer needs if they want to make a visit.
Seeing this drives home the point that information like a web page, phone number, address, hours of operation, etc., need to be surgically accurate.
Creating a GBL isn’t difficult—go here, and you can begin the process of claiming your business and then filling out your restaurant's details.
It’s super easy, and Google provides a step-by-step video to help with the whole process. You can even book an appointment with a Google Small Business Advisor to receive one-on-one guidance and tailored recommendations for your restaurant.
When filling out the form, don’t leave any fields empty. The more information you provide, the more Google can assist you in becoming visible to searchers.
Remember, Google is trying to find the best possible answer for a search question; if you give them limited information, Google will put your business at the bottom of the list.
Be sure the information is constantly staying up to date. If you use multiple platforms like Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, your website, etc., every platform must have the same information.
Customers are constantly going online to check information, and if there are any discrepancies between platforms, it can become confusing and frustrating for your guests. If something like hours change, put the changes on every outlet.
Once your listing is up and running, you’ll need to keep an eye on the “Question and Answer” portion of your listing—any customers who have questions might ask it in the section.
There are two reasons you need to be present and fielding questions here.
First, if you don’t answer the question, a random, well-intentioned person could respond to the question but give an incorrect answer.
Second, many people, literally hundreds or thousands, could have the same question, read the wrong response, then think it’s accurate—which could result in them not ordering from your restaurant.
You want those thousands of people who have the same question to see the correct answer.
This can be especially important if people ask about dietary restrictions, delivery, or reservations for large parties. The wrong answer could cost you thousands.
Don’t skip the “Attributes” portion of GBL. Attributes share the unique qualities that help differentiate your restaurants from others.
Be sure to select any of the more than 300 attributes Google provides, so customers are well-informed about what you offer.
For example, if you own a coffee shop but don’t share that you offer free WiFi, a customer might skip over your store in favor of a spot that displays that attribute.
Lastly, take an active approach to manage your reviews.
What do I mean by that?
Every one of our restaurant partners at Owner.com has a system put in place to automatically collect reviews from guests (more on that in a minute).
That system will collect all reviews that are 4-5 stars and automatically publish them to GBL. Any reviews of 1-3 stars will be sent to your customer service address to see what can be salvaged and hopefully fixed.
By automatically publishing all 4-5 star reviews, your GBL will be flooded with positive reviews, which helps with your overall SEO ranking.
Ottavio’s Italian Restaurant uses our system and has an average rating of 4.7 stars with 799 reviews. People seeing this will automatically trust that it’s a great location for authentic and delicious Italian cuisine (which it is).
Good reviews are like a license to print your own money. It’s a huge deal, and taking an active approach to managing your reviews will reap massive benefits.
There are software companies like Zapier and Trustpilot that collect and automate reviews, but none of them are made specifically for restaurants which can create problems down the line.
Go here to learn more about an online ordering system made specifically for restaurants that automatically manages reviews.
2. Use Local Keywords On Your Website And Optimize
Keywords tell Google what your website is all about—strategically placing these words on your website helps Google connect you with people searching for restaurants just like yours.
But what are local keywords exactly?
Local keywords are specific words or phrases that are related to a particular location. They are often used in search queries by people who are looking for businesses or services in a specific area.
For example, if a person is searching for a restaurant in Los Angeles, they might use the keyword "restaurants in Los Angeles" in their search query. This is a local keyword because it includes the location "Los Angeles."
“Restaurants in Los Angeles” is pretty broad, though, and won’t help customers find your restaurant in a city of nearly 4 million people.
It’s better to include the type of cuisine you serve, the neighborhood you’re located, or the services and amenities you offer. Here are some other examples of local keywords for restaurants.
- “Italian restaurant in Los Angeles”
- “Sushi spot in Brooklyn”
- “Mexican restaurant with outdoor seating in Chicago”
- “Best Thai food in Atlanta”
- “Vegan options in Portland”
By including these keywords in your website, you’ll improve your restaurant’s visibility in local search results.
Now you know what local keywords are, but where do you put them?
There are several places you can include local keywords to improve your SEO.
The first is title tags—a title tag is the text that appears in the tab of your web browser and is also used as the headline for search results. Including your city or neighborhood name in your title tag can help improve your visibility in local search results.
In short, a title tag tells Google if there was one sentence to summarize your website, this would be it.
For example, Ottavio’s Italian Restaurant has a great title tag that tells Google their location, name, and cuisine.
You’ll notice that Ottavio’s includes the keyword “best” in their title tag. This is because “best” is a heavily used word by searchers, and it’s easy to understand why.
People going out to eat want the “best” that a location has to offer, so, logically, customers will type “best” before the type of food they're looking for—e.g., “best pizza in Pasadena.”
Ottavio’s knows this, so they took steps to make sure they rank high for the search “best Italian restaurant lakeside ca.”
The meta description is a brief summary of a webpage's content that appears in search results.
The meta description gives searchers a quick snippet of what to expect if they click the link.
Doing this well gives Google more information about your restaurant, and it’s also an opportunity to entice customers to visit your website.
Next, you’ll want to include local keywords in the headings and body text.
Think of your header as a summary of what your restaurant offers. It needs to contain keywords that both Google and customers find interesting.
Body text is the words throughout your website that create the bulk of your content. It provides the more detailed elements of your page.
By now, you can see how many opportunities you have to give Google a description of your location, cuisine, and what your restaurant offers.
It should be noted that you don’t want to do what is called “keyword stuffing,” meaning putting too many keywords in a piece of content with the intent of “tricking” Google into thinking your website has a lot of useful content because there’s an abundance of keywords.
Google isn’t fooled and penalizes websites that try this. Keywords need to be used naturally in a way that’s helpful to users.
The last place to put keywords is in the image alt tags.
This part can get a little technical since you’ll have to access your HTML code, but any generic website builder should allow this when your placing images throughout your website.
Restaurant partners of Owner.com have this done for them automatically as part of their onboarding process.
Image alt tags are intended to be used as an alternative text for images in case the image is not able to be displayed for some reason. Alt tags are also used by search engines to understand the content of images and the context in which they are used on a webpage.
For example, this is the image alt text for the “a la carta lasagna” at Ottavio’s Italian Restaurant.
When Google reads “lasagna a la carta” it knows what’s in the image—Google then helps local people searching for lasagna connect with Ottavio’s so they can place an order.
Sprinkling keywords in the image alt text is another step to help Google confirm that your website is a great selection for a top-ranking search query.
Image alt text also makes your website compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
By completing this step, you’ll be helping visually impaired individuals better understand your website’s content—a step many restaurant websites skip, which can be very frustrating for some customers.
When writing image alt text:
- Be concise and accurate.
- Use keywords
- Avoid using single-word descriptions, like “bagel.”
- Don’t write “image,” “picture,” or “photo of.”
Here are some examples of image alt tags using local keywords.
- “Outdoor patio at our Los Angeles restaurant”
- “Freshly baked bread at our Portland restaurant”
- “Stylish interior of our Atlanta restaurant”
Placing local keywords extensively throughout your website might feel like overkill, but these are the exact metrics Google looks for when crawling through websites.
Skipping any one of these locations on your site will only hurt your bottom line. Most restaurants aren’t this thorough—if your site is optimized, Google will quickly spot your restaurant and move you to the top of the list.
If all of this feels like too much or it’s way outside of your wheelhouse, reach out to us, and we can talk about how Owner.com can create you a website with local keywords, along with the other benefits of partnering with a company that focuses solely on restaurants.
3. Get Listed In Online Directories.
We’ve already covered one of these online directories—Google Business Listing.
We went more deeply into GBL because it’s so profoundly important for your online presence, but there are many other directories to which you can get listed.
Not everyone turns to Google when looking for a place to eat, and many rely on other directories to read reviews and gather information that they might not find satisfactory on Google.
Getting listed on other directories boils down to covering your bases and taking full advantage of the internet. If there are hungry customers looking for a place to eat, your restaurant’s name and information should be wherever they look.
The most popular and familiar of these directories is Yelp.
People using Yelp will intuitively know how it works because it has a similar layout to Google. People type a location and cuisine in the search bar and, voila, a list of local spots to grab something to eat.
Ottavio’s Italian Restaurant holds the #1 position for Italian food in Lakeside, CA, because of the large volume of highly ranked reviews.
It’s pretty apparent how being listed on these directories can benefit your restaurant. Still, you’re probably wondering how it’s supposed to help your website’s SEO.
1. Directory listings can provide additional backlinks to your website, which can help your restaurant’s search engine rankings.
Backlinks are links that other websites create to connect to your website. The more links you have, the more Google thinks you’re a legit website with good content to offer.
Quality is more important than quantity when it comes to backlinks, though. Google doesn’t like to see backlinks from websites that nobody visits; it makes you look bad.
This is why having a decent amount of backlinks from heavy hitters like Yelp, TripAdvisor, and OpenTable gives your restaurant's website a lot of credibilities. People trust these online directories; therefore, Google does as well.
2. Being listed in a directory can give Google additional information and context about your restaurant.
Google is always hungry for more information about your restaurant, so let’s give it to them. Directories provide a second location online that can confirm you’re physical location along with hours of operation, menu, and reviews.
We already talked about how important reviews are, and having multiple sources online with customers raving about delicious food, a great atmosphere, and excellent service does nothing but boost your restaurant’s SEO rankings.
3. Online directories often rank high in search results, so being listed in one can make it more likely that potential customers will find a restaurant when they search for related terms.
Because so many people use online directories like TripAdvisor and Yelp, the likely hood of new customers finding your restaurant goes up exponentially—the more people visit your site, the better it looks to Google, which improves your SEO.
4. Encourage Your Customers To Leave Reviews
We’ve already discussed that a solid bank of positive reviews is essentially its own form of currency—but let’s look at how you can encourage your customers to leave reviews.
Not everyone thinks of leaving a review, so it’s more about creating opportunities for customers to leave reviews.
For example, Owner.com’s restaurant partners give their customers several opportunities to leave a review, but it’s best to start with more subtle prompts—sometimes the timing isn’t perfect for a big ask, but it’s still a good idea to offer it.
A customer’s first opportunity to submit a review is on the order confirmation screen.
The prompt isn’t in their face, but maybe they ate a dish on a previous visit and wanted to suggest it to other customers.
The following prompt is also subtle because the customer still hasn’t yet received their food.
A few hours after the customer has made a purchase, an email is sent with the most direct prompt for a review. This is the optimal time because the whole experience is fresh in the customer’s mind.
It’s from here that solid 4-5 star reviews are sent to be published on your Google Business Listing, and any reviews with 1-3 stars are sent to your customer service email address so you can decide the best way to deal with the negative review.
Negative reviews shouldn’t be viewed in a bad light. It’s an opportunity to see the weaknesses in your restaurant, so you know what to work on—if customers are complaining about the same issue, it’s time for it to be addressed.
The prompts work because it’s incredibly easy for customers to follow through with the review. If guests have to jump through hoops, they’ll say, “forget it.”
If you’re struggling to get reviews even with the prompts, you could try incentivizing customers to leave a comment.
Offering a free drink, a small appetizer, or a 15% off coupon will get you the results you need. Reviews are valuable, so it’s worth parting ways with product if it helps get the word out about your restaurant.
Responding to reviews also gets a positive reaction from guests. When customers see a response, they feel like the business values their opinion and encourages more people to leave reviews in the future.
Responses are especially important on social media since it requires active daily participation. Reply to all your comments, and you’ll already be outperforming 9 out 10 restaurants on social media.
5. Use Social Media To Your Advantage.
Restaurants have a tremendous advantage over other industries when it comes to using social media as a marketing tool— people LOVE seeing food and drinks.
Spend even a small amount of time on Instagram or TikTok, and you’ll see tons of different foods, especially from restaurants, so why not use that to your advantage?
If using social media for your restaurant is completely new, I suggest you start with our Complete Guide To Social Media For Restaurants. In it, you’ll learn how to use Instagram, TikTok, and FaceBook to reach more customers and make more revenue.
Because social media is so incredibly popular, it may be the best tool you have for getting in front of people, but how can it help with your website’s rankings?
Let’s look at 4 ways social media can help with SEO:
1. Social media profiles rank in search results.
If I look up “talkin tacos,” the second search result is Talkin’ Tacos Instagram account.
Keeping a well-maintained and active social media account can help your restaurant’s social media profile rank for relevant keywords.
So how does that help with SEO?
Oftentimes, when people search for restaurants and they see a link to Instagram or TikTok, they’ll opt to click those links first to get a feel for the business’s personality.
If people like what they see, the link in your profile bio will take them to your website—this will effectively drive more traffic to your website, elevating your SEO.
2. Social media signals can influence search rankings.
It’s not for sure since Google doesn’t publicly share its metrics for ranking websites, but because they rank social media profiles on SERPs, it’s safe to assume that Google checks social signals.
Social media signals are likes, comments, and shares on anything you post on your social media account.
It makes sense to include social media platforms when you think about Google's only objective—to give a searcher the most high-quality relevant content related to their question.
A business social media account is packed with accurate information about your restaurant—info that will match your website and any online directories you’re listed. Plus, it’s full of customer experiences, pictures, and reviews.
What this means for SEO is the more people engage with your social media account, the more it will help your SEO rankings.
Getting people to interact with your social media account doesn’t need to be a chore, though. Once you dig into our Social Media for Restaurants Guide, you’ll see that a lot of the posts are quite a bit of fun.
You could make “behind the scenes” videos of seldom-seen workers crafting the delicious food everyone loves.
It gives you and your employees the opportunity to show the human element of your restaurant. Customers become regulars by connecting with staff personalities, and social media is a great way to break the ice with new guests.
3. Social media can help build links.
We talked about receiving links from other websites, called backlinks. Link building is one of the most significant factors Google looks at when trying to rank websites—the more high-quality links you have, the higher Google will rank your website.
Start by asking customers to share their experiences on social media with a link back to your website. You can make this easy on customers by having share buttons on your website that take them directly to your account.
Every city or town has online food communities that share what’s going on in their local restaurant scene. If a group is organizing an event, get involved, and your website and social media platforms will be connected to the event’s promotions.
Another great way to build links is by collaborating with other businesses or connecting with a social media influencer.
Getting the stamp of approval from an influencer can mean their audience will reshare the post about your restaurant hundreds if not thousands of times.
The @sistersnacking shared a video of eating steak at Skirt in New York that went viral. The domino effect resulted in thousands of shares and lines around the block for months.
Collaborating with a local business helps build links by cross-promoting products.
For example, if you’re a pizza restaurant, you could partner with a local brewery to come up with a limited beer that pairs well with a signature pizza.
Promotions for the event will create links for both parties, and your restaurant will be advertised to the brewery's customers.
4. Social media can improve your restaurant’s visibility.
Social media allows you to reach people who might otherwise never come across your website.
I want to note though, that organic reach on Instagram is limited, and on FaceBook, it’s nonexistent. In addition to posting consistently, you’ll want to run advertising campaigns on the platforms, especially FaceBook.
Advertising on these platforms will ensure you target potential customers in your local area who would be interested in your restaurant.
As your follower base grows, the more likes, shares, and comments you receive will help spread your name online.
Social media also helps you keep customers up to date with menu changes, specials, events, temporary holiday hours, and promotions. All of these benefits result in more customer interactions and social signals, which tells Google your website is ideal for a high ranking.
There you have it!
You now have the power to improve the online presence of your restaurant dramatically. Trying to tackle this all at once can feel daunting, so you’ll want to take it one step at a time.
If you feel yourself getting frustrated, try to focus on all the new smiling customers you’ll see walking through your door or the consistent chatter of the ticket machine as online orders come pouring in.
Both of those realities are within reach and 100% possible for you.
At any point, if you feel it’s too much and you need a hand, feel free to reach out, and we’ll set up a time to go through how we can help your online presence thrive.
Let’s get started!
Our all-in-one-platform helps you take back control of your online presence, drive direct sales, save money on fees, and manage everything in one place. Schedule a demo to see the platform in action and discover why our new restaurant partners increase online sales by an average of 270% in their first three months using Owner.com.Schedule A Demo
Our all-in-one-platform helps you take back control of your online presence, drive direct sales, save money on fees, and manage everything in one place. Schedule a demo to see the platform in action and discover why our new restaurant partners increase online sales by an average of 270% in their first three months using Owner.com.