Restaurant SEO: 7 Tips from Helping 1,000+ Restaurants Grow

Our best tips for busy restaurant owners who want to get more traffic from Google.

22 min read
February 15, 2024

Key takeaways

  • SEO can drive significant growth for your business and ensure you reach potential customers right when they’re ready to order. 
  • To win at SEO in 2024 you need to understand what people are searching for, provide a great website experience, and make sure your website loads fast. 
  • Optimizing your Google Business Profile is also key for local SEO and getting coverage from local press will signal to Google that your business is important.

SEO (Search Engine Optimization) is the #1 best way for restaurants to get new customers.

But don’t just take my word for it.

Meet Mo, the proud owner of Talkin’ Tacos in Florida.

In 2021, he’d just grown his food truck into a brick-and-mortar restaurant. In order to keep the business growing, Mo knew he needed a way to get more new customers, so he decided to focus on SEO (using the SEO strategies we’ll share in this guide).

The results were absolutely incredible.

Talkin' Tacos expansion

In one 30-day period, Mo tracked nearly 520 new customers from Google. This brought in online orders of more than $27,500.

And that was just one month. Over a year… Well, you can guess how much that adds up to. In fact, SEO was so successful for Talkin’ Tacos, it played a key role in the business expanding form one to 10 locations.

So let’s dig into the details. Here’s everything you need to know about restaurant SEO in order to grow your business in 2024.

Why SEO Matters for Restaurants

SEO is not just about being visible online; it's about increasing your online visibility and placing your restaurant in the spotlight when potential diners are actively searching for their next meal.

Here are the three main reasons why SEO is so powerful for restaurants:

1. SEO Brings Hungry People To Your Website

Imagine this: It's a Friday night, and Sarah is craving Italian cuisine. She instinctively turns to Google in her search for the perfect plate of spaghetti carbonara. This is where the magic of SEO shines.

By optimizing your restaurant's website, you can lead hungry people, like Sarah, straight to your business at the exact moment they want to buy from you.

In the words of Kevin Indig, SEO expert and growth advisor to some of the world’s fastest-growing businesses, “Queries like ‘take out near me’ or more specific ones like ‘Italian takeout’ or ‘best Italian restaurant’ can significantly propel the revenue of a business.”

So when people search for terms related to your restaurant, you need to be as close to the top of the page as possible. (We’ll show you exactly how to do this in this guide.

Take Chicago's Home of Chicken & Waffles. When people search “Chicken and waffles Chicago,” Chicago's Home of Chicken & Waffles appears prominently at the top of Google — all thanks to SEO.

Chicago's Home of Chicken & Waffles Google search

SEO Drives More Sales Than Social Media

Now, let's address the social media elephant in the room: Yes, platforms like Facebook, TikTok and Instagram are the flashier corners of the internet that crave our attention.

But here’s something I’ve learned from working with thousands of restaurant owners: SEO makes social media look like a joke.

Just look at the channels driving new customers for this restaurant:

Chicago's Home of Chicken & Waffles Google search

When it comes to connecting with hungry customers, Google is where the feast begins.

On Google, intent is king. A Google searcher isn't aimlessly scrolling through memes; they're on a mission to dine. Every Google search is a potential customer.

Your Competitors Are Doing SEO Wrong (Or Not At All)

I get the hustle of running a busy restaurant — you're juggling a million tasks, from perfecting your new sauces to managing the daily dinner rush.

With so much on your plate, SEO might feel like just another daunting task on your endless to-do list. But here’s the kicker: A lot of restaurant owners overlook it or don't use it effectively, turning SEO into a golden ticket for those who do embrace it.

Now, let's debunk a myth:

You don't need to be a tech-savvy Gen Z to grasp SEO basics. It's about coding magic and more about implementing simple strategies and tactics. Think of SEO as your digital maître d’, guiding potential diners right to your restaurant’s online doorstep.

With a bit of guidance and a few simple tweaks, you'll be mastering the art of SEO and unlocking a steady stream of new customers in no time.

Let’s get right to it…

7 Steps to a Winning Restaurant SEO Strategy

1. Understand What People Are Searching For

SEO success is a two-step dance:

  1. Draw a Crowd: Get a wave of visitors landing onto your website.
  2. Make sure it’s the right crowd: Guarantee they’re the ones hungry to buy what you’re cooking up.

The key to mastering this two-step is 'Keyword Research' —  which essentially means understanding what words and phrases people are typing into Google when they want to buy what you’re selling.

Such as:

  • “Best pizza Midtown Manhattan”
  • “Chicken wings in Charlotte”
  • “Vietnamese in Lawndale”

The mission of keyword research? Hunt down those perfect primary and secondary keywords that make your restaurant the talk of the town.

Jargon check:

  • Primary keyword: This is the main keyword people search for related to your restaurant. It’ll often be some variation of “[Food type] in [your location].”
  • Secondary keyword: These get fewer searches but tend to be more specific. For example, “[Dish name] in [your location].” Secondary keywords are also sometimes referred to as long-tail keywords.

Case in point: My friend Antoinette at Ottavio’s Italian Restaurant. When people search “Italian Restaurant in Lakeside, California,” her restaurant appears prominently at the top of Google — all thanks to SEO.

Italian Restaurants Google search

And Antoinette didn’t stop there — a secondary keyword targeting one of Ottavio’s crowd-favorites “Pasta in Lakeside California” is also driving significant sales.

Pasta in Lakeside, CA, Google Search

Dive Deeper: Read Antoinette‘s story here.

A simple keyword strategy can turn a hidden gem into a local legend.

So how do you get started with keyword research?

The best starting point is Google itself — just start typing away and see what search terms comes up.

For example: Want to make your mark as Hudson Yards' next pizza sensation? Start typing “Pizza in Hudson Yards” and watch Google's autocomplete work its magic, revealing the hottest search phrases.

Google Search

To help you get ahead, I’ve conducted keyword research for various common restaurant types. And I’ve made a list of primary and secondary keywords that you’re free to use. The keywords are for Italian, Indian, Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Mexican, Poke, Pizzerias, and Wings.

Primary keyword Secondary Keyword
Italian restaurant Pasta
Indian restaurant Butter chicken
Chinese restaurant Chow mein, sweet and sour chicken
Japanese restaurant Sushi
Thai restaurant Pad Thai
Mexican restaurant Tacos
Poke restaurant Poke bowl
Pizza place Pizza
Wings restaurant Buffalo wings

2. Optimize Your Website

Your primary and secondary keywords are ready to rock. Perfect! Now, we need to optimize your website in order to help it rank.

The first things to focus on is your H1 tag, your Meta Title, and Meta Description. (Plain English explanations below.)

Your H1 is your page title (H1 stands for Heading 1, so the most important heading on the page). It’s the first thing your visitors see when they land on your page. Not only that, Google also uses H1’s to better understand the primary topic your website is about.

For example, let’s take a look at the H1’s from a few restaurants that are making a killing with SEO:

You can see how they’ve tied their primary keywords into those H1’s, right?

Now, the meta title and meta description…

  • Meta Title: The meta title is the headline displayed in Google search results — it’s like your website’s neon sign, dressed in Google's favorite color: hyperlink blue.
  • Meta Description: The meta description is the text below the meta title which gives a little more information and context about your business.

Meta Information

Just like with the H1’s, you’ll want to marry your Meta Title, and Meta Description with your primary keywords.

Let’s break down the above example from Signature Thai Cuisine:

  • Meta Title: Signature Thai Cuisine | Best Thai Food in La Mesa
  • Meta Description: We are a Traditional Thai restaurant that offers authentic Thai dishes using fresh ingredients and bold spices.

The combination of keywords like “Best Thai food in La Mesa,” “Thai restaurant,” and “Authentic Thai dishes” makes it clear what's on the menu helping to increase the click-through rate (a measure of how many people click from Google to a website).

It’s all about connecting what searchers are looking for with what your restaurant offers to get those valuable clicks from hungry searchers.

With our platform at Owner.com you can easily update your H1, meta title and meta description in minutes. But, if you host your website on other platforms it should also be pretty straightforward to make these changes.

Use AI to Optimize for More Locations

A.I. stands for “artificial intelligence.” But, don’t worry. This isn’t as complex as it may sound. With AI and Owner, you can automatically generate pages for every location your restaurant is close to.

For example, Brooklyn Pizza has a location in Short Hills, New Jersey. They used A.I. generated text that lists neighboring service areas on their site. Now, when people in the neighboring town of Springfield search for a place to order pizza from, Brooklyn Pizza’s Short Hills location appears in the results.

Not only that, but when people click through to the site, they land on an A.I.-generated page that has messaging tailored for Springfield residents.

Get a free demo here to see how Owner can help your restaurant business grow with SEO.

Use Alt-Text to Optimize your Images

Another way to optimize your website is to focus on the alt text. Short for alternative text  ‘alt text’ is a crucial element in SEO.

In simple terms, alt text provides a text description of the images featured on your website. Helping Google (and other search engines) to gather context on what’s displayed in your images.

Importance of Alt Text

For instance, an image of a pizza on a restaurant's site could have alt text like “fresh vegan pizza at [Restaurant Name],” this can enhance a restaurant website’s SEO by building further association between the restaurant’s site and the food it offers.

Alt text also makes websites accessible to users with visual impairments, as screen readers rely on this text to describe images.

3. Focus on Page Speed

We've all been there – clicking on a website, drumming our fingers impatiently as it crawls to load. Frustrating, isn't it?

Now, picture the scenario where you’re hungry and all you want to do is order a meal online. Even more annoying, right?

If your restaurant's website takes its sweet time to load, I can guarantee you’re losing customers to the speedier competition.

According to a study by Unbounce, a staggering 70% of consumers admit that page speed influences their likelihood to buy. That same study found that 22% of would-be diners will bail in three seconds, and 14% might dive over to a competitor’s faster-loading site.

When it comes to deciding which websites to display in search results, Google keeps a sharp eye on something called the “bounce rate” – essentially how many visitors take one look at your page and then bounce off. The higher your bounce rate, the less likely Google is to rank your site at the top of search results pages (sometimes called SERPs).

So page speed is a make-or-break factor in transforming website visitors into loyal customers.

Curious about your performance? You can use Owner’s free website performance tool here. It analyzes your site’s online presence and provides a free report on page speed, SEO performance, and compares it to competitors.

Now, here are three easy ways to speed up your site's load time.

1. Compress Images

One of the biggest causes of slow websites are large image files. There are many free image compressors online (like TinyPNG). Before you upload any images to your site, use a compressor to make the file size smaller.

2. Simplify Code

Whether you have a dedicated web developer or it’s your tech savvy nephew, ask them to generate a report on your site’s web speed. Then, they’ll be able to make changes based on it to help make things run faster.

3. Optimize Web Hosting

Make sure your web hosting aligns with best practices. If not, it’s easy enough to move your site to another hosting service.

Our platform at Owner.com automatically incorporates these optimizations. Restaurant sites hosted with us regularly score in the top 1% for usability and speed. But, businesses on other platforms can still significantly improve SEO with the techniques we just went over.

4. Create Dedicated Pages for Your Most Popular Menu Items

Remember how we talked about the power of secondary keywords in point #1? Well, now it’s time to put that learning into action.

Those irresistible dishes that keep your customers coming back for more, they're not just menu highlights; they're a treasure trove of SEO opportunities, largely untapped by your competition.

Here's how you can make this work to your advantage, using our friends at Talkin’ Tacos again as an example…

Talkin’ Tacos, is a Mexican restaurant that started out in Miramar, Florida, and has now expanded to locations in Atlanta, Washington D.C., New York and North Carolina — they’re doing something right for sure, huh?

The star of Talkin Tacos’ menus is its Birria tacos. Knowing this was a dish their customers craved and something people were searching Google for, they created a page on their website just for birria tacos — targeting those with a craving for the dish near one of their locations.

Importance of Alt Text

This page features a mouthwatering image of the tacos waiting to be eaten, an enticing description, and also common pairings to help increase the order value.

And the best part is as the page was created through Owner.com, it seamlessly works with the restaurant’s online ordering system. It allows users to order that menu item with Apple Pay right away for that impulse buy — as remember, people who are searching want to order NOW.

Creating unique pages for your dishes doesn't only offer SEO benefits, it helps to create a great experience for everyone that visits your website, which leads nicely onto my next step…

5. Create a Seamless Experience

A seamless user experience (UX) is key to keeping visitors glued to your site, hitting checkout on your dishes, and proving to Google that you're the answer to what diners are searching for.

Every page on your website should have a specific job and play a role in your guests’ buying journey. For example:

  • Your Homepage should instantly tell visitors what your restaurant specializes in.
  • Your About page should tell your unique story and the history of your business.
  • Your Menu page should showcase your dishes in an appetizing and easy-to-navigate format.

Web Page Experiences

When your site experience makes sense, it’s not only a more enjoyable and straightforward experience for your customers but it also increases the time they spend on your site. And in the SEO world, the length of time visitors stay on your site is a signal to Google that your site is providing value.

Let me walk you through an example of how website experience translates to bottom line success…

Timirie Shibley and her husband Chef Patrick operate the Doo-Dah Diner in Wichita Kansas. They started their restaurant 12 years ago, wanting to create a home-y diner where their community in Wichita could come together. It was a huge success.

But when it came to its website, the experience was nowhere close to on par with the in-diner experience:

  • The website was dated and looked old and amateurish.
  • It wasn’t ranking at the top of Google to help her drive new customers, and customers didn’t trust it
  • The checkout experience was many steps long and people would duck out before completing an order.

With Owner.com, Timirie and Patrick overhauled their website, transforming it into something they could be proud of and their customers loved.

This revamp wasn't just a facelift; it ensured every page served a purpose, resulting in a significant spike in revenue from SEO. Doo-Dah Diner now ranks prominently in Google for key terms like “best diner in Wichita” and “best breakfast in Wichita” — driving over 40 new customers every month.

Don’t Forget to Tell Your Story

Weaving the unique narrative behind your restaurant and its dishes into your site can help create a deep, personal connection with your customers. Whether it's the tale of how your family-run eatery’s menu came to be or the journey from food truck to opening your first location, these stories help customers to get to know you.

But how does that help SEO…

As I mentioned earlier, Google pays close attention to how long visitors spend on your website. And a compelling story that keeps people engaged not only helps the customer to build a connection with your restaurant, it’s also signals to Google that your site is delivering what visitors want.

One fun example is my friend Jojo’s cafe Bell the Cat in Belfast, Maine. Right on the homepage is a link to brief stories about the restaurant, Jojo’s journey from the football field to the kitchen, and even a bit about where the restaurant’s unusual name comes from.

Restaurant Story

6. Local SEO

Local SEO helps your business to be more visible in searches that revolve around local keywords, drawing in local customers. Things like:

  • “Pizza near me”
  • “San Antonio Pasta”
  • “Nearest Chinese takeaway”

When it comes to deciding which restaurants to showcase for these hunger-driven searches, Google pays specific attention to three things:

  • Relevance: How well a local business matches what someone is searching for.
  • Distance: How close your restaurant is to the location term the searcher used. If no location is used or they just use a term like “near me,” Google will calculate the distance based on the searcher’s current location.
  • Prominence: How well known a business is. Google figures out prominence by looking at information, articles, and directories across the web.

Local search results are displayed in two ways on Google search results pages:

  1. The Local Pack, showcasing a map with links to Google Business Profiles,
  2. The familiar Organic results, those Google-blue links we all know and love on Google’s search engine results pages.


Google Local Pack

Your restaurant appearing in the Local Pack, with a map pinpointing your location, is the perfect way to reach potential new customers.

But how do you ensure your business shows up in these local searches? Here are three tips:

1. Optimize Your Google Business Profile

A Google Business Profile (previously known as Google My Business) is a free listing any restaurant can create on Google. It features key information about your business like:

  • Location
  • Opening hours (and holidays)
  • What your restaurant offers
  • Link to your menu
  • Phone number
  • Website link
  • Photos of your restaurant
  • Customer reviews

Here’s an example Google Business profile from Saigon Dish Vietnamese Restaurant in Lawndale, CA:

Google Business Profile

SEO expert Kevin Indig, who has worked with brands like Shopify and Snapchat, emphasizes the growing importance of Google Business profiles for restaurants. “Local businesses will have to invest even more time into proper Google Business profiles and how they appear on Google Maps [in 2024],” he says.

“That means finding a mechanism to drive and reward positive reviews, grooming your site, adding pictures on a regular basis, running specials and engaging with the local community," adds Indig.

Here’s exactly what you can do to optimize your Google Business listing:

  1. Make sure you use your actual business name in your listing
  2. Include your phone number (ideally a local phone number)
  3. Ensure your hours of operation are correct
  4. Add a compelling description about your restaurant and include some of your key dishes or reasons people love to visit (you don’t need to include keywords in here as your Google Business description doesn’t have any impact on search rankings)
  5. Include high-resolution photos of your restaurant interior, exterior and some of your top-selling dishes. If you have videos, you can also upload 30-second or shorter clips to your profile.

Remember, your Google Business profile is not something to 'set and forget'. Revisit it regularly to update information, refresh images, and keep your profile as inviting as the aroma of your freshly cooked dishes.

2. Standardize your Name, Address, and Phone Number Data (NAP)

Ensuring your restaurant's Name, Address, and Phone Number (NAP) details are identical everywhere your business is mentioned online signals to Google that your information is accurate and reliable.

Imagine Google as a detective, meticulously comparing notes across various profiles and sources. When all the details match, it confidently shares your information with searchers, knowing it's delivering the truth.

Consistency in your NAP business information data isn't just helpful for search engines, it also reassures potential customers that they won't have to second-guess your opening hours or wonder where to find you.

3. Encourage Google Reviews

Online reviews help Google to decide which restaurants to feature in local packs. When analyzing the most relevant restaurants to display for each search, Google looks at:

  1. Review count (the number of reviews your restaurant has received)
  2. Review score (your average score)

So more positive reviews can increase your chances of ranking highly in Google’s local pack.

Google Reviews

But it's not just about ranking at the top of Google. High-rated reviews also go a long way to attracting customers who are looking to place orders.

So how do you encourage a steady stream of reviews?

  1. Ask: Don’t be shy to ask customers who’ve had a great experience to leave a review. A gentle nudge after a delivery can encourage a happy customer  to leave a review.
  2. Make it easy: Provide direct links to your Google review page on your website, in email receipts, or even on physical receipts.
  3. Respond to every review: Whether it’s a glowing recommendation or a constructive critique, respond to each review. It shows you're listening and care about every customer's experience. Plus, Google also recommends that you reply to reviews about your business.

7. Build Backlinks

A backlink is like a digital thumbs-up from one website to another. Every time another website links to your restaurant’s site, they’re essentially saying, "Hey, check this place out, it's great!"

These backlinks signal to Google that your restaurant is highly trustworthy.

The more high-quality backlinks you have, the more reliable Google sees your website as — this means if you have more backlinks, Google could be more likely to rank your website above another local competitor.

For example, let’s say you run a pizzeria in Lewiston, Maine. If your site has 250 backlinks, but a competitor only has five backlinks, Google will most likely (it's often the case, but not always) attribute more trustworthiness to your website, and often rank it above your competitor.

In simple terms, backlinks can help make your restaurant more visible online.

What Are Backlinks

So how do you actually build backlinks?

It sounds like something complex, time-consuming, and expensive. But there are straightforward, often free, ways for restaurants to generate backlinks that fuel business growth.

Here are three ways to generate links for your restaurant:

1. Local Media, Food Bloggers, and Critics

Coverage from local media is a great way to generate some backlinks, as well as to create some more attention for your restaurant. Google values links from reputable local news sites and food blogs. But not only that, these publications are read by potential customers in your area, so you could also attract some new customers directly through the coverage.

To catch the eye of local bloggers and food journalists, email them pitches based on what makes your business or your story unique and timely — it could be the history of your signature dish, your origin story, or even a new menu or location launch.

2. Local Directories and Community Sites

Every community has online directories, noticeboards or review sites. These are great places to list your business in order to connect with customers and generate valuable backlinks — as well as increasing your NAP citations. These directories are often free to list your business in too. For example, in Kansas City 816Area is a free directory of local businesses.

Also don’t forget to add your business to bigger, national directories like Yelp and Tripadvisor.

3. Collaborations and Events

Create a newsworthy story by joining forces  with other businesses or taking part in community events. Whether it’s charity fundraisers, local festivals, or cooking demos, these moments are perfect for earning features in local media.

Restaurant SEO Made Simple

As we’ve illustrated in this guide, restaurant SEO can have a huge impact on the growth of your business. And doesn’t have to be complicated or confusing. You don’t need to know how to code or be a Gen-Z digital marketing whizz to reap the benefits.

Here’s a quick recap of the restaurant seo tips we’ve shared today:

  1. Keyword research: Uncover relevant keywords to understand what people are searching for.  
  2. Optimize your website: Include your primary and secondary keywords in your H1’s, meta titles, and meta descriptions.
  3. Focus on page speed: Optimize your images so large files don’t slow down your site.
  4. Create pages for key menu items: Creating unique pages for your dishes helps your site rank for more keywords.
  5. User experience: Every page on your website should serve a specific purpose, helping to keep visitors on your website and moving towards making a purchase.
  6. Local SEO: Set up your Google Business profile and revisit it regularly to update information, refresh images, and keep it as fresh as possible.
  7. Generate backlinks: The more high-quality backlinks you have, the more reliable Google sees your website as. Build relationships with local press and bloggers to generate coverage and valuable links.

Ultimately, SEO success is about showing Google that your website offers the best possible user experience and optimizing for the keywords that matter in your location.

Following the tips in this restaurant SEO plan will help you beat the competition, get more traffic from Google, and increase your direct orders.

Want to speed up your SEO growth? Owner has SEO features that will simplify your SEO strategy and get you ranked higher on Google. Find out more and book a demo here.

Frequently asked questions

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Adam Guild is the CEO of Owner, a restaurant marketing platform that makes online growth easy for restaurants.

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