For many local businesses, competition is intense. And for restaurant and café owners out there, it’s no different. They face constant challenges to attract diners to their premises.
The big chains tend to dominate the search traffic so the smaller, local restaurants (and cafés) might feel like they are having a hard time trying to compete.
However, what I do find is the majority of these smaller restaurant websites could be a lot better and actually have more potential than they might think.
They focus on 3rd party sites like TripAdvisor or Yelp instead, which means they have little control and face more competition with other restaurants and cafes.
With the help of an effective and structured restaurant SEO strategy, this can translate to better search results, drive more relevant traffic to your website and fill up your dining room with hungry guests.
So let's get started.
1. Publish Your Menu (Properly) & Keep It Updated
One of the first things that hungry diners do when looking at restaurant options is to look at the menus. So imagine their frustration when they either can't find the menu, it's not up-to-date or it's not easy to find.
I find this very hard to understand and it’s a common occurrence. A menu is the main selling point for all restaurants, yet they don't make it easy for the diner to see it.
So, if you have a menu, there are a few things to consider:
- Publish it online on your website (and if applicable, on 3rd party platforms like Yelp, OpenTable and TripAdvisor too).
- Do not just upload a PDF of the menu. It's not only lazy (sorry, but it's true), but it's also not search-friendly (as Google can't access it), and it's not mobile-friendly either, which means it's frustrating to read on-the-go. So essentially, you will miss out on traffic and engagement.
- Keep it up-to-date. It is a frustrating experience if potential customers are excited to eat a particular dish on your menu, only to arrive and find that it's not available anymore (it’s off an old menu).
If you do want to include a PDF, you can provide an option to do that by putting a link on the page and mention that it will open a PDF. But I'm not sure why you would want to offer a PDF anyway (feel free to comment at the end of this post on the benefits of doing so).
Make it as easy as possible for your customers to find and read the menu, especially if they are on the move and they are using their mobile to read about you (which is more likely).
After all, you want to "sell" your menu, so make it easy for yourself to do that.
2. Carry Out Keyword Research & Implement Them
You need to make it easy for your customers to find, not just your brand name, but also information about your restaurant. So, it's important to do some keyword research to help you understand what your customers are searching for on Google and how can they find you.
Using the latter, I know that if I have a vegetarian restaurant in Edinburgh, I would do some keyword research, think about where to implement the most important keywords and also understand how my audiences are searching online.
You can even use Google Trends to help you understand further what are the trending keywords your customers are using in your area.
And speaking of where to implement your keywords, the next section will give you an idea of how you can do that.
3. Implement On-Page SEO (you don't have to aim for a green light on Yoast)
On-Page SEO can cover many areas and it's one for a future blog post, but there are certain areas that you definitely need to focus on for your website:
- Title tags (or SEO Titles) - these are the titles that you see on Google’s search result and you can adjust that with the help of plugins like Yoast.
- Meta descriptions - these are the short descriptions underneath the titles on the search result page, which you can also use Yoast for.
- URL - avoid using “stop words” like ‘a’, ‘the’ and ‘to’, keep it short, timeless and keyword-rich
- H1 heading - this is the main headline at the top of the page
- Embed media such as videos and images - having just text on your page is boring and not fun to consume. Mix it up with other forms of content.
- Optimise your images - don’t make your images too heavy or bloated, as this can slow down your site and reduce the likelihood of appearing on Google Images. I have discussed this in details at point 9 of this post.
- Internal links - link to relevant pages so that your visitors can find what they are looking for quickly and easily.
- Site speed - since mobile search exceeded desktop search back in 2015, it’s important for your site to load quickly on mobile, as your potential customers could be on the move and looking for a place to eat.
Where relevant, make sure you manually include your main keywords for each page i.e. what do you expect people to search for to find that page on your site.
Even within media such as images, you can optimise them to your benefit to attract search traffic and use them to make your page more engaging.
Using Yoast SEO plugin can help you and it allows you to keep track of how to optimise your page.
4. Dominate Your Local Search - Google Maps, Tripadvisor, Yelp, OpenTable, Zomato, etc.
Whether you like it or not, local search will play a big part in how visible your restaurant is to the local market
Google also takes into account data from the likes of Yelp and Zomato, which will then appear on the right-hand side of the search result in the Knowledge Base.
And it’s not just reviews from your customers that will appear there, but also critic reviews could appear there too:
You may have noticed in the images above that various other info appears there, so make sure you include all the important information such as:
- opening hours
- phone number
- website link
Google Maps makes it very easy to look for information directly within their dashboard (and if your website is not up to scratch, then you're not giving anyone a reason to visit your site in the first place).
But even within the “About Us” section for each of these platforms, many restaurants will just put a few lines about them, what do they do, and will include some kind of "check out our menu" or "come visit us", which will do anything but that.
Instead, think about how you can use that section to talk about your business in a way that will benefit the readers. What will they get out of it? What should they expect?
It may be an 'About Us', but it's really about them, your prospective diners.
5. Take Advantage of Google My Business
In order to appear on Google Maps, you need to create your own Google My Business account and add your restaurant there.
Make sure you fill in all the relevant fields, as they are there for a reason.
One useful area you can use within Google My Business which is rarely utilised by restaurants and cafes is the post feature. You can provide updates and post offers directly to your business profile on Google search and Maps.
You can also get insights on which posts worked well and which ones didn’t. This will help you better your future posts.
But as always, restaurants are not making the most of these features:
And did you know that you can use hashtags too? Google has recently allowed users to use hashtags within the reviews, that are searchable and clickable too.
But like on any platform, do not overdo it (Google recommends a maximum of 5) and be specific about it.
If you use #vegan, #seafood, #WheelchairAccessible and #DogFriendly, they make sense.
But if you use #ThrowbackThursday, that's not relevant and it doesn't add anything to your post (and as harsh as it sounds, nobody will care).
6. Encourage Reviews & Testimonials
This is quite an obvious one.
Where possible, encourage your diners to leave a review on various platforms, as they can play a part in improving your chances of attracting diners.
According to research, approximately 61% of customers read online reviews about restaurants.
They may also play a part in improving your ranking on their respective sites, particularly if you use Google’s own review system.
There’s no concrete evidence to suggest this but it is strongly believed that businesses which have frequent reviews are most likely to be more visible than those that do not...regardless of what review platform you use.
Reevoo has carried out the research themselves, where they have noticed the benefits of having a number of reviews on their own platform versus conversions for the retailers:
The other benefit of having reviews is that you can repurpose them and use them on your site, and for social media too.
Of course, if you have unique reviews that are only for your website, then that can work as well. Just make sure that you are honest that it's a genuine review.
Don't even think about fooling your audience.
7. Provide High-Quality Photos of the Restaurant’s Interior, Food & Staff
I don't know about you, but if I'm going to spend a few hours at a restaurant, I would like to know where I will be sitting and the type of food I’m going to be eating, to give me an idea of its vibe.
Is it casual, well-lit with big portions of food? Is it chilled, dimmed with fine-dining style food? Is it crowded, noisy with finger foods?
Whatever it is, pictures can help "sell" your business dramatically, but only if they are well-taken, professional and high-quality.
Otherwise, you run the risk of putting off your customers if you are using a normal photo taken with your phone, with bad lighting and no concept of what makes a good food photograph.
And we've all seen badly-taken photos of foods from our friends on Facebook. 🙄
Photos can help to set the expectations for your customers, so by providing them to the public, you will make your customers feel more comfortable as they will have an idea of what to expect when they arrive at your premises.
8. Promote Images on Social Media
Since you already have those images available, you can then make use of image-focused platforms like Pinterest and Instagram to showcase your restaurant.
Of course, it is a separate strategy if you want to increase your visibility on either platform, as they don’t just require images, but also well-written and optimised content, consistent uploads and engagement with other users.
But since many people “eat with their eyes” you want to make sure that as many people as possible can see them, and social media can help you with that.
9. Take Advantage of Image Optimisation
But it's not just social media that can help you to attract traffic, your website can too.
Another important part of SEO is image optimisation. And for those restaurants who take their images seriously, you can make the most out of them by making them search-friendly and attract visitors to your site.
One crucial aspect of this is to make use of alternative text or alt text after you have uploaded your images.
If you have a photograph of a plate of food which consists of 4 wild mushroom Arancini with rocket and tomato & basil dip, then describe that image as "4 wild mushroom Arancini balls on a bed of rocket with tomato and basil dip".
Not as “Arancini balls” 🙄
And optimise your file name, e.g. 4-wild-mushroom-arancini-balls-rocket-tomato-basil-dip.jpg
Not as IMG0013284.jpg 😣
These can help Google to understand your image better, make it appear high on Google and hopefully attract the attention of your audience who can then visit your site and learn more about your restaurant.
But it's not just about making them keyword-rich. There are other reasons to optimise your images, such as to prevent it from slowing down your site and to make them visible when your audience are sharing a page on your website through social media.
So make sure you check out the link below to learn more about optimising your images.
10. Provide an Easy-to-Use Online Reservation Booking
Nowadays, you want to make it easy for your customers to book a table, as not all of them will want to call (or are even able to call, for whatever reason).
According to this research about booking appointments or reservations, “nearly 70% of respondents said that they’d choose to book online if a variety of booking options were available, compared to only 20 percent who would choose to book by phone.”
There are many ways you can achieve that; by testing the various WordPress plugins, using established platforms like OpenTable and Quandoo, or getting someone to build it for you (though that might come at a high price and it's unnecessary when there are cheaper options available).
You may also be able to integrate your booking on Google’s search result too (the image below is due to Quandoo):
But the main thing is that it's easy-to-use for your customers and it works. The worst thing that you could do is double-book your tables and leave your customers angry and standing at the door while waiting to be seated.
11. Make Your NAP Prominent and Easy to Find
NAP stands for name, address and phone number; 3 crucial aspects of local SEO.
This might sound like an obvious one, but you'd be surprised how many restaurants and cafes don't make it easy enough for people to find them.
Or just as bad, when the opening times are incorrect too. 😲
Make sure it’s correct and up-to-date everywhere; from your site to Google My Business, from Yelp to all the other 3rd party platforms out there.
Whether it's by having a dedicated contact page, or you include this information within the footer of all pages (or both!), just make it easy for them to find you and contact you.
On top of that, it will give a further local SEO signal to Google and they will be able to understand more about the location of your business.
12. Implement Structured Data Using Restaurant Schema Markup
This is slightly technical and might require the help of a developer and SEO consultants who know what they are doing.
Schema markup, found on Schema.org, is a form of semantic markup which provides an enhanced description (aka rich snippets) on search results such as reviews and prices.
These markups also help search engines (yes, there’s more than one) to understand your website better.
For example, if you search for "foo fighter gigs", you will see details directly on the search result:
Or if you want basic information about a chicken stir-fry recipe, you can do the same:
Even though there are various restaurant “properties” you can use to help the search engines, back in 2017, schema.org introduced new restaurant menu markup, which is barely used.
This is another opportunity to stand out amongst the crowd.
(And it’s also another reason why uploading your menu in PDF form is a bad idea, as it won’t be readable by Google and you can’t implement Schema markup on it.)
If you are using a well-designed theme, it will most likely have the generic schema markup already implemented.
But well-designed specialists restaurant themes will more likely have the more appropriate restaurant-related schema markup.
If not, make sure you get a specialist to help you with that.
13. Engage with Customers on Social Media
We are lucky that we can engage and communicate directly with our customers. Yet, I still see many restaurants and cafes not bothering to reply to social media posts from their customers.
And that is a missed opportunity to build an army of new and loyal diners.
We also live in an era where people proudly take pictures of their food and drinks, post them online and then tag your restaurant in the photos.
Again, this is a great opportunity to engage with your customers directly. It could be as simple as thanking them for coming, complement their photo and even reward a few with discounts or gifts for their efforts.
14. Create Unique, High-Quality & Engaging Content Consistently
This is the one thing that most restaurants will not do. But for those who do, and do it right, they will reap the rewards in the long-term.
First of all, you will need a blog, and to update that blog frequently.
Most people would update their blog with company news, new menus, new cutlery… anything that makes it about them.
But a blog can be used as a sales tool if you shift that focus to what your audience needs and provide high-quality content on a consistent basis.
Sounds tough? You bet it is, which is why very few restaurants will do that. But you can stand out from the crowd by following this method.
If you struggle to think of new content ideas, there are various ways you can do this. One way is to use a free tool like Answer the Public.
Another way is to answer questions that your customers are frequently asking you. So make sure you and your staff are listening to the frequently asked questions your customers are asking.
There are various ways you can do that.
You can use Google to help you find relevant content ideas that your audience are searching for, which also has the potential to attract traffic from Google.
The video below will demonstrate how you can gain such content ideas via Google:
Or you can use a Q&A platform, like Quora, to find and answer questions that people are desperately looking for answers on.
Quora platform showing questions relating to the restaurant industry
I will warn you now that creating content is hard work and time-consuming. But do it right, and you will stand out amongst the noise.
15. Make Your Site Mobile-Friendly
Since Google has announced that the number of people searching via mobile has exceeded those of desktop way back in 2015, imagine how many searches are on mobile now.
And to keep up with that trend, Google also announced that they would be focusing on mobile-first indexing. This is where they focus on the mobile performance of your site and rank your site based on that instead of the previous desktop performance.
Google news clip from November 2016 informing of mobile-first indexing
Make use of Google’s free mobile-friendly test to see if you are in the safe zone and get the help of a designer, or look at other WordPress themes which are more suitable for you.
After all, it is most likely that the majority of your customers will be searching for places to eat on their mobile and on-the-go, so it is crucial for your restaurant and café to have a website which is mobile-friendly.
16. Use Reputable WordPress Themes
If your site is on WordPress, you may have noticed that there are tens of thousands of themes out there to choose from.
Personally, I tend to focus on StudioPress themes and framework as they are well-designed, well-coded and maintained frequently.
You can also search for restaurant-specific themes that may have features you will find useful, like the restaurant schema options already embedded.
But even using those provided by StudioPress can give you a very good foundation to build your site on.
17. Keep Your Website Secure for Everyone
It goes without saying that this applies to anyone who has a website, so it’s impossible to ignore this section.
Most website owners are very casual about how secure their website is, which is a dangerous attitude to have, as it’s not the case of if but when you get an attempted attack by hackers.
And if you depend on your website to keep your business afloat, all the more reason to take the issue of website security very seriously.
On top of that, make sure you comply with GDPR requirements as you will most likely have contact forms and (hopefully) an online booking system that will store your customers’ details.
18. Implement Google Analytics and Learn More About Your Audience & Website’s Performance
Sure you can measure the performance of your listings on 3rd party platforms. But how will you know what works and what doesn’t work on your own website?
This is especially important if you are going to be using content frequently (have I convinced you yet?) as you will want to understand:
- what your audience like and don’t like,
- what attracts traffic and doesn’t attract traffic, and
- what is your conversion rate from those who arrive to your site to the online booking form.
Tracking conversion might be a bit more tricky as your customers can still turn up at the door or call to make a booking instead of booking online.
Nonetheless, it’s still a good metric to track. And there are different types of conversion you can track, like newsletter subscribers, clicks on phone numbers, PDF menu downloads… only kidding, I already told you to not to just have your menu in PDF!
The one mistake I see a lot of restaurant owners do is that they either entirely focus all their energy on 3rd party platforms, or they just publish a website and leave it as it is.
Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely believe in the power of 3rd party platforms. If you think about it, a number of tips above are relevant on your website and elsewhere e.g. you can upload the high-quality photos onto Google My Business and TripAdvisor too.
But, I absolutely believe that there is a missed opportunity out there if that’s all you do, which means that you miss out on new regular diners.
Here’s the thing; those 3rd party sites are not owned by you and you have little to no control over what they do. So if they decide to sell up, change the algorithm, push your site down in ranking, remove your listing, etc. you will have very little say in the matter.
While I do strongly believe that they have a place in your marketing strategy, it should not be your only plan, as that lack of control could come back to hurt you.
There are two things to remember.
The first is that you own your website.
Unlike Google Maps, Tripadvisor, Yelp, etc., you decide what to do with your site and how you want to use it. And as restaurant owners, that amount of flexibility and control will give you the freedom to be creative and innovative with how you want to appear online.
And the second thing you should know is that most people who read this will not bother implementing the recommendations above. Don’t be one of them.
Rather than just have a static website which is barely used and a few listings on other sites, you’ve got a great opportunity to stand out amongst the very noisy crowd and accommodate those hungry customers.
It’s either that, or you can be like everyone else and blend in quietly.
It’s your call.
If you own a restaurant or a café, do you use your website? If not, why not? And is there anything else you do to attract your customers that has not been mentioned above?
Do leave a comment below and share your thoughts.