SEO for restaurants is always tricky. Hospitality is probably the industry which relies most heavily on word of mouth and local reputation. This leads some restaurant owners to ignore SEO. However, when done correctly, local SEO can actually leverage these factors.

Additionally, since SEO is typically underutilised by restaurants, hospitality is one of the few industries where you can still eek out an early adoption advantage. In fact, by following this guide, you’ll have a great chance of catching your competitors sleeping.

First of all, let’s cover some of the basics.

What is SEO for Restaurants?

SEO can mean different things in different industries. For restaurants, SEO is highly localised. That is, you’re pretty much only concerned with attracting traffic in your immediate catchment area, or at least people who are planning to visit.

This means that local SEO best practices are crucial. Luckily, local SEO is pretty straightforward. Essentially, there are two kinds of local searches you need to worry about:

SEO for restaurants
  1. Locally modified searches. This is where a search query explicitly includes a geographical term, like a town or city. For example, pizzeria Belfast.
  2. Implicitly local searches. This is when a search query doesn’t include a local modifier, but the algorithm uses its common sense to determine that the user is looking for something in the local area. For example, if a user simply enters pizzeria into Google, they’re fairly unlikely to want information on restaurants in another city, so local results are displayed.

With that in mind, let’s look at how to build a killer SEO strategy for restaurants.

Local SEO restaurants near belfast
Searches for hospitality related keywords are generally local. Image credit: ProfileTree

Define your SEO Goals

When creating any marketing strategy, goals should be your starting point. However, it’s important to realise that success can be hard to measure with local SEO. You might see more customers coming through your door with better SEO, but it’s hard to be scientific about this.

One obvious way to get around this is to measure success by examining changes in your traffic volumes. However, this misses the step between users entering your site and converting into paying customers.

As such, it’s important to have a conversion point on your site. For restaurants this can include:

  • Making an advanced booking,
  • Filling in a contact form,
  • Making an order for delivery/collection,
  • Purchasing another item, such as a gift voucher.

These features make it considerably easier to establish a link between your restaurant SEO efforts and increases in revenue.

Key Local SEO Factors for Restaurants

Once you’ve decided how you’ll measure the success of your new SEO strategy, the next step is getting to grips with essential local SEO ranking factors. In many ways, ranking factors for local seo are a lot easier to leverage than non-local SEO signals:

Local Pack Ranking Factors Pie Chart
Your reviews make up 15% of your overall ranking for local SEO. Info credit: CloudFront

As this graph shows, two of the biggest ranking factors are your Google My Business profile and your reviews. This puts restaurants in a unique position to rank well for local searches. Let’s take a look at how to optimise your brand for each of these ranking factors.

Google My Business

Google My Business is a tool which allows you to provide search engine users and algorithms with key information about your business, including:

  • Name,
  • Address,
  • Contact details,
  • Services,
  • Reviews.

There are a couple of key things you need to know about your Google My Business profile. The first is, of course, ensuring that information is accurate, and optimised for keyword search volumes.

The other is ensuring consistency across other online directories. Restaurants typically have their details displayed across numerous industry specific sites. Where these don’t match exactly, it can actually harm your chances of ranking locally, as your GMB data is less credible.

Restaurant Reviews

Reviews are also crucial for local SEO. For restaurants, this is even more important given the role of social proof in attracting customers. People trust their peers. This is why you’re more likely to want to eat somewhere that has a queue out the door.

Online reviews are the virtual equivalent of this.

It’s also worth thinking about Google’s business model here. Any search engine wants people to use their platform as much as possible. To achieve this, they have to give great recommendations for their users.

Because of this, Google takes your brand’s online reputation into account when ranking it for local SEO. The more people seem to like your restaurant, the more highly it will rank. This includes both the quality and quantity of reviews.

As such, it’s important to encourage your happy customers to leave feedback on Google My Business and other review sites.

Domain-Level SEO for Restaurants

Of course, local SEO also shares many of the ranking signals of its non-local counterpart. To some extent, the above local ranking factors reduce the role of other signals. All the same, they are still vitally important.

Let’s take a look at some of these.

Technical SEO

Technical SEO may sound a little scary to some restaurant owners, but there’s actually not much to it. Essentially, the goal of technical SEO is ensuring that your site is:

  • Secure,
  • Fast,
  • Stable,
  • Easy to navigate,
  • Crawlable by search engines.

The best way to ensure the first four of these goals is to invest in professional web development. You can use tools like Google’s free Page Speed Insights tool to assess your current performance.

Assessing your technical SEO in terms of crawlability can be a little bit trickier. As time goes by, crawlability issues can emerge through improper website management. Specifically, you might encounter issues with your:

  • HTML tags, like titles and subheadings,
  • Keyword cannibalisation, where multiple pages target the same keywords,
  • Broken links,
  • Server errors.

These are only the most common crawlability errors. There are countless others. As such, it’s important to track the crawablity of your site using a website auditing tool. The most advanced tools, like Semrush, will even give you recommendations for fixing issues.

On-Page SEO

On-page SEO is equally important for restaurants. Generally, on-page can mean a number of things, including:

  • Content,
  • UX,
  • CRO,
  • Keyword focus and usage,
  • Images,
  • Video,
  • Headings.

The thing most restaurants struggle with is keyword usage. In fact, like many local businesses, most restaurants’ get most of their organic traffic through branded search. That is, users who explicitly search for your brand.

Naturally, this limits your traffic to people who already know about your restaurant. This isn’t great for business growth, as it’s more or less impossible to attract new customers. The first step to overcoming this is keyword research.

The perfect keywords have three ingredients:

  1. Relevance to your business,
  2. High search volumes,
  3. Low competition.

In reality though, you’ll normally have to settle for a combination of relevance and one of the other qualities. That is, popular queries are generally the most competitive, for obvious reasons.

Keyword placement is actually fairly straightforward too. An effective restaurant SEO strategy should lean heavily on non-branded commercial and transactional keywords. That is, queries which indicate that users want to make a particular purchase, but don’t know about relevant brands near them.

Examples of this might be:

  • Steak house,
  • Tasting menu,
  • Family dining,
  • BYO,
  • Pub grub.

Generally, your homepage should be focused on branded keywords, and a one or two search terms relating to your core offering, for instance pizzeria, or steak restaurant. More specific keywords should then be incorporated into your about and service pages.

Content Marketing for Restaurants

These days, content marketing is a massive industry. In fact, in 2021 content marketing is one of the most widely utilised channels around.

Content marketing stats
Content marketing is the most cost-effective SEO strategy for restaurants. Info credit:

However, it’s also one that’s underutilised by the restaurant business.

After all, people care about what chefs can cook, not what they think, right? Wrong. These days, consumers are more concerned than ever with connecting with the brands they love. As experiential businesses, this goes doubly for restaurants.

Besides, ongoing marketing through blogs, videos and even podcasts serves two important functions:

  1. Creating a platform to rank for keywords which are relevant to your business, but don’t necessarily fit your core service pages.
  2. Improving domain level signals, by adding content volume to your site and directing internal links to other key pages.

But what kind of content should you create?

There are a number of easy, and more importantly cheap ways for restaurants to develop killer content calendars. For example, you can utilise:

  • Behind the scenes content,
  • Opinion pieces,
  • Partnerships and interviews with suppliers,
  • How to guide.

No matter what, the goal of content marketing is generally to target users who might be interested in your brand, but aren’t actively looking for players in your niche. Any content you generate can also provide added value as social media or email marketing collateral for your existing audience.

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