How to Use SEO to Grow Your Local Restaurant's Sales

Restaurant SEO
Restaurant SEO

Google's conservatively estimates 30% of its mobile traffic carries a local intent. And most of Google's searches come from mobile devices.

The majority of consumers search for restaurants, dining and take-out online. Your website must be optimized for organic search.

Most restaurants and small businesses do not have a well optimized website. This means they don't rank well in Google and are not good experiences for customers.

This means they are not receiving the amount of traffic they should and when they do get visitors they are not choosing to dine.

To take advantage of free traffic you should optimize your site to deliver a great user experience as well as tackling the behind the scenes work required.

Because so many restaurants have not invested properly in their web presence it means they can be beaten in the online marketing space.

This is good news for you because by reading this article you are confirming restaurant SEO and a good user experience is a priority for your business!

What is Restaurant SEO?

The easiest way to attract new and repeat patrons is to reach them through the web with mobile web being the priority.

This means you need to take advantage of free traffic to your website offered by Google.

This means you need to optimize for organic, voice, local SEO and what we call position 0 or the space above the organic results.

That is a lot of search real estate your business needs to cover. And while it is free it takes deliberate work to earn those coveted spots.

That is a lot for a small business to master.

Don't worry, I am about to reveal where to start so you can make your site your best sales tool.

Before I get into content related tasks you need to make sure your website is technically sound.

Think about it, if your electric and gas lines were disconnected or your ovens broken you could not serve food.

If your website is broken not only will no one find it, if they do, they won't be impressed. This bad impression carries directly to your establishment.

You must earn their trust with the website. A bad web experience is like broadcasting toilets are dirty!

Focus on Mobile First

Over 60% of searches are mobile today. That is why Google has switched its search primary index to the mobile index. This means they evaluate your site using a 'mobile' device for organic rankings before they use your desktop experience.

Always load your site on your phone and anyone else's you can find. That way you can at least see what your site's experience is like for potential visitors.

Your website should be programmed to display all your content in a proper layout no matter what the screen dimensions are. Make all your site's content and functionality accessible and usable on any device.

The small screen, phone experience is the most important because this is what Google uses to score your site to rank in the results. Provide a bad mobile experience and you can kiss organic search traffic goodbye.

Be Secure

I think it goes without saying websites should be secure. Today over 80% of all websites use HTTPS, which encrypts all traffic to and from a web page.

HTTPS goes beyond encryption it enables advanced web features like Progressive Web Apps, Geo-Location, native Push Notifications and more.

These advanced features not only make your online presence feel more professional they can be used to drive more engagement, which is a fancy term for repeat business.

HTTP Warning Not Secure
HTTP Warning Not Secure

Browsers are also going out of their way to indicate when a website is not using HTTPS by displaying warnings in red in the address bar. When a diner sees a red, insecure warning they will most likely leave, immediately for a safer site.

Search engines also use HTTPS as a ranking signal. If you use HTTPS and all other ranking factors are equal to your competition that does not use HTTPS, then you will outrank them.

TLS certificates are free and easy to obtain. If your host does not make this an easy process or even on by default, then you should look for a new provider immediately.

Understand How Diners Search

Typing search phrases in the search bar is losing favor. Today more people are searching on mobile than their desktops. Instead of typing they are dictating.

This means you need to make sure your site's content focuses more on voice search.

But there is more to this strategy.

You need to consider how potential diners search for lunch and dinner. What phrases might they use?

Three Keys to Connect with Online Searches for Eating Out

  • Optimize for Voice Search
  • Focus on Consumer Oriented Keywords
  • Focus on Providing a Good Mobile Experience

Don't limit your content to answer questions you might ask and the vernacular you might use. Listen to what your customers say while they are in your establishment. Ask them how they found you and use this information to adjust your site for search.

Don't limit your focus to just 'Mexican Restaurant' or 'Mexican in [your town]'. You need to sell your enchiladas and not just enchiladas, but why yours are the best in the area.

How might an average person look for enchiladas? I know of 47,000 keyword searches related to enchiladas, how many do you rank for?

Setup Your Google My Business

Just registering your site with Google My Business (GMB) can improve its Google search rankings. Let's face it Google loves Google. So take advantage of every channel they offer to promote your restaurant.

But here's the thing...

Search results are changing, especially for local.

Google and Bing are both returning more results than just the traditional top 10 pages. They are including the map pack, menu preview and even the ability to order directly from the search results.

Because they use the data you enter in your Google My Business profile you want this to be sharp.

Make sure to include lots of photos and make sure they are professional.

More and more we are seeing GMB content and sites in the search results. These are free searches that merely require you claiming your business and entering your NAP data as well as your business description.

Listing your restaurant on "Google My Business" should be one of the first things your restaurant does.

Google My Business for Restaurants

The first thing you will see on most local restaurant search results on Google will be the Google Maps with a restaurant location, as seen below.

Things customers can do from your GMB page:

  • Reserve a Table
  • Place orders
  • View the Menu

Google My Business allows you to add direct URLs for specific actions. This can include your menu or reservations.

These quick links funnel your customers to the right actions fast. These links can also help you own more space in local search results.

Google My Business for Restaurants
Google My Business for Restaurants

Think about it, the more landing pages you have that provide the best answer to the user's intent the more chance you have of owning the available space in the search results. This means your competition wont be there!

The links make conversion actions easier, which means less friction. Anytime it is easier for a customer to give you there money your conversion rates increase. Customers being able to book and order directly from your listing is the definition of no friction!

Love2Dev has a GMB page and even though I service businesses everywhere I am surprised how many visitors stop by the Google My Business profile.

Just last month there were over 80 visitors and we did nothing to promote the page per se. You better believe that is changing!

Google Posts

Once you have a GMB profile you can post content on your business page.

Google Posts provide an opportunity to post up to 300 words with pictures and link to a call to action like "order", "buy", "reserve", and anything else you can think of.

These are just some of the ideas for Google My Business Posts to help promote your business.

  • Learn more
  • Reserve
  • Sign up
  • Buy
  • Get offer

These posts can be used to advertise specials, events or news about your restaurant. This is yet another channel for you to share your marketing messaging.

For Love2Dev we love these because they can be automated as part of your content work flow. When we create a restaurant site we can include GMB posts as part of the publishing process without our customers needing to manually create these posts.

This not only saves you time, but ensures your messaging is consistent.

Aim to Dominate Local Search

As I mentioned there are multiple position 0 opportunities for your establishment to display when a user searches. You want to be in all featured snippets, map pack, knowledge graph, search results, images and videos.

Wow, that is a lot of content you need to create.

But in the end it is more than worth the effort.

If you can score all the search opportunities it means your restaurant is featured multiple times and your competition isn't.

Guess who searching diners are going to order from?

That's right, you 😋.

Encourage Reviews & Testimonials

Google uses reviews it can verify or trust to help rank local businesses. Encouraging customers to leave a review will benefit your SEO. It also provide a valuable feedback channel.

Use reviews to gauge how well your hospitality and systems are working. Take them as constructive criticism and opportunities to build and expand your business.

Google seems to value reviews left in Google+, but as we all know that will go dark next Spring. My observation is Google+ as far as businesses are concerned is moving to the Google My Business platform.

Diners can leave reviews on your GMB page using their Google account profile. The reason these are valued more is Google can verify the user as being real and the review as being more legitimate.

Just don't offer something in return for a review. This is against Google's policies. You may not get punished if you do, but I would not take the chance.

Find Your Keywords

Any business, local, national or global needs to clearly define their target audience. For any restaurant this means local, even if you are a national chain.

But your store probably caters to a specific type of food: burgers, Italian, healthy, sandwiches, dessert, upscale, get the point.

So you want to focus on things like 'Mexican restaurant near me', right?

Yes and No.

I have seen this over and over again, business owners focusing on a small set of search phrases based on exactly how they might search for their product.

Often this is not even close to what customers would use.


Business owners tend to think of their business in a closed box defined by their industry. They use insider terms and phrases, not considering what a customer my use.

Think about it, you sell pizza, which means you think 🍕pizza [your town] is it. But don't you sell Calzones and hoagies too?

Are you kid friendly?

Do you provide take out?

What is your price point?

Do you have Hawaiian Pizza? (This is important for me FWIW)

Are you targeting the pizza emojii 🍕? Seriously, millennials love emojiis 💘💖, use them. You can rank for emojiis, even Love2Dev ranks for some emojiis.

Have you considered ranking for searches for recipes and questions around your food niche?

This is where content marketing can set you apart, make your site and your business the local authority, even the best place to dine, at least in your communities mind.

You may think local SEO is limited to search terms with you town or city included. But often general search terms with local based sources are included in the results.

This gives you the opportunity to reach your customers even when they are not looking to eat out or order to go.

More importantly this will open up opportunities for you to earn more links to your site. These links build trust and equity in Google's eyes. That link equity can then build your site's overall search profile to bring more eyes to your site. That translates to more customers!

So how can you find these keywords?

You need to use keyword tools to harvest and find the best phrases to target. There are many paid tools, and we use Ahrefs for this. But I don't limit my effort to just this tool, I use several free tools you can use right now:

  • Google/Bing Suggest/People Also Searched For
  • Uber Suggest
  • Ahrefs

After you collect potential keywords its time to use the keywords and produce some content.

Create Content Strategy

Keywords are useless unless you have a plan to use them.

This means you need a strategy or plan to leverage them.

That and a time to produce content for your site to claim a position in search results. You should organize keywords into a content calendar.

This is where you target specific keywords with articles, videos, images and other media over time. A calendar gives you a plan and timeline to produce the content. Without a plan you may find yourself loosing focus and neglecting content.

I use a calendar to help keep me on task for this and other sites.

At a high level I organize keywords into three general buckets:

  • High Level
  • Niche or Long-Tail Terms
  • Brand Terms

By doing this I can create a series of well thought out content and do so at a regular cadence. The trick is producing content to keep growing your search profile without consuming too much time or else you can't prepare meals!

Build a Brand

Before you say, Duh, you want to read this section.

Of course you want to brand your business, with your business name.

But what you really want to do is brand your experience and specialties.

Anyone can be a local pizza joint. But not everyone can be the place to get your awesome dish or experience.

How did Chucky Cheese brand itself? As a great place to have a kids party of course. The pizza left a lot to be desired.

Engage on Social Media

There are many social media channels and you need to be present on each one. They are a passive way for you to announce specials, events and of course new content.

While Google does not use social shares as a ranking metric they do establish authority and trust. This means Google considers your business more legitimate.

And because you engage with your customers they attract local attention, which can translate to local backlinks.

But if you don't use these channels you are missing an opportunity.

I recommend using a service like Buffer to help automate your social media. That way you don't need to be on your phone constantly monitoring activity and sharing.

Buffer allows you to quickly schedule posts across all social channels and tracks interactions, including how many click the link to view your website.

Localize Content

Again restaurant marketing is all about local marketing. You need to connect with your local community.

Make sure you include content on your site that relates to the activities and interests of your local community.

This could be engaging with local high school sports or events at the local college.

In the town I live they have an downtown with summertime activities. So I recommend businesses near me at least promote local events like these even if they are not present.

Local content not only helps you engage with the community it builds more trust with Google about your business' connection to the area. This translates to a better search profile.

Ensure Pages Use Technical & SEO Best Practices

Technical SEO is a very broad topic, so I wont dive deep into it here.

But you should use these as the primary guidelines:

  • Render Fast
  • Be Great on Mobile
  • Use Media (photos and videos)
  • Keywords in Title, Description & Headline

We have a standard at Love2Dev, we measure page speed in milliseconds not with a calendar.

The average web page takes over 22 seconds to render today. This means you can beat your competition with a fast website.

The reason most sites are so slow is they are not optimized for mobile. So focus on mobile.

While words are great to rank, people tend to scan. Plus food needs to look great and that is best accomplished by using professional photos that make customer's mouths water. Plus pages with photos and videos are shown to rank better because they are more engaging.

Keyword presence is the key to telling Google what your site and pages are about. Leverage specific HTML elements to communicate with Google's robots what your pages are about.

Use Restaurant Schema Markup

Technical SEOs know about schema markup, but maybe you don't. This is special code you can add to your web pages search spiders will use to understand your page better.

The cool thing is the schema specification provides for different data structures for different types of content. Blogs use article schema, cooking sites use recipe schema and there is a special scheme for restaurants and your menus.

The scheme itself is a standardized version of JSON (JavaScript Object Notation). Don't worry any web developer will know JSON well. Schema markup's JSON flavor is technically called JSON-LD.

The schema code is embedded anywhere in your page and does not render to visitors. You can see it by viewing a pages source or inspecting it in a browser's developer tools.

As you can see the basic structure allows you to supply your NAP, hours, average rating and website URL.

Add Social Media Meta (Open Graph & Twitter Cards)

Do you wonder how Facebook just knows how to get the page's title, description and photo when you add a link to the post content? It is because the page has Open Graph tags.

Another hidden set of code you should add to every page on your site is Open Graph and Twitter Cards.

You would think the page's TITLE and Description tags would be used, but they are often more tailored for search engines or not included at all. Its more about conforming and supplying data to the Open Graph.

Don't worry about that part, just know it makes sharing content easier.

This is a protocol created by Facebook and used by many social media sites and services that share online resources. Like schema this is a way to add more description to your page content for other software to consume.

Both Open Graph and Twitter Cards are a collection of META tags placed in your page's HEAD element.

As you can see this is a lot of data, but a good template should have merge fields as part of its build or rendering process.

The main properties you need to include is the page title, publish date and time, and a link to an image. Now when social networks get a link from a member they check the page and get the image, title and description you want to share, not just what someone else chooses to share.

Get Your Citations Up to Date and Consistent

Yelp, FourSquare, OpenTable and other directories can be the life blood of a restaurant. You want great reviews on each one.

But you need to claim your listing and make sure the name, address and phone (NAP) data is correct and consistent. Once you claim your listing you can also monitor reviews and engage with those customers.

There are all sorts of directories and listings you need to claim, not just the big sites.

Seriously, hundreds of these suckers all over the Internet.

Start with the big players like Yelp and FourSquare. Restaurants also need to claim on delivery sites like GrubHub. Not only are these sites traffic channels they create a strong signal for your brand to Google.

As part of our local SEO services we claim and update local citations on hundreds of sites for our clients.

When claiming your citation you should plan on keeping them up to date with a regular check. I think setting a reminder to check these at least once a month to make sure your information is up to date.

You also need to keep an eye on reviews. These can make or break your reputation. Good or bad, make sure you have a system in place to respond to them quickly.

  • they contain up-to-date information
  • are complete with favorable image
  • and that all reviews are responded to in a timely manner

For negative reviews use them as an opportunity to fix problems with your service. After you correct the issue offer the reviewer to come back and re-evaluate your service.

If you are lucky they may update their review. 🤞😉

Optimize Website For Conversions

You might call this section be good at online business.

Whether you are fast food, fast casual or a formal dining establishment you need to make it easy and compelling for customers to order, make reservations,answer questions and pay online.

Here are some ideas specifically for a restaurant's online presence:

  • Easy Online Ordering (take out, delivery and dine in)
  • Be Easy to Use on Mobile
  • Customer Loyalty Program
  • Allow Online Reservations
  • Promote Coupons

Progressive web applications are great for all these scenarios. Not only can you provide great experiences for each of these ideas a PWA is something a customer can quickly 'install' on their phone.

With a progressive web application you can also encourage push notifications to ping them when you have a great lunch special or promotion.

Customer loyalty programs are a natural way to encourage them to install the PWA and begin that long term customer relationship.

When you make it easy for patrons to engage and order a meal they wont hesitate to chose you over the other guys.

Get Your Menu in the Results

That's right, Google will list your menu right in the results...if you code your site correctly.

This may freak you out because now the potential customer is not visiting your site. You don't get a chance to express your brand's style from your site, but they get to see what food you offer.

And remember you want ot drive sales first, not just web traffic.

Use A PWA For Brand Loyalty

Make no doubt about it, I love Progressive Web Apps (PWA) becuase they are the best in breed websites. They work for any business and when done properly deliver the best user experience and help businesses earn a place on the customer's home screen.

PWAs are websites that leverage modern web standards to deliver a user experience on par and often better than native applications.

Plus, they are much cheaper to develop and deploy!

You can turn your website into a PWA fairly quickly, they need three core technical elements:

  • Served via HTTPS
  • Has a Valid web manifest file
  • Registers a Service Worker with a 'fetch' event handler

If you are a business owner and not technical don't worry. The first two are very simple steps and take about 5-15 minutes to implement for most sites.

Service workers are an amazing technology that make it easier for developers to control how a website is served. They can intercept all requests to the network and determine if a locally cached version of the response is returned or the network request made.

This feature allows your website to run offline!

But there is more.

You can also leverage native push notifications on Android and Windows too. For transactions, like purchases you can also leverage background synchronization functionality to allow the transaction to work, even when the user is not connected to the Internet.

While progressive web applications unlock a lot of great functionality developing good PWAs can be complicated. But you can start simple and gradually add functionality over time.

When done well you can deliver a great user experience and ask the customer to add your PWA to their homescreen. From there they run just like they downloaded an app from the app store, just without the friction and overhead associated with native apps.

PWAs are available on all platforms, including iPhones. Functionality and capabilities still vary by platform and browser, but most of the core features are supported by everyone today.

Use Website Analytics

I can't emphasize this enough, you need to track, measure and adjust constantly. To know what is and what is not working you need to have real-time usage analytics. There are numerous tools you need to leverage, some for traffic, others for conversions, etc.

For most that means using Google Analytics.

Google Analytics track traffic and site usage statistics over time. You can use this data to help you determine how visitors enter your site and what they do once they get there. You can also track how well they convert to paying customers.

I use analytics to help me know what pages are driving traffic and those pages that need some love. Plus I can identify pages that are just dead weight and need to be tossed in the bin out back.

Time to Check Out

Its your turn.

Are you ready to expand your restaurant's business through the free exposure offered by organic search engines?

What is the first place you think you need to start improving?

Do you offer a great mobile first experience? Do you know what phrases diners will use to find your establishment?

Now when they wonder what's for dinner they will see your logo and chose you over the competition!

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