Local SEO for Your Restaurant or Bar

You’ve likely heard of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) before. You know that search engines “crawl” the internet, indexing websites so that users can later receive high-quality and relevant search returns, ranked for their convenience.

How much Google values the quality of your restaurant’s website will affect how high up you rank in searches related to your business. A #1 ranking for a popular search term can flood your site with clicks and visits.

But if understanding the finer points of how Google ranks websites and businesses is enough to make your head spin, you are not alone. 

While the details of a search engine’s algorithm may be complex and confusing, there are a few basic strategies that can help you boost your online presence and rank higher in local search returns. The best part: you don’t have to be a computer scientist to do it. 

Forget the jargon. Forget “long-tail keywords” and “click-through rates.” Following a few simple steps for optimizing your restaurant’s online presence is enough to put your restaurant on the local SEO map. 

But first, let’s understand local SEO, and how it’s different from other forms of search engine optimization. 

What is Local SEO?

Local SEO is a method for making your business’s online presence more visible and more credible for localized search returns. In short, local SEO is localized in a way more traditional forms of SEO are not. 

If you think about it, this makes sense. Searching “best pickup truck for towing” is a different kind of search than “best chicken wings.” For the first search, your geographical location doesn’t matter. It’s safe to assume that the best pickup truck for towing will be the same in New York and California. 

But for the second search query, location matters a great deal. If you search “best chicken wings,” you don’t want search returns from Kansas City if you live in Los Angeles. 

Search engines understand that your geographical location is important for the second query, even if you don’t type something like “near me” at the end of your search. Google will assume you want the best chicken wings near you. 

Local SEO is simply a way for your restaurant or bar to increase its local visibility and credibility in the eyes of a search engine, allowing your business to rank higher than your competitors down the street or across town. 

Now that we understand local SEO, it’s easy to understand its importance. Gone are the days of consulting the yellow pages or relying on word-of-mouth marketing. Today’s consumer is much more likely to use their smartphone to find a restaurant nearby and read online reviews before they decide where they are going for dinner. 

If you want your restaurant or bar to appear higher than your competitors, you need to make sure Google knows how to find you, and you need to make sure your restaurant or bar appears credible. Here’s how to do just that. 

Claim your Google Business Profile

Claiming your Google Business Profile allows you to take ownership of your Google listing across Google’s suite of technologies. This is important for multiple reasons, but first let’s look at how to claim your profile. 

Your Google Business Profile is the page your customers will see when they search your business through Google or Google Maps. If you haven’t already claimed your profile, doing so is straightforward. Google your business, and claim it by selecting the “Own this business?” 

After a verification process, you will be able to edit your business’s contact information, respond to Google reviews, and use your Google Business profile as another marketing channel where you can post #foodporn-worthy photos of your food and drinks. 

Claiming your business is important for multiple reasons. First, you want to make sure all of your contact information is correct, including your address, phone number, and hours. If your information is incorrect, you will send mixed signals to Google’s search algorithm. 

Secondly, the amount and quality of your restaurant’s reviews on Google has a large impact on how your restaurant is ranked in a Google search return and on Google Maps. The more reviews you have, and the higher overall ranking of your reviews, the higher you will appear in a search return. Once you’ve claimed your business profile, you will be able to respond to customer reviews, which will not only help your Google rankings but also signal to your customers that their opinion matters. 

Claim review site profiles

Google isn’t the only way people find your restaurant on the internet. Many diners frequently consult sites and apps like Yelp, TripAdvisor, OpenTable, and others. While there are many different review sites to manage, you should at least commit to staying on top of your Yelp profile. 

Like Google, if you want your restaurant or bar to rank higher than your local competitors, you need good reviews, and you need lots of them. Claiming your review site allows you to verify and update all of your contact information and your menus, respond to customer reviews, and post eye-catching photos.

Like your Google Business Profile, Yelp is simply another marketing channel for your business. So Google’s search engine, Yelp, and customers can find you, you will want to make sure that all of your information is the same across all of these digital platforms, and you will want to encourage people to interact with your business online by keeping your profiles up to date, and by responding to customer reviews. 

Ask for reviews

While we are talking about reviews, there is nothing wrong with asking your customers for them. If you explain to your customers the importance of good reviews for your online presence, those who love your business will likely be happy to help. 

If you want to maximize the amount of reviews, you can even incentivize it. By offering things like a free dessert, a percentage off of a check, or branded swag, you can encourage your customers to leave reviews. 

Whether you incentivize reviews or not, you’ll want to promote your profile on review sites. By asking for reviews at your business with things like table tents and QR codes, you can put your marketing materials directly in front of your customers, and you can make it as easy as possible for them to leave you a review. 

If you need help creating marketing materials for your various profiles, you can find a ton of customizable table tent templates online at DIY services like MustHaveMenus. These templates can help get you more reviews in no time, helping you rise above your competition. 

List on local business and restaurant directories

Wherever your restaurant happens to be located, whether it’s Chicago or San Diego, Bismarck or New Orleans, there are local websites that host business and restaurant directories. 

Listing your website on these local directories can help potential customers find your business, but they also count as local “citations” to search engine algorithms. Essentially, the more your restaurant is listed on other websites, and the more links your website has across the internet, the more credible your business looks to Google, Bing, Yahoo, DuckDuckGo, and so on. 

Claiming your Google and Yelp profiles, and listing your restaurant and its website on local directories signals to Google that your business is trustworthy and deserves to be ranked high in search returns. Here are a few other directories to explore: 

  • Local newspapers
  • Alternative newspapers
  • Local blogs
  • Local restaurant websites and blogs
  • Local business websites and blogs
  • Local hospitality websites and blogs
  • Local travel websites and blogs

The more online listings you have, the more trustworthy your restaurant or bar appears and the higher your business will rank in local search returns, allowing more customers to find your business. 

Design a mobile-friendly website and menu

When you are thinking about your website, first and foremost you want to make sure it’s mobile friendly. 

More people use Google and other search engines from their phone than from their desktop computers. This is a big change from five or ten years ago, and search engines have taken it into account, preferring websites that are mobile friendly over websites that are not. 

Not only does your website need to be mobile friendly, but so does your menu. This will help search engines and customers alike. Whether it’s for contactless dining, or for perusing your menu from home, it’s more important than ever that you have a mobile-friendly menu posted on your website. 

Redesigning your menu can be a lot of work, not to mention ensuring that it’s eye-catching, easy-to-read, and compatible with mobile devices. However, you can find software to help. These online menus from MustHaveMenus are easy to customize, come in a variety of styles to fit any brand, and they look great on both a laptop and a smartphone. 

Optimize your website

After you’ve made sure that your website and your menu are mobile friendly, you can start thinking about the content of your website. This is where things can get complicated. If you don’t have someone building your website for you, or someone doing keyword research and writing content for you, don’t worry. Those things may have their place, but there are a few things you can do right away to help you rank. 

First, make sure all of your contact information is on your website. It should be easy to find, and all of your contact information should be uniform across the world wide web. If your address is the same on Yelp, Google, and your website, along with a few restaurant listing directories, then you have sent a very trustworthy signal to Google’s search algorithm, and more than likely you have already improved your ranking. 

You might also think about your website’s title tag. A title tag is the bit of html code that allows you to give your web pages a title. It would be smart to come up with a 50 to 60 word title tag for your landing page that describes your restaurant or bar. Something as simple as “American Comfort Food | San Francisco” can help search engines and customers quickly understand your business. 

Finally, most restaurants only have a handful of pages. They post their contact information, their menu, their upcoming events, and maybe their review profiles. But why not a blog? 

There are many reasons you might want to start a blog. You could use it to target keywords, answer frequently asked questions, market upcoming events and promotions, highlight your staff and customers, and much more. The best part about a blog: Google loves them. 

Your blog posts don’t have to be incredibly long, thoroughly researched, or painstakingly written. You can think of a blog as yet another channel for your marketing efforts, and if you can use it to partner with food influencers and garner links to your blog, then you are well on your way to becoming a restaurant SEO king or queen. 

Embrace the 80/20 rule

When you start your Local SEO campaign, the possibilities can seem endless and overwhelming. While there are innumerable ways you could game the search engine algorithm, requiring large investments of time and money, you don’t have to do everything all at once to see benefits. 

When you’re thinking about SEO, remember the 80/20 rule (or the Pareto Principle). The 80/20 rule has many applications across various fields, but essentially it states that you get 80% of a return from only 20% of the effort. For your Local SEO strategy, you will get most of the benefit from the easy stuff.

Making sure your contact information is uniform across the internet doesn’t take a large amount of time or any technical expertise, but it will yield big dividends in your efforts to rank on Google. The same goes for growing your online reviews on Google and Yelp. 

In other words, focus on the easy stuff. It will give you the most return on your investment. You don’t need to be a digital marketing professional to be a Local SEO all-star. 

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