It may seem like everyone and their mother is an SEO expert these days. But really, a lot of the information you find about SEO is rooted in old-school practices.
Whenever I talk about SEO with a friend outside the marketing industry, I almost always get a blank stare.
What I’m trying to say is, if you’re not sure what to make of SEO — including not even knowing what it stands for, don’t feel bad. Most people aren’t really sure what’s going on with it.
With this post, my goal is to break down SEO into something accessible, easy to understand, and actionable for restaurant marketers, specifically.
Ready to get started? Let’s do this.
What is SEO?
SEO stands for “search engine optimization,” and it’s the practice of getting your website to rank better (which usually means it ranks higher) in search engine results pages. Search engine results pages (SERPs) are the pages of listings that are returned when someone enters a query into a search engine.
For instance, when you go to Google and type in “restaurants in Paris with Moroccan food,” the results that Google spits back at you are the “results” on a “search engine page” — these are the SERPs.
So, if your website has good SEO, your website will show up a lot more frequently when people perform searches in Google, or other search engines.
Why is SEO important?
Pretty much because of what I just said. If your website is search engine optimized, you’re going to show up a lot more often to people that perform queries in search engines. And if you’re a business trying to sell something, that kind of visibility matters. You can think of it kind of like free advertising, but to a really targeted audience.
Someone’s looking for a restaurant in Paris to eat Moroccan food, and if Google knows — through your great SEO work — that you sell Moroccan food at your Paris restaurant, your restaurant’s website will show up at the top of Google, telling that hungry searcher that they should check out your establishment.
And the restaurants with bad SEO? They don’t show up 😉 Or, they show up really far down the page and by then, your hungry searcher is already checking our your menu and texting their friend with your restaurant’s address and a meet-up time.
How can your restaurant have better SEO?
This all sounds pretty good. So, how do you make sure your restaurant has the good SEO? There’s a few things you should be doing:
1. Have a website search engines can read.
If you don’t have a website, there’s nothing for search engines to crawl (crawling is how search engines “read” your website) and rank in the SERPs. We could talk for thousands more words on technical SEO, but that’s not why you’re here.
So just be sure you 1) have a website, and 2) are keeping it simple with the design. Search engines can’t read things like Flash, Java, or other fancy plug-ins — which many restaurant websites use, unfortunately. Instead, use text and images optimized with alt text to make your site easy to read.
If you’re feeling really ambitious, you can also send this comprehensive resource from the folks at Moz to your site designer, and ask them to comply with the recommendations. It’ll tell you exactly how to make a website that search engines can actually read — which means they’ll actually be able to crawl and rank you.
2. Have a blog on that website.
The goal of making your website search engine optimized is to increase your chances of showing up in the SERPs. So the more site pages you have, the greater likelihood that’ll happen. The problem is, with your current site structure, you probably only have a handful: a homepage, a contact page, a menu, an events page, and maybe a few more.
A blog is what gives you the opportunity to create hundreds of pages that can rank and appear in SERPs. Add a blog to your site, and start writing posts that speak to what your target customer would love about your restaurant.
Think about what they might be looking for when they start looking for a place to eat, drink, and be merry — and write blog posts that align with that. It’ll make it more likely you show up in Google when they start doing their research. (It’ll also help you get more inbound links, a critical component of good SEO.)
To learn more about why you should blog, and what your restaurant should blog about. read these two posts:
- Restaurant Blogging 101: Who Does It, Why It Works & How You Can Start
- The 5 Types of Blog Posts Your Restaurant Should Be Writing
3. Optimize your Google Places listing.
You know when you search for a restaurant in Google, and all these fancy results pop up with a ton of information, like a map, the restaurant’s phone number, even reviews from customers?
That’s because the restaurant has filled out their Google Places listing.
It’s totally free for you to fill out your listing; you just need to set up a Google account if you don’t already have one. Just go to Google’s Places for Business page, and click the “Get Started Now” button under “Get your business Found on Google.”
You’ll fill out your phone number, location, email address, website, a description of your establishment, a service area, your hours of operation, payment options, parking information — you’ll even have the option to add pictures and a coupon.
Having this listing filled out for your restaurant is low-hanging SEO fruit, and it’s a good idea to keep checking back even once you’ve set it up to keep your information up to date.
4. Use social media.
Finally, it’s important your restaurant uses social media if you’re looking for better SEO. Google actually takes social cues into account when determining how to rank a website’s pages in the SERPs — and it makes sense, if you think about it. Google wants to return the best possible content for its searchers so they have a great user experience, and keep using Google.
How do they determine which content is best? Well, one way is to see how much other people liked the content — and that’s where social media comes in.
If your website content — like a blog post you’ve written, for example — gets shared a lot on social media, it’s a good sign to Google that it’s a good piece of content. And that means they won’t look silly for putting it in position #1 in the SERPs.
That means you should set up and maintain active social media accounts, as well as include social follow and share buttons on your website — particularly your blog post, homepage, menu, reservation page, and other popular parts of your website.
There’s a lot more to SEO, of course — but setting a solid foundation by following these tips is critical. And to be honest, SEO has gotten a lot less complicated in some ways. If you have a website that search engines can read, and you keep that website updated with good content that’s relevant to your target customer… well, you’re doing good SEO.
The people that start to over-engineer their SEO are often the ones that end up shooting themselves in the foot, because they’re finding hacky ways to boost rankings that end up getting shut down by Google during their next algorithm update.
So keep it simple, and maintain and improve your site’s SEO with frequently updated, reader-friendly, socially-shareable website content.
Image Credit: Robert Scoble