I have a crazy sweet tooth – but I don’t like sugar coating. Search engine optimization (SEO) is hard! Over the past 15 or so years, we’ve watched Google and other search engines implement
challenging rules to reduce the number of black-hat optimizers who try to “rook the system.” As a result, SEO best practices have become increasingly more complex and it takes a good deal of time to appreciate results.
Doing SEO for multiple locations is even harder. You aren’t worried about indexing and ranking in just one city, state, or metro area, but many. It’s not just one set of local competitors, but many. Let’s look at some tips for performing SEO for franchise restaurants with multiple locations, where each market may differ.
What is SEO? A Brief Explanation
SEO is the driving force behind how your website ranks in search engines for certain specific searches, based on on-page factors (site content, structure, code) and off-page factors (authority/trust, link quality, social reputation). In most cases, businesses don’t have trouble being found for branded search terms (like “CoreLife Eatery”), but rather for non-branded search terms (like “healthy restaurants”). It’s this type of keyword that helps to bring new, untapped people to your site. That’s why SEO is an important part of digital marketing – for audience capture.
When Site-Seeker was first founded in 2003, SEO was a relatively straightforward (and even easy) concept. It consisted mostly of site structure, URL structure, navigation, title and description tags, and links. It wasn’t unrealistic to help a small business – who wasn’t even indexed in Google – achieve top 10 status within a month or two.
Most companies rely on organic (free, search-based) traffic to help get visitors on their site. The percentage of organic traffic compared to other sources ranges from brand to brand, but restaurants should see at least 50% of all traffic coming from search. For example, 53% of CoreLife Eatery’s traffic is organic. The opportunity to grow that number through SEO tactics is there and the potential to find new and relevant visitors is high. Remember: while the systems have gotten smarter over the past 15 years, so have marketers, and SEO has since become a much more skilled art as a result.
Performing Keyword Research for your Restaurant Chain
Keyword research is always the first action you should take once you’ve developed your SEO strategy and hit “go.” You can use tools like Google’s Keyword Planner to identify new-to-you keywords and to gauge the popularity and competitiveness around certain important keywords. There are three types of keywords that should be focused upon:
- Branded: These are the easiest keywords to rank for and require very little research to find. These are any and all keywords that have to do with describing your restaurant brand. Consider the actual name as well as any nicknames for the restaurant. For example, we might look at “CoreLife Eatery,” “CoreLife” and “Core.” Ranking for these terms is somewhat easy since this type of keyword will naturally be woven throughout your website, exist in the URL, be emphasized on third-party sites across the web. Ideally, your website will rank #1 for all branded search terms, ahead of your social media channels.
- Non-branded general: These are general, high-level terms that get used in a search. It includes keywords like “restaurants,” “restaurants in Utica, NY,” “best places to eat for lunch.” Here we’re targeting users who aren’t aware of you or your restaurant’s concept and are simply looking for a good place to eat. Also, consider how they might modify that search based on their location.
- Non-branded specific: On the one hand, these terms are the most difficult to find and rank for. On the other hand, these are what make the biggest difference when it comes to SEO success and driving new traffic to your site. Consider restaurant-related keywords that your potential customers might use to find you. For CoreLife Eatery, this might be “vegan restaurant,” “gluten-free restaurants,” or “fresh food.” There could be anywhere between 30-40 keywords you might have on your list. Be careful: if it’s too large of a list, you’ll risk not having enough focused pages/content on your site and end up not ranking for any of them. Make your keyword list manageable and specific.
Local SEO for Restaurants: The Basics
In general, there are a number of SEO tactics you’ll want to implement site-wide, regardless of how many locations you have. I won’t spend too much time on these because a basic search in Google for “SEO help guide” will provide more thorough information on all of this:
- Keyword research: Determine the best keywords that will drive the highest quantities of relevant traffic to your site. Select 1-3 important keywords per page.
- XML sitemap and robots.txt: Select the pages you want to be indexed and submit them to search engines to be crawled. Utilize Google Search Console to monitor any errors that web crawlers may uncover on your site. Fix, as needed.
- Navigation: Rule of thumb: If a user can’t easily find a page, then Google can’t either. Anything you want to be found in a search engine should be included in the navigation on your site.
- URL structure: Consider clean, yet descriptive, URLs that are organized and feature the keywords you want to rank for.
- Titles and descriptions: Probably the most notable aspect of SEO, titles, and descriptions are the first things a user sees in the search engines when they submit a search. After performing keyword research, be deliberate in the writing of your title (straightforward, consistent structure between pages) and descriptions (encourage action, include keywords).
- Alt text: Ensure keywords are used across your site’s images.
- Schema: This type of markup is written at the code level and helps categorize or label certain types of content. Schema exists for things like events, products, and restaurants. Make sure you implement restaurant schema for your site.
Local SEO for Restaurants: The Advanced
Beyond what you’ve already done to your site, you’ll now want to take things to the next level to help your location pages rank in each of your restaurant’s markets.
- Local Activity (Social Media, Reviews, and Links)
Make sure you have a rich social media presence and engage with all of your local audience members. Implement a reviews program – both in-store and online – to drive more online reviews. User-generated feedback, which will naturally include keywords and geo-locations, will help with your SEO work. Additionally, you’ll want to implement a PR/linking strategy to secure local links that point back to your local page. Consider local news articles, charitable partnerships, and local school or university submission boards if you have jobs or internship programs.
- Building the Perfect Location-Based Page
Regardless of how large your operation is, you’ll need to have a store-locator feature (or some way to easily find individual stores) and, most importantly, a local web page that represents each of your local stores. This is vital to local SEO success. On each of these pages, feature important location-based information that best serves your local customers and allows Google to differentiate it from other local pages. Some suggestions include: local store information (like address, phone numbers, and location-specific menu items and prices); an embedded Google map for directions; local photos of that location including storefront; local reviews (WordPress plugins like the Google Reviews Widget will help populate this); and local charitable or philanthropic ties to the community. Also include links to your local business listing pages, as well as content that contains the keywords you’re targeting.
- Local SEO for Restaurants: Business Listing Pages
Do not discount the importance of your business listing pages. They are massive contributors to local SEO success. There are many listing pages that exist on the web, but the “Top 5” you’ll want to put the most focus on for restaurants include Facebook (all of your locations should have their own page, checked/managed by your team, you can push content to those pages from the brand page if you wish), Google MyBusiness, Yelp, TripAdvisor, and Apple Maps. Like the location pages on your site, you’ll want to customize each local listing page with rich information. Include address, phone number, store hours, your menu, and price range. Add your best-localized photos. Add any appropriate attributes that the site allows: accepts credit cards, off-street parking, vegan meals, family-friendly, etc. Encourage users to add reviews too.
Measuring SEO for Restaurants
There are many articles out there that discuss the many KPIs you can measure for your SEO efforts. You certainly could do that. It’s good to look at the many angles of both organic traffic and the quality of that traffic. But if you’re a restaurant focused on sales, then there are only three metrics you should be worried about:
- Organic Traffic: Remember that SEO is a long-term investment. It’s not uncommon to roll out an SEO plan and not see solid results for at least 6-12 months. Knowing this, you’ll want to examine your Google Analytics account (or your website tracking software of choice) and filter by organic traffic. This will allow you to see any growth, over time, of your search engine traffic. Annotate when you make SEO changes on your site so you can see what tactics can be attributed to each of those changes. Additionally, you’ll want to add geo-filters so you can see how organic traffic is affected in each of your local markets. The increases will likely be subtle, but over time, those results add up to significant new, relevant traffic.
- Conversions: If you’re a restaurant, conversions = sales. You are likely utilizing an e-commerce component to your site to collect online orders. You’ll want to track these. Consider also marking direct emails or phone calls as conversions (since that is often people asking for directions or reservations). Once your goals are labeled accordingly inside of Google Analytics, monitor your goal completions through the filter for organic traffic. Are there more organic conversions over time after implementing your SEO plan?
- Organic Traffic Conversion Rate: This is the rate at which you are driving conversions and measures the effectiveness of your site’s pages. Let’s say your organic traffic conversion rate is 10%. If you have 100 organic visitors come to your site, that means only 10 converted. There are two ways to get more conversions on your site. First, you can send more traffic to your site. If your SEO efforts now help to drive 200 visitors to your site instead of 100, at 10% conversion rate, you will now have 20 conversions. Or, you can work on improving your website so more people convert. If you drive your conversion rate up to 20%, then even if you have 100 visitors coming to your site, then you will have now 20 conversions. SEO efforts often help improve your organic conversion rate since navigation and on-page user experience is improved. Monitor your organic conversion rate to see how it’s affected.