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Your Beginner's Guide to Technical Restaurant SEO

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Tessa ZuluagaAuthor

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Jim McCormickSEO Lead, Toast

Restaurant SEO: This might be a dense topic for anyone who isn't 100% "tech-savvy," but it could have immense value for your restaurant's website and business in the future. 

“SEO is one of the most effective marketing channels that restaurants can use.”

JM Headshot
Jim McCormick
(SEO Lead, Toast Inc.)

This article outlines the steps you can take to optimize your restaurant website for Google. Restaurant SEO, or search engine optimization, is the process of making sure that your website appears in search engines, like Google. The goal of SEO is to improve your online presence and bring more traffic to your website.

It’s important to note that SEO is not a one-time effort. This is an ongoing process, as search engines continually refine their criteria for ranking websites.

We're about to get a little technical here, but first, we’ll break down the basics. So get ready, and let’s start optimizing your restaurant SEO strategy today.

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What is search engine optimization (SEO)?

Search engine optimization, or SEO, is the practice of making your website more visible when people search for things online. For example, say you search for an "Italian restaurant" on the internet. The list of web pages you see on the results page is called the Search Engine Results Page (SERP). SEO is the method of tuning your website so that it shows up higher on that list. Businesses use SEO to improve their chances of being found by people searching for products or services online. So, when users search for a restaurant, the results they get are a mix of local businesses and restaurants that have used SEO as a marketing strategy to be more visible to you.

Effective SEO involves a variety of techniques aimed at improving a website's visibility and relevance to search engines. This includes optimizing content with relevant keywords, ensuring a user-friendly website structure, and obtaining high-quality backlinks. Read on to learn what these details mean and how restaurant owners & operators can apply them.

Why does SEO matter for restaurants?

In the restaurant industry, having your business listing come up first for relevant search terms can help bring in new customers. When you google “Italian restaurant”, you are extremely likely to choose one of the options that appear on the first page of the SERP. In fact, less than 1% of searchers click on the second page of Google results.

When your business is easily accessible online, it's more likely to capture the attention of people actively seeking dining options. This is crucial for restaurants looking to expand their customer base and compete effectively in a competitive market. By implementing strong SEO practices, restaurants can not only improve their online presence but also create opportunities to connect with local customers. This is especially important in 2024 because of the number of third-party businesses that compete against restaurants in the SERP. Here’s how the head of SEO at Toast describes it,

“The first generation of restaurant delivery companies like Grubhub and Postmates grew largely on the back of users searching for food in their specific geography, as did OpenTable for that same reason for reservations. There is a current generation of companies across reviews, reservations, and online ordering that still saturate the restaurant industries.

By inserting themselves through SEO, this means that all of these companies can disintermediate restaurants from their customers, and charge them a fee for selling restaurants access to their customer’s orders and reservations. By developing a direct SEO strategy, individual restaurants can compete against these types of companies, and meet their customers on their own sites, without the need to pay third-party fees. Not only is this a superior user experience to have customers on your own site, but this also eliminates corrosive third-party fees that eat away profit margins.” - Jim McCormick, Senior Manager of SEO. 

Quick SEO best practices

You don’t need to work in tech to understand and apply the basics of SEO. Here are some simple restaurant SEO tips you can follow to improve your search rankings:

Link building

Link building is the process of getting other reputable websites to link to your restaurant's website. These links are like endorsements, signaling to search engines that your content is valuable and trustworthy. Consider getting backlinks from restaurant review sites like Yelp, “best of” sites like Eater, or getting featured in online directories. Quality links can enhance your website's authority and positively impact its search rankings.

Update your Google Business profile

Google Business Profile is a critical tool for restaurants. Ensure your profile is complete and up-to-date with accurate business information, such as your address, phone number, business hours, and a link to your website. This information not only helps potential customers find you but also signals to Google that your business is actively managed.

Perform basic keyword research

Keyword research is when you identify the words and phrases potential customers might use when searching for a restaurant. Understand the terms relevant to your cuisine, location, and unique offerings. Use tools like Google Keyword Planner or other keyword research such as Semrush to identify the right terms. Incorporating specific keywords naturally into your website content can help search engines understand what your restaurant offers, improving your chances of ranking for relevant searches.

Have strong on-page SEO

On-page SEO focuses on optimizing your individual web pages. Think about the details of a website that make for a great user experience. This includes creating your title tags, meta descriptions, and headings. You want your website's content to be structured in a way that makes it easy for users to navigate. Use relevant keywords in your page titles and content, but do so naturally to provide value to your visitors. You can also optimize images with descriptive alt text. Strong on-page SEO signals to search engines that your website is user-friendly, contributing to higher search rankings.

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How to get the most SEO value from your restaurant website

Lastly, let’s dive into the 2 types of searches you want your restaurant website to capture, branded and nonbranded searches, and top examples of restaurants that are doing this well. 

Branded searches 

Branded search is search that specifically includes the name of your restaurant. This type of search indicates a high level of brand recognition and loyalty among consumers. When individuals perform branded searches, they typically have the specific restaurant in mind. Branded searches are likely an implication that guests are looking for information such as location, menu options, hours of operation, or contact details. 

For restaurants, optimizing your online presence for branded search is crucial for maintaining visibility and attracting customers.. By ensuring accurate and up-to-date information across various online platforms, you can enhance your brand reputation and make it easier for potential diners to find and engage with them. Read on to learn about some stellar examples. 

Homepage

When users get to your restaurant website homepage, the navigation needs to be clear and simple. For example, MIDA Restaurant does a wonderful job. Users can easily click through and achieve what they set out to. 

Menu

According to a study by OpenTable, 93% of people check online menus before visiting a restaurant. Users will prescreen your restaurant to see the menu before visiting and also confirm that it is in their price range. Make sure your menu page is an HTML website page, instead of a PDF. This is a superior user experience, as PDFs are hard to navigate, and they also get crawled by Google and benefit SEO, when PDFs do not. 

Location

Users should also clearly be able to navigate to pages for each of your brand’s individual locations. Let’s look at MIDA again. When a user clicks on their “locations” button they can easily view a drop-down of each location:

For each location, you’re able to book a reservation, inquire about events, understand the location and working hours, and also view the menu. This is a very clean experience for users gathering information and serves multiple purposes. 

Reservations

Ideally, you want to have a page that ranks for the keywords “your restaurant” + “reservations”.  If you have a page for this, and use a software other than OpenTable, you allow customers to book directly at your restaurant without needing to pay OpenTable. This is also an ideal way to have a direct relationship with your customer, and give them the option to book directly. Consider embedding your reservations directly on the page, with Toast Tables. For example, The Blue Heron Kitchen & Pub uses Toast Websites so guests can book reservations without leaving their site.  

Online ordering

Similar to your reservations, you’ll ideally have a page that ranks for “your restaurant” + “online ordering”.  Offering online ordering directly for users visiting your site can be extremely beneficial. This way, it’s easy for guests to find and you can avoid third-party commissions.

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Non Branded Searches

Nonbranded searches relate to your business but don’t specifically include the name of your restaurant. These searches typically reflect broader interests or needs, such as "Italian restaurants near me" or "best sushi in town." 

Non-branded searches indicate a stage of the customer journey where individuals are exploring their options or seeking recommendations. For restaurants, appearing in non-branded search results is essential for attracting new customers. This entails implementing the effective SEO strategies we discussed earlier, like optimizing your title tags. By catering to non-branded search queries, restaurants can increase their chances of being discovered by new diners and ultimately driving foot traffic. Read on to learn how you can capture these customers. 

Cuisine type

Optimize the words on your website pages for your cuisine type and your location neighborhood. For example, if you search “Mexican restaurant in Cambridge”, MEX Taqueria + Bar comes up. In fact, they’re even outranking third-party sites that purposely write articles using these keywords. This website is a great example of successful nonbranded search because they use the right keywords to rank. Therefore, the number of new customers that walk through their front door is likely high. 

Specific dishes 

Similarly, you can do the same thing for specific menu items. Decide which of your specific dishes bring in customers and optimize those keywords. For example, if you search “best carne asada burrito Tempe, AZ” Tacos & Mas comes up amongst third-party competitors because of the title tags they used. Now when a user is looking for an amazing burrito in Tempe, they’re likely to check out Tacos & Mas. 

Consider Competitors 

As we mentioned, third-party sources can get in the way of your restaurant coming up in the SERP. These are sources such as DoorDash, Yelp, and Trip Advsior. They want their own “best burrito” guides to come up before your menu. But you can stand out against the noise if you optimize your website to win for the keywords that they compete for. These pages are made at scale. There isn’t actual, rich detail on them, they are made programmatically in a bulk way to target specific keywords. This is unlike your website, which has useful information that guests actually want. Here’s an example of how to win:

MEX Taqueria + Bar ranks competitively for the keyword it’s targeting, “Mexican restaurant in Cambridge”. They did this by including:

  • Strong visuals of the restaurant

  • Specific details for what to expect from the experience

  • Videos

  • Menus

  • About page

  • Press Page

And guess what- it works! They’re ranking ahead of the competitors that aren’t including any of that important information that guests are looking for. 

Start optimizing your restaurant today 

Implementing SEO practices to your website is essential for improving online visibility and attracting more customers. By optimizing your website with relevant keywords, high-quality content, and ensuring accurate business information, you can enhance your chances of ranking higher in the SERP. This increased visibility not only helps potential diners discover your restaurant but also establishes trust and credibility, ultimately driving more foot traffic and reservations. Embracing SEO techniques is a valuable investment for any restaurant looking to thrive in such a competitive industry. 

Toast’s fully customizable and integrated website builder allows for automatic, real-time updates across digital menus, online ordering, POS, and more. Learn more here

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DISCLAIMER: This information is provided for general informational purposes only, and publication does not constitute an endorsement. Toast does not warrant the accuracy or completeness of any information, text, graphics, links, or other items contained within this content. Toast does not guarantee you will achieve any specific results if you follow any advice herein. It may be advisable for you to consult with a professional such as a lawyer, accountant, or business advisor for advice specific to your situation.