How hospitality can get better at SEO in 2023

Blog banner

Hospitality hasn’t been the quickest industry to integrate search marketing as a core business strategy. Yet, it was SEO that saved so many during lockdowns and the worst of the Covid-19 pandemic – especially for food businesses like restaurants, takeaways, cafes, etc.

As the sector gears up for another challenging year in 2023, food and hospitality brands need to make full use of SEO to maximise visibility for people who are still spending their money on what many will consider “non-essentials”.

Navigating a tricky 2023 for hospitality

With the cost of living crisis mounting and the IMF calculating the UK will be the only major economy to shrink in 2023, the country is bracing for another challenging year. As priorities change for people in the UK, the hospitality industry suffers as many cut back on non-essential spending.

However, as we saw during the pandemic, British consumer spending is surprisingly resilient to economic strain. Eating out is valued at almost £92bn and the takeaway delivery market is expected to reach £14.6bn by 2025, up from £13.3bn in 2022.

Times are certainly challenging but the opportunities are still out there for hospitality brands. The key is making full use of search data to understand consumer spending – as it changes – and building an online presence that captures attention at every stage of the funnel.

Local search strategy

Local search is the most important channel for food businesses closing the gap between interest and purchases, and we’re talking about three key components in this article:

  1. Google Business Profile
  2. “Near me” searches
  3. Positive reviews

If you haven’t set up your Google Business profile yet, this online tutorial will guide you through each step. It’s also important to keep your information up-to-date and we’ve got an article that explains how to update your information in Google Business Profile.

That should cover the basics of Google Business Profile optimisation but we’ll talk about adding more flavour to your profile a little later.

Prioritise ‘near me’ searches

Insights from our Restaurants & Takeaways SEO Report highlight the importance of “near me” searches for hospitality brands. Eight of the top 10 queries for this category include the phrase “near me”:

Table showing the most popular queries for people searching for restaurants or takeaways

First of all, this shows how important “near me” searches are for connecting food and hospitality businesses with people. If you don’t have a local search presence that’s optimised for “near me” searches, you’re missing out on the biggest opportunities on your doorstep.

Secondly, “near me” searches indicate urgency in the user’s query. These aren’t people looking for the best restaurants for their trip to London next week; these are hungry folk who want feeding now or people who need to make bookings for something important (birthdays, anniversaries, etc.).

In other words, if you win the “near me” battle, you’re first in line to win the customer.

Build a profile of positive reviews

Positive reviews are one of your biggest assets in winning customers in local search. Google puts review scores centre stage in the local packs and Google Maps to help people choose high-quality food businesses.

A lot of hospitality brands fear online reviews but you don’t need to worry about achieving perfect scores. Studies have shown people don’t expect perfect review scores (or trust them) and this is reflected in the search data we see every day.

In fact, users want to see a certain amount of negative reviews so they can trust the authenticity of feedback. So, instead of stressing about five-star reviews, focus on delivering great services and getting as many reviews as you can.

Example of Google reviews showing in the local SEO listings

A strong average review score (roughly 4-4.5) with over a hundred reviews will be far more reassuring than a perfect five-star average from only 10 reviews.

When you do get the occasional negative review, know how to deal with them – because this is just as important as the issue itself. Interact with customers, address their concerns and show people looking at your review profile that you take active steps to keep customers happy.

Always be polite, even if the customer in question is being rude, and never place the blame on them. Other users are more than capable of judging when the customer is being unreasonable – so just focus on resolution.

If you’re struggling to build a strong profile of reviews, take a look at the following articles:

Add some spice to your Google Business Profile

If you’ve covered all of the Google Business Profile essentials in the guide we linked to earlier, that gets you off to a good start. The only problem is, most of your competitors are doing exactly the same thing so you want to add some spice to your Business Profile to stand out – especially if you’re battling against rivals in the same food niche (fish and chips, Italian restaurant, etc.).

Food businesses are in a great position to make their Business Profiles irresistible to potential customers.

Don’t simply post a picture of the exterior of your establishment. Tempt people with pictures of your most attractive dishes, showcase the interior of your restaurant and the best aspects of your business. Invest in a professional food photographer who can show your dishes in their best light – you can use all of these images for social media and other channels, too.

Example of showing food pictures in Google Business Profile

Also, take the opportunity to showcase anything unique and appealing about your food and services. If you’re the Thai restaurant in your area, show off the unique dishes, ingredients and tableware. You can also add videos to your Google Business Profile, so consider producing some cinematic clips of food being prepared, served and enjoyed.

When it comes to adding images of dishes to your Business Profile, include the name of dishes in your image labels to help customers place their order.

SEO should be a main focus, not an after-thought

Too many hospitality brands have overlooked search optimisation as a core business strategy. However, the search for eateries overwhelmingly starts online and this is where you’re going to win new customers – especially through local search.

During lockdowns, it was the food businesses with a strong online presence that thrived because they were discoverable and better equipped for online purchasing. By shifting to online orders, takeaways and delivery services, food businesses with an online presence and strong local search visibility did very well.

Likewise, the businesses that were quick to shift from offline to online marketing and services saved themselves.

Hospitality brands need to learn lessons from the peak of the pandemic. Firstly, search data provides real-time insights into how consumers are spending their money, which is particularly important during difficult times.

The same analysis that revealed consumers were spending more on takeaways but also health foods, exercise and home improvements during lockdowns reveals consumer priorities as the economic challenges of 2023 play out. It will show how British consumers are spending their money on food – eg: eating out vs eating in, how many takeaways they’re ordering per week and which food trends emerge throughout the year.

These insights can inform key business decisions that make the difference in 2023.

Is your SEO strategy ready for the challenges of 2023?

If your SEO strategy isn’t quite ready to overcome these challenges, it’s not too late to put contingency plans into place. Call us on 02392 830 281 to speak to our search marketing team or send us your details and we’ll get in touch.

Dave Colgate profile picture
Dave Colgate

Dave is head of SEO at Vertical Leap. He joined in 2010 as an SEO specialist and prior to that worked with international companies delivering successful search marketing campaigns. Dave works with many of our largest customers spanning many household names and global brands such as P&O Cruises and Harvester. Outside of work, Dave previously spent many years providing charity work as a Sergeant under the Royal Air Force Reserves in the Air Cadets sharing his passion for aviation with young minds. He can often be found in the skies above the south coast enjoying his private pilot licence.

More articles by Dave
Related articles
Table in restaurant full of food

Restaurant & takeaway industry SEO report

By Michelle Hill
Waiter serving lady in restaurant

5 highly-effective PPC strategies for restaurants

By James Faulkner
map with pins showing local businesses

GUIDE: SEO and content strategies for multi-location businesses

By Michelle Hill