Local SEO for restaurants: Our tips to drive reservations

Searches for restaurants and other eateries are actionable sessions; when people are hungry or they’ve got an important event coming up, they’re eager to place that order or make their reservation. Restaurants need an SEO strategy that captures visibility in these actionable moments and converts search into bookings. In this article, we explain how to implement an SEO strategy for restaurants that drives bookings, reservations and orders.

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Do restaurants need SEO?

If you want people to find your restaurant online as they search for places to eat, you need SEO. This includes traditional search on platforms like Google and Google Maps, as well as food delivery apps and review sites like TripAdvisor.

Restaurant searches typically fit into two broad categories. First, you’ve got the immediate, high-intent searches – the people who are hungry and looking for a place to eat right now.

Next, you’ve got the lower-intent searches of people making plans or simply seeking information. This includes looking for restaurants to book for a special occasion or places to eat on an upcoming trip.

The most actionable restaurant searches are usually local – eg: “restaurants near me”. So, when it comes to driving action from organic search, you should dedicate most of your budget to local SEO.

Local SEO search results for restaurants near me

Benefits of SEO for restaurants

Before we take a closer look at local search, let’s discuss the main benefits of SEO for restaurants.

1. Online visibility & brand awareness

SEO builds visibility across the online channels people use to find and discover restaurants like yours. This starts with traditional search, but user habits are expanding. Younger audiences increasingly find places to eat on TikTok, Instagram and a growing number of platforms.

A complete SEO strategy for restaurants should build visibility across all of the platforms your target audience is using. From here, it should optimise for the action they complete on each platform (social engagement, direction requests, phone calls, online bookings, etc.).

2. Reach locals during actionable moments

Brand awareness and reputation are both important, but the real benefit of SEO for restaurants is reaching customers during actionable moments. The kind of moments when people are ready to book a table or place an order.

Given that restaurants serve their surrounding areas, local search is key for your SEO strategy. Local searches are relatively high intent, signalling that the user is ready to make a purchase right now or in the immediate future. And nothing motivates immediate purchases quite like hunger.

3. Build a reputation that opens wallets

People often make food purchases in a hurry so they have to make quick decisions. Whether they’re choosing what to order for tonight’s takeaway or booking the perfect restaurant for next week, time is usually a factor. In these instances, reputation plays a big role in helping customers choose. They want to see positive ratings, helpful reviews and quality images of food, tables and interiors.

Trust signals help people make quick decisions with confidence. Your website, social profiles, review scores and content all need to inspire confidence. It pays to know what your audience wants from a restaurant like yours. Is it all about the food or do they want interiors, tables and dishes that make for great Instagram photos?

Koh Thai google business profile showing great photos of their food, ambiance, building etc

Build the kind of reputation your target audiences can’t resist and showcase this in images across your website, social accounts, Google Business Profile and other assets.

4. Make smarter business decisions with search data

Most companies think of SEO as a means of generating traffic, but it can (and should) do so much more. Search data allows you to make smarter business decisions and we’ve previously discussed how companies used SEO to survive the Covid-19 pandemic.

Long before the pandemic, we were using SEO and PPC data for multi-location restaurant brands to help them identify the most profitable locations to open new franchises.

Search data reveals your audience’s priorities, market trends and new business opportunities in real time.

Further reading:

Local SEO for restaurants

For most restaurants, local SEO is the key strategy for driving online revenue. This turns “near me” searches and other local queries into orders, bookings and reservations.

Here’s a quick summary of the five main elements of local SEO for restaurants.

1. Local search

The first aspect of local SEO is building visibility for local searches. Even if users stay within the Google ecosystem, you’re optimising for visibility in multiple places:

  • Blue organic links
  • Local pack
  • Google Business Profile
  • Google Maps
  • Google Ads
Google search results for best restaurants in London

Google is the biggest platform (by far) but people are using a growing number of platforms. Many people head straight to food delivery apps for takeaway orders now and Gen Z, in particular, is using social media to find places to eat. Google is also facing renewed competition from the likes of Bing Search and Apple Maps.

Further reading:

2. Website localisation

Optimising your website for local search helps maximise visibility in traditional search, but also drives reservations and other key actions on your website. While the exact optimisation process varies for each business, every restaurant engaging in local SEO should incorporate the following:

  1. Location pages
  2. Business details
  3. Local keyword targeting
  4. Location category page (for multiple location pages)
  5. Localised content
  6. Local backlinks
  7. Google Maps embed
  8. Online order/booking system
  9. Customer reviews

Website localisation is particularly important for restaurants with multiple locations. You want location pages for every location with localised content and an intuitive system for helping customers find their closest branch.

Watchhouse restaurant locations on their website

Further reading:

3. Citations & visibility on third-party properties

Citations are a ranking factor for local SEO, as they help Google and other search engines verify that you’re a legitimate business. Crucially, managing citations in the right places also builds visibility across third-party platforms where customers can discover your brand and make reservations.

A citation is any online profile that includes the minimum business information: your business name, address and phone number. This includes your social media profiles, directory listings, delivery app accounts, review websites (eg: TripAdvisor) and any other relevant profile.

The business information in your citations needs to match the info on your website and location pages 100%. This includes all citations you create and manage yourself and any other online citations created by third parties.

Further reading:

4. Social media for local SEO

Social media is blurring the lines of local SEO, much like it did for PPC and paid search several years ago. As mentioned earlier, Gen Z is increasingly using TikTok and Instagram to find places to eat, rather than Google Search.

Search is becoming a bigger aspect of social platforms and this brings new opportunities for local visibility. Not to mention the fact that companies have been using Facebook Business Pages for many years now.

Aside from building visibility, social media allows you to engage directly with local audiences. You can build followers, promote special deals, answer questions and take reservations without users leaving the app.

5. Local off-page SEO

Local off-page SEO builds important ranking signals outside of your website and other properties you own or manage.

The most important signals include:

  • Local inbound links (to relevant location pages)
  • Local citations
  • Brand mentions
  • Third-party reviews
  • Local press coverage
  • Social media engagement

Restaurants can build these signals by engaging with local audiences and organisations in each area – eg: the local press, councils, events, etc.

Vertical Leap’s SEO work for restaurants

To build a complete SEO strategy for restaurants, we take a three-pronged approach that drives action through bookings and reservations.

1. Brand awareness & discoverability

First, we determine the platforms and locations the target audience is going to discover the customer’s restaurants. This may include:

  • Google Search
  • Google Maps
  • Other search and maps platforms
  • Social media
  • Delivery apps
  • Review sites
  • Third-party content
  • Local news coverage
  • Offline and word of mouth

From here, we can map out the customer journey from discovery to action and which platforms the audience will navigate along the way. For example, one journey could take place entirely within Google, starting from Google Search and ending with a booking through Google Maps.

Ave Mario Google Business Profile showing option to reserve a table

Another could start with discovery on social and lead through a branded search on Google, reading customer reviews via Maps and placing an order through their preferred delivery app. By mapping out journeys, we’re not only building visibility in the right place, but also targeting the right actions on each platform from the start.

2. Local visibility for each branch

For restaurants, local SEO is the most important aspect of search marketing. Most of your high-intent searches will consist of local queries (eg: “near me” searches) from people in the local area. Instead of building a local search presence for your brand, you need to build visibility for each branch. This brings different keyword opportunities, competitors and other variables for each location.

So, aside from following the local SEO guidebook, you have to do the following for each location:

  1. Competitor analysis
  2. Create a Google Business Profile
  3. Create and optimise a location page
  4. Identify and target local keywords
  5. Create localised content
  6. Build internal links with location keywords
  7. Use schema markup
  8. Obtain local backlinks for each location page
  9. Create and manage citations
  10. Showcase & manage your reviews

Essnetially, you’re managing a separate local SEO strategy for every business location.

Further reading:

3. Turning visibility into bookings & reservations

Earlier, we mentioned the importance of targeting actions from the very start of your SEO strategy. You need to know which actions you’re targeting, the platforms your target audience uses to take these actions and how they navigate from discovery to conversion.

For restaurants, the most common target actions include:

  • Online bookings
  • Online reservations
  • Online orders
  • In-store visits
  • Phone calls
  • Repeat order/purchase
  • Customer review

These are the revenue-driving actions and conversion goals you prioritise in your SEO strategy. However, by understanding the customer journey (and how they navigate between platforms), you can also optimise for the interactions between discovery and conversion. For example, you can track metrics like website visits, menu views and directions requests from Google Maps.

With this kind of analysis, you can identify the most important customer journeys for driving revenue. You can also delve deep into the data to identify meaningful patterns. Let’s say you notice a pattern of relatively high menu views vs conversions. This might suggest you need to revise the representation of your menu and food imagery on your Business Profile.

Need more from your restaurant SEO strategy?

If you need help with driving action from your restaurant SEO strategy, our team can help. Call us on 023 9283 0281 to speak to our restaurant SEO specialists or send us your details and we’ll call you back. And in the meantime, you can check out our restaurant experience here.

Gemma Scarth profile picture
Gemma Scarth

Gemma joined Vertical Leap in March 2020 as an SEO Specialist after having worked in marketing for 7 years for both in-house and agency side, where she was involved with everything from social media management, through to content development and email marketing campaigns. As a member of the ESEO team, Gemma helps to deliver strategic SEO campaigns across a range of brands on a local, national and international level. Gemma is well travelled after exploring the world for almost two years and living down under for 12 months. She’s passionate about snowboarding, fitness and supports her local football team, Southampton FC! When she’s not at work doing SEO, you can often find her on her paddle board floating somewhere on the River Hamble or indulging in a snack or two.

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