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Local Restaurant SEO: How To Optimize Your Google Ranking In 2019

By Jay O'Sullivan

Google’s always adjusting how search results are ranked, but they’ve been especially active in the area of local business results the last couple of years. Local restaurant SEO has never been more important—or impactful—and we only expect it to grow in significance.

By optimizing some key areas of your online presence, you’ll stay top-of-mind for local searchers, be the easiest to find for hungry diners, and retain customer traffic as traffic across the industry suffers.

Local restaurant SEO has never been more important.

But there’s another huge reason you need to invest in local SEO if you haven’t already: voice search.

Smart assistants like Alexa and Google Assistant are gaining popularity at a stunning speed and are already used by almost half of Americans—often to discover nearby restaurants. They’re fast, dynamic, and capable of delivering results when the user’s hands are full.

But here’s the catch: smart assistant users don’t want to hear twenty restaurant results through a speaker. They want two, three, or maybe just the top rated of a specific category. This is why, to reap benefits from the growth of voice search, you must keep your online presence optimized.

Here are some of the best ways you can do that in 2019.

Power Up Your Google My Business Listing

You already have a Google My Business profile (if you don’t, you really should get on that), but if you’re like most of us, it’s probably been a while since you’ve checked it out. Here are some of the features Google has added over the last couple of years that you should take advantage of:

  • Service Areas — If you offer delivery, you can now specify the areas you will and won’t take hot food to. We expect this will become important as smart assistants get savvyier about food delivery (“Hey Google, what restaurants will deliver to my address?”)
  • Coming Soon Restaurants — If you’re preparing to launch another location, you can finally go ahead and set up the restaurant on Google Maps with a launch date. This gets your name and location in front of eyes a few weeks or months in advance.
  • FAQs — Addressing the questions and hesitations of your audience without them having to type their own questions isn’t just good marketing, it’s a chance to get some relevant keywords in your profile. Google sees those keywords and uses them to analyze what kind of restaurant you are, so don’t skip the opportunity.
  • Reserve A Table — Google now partners with a variety of booking apps to let customers reserve a table or jump on the waitlist directly from Google Maps. We think pairing reservation services with Google will also be essential for winning the voice search game in the coming years (“Alexa, reserve me a table for two at Outback Steakhouse tomorrow”).

Google My Business for restaurants

Pro Tip: Bing actually accounts for roughly 20% of searches in the US. While their business platform isn’t quite as developed as Google’s, you should optimize your restaurant’s profile there too.

These features won’t instantly shoot you to #1 for “restaurants near me”, but Google clearly values the information on its own platform more than others (of course), so we suggest starting your annual optimization here.

Keep Facebook, Instagram, And Other Platforms Updated

One oft-forgotten thing Google cares about when it comes to local SEO is what we call ‘citations and consistency’. Google wants to see your address all over the internet—and they want to see that you’re actively keeping all the various platforms updated. If there are opening time discrepancies, outdated phone numbers, or wrong addresses, your restaurant will be penalized in the rankings.

But there are many other reasons to keep Facebook, Instagram, Yelp, and other platforms up-to-date.

Yelp may not be the unopposed authoritarian king of restaurant reviews anymore, but the platform is still widely used. In fact, consumers generally trust Yelp reviews more than Google reviews… but less than TripAdvisor reviews (even when people aren’t traveling). If you ignore these platforms, you’ll miss opportunities to get in front of thousands of eyes each month.

Local SEO for restaurants

Instagram, however, is the up-and-coming restaurant discovery platform. Younger generations view Instagram profiles to understand the vibes and menus of restaurants, and 30% say a weak Instagram presence makes them disinterested in eating there. And thanks to customers geo-tagging posts, oft-photographed restaurants are easier to find in the platform’s internal search engine.

Keeping accurate social media pages makes Google more confident about your business, helps consumers discover and understand what you offer, and gives skeptics the right images and information they need to choose you.

Optimize Your Restaurant’s Website

Despite Google penalizing websites for not being optimized for mobile since 2015, restaurants have been slow to adapt. It seems there’s no end to pinch-zooming on restaurant sites to see the hours and address—and it’s hurting their rankings significantly. If you haven’t already, you need to redesign your site to be mobile-friendly (use Google Checker to see how your site does on mobile).

Mobile friendly website

While you’re at it, it’s probably time to evaluate your website’s headings, meta tags, and images. Are they actively working to help you thrive with local SEO, or are they just taking up space?

  • Headings — Write clear and searchable headings and title tags, rather than clever or goofy ones (“Seattle’s Favorite Artisan Pizza” vs “Making Pizza For 60 Years”). Make sure each page of your site has a unique title while still using your local-oriented keywords.
  • Meta Description — Those 160 characters under your page title in search results are the perfect place to tell your customers and Google exactly what you offer, where you are, and how you’re different. Use those local keywords!
  • Image Keywords — Google can’t describe your pictures for you, but you can still use them to help your search rankings. Use keywords in your image file names and alt-tags to help Google discover them (“Portland-Maine-Seafood.jpg).

Pro Tip: Use a tool like KWFinder to discover what keywords are most often searched in your area and target those specifically.

Local restaurant SEO

Tips And Tricks Beyond The Obvious

With your online platforms updated for 2019, you’re 90% of the way to local restaurant SEO success. If you’re in a highly competitive area, or if your competition is also SEO-savvy, you’ll need to move onto these other strategies that aren’t so obvious.

Schema Markup

You’ll probably want to hire a freelancer or SEO agency to help you implement ‘Schema Markup’. This special code layout goes into the backend of your website and helps Google and other databases understand important information about your restaurant.

With good restaurant schema, you can help search engines understand your hours, address, contact information, reviews, and even menu.

Incentivize Reviews

Good reviews are key to sticking out in search results, but they also help you rank higher. It’s in Google’s best interest to send searchers to restaurant’s they’ll love after all, so if you can rack up some strong ratings, Google will be happier sending customers your way.

Restaurant SEO 2019

Plus, as voice search gains strength, the top-rated restaurants in each category are going to thrive (“Hey Google, what’s the best steakhouse near me?”).

Build Local Links

Ten years ago, any link to your site helped you rank, but search engines are smarter these days. They want to see that those links are relevant. If you can get your restaurant linked to by local news stations, foodie bloggers, and suppliers, Google will notice and reward you.

Expect the competition to get more fierce with local SEO in 2019. Restaurants are being proactive in this arena—and they’re seeing the results in the form of traffic and revenue.

Don’t put off these optimizations. The faster you take care of them, the more quickly you’ll see more customers come through your doors.