A Woman Stands Outside Her Restaurant
Local rules

Whether a single-location business or a multi-location franchise, a restaurant’s local search ranking will have a direct correlation with the amount of business it receives. Consumers already love to talk about their favorite places to eat, and by encouraging this in the online space, restaurants can strengthen customer relationships and improve their search at the same time.

While SEO is a complex system, leveraging customers who are already fans of a brand is the best way to get started in boosting search visibility. Simple tricks like increasing engagement, improving the customer’s online experience, and managing online relationships will go a long way in sending restaurants to the top of the page. Here are four tips on how to leverage customer loyalty to boost local search.

Engage on Social Media

Not only does engaging on social media increase search rankings, but it also serves to drive site visits and further engagement with the business. Though investing the time and the resources into social media seems like a big undertaking, because it is where consumers are already spending their time, the effort can be quite lucrative.

Simply taking the time to interact with followers, respond to questions, and post regular, relevant content will tell consumers far more about a restaurant than just reading the online menu. Sharing updates about upcoming deals, special events, or new menu items are all ways to get customers talking without making the conversation feel forced. Businesses can do this easily using their Facebook page, but should also consider taking advantage of Google’s new “Google Post” tool to get their latest updates to the top of search results. By meeting customers where they already are, brands will receive more visibility, leading to more website visits, which leads to more potential in-restaurant customers.

The Facebook “Recommendations” Feature

The ability to ask for and give recommendations within the Facebook platform has changed the way consumers discuss brands, businesses, and restaurants. Whether a user is searching for guidance about where to eat on an international vacation or new restaurants to try in their hometown, the input they receive will be extremely influential in their final decision of where to patronize. The overwhelming popularity of consumers conducting local searches through this new feature as opposed to traditional search engine queries has made it just as important for restaurant owners to be aware of as their Google rankings.

Due to the changes in consumers’ search habits, a restaurant’s Facebook page is now more important than ever. Having an identifiable profile picture, accurate operating hours, and a visible location are all ways a restaurant can help customers identify the page and recommend it to their friends online. Loyal customers want to talk about their experience, and when they see the opportunity to recommend something on their newsfeed, they will absolutely do so if they have the means. A restaurant’s active, up-to-date Facebook page allows for more word-of-mouth marketing, in addition to increasing ranking on traditional search mediums.

Photo: www.thoughtcatalog.com

Encourage and Manage Online Reviews

When consumers go out to eat, the food is only a part of the puzzle—in addition to seeking out a delicious meal, diners are interested in the experience, the atmosphere, and the level of service they can expect to receive from the experience. All of this information is what the Internet-savvy customer will attempt to gather from reviews, which is why restaurant owners should ensure their review profiles paint a complete picture of what a customer can expect when they visit.

While there are quite a few review services, the main three (Yelp, Google Reviews, and Facebook Reviews) are sound places to start. When customers search the name of a business, these are typically the top sites that will come up behind the restaurant’s own page. Because of this high visibility, it is recommended that restaurant owners should take the time to respond to and professionally address negative reviews, as well as responding graciously to those that are positive.

Not only is this a way to re-engage with existing customers, but potential leads will take notice of this level of service. Managing and vetting reviews bridge the gap between a restaurant’s online presence and the in-person experience, and customers who are searching for a place to eat will absolutely take note of this.

Optimize for Voice and Mobile

Investing the effort into an online presence and social media strategy is useless if leads do not convert to customers. Consumers who are deciding where to eat are typically doing on-the-go research via their smartphones and digital assistants to get information about local establishments as quickly as possible. Mobile accessibility is one of the many things Google factors into search engine rankings, and sites that are not widely accessible across devices will receive less priority on the results page. Additionally, 22% of consumers who are using voice search are doing so for information about local businesses, meaning voice-centric strategies like long-tailed keywords and neighborhood information will further increase the chances that new customers will find the business’ site.

Optimizing a site for mobile and vocal search not only makes it easier for a business to attract new customers, but it also increases the chance that existing customers will recommend it to friends.  Loyal customers are typically apt to recommend their favorite establishments, but 57% of users report themselves unlikely to recommend a poor mobile site. Because optimizing for voice and mobile is a strategy that makes the business more appealing to new and existing customers alike, mobile and vocal optimization is a powerful tactic for all stages of the buyers’ funnel.

A restaurant aiming to boost its search results will have a lot of options, but starting out with the customers who are already loyal is a wise place to start. By expanding the online presence, interacting with customers at every stage of the conversion process, and making sure the website is one that potential consumers want to visit, restaurants can make significant strides in their local search results.

Kevin Valdez is the Co-Founder of GroupRaise, a new way of organizing restaurant fundraisers for local causes.

Expert Takes, Slideshow, Technology