Working in search, there are two things I know for sure about restaurants:

  1. They’re among the most searched for local businesses on the Web
  2. They’re notorious for having Web sites that are both invisible and make your eyes bleed at the same time.

Do you see how those two things don’t go well together? Yes. Unfortunately most restaurants don’t. And at no time has this been clearer to me than over the past few weeks.

There are a handful of new restaurants opening up a stone’s throw away from the Outspoken Media office in Troy, NY. I know. You’re all very excited for us and look forward to my tweets about how delicious the new Greek will surely be. As I’ve been anxiously stalkingchecking out the Web sites for all our new eating options I’ve noticed a common trend.

They’re all awful.

They’re off-putting to users, invisible to the search engines, and the experience they create makes me want to show up to their new business with a pitch fork. And not because I’m super hungry.

If you’re a restaurant owner in the year 2011, you need to do right by customers and the search engines by following a few search engine optimization basics. Yes, I know your core expertise is in making delicious food (and I thank you for that), but that good food is going to waste if no one can find it. There are starving children in Africa, you know?

Below are six search engine optimization best practices your restaurant Web site should follow:

Enough with the auto-play. Really.

I almost get it. Food is an experience and you’re trying to recreate that experience on your Web site with the help of some tunes. And because you’re so kind, you don’t even want to bother users by forcing them to hit the play button so set it to auto-play the moment they land on your site. Yep. Makes sense on paper.

Unfortunately, when implemented, it’s a horrible, horrible idea. And you need to stop doing it.

I can pretty much guarantee that NONE of your users get giddy over auto-play tunes blasting them in the face. Not only is it inconsiderate to out their food searching to the coworkers they purposely avoid going to lunch with, but it’s alarming to land on a site and have it start yelling at you. It’s also awkward when the music you choose makes people fear they landed on a p0rn site, instead of a food site. For most of us there is a subtle difference. As an example, I would have pointed you to Uncle Ricky’s Bagel Heaven, but, well, their site appears to be down. I think I’ve proven my point.

Kill the Flash.

There’s a Cuban-inspired place opening up a short drive from the office. Being a fan of all things beans, I ran to the Web site as soon as @TroyMayor tweeted about it. Aaaand then I had a seizure.

Meet Café Caliente [caution: Another fan of auto-play music]. Click around. I dare you.

Woah.

Clicking on any of the navigational buttons sends you into a wacky Web design nightmare where nothing is secure enough to just sit on the page. Everything is moving, everything does something, and users aren’t quite sure what to do. Worse yet, because this designer went for flashy magic instead of readable HTML, all the search engines get is an empty page. Pretty is nice, but not when it sacrifices the entire experience and your ability to be found by hungry searches. Café Caliente’s tagline may be “make your like tasty”, but I’d settle for them just making it easy.

Provide Location Info/ Map To Your Business

Hey! You want customers to be able to find you, yes? You want to give the search engines clear signals as to where you’re located and what neighborhoods you’re associated with, yes? Fantastic. Then stop hiding and put a darn map and location information on your Web site.

Daisy Bakers, a Troy, NY restaurant known for its fine dining and, um, “spirits” does a great job with this, providing the search engines with lots of clues about where they’re located, while also making it easy for users to see where they are, when they’re open, and how to get there. You would think it’d be easy to find an example of a restaurant that doesn’t actively hide from its customer base but, well, you’d be wrong.

Make sure your business address, phone number, and a map to your storefront are all located on your Web site for customer use.

Use Spiderable Menus

There are many, many problems with the Web site for Troy coffeehouse Spill N Beans. Like, for example, the fact that it looks like it was built on Geocities. Or that its text runs over itself and there are things that flash at me. However, there’s one aspect that bothers me most of as someone often unsure of what I want for lunch.

It’s that their menu comes in two forms – Unreadable and Adobe.

As a restaurant, your menu information should be easily readable to users and searchers. It should NOT be a scan of the menu you hand out to patrons when they walk through the door.  It should be actual text that both users and the engines can decipher. Are you going to rank for that Southwestern Burger? Probably not, but you want the engines to be able to return that page to a user when they’re looking for it. Because they will be looking for it. And when they get there, you best be servin’ them with a page they can actually read and pass around to their coworkers while everyone puts together a lunch over. Otherwise, you’re alienating hungry people. Never wise.

Last year, Chris Silver Smith wrote a post about SEOing menus and recommended also submitting your restaurant menu to a service like Dotmenu, which feeds into Google and other services. I would strongly concur.

Include Images…and Optimize Them

Over at SmallBizTrends, I wrote about how small business owners could take advantage of Google Business Photos, where a Google-sponsored photographer would could out and take pictures of their business to enhance their Google Place Page. I also mentioned how small business could also do this themselves and how they didn’t need to wait for Google . This is still the case.

Break out your camera and take photos of your storefront, your employees, interesting dishes you serve, happy customers, your outdoor patio, your bar with 20 different local beers on tap, etc. This is the kind of content users want to see when they’re deciding where they want to go grab a meal with their friends. Once you have the pictures, do yourself a favor and optimize them for local search so that it shows up in Image search and universal search.

Offer Social Media Signals

If you’re a local bakery on Facebook and you’re tweeting the moment the bread comes out of the oven – make sure your Twitter information is front and center on your Web site. Because I want to know that. If you’re a coffee shop and you’re using Facebook to promote events and open mic nights, make sure I can find that information. If you have a strong presence on Yelp, give me that. These are the signals users look for when they’re evaluating a restaurant online. Give us the content we want and you’re more likely to get us walking through your door to purchase that $8 cupcake. Trust me. It’s great that you’re going out and creating these new conversation hubs, now tie them into your core experience.

As a restaurant, whether local or big brand, you know people are searching for you. So why hide? What drives you nuts about bad SEO by restaurants?


About the Author

Lisa Barone

Lisa Barone co-founded Outspoken Media in 2009 and served as Chief Branding Officer until April 2012.


32 thoughts on “SEO Best Practices For Restaurants & Eateries


  • Jerry McCarthy on said:

    Hi Lisa,
    My cousin has a popular chain of restaurants in the D.C. area called Mamma Lucia. Super great food, great atmosphere and reasonably priced. It’s a household name in the D.C. area and a great place to go if you’re ever in town, but even his website could use some work (it’s still better than most). I go out of my way to give him a hard time about it when I see him, but business is good as hes gone from 1 to 8 locations, has a loyal following and even worst, is an old school Italian (I’ll go out on a limb and say you know the type:-).

    My point is there’s no way in hell he would’ve been able to get away with this in this day and age. He’s the last generation that could. Unless you plan on failing, leveraging sound marketing techniques with a sort of curriculum relative to a restaurant website is an absolute must. You hit the nail on the head with the whole flash presentation thing. Not only does it drive me nuts but it makes me realize how much of a disservice their web developer did by not talking them out of flash. Seems inconceivable how you could knowingly set your clients up to fail. Thanks Lisa. Good food for thought for restaurant owners of the world. :-)
    P.S. Your coverage last week was awesome!!


    • Lisa Barone on said:

      Ha, that’s a good point about the Web designer’s role in all this. Because even if the SMB doesn’t know better, the designer SHOULD. And he did it anyway. That’s really bad practice, if you ask me.

      And I think you’re right. Businesses are going to have to adjust and realize there’s no alternative to making sure your Web site is in the best shape possible and that it’s giving users the information they’re after.

      And yes, I hear you about the Italian thing… ;)


  • Emily Suess on said:

    Most of the time, I’m just grateful to find any website with a menu at all. And that’s sad!

    I am training for an 8k run and trying to lose weight, so I like to look over the menu before I get there — particularly if I’m dining with friends. It makes good choices easier for me and keeps me from holding up the ordering because I have to scour the menu at a new place. If you have a website but no posted menu? You’re dead to me.


    • Lisa Barone on said:

      That’s true. It’s hard enough to find a Web site with menu information that you’re almost grateful even if it’s a PDF scan of their physical menu. Almost.

      And I do the same thing before going to a new place. I like to know what it is I’ll order before I even get there. I’m a little indecisive so I need more time. ;)


  • Jill Whalen on said:

    I would also add that restaurant websites should be mobile friendly much more than the average site needs to be. Many times people are out when looking for a good place to eat and they want to be able to easily see everything on their phone.


  • Sam Beamond on said:

    Awesome info Lisa, and very true. It’s not just your locality either. I have the same near me. Every once in a while you come across someone/restaurant that “gets it”. Did you see the video on socialmediaexaminer.com? http://bit.ly/jowpyj (more social media, but you get the idea)


  • netmeg on said:

    I would also tell them to take a look at how their sites look with the Google Preview. If I’m hungry and looking for food choices, and I mouse over that preview magnifying glass and see something mouth-watering, I’m probably a lot more likely to click through to it than if I see a blank space where the Flash goes, or even a bunch of boring text or a map. The preview is something restaurants/groceries/concession vendors should absolutely be jumping all over.


    • Lisa Barone on said:

      That’s a good point. Something similar came up in the Hardcore Local panel during SMX East – the importance of giving your Business listing a photo so they see that juicy burger on their SERPs instead of the red place marker. Good suggestion.


      • Nyagoslav on said:

        Unfortunately photos do not show anymore in the organic search results, which decreases dramatically their value currently. This change was rolled just the last week.


  • Michael on said:

    It’s bang your head against the wall amazing/frustrating how seemingly every restaurant builds their entire site in Flash. Customers want to see your menu. Fast. Now. When it requires a whole bunch of page load time, not to mention clicking around, an abandon is sure to happen. And Kudos to Jill for the mobile mention, as well. Damn Wix…


  • Nyagoslav on said:

    Hey, that’s some awesome pointers here with the Flash “killing” being the most widely needed one and the spider-able menu being the best one (in my view). I just wanted to add one more tip.

    People really like hearing other ones’ opinions before they take a decision. In this case, I think it would be a good practice if the restaurant gives both the chance for the potential customers to check their reviews online (as you mentioned Yelp) and give them the chance to leave their own comment if they’ve already had a dinner with them (like this restaurant does).


  • Lara Dickson on said:

    As a web designer, I find the big hurdle is to convince people to move off the clunky flash and (equally worse) hosted sites of drag and drop functionality. Changing tech is hard for people who’d rather be greeting customers, but once they’ve gotten over that hump of learning how a new WordPress site can do much of the seo work for them – with the above elements in place – and they’re smitten. Designers/marketers need to push restos to upgrade. If not us, than who?


  • Chris Silver Smith on said:

    Thanks for the mention, Lisa!

    I agree with Jill and others about having restaurant websites mobile-friendly, too! Overnight this seems to’ve become a necessity.

    I can also relate to Emily Suess — websites lacking menus AND NUTRITIONAL INFORMATION are now officially part of the Dark Ages! My ex-girlfriend also loved it when sites had WeightWatchers points calculated, too. I would just like to know simple things like how many calories, fat grams, carb grams and protein grams are in dishes.

    It’s making me think restaurants like Seasons 52 may be the wave of the future. Apparently none of their entrees are above 475 calories!

    Uh, oh – I’ve now ranted so long that I’ve become that irritating person who dissects his food and won’t stop talking about the sins of What You Eat.


  • Le-Juge on said:

    I’d add – Get a mobile website as you’ll be searched on the go! Google Map your mobile website. Use Geo localized social media platdforms such as Foursquare. If I may, my company developed a wonderful tool for restaurant and eateries that can really help – http://www.nowonthemenu.com/


  • Karl Sakas on said:

    Great list, Lisa! My pet peeve is when the address isn’t “cut-and-paste to Google” ready (because it’s Flash or an image). Or when I have to rely on Yelp or other third-party sites to guesstimate a restaurant’s hours of operation. When that happens, it’s as if they don’t want customers…


  • Mike LaVallee on said:

    My wife and I eat out a lot so your post really hits home. My biggest peeve you mentioned above is the auto play music, not just on restaurant sites but any business site really. If I can’t turn the music of immediately, I’m gone. And the menus… do you want people to eat at your place or not? I shouldn’t have to go to All Menus.com to see what your offerings are.


  • Ardala Evans on said:

    Yes, many restaurants just don’t get it. We eat out a lot and in searching for new places to try it’s amazing the odd search results that come up for some establishments; like a local pizza parlor that had “T……..t…..T” for a meta description. If I have some time I’ll shoot them an email and say something like, “Hello, may want to tell your web developer that your meta description for the home page needs fixing.” :-)


  • Angelos on said:

    I hear music or see a splash page, CTRL-W is happening so fast it’s not even funny. Because I know it’s not going to get any better from there.


  • Zunaira Karim on said:

    Great post Lisa! A couple of other ‘tactics’ I’ve seen restaurants employ – 1, the incessant need to have an ‘Intro’ page (that awesome page that says ‘Click Here’, and nothing else?) as well as the use of images OVER content with their home/subpages. I know a picture says a thousand words, but if you’re going to have a non-optimized image and 350 characters(not words) of text on your home page, you’re asking for trouble.


  • Chiewy on said:

    Really funny site along the same lines as your advice but in a more sarcastic manner :)
    http://neversaidaboutrestaurantwebsites.tumblr.com/

    My fave quotes are:
    “I hope the phone number and address are actually images so I can’t copy and paste them!”

    “I like when the music blasts as soon as the site loads. It signals to everyone at work that I am going out to eat!”


  • Bob Weber on said:

    When you live in a relatively small town like Troy, or Greeley Colorado, it makes you just sad that so many local businesses, restaurants included, don’t make any kind of effort with their website. It makes you just want to pick one business of each type and make a site that dominates the local market.


  • Bonnie on said:

    Nice info, Lisa! Got a question re: auto-play — but for videos. I don’t like auto-start for videos OR music. But I also don’t like to embed a video from YouTube because of the ads that come with it. I found a video player (PlayWire) that works nicely and is free — but if you want your video to play on your site without ads, it has to be set to auto-start (grrrr!). So do you know of a good, free video player that won’t show ads and won’t auto-start? If not, which do you think is worse… auto-start, or ads on your video (that may send your site visitors to competitors)?
    Thanks!


  • Jude on said:

    Looks like there are some vendors starting to try and address this issue. Anyone used options like thebigfork.com? I saw they have sites and an associated directory. Any other vendors that offer turn-key websites for restaurant operators?


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