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How to grow traffic with mobile-first search marketing

These four tips can help your restaurant thrive in a competitive marketplace

Alex Porter is president and chief strategy officer of Location3, a digital marketing agency based in Denver. This article does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the editors or management of Nation’s Restaurant News.

Digital marketing for restaurants is more efficient than ever, making it a lot less labor intensive to incorporate slick, new websites and online assets like virtual reality and 360 experiences, even on mobile.

However, too many restaurants are overlooking the fundamental cornerstone of search and local marketing. The most beautifully designed mobile site in the world doesn’t do much for actual foot traffic without search engine optimization to bridge the gap.

To thrive in this new era of mobile, local, and social, restaurants need to harness local search marketing that’s optimized for mobile devices. They can tackle this in four ways: 

1. Near-me search 

“Near-me” search is the most distinctly mobile of all search queries, and it also presents the opportunity to drive the most immediate conversions — especially for restaurants.

Using mobile phones’ GPS technology, near-me search narrows down search queries based on location. After conducting a local search on their mobile phone, 50 percent of consumers will visit a brick-and-mortar brand within one day. A consumer searching for a kind of cuisine or restaurant near them has a specific need in that moment, and, with a near-me strategy in place, restaurants can meet that need immediately. But many restaurants miss out on a huge chunk of these search queries and resulting online-to-offline customer foot traffic. 

When it comes to SEO, many brands often incorrectly focus on keywords that are either too broad or too narrow to their brand, like “McNuggets” or “Whopper.” In between, there are tons of missing keywords, and restaurants end up not only wasting significant dollars on searches that aren’t effective, but also letting brand-agnostic consumers who might be more inclined to visit one of their locations get away.

To capture those consumers, restaurants need to optimize for two categories of keywords. The first is non-branded keywords, like “Mexican food near me.” The second is long-tail, research-oriented terms like “best places for steak in downtown Denver.”

2. Mobile website build

Your mobile website may be beautiful, but it also has to be structured well on the back end to be effective in SEO.

No matter how much you’ve invested in graphic web design and pretty images of food, your site won’t rank well or capture valuable traffic without the right foundation and build. You must prioritize a responsive, mobile-optimized site that responds to the user’s behavior and environment based on screen size, platform and orientation, and that’s also easy to scale with local pages for multi-location restaurant brands.

Nothing hurts your search ranking more than a bad user experience, and Google is prioritizing mobile and responsive sites more and more. Soon, Google will release the Mobile-First Index, which is Google’s way of telling brands that they need to have either a mobile website that is structured according to their mobile best practices, or a responsive site that is structured properly to render for mobile searches and users. If you don't have either, you simply won't appear anywhere near Page One for mobile searches, relative to the limited real estate and competition. 

In addition to the back end, other ways to improve the mobile user experience include click-to-call options, cutting down on text-heavy content, and avoiding heavy files or videos that eat up mobile data or take forever to load.

3. Local content

Whether your restaurant has one location or hundreds of locations, you need to generate local content for mobile users — it’s key to drive users from Google search to the dinner table. Restaurants should have local social media pages where they post content for their specific communities. Not only does local and social content help your search ranking, it also engages users and sets you apart from other dining options.

When putting together website content, keep in mind the principles above for lightweight content designed to be consumed on a mobile screen. For restaurants, valuable content includes multiple landing pages tailored to specific search keywords, localized menu pages, coupons and specials, event pages, and photo galleries.

4. Mobile search ads

Beyond organic ranking optimization, restaurants can ensure they’re capturing the right traffic with localized paid search ad campaigns. Paid search isn’t new territory for most brand marketers, but many leave out the extra step of localizing those campaigns and designing them to maximize foot traffic. 

First, you have to make sure your ads are mobile optimized — mobile is a major top-of-funnel research device, after all. Second, make sure your ad links to an appropriate landing page according to the keyword used. Third, make sure there is a call to action in your ad that will push the consumer further down the marketing funnel. Lastly, always ensure your ads have a click-to-call feature enabled for business phone numbers to easily connect locations with customers seeking information over the phone.

Mobile is quickly becoming the most important platform for getting customers in your door, and it takes a multi-pronged, local plan of attack to make that happen. Restaurants need to determine the best combination of mobile-first marketing for their specific needs by understanding the importance of near-me search, a mobile-optimized site, local content and mobile search ads.

There is a lot to gain by meeting potential customers halfway through the search process with quick fixes like updating keywords and adding a click-to-call feature to business phone numbers. With the right local and search marketing recipe book, your restaurant could see better foot traffic than ever. 

Alex Porter is president and chief strategy officer of Location3, a digital marketing agency based in Denver that delivers enterprise-level strategy with local market activation for global brands. He has also served as a committee member for the International Franchise Association and is affiliated with the Direct Marketing Association and the American Marketing Association. 

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