I have to admit that I ran a restaurant for two and a half years and only did one “marketing campaign” if you can even call it that. We were lucky enough to have that work, but who knows what we could have accomplished if we had embraced marketing.
Since I do not claim to be an expert on the matter I talked to someone who is – Josh Allen, the Director of Marketing at Location3. Josh broke it down for me into two major categories – Foundational and Ongoing.
Foundational: With luck you have started some of this, but if not, there is no better time to start.
Updated Listings across the Internet: I found this to be more difficult then seemed necessary, but Josh noted that inconsistencies in your business information across platforms can penalize your online visibility. While trying to “claim” your business on all of these listing sites may seem tedious, especially if you have multiple locations, the effort will be rewarded. Ensure the information is as “robust, informative, and user friendly as possible,” Josh added. Add images and menu pages where possible to provide the most informational value.
Responding to Reviews: Restaurant owners often have mixed feelings on how to handle reviews – both positive and negative. I know I certainly did. My natural response was to ignore them completely. However, it has been shown that responding to reviews can positively impact your business and improve the overall customer/user experience. Josh takes it one step further saying “we’re now beginning to see that engaging with customer reviews as a business owner has positive organic ranking implications for your business online.” So, despite how frustrating it can be to go through and respond on review sites, it is worthwhile to your customers and endearing to the Google algorithm.
Analytics Tracking: There are several analytics tracking services, Google Analytics being the most popular and free! Tracking your website analytics is important because it can tell you a lot about how people are finding your business, which will inform how you structure your marketing plan later on.
Website Search Engine Optimization (SEO): Optimizing your website with keywords may sound daunting, but it can actually be fun and a good exercise in brand awareness. You must ensure that you’ve used keywords on your website that will drive the right traffic to your page. The keywords you plan to use shouldn’t be too common or they will be impossible to rank for. For instance, you will probably never rank under the keyword “Greek food” but you might have a shot at ranking for “Greek restaurant in Chicago”. The first page of Google results gets 90% of the clicks. So, ensuring you appear on that first page, ideally near the top. is essential.
Conversion Point: Ensuring you have proper conversion points on your website is the last piece in the foundational cycle. You’ve built up your SEO, and you’re driving new traffic to your website, your potential customer has searched for “Greek restaurant in Chicago,” and voilà your website has popped up on the first page. Your hungry customer is ready to make a reservation until there is no intuitive way to do so, and they immediately hit the “back button.” Finish the loop and provide easy conversion points for your new potential customers.
Ongoing: With your foundational marketing plan in place, your website is gaining incremental traffic, and more customers are walking through your doors. Now you are ready for the next step – taking your analytics data and segmenting your traffic to determine where you can focus your marketing budget.
Adwords: Google Adwords are a great place to start, especially if you’ve noticed you’re getting a lot of conversions from organic searches. By purchasing Adwords you will increase keywords you are ranking for and drive more traffic to your website. For example – you are now ranking for “Greek restaurant in Chicago” but you realize you’re not ranking as well when you search for “Greek restaurants spanakopita” your famous item. By purchasing some Adwords you can ensure potential customers are finding you when they are craving your specialty.
Facebook Advertising: You may be buying a few Adwords and realizing the cost is quickly adding up. Especially if you’re a quick-serve with a lower check average, you can’t really afford to be paying several dollars for a customer acquisition. Facebook advertising often offers a slightly lower cost-per-click and still allows you to target specific customer groups.
Hire a Professional: The foundational portions of marketing are relatively straightforward, and while certainly not easy as I will attest, they are doable. Once you move onto the ongoing portions you may find it cost-effective to hire a professional. The key reason to consider doing so, is that a professional ideally will make back their cost in better targeted marketing. A professional that really understands paid advertising will be able to find the channels and the words that will drive the most traffic to you and get more customers through the door. If you’re interested in learning about Adwords and paid advertising – go forth and conquer – but if you’re more concerned about serving the best food you can, then investing too much of your time into this may not behoove you.
Implementing a comprehensive marketing strategy is not an easy task but it can pay dividends with incremental growth. Spending the time and energy to ensure your restaurant has a strong online presence also doesn’t have to be expensive. Josh believes even a small investment of as little as $200 a month can provide real returns for your restaurant.