What Does SEO Stand for again?8th June 2018
“Restaurants need an SEO strategy just a little less than they need a guest asking for hot water in the tea for the fourth fucking time.”
– You, right?
Most people in the trade don’t understand SEO. Fine. Why should they? What’s really disturbing is how wildly misunderstood restaurant SEO – and by extension, most consumer-facing brands – is by agencies.
SEO used to be about keywords. You’d find some high volume, low competition keywords (like ‘chinese restaurant london’) that fit your brand, then stuff those terms into your website and voila! Google loved you.
That was a while back, of course. And while keyword stuffing is consigned to the past, the prevailing sentiment surrounding the role of keywords hasn’t much. Talk to someone about SEO and they’ll say ‘keywords.’ Try it. Now.
Back? Great. Keywords right? Yeah…
Keywords are little bits of code that search engines send little bots to crawl over to understand what a webpage is about. If that page is called /chinese-restaurant-london and the heading bellows ‘CHINESE RESTAURANT LONDON’ followed by a bit of text saying ‘Welcome to our Chinese restaurant London’ then – odd grammar aside – it’s quite clear what this page is about.
At least, it kinda is. The reason that keywords offer diminishing returns is that, while this all seems pretty straightforward, these bits of code offer little in relation to intent. What do I mean by intent? I mean, if you type in ‘chips’ are you looking for fries, poker currency, microprocessors or some dodgy American TV show from the 80s?
Search engines exist to return the best possible results to queries. This engine is oiled and tuned through data and, over the last 20 years, it seems Google has figured out that keywords are somewhat 2 dimensional. Keywords matter. Don’t ignore them. Get some proper software and find those high volume, low competition keywords that match the intent of your target market. But don’t rely on this alone.
Did someone just say target market? Ultimately, if you’re reviewing keywords for your site then you need to know what your users & prospective users are trying to find. So, before you dive into those keywords, you need to write a few personas.
Forget the demographic shit – really – and focus on what these people actually do. Some of which you can find out from your current site analytics: Do they use mobile or desktop? What pages do they visit? And in what order? And some of which you can’t. But you probably can figure them out by speaking to your current customers, observing their behaviour and using a healthy dose of empathy. How long do people spend in the venue? Where else do they go when they’re not with you? What do they buy? And when?
Compile as much information as you can and review it together. This takes time and effort, but it will result in a series of insights that help you figure out who your customers are, what they’re looking for and where they are looking. And without this, your SEO strategy – yes, you need a strategy – is fucked.
But this time, they’re coming in bunches, or ‘clusters’ to be exact.
Imagine you run a very commercial restaurant and you want people to REALLY, REALLY KNOW that you sell steak then chances are you’re going to write steakhouse above the door; you’ll post a note about steak in the window; you’re starting your menu with steaks; and sharing steak-related knowledge in your newsletter.
SEO works in a similar manner. But, where once this was abused with single pages being loaded with the same keyword on repeat, has now been replaced by the better practice of creating clusters of content that interlink and are founded on similar intent. So, if you’re writing content about our favourite Chinese restaurant, then you might want to surround it with pages that cover terms like ‘halal chinese restaurants’ and ‘vegetarian chinese restaurants’ for example. Anyone else hungry?
Speaking of linking – they don’t call me the king of transition for nothing – let’s chat about content.
Search engines love new content and new users. They want you to write new material that attracts attention on a regular basis. This can sound daunting. And if it’s just you preparing content every week, it can be. There’s a whole lot of conjecture surrounding the optimum length of blog content. Forget that. Focus on:
• Personas | What do people want to read?
• Keyword research | What terms within this frame are people looking for?
• Keywords again | Clusters. Say it with me, ‘Clusters’
You might recognise that bunch. Here’s some liberating don’ts to make you feel even more warm & fuzzy:
1. You don’t need to write all the content yourself. Your time might be better spent sourcing people that have something to say and want to share their content in more places. A team of guest authors are your new best friends
2. You don’t need to write loads of copy. Google owns YouTube and, partly because of that and partly because content is moving from written to recorded, consider tags on YouTube in search ranking. Image search also continues to grow in value, so make sure to tag all your images with pertinent terms that will ensure they come up in search (so not img3349)
3. You don’t need to be Seth Godin or Harper Lee for your content to get read. Spend time refining your headings and lead imagery. Yes, you want to produce great content that engages and gets shared, but there is so, so much fucking content out there that, without a bit of cut through, all your hard work might go unnoticed
4. And I know we’ve spent a few hundred words chatting about the diminishing returns of keyword research, but you should always research keywords and competitor content before creating blog titles. If nobody is searching for it or someone already wrote about it, you’d need a very, very good reason to use that headline in your post, or write about that subject at all
H1, H2, H3 Tags
Search engines are super thrilled with your content. Keep at it. But they also want to know exactly where to look to get the general idea about the content you’re producing.
Designate the title as a ‘H1’ tag (this means formatting tags and coming up with H font structures and the like, which might need a bit of work / help / wine to solve), then the next most important heading as H2, then litter a few H3s for sub-headings. One H1 per page, please. Moving on.
These are the titles that sit directly under your page title on search engines. They matter, but they don’t affect SEO per se.
What they are good for is signposting users to the content that matches their search, so you want them to feature the page keyword early. Ideally, Metadata tags should be roughly 130 – 160 characters and say something reassuring to the user, based on their search terms.
Speaking of linking – Shit, might have skipped a beat there – backlinks are where it is that.
A backlink is a link (duh) from another site back to your site. If this other site is trustworthy (the likes of BBC or the Guardian or a government site are at the top end of this scale) in the digital eyes of the search engine, then this will improve your ‘domain authority,’ essentially the trustworthiness of your website.
This, more than any other factor, will increase the visibility of your site. So how do you get some of this tasty link juice?
1. As a restaurant, you’re probably getting reviewed and written about regularly. You need to ensure that all of these third parties have your website URL and use it in their reviews. You would be amazed at how often this is missed
2. PR is expensive and can offer little residual value when mishandled (Some PR agencies are great. If you need a recommendation, let’s chat) but – if you’re struggling to assign a value to PR, consider their role in upgrading your backlinks. A review or three in a national paper that is translated to an online feature could propel your site upwards on search, irrespective of the review
3. The same goes for marketing campaigns. If you’re generating attention, chances are you’re increasing the number of backlinks to your site
4. If you are writing content, do what you can to share it far and wide. Do you want to write 5 blogs and post them on your channel, or write 1 and get it shared 5 times on other blogs? I know which one I’m picking. Foster relationships with bloggers and journalists and write what they’re not
5. Make sure your company and your sites are listed on all relevant directories for your service or location. There are hundreds of these out there and, because of the number of links they tend to get back to their site, tend to hold high domain authority (which is good)
6. This isn’t the most pertinent point for restaurant SEO because most food & drink brands have so many other ways to gain links, but if you’re bored one day, head over to a broken link checker and root through a few blogs. You’ll probably find that a few hundred are dead. This is bad for them because it makes them look amateur, and great for you because you can highlight and quickly solve their problem with a shiny new link to your site
Speaking of…look, just make sure you interlink pages internally (like this) and link out to site with high domain authority. This won’t be a game changer but it will help.
We can’t write about much without sporting a bit of brand chat. Your brand is more than a logo bla bla bla and part of your branding process should consider any secondary terms that will help align user intent with your content.
Let’s say your business is called Steve’s. Nice name. Now, ‘Steve’s’ might be the talk of the town, but those that are not lucky enough to know that Steve makes a cracking hotpot, then finding them through a search engine might be tricky.
But when you’re branding Steve’s, you can identify this challenge and find a solution. Collateral and signage could use the terms ‘hotpot’ alongside the brand name to align these in customer’s minds, so when they’re searching, they’ll be likely to use this identifiable terms in search. And hey, if www.steveshotpots.com is available, you might want to nab that too (it is, so if you want it, here’s your first backlink).
Try to avoid excessively long URLs or those with intentional misspellings, hyphens or other convoluted grammatical entries.
Brand signals is a loose term for the series of trustworthy online mentions that any brand receives, such as:
– A physical address
– Contact information
– Social accounts
– Review sites
You’ve probably set these all up. Here’s a few you might not:
– Make sure your team members have listed your business as their employer on social channels
– Build a comprehensive ‘About us’ page (this might be a bit naff, but it’s valuable when you’re just getting started)
– Register with trade associations, particularly those in your region
– More social accounts – yes, that means Pinterest – and you need to post on them regularly
– More review sites. Yes, that means Yelp!
– Guest post on trusted websites
Sure, most of these overlap with some of the chat about backlinks we discussed earlier. All the more reason to do it then eh?
Above all, the most relevant ranking factor will be how engaged people are by the site and how often they return. That doesn’t mean people need to spend an inordinate amount of time on your site or traverse tens of pages every visit, but it does mean that they need to use your site as a regular resource.
In the case of restaurant SEO, this could be as simple as helping people navigate to your venues easily on mobile. It should mean that you add links to your newsletters and social posts that link back to your site. It definitely means that you need to review Google Analytics and Search Console every month (and Adwords if you’re running PPC campaigns, and a whole bunch of other tools if you have the time) to find out what’s working, what isn’t and what you need to change.
Mobile responsivity and site speed both matter. If your site isn’t responsive or takes a long time to load, then search engines will discredit you.
Voice search & Google snippets both matter. Amazon Alexa, Google Home and other voice-activated devices will transform how search operates, prioritising a single search result (because we can only focus on one input at a time and nobody has the patience to sit through multiple voice recommendations) instead of the 7 that you’ll find on the homepage of Google via a mobile, tablet or desktop.
Restaurants are susceptible to this shift. ‘Alexa, where shall I go for dinner tonight?’ is a race worth winning. And to do so, you’ll need a site that ranks for very specific terms and answers for ‘How’ and ‘Where’ questions. Google snippets are the visual equivalent.
Restaurant SEO is, ya know, SEO. But the nature of having a consumer-facing, regularly-reviewed, bricks & mortar brand make the context – and therefore the application and priorities – unique.
SEO continues to change, but the basic principles do not: Think about what a user would want to know about your brand, make it visible and engaging and help search engines to trust that your content can answer a prospective user’s questions.
Wait, what does SEO stand for again?