Outside Insights | July 2014 | By Guest Author

Local SEO: The Most Powerful Customer Acquisition Strategy

Local search engine optimization has proved its ability to drive in-store sales.
Fast food restaurants leverage online and social media SEO tools to boost business.
Thomas Stern is senior vice president of client services for ZOG Digital.
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Restaurants looking to increase their customer base and drive sales through digital marketing should focus on local search engine optimization (SEO) because of its proven ability to drive in-store sales. Local SEO improves a restaurant’s rankings in local search results and puts businesses in front of consumers at the very moments in which they are actively searching and looking to make a purchase. For restaurants, it is essential to include local SEO as part of their overall marketing strategies.

Local SEO has a high return on investment compared with other marketing initiatives. A survey done by Marketing Sherpa in 2013 indicated that 54 percent of marketers surveyed stated that local search optimization positively affected their businesses. SinglePlatform reports that 75 percent of consumers say they often choose a restaurant to dine at based on local search results.

Most local searches are made on smartphones and other mobile devices, making local SEO a critical component of mobile marketing. Restaurants are the most searched for industry on mobile apps and mobile browsers. According to Nielson, 90 percent of mobile searchers convert within the day and 64 percent within one hour of their local search query.

Local SEO success can be broken down into three main categories: on-page optimization, local directory syndication, and local link building.

On-page optimization: the importance of individual landing pages

The first step for restaurants looking to improve their local SEO strategy is to optimize their website. On-page SEO accounts for almost 20 percent of the factors that influence local search rankings.

According to Nielson, 90 percent of mobile searchers convert within the day and 64 percent within one hour of their local search query.

The first thing a restaurant with multiple locations needs to do is create separate, unique webpages for each location that include name, address, and phone number information; hours of operation; and other location-specific content such as menus. Many restaurants today include multiple locations on a single page, or include all location information inside part of a third-party platform. Unfortunately, if individual location information is housed on a single page or inside an iFrame, search engine spiders may not index the content properly, creating confusion in the eyes of the search engines, which reduces rankings and visibility to local searchers.

Directory listings: an off-page signal to search engines

Search engine listings and digital directories help local businesses like restaurants in two ways. First, they provide visibility anywhere potential consumers are searching, which in many cases includes search engine listings and digital directories. Second, the more places a business’s citation appears on the Web, the more credibility it is given by the search engines, ultimately improving search engine rankings.

Google, Yahoo, and Bing all have their own listing network that can be claimed by businesses. Restaurants should not only claim every applicable listing possible, but also fill out profiles in their entirety—including pictures, links to menus, and social networking account information. Search engine listings must be wholly accurate in order to be effective, which means having addresses, business categories, and descriptions that are consistent across directories and local websites.

The dozens of available digital directories work like an interconnected ecosystem, with smaller directories taking business information from data aggregators. Restaurants should focus on getting the most up-to-date and complete information into the largest directories and then watch to make sure any changes are reflected in subsequent directories. Some of the bigger listing platforms include YellowBook, Yelp, and CitySearch.

Localized link building: establishing credible connections

Link building has a direct influence on search engine rankings, and local link building is critical for restaurants looking to improve their local search visibility. Search engines use content and links as indicators of page authority and credibility, so the more links that go toward a single page, the higher search engines tend to rank that page.

Local links help create connections to local landing pages in order to affect local search results. For instance, a link from a credible website with an article about Thai food will absolutely help increase visibility. But restaurants that want to improve local search results should strive for links from a credible websites with quality content about the best local Thai food.

Link building can be a time consuming task, which is why it is a tactic not fully utilized by most restaurants. But restaurants that want to incorporate it as part of their local SEO strategy should consider strategies such as facilitating reviews from local bloggers, creating non-branded content for local publications, creating coupons for deal sites, sponsoring local events or charities, or establishing a digital partner for local link building.

Businesses that invest in local link building should also remember that it isn’t just the quantity of links that count, but also the quality. Factors like content quality, link location, page rank, and domain authority all make a difference in the impact a placement will have for a business.

Gaining a competitive advantage with local SEO

Local SEO puts businesses in front of local consumers looking to spend money by creating visibility that can be measured through search engine rankings. Remember that every local SEO strategy must include on-page optimization, search engine and directory listings, and local link building.

By combining these strategies, restaurants can improve the visibility of their locations at the very moment when a consumer is searching and ready to dine at a local restaurant.