To say the last few months have been challenging for the restaurant industry is an understatement. Fortunately, as operations begin to normalize and the industry emerges from the recent pandemic, owners and business leaders will likely find themselves with more time to dedicate to strategy in order to drive traffic and awareness.
The pandemic created a surge in online ordering and carryout the industry hasn’t previously seen. Ma and Pa shops that may have once been cash only or didn’t take reservations were forced to quickly adapt to survive, and for many, that meant creating website. For restaurants and chains that already had a web presence, it was time to further integrate with Google’s ecosystem via their social media, website, menu integrations and more.
Wherever your restaurant may land on the spectrum of online visibility, Google is about to shake things up, and is on the cusp of rolling out an algorithm change this coming June. The search engine giant will make these updates with the user in mind, shifting its algorithm to prioritize websites that provide a good user experience, factoring in speed, quality content and more.
Below are the anticipated updates that may impact restaurants and their websites’ rank, alongside some tips on how to prepare and leverage these changes to drive brand awareness, sales and foot traffic.
Speed up your website
Whether you just got your site up and running or are in the process of finding a web host, keep page speed in mind. The quality of your web hosting affects the entire user experience from page speed to security—a plus for website visitors looking to place an order directly if applicable. If you are experiencing loading delays, it may be time to review the type of hosting you are using. Think of website hosting as paying rent for server space for your website – that information and content has to live somewhere.
This update could be the push you needed to switch to cloud, VPS or dedicated hosting. Whichever you choose largely depends on what content and capabilities are featured on your website and how much traffic you’re driving to ensure that the server can handle it.
Advertising elements or large images (perhaps an image of the menu) may also be slowing down your site, so set aside time to evaluate those as well. You’ll also want to consider the user experience in the face of these advertisements. Large pop-ups and banners don’t just slow down your website, they hinder user experience—instead, make ads subtle. Likewise, creating a separate menu page and listing out items instead of embedding a huge picture of the menu will also help with speed. Anything that interferes with the user’s smooth access to content is a giant red flag for Google.
Be Visible Where your Customers are Searching
A recent study showed that nearly 60 percent of all online searches are now carried out on a mobile device, with some sectors (food and beverage) reaching 72 percent. Whether you’ve had a website for years or recently developed one, it is now critical that your website is optimized for mobile. If you’re unsure of where your website stands, you can check via Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test Tool. Whether you’ve built your website yourself or are working with a developer, there are a few factors to consider when optimizing for the mobile experience, like hosting service, website theme and more.
In addition to prioritizing the mobile experience for your customers, it’s important to get even more granular and think about location-based signals. While this is will remain unchanged amid Google’s algorithm updates, it will no doubt be useful in driving hyper local traffic to restaurant locations. There are a few things you can do, like updating your Google My Business Listing to ensure it’s completely filled out and accurate. On your site, if possible, dedicate a page to each location, including address, phone number, hours and even a brief description. Talk to your developer about including “location schema” on each of these pages, as this is another signal to Google of quality data. It’s also important to conduct a simple audit across the web to ensure basic information is available and correct. To do this, consider leveraging a tool such as Yext to centrally manage your locations across hundreds of location-based sites and apps.
Focus on Content and Top-Ranking Pages
Use competition as a reference point. Even if your ranking factors are in order, don’t stop improving them. It’s good to have a pulse check on competitors’ pages, but keep in mind that when it comes to user experience and content quality, content is king. In fact, regardless of the upcoming update, the search engine will continue paying serious attention to the content quality. Even if you have page speed and loading time in order, poor content will hurt your rankings tremendously. For restaurants, content can look like a regularly updated blog, embedded videos, images, special events postings, and menu updates or specials.
Google’s Page Experience Update will roll out in the coming weeks, but there’s no need to overhaul your entire website overnight. Instead, take time to evaluate your website with your customer in mind. If after performing an audit with Google’s Core Web Vitals report, you see that numerous pages need improvement, don’t invest in rebuilding all of them. Work on issues that have the highest impact and lowest effort first, and retest constantly. The rest can be fixed with time.
Featuring quality content that’s easy to digest via a quick and secure website will not only help build reputation and credibility, but will be prioritized by Google and rank higher in search. All of these elements will no doubt help drive new and existing customers to your site, and ultimately boost sales and foot traffic due to your online visibility.
Steve Krull is the CEO and co-founder of Be Found Online, a digital marketing agency where he and his teams have been helping businesses with online visibility for more than 10 years. Throughout his career, he’s worked with dozens of QSR brands, including Firehouse Subs, Friendly's, White Castle, Logan's Roadhouse and Boston Market to drive business and web traffic through specialized digital marketing tactics. When he’s not working, Steve can be found reading spy novels, rooting for the Chicago Cubs and riding his bicycle.