As restaurants work to navigate through the seismic economic impact of the coronavirus, connecting with and engaging customers is more important than ever for driving revenue and weathering the crisis. Digital marketing is a key ingredient that can help restauranteurs connect with customers to achieve both.
Digital marketing strategies can be a force multiplier for bringing back loyal restaurant customers, attracting new customers and increasing brand awareness. Some of these strategies include:
Optimizing the Website
Optimizing restaurant websites is an important part of driving sales in any business climate but is critical in the pandemic environment. Consumers are online now more than ever, and restaurants need to engage with them where they are. Consider that the United States has increased its digital population for over two decades and currently has over 313 million active internet users nationwide.
By optimizing their websites, restaurateurs make it easy for patrons find their business online which can lead to more customers dining in and/or ordering online.
Optimized websites have a clean, uncluttered, navigable design and, most importantly, are Google-friendly. Having a Google-friendly website is important because more than 70 percent of all internet searches are processed on Google. If Google determines that a restaurant has a quality website, the restaurant will show up in search rankings when consumers are searching for dining options.
To “Google optimize” their websites, restaurateurs should:
Make them mobile friendly
With the number of smartphone users in the United States estimated to reach 275.66 million this year, optimizing the restaurant’s website for mobile viewing is no longer a nice-to-have but a must have. The fact is, mobile optimized websites fare better in search rankings. Google announced in March mobile-first indexing for all websites, which means Google predominantly uses the mobile version of webpage content for indexing and ranking.
Optimizing websites for mobile viewing can have bottom line impacts for restaurants. Consider that mobile makes up 84% of all “near me” searches and 28% of searches for something nearby result in a purchase.
Ensure they are fast loading
Load speeds can make or break a website. The longer it takes a webpage to load the higher the bounce rate and high bounce rates have a negative impact on a restaurant’s search engine rankings.
Keep them updated
Keeping websites up to date with fresh content and complete restaurant information including menus, hours of operation, and address can improve SEO (Search Engine Optimization). Websites that are not updated frequently are downgraded by search engines and sink in the rankings.
Focusing on local SEO
Local SEO is an effective digital marketing strategy that can increase the visibility of a restaurant in local search results. Internet searches are how customers search for local dining options with 4 in 5consumers using search engines to find local information.
Restaurateurs can optimize their ranking in search results and drive organic traffic to their websites by using the key words that local patrons would type in to search for restaurants in their area. For example, the website of a pizza place in New York might include key words like “best New York pizza” and references to local landmarks such as “in the heart of Times Square.” Key words like these should be used throughout the website. However, it is important to note that overuse of key words may get a website flagged by Google. To avoid being flagged for “keyword stuffing,” make sure key words flow naturally in content.
A Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system is key to helping restaurants stay connected to their customers and improve profitability. As a tool that collects a customer's demographic data, email address, contact information, social media details and more, CRM allows restaurant owners to use that data to solicit reviews, communicate regularly and run promotions through email and text. CRM allows restaurateurs to ensure their business stays top-of-mind with existing customers and should be a critical focus area in any digital marketing plan.
Prioritizing Social Media
The key to this component of a digital marketing strategy for restaurants is to understand what social media platforms their patrons are using and engage with them there. For the majority of restaurants that platform is likely to be Facebook. With over 2.7 billion monthly active users that spend an average of two hours and 24 minutes on the platform each day, Facebook presents a great opportunity to reach current and potential patrons. Restaurants should use social media platforms to provide regular updates on new menu items, upcoming events and promotional offers and should make sure to connect with customers by replying to comments and asking them questions. Additionally, in the COVID-19 environment it is important for restaurants to use social media to communicate the measures they are taking to create a safe and enjoyable dining experience.
In terms of content, restaurants should adhere to the 80/20 principle in social media posting. The number one rule in social media marketing is that 80 percent of a restaurant’s social media posts should be geared toward informing, educating and entertaining the target audience, while only 20 percent should directly promote the restaurant itself.
Leveraging Outside Expertise
Restauranteurs are busy with the day-to-day of managing employees, tracking inventory, monitoring food quality and the list goes on. With all of this heavy lifting there is not much time to focus on digital marketing strategies, so seeking outside help can go a long way. Digital marketing solutions companies can deploy digital strategies that help restaurants remain competitive and viable in a very challenging business environment.
The Way Forward
To bring back patrons and attract new customers in the pandemic environment, restaurants will need to pivot to digital marketing strategies that allow them to meaningfully engage and connect with consumers. These digital connections will strengthen the restaurant’s brand, drive revenue and position restaurants to thrive post-pandemic.