Local SEO vs SEO – What’s Best for Your Restaurant Brand?

In a sector as vast as the restaurant industry, digital marketing becomes a critical tool to standing out among the crowd, especially as Q4 inches closer. Between holiday get-togethers, end-of-year corporate gatherings and dinners with loved ones from out of town, it’s essential for restaurant brands to pay attention to their online visibility to maximize the season ahead.

Search Engine Optimization (or SEO) continues to be an incredibly important digital marketing tactic. SEO is when you optimize online content so that your brand is easier to find when Google crawls the internet for results. To boil it down even more, if Google can quickly find a credible and useful website, that website will appear higher up in search results. When done right, SEO can build brand awareness, increase web traffic and drive overall online customer engagement. 

That’s great for visibility and web traffic, but what about when a restaurant is looking to drive conversions (clicking to make an online delivery order, for example) or good old fashioned foot traffic? That’s where local SEO comes in, which is optimizing content with a specific location in mind. “Best pizza near me,” is a good example of a Google search that would justify the need for local SEO.

The trick is knowing when you use one or the other…or both! Read on to learn more about SEO versus Local SEO, and – most importantly – how to determine what works best for your restaurant brand.  

SEO 101

The best way to nail down the basics of SEO is to understand how it works in the context of a Google search. Whenever someone searches something via Google, the search engine crawls the internet for results, populating a search engine result page (or, SERP for short). The position of a result on the SERP is referred to as its ranking. Generally speaking, the higher the rank, the more likely a consumer is to click on a website. 

Google’s goal is to create a great user experience by providing its users with high quality results so that they keep using Google. So, Google ranks websites on SERPs based on specific criteria, like page load time, keywords, credible links and more. Luckily, Google doesn’t gate keep this information – instead, it makes it widely available. Some key best practices are below.

  • Utilize keywords – Use tools to trace what your customers are searching (sandwiches, pizza, happy hour, etc.) and then strategically use those keywords in content (on your website, in your newsletter or in blog posts, for instance)
  •  Shrink page load time – Ensure images or file sizes aren’t creating a loading lag for your user
  • Create unique content – Think blog posts, testimonials, engaging/fun social media posts
  • Use credible links – Linking to reputable external sources can boost your page rank

Online content managed by your restaurant (website, social media and more) can all be optimized for search, helping your brand to rank higher and gain more visibility. 

Local SEO 

Local SEO takes all the above tactics a step further to optimize for a specific geographical location. Local search is powerful, with 93 percent of consumers using online searches to find a local business. So, if your restaurant isn’t optimized for local search, you’re definitely missing out on potential customers – many of which are searching while already on the go. 

Start by looking for creative and authentic (not forced) ways to include your town or city into content on your site, essentially using your location as a keyword. This could look like blog posts rounding up local events over the weekend or testimonials from local regulars. In addition to optimizing your brand for overall visibility, you’re now optimizing content for the “near me” searches. And, with so many local searches being made while consumers are on-the-go, it’s important your website is mobile friendly, easily snapping to fit smart phones and loading quickly. 

Now, it’s time to venture outside your own pages to ensure the NAP (name, address, phone) is correct and consistent across all platforms (websites, social media, local listings, etc.). Moz is a free tool that takes an overall audit of your internet listings and gives you a score to help gauge where your brand stands. Updating all online listings (Google My Business, Yelp, Trip Advisor and more) helps Google quickly gather info like hours, menu, address and more, and while this may sound straight forward, it can be a tedious job to do manually. Note – There are plenty of tools out there that can help with the bulk updating of online listings.

Another great opportunity to boost local SEO is when customers leave reviews. Encourage reviews from customers, but direct them to a few major platforms to show up strong on a handful of reliable sites, like Google my Business and Yelp, for example. This method also makes it easier to monitor and respond. When you respond, find natural ways to fit your brand name and location into the response. Bottom line: the more your restaurant’s name and location pop up organically in content, the better. 

Determining Your Restaurant’s SEO Approach

Identifying whether SEO or Local SEO works best for your brand depends on your business goals. 

Are you a national restaurant chain looking for overall brand awareness? General SEO may work best here as you look to build large-scale brand recognition. However, each location could also have their own third-party listings (GMB, Yelp, etc.) with locations also listed on your website for a local visibility boost.

Is your restaurant a local favorite, mostly looking for foot traffic and community engagement? Place a heavier focus on local SEO tactics to help you appear in those critical “near me” searches to bring more people in the door. 

Are you a franchise? Some combination of both SEO and Local SEO would be best here as you look to simultaneously drive foot traffic for local success, while also increasing overall brand awareness to sell more franchises in new markets.

While the answer to “SEO or Local SEO?” may be less clear cut, one thing is for certain – Back tracking to identify business goals will help determine which route is best for you. And, keep in mind, the tactic(s) you choose may (and should) evolve over time as your restaurant business grows. Monitor your efforts, refine your strategy and reassess often for the best results.