BY Azetta Rolse
They say the restaurant business is one of the most difficult industries to break into, let alone thrive in. Small business owners already face an uphill battle, as nearly 50 percent of them fail within the first five years. If the restaurant business is even more unforgiving, how can you push the odds in your favor?
The key to any successful business is knowing how to market to your audience. You need to answer important questions like “How will my community know I exist?” and “How can I attract people to my restaurant?”
Your answers lie in restaurant digital marketing. While some validity can be found in the traditional means of advertising such as handing out flyers, direct mailing services, and radio commercials, the world has largely gone digital. If you don’t have an online presence, you might as well close up shop.
But don’t worry, we’re here to help. Keep reading for our top eight digital advertising strategies for restaurants.
1. Perfect Your Website
First, even though you own a local restaurant that’s anything but digital, your storefront is no longer the face of your company. When 88 percent of consumers go online to research products or services, they judge a business’s credibility based on their website above all else. If your restaurant’s website leave’s something to be desired, odds are they’re going to bounce off your website to find one they like better.
Your website needs to be professional, functional, and user-friendly. Potential customers need to be able to navigate your site intuitively to find things like menus, hours of operation, and your address. Additionally, remember that most people use their smartphone to research things like this, regardless of if they’re at home, in the car, at work, and so on – your website must be optimized for mobile devices.
Finally, invest some time and money in professional pictures of your restaurant space, foods you offer, and your staff. The food will look more appetizing and your staff will appear more professional. It gives potential customers a sense of intimacy with your restaurant, even before they visit.
2. Focus on Local SEO
One of the most important steps in restaurant digital marketing is perfecting your search engine optimization. SEO is everything in terms of getting organic traffic to your website, and ultimately, customers in your seats. When someone types in “Italian (or whatever) restaurants near me,” your SEO rating will determine how quickly they find you.
Whether people are locals or travelers, you need to make sure your website’s SEO makes you a local hotspot. You can boost your SEO by taking the following actions:
- Create a blog on your website full of engaging and relevant content
- Make sure every page of your website utilizes local keywords and other forms of SEO coding (metadata embedded in pictures, videos, headings, etc.)
- Use both internal links (to other pages of your site) and external links (to affiliate websites, sources of data, etc.)
- Create a Google My Business Account
- Make sure your contact information and address is listed multiple times and is easy to find
As you can see, if you’re new to SEO, it can be a steep learning curve. Look into further educating yourself about SEO or seek professional services if you need help.
3. Gain Followers on Social Media
Having a website that’s teeming with SEO coding is great (and necessary). However, there are some more proactive ways you can drive traffic to your site as well. Did you know that 70 percent of American adults are on Facebook? That means 70 percent of your potential customers can be found in one location.
Restaurant digital marketing without a social media strategy is folly. Not only can you amass a following of people who are attracted to your restaurant and are likely to be repeat customers, but social media also provides effective networking opportunities. The best part is, you have plenty of options for both free and paid advertising campaigns.
For example, you can market cost-free on social media by hosting raffles or competitions offering free meals, gift cards, or even cash prizes to the winners. The key is to use the competition to extend your reach by encouraging users to like, comment, and share your posts. In turn, their followers will see their activity, be exposed to the competition, and likely start following your profile to compete for prizes as well.
Alternatively, you can look to paid social media marketing which allows you to choose how much you spend per day toward your campaign as well as your target audience (based on age, gender, location, and more). This also comes with the perk of analytical data that breaks down the success and performance of your ads. You’ll be able to see how each ad performed in terms of engagement (link clicks, likes, follows, shares, comments) to help you fine-tune your advertisements.
4. Use Influencer Marketing
If you have yet to amass a strong following or are looking for a larger target audience, consider influencer marketing. Social media influencers are those who have established credibility within certain industries or demographics, and as a result, often have thousands, if not millions of followers.
If there are any food-specific influencers in your relative location, it may not be a bad idea to reach out and invite them to eat at your restaurant for free. If they like your food, you can come up with an influencer marketing contract. In exchange for them to create a post about your restaurant, you can pay them a fee or give them a certain number of free meals.
5. Implement Email Marketing
Another effective restaurant digital marketing strategy is called email marketing. First, you need to build an email list of recipients who have subscribed to your email. Gaining subscribers can be done by offering discounts to previous customers who subscribe, through social media, your website, affiliate websites, and landing page ads.
Once a customer subscribes, you need to have an automated set of emails that go out once or twice a week. These emails should be friendly and express gratitude to your subscribers while subtly pushing them toward coming back to your restaurant. However, they also need to contain valuable content (discounts, promotions), or people will stop opening them.
Email marketing has proven to be a top contender because it falls back on marketing to people who’ve already shown interest in or eaten at your restaurant.
6. Take Advantage of Online Reviews
Next, remember that most people need a little reassurance when it comes to investing in products or services, including dining experiences. When people research restaurants online, one of the things they’re looking for is what other customers had to say. You need to take advantage of online reviews and the level of credence consumers put in them.
Start by encouraging every paying customer to post a review on Google, your website, or on your social media profile. Most people need to be incentivized, so offer a respectable discount on their next meal once they’ve completed the review. While offering a chance to win ‘x’ amount of dollars can be helpful, most people won’t take the time to review your restaurant for a mere chance of winning something – give them something definite.
7. Network With Other Local Businesses
Another beneficial restaurant digital marketing strategy utilizes other small business owners in your area. Start building affiliate relationships with complementary businesses (but not other restaurants). You can work with one another by guest-posting on each other’s blogs, recommending their services, and more.
For example, connect with a local hotel and see if they will recommend your restaurant to travelers and other guests. They can do this in person and through their website. On your end, offer discounts to any customers who come to you through the hotel.
Alternatively, you can team up with other small businesses and offer discounts for business-related meals, such as salesmen meeting with current or potential clients, team luncheons, after-work parties, etc. The key is to offer value to other businesses that choose to affiliate with you. In return, you gain more customers and stronger influence within your community.
8. Keep Online Engagement High
Lastly, it’s important to understand that consistency is everything in restaurant digital marketing. If you want your community to remember your name when it comes time to grab a meal, you must make an effort to make it so. Running an advertising campaign once a year isn’t enough.
However, this doesn’t mean you have to break the bank to keep patrons coming back to your restaurant time and time again. It’s the little things like updating your website regularly, posting new content a few times a week on social media, and advertising new items on your menu. But remember, you have to keep the community involved by hyping up new specials online, running contests, and giving back.