There are loads of different ways to build links for a restaurant. Everyone loves food, right?
The great thing is that as a provider of food and drink, restaurants are already in the position of having something that people want and need. Food and drink aren't going out of style, either, and the potential for what to promote are endless.
The following basic ideas are ripe for being updated to fit your level of creativity – and the great thing about them is that they're all low-cost or free.
Restaurants can do amazing things with social media, so a lot of what we discuss involves that. But first we'll start off with some other methods.
Capitalize on Your Existing Clientele
Retaining customers should always be at the forefront of everything you do. Happy customers can be your best source of word-of-mouth marketing, at no crazy extra cost to you, so don't ever ignore them when you're marketing.
- Email newsletters can keep customers informed about new menus, happy hour plans, upcoming restaurant events, discounted prices, etc. They can also be a way of asking for feedback, so include a link to a quick survey (such as "What new menu items would you most like to see?") at various times throughout the year.
- Customer loyalty cards are being used a lot in medium and lower-priced restaurants. I've never seen them being used in a pricier one, but that doesn't mean you can't start. You'd be surprised at how many people really want to get that free bagel after buying 50 cups of coffee.
- If you know who your regulars are and you can afford to do it, send them a free appetizer or dessert every few months. Even something as simple as going out and speaking to them when they come in can pay off.
Now, since this is the first section, you might be wondering how this type of activity can help you build links, so here's the thing: maybe it won't. Maybe you will never see an actual text link that was directly generated from anything like this.
However, you're keeping your customers happy and that keeps them coming back. That means that the next time someone asks about a great place to eat, you're going to get recommended, and maybe the person asking for the recommendation will be the one to give you a link, or tweet about how fantastic your pumpkin ravioli was, or Instagram a shot of your broccoli and cheese pizza that ends up bringing in more people.
More people being exposed to your brand/product, no matter what that is, means more chances for increased business and, incidentally (and hopefully) more links. The best links are the ones that are generated by people who link to you because they want to, not because they have something to gain, remember.
This is the foundation upon which any restaurant's online marketing should be built. I've previously covered link building for local SEO, so let's dive into five restaurant-specific ideas:
1. Partnerships With Local Bloggers
They don't have to write about food for a living to be valuable assets.
If someone is writing about the town where you have a restaurant, contact him or her and see if a review is possible, or just reach out and invite them to try your place for lunch for half-price one day.
Sponsor the blog with a nice nofollowed text or image link.
Let the bloggers know when you have something new, whether it's an imported new beer on tap, a new seasonal menu, or a redesigned space. As a person who runs a local blog, I can tell you that it's not easy keeping up with what's going on so if a local restaurant reached out to me like that, I'd be incredibly appreciative.
2. News Outlets
Does your local newspaper have a section that lists the local food specials, such as this:
If you have a special, a new menu item, new pricing, etc., then reach out to your local news outlets and let them know about it. As with the example I list, there's no actual link but remember the paragraph above about how more exposure can increase the odds of getting a link.
3. Local Charities
Offer to donate (or give a cut-rate price on) the food for a local charity event. If you do breakfast, take a few quiches and coffee over to the local animal shelter one morning and feed the volunteers.
If you have the space for it, offer to host the board meetings of a Vocational Rehabilitation group once a quarter. Donate beverages and fruit to help feed runners at a charity race. Heck, even sitting on the board of some charities might get you a link.
4. Local Business Directories and Review Sites
You want to be listed in Google's Places for Business, Yahoo Local, and Bing Local at a minimum. Hopefully you're being reviewed on Yelp.
Depending upon what's available in your area, if the directory looks like a quality one (meaning it has an editorial process for accepting a listing, is currently indexed in Google, and hasn't lost its Toolbar PageRank), then submit to it. Just don't go crazy and spend a week submitting to every directory you can find, as many of them are worthless and can end up hurting you.
5. Educational System
Colleges and universities are great places to find employees for the restaurant industry, so reach out to the human resources departments and let them know if you're hiring. A lot of restaurants have decent turnover so maybe a permanent job posting would work.
Also, as with the charities, you can offer to donate or discount for catering or let a group (maybe the local university chess club) have small meetings in your restaurant. In conjunction with the whole student angle, why not write a piece on your blog about what working at your restaurant entails for the various employee positions, or write some tips on how to get hired as a hostess or sous chef?
Social can be a huge asset to your restaurant, especially as a lot of people use it to figure out where to eat on the spur of the moment. Food also translates very well into a visual medium and social is prime for that.
Twitter is fantastic for figuring out where your favorite food truck will be as you can see in the example below:
If you have a blog, you can obviously tweet out new content, but you can also tweet out everything from tonight's specials to advertising that someone's had to cancel a reservation so you have one table for four open for 10 p.m. on New Year's Eve.
On holidays, if you're open, you can use this to let everyone know, as that saves you a lot of time because otherwise you'd be fielding phone calls asking that same question.
Please make sure that if you do use Twitter, you keep up with what's being tweeted both about you and to you.
If someone's tweeting to ask if you have any vegetarian offerings because they're having dinner there tonight, then answer. Quickly.
If someone tweets that he had an amazing steak at your place last night, then thank him, and follow him. Hopefully he'll follow back. Tell him to come say hi the next time he's in the restaurant and actually make an offline connection. You can win a lot of relevant local followers this way.
Food is visual, and Instagram is chock-full of people's food photos to the extent that it's become a cliché. However, it's still a very viable way to market your restaurant.
There are even apps like Feedie that work with participating restaurants so that when you Instagram a photo of your dinner from one of those restaurants, a donation is made to The Lunchbox Fund, a charity that aims to feed schoolchildren in South Africa.
Obviously as a restaurant you can Instagram your own photos (and you should) but you should pay attention when others do it, so you can follow them, get followed back, and just make some sort of connection that might benefit you both later on. Post a photo of your new menu, your new chocolate cake, your latest special or coupon code, etc. Just make sure you're using hashtags!
The Olive Garden has a nice Instagram account as you can see below:
Much like Instagram, Pinterest is great for something that translates well into the visual. Pinned recipes are very big right now, so use Pinterest to post a photo of your spaghetti carbonara and link it back to the recipe that you have on your blog. Pin photos of your restaurant all lit up for a special occasion or showcase a photo of the latest beer taps you have.
Panera has a great Pinterest feed. They pin about not only their food, but destressing, the importance of knowing where your food comes from, and what they're doing in the community.
I love Foursquare for restaurants. You can tell who else is checked in (in case you're connected to a group of friends and you're all in town for a conference, for example) and even get discounts or unlock specials. It's great for marketing specials like happy hour and late night, too.
There's a great restaurant near my office and I think they do a really nice job with their Facebook page. They let you know what specials they have, ask for feedback on potential new dishes, and just generally keep their patrons informed about what's going on.
Despite all the recent high-profile penalties, people are still guest blogging, so it's worth a mention. I wouldn't advise anyone to do nothing but guest blog of course, but a couple of great opportunities could make for some fantastic exposure. Just don't overdo it or seek it out simply to get a link, as that will end up backfiring on you.
I did spend some time trying to find a few good examples of well-done restaurant guest blogging but sadly, I couldn't easily find anything, so whether that adds to the case to not do it or not can be left up to you. I do think there are better ways to build your online presence for a niche like restaurants, though.
5 Dos and Don'ts
1. Do: Make Basic Information Easy to Find on Your Site
Your hours of operation shouldn't require 15 minutes of digging to find (and if you're ever open, you should have your hours listed!) and your menu should be current, not one that's still reading Valentine's Day 2012.
Think about what you'd use a restaurant's site for, and make sure you have those items ticked off.
Do you accept reservations? Say that you do or don't, and if you do, then provide a way to make them.
Provide contact information in every way you can receive it. If you have a social presence, then make that obvious on the homepage.
Here's a great example of a local restaurant that has done a wonderful job with giving you basic information the second you hit their home page:
Here's an example of one that's not doing such a great job of immediately giving you basic info and sadly it's the place that does everything else so well, which goes to show you how many people forget the basics. If you aren't considering making a reservation, would you think to look under that tab for the hours of operation? I wouldn't.
2. Don't: Ignore Basic SEO Practices
If your site takes forever to load, or won't load in Chrome, or the links aren't clickable on a mobile device, you have a problem. You're irritating users but you're also irritating crawlers, if I can go all anthropomorphic for a minute.
Mobile is especially critical for a restaurant so don't forget to make sure that everything's working properly on mobile devices. (Note: local and mobile really, really need to start working better together as you can see here and here.)
3. Do: Some Quick Competitive Analysis
See what other restaurants are doing in terms of their site, their social presences, and their backlinks.
If you run a backlink report on a restaurant down the block from you and find that there are some great local links in the profile, maybe those are worth trying to get for your own site. Maybe there's a new local food blogger who hasn't yet discovered you but you find her site through analyzing your competitor's link profile, so send her an email and ask her to come try your place.
4. Don't: Forget Webmaster Tools
5. Do: Make Sure You're Monitoring Your Mentions!
Talkwalker Alerts is free and I highly recommend it. You definitely want to keep up with who's talking about you on social as well, so you can respond, whether it's positive or negative.
The restaurant industry is absolutely perfectly primed for creative marketing ideas. Hopefully you can extrapolate some of these ideas and use them no matter what niche you're working in.