LOCAL BUSINESS SUCCESS CENTER

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Keeping listings current and consistent across multiple sites is the challenge for restaurant chains Those of us of a certain age remember looking for a restaurant of a particular cuisine in the Yellow Pages –that county-wide, annually-produced brick of print. Today, while phone companies still distribute local Yellow Pages, restaurant listings can be searched from coast to coast through the phone in your pocket, and can be updated every...minute. We discover restaurants in an ever-growing number of online places: search engines, restaurant directories and review sites, online maps, social media posts and mobile apps. These listings determine our dining decisions while we're out and about, often in our cars, and poised to act.

Keeping all those listings current and correct in real time is a job that print advertisers never imagined, but it's not a task they can afford to ignore. Restaurant operators know that today, a new customer's path to their door leads through the Internet. (The Yellow Pages knows it too...see YP.com competing with the Googles, Yelps, TripAdvisors, Foursquares, and Urbanspoons, of the online world.)

Brand presence in all these online places affects restaurant revenue directly, and particularly in the mobile realm. Smartphones are now owned by 70 percent of U.S. adults and 90 percent in the 18-34-age bracket. Of these, 70 percent report using them to look up restaurant menus.1 Google expects mobile searches (at 85.9 billion) to surpass desktop searches (84 billion) sometime in 2015.2 And at Yelp, the number of mobile app installs has gone from 53 million in Q4 2013 to 72 million in 2014, while desktop growth is flat.3

Opportunities to Attract New Business

The opportunities to attract newcomers are bigger online—think of aggregate ordering sites like Seamless.com, multi-brand, smartphone loyalty applications like Belly, monthly promotions and limited-time offers, sports- or holiday-themed events, or other local tie-ins.

The risks of not keeping current are also bigger. Think of newcomers disappointed by out-of-date promotions, dropped menu items, incorrect hours of operation, or even unexpected location closings. Think of regulars irritated by seeing one price online and a higher one in the restaurant. With 88 percent of smart phone or tablet users reporting looking up location, hours and directions to restaurants at least several times a year, and 39 percent doing this weekly1, there's a lot of new business at stake.

Local searches—40 percent of mobile searches as of September 2014, according to Google—come in several forms, each with its own information needs. If consumers are searching for your specific business, they’re almost in the door: Here address, phone number, hours of operation, menus and directions must be accurate and optimized for mobile. If they've got "Indian food in Boston" in mind, you've got to be sure that you're properly categorized as such, with relevant key words.

Local searches also present opportunities to grab the attention of those who may not, just then, be thinking about places to eat. Paid and well optimized restaurant listings can be triggered to appear when the user researches a subject that's closely related. If they're searching on birthday parties, for example, and that's a part of your business, you want to make sure that's specified. Restaurants also pop up on map searches, through social media posts, or in a mobile loyalty application that awards points for visiting any participating local business.

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Menus Must Move Online

Menus—particularly those optimized for mobile—play a huge role in influencing consumers' dining decisions. In the NRA's study, 31 percent of those who own or regularly use smartphones say they look up restaurant menus at least monthly and 27 percent order online via web site or app. And because menus contain the names of specific dishes and components, they give operators the chance to rank much higher on results of more specific searches. A middle eastern restaurant whose menu is fully searchable online turns up high in a search on "kufta kebob," for example, while a competitor that merely categorizes itself as "middle eastern," whose menu is a non-searchable pdf or worse, not online at all, is buried relatively deep in search results.

How Does Inconsistent, Unsearchable or Inaccurate Data Get There?

Online publishers get the data for their listings from a range of sources: user contributors, direct submissions from businesses, and automatically "scraped" from other websites. They also purchase it from a range of data purveyors: aggregators who compile from multiple sources, vertical-industry-specific providers, and listing management services, which help them upload their data to multiple publishers from a single online dashboard. Of these sources, only listing management services work for the operators themselves. They do this not only by providing the one-entry, many-update gateway to many publishers, but by keeping abreast of the dynamic and complex search landscape.

Listing management services are particularly appealing to franchises and restaurant groups, where marketing manpower is limited and online presence may not be tightly controlled. Property managers responsible for their own local pages are often hard-pressed to keep their menus and promotions up to date and consistent with corporate branding, or may post things on Facebook pages, say, that have unforeseen consequences.

Through their third-party relationships with publishers, listing management services enable a brand to speak to all regions and all channels with a consistent voice and reliable, vetted information. They enable their restaurant group clients to achieve local customization under the watchful eye and control of corporate review. Such services can also provide the analysis that makes the best use of online advertising dollars.

Perhaps most important, they save time and trouble by propagating one menu change, promotion, or any other message from one input screen to all the directories, review sites, apps and social media pages that matter, both desktop and mobile.

1NRA forecast, 2015

2eMarketer

3Yelp earnings call, Feb. 5, 2015

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