Take Back Control of Your Online Presence

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 Think of newcomers disappointed by out-of-date promotions, dropped menu items, incorrect hours of operation, or even unexpected location closings.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

15 key stats from the NRA’s Restaurant Industry Forecast

The National Restaurant Association has published its 2015 Restaurant Industry Forecast, and the overarching theme is growth: in revenue, local & healthy food trends, employment and the use of technology in the industry. Here are 15 key takeaways in four categories:

Dollars and cents

  1. 2015 will be the 6th consecutive year of sales growth in the restaurant industry, with $709.2 billion in sales projected.
  2. Tourism continues to boost the industry: the U.S. is expected to attract 76.6 million international visitors in 2015.
  3. Consumers are willing to spend if they can save; 8 in 10 say they would visit a restaurant in off peak times if they received a discount.

Use of technology

  1. One-quarter of consumers say technology options are important features that factor into their decision to choose a restaurant – and experts anticipate this will continue to grow.
  2. 70% of smartphone users view restaurant menus on their phones at least a few times per year.
  3. 34% of consumers say technology makes them dine out or order takeout or delivery more often.
  4. 6 in 10 chefs encourage consumers to take photos of their food and post it on social media – they consider it free advertising.

A people powered industry

  1. Half of all adults have worked in the restaurant industry at some point during their lives.
  2. The industry is projected to employ 14 million in 2015 – about one in 10 working Americans.
  3. 8 in 10 restaurant employees believe their industry is one where people of all backgrounds can open their own business.
  4. 95% of consumers say good service is key for choosing a table service restaurant.

Local flair & healthy grub

  1. ….#2 will be locally grown produce.
  2. 8 in 10 table service operators say guests are more interested in locally sourced items.
  3. 76% of consumers are more likely to visit a restaurant that offers healthful options.

The survey also found that top challenges restaurateurs currently experience are food costs, recruitment and retention, building and maintaining sales volume and the economy. And despite more restaurants adopting various forms of consumer-facing technology, customers want more than what’s currently offered.

A strong local presence, both in what’s served and where a restaurant is listed, is important to attract new local and visiting customers. Excellent quality of food and service is imperative to keep those customers coming back.

Showcase new menu items and get in front of tech-savvy customers with an information listing service like SinglePlatform. For more information, check out how it works. We are committed to helping local consumers find local restaurants across the U.S.

Is Google cracking down on sites that aren’t mobile-friendly?

Google is not out to get your website. They are, however, out to improve user experience for their – and your – visitors.   It’s what we’ve learned over the past five years of Google’s algorithm changes: Panda, Penguin, Hummingbird and Pigeon. We could start a bizarre zoo with the collection of updates and algorithms.
Each Google algorithm change was released to improve one thing: user experience online. And as search engine use has gone from desktops to laptops, then from laptops to tablets and smartphones, Google has been nudging websites in that direction as well.

25% searches on mobile devices

25% of internet searches are now completed on mobile devices. Google is adapting – are you? It started with conversational search queries popularized by Siri and Google Now, which started auto-populating in written search bars. Google Analytics then began displaying device data to give webmasters a better idea of how their visitors were viewing sites. Recently, Google launched a mobile-friendly testing tool and started labeling mobile-friendly sites in search results.

If those weren’t strong enough indicators that Google knows its users are increasingly mobile (and your site should be, too), they’ve recently started sending notifications to webmasters whose sites are not mobile-friendly, letting them know that those errors will impact how sites are “displayed and ranked” for smartphone users.

Is there another penalty looming? We’ll see. But if this is already impacting how sites are displayed and ranked, it’s at least clear that Google is rewarding sites that play by the (unwritten) mobile rules.

Small businesses can get their information out on a mobile-friendly page without investing in an entirely new site by using a service like SinglePlatform. For more information and examples of how we can improve your customer’s mobile experience, contact us.

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