There are a number of different ways to reach potential restaurant guests online. The most common and easiest to understand is social networks. Most restaurant managers have a Facebook or Twitter account which enables them somewhat understand how to utilize these networks. By doing so, they often feel that they are contributing to marketing their restaurant. While this is true to some extent, it does not often produce the effect of reaching new restaurant guests. Social networks are exceptional for the ability to get former guests to return when utilized properly, but it is the role of restaurant search engine optimization (SEO) to reach new guests.
Even among those who understand the concept of search engine optimization for restaurants, the distinction is often a confusing one. I made this video to explain the purpose of each:
The important thing to remember is that social networking is a great way to reach people who are already your fans. Facebook however is making it increasingly unlikely that the friends of those fans will be reached through restaurant social network marketing. Simply “liking” a fan page is far less likely to show up in the newsfeeds of your newest fan’s friends. Unless your fans are sharing your updates, there is very little chance that they will be marketing your restaurant to their friends through Facebook. Remember, the goal of Facebook is to sell advertisements, not to market your restaurant for free.
The goal of search engine optimization on the other hand is very different. Search engine optimization places your website ahead of your competitors in Google and other search engines when someone searches for your type of restaurant. When someone has a craving for Italian food, they go to Google and they search for Italian restaurants in their area. They aren’t going to skip over all of your competitors to get to your site if you are not on the first page. Most searches never make it past the first page. If you are not coming up near the top of that first page, you are losing out on customers.
To summarize this difference: search engine optimization is intended to bring in new customers while social networks are useful in creating repeat customers.
The value of each is best measured in market exposure. If you are an established restaurant that is very well known in your market, then social networks provide a great method to encourage your guests to return. If you are a newer restaurant, or have not reached a majority of the potential guests in your market, search engine optimization is vital. Social networks can be equated to a mailing list while search engine optimization is a billboard.
This does not mean that established restaurants do not need search engine optimization. One of the biggest buyers of billboards in the restaurant industry is McDonalds. They obviously do not buy billboards to find that one person in the market who has never heard of them. They buy them to remind guests of the lifetime of positive emotions they have invested in creating with their fans. The same is true of search engine optimization for established restaurants. If done well, the past guest who is looking for your type of food by searching Google sees your website at the top of the results and is reminded of how great their last dining experience was.
In my opinion, restaurants who do not invest time in both areas are missing out on sales. Social networks will drive guests back into your restaurant. SEO will remind guests of past experience and expose your brand to more new guest for less money than traditional marketing strategies. Once you have reached guests through SEO and given them a great experience, you can sign them up for you social networks to maintain contact. This is how both create a synergy that will increase your marketing efforts exponentially.