In my last post I discussed Google Places being discontinued to become Google + Local for restaurants. Over the last week I have read a number of articles on the topic and sat in on some webinars with some of the top local marketing professionals in the country. It took a while to digest, but I have come up with some good news. The fundamental strategies that have always helped move restaurants up the listings of Google Places are still the strategies you should be using for Google + Local. The name and format has changed, but the algorithm still values the same factors.
The Google + pages, much like the Facebook Timeline, are much more visually striking than their predecessor. This profile gives you far more opportunity to brand your restaurant and introduce yourself to your potential guests. You have two photo elements to do this with on your Google + page. The first is a profile picture which can be 250px X 250px. The second is a cover photo which is 900px X 180 px. Integrating these two pictures can be a little complicated because of the overlap. If you have someone who can do photoshop work for you, I recommend using this Google + cover template. I also seem to have better luck uploading it as a picture and then using it as a cover rather than uploading it straight to the cover area. Here is the quick cover I made while writing this post.
Google + also takes advantage of Google’s recent purchase of Zagat. The integration of the Zagat ratings system presents a visual breakdown of your ratings from past guests right on the page. I have always found Zagat’s rating system a superior alternative to most of the other review sites. They also, in my opinion, cater to a different type of reviewer. Less griping than Yelp and more food focused. Other than Open Table, I think Zagat is the best choice for a Google partnership. This also makes me wonder how long it will be before Google introduces their own reservation app, but that is a story for another post.
As far as changes in ranking factors for restaurants, there are a few notable items to consider. Videos, which were a powerful and underutilized tool in Google Places, are notably absent from the Google + local profiles. Main citations (the three sites linked to from the profile pages) have been replaced with menus from other sites. This makes it more important than ever to have current menus posted on these sites. The menus should be in html (have you are reading now is html) as opposed to .jpg or .pdf. They will link to up to three sites. One can be your website, one should be you menu on Zagat, and one should be from the other menu sites. Having all three listed in one of the most significant ranking factors in Google + Local.
Ranking factors for Google + Local for Restaurants
Yes, there are ranking factors. Most owners I talk to seem to think that quantity or quality of reviews are the reason behind the order the restaurants are listed. It is a factor, but not the most important one. Far more important are claiming your profile, completing your profile, and having a large number of citation sites linking to your website. In my estimation citations are far more important than reviews and I have a number of clients who I can point to as proof.
Citation building is one of the more time consuming tasks to do on your own. It is far easier to outsource, but can come with a hefty price tag. The business model of many of the “online marketing companies” is really nothing more than citation building. One of the largest companies that is actively pursuing the restaurant industry charges just under $150 a month for what amounts to building around 20 citations. They charge a monthly fee to “keep them up to date” as if you might decide to change your address and phone number on a monthly basis. I offer the same set of citations in my packages for a onetime fee of $50. You can do them on your own for free as well. I have experience and automated software to make the process much quicker and it still takes about 15 minutes each. Manually they take around 30 minutes each to set up. It is really a matter of deciding the value of your time when deciding how you want to have it done.
However you gather citations, it is still a huge ranking factor with Google + Local. Even after the changeover, my clients are sitting pretty. None have dropped and some have improved. This is still (other than having a good website) the most effective way for independent restaurants to market to new guests online. Whether you take the time to optimize your site on your own or with the help of someone like me, it is something that all restaurants should take advantage of. This shift to Google + Local should be the impetus that leads you to commit the effort. Google Places is gone, but Google + Local is a superior way to market your restaurant.