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Over the past two years, search results for “near me” have increased by over 900%. And, over 94% of diners read online reviews before choosing a restaurant. Here’s the raw truth: The Yellow Pages is passe; it’s the digital world that drives restaurant traffic. Today, 81% of diners use a search engine on their mobile devices to find you. So, what if there was a way your restaurant could almost always be the first result people see during a hunger-fueled online search? This is where restaurant PPC or pay-per-click (PPC) advertising comes in. You may have to pay-to-win, but you still win.

The Importance of Search Engine Rank for Restaurants

The restaurant industry is stuck in a paradox of sorts. On the one hand, consumers are spending plenty of money on restaurants. For the first time in history, people are spending more of their income on restaurant meals than groceries. And, we’re right in the midst of an online ordering revolution, with the average American ordering takeout weekly. Sounds good, right?

So, why did QSR Magazine announce that 2016-2017 was the worst period for restaurants since the recession? And, why are the Atlantic and the New York Times reporting that lunchtime is dead, with consecutive annual decreases in lunchtime walk-ins? It doesn’t make sense on the surface. If consumers are spending more money on restaurant meals, how can lunch-time be dead?

The truth is that the restaurant industry isn’t dying; it’s evolving. Online ordering has disrupted the traditional ordering framework. In fact, Gary Stibel, the Chief Executive of New England Consulting Group, argues that “the greatest wars in the world will be fought in the foodservice industry” this decade. How restaurants react and adapt to new changes will dictate whether they thrive, close their doors, or merely survive.

One of the most significant barriers restaurants face is how they acquire customers. 64% of marketers see Google as the homepage for local businesses. For restaurants, Google is more than just a search engine. It’s an “acquisition” engine. According to Skift, search frequencies for “restaurants near me” have grown by 300% across global markets over the last year.

If you want to grow your restaurant, you need to rank on Google. But, how do you do that reliably without significant SEO investments? Simple: You let restaurant PPC or pay-per-click advertising do the work for you.

What is Restaurant PPC?

Pay-Per-Click (PPC) advertising is an ad you place (typically on search engines) to generate traffic to your restaurant website. You pay a set amount for every click on your advertisement, regardless of conversions. When customers do a Google search, PPC ads show up before organic advertisements. Basically, PPC ads are one of many digital tools restaurants can use to thrive in the digital age. Along with SEO (local and global), social media marketing, and voice search optimization, PPC ads can help restaurants find valuable customers in the digital space.

Understanding How Restaurant PPC Works

So, the question begs to be asked: Does the restaurant paying the most money rank at the very top of the page? Fortunately, it’s a little more complicated than that. Instead of sparking a never-ending bid war for the top spot for hyper-competitive keywords (like “pizza”), Google leverages the Ad Auction to keep things fair. Basically, Google’s Ad Auction lets you determine how much you’ll pay for ads linked to specific keywords. Then, when people search those keywords, your ad has a chance of being displayed (again, there’s a sophisticated algorithm for determining rankings in the page results).

So, will your ad be displayed in every Google search for that keyword? The answer is no. Instead, Google tries to identify searches relevant to your brand (location, demographics, psychometrics, and other data play a role in this). In other words, Google tries to determine how valuable your ad will be to the person who’ll see it. Here’s where you can differentiate from the competition: with the right keywords, ad extensions (things like extra links to landing pages), and ad format, you can rank better than your competitors, even if you pay less for your ad.

But wait, how do you figure out which keywords you should be bidding on?

That’s a little more complicated. We recommend using a keyword tool (and following our smart tips below) to help you find relevant, ROI-friendly keywords for your restaurant.

6 Super Smart Restaurant PPC Tips

1. Remember the Value of Location

As tempting as it is, most people aren’t going to drive to another city to grab a bite to eat. So, you absolutely don’t want to pay for clicks in places outside of your core “dining region.” Sure, you can set up some parameters in your Google Ad console, but you can also make your campaigns more efficient at drawing in local diners. Below are a few tips to help you boost your local presence.

  • Consider location-based keywords: Instead of the keywords, “best pizza,” try “best pizza in New York City,” ” great pizza in Los Angeles,” or “delicious pizza in Boston.” Better yet, try “best pizza in (insert zip code)” or “best pizza around SoHo.”
  • Hack your URL with a zip code: When you set up PPC campaigns on AdWords, you can change your URL text to anything you want. Consider adding your zip code at the end of the URL text string. It’s a noticeable way to let everyone know your proximity to their locations.
  • Sprinkle your text with local references: You have tons of room to maneuver when it comes to ad text. Don’t just talk about your restaurant. Throw in some local references. For example, don’t just say “best pizza in Soho,” say, “best pizza in SoHo — just a 2-minute walk from Prince Street!”

2. Always Create Mobile-First Campaigns

We’ve talked about the value of mobile marketing and the benefits of mobile optimization. Here’s why: Over 70% of food-related searches are done on mobile devices. So, how do you optimize a PPC campaign for mobile? After all, a PPC ad basically consists of a hyperlink and a few lines of text. What does that have to do with mobile devices?

We’re glad you asked! There are three main ways to optimize your PPC campaigns for mobile.

  1. Create mobile-friendly landing pages: After they click on your ad, users arrive at one of your landing pages. Whether you have one or more landing pages, take pains to ensure that all of them are mobile-optimized.
  2. Use click-to-call: AdWords lets you set up a click-to-call feature on your campaigns. You simply put your phone number in, and users can tap that number to automatically call your restaurant. It’s quick, easy, and intuitive. Plus, it sparks immediate action — which is exactly what you want when your competitors are one result away from “poaching” your diners.
  3. Make sure your online ordering portal is mobile-ready: We strongly recommend including a link to your online ordering campaign in the PPC ad. That way, users can immediately enter your funnel and start spending. The last thing you want is to pay for a PPC ad only to direct them to GrubHub. Remember that 70% of your customers want to order directly from you — not a 3rd party app. So, make sure that your portal is mobile-friendly.

3. Add an Online Ordering Extension

That’s right. This is such a critical point that we’re giving it its own section. You HAVE to have an online ordering portal if you want to convert your PPC ads. Without a way for your customers to order food from you, you’re basically paying for empty clicks. Here’s the golden rule: Every click should result in an action.

Luckily, AdWords helps out here. You can set up ad extensions for your PPC campaigns to boost your ad rankings, create more clicks, and help motivate diners to “purchase” WITHOUT increasing the price of your clicks. To do that, you’ll add things like click-to-call, location extensions, and affiliate extensions. In addition, you should always add a site link extension with a big callout to “Order Online Now!”

Running a PPC campaign is all about maximizing ROI. So, make each click count!

4. Deploy Non-Stop A/B Testing

There’s no such thing as a perfect PPC campaign. There are only low-performing campaigns and high-performing campaigns that can perform better. You should always work to improve on your last ad. A/B testing is how you turn good ads into great ones and great ads into conversion machines. Try running a campaign with click-to-call capabilities and then try running one without it. Which one tested better? Keep the best one!

Now, try running campaigns with differing language. Which one tested better? Again, keep the best one. Think of this as an evolving process. You should never stop A/B testing: Your next viral ad may be right around the corner.

5. Experiment With Long-Tailed Keywords

We haven’t touched on price much in this post. How much do clicks cost? It depends on your chosen keywords. The cost-per-click (CPC) of the keyword “insurance” is $54.91. So, if you type in the word “insurance” and click on the top ad, that company would have to pay Google more than $50 for that one click.

Luckily, food keywords cost much less (for obvious reasons). However, they can still be pricey. In other words, you could potentially pay more than you make from ad clicks, simply due to choosing highly competitive keywords. That said, not all keywords cost a ton. Long-tailed keywords (those with over three words) are generally the cheapest and least-competitive options. They also happen to account for 70% of ALL searches on Google.

Using the keywords “best pepperoni and mushroom pizza” is going to be WAY cheaper than “best pizza.” If you do your homework, you can find extremely ROI-efficient long-tail keywords with high conversion value.

6. Remember Negative Keywords

Since you have to pay for every click, let’s make every single one count. If you run an upscale steak restaurant, you probably want to rank for the long-tail keyword “steak and potatoes,” right? But, what if the customer types in “cheap steak and potatoes near me?” Chances are, that diner is likely to pass over your restaurant. That said, they’ll still have to click through to see your menu prices. And, those clicks will cost you some cash and still not result in a conversion.

Google has an answer. You can use negative keywords, instead. These are keywords that prevent your ad from being shown. Combining negative keywords and long-tail keywords can absolutely help you increase your PPC campaign ROI. Of course, you should still put in the cash for several highly-competitive short keywords. Once again, A/B testing is everything.

Ready to Leverage Restaurant PPC to Dominate Google?

PPC ads can be a hyper-effective way to improve your restaurant rankings. But, here’s where the rubber meets the road: What’s the point of ranking better if you can’t increase your conversions at the same time? 9Fold can help by delivering branded, mobile-friendly online ordering systems to support your PPC campaigns. We think every click should count. Contact us to learn how our powerful online portal can increase your “purchase now” clicks today.