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For Restaurants, Online Marketing Gets the Best Results

It’s official: Restaurant owners say online marketing now matters more than traditional advertising. In a survey earlier this year by GE Capital, Franchise Finance (GEFF), more than half (56 percent) of restaurant operators agreed that social media influences restaurant traffic more than traditional advertising such as print ads, radio ads and outdoor ads. In addition, 45 percent say search engine rankings and reviews on websites such as Yelp! and UrbanSpoon matter more than traditional marketing and promotions.

With today’s restaurant-goers regularly turning to their smartphones to decide where to eat, it’s surprising that online marketing doesn’t matter even more. Spending is keeping pace: Almost one-third of restaurant operators surveyed spend over $10,000 a year on online advertising, social media management and search engine optimization. (That includes tools, services and manpower).
The survey focused primarily on operators with multiple stores, but the results still offer lessons for any restaurant operator to make the most of online marketing:

  • Quantify your spending on each type of marketing. (More than one-third of respondents admitted they had no idea how much they spent on online marketing.) Be sure to consider man-hours—even if social media is free to use, there is a cost to monitoring and updating it.
  • Start small, but don’t scrimp. Can you get by with free online marketing through social media, in-house SEO and regularly perusing and updating your listings on online review sites? That’s great, but if these tactics aren’t paying off (or if their results have plateaued), consider upping your game to include spending some actual money. Buying social media advertising or paying for better placement on review sites could pay off exponentially.
  • Focus on online rankings and search results. The survey determined that when it comes to restaurants, these are online marketing methods that deliver the biggest bang for the buck. Don’t just “set and forget” your SEO, either. You need to keep on top of search engine trends and algorithm updates. Use analytics to monitor what keywords get the best results, and make changes as you need to.
  • Get help. If online marketing is not your strong suit or if you just don’t have time to keep up with this constantly changing field, hiring an outside company to help with your online marketing can be a wise investment.

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Author information

Karen Axelton

Karen Axelton is Chief Content Officer of GrowBiz Media, a media company that helps entrepreneurs start and grow their businesses. Visit her company’s blog at