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Setting The Table For Restaurant SEO: Menus

Restaurants are some of the most-searched types of businesses in local. Because of this, Google and other search engines typically look for some specific content and signals for rankings, and for eateries, the number one type of content sought on websites is the menu. Menus are so important for restaurants that they should be optimized so that search engines may spider them and use their content beneficially for ranking. Here are some tips.

In my article covering how Google’s usability fixation can reveal local ranking factors, and in a recent local search marketing presentation for the DFW SEM association, I went over how there are a number of common website features which Google and other search engines could easily use as quality signals and quantifiable usability elements in order to base some ranking calculations.

For industry-specific sites there could easily be some industry-specific site features and ranking signals. Where restaurants are concerned, menus are almost always a major piece of content which consumers are expecting to find, and therefore items which search engines treat specially for purposes of rankings. Yahoo even recently enabled some special search features enabling people to search for specific menu items.

For the few restaurant sites out there which do not have menus available, they are missing what may be the most basic table-stakes (so to speak) necessary for ranking well in local search. A restaurant website missing a menu can get dinged for not having one. After all, if most consumers are seeking the menu on a restaurant site, and a restaurant site doesn’t have one, it’s a big let-down.

But, for the websites which do have menus, how might they be best formatted for the purposes of ranking well? Here are a few tips for making search engine bots gobble up restaurant menus.

Link to the menu from the homepage. Call it “Menu!” Ideally, this link would be a simple, HTML link, as opposed to a JavaScript or Flash link.

Avoid Flash-only menus! Having a Flash-only animated website with all sorts of slick transitions may seem cool, but it still poses a great many challenges to search engines.

Display prices. As a consumer, there’s one thing that I truly hate when trying to plan a date or a family dinner—restaurant sites which refuse to display price information on their menus. I’m not alone. Even for exclusive, luxury restaurants, failure to display prices can make your potential customers run. Concerned about changing prices? Merely add a notice that consumers should call-in for latest prices or that online prices should not be considered always up-to-date. Google Maps and other local search engines provide rough price ranges for restaurant profiles, and they might even consider it less-optimal if they can’t locate price values.

Avoid small-print in menus. Just because your menu contains 100+ items doesn’t mean you should reduce the font size just to make it take up less room. In both online and offline menus, fine print in a menu makes for a bad user-experience.

Provide menu items in English. Even if you’re a renowned French restaurant, if you’re operating in an American city or English-speaking country, you should provide English in addition to the French menu names for entrees or it will not be as effective for consumers.

Avoid scanned-image menus. Your print menu design may be quite beautiful, but demanding that the online version appear identical could result in someone scanning it in to display on your site as one big image. While Google has improved upon making text in images indexable via optical character recognition (OCR), a menu might be more than the algorithms can effectively handle. Further, other search engines are not as effective at OCR, meaning all the text will not be made available for keyword search.

PDF menus are great. Google’s ability to spider PDFs is top-notch and other search engines have this capability as well. In fact, having a PDF menu is desirable for some consumers who wish to print them off, and who want to fax them in (in the case of restaurants that deliver).

For PDF menus, make sure to include the business address, phone number, and website link in the menu. PDFs often get saved onto other websites, so having your link embedded within it makes sense. Having the address and phone also helps provide reference citations for your business.

For PDF menus, avoid merely converting scanned menu images into PDF. For the same reasons mentioned above for avoiding scanned-images, merely converting a scanned image of a menu into a PDF will not solve the challenges that text-embedded-in-scanned-images poses to search engines.

Additional PDF menu optimizations include having ALT text for images, hyperlinking logos, and adding keywords and other items to the document meta-data. PDFs may be optimized much as HTML documents, so familiarize yourself with the methodology to maximize your ranking potential. Edward Lewis provides a pretty good tutorial for PDF optimization.

List daily specials on your menu. Since searches for coupons have been spiking for the past few years due to economic recession, all related searches for discounts, special deals and such may improve your chances of getting consumers to choose you versus other restaurants. Consider also listing happy hours, special rates, theater menus, tasting menus, etc.

Try to reduce fine print special rules, exclusions and warnings. Consider abolishing “split plate” charges, minimum purchases and other consumer-unfriendly terminology, since this may scare people away. If you’re really concerned about losing margin to this, test out removal of restrictions for a month, then adjust your overall pricing to absorb the extra costs. Appearing more friendly to consumers in this economy will only benefit you.

Restaurant websites have sufficient room to provide multiple menu pages. Providing more detailed information can only help you! If you focus on locally-grown food, organics, special diets and more, provide this info in your online menu. You can also provide specific menu pages for salads, appetizers, soups, entrees, deserts, drinks, poultry, seafood, pasta, beef, lunch, brunch, dinner and for holiday meals. Enabling all this to be spidered will expand the keyword terms by which interested foodies might come to find your website and your restaurant.

BONUS tip: Distribute your via services such as Dotmenu. Dotmenu feeds into Google and many other partners, so adding your menu into their database will increase your distribution.

I’ve seen many restaurant sites ignore the technical design of their menus to their detriment. Even restaurants which provide good menu information often only focus on visual appeal without insuring that they’ll be able to be spidered by search engines, and this limits their effectiveness. Using the tips I’ve provided should give you a leg up above your competition, and should help you expand your visibility for the foodies who are trying to find you.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

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