You don’t have to be an IT whiz to create great online marketing campaigns—there’s a raft of free or nearly-free products out there on the web that can lure in your tech-savvy customers. By Kerryn Ramsey
As the population becomes more web-reliant, it is almost compulsory for a restaurant to have a website these days. But having a snazzy site is one thing; getting people to click on it is another. Once reluctant to take the risk of marketing online, restaurants have recently embraced this concept, producing quality products that compete with the mainstream media.
A raft of free—or reasonably inexpensive—resources are on offer to create marketing campaigns that will increase site traffic, target future customers and improve customers’ loyalty. This ranges from the grassroots approach via blogs and sites such as Facebook and Twitter to simple but effective strategies like Google Maps and AdWords.
According to Hitwise 2008, 87.81 per cent of all searches are done via Google in Australia. Research has also shown that 75 per cent of people don’t look beyond the first page of an online search, so it is important to optimise your ranking. “To give your website a better ranking in a search engine,” says Rob Shilkin, head of corporate communications of Google Australia, “it needs to be well structured, easy to navigate with fresh and updated content. You need to make your site a useful source of information on your restaurant so people will write reviews and other websites will link to it.”
While web users navigate through key categories, more precise online marketing tools—geographic maps and thumbnail previews through browsers such as TrueLocal and Google—can lift a restaurant’s ranking and guide people directly to a specific site. “We are seeing a big increase in the number of restaurants getting listings in Google Maps,” says Shilkin.
To join this free service, simply visit maps.google.com.au, and then register in the Local Business Centre. Once accepted, the restaurant information—with phone numbers, opening hours and a link to your website—will appear when customers are looking for a specific restaurant or searching for terms such as ‘Thai restaurant Brisbane’.
According to Hannah Mason, the general manager of web developers The Web Showroom (www.thewebshowroom.com.au), there’s another nifty way to double your exposure online. “You actually advertise on Google, and then you appear in Google Maps,” she says.
Another effective marketing strategy is setting up a Google AdWords campaign, a sponsored link that is a “lot more precise and a lot more measurable than doing a letterbox drop or an ad in the local paper”, says Shilkin. The program allows small ads to appear on the right-hand side of relevant search results (visit adwords.google.com/select/Login or the official blog adwords.blogspot.com).
Upfront costs are minimal—often around $100. “You only pay when a user clicks on your ad,” explains Shilkin. “You bid on particular keywords, so you might bid on ‘Indian restaurant’ or ‘Indian restaurant Surry Hills’ and your ad will only appear when a user enters those keywords. You can specify what time of day you want your ad to appear, so it’s really flexible and easy to use.”
Another advantage is the incredible amount of data a restaurateur can get as to how well the campaign is running. A free product called Google Analytics can show how users are interacting with a site—how long they stay, where they come from and where they exit it to. It’s a powerful way to help improve the performance of a restaurant’s website and its online marketing campaign.
To attract the technology-savvy Generation Y crowd, it’s worth investigating the latest online marketing strategies on social networking sites such as Facebook and the micro-blogging platform, Twitter, which is trackable and measurable. For marketing inspiration, check out corporate companies such as Flight Centre and Virgin Blue, which regularly post their latest specials, with a link back to that promotion page of their website. Even a London bakery scores regular store stampedes from Twitter subscribers who are informed every time the latest batches of bread hit the shelves (visit twitter.com/BakerTweet).
Meanwhile, a blog is an effective tool since it’s free, content-rich and automatically search engine-optimised. Many designs are free, but a tailored blog can cost from $100 to around $1000.
Blogs also have the added advantage of RSS (Really Simple Syndication) which informs subscribers whenever a webpage is updated. If a restaurant was promoting a changed menu or a special offer, subscribers would be automatically informed.
So is it worth spending time spruiking deals and salutations online? “It depends on the crowd a restaurant owner is trying to pull,” says The Web Showroom’s Mason. “If they are trying to attract the 50-year-olds, there’s no point going on Facebook.”
To attract inner-city web surfers who like to be on the pulse, a range of directories provide numerous restaurant listings and reviews. Apart from sites like the Savour Australia Restaurant Guide (www.restaurant.org.au), providers such as Citysearch invite restaurateurs to supply their basic information for minimal fees. “At the moment, we cover all capital cities but we also stretch around those areas,” says Citysearch group product manager, David Egan. “There are some entry prices—it’s a pay per list opportunity so [restaurateurs] can have their name, address, telephone number and a website link that starts at about $27.50 per month. Or they can take on a full profile page, for about $60 a month.”
More than just a listing, Citysearch allows restaurants to promote their personalised services and discounts, such as Friday steak nights or two-for-one cocktails. “Our philosophy is we attract users who are searching for different types of events and then encourage them to click through to various businesses—restaurants in particular,” says Egan.
While restaurant reviews come from customers, every review is seen by the Citysearch team before publication, preventing any defamatory copy. “Sometimes the reviews can be really helpful, mentioning that customers should ring ahead and book a seat by the window for the best view. We aim to provide an independent review which gives you a flavour of what you are going to experience,” he says.
To capture a different demographic group, My Rewards (www.myrewards.com.au) offers a membership benefits package as a component of loyalty programs, associations and staff benefit clubs. “It’s not available to the general public, just informed subscribers who are looking for offers and specials with different types of organisations, including restaurants,” explains Melanita McCallum, marketing manager of My Rewards.
Listing a restaurant for My Rewards is a free service. The only cost is when a member comes in to redeem a voucher, which is the wholesale cost of the value of the offer.
To become a supplier, a restaurateur sends an explanation of the venue, including any promotional offers, as well as logos and images which will appear online. “If a member was to type in ‘Adelaide’ or a postcode in the dining category, that restaurant would appear,” says McCallum.
But before you dive into the Web 2.0 wave, your home website needs to be functional and simple. It’s then worth exploring these options, which will encourage customers to keep in touch—online and around the table.