The ABCs of Restaurant Marketing With Paid Search

Advanced Digital Marketing Series:  Part Two — The ABCs of Restaurant Marketing With Paid Search (Part One — What Is Conversion Optimization? 5 Tips to Take Your Restaurant to the Next Level)

Search Engine Marketing (SEM) or Paid Search is a common form of digital advertising, however, not many restaurants take advantage of this powerful tool. Although a dedicated part of most e-commerce businesses, it’s an area of marketing often overlooked within the restaurant industry.

Paid search allows you to target potential customers searching for keywords relating to your business with the aim of increasing traffic to specific pages on your website. Paid search allows you to advertise on search engine results pages (shown as “sponsored” or “ad” links), as well as websites set up to accept ads from the advertising platform you’re using. You pay for each time a user clicks on your ad (called pay-per-click, or PPC for short).

You might be asking yourself, “But what about SEO?” While Search Engine Optimization is a great way of increasing organic traffic to your website and shouldn’t be overlooked, it can be costly and it takes time before you see any results. Paid search is practically instant and gives you immediate control of your ad spend (giving you an extremely accurate overview of your ROI), which could be the answer to getting a leg up on your competition.

Getting started with paid search advertising begins with choosing an advertising platform to create your campaign within. Yahoo and Bing offer their combined advertising platform, Yahoo Bing Network (YBN), although many of the same practices and features we’ll focus on apply to the more widely-recognized Google AdWords for the continuation of this article.

AdWords offers a couple of different ways of displaying your ads: the Google Search Network, which displays your ads on top of the search results page, as well as its affiliated services (such as Maps, Shopping, and other search sites), and  the Google Display Network (which includes Youtube, Gmail, and thousands of partner sites). By default, your ads are configured to display your ads on both networks for maximum visibility.

You start out by setting up an AdWords campaign, which is what your ad groups are contained within and where you set your budget. Your ad groups contain individual ads sharing a common set of keywords, but more on that below. There are plenty of ways to deep dive into the configuration of your ads to maximize your success. For instance, you can choose to only target users on mobile devices (showing ads only to potential customers on-the-go) within a targeted geographic location (such as close to your restaurant) and for a certain time frame (like the hours leading up to and during the lunch rush).

Your ads are based on the keywords you set for them, and are displayed on search results page when a user searches for those keywords. These work in a few different ways. You have the default “broad match,” which matches a combination of your keywords with similar or relevant searches. Then you have “broad match modifiers,” which allows you to make sure your ads are only displayed when users search for your exact keywords or close variants, such as synonyms, misspellings, and singular and plural forms. You also have “exact match,” which is fairly straightforward, and  “negative matches”, which prevents your ads from showing up in search results containing certain words or phrases.

Picking your keywords can be a bit tricky, as you want to find keywords that generate a sufficient amount of traffic but also not too broad, giving you a lot of irrelevant traffic. Broad keywords may also be too competitive, rendering it expensive in terms of cost-per-click, or CPC. Luckily, there are plenty of keyword search tools out there, with one of the best ones being AdWords’ own Keyword Planner.

There are also a few ad extensions worth looking into. These are additional pieces of information you can add to your advert and are relevant to your prospective customers. AdWords has extensions for things like your restaurant’s location (great for letting customer find you easily), phone number (allowing people call directly from the ad instead of taking them to a page on your website), as well as ratings and reviews to show up alongside your advert’s text.

When it comes to running a paid search ad campaign, there are a few things you can do to boost your chance of success that’s specific to the restaurant industry.

Local Ads

The majority of customers tend to be based within a 5-10 minute walking distance to your restaurant, so it’s worth putting emphasis on serving ads to potential customers within your immediate vicinity. As mentioned above, this can be easily configured within your campaign or ad group settings. A good idea would be to offer location-specific deals that tie in with physical promotions inside your restaurant.

Mobile-Specific ads

Also worth mentioning is mobile users, making up a staggering 72 percent of search traffic. Consider setting up specific ad groups for mobile ads, prioritizing users looking for a place to eat on the go, utilizing the call ad extension to drive sales. If you’re driving traffic to your website instead of a call to your restaurant remember to ensure your website is adapted to work on mobile devices.


Deserving of its own post entirely but worth mentioning is retargeting. Simply put, a piece of code is placed on your website, which then creates a list of your visitors. This list can then be used as part of an AdWords campaign using the Google Display Network to show your ads on other websites your potential customers visit. Additionally, these are usually relatively cheap, as you’re targeting a small number of users.

This is only really scratching the surface of what paid search has to offer, but it should definitely be considered a vital part of any restaurant marketing strategy. Figuring out which keywords are most efficient and what configurations work best for your ads will take continuous testing, but it is undoubtedly a great way to increase sales.

Want more advanced digital marketing tips? Stay tuned for part three, an article specifically on retargeting.