Professional Comment

Finger Clickin’ Good: How Hospitality Can Get Better at SEO

By Chris Pitt, Managing Director at Vertical Leap (

Whether fried chicken or foodie dishes are to your taste, the chances are you’ll have made a hospitality booking or devoured a delivery in the past few weeks.

It’s likely, because the value of eating out is even higher than previously predicted – almost £92bn by the beginning of 2023, while the takeaway market’s set to reach £12.6bn by 2025.

In the pandemic, more of us turned to deliveries. Post-Covid, we’ve returned to hospitality venues in droves while keeping up the takeaways.

While the cost-of-living crisis might mean different decisions for households up and down the UK, it’s unlikely to result in a dramatic downturn of bookings and orders. Most people still like being catered for.

But what the vibrant nature of the sector does surface is that outlets’ search marketing strategies need to be more effective than ever.

Hospitality needs a ‘near me’ strategy

Our analysis of consumer search terms for our recent Restaurant SEO Report reveals the first- and second-ranked phrases include the words “near me”. It might seem innocuous, but it’s hard to overegg the importance of making location a key ingredient of hospitality marketing. The inclusion of those two short words in searches has become almost unconscious for consumers – showing how much this matters when they’re making a choice.

So, optimising for ‘near me’ searches should be a given – no matter how big or boutique an eaterie is. But work doesn’t end there.
Simply stating the location in the text of search results won’t do. That would be a missed opportunity to display other aspects that make the place special and worth consumers’ time and money.

Competitors need to create culinary curiosity by including other details in copy. That means going beyond opening times and a bog-standard image of a building exterior. Adding aspects of ingredient provenance, speciality dishes and accessibility will all drive choice.

In this way, businesses can engage a brand new audience further up the funnel. That might be enough to persuade people to eat in or take away, thus growing the target market.

Conversely, the last thing any hospitality venue wants is a slew of bad reviews (unless, of course, it infamously dines out on poor publicity). But they don’t have to leave a sour taste – in fact, it’s bad practice to ignore them. Embracing difficult reviews is an opportunity to respond with an improved marketing strategy.

Search optimisation is a key part of nourishing the narrative (or, at least, moving negative sentiment further down the rankings). We’re certainly seeing a rise in interest among brands to tackle this aspect.

Changing the conversation involves challenging brand assumptions. That begins with a renewed focus on the business website to show exactly what’s on the menu.

SEO is a main course not a side dish
Search optimisation has long been overlooked by many hospitality brands and establishments. This misses the strategy’s power to tap into new audiences and its effect on wider marketing opportunities.

SEO allows eateries to reach diners higher up the funnel as well as in their hungriest moments lower down the food chain. Any visitor to an outlet’s website means more volume, more fuel for CRM and more people to target through other channels.

If you want to improve your SEO, there are lots of tools available, not least Google’s own options. These include Google Analytics, Search Console and Keyword Planner. All are useful for managing and augmenting your website and Google Business Profile, one of the most vital aspects for achieving online visibility at a local level.

It’s also important to realise that it’s very difficult for any organisation to handle the granular aspects of successful search strategies alone. Optimisation is a resource-intensive discipline that delivers an almost endless supply of data for customer trend analysis, and marketing and operational improvement.

Engaging a professional external partner that can manage the lion’s share of SEO through an AI-driven dashboard, can make all the difference in the race to provide the most mouth-watering offer to the UK’s growing army of diners.