Using long-tail keywords: Advanced tips on marketing for restaurants

Table for two

How do you find a new restaurant to try? Do you ask your friends, check out Yelp or TripAdvisor or thumb through your local alt-weekly newspaper? My go-to method is to Google the kind of food I’m looking for along with the city I’m in. I don’t just search for “Orlando restaurants” or “food in Central Florida,” or I’d just get every McDonald’s, Burger King and Dunkin’ Donuts in a 30-mile radius. If you’re interested in marketing for restaurants, take note.

You find what you look for

I could be a bit more specific and ask for “Orlando hamburger restaurants” or “Central Florida barbecue.” But even that’s still going to give me thousands of options.

The more specific the search term, the better the results.


So I narrow it down even further: “Hormone-free grass fed beef hamburgers in Orlando.” Now I’ve got just a few selections to choose from — plus I’m getting the side eye from my dog.

Marketing for Restaurants Burger
Photo: insatiablemunch via Visual hunt / CC BY

(To be clear, I’m not that picky about my burgers. But “gooey melted cheeseburgers in Orlando that drip grease down your arm” didn’t return any results other than why I shouldn’t pour grease down my drain. I also learned Lewisville, Texas, has a Holiday Grease Roundup every year.)

But notice that the more specific I got with my keywords, the more likely I was to find what I wanted.

I may have only gotten a few results, but these are the very results I wanted. The fact that they showed up at all means I’m more likely to go there, and the hormone-free grass fed beef hamburger restaurant got a new customer.

The odds of finding this place are zero if I just search for “Orlando hamburger restaurants,” which turned up 434,000 results, or “Orlando restaurants,” which literally showed 50 million results.

That long, very specific phrase? That’s called a long-tail keyword. Read on to see what they have to do with marketing for restaurants.

Allow me to explain

In its most basic form, a long-tail keyword is a series of keywords (also called a key phrase) that people use to find a specific piece of information on the web. In marketing terms, it’s a key phrase people use when they’re close to making a purchase. They know exactly what they’re looking for. And in restaurant marketing, people use long-tail keywords when they’re close to making a decision about where to go eat.

It’s the difference between “Italian food” and “gluten-free organic southern Italian cooking.” The long tail keyword is more likely to get you exactly what you want.

For example, my wife and I were recently trying to decide where to go for our anniversary dinner. We typed in a few different types of food we wanted, focused on our favorite part of town, and checked out what came up. We made our selection (French and gluten-free) and had a lovely time.

Marketing for Restaurants Entree
Photo: yoppy via / CC BY

But what’s important is that we were looking only when we were “ready to buy,” and had specific dietary needs. We didn’t look in the phone book, we didn’t peruse different magazines, and we didn’t wait for a TV or radio commercial. I Googled what I wanted, and we found exactly what we wanted in a few minutes — without plowing through thousands of listings.

If you’re involved in marketing for restaurants, you should be sitting up right now. Go check your website analytics — I’ll bet that a large portion of your visitors come from “Organic Search.” That means they Googled you. That number is only going to grow in the future, so you need to optimize your website for better search engine rankings.

And that’s where the long-tail keyword comes in.

Long-tail keywords defined

Long-tail is a statistical term that’s applied to rank-size or rank-frequency distributions. It’s often found in a “power law graph” or a “demand curve,” which is a statistical graph that shows the most popular items on the left, and least popular on the right.

(One illustration I saw compared this to a brachiosaurus with a very tall head and a very long tail.)

Marketing for Restaurants Graph
Photo: Hay Kranen / PD (Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain) 

In retail terms, the items on the left are the ones that sell the most, while the items on the right are the ones that sell the least.

And in SEO (search engine optimization) terms, the left represents the most popular-but-short keywords — “hamburger, restaurant” — and the ones on the right, in that ver-r-r-ry long tail, are the über-specific niche key phrases, like “hormone free grass-fed beef hamburgers.”

That’s the needle in the haystack for anyone who does marketing for restaurants.


Some Internet marketers are able to build very successful businesses by finding long-tail keywords that people want. They’re not trying to reach millions of people; they’re trying to reach dozens because those dozens are guaranteed sales. Rather than finding a single needle in a haystack, they created their own pile of needles, and made a small amount off each one.

Long-tail keywords aren’t designed to reach millions, they’re designed to reach dozens because those dozens are guaranteed sales.

If you want to learn more about long-tail keywords, I highly recommend Chris Anderson’s 2006 book, The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business is Selling Less of More. Or you can read the original Wired article here.

In the meantime, spend some time finding your best long-tail keywords to promote your restaurant. If you can put together a string of long-tail key phrases, you can win more customers to your store for that particular phrase.

Focus on those customers most likely to love you

We already saw what “Orlando hamburger restaurants” returns: 434,000 results. And that’s being somewhat specific. It gets even worse if I search for “hamburger” or “restaurant.”

Oh, sure, you can break into that search — there are 115 million Google results — but you have to beat McDonald’s and Burger King, and that’s going to take a lot of money and effort. Millions of dollars and tens of thousands of hours.

Those charged with marketing for restaurants can try to win local search, which we’ve discussed elsewhere on the GoDaddy Blog, and that’s easier. But you’re still competing with all the places that sell hamburgers in your city. And the bigger your city, the harder that’s going to be.

In that case, focus more on winning local search for your long-tail phrase rather than trying to slog it out for the single and double keywords.


Here’s how to get started:

Step 1: Identify your strengths

Effective marketing for restaurants begins with this. What’s your strong suit? What can you do better than anyone else in your industry? That’s what you want to be known for, and that’s one area you should try to get people to search for.

But try not to be such an “arteest” about it. If you normally use words like “piquant” and “delicately drizzled,” I’m sure your food is amazing, but please understand that no one talks that way. And they won’t Google your restaurant for that.

Try to talk like regular people talk when describing your core strength. No one is going to Google words like “piquant” or “delicately drizzled.”

“Who makes a hamburger that’s delicately drizzled with a piquant barbecue sauce?”

(I just Googled that phrase, and the answer is no one. No one makes that kind of hamburger.)

Try to talk how regular people talk. Ask your friends and regulars how they would describe your restaurant. Ask them what terms they would use to search for a restaurant like yours. Then, make sure you use those terms throughout your website. Put them on your menu. Include them in your TripAdvisor and Yelp listings.

If you want to toss in your arteest words, too, that’s fine. But your top priority needs to be the regular words that your customers (and potential customers) use.

Win one of those “Best of the City” contests? Put that on your website and make sure it’s in the title. Because people search for “the best (whatever)” in their city, and Google will find that phrase.

A very compelling reason to put that “best of” language on your website? People are asking their phones about it.

Marketing for Restaurants Aerial
Photo: KimManleyOrt via / CC BY-NC-ND

Step 2: Answer the questions people are asking

A few years ago, when we did a Google search we’d have type in a phrase like “hamburgers Orlando grass-fed best” to see what came up. And Google would return different results, depending on the order of the keywords entered. It also didn’t know that “hamburger” and “cheeseburger” meant almost the same thing so we might have to do two searches, and we would still get completely different results.

But Google has gotten smarter over the years and this has implications for those who plan marketing for restaurants. Now Google understands synonyms and similar spellings. For example, they know that “hamburger” and “cheeseburger” mean the same thing. They know that “grass fed,” “grass-fed,” and “grass fed” all mean the same thing. And they know that Orlando and Central Florida are in the same place on the map.

Search engines are getting smarter thanks to artificial intelligence and machine learning.


Marketing for Restaurants SearchThey have been learning by paying attention to how people talk to them through Siri, Cortana, Alexa, Google Assistant and even by creating transcripts of your Google Voice voicemails and YouTube videos. Add to that the explosive growth of these voice-activated assistants, and more people are now speaking to their computers to get information.

“Hey Siri, where can I get GMO-free Italian food?”

“Alexa, is there a gluten-free French bakery in town?”

“OK Google, who has the best cheeseburger in Orlando?”

So not only are Google and Bing searching for those keywords, they’re looking for the answers to those questions. If your website says your restaurant won “Best hamburger in Central Florida in 2015,” Google knows exactly which website to share when someone asks “who has the best cheeseburger in Orlando.”

Step 3: Find your keywords

If you’re trying to figure out your best keywords, there are dozens of research tools to try. Some of them are general keyword finders that tell you what the average search volume is for each word or phrase. Others are recommendation tools that will take your chosen keywords and help you discover what your competitors are ranking for as well as the synonymous alternatives people are using.

I like Wordstream’s keyword tool as well as Niche Laboratory, which helps you drill down to more specific key phrases. And don’t forget the Bing keyword research tool.

When you pick a tool or two to use, just use the free option because unless you’re an SEO professional, you’re not going to use them on an ongoing basis. For the purposes of marketing for restaurants, you’ll only need them once or twice a year.

SEO marketing for restaurants is time well spent

It might seem like long-tail keywords are too small to be of much value, but start paying attention to your own Google searches. When you try to find a particular item, fact or piece of esoteric information, do you just search for a single keyword and then scroll through thousands and thousands of pages until you find the right one? Or do you create such a narrow, specific search that you find what you want almost immediately?

You choose the latter, of course, because you don’t have a lot of time. And neither do your restaurant customers. They’re searching specifically for the kind of food you make, the kind of services you offer — maybe even the kind of musicians you hire on weekends.

If you want to improve your search engine rankings, don’t just fight the masses all competing for the same one- or two-word keywords. Unless you are literally one of the only two Chinese restaurants in Syracuse, Ind.

When it comes to marketing for restaurants, the first step is to pick the three, four or five things your restaurant does better than anyone else. Then start adding those phrases to your website, in your Yelp and TripAdvisor listings and anywhere else you can get your restaurant listed online. Stack up enough long-tail keywords, and you’ll see a significant amount of foot traffic as a direct result of your search engine traffic.

Image by: Numinosity (Gary J Wood) via / CC BY-SA

Erik Deckers
Erik Deckers is the president of Pro Blog Service, a content marketing agency. He is also the co-author of Branding Yourself, and No Bullshit Social Media. Erik has been blogging since 1997, and has been a newspaper humor columnist for over 20 years. He has written several radio plays and stage plays, and numerous business articles. Erik was recently the Spring 2016 writer-in-residence at the Jack Kerouac House in Orlando, FL.