We all have our own vices. Among mine is a love for oven-baked, flat, disc-shaped bread typically topped with a tomato sauce, cheese (usually mozzarella) and various toppings – pizza.
According to a 2006 report there were 69,386 Pizza Stores in the US. No wonder why it is so difficult figuring out which one to order from when I get the late night pizza “munchies.” In fact, pizza restaurants comprise nearly 8% of all restaurants in America. These statistics really got me thinking. With so many pizza restaurants around, how do they all differentiate themselves – especially on the Web?
I work in Plainsboro, NJ, a sleepy little town tucked away among the few remaining sprawling farms and fighting hard to preserve what is left of its original rural character. Only a few miles from Princeton University, Plainsboro’s national claim to fame, these days, is probably its unmistakable connection with the hit FOX television medical series, “House.” Plainsboro is the setting for Princeton-Plainsboro Medical Center in which Dr. Gregory “House” blends modern medicine with playful sarcasm. Fitting with the show’s sometimes “cart before the horse approach to medical treatment,” is that the town of Plainsboro is only – now – building what will soon be the real Princeton-Plainsboro Medical Center, just outside of its tiny downtown.
Finding the Best Pizza in Dr. House’s Town – Fact over Fiction
If you want a Pizza in Plainsboro, a Google search will provide you with more than thirty pages of pizzeria listings representing pizza parlors that are all nearby. The Google local Top Spot has been won by a strip center pizzeria conveniently located near the center of town. Ironically, on that first results page – that boasts this number one result – as its very first listing – you will find a partial customer’s review sharing that he “definitely would not label it the best in the area.”
Sort of an oxymoron, isn’t it? Not the best pizzeria in Plainsboro, but still holding the top Google position for a restaurant of its type in the local area. It’s really all about search-engine-optimization (SEO) and coming out on top. Obviously, someone associated with the local leader understands what needs to be done to successfully optimize their website and market its business on the Web. My hat goes off to them for accomplishing what is, for many, a very difficult task.
Let’s take a few steps backwards from the Number One local Google ranking. Their website is the chief destination for those searching Google for pizza restaurants in the Plainsboro area. My personal opinion of their website is that it is just OK. It gets the job done. Its design and navigation are really nothing much out of the ordinary. But, their webmaster has obviously done a terrific job creating a great list of Meta Tags and phrases that have caught the search engine’s eye. He or she also named each web page in such a way as to be indexed successfully by Google.
Plainsboro’s “Google Top Dog” pizzeria is in a tough region when it comes to great pizza. NJ.com recently proclaimed nearby Trenton, NJ the top town in the state for pizza lovers. In fact, there are three family- owned restaurants in Trenton that are almost universally acknowledged as the best in the south Jersey region, if not in all of the state of New Jersey. They are also all lucky enough to be indexed – very highly – by Google, geo-locally. The question for our purposes is; how much do good reviews really factor into one’s Google rankings?
While two locations of one of these pizza restaurants hold BOTH the Top Spot and the number two local Google search positions for pizzerias in Trenton, an unrelated pizzeria has been eclipsed by yet another mom and pop business for the number three search result on the first page of results. This other pizza restaurant has gotten some excellent reviews from its customers, but they have not garnered any superior ratings from the most of the state’s top restaurant reviewers. Obviously, this is yet another case where a business has made all of the right SEO moves to get themselves a top five local ranking, appearing on the first page of Google results.
By the way, the Trenton location for a national pizza restaurant chain, follows one of single location pizza parlors into the number five Google position on the first page for Plainsboro area pizzerias. It is most interesting and very refreshing to see that mom and pop businesses can often hold their own with the powerful national chains in search engine optimization.
Unless you are a national franchise location, people are probably just looking for your pizza restaurant on Google using some very basic search terms such as “Plainsboro AND Trenton pizzeria.” To be most successful you must share with your future clientele as well as the search engines, some context as to what your restaurant is, where it is located and what it serves. You only have 65 characters to do this.
You must think as if you are playing a word game. Instead of using “Natale’s Pizza”as your page title, why not use “Natale’s Pizza – Quality Food in Plainsboro Since 1985”? That’s only 54 characters with spaces. You still have about 11 or so characters left to play with. This strategy allows you to merge your branding effort with your website design. It is very search engine indexing-friendly.
Overall, it is always a good idea to optimize your website, even though your competition is growing increasingly more formidable in that respect. Why not use the free Google keyword tool to help find the best words and phrases to accomplish your SEO goals?
Content and HTML Rival Flash and.pdf
None of the locally top ranked pizzerias in the Plainsboro area have succumbed to the temptation of using flash technology in their websites. Along with flash, there is also an inclination to have menus scanned and uploaded to restaurant websites as.pdf files.
Sure flash is very cool, especially when it is used as the introduction of business websites of that thrive by successfully stimulating the senses through almost magical animation. What restaurant wouldn’t want to use the coolest technology available to show its customers what great tasting food actually looks like? Flash, unfortunately, is not always the best choice when it comes to search engine optimization. While today’s search engines do a much better job of indexing flash websites, text content is always the much better choice. And, as for menus? HTML trumps.pdf for search engine indexing, every time.
To be easily found and accurately mapped by the search engines, these days, hCard is a newer format that Google and Yahoo are both currently using to identify physical addresses alongside any other information they may find. It is a fairly simple technology to implement and whoever is helping you build your website should already be familiar with or able to research its application. Instead of “103 Main Street, Plainsboro, NJ” you share with Google and Yahoo the exact syntax as to what is the street address, the city, the state and any other information you want to provide. Even with hCard helping locate your business on the search engines, it is still recommended that you submit your website directly to Google and Yahoo’s local business listings. That way, you know the information provided is correct.
Similarly, hReviews also provides some helpful context to the search engines to help them pinpoint your restaurant’s physical location. This application allows Google, Yahoo and other engines to aggregate restaurant reviews, if they are included on your website. Most search engines are unable to discern a positive review from a negative one or, determine whether the restaurant is rated on a graduating scale of 1 to 10. hReviews allow for a consistent sharing of information across data platforms and more importantly, it provides a voice for your existing customers to speak to new customers. This can be a good thing for your word of mouth business.
Don’t forget to hop onto a popular site like Yelp and respond to those people looking for some good places to share a delicious pizza. Why not invite them in for a free salad with their tomato pie? It’s a great marketing tip that not only helps you gain some new customers by way of an enticing free offer, but it also creates another quality backlink for the search engines to consider for your ranking.
Don’t forget that just having a well executed business website – by itself – will not be a panacea for your pizzeria. There is so much more to be done to maximize your web marketing results. It just so happens that Social Media and Search Engine Optimization play rather well together. Much of what you post in Social Media may result in gaining credible backlinks and strengthening your SEO ranking. You need to make Social Media work for you.
Set up a Twitter account for your pizzeria announcing your latest restaurant specials. Tie your special offers to the calendar and clock so as to create a sense of urgency for your customers. “For the next hour, house salads are free with the purchase of a large pizza with two or more special topping.” And, while you are at it, ask people to sign up for your restaurant’s weekly E-newsletter to receive the latest announcements and timely discounts.
Don’t forget the blogs. If you start your own blog, it will keep your website fresh and interesting for the search engines to re-index over and over again. They absolutely love websites that are regularly updated with fresh new content. Whether you do or don’t have your own blog, be sure to make yourself known to other key industry bloggers. They may recommend your restaurant to their readers and even include your guest blog posts from time to time. Commenting under other people’s blog posts is also a great way for business owners to get better know by their peers and future customers. By all means, sign your comments with your name, your business name and your website address.
Just think about it. When someone is desperate for a good late night pizza, how close to the top of the search engine results do you want your pizzeria to appear?