Before making dining decisions, today's consumers research their choices on the Internet. And they're not just going to their favorite chain's Web site. They're using Google and Yahoo and MSN to search for menu items they crave. Now chains are using this search phenomenon to their advantage.
For the year, the term "pizza" was searched more than 700,000 times. The majority of those who searched pizza clicked on the Web sites of Pizza Hut, Domino's Pizza or Papa John's. Since several brands are using online ordering, search engines may become as important as the telephone book for selling pizzas.
"If I were in Papa John's marketing department, I'd put somebody out there to track and see what people are searching for ... it doesn't matter if they're not ordering off their Web sites," said restaurant marketing expert Kamron Karington. "The big guys don't want to fall into the 20th or 30th page of the search."
If I were in Papa John's marketing department, I'd put somebody out there to track and see what people are searching for
-- Kamron Karington Restaurant marketing expert
There's a difference between a paid-for search, which is cost-per-click (CPC) advertising offered by major search engines to specific advertisers, and an organic search, which simply scours the Web for sites and terms that match the search term.
"Paid search comes into play for temporary activities or when you're first launching a product," said Sara Holoubek, a search expert and board member of the Search Engine Marketing Professionals Organization (SEMPO).
Holoubek cited Papa John's "King Kong" DVD promotion as a good example of paid-for search. The company's Google-search ad popped every time a person searched the mega-blockbuster that topped box office sales in March. More recently, the Louisville-based company and its competitor, Pizza Hut, have purchased the term "pizza" to market their online ordering.
Every time a person plugs that term for a search, a Pizza Hut or Papa John's link appears in the Sponsored Link section above or to the right side of the organically generated links.
Papa John's Google pizza keyword ad: "Order Papa John's Pizza Online & Play 100 Sizzlin' Days of Summer."
Pizza Hut's Google pizza keyword ad: "Online ordering, menu and nutrition."
The search term "pizza" costs about a $1 a click, which is mighty expensive by CPC standards. There are some keywords available for only 5 cents per click. Holoubek said these keyword derivatives are good, low cost and targeted options for marketers.
"If the goal is to have long-term results, it's best to make your Web site more spider friendly, so your site ranks high on natural or organic search ranking," Holoubek said. The term "spider" refers to to automated programs that search or "crawl" Web sites.
Domino's typically pays only for search terms in local markets. The chain will buy qualifier adjectives to accompany "pizza" such as "Ann Arbor Pizza," said Rob Weisberg, precision marketing director for Domino's.
"Domino's gets prominent placement in the organic searches," Weisberg said. "We are generally in the top two for a general national search."
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Keyworddiscovery.com (paid subscription required) Inventory.Overture.com (Yahoo Search free) Adwords.Google.com (Google Search free)
A spider or web crawler is a program that browses the World Wide Web in search of keywords. Google, Yahoo, MSN and other search engines employ them to find relevant words per billions of searches. Holoubek said the page title is the first words crawled..
"If the spider can't jump in there and search the site, your site won't appear on Google's or Yahoo's searches," she said. "The first thing spiders see is the top of the page ... this is like a welcome mat."
Domino's Web site receives 15,000 unique visitors a week, making it the No. 3-most visited QSR on the Web, Weisberg said. To improve upon that ranking, the chain has cleaned up the meta-tags surrounding Web site headers.
"Keyword phrases like 'pizza delivery' and 'online ordering' are a little easier for the spiders to find," he said.
It's important the first words are relevant to target audience. For example, a quick-service hamburger chain that claims it serves the world's best hamburger may not want to place "Best QSR burger" in the main page. The chain would be better off simply calling the menu item "good burger," which was searched 5,000 times last month.
"I always tell people to use consumer speak, not industry speak," Holoubek said. "You want to use words that real people use."
In the pizza segment, the major brands benefit from having pizza in their Web header. And it's not just the big boys enjoying the use of the popular search term. Most independent pizzerias have "pizza" pasted above their URL. If somebody were to search for "Idaho Pizza Restaurant," they would discover Beau Jo's Pizza at the top of their page.
For the quick-service segment, it's another story. Staple menu items like hamburgers and french fries produce poor search results. Neither item has had more than 20,000 searches for July. In fact, research shows consumers don't even visit QSR Web sites. According to a Sandelman & Associates report, 75 percent of fast-food consumers have never visited a QSR Web site. Holoubek contends nobody visits them because companies don't do a good job of providing relevant information to consumers.
"To build up relevant content, restaurateurs need to include nutritional information, coupon and food-related words, all of which are high-searched terms," she said. If you want your menu crawled by spiders, post it in an HTML format instead of PDF documents, which are often missed by the spiders. "And it goes beyond your brand and selling your products."
She said content on new products, nutritional information, promotions, contests, charitable efforts and employment are all fair game. But how does a two-store independent operator in Jones,
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Okla., know what keywords to use?
"Search truly is pull marketing; we must first observe search patterns and build content around the users' needs," Holoubek said. (See sidebar on keyword search engines)
Use search for PR
With scores of lawsuits faced by fast-food companies, search can be an effective way to combat bad PR. Holoubek said every restaurant chain should have a news page within its site.Here the restaurant should link to all the positive stories and company press releases. "This will help push down the negative stories about the brand."
Holoubek said McDonald's does a good job of "pushing down" negative content. On an organic search, the only perceived negative site that pops up on a "McDonald's" search is SuperSizeMe.com. The other sites are owned by McDonald's. Among those sites is the Ronald McDonald House, which for the month of July received more searches than hamburgers.
"Somebody might search for a negative McDonald's Web site and just come across the Ronald McDonald House," Holoubek said. "By seeing McDonald's donated X amount of money the past year, they might change their perspective on the brand ... in the World Wide Web, everything with your brand name is relative."