Digital advertising entails sharing promotional content through online channels such as social media and search engines. In this chapter of The Beginner’s Guide to Restaurant Marketing, we take a close look at how to use digital advertising to grow your audience’s customer base. We’ll get particularly in-depth on Google and Facebook advertising.
Most online advertising today consists of pay-per-click (PPC) ads, also known as sponsored links. Those ads that appear at the top of the results when you search for something in Google? Those are PPC ads that businesses pay for every time they’re clicked on. Cost per PPC ad is usually based on how narrowly you focus your demographics and target market when creating an ad.
Social media ads let you choose from different campaigns based on your objective (e.g., to direct people to your website, encourage downloads of a piece of content, etc.). You can target your ads to specific prospects by demographics, location, and other criteria.
Here are the digital advertising topics we’ll dive into in this chapter:
- Google Restaurant Advertising
- First, Set Up Your Google My Business Profile
- Google Ads 101: The Basics of Google Ads for Restaurants
- How to Create a Google Ads Account
- Facebook Ads for Restaurants
- Other Social Media Advertising for Restaurants
Google Restaurant Advertising
In an era of 3.5 billion Google searches per day, your restaurant will benefit significantly from being findable online. The average business is found online 1,009 times a month; 84% of the time, those businesses are found by discovery searches instead of direct searches that go straight to their websites.
In this article, we’ll go through some practices to ensure that your restaurant appears in search results — and gets customers from them.
First, Set Up Your Google My Business Profile (It’s Free!)
The first thing you should do is cover all the basics of a free listing by setting up Google My Business for your restaurant. This ensures that your restaurant is listed on Google Maps and appears near the top of local search results. It’s where you can tell Google your hours of operation, delivery radius, and contact information and provide links to your online ordering site. You can make your listing stand out with images of your food and posts about specials.
Google Ads 101: The Basics of Google Ads for Restaurants
With Google Ads, you create ads that will be displayed in Google’s search results and on websites your potential customers visit. The underlying principle is similar to a traditional auction, with you bidding for ad positioning.
Google Ads is among the most effective ways to advertise a restaurant. About 75% of consumers say they often choose a restaurant based on search results. Local search is particularly important for restaurants, as explained by Modern Restaurant Management:
” ‘Restaurants near me’ is by far the most popular ‘near me’ search query with 6.2 million organic searches per month. In fact, food-based searches make up four of the top five positions in all unbranded ‘near me’ queries including ‘food near me,’ (3.1 million) ‘pizza near me’ (1.3 million) and ‘delivery near me’ (750K).”
Google Ads helps you reach more customers and generate more sales. In addition to reaching the right audience, you can also track how well your ads are performing. Make sure your sales funnel is optimized for digital marketing and prospect conversion. For instance, a menu optimized for mobile and a clear ordering process will be more appealing to customers and will reduce cart abandonment.
When you visit Google’s advertising platform, you can view step-by-step instructions with suggestions for creating effective ads. Basic information about using Google Analytics is also provided; this will help you decide which ad campaigns have the best return on investment (ROI).
How to Create a Google Ads Account
Creating a Google Ads account is simple and takes less than five minutes. Head over to Google Ads and sign up with your email and website URL. Then fill in the setup factors needed to make your account live. They include:
- Goal: Choose what you want as the outcome for your ads, such as more online sales or visits to your brick-and-mortar restaurant.
- Keywords: Enter a few keywords you want to focus on in your Ads campaign. These could be based on the type of restaurant business you have or the kind of food you want to advertise. Keep reading for more on how to choose the right keywords for your campaign.
- Locations: Select the locations you want to target with your ad campaign. It could be the whole country, but for many restaurants, it will be a specific local region.
- Budget: Start with a small budget and increase it over time as you grow your campaigns and gain expertise.
- Payment: Enter your payment information and click Continue to make your Google Ads account live and ready for use.
Google Ads Keywords
The success of your Google Ads campaign will largely depend on the keywords you use. “Keywords,” in this sense, refers to the phrases people use when searching for something on Google. When setting up a Google Ads campaign, include keywords relevant to your restaurant business. Google will then display your ads to people whose searches match or are similar to your selected keywords.
How to Find the Best Keywords for Your Campaign
Determining which keywords to use takes more than a gut feeling. Take time to get this part of your ad campaign right. Start by thinking about your cuisine, the kind of service you offer, and the location of your establishment. Put yourself in customers’ shoes, and consider what they’re likely to type in the search box. For instance, customers are more likely to search “dine-in restaurants on First Ave” than “family-operated hospitality business established in 1990.”
Your keyword search, though important, doesn’t have to be hard or stressful. Here are some tools that can help you determine the best keywords for your campaign:
- Google Keyword Planner: Located under Tools in a Google Ads account, this important tool suggests new keywords and shows monthly searches for specific keywords. Note that the Keyword Planner is only available for Expert Mode Google Ads accounts.
- Ubersuggest: Ubersuggest, from online marketing expert Neil Patel, is a free keyword tool that shows search volume, related keywords, and content ideas based on keyword searches you perform.
- Google Search: Perhaps the easiest way to search for keywords is to look at the autocomplete feature in Google Search, or the related searches that come up.
- Google Search Console (formerly Google Webmasters): The Google Search Console shows you the search queries your customers have used in the past to visit your restaurant website.
- AnswerThePublic: This service uses autocomplete data from search engines to share similar search queries. For instance, if you search for “Italian food,” you’ll see similar queries, like “Can Italian food be healthy?” and “where to go for Italian food” (plus our favorite: “Where is Italian food from?”) If you’re looking for similar keywords or content inspiration, this is a useful resource.
Google Ads Smart Mode vs. Expert Mode
Smart mode: The simplified version of Google Ads, which uses machine learning to deliver results for businesses (standard for most new Google Ads accounts)
Expert mode: The more complex version of Google Ads, giving users more control over their bidding strategies and requiring ongoing management (used by advanced marketers)
Learn more at Google Ads Help.
Using the Keyword Planner
Creating a list of keywords is the first step. Next, choose which phrases you will use to make your campaign a success. If you’re in Expert Mode in Google Ads, the Keyword Planner will help you determine the highest-performing keywords. (If you’re not in Expert Mode, no problem. The stats discussed in this section are important to bear in mind either way.)
Simply paste your list of your keywords under Get Search Volume and Forecasts. Choose the region you want to target with your ads to get search volumes alongside Google’s suggested bids and competition levels.
Under Keyword Plan > Saved Keywords, here are a few data points to note:
- Average Monthly Searches: The Average Monthly Searches charts show the number of times each keyword has been used. Choose keywords people use frequently, but avoid going too broad. A keyword like “restaurants near me” may have many searches but will perform poorly in your Ads campaign because of its breadth. Try being more specific with a keyphrase like “best sushi restaurant in Connecticut.”
- Competition: This column indicates how competitive a particular keyword is in your area and network. When competition is higher, a keyword will have more bids, making it more difficult for your ad to get displayed. Try to choose keywords with less competition.
- Top of Page Bid (Low Range and High Range): These metrics give you an idea of how much it will cost to have your ads clicked on. Use them to determine whether your keywords fit in with your restaurant’s marketing budget.
The keyword you use for your Ads campaign should combine quality traffic and an affordable price. For a limited budget, choose long-tail keywords that have less competition and a smaller cost per click (CPC). Use several to increase search volume and possible clicks.
What About Match Types?
An ad will only be displayed if a search query matches your targeted keyword. However, keyword matching can be precise or loose depending on how you set up your keywords. There are three Google keyword match types:
- Broad match: Ads might show on searches related to your keyword, even if they don’t contain any keyword terms. Broad match is the default match type.
- Phrase match: Ads might show for searches that reflect the meaning of your keyword. This is more targeted than broad match but less targeted than exact match.
- Exact match: Ads might show for searches with the same meaning or user intent as your keyword.
When deciding which match type to use, you could start broad to get maximum exposure, then use your reporting to check the performance of each keyword. Progressively narrow down your keyword list. If you take this approach, be mindful of your budget to avoid exceeding what you want it to be.
Another approach would be to start with an exact match. Although this may be too specific and reach fewer people, it will allow you to go broader with time. This approach will also likely to have a higher conversion rate because of the specificity of the keywords.
Understand Tracking from the Get-Go
Before we move from account setup to ad creation, it’s important to note that tracking is everything when it comes to Google Ads. All the settings you choose during setup can be edited later depending on how your ads perform. These three factors will help you assess that performance for better results:
- Google Analytics: Use the Linked Accounts tab to link your Google Ads account to Google Analytics. This will generate better performance reports and data, so you can make smart marketing decisions. Analytics helps you compare different types of traffic, including social and organic. It provides granular data on everything from audience demographics to site visitor behavior flow.
- UTMs: Urchin Tracking Module (UTM) codes are added to links to track where they came from. You can use UTMs to track keywords, ad groups, and more. Doing so provides a clearer picture of how your ads generated traffic. UTMs can be set up through Google’s Campaign URL Builder.
- Conversion Tracking: You can easily set up scripts on your website so Google can track the number of people who buy from you after clicking an ad. This simple tracking will help ensure that you’re spending money on effective campaigns.
To increase conversions, split your keywords into groups with each having its own text ads and bid value. Split them into as many groups as needed to ensure that keywords in each group are found in the headline of your ad’s text.
What Are Google Networks?
There are multiple network types in Google Ads. With the Google Search Network, ads appear on Google search sites (including the Shopping tab in Google and Google Maps) as well as Google search partners. The Google Display Network features targeted Display ads on websites, in Gmail, and in other channels. Here’s how Google explains the key difference:
“While the Search Network can reach people when they’re already searching for specific good or services, the Display Network can help you capture someone’s attention earlier in the buying cycle. You can put your ads in front of people before they start searching for what you offer, which can be key for your overall advertising strategy. You can also remind people of what they’re interested in, as in the case of remarketing to people who’ve previously visited your site or app.”
You can choose both Display and Search networks at first and change it up later depending on which one generates more conversions.
Before publishing your campaign, make sure you have at least two ads per Ad group. They will alternate, and their performance will appear in your reporting. With two ads running, you can choose a winner over time and use it to improve other ads. Eventually, you’ll know what works best for your target audience.
As your ad gets more views and impressions, Google will assign a quality score to it. This score shows how well the ad is performing based on factors like click rate, landing page performance, and relevance. It will help you improve your ad and make it more relevant to your prospects.
How to Create a Google Ad
Once you have your keywords, it’s time to create text for your ads. Make sure the searched keywords align with your ad’s copy to get the best outcome. For example, if someone who is searching for “delivery food in Manhattan” sees your ad for 30-minute pickup orders, they may not become a new customer. They want delivery, not pickup. Because the result is not directly relevant to the search, it may not lead to any conversions.
With the introduction of expanded ads, Google now allows more space for text in your ads. You now have:
- 30 characters for Headline 1
- 30 characters for Headline 2
- 30 characters for Headline 3 (optional)
- 90 characters for a description
- A URL linking to your restaurant website
Success Tips for Creating Google Ads for Restaurants
When writing Google Ads for a restaurant, the goal should be to get as many conversions as possible. The following tips may come in handy:
- Insert a keyword in the first headline: Capture your target audience’s attention by including a keyword in the first headline. This makes the ad relevant by showing your prospects that they will get what they need by clicking.
- Highlight prices and promotions: Promotions often influence customers’ decisions about food. By telling your prospects about any promotions up front, you’ll attract them to your restaurant website.
- Share what makes your restaurant special and what benefits you offer: Your prospects should clearly understand what they will gain from engaging with your restaurant. Set your restaurant apart by highlighting whatever makes it special, whether that’s an award-winning craft beer or a new pizza recipe.
- Insert another keyword in the second headline: The second headline offers more space to include another keyword.
- Insert a call-to-action (CTA): A call-to-action tells your audience what to do when they see the ad. The CTA should give a clear indication of what they will find on your landing page. For instance, a CTA like “See the Menu,” “Order Now!” or even “Visit Our Virtual Restaurant” gives specific instructions on what to do next and what to expect.
- Be sure to meet Google’s quality standard: When writing your ads, adhere to Google’s policy to avoid not getting approved. The requirements are easy to follow and cover basics like the use of appropriate vocabulary and proper spelling.
- Use ad extensions: Extensions help you increase your real estate and click rate without any extra cost. Some to consider are site links, call buttons, and location information.
How to Bid and Budget for Google Ad Campaigns
Advertising on Google is based on the principle of bidding. That said, the highest bid doesn’t necessarily get the highest ad rank. What matters most is ad quality. If two advertisers are bidding the same amount for a keyword, the one with the higher ad quality will be ranked higher. If they have the same quality, the one who pays more will be ranked higher.
The amount of your bid does not necessarily represent the amount you will pay for a click. A second price action is used in which you will be charged the amount you need to beat the second-best bid.
Automatic vs. Manual Bidding
The options available for bidding are manual or automatic. Automatic bids involve allowing Google to set an ad’s boundary for you; Google Ads will automatically set it to help you get as many clicks as possible for your budget. Manual bids, on the other hand, require you to specify every aspect of your bid. Google Ads will only spend the amount you set.
How Much Should You Spend?
Deciding the amount of money to spend on a Google Ads campaign is simple. Start by inserting a daily budget for your campaign depending on how much you’ve set aside in your restaurant marketing budget for Google Ad spend. Based on what you decide to spend, Google will automatically estimate your monthly budget and recommend an amount.
After setting your monthly budget, assess whether you’re comfortable with the amount and the potential outcomes of your campaign. Set realistic expectations, since the outcomes of your campaign will largely depend on the budget. For instance, if the suggested bid is $2 for a keyword, you would get 50 clicks for $100 spent. If every 10 visits get a conversion, then you will get five conversions from $100 spent. You would probably need to increase your budget moving forward to get more conversions.
As you prepare and set up your Google Ads campaign, you might not get a perfect combination the first time. You will likely discover that your keywords will change based on context, and that some ads will perform better than others. Over time, make adjustments to your ads’ scheduling, location, and device based on the behavior of your target audience.
Facebook Ads for Restaurants
Facebook Ads are one of the most direct ways to market your restaurant to a ready audience. Whether you’re running a high-end dine-in restaurant, a healthy eatery, a fast casual joint, or any other establishment type, Facebook has your target market in easy reach.
That’s the case for two reasons. First, Facebook remains the leading social media platform, with 2.8 billion monthly active users. Facebook users spend an average of 20 to 30 minutes every day browsing it. Instagram, which is owned by Facebook and which Facebook Ads can also appear on, has another billion users.
Second, Facebook Ads don’t just offer a wide scope; they offer specific audience targeting as well. A major advantage of Facebook advertising is the ability to narrow your audience down to the Facebook users you think are most likely to become your customers.
Another reason that Facebook allows direct-to-prospect outreach is that it’s widely used on mobile devices. Ninety-two percent of Facebook’s annual revenue is now generated via mobile, showing just how integral mobile is to Facebook’s platform — and its users’ browsing habits. Restaurant Engine reports that over 80% of customers have searched for a restaurant on their smartphone. Being Facebook savvy and mobile savvy will make your restaurant more discoverable.
Can’t I Just Use Facebook Organic Posts?
Some people argue that there’s no need to pay for Facebook Ads if you have a strong following on Facebook. While a large following will give you a ready audience, ads ensure that your posts are being displayed to people who have an interest in your restaurant.
In fact, your organic posts may not even end up being seen. As explained in the Hubspot article “The Decline of Organic Facebook Reach & How to Adjust to the Algorithm,” “Research from Social@Ogilvy … suggests that for Pages with more than 500,000 Likes, organic reach could be as low as 2%. … That means a Page with 10,000 fans could expect just 650 of them to actually see that Page’s posts in their News Feeds. For a Page with 1 million fans, about 20,000 would end up seeing posts (based on the 2% figure).”
Organic exposure is minimal compared to paid exposure. That’s the case not just for Facebook, but across all social channels. Ads ensure that your messaging is truly reaching people — and not just any people, but the ones with the strongest potential to become your customers.
Setting Up Your Facebook Account for Ads
Before you create a Facebook ad, check out Facebook’s Business Manager, which lets you manage your Facebook Pages and ad accounts. You can have multiple users and ad accounts under one Business Manager account. You can also add or remove people who have access to your Facebook Pages and ad accounts, including any members of a marketing agency you’ve chosen to work with.
There are a few things you’ll need to do before getting started with Facebook Ads.
Create a Facebook Page If You Don’t Already Have One
Your Business Manager must have at least one Facebook Page before you create a Facebook Ad. This can be added under Business Settings. Choose whether to claim, request, or create a page.
Add Your Payment Info
Before you can publish your first campaign, you’ll need to add your payment method. You only have to do this once, and the payment will automatically be processed in the future. Navigate to Payments Settings in Facebook’s Ads Manager to enter your payment method. The main payment methods accepted by Facebook are PayPal and credit cards.
Consider adding multiple payment options as you grow your Facebook advertising. This ensures that all your ads will continue running if your primary card expires or any problems arise with it. If you don’t have a secondary payment method, all your campaigns will be paused immediately if your card expires.
Facebook allows you to control the total cost for your ad campaign by setting an account spending limit. Once you reach that limit, your ads will automatically be paused until you remove or increase it. You can set an account spending limit in Ads Manager under Payment Settings.
Review Ad Account Roles
If you’re collaborating with other people on Facebook Ads, review your account roles. Under Business Settings in Facebook Ads Manager, you can add users and manage their permissions, such as whether they have admin access or employee access.
Limits on Facebook Ad Accounts
Facebook Ad accounts come with several limits. While the limits will not necessarily affect how you use Facebook to advertise your restaurant, you should be aware of them. They include:
- A user can manage up to 25 ad accounts.
- A regular ad account cannot exceed 2,500 undeleted ads.
- An ad account cannot exceed 25 users per account.
- An ad account cannot exceed 50 undeleted ads per set.
- A regular ad account cannot exceed 1,000 undeleted campaigns.
- A regular ad account cannot exceed 1,000 undeleted sets.
The limits help control how you use Facebook Ads. If you reach any of them, simply delete old campaigns and their ads to add new ones.
Starting a Facebook Ad Campaign
Now that you’ve looked around in Facebook’s admin tools, you have a strong foundation for the next step: creating a Facebook ad campaign.
Facebook Campaign Objectives
When setting up a Facebook Ads campaign, you will need to choose the campaign objective. Objectives fall into three categories:
- Awareness: grow interest in your restaurant, e.g., by highlighting what makes it unique. Objectives in the “awareness” umbrella category are “brand awareness” and “reach.”
- Consideration: get people to consider your restaurant and look for more information about it. The “consideration” objectives are “traffic,” “engagement,” “app installs,” “video views,” “lead generation,” and “messages.”
- Conversions: convert prospects into customers. Conversion objectives are “conversions,” “catalog sales,” and “store traffic.”
Facebook has a helpful breakdown of the three objective types, including how to relate them to your restaurant’s business goals.
Budgeting for Facebook Ads
Budgeting for Facebook Ads is pretty straightforward. Once you insert your budget, Facebook will give you an estimate of daily reach. All you need to do is adjust your budget based on your desired reach.
Deciding on the amount you want to spend on ads may be difficult when starting out, but it gets easier the more data you collect from your campaigns. When you know how each ad is performing, you can compare the money being generated to the cost. Eventually, you’ll settle on a budget with maximum ROI.
Facebook Ad Audiences
Facebook allows you to tailor your target audience in a very specific manner, including age, gender, interests, behaviors, and languages. You can create multiple audiences and use or exclude existing ones. The more specific you become, the higher your conversion rates are likely to be.
As you define your audience, a key targeting component for any restaurant is location. Your ads should only appear to people who are likely to visit your establishment. If your restaurant offers delivery, your ads’ location reach will probably align with your delivery zone spread.
Your targeting filters will lead you to either a “custom” or “lookalike” audience.
Custom Audience: With custom audiences, you tell Facebook the specific kind of users you want to target. This will usually consist of people who are already interacting with your restaurant on other channels. You can create this audience from your website traffic by implementing a Facebook tracking pixel, customer lists from your email addresses and phone numbers, and, if applicable, app activity based on people using your restaurant app.
Lookalike Audience: With the lookalike audience option, you start with an existing audience or choose a Facebook Page that you own and create a similar audience. If you have an audience of people you know, it can be used as a source audience so Facebook can reach people with similar attributes and interests.
Facebook Ad Placements
Facebook Ads can appear in several places, depending on the objective you’ve chosen for your campaign:
- Feeds: Facebook news feed, Instagram feed, Facebook Marketplace, Facebook video feeds, Facebook right column, Instagram Explore, Messenger inbox
- Stories: Facebook Stories, Instagram Stories, Messenger Stories
- In-stream: Facebook In-Stream videos, IGTV videos (Instagram)
- Facebook search results
- Messenger sponsored messages
- Facebook Instant Articles
- Audience Network native, banner, or interstitial ads
- Audience Network rewarded videos
Although you can set placements manually, Facebook recommends automatic placements, which allows their system to optimize your budget.
Creating Facebook Ads
Creating Facebook Ads is as easy as creating normal posts. You can create ads in the following formats:
- Carousel (up to 10 images or videos, each with its own link)
- Instant Experience
In addition to creating an ad from scratch, you can also boost an organic post. This just means that you add ad budget to a post on your Page’s feed to get it to reach more prospects and drive more engagement. If an organic post aligns with your campaign’s objective, this is a great way to use your existing content.
Consider these recommendations to get the most out of your campaign:
- Keep image text below 20%: Facebook previously required ads to have less than 20% text on images. That’s changed from a rule to a recommendation, but it still stands as best practice. As Facebook explains, “We’ve found that images with less than 20% text perform better. With this in mind, we recommend keeping your text short, clear and concise in order to get your message across effectively.”
- Keep all ad placements active: Avoid the temptation to discard placements. This will only limit your ads’ reach. Instead, monitor the performance of each placement and use this information to improve future ads.
- Integrate online ordering: You can link your Facebook ad to your online menu to increase online ordering. If your restaurant already has an ordering platform, this is an easy way to get direct customer conversions from Facebook.
- Use retargeting ads to reward existing customers: Run special promos that reach customers who have already ordered from your restaurant, to draw them back to your establishment.
What Is Remarketing?
If someone has already engaged with your restaurant brand, you can use remarketing to build lasting connections with them. You can choose a custom audience with people who have visited your website, interacted with your Facebook Page, watched your videos, or performed other actions that show their interest in your brand. A pixel is installed on your website to track who visits and what actions they take. Remarketing is a popular strategy for promotional outreach to customers who start the purchasing process but abandon it.
Here are a few content possibilities for your restaurant.
- Feature your food photos: Whet appetites with ads that showcase your most popular, visually attractive dishes.
- Run seasonal specials: Make a Facebook Ads calendar for your restaurant. Create limited-time special offers during specific times of the year to encourage immediate orders.
- Post restaurant job ads: Run Facebook job ads to get the right people to join your team, while spreading the word about your business.
- Promote restaurant entertainment: Post and promote the kind of entertainment you offer in your restaurant (or will, post-pandemic). You can target people who like certain types of music on Facebook.
Other Social Media Advertising for Restaurants
This article has focused on Google Ads and Facebook Ads, but there are plenty of other channels to consider for digital advertising.
For instance, YouTube ads are now through Google Ads. They’re available as an overlay call-to-action, card, or companion banner. As of the publication of this guide, there is a $10 minimum per day. Twitter offers different levels of promotion, including promoted tweets at 50 cents to $2 per action, and promoted accounts at $2-4.
Instagram, as discussed in our chapter on social media marketing for restaurants, is a fantastic channel for food-and-beverage establishments that want to showcase their appetizing fare. Once you connect your Facebook page to your Instagram business account, the ads posted on Facebook will also show on Instagram. An easy way to increase your reach is by using appropriate hashtags and tagging your location.
In the social media chapter, we also talk about influencer marketing: partnering with people who have large followings on their social media accounts. Engaging influencers will increase your restaurant’s reach, brand awareness, and conversions.
Your options for advertising your restaurant on social media are versatile. Whichever channel you choose, make sure it aligns with the goals you set in your marketing strategy.
To get the most out of social media ads, remember that your restaurant is a community. People who choose to visit it are part of your community. Only those who connect with what you’re selling will choose your restaurant over others. Create ad campaigns that will appeal to and build connections with your unique target market.