If you’re working on boosting the visibility of your restaurant website, you’ve probably come across the term “backlink” or “backlink building” before. It’s a popular search engine optimization strategy, and it usually comes alongside a lot of talk about “writing quality content” and “providing value.”
Those things are absolutely correct — when you’re in a blog-heavy industry. Marketers, for example, can get a huge SEO benefit out of a quality blog that shares tips and tricks for more visibility.
But hospitality businesses — especially restaurants — aren’t often prolific bloggers. It’s just not the business they’re in. So they need to take a different approach for local search.
Without a blog, how can restaurants get the benefit of backlinks? And why is this even important?
What are backlinks and link building?
A backlink is simply a link from another website back to your own. “Link building” refers to the practice of getting more links back to your site.
Why do it? Because backlinks are a Google ranking factor. High quality backlinks can improve your domain authority, which then will help improve your ranking in search results.
Domain Authority is a number on a scale of 1 – 100 that estimates how well your website will rank on a search engine results page, like Google. (Facebook and YouTube are ranked at 100; a brand new website that gets published today would be at a 1.)
Many businesses get backlinks through blogging. They’ll write helpful how-to articles or case studies to share info with potential customers. Then, people who find the content helpful will share their content and include a link back to the source.
Restaurants absolutely can create well-written, popular blogs. But there is a large time and money investment in doing so. So how else can restaurants build links?
Event listing sites
If you host special events at your restaurant, getting them up on local event listing sites can be an easy way to get a link back to your website.
Now, some of these sites will be more valuable than others from an SEO perspective. Eventbrite, for example, uses a “no follow” tag on their outbound links. This tells search engines not to count the link as a “vote” vouching for that website.
Why do this? Because there are very specific rules about when a link can be a “follow” link vs. a “no follow” link. Google takes a dim view of buying links, and the practice can result in penalties. And since event listings on Eventbrite are paid, the link must be “no follow.”
The Austin Chronicle, on the other hand, provides a curated list of local events. You don’t pay to play. And their links do not include that “no follow” tag.
But even “no follow” links can be valuable, sending more web traffic to your site. So don’t discount a link just because it won’t give you an “official” backlink.
Local food publications & media
Local food magazines, websites, and media outlets are another great opportunity for backlinks. In my area, Edible Austin, Austin Food Magazine, and Eater Austin all cover local food news, and all are great sources of restaurant backlinks.
Getting into these publications is all about building relationships. You can start by interacting with their social media content, but you’ll need some face time, too. A professional PR firm can be a big help in making these types of introductions.
If you’re on your own, go to some of their sponsored events and rub elbows. Connect with one or two of the writers for the publication, and follow it up with an email. There could be hundreds or thousands of restaurants in your area, so help the writer to put a face to the name.
And if there’s a restaurant roundup that you were left out of, you can reach out and (very politely) mention that you hope to be included if they update the listing for next season or next year.
Local bloggers & influencers
Remember how we talked about Domain Authority earlier? Your own DA isn’t the only one you need to be concerned about. The DA of the referring site (the site linking back to yours) is also important.
Links from sites with low domain authority can actually hurt your website instead of help it. This is why some people aren’t as interested in local bloggers, instead focusing on well-known national or local publications.
But there is value in both, especially to a local restaurant. Some local bloggers have great domain authority!
Austin food blog A Taste of Koko has a domain score of 59 and monthly domain traffic of over 70,000. Edible Austin? A domain score of 55 and fewer than 20,000 monthly visitors. So in this case, a link from the blog is probably more valuable than a link from the glossy magazine.
Connecting with bloggers will look a lot like connecting with local publications. But with bloggers, you can usually trust that they are running their social media themselves. So if you can build rapport on Instagram, you can set the stage for future posts and links.
Invite the blogger to come to your restaurant for a meal. Whether you comp it or not is up to you, but make sure the blogger knows in advance if they have to pay.
You should also keep an eye out for any unlinked mentions from bloggers or mainstream publications. These are mentions of your business name, without a link to your website.
Set up a Google Alert for your restaurant name, so you’ll be updated every time you’re mentioned. If there’s no link, send a quick email thanking them for the shout-out, and ask if they’d mind linking to your website as well.
A guest post is a post that you write for another website, with a link back to your own. It’s often touted in blogging circles as a popular method of link building.
While guest posting can be effective, it’s time consuming. First, you have to secure the guest post, which usually means reaching out to bloggers and publications, pitching ideas for articles. You’ll then have to spend a couple hours writing each guest blog, and each piece of content can only be used once. That’s several hours of work for just one backlink.
If you can get a post on a major blog, it could be worth it. But you’ll probably use your time more effectively by trying to secure more links by these other methods.
.edu & .gov backlinks
Certain types of URLs pack a bigger punch than others. At the top of the list are .edu and .gov links. Both can be tough to get, but they can also provide some extra benefits.
To get this type of link for restaurants, we have to be a little creative.
Is there a university or community college near your restaurant? If so, try to find a listing on their website where they share local restaurants or things to do on (or near) campus. These pages are often used to entice prospective students by promoting the school’s lifestyle.
To find these pages, try these searches:
- site:[school].edu “local restaurants”
- site:[school].edu “things to do”
- site:[school].edu inurl:visit
- site:[school].edu inurl:visiting
Another option — does the school have a discount card or a pre-loadable dining card? If you accept either, you may get listed on their .edu website that way.
This page, for example, lists some local businesses near St. Edward’s University here in Austin. There are no links, but maybe they’d be willing to add one if a business owner asked.
How about your own alma mater? Many college alumni pages will include short bios to share what their grads are doing now. There may be an opportunity to get a link back to your website that way. It may not be local, but it will still give you a boost.
.gov pages can be even tricker. Even city sites often won’t link to individual businesses, because they can’t recommend one company over another. But check your own city, county, and state .gov sites to look for possible linking opportunities.
Citations are a bit different from backlinks, but they’re also important. A citation is usually a business name mention, and often includes your address and phone number.
It can be “structured,” like on your Yelp listing. Or it could be “unstructured,” just typed out at the bottom of a blog post. Sometimes, a citation will also include a backlink.
But backlinks from social media sites and major listing sites (like TripAdvisor) are usually “nofollow” links. Although you may not get the link juice, these links can still be great for sending more traffic to your website. And that also helps with your overall site health.
Citations need to be consistent across the internet. If you’re listed as “Bob’s Restaurant” on Google My Business, you don’t want to be “Bob’s Restaurant & Cafe” on Yellow Pages. The discrepancy indicates that your online info may not be reliable.
So you need to make sure that your name, address, and phone number are exactly the same all over the internet. You also need to avoid duplicate listings. They create confusion and reduce your “authority” in the eyes of search engines.
If you’re having trouble accessing the duplicate listing to delete it, reach out to the citation site for help.
Global Citation Sites for Restaurants
- Google My Business
- Trip Advisor
- Yahoo Local
- Apple Maps
- Bing Places
You can also look for local business, like your Chamber of Commerce or local visitor’s bureau.
What to avoid
In the early days of the internet, you could spam the internet with irrelevant backlinks and your website would benefit. But those days are no more.
You need your backlinks to be relevant, so focus on food and entertainment websites, blogs, and publications.
Think of it this way — any place you’d want your website to be mentioned organically is a good place to seek a backlink, and the increased visibility that comes with it. Local food blogger? Yes, of course. Your dentist? Not so much.
Sometimes online, you’ll see people say you should avoid link building. What they mean is you should avoid link building schemes. These are methods of trying to trick Google into improving your rankings.
Like most SEO tactics, building backlinks takes time. One study showed that it took 10 weeks for a backlink to have any effect on search results. It’s also something that you’ll need to do consistently. If you stop getting new backlinks, your rankings will start to slip.
It’s also only one part of the overall SEO strategy. Using strong local keywords, providing a good user experience, plenty of online reviews, a secure site, and more are all part of the SEO puzzle. But spending some time working on backlinks (and the improved visibility that comes with them) may help your site rise to the top of search results a bit more quickly.
To learn more, check out this blog post: 8 Free, Long-Term Marketing Ideas for Restaurants.
Any questions? Let me know in the comments.