How to Build a Performance Driven Google Paid Search Campaign for Restaurants Spending Only a Few Dollars per Day

Ever wonder how many people turn to Google each day to search for breakfast, lunch, or dinner restaurants to dine at? How many search for happy hours, restaurants that host private parties, or partiuclar cuisines in their area? Turns out it's quite a lot!

We're going to show you exactly what we learned from buying millions of paid search clicks for thousands of restaurants across the US and beyond.


Your ad at the top of the results


Introduction: Who this is for and what you will learn

Nearly every restaurant, large or small, one location or many, could benefit from running a keyword campaign at some level. In this article we explain in detail, the entire process, start to finish on how you (a restaurant owner, manager, or marketer) can set up and run an ongoing perpetual paid search keyword campaign that will put your ad in front of a steady stream of new and repeat customers starting at a few dollars per day. These paid search campaigns, each with some tweaks, will help to drive a steady stream of customers to your restaurant, further, paid search can work for small neighborhood restaurants, restaurants in rural areas, small towns all the way up to restaurants located in major cities.


What is paid search

We're going to assume that anyone reading this is somewhat familiar with paid search and/or the Google Adwords advertising platform. If you are not familiar with paid search, you'll first want to read up on what paid search (often called PPC) is, how it works, and what the benefits are. Click here for a great 101 primer on what paid search (also called PPC or SEM) programs are. Further, for the sake of this article we are going to focus on paid search versus SEO (search engine optimization), which is equally important, but another discipline entirely that we won't address in this post. Click here if you want a resources for restaurant SEO. Additionally, many advertisers use the Google Display Network (a.k.a. GDN) in order to run display banner ads for their business, and while GDN campaign is also a worthwhile endeavor, we will cover it in another article, this post will strictly cover paid search, keyword advertising for restaurants.


Why use paid search?

Paid keywords are an efficient, cost-effect way to precisely target only people who are typing in very specific search terms that you specify, with an ad for your restaurant. When you bid on keywords, you set the amount your willing to pay for a click on your ad, but you only pay when someone clicks on your ad, you pay nothing if they only see your ad. In addition to setting the bid per click, you also set the amount you are willing to spend on any one day, your daily budget. This could be as low as $1/day. This ensures that you can run a campaign, and test keywords in a very cost-effective manor, and then continue to advertise long-term with only the keywords you like

Keyword advertising is very intent driven. At the local level it drives performance like the Yellows Pages once might have. Years ago, anyone thumbing through the Pizza section in their local yellow pages was very likely to order a pizza soon after. Search engine keywords behave nearly the same way, since people taking time to search for restaurants are typically interested in dining out in the short term, often same-day.

Some other great features about paid search are that you can 'day-part' your ads, which means set them up to automatically run only during certain hours of the day (i.e. when you are open for business) or only on certain days of the week, like on your slowest days, when you need business the most. Or how about running ads just to let people know about your happy hour a few hours before it starts.

Finally, at the local level, keyword advertising is largely under-utilized, and especially when it comes to restaurant and dining related keywords. This keeps costs relatively low, and will allow you to drive a perpetual source of qualified customers to your restaurant day in and day out by jumping to the top of the search results with an ad.


Get started - Create a New Paid Search Advertising Account & Campaigns:

Creating a new Google Adwords account is easy and straight forward, Google walks you through the process of setting up the account and funding it with a credit card. Only open a Bing account (allows your to buy keywords on Bing & Yahoo search engines) once you are happy with the performance of your Adwords account and have additional budget to spend on keywords.


Where will paid search ads show up?

Using paid search advertising allows you can jump to the top of the search results, above even the local results. You're ad will show on the Google search engine, as well as dozens of highly traffic search partner websites like AOL, CNN, Netscape and many others.


Campaign Settings

When you create first campaign, you will configure your campaign settings. There's a few settings here that are really important that you want to get right from the start in order for your campaigns to be effective. We address these (but not all) settings below.

Campaign Type: You'll want to choose a search campaign only, will all features. Google gives you the option to combine this with Display campaigns, but don't do that. You want this to be a purely search campaign. You can add a display campaign later.

Adwords Campaign Type

Devices Targeting: Don't worry too much about this. but just be aware that you can target mobile, tablet and desktop devices all together or independently. You can also bid each up or down, for example, not that you would but, you can reduce bids for mobile devices by 25%, or tablets up by 3-%. Truthfully most or a significant portion of your traffic will likely be from mobile based searches, and are just as valuable to you. For this reason make sure you have mobile responsive website.

Location targeting: By default google chooses the full United States by default. You'll want to remove that and add your town(s) and/or zip codes. Once that is done it is extremely important that change Location options (advanced) settings to 'People in my targeted location' instead of 'People in, searching for, or who show interest in my included location'.

Adwords Location Targeting

Bid strategy: Choose 'Manual CPC' and uncheck 'Enable Enhanced CPC'

Adwords Bidding

Budget: Enter a number that you feel comfortable spending each day. This can be as little as $1.00 per day, though we recommend going higher for more exposure. Remember you are still going enter max bids for each click later on.

Delivery method (advanced):Choose accelerated, and keep in mind you can adjust this down if you are hitting your daily budget too early each day.

Ad Scheduling: These settings will allow you to create a schedule for when your ads will run, and will likely be very key to your overall campaign strategy. Your ad schedule will depend your type of restaurant and hours of operation, i.e. are you a breakfast and lunch spot, lunch and dinner, just fine dining, further you may want to promote a happy hour, or only certain days of the week when business is light and you have many open tables to fill. For example if you are lunch restaurant and you are busy Friday - Sun, you may opt to run your ads Mon - Thurs, 10:30am thru 3:00pm in order to get your ad in front of people at the right time. Further, if your kitchen closes at 10pm, you may opt to run your ads until 9:30pm.

Adwords Day Parting


Create your first Ad

After entering your campaign settings Google will prompt you to write a text ad, these are the ads that people will click on in their search results. Keep in mind, the job of your ad is to provide enough (accurate and unique) information about your restaurant, and a call-to-action that encourages a searcher to click on it.

These ads are small and have character limitations. The current format allows for 2 headline lines, each 30 characters max, that are separated with a dash. After that you will enter a sentence, max 80 characters. Using these three lines you want to summarize why a person would want to dine at your restaurant and what they should expect.

Call out your cuisine, include anything uniquely describes it. Your call-to-action to tell the reader to come in on certain days or times, or to make a reservation, or even to join your mailing list. Further, in your copy you could call out that you are a new or established restaurant, specializing in things like, breakfast, lunch, dinner, a cuisine, happy hour, delivery, catering, parties. What great is that you can create several different ads, each with different copy so that you can test which one works best. Further to that point you can run different ads at different times to promote different things.

Here's an example of ad copy promoting half off wine on Sunday and Monday at a waterfront Italian restaurant:

Adwords Ad Creation


Selecting the Right Keywords, Match Types, and Negative Keywords

Keywords are at the center of your campaign. Creating a keyword list can be a time consuming arduous process since you want strive to create an exhaustive list of very specific keywords. To help you get started we've organized over 750 restaurant and catering related keywords categorically for easy use in your paid search campaigns. Additionally we've provided over two-hundred negative keywords that will help to make your campaigns far more efficient and keep you from advertising to people who's intent is not to potentially dine at your restaurant.

Click here to open separately or see the embedded spreadsheet below for all keywords organized by categories. Note that there are three separate tabs. The first tab offers many categories of restaurant keywords, the second tab offers PPC keywords for catering services, the third tab offers a list of negative keywords to use in conjunction with your campaigns. Note that not all keywords will apply to your restaurant, and there are some simple steps to take in order to append your location to many of them.



Keywords Match Types:

You're going to want understand keyword match types as they are really important. Google recognizes exact match, phrase match, broad match, and broad match modified. We suggest using the exact match and broad match modified for each keyword. Do not use just broad match keywords, as Google will take too much liberty to creatively match your ad to search queries that are not aligned with your campaign goals. Click here to learn more about keyword match types here.


Should you use competitor's names as keywords?

The short answer is yes, but you'll want to do this sparingly.

First, the caveat, if you do bid on your competitors names as keywords, you may anger or upset them personally, this is personal preference and only you know what your relationship is to other restaurant owners and managers in your area.

Further, only bid on competitor names terms that are actually competitive to you. For example if you are a primarily breakfast and lunch diner than refrain from bidding on fine dining dinner restaurant names, it just won't help you. The person searching is looking for something that you do not offer. Bid on competitor names if they match a few of the following criteria: they offer similar price point, have similar hours of operation, the same cuisine, or attract the same type of clientele that you ideally want.

Do not use your competitor's name in your ad copy, your ad should be about your restaurant. This means no bad mouthing and no comparisons. Google's policy also does not let you use superlatives, so you can not say something like: "The Best Italian Restaurant in Town".

Also, stay away from bidding on chain restaurant names, mostly for the reason that they tend to be trademarked names. This will cause Google Awords to disapprove your ads, or worse you could end up with a cease and desist letter from the chain restaurant's law firm.


Don't forget to add negative keywords

One of the most important, and overlooked parts of a PPC campaign are negative keywords. By specifying negative keywords, your ad will intentionally not show for a specific term. Here's an example to help illustrate the concept, you may want to bid on the keyword 'best restaurant NYC' however, you would not want your ad to show for 'best restaurant supplier nyc' or 'best restaurant jobs nyc'. The intent of the searchers in these cases are much different than the intent of your campaign, so would use the terms 'job' and 'supplier' as negative keywords, and this will tell Adwords to not show your ads for search queries that have 'job' or 'supplier' attached to it. There are literally hundreds of negative terms you can come up with. See NEGATIVE KEYWORDS tab of the above spreadsheet for a good starter list of negative keywords for your restaurant campaigns.


Using Adwords Ad Extensions

Google allows you to add extensions to your ad which you should absolutely do. Extensions will help you gain a competitive advantage over other advertisers, by helping searchers understand more about your business, this also helps you secure more real estate on the search results landing page, which means less for your competitors.

The ad extensions most relevant for a restaurant are, Call extensions, Sitelinks extensions, Callout extensions, and Review extensions. Call extensions allow you to place a phone number directly in your ad. This is handy for people that want to call and make a reservation. Sitelinks and Callout extensions allow you to add additional links and messaging to your ads and also schedule them to appear at certain times of the day. You can learn more about each of the various types of ad extensions and how to implement them here.

How often should I check and make changes?

Full-time digital marketers monitor and make tweaks to their campaigns daily, even hourly when it comes to high volume campaigns. As a business owner or manager you likely won't have the time to do so this often. You should think about the changes as a function of how much you are spending each day or week. If you are spending under $10/day than weekly checking is fine. If you spending more then try and login and a little more frequently. Making changes are a function of having enough data to justify the change you want to make. Keep in mind that these campaigns that we designed to create awareness for people who are actively looking for a dining establishment in the short term.


What kind of results can I expect?

Results will depend on your ad spend budget, though this campaign will begin to promote your restaurant immediately, a budget of $30/day will go much further than a budget of $5. But starting with $5/day is absolutely fine. Keep in how many days each week you intend to advertise when creating your daily budget. It's important to understand that paid search advertising is considered a 'bottom of the sales funnel' marketing/advertising channel, meaning people are ready to make an immediate decision, and works especially well when it comes to low or medium consideration expenditures like dining out. Further, this allows you to jump the top of the results for searches that pertain to your type of restaurant. That combination is what makes this a powerful driver of new business.

At the very least you can expect a decent amount of exposure to searchers that would have otherwise seen other results and not an ad for your restaurant. Best part, as mentioned above, you only pay if they click your ad, many people will see your ad and not click, in which case that ad view was free.


Tracking conversions

If you offer online food ordering, or online reservations, you can track conversions directly from your ad efforts. Further, if you were to integrate a 3rd party call tracking service such as CallRail, you would have the ability to track the source of every call you recieve, both from online and offline sources. This service is very affordable and the price is well worth it for the information and service it provides. In the near future you'll be able to identify patrons (via their mobile phones) who come into your restaurant after having seen or clicked one of your ads, We'll expand on that more in the future. Let us know about your experience buying paid search keywords for your restaurant. Leave us a comment or send us a note below, we answer every question.