Consumers today search more often, and in more places than ever — and restaurant brands are feeling the impact. At least 81% of consumers have searched for a restaurant on a mobile app (and 92% through a web browser) in the last six months, outpacing other highly searched industries, such as entertainment, retail outlets, hotels, and personal services.
But search has changed since the days when a potential customer would simply type a restaurant name ("Romeo's Pizza") or a single keyword ("pizza") into Google. Here are four key search trends that restaurant brands need to watch in 2020.
1. Computers are learning our language.
Regardless of whether your restaurant brand has invested in Natural Language Processing (NLP) or AI, these capabilities have already been implemented by many search platforms. When we search today, search engines provide us with direct answers that are relevant to our natural language queries. As a result, consumers are being trained to interact differently with computers — they now expect to be able to ask complex questions, and they expect answers.
But answering a natural language question is hard. For example, look at a query like "Best pizza restaurant near me open now that hosts kids birthday parties and has gluten free options." Answering it requires information related to ratings ("best"), location data ("near me"), hours of operation ("open now"), and other attributes. If your restaurant's information isn't 1. listed online correctly and 2. indexable to search engines, you won't show up as an answer to this query — and a competitor will. In 2020, expect to see this search trend in evidence as more restaurant brands will prioritize answering customers' natural language queries across search experiences.
2. The customer journey starts with a question.
At least 35% of search queries are four words or longer. Consumers today are asking more questions in more places, searching for specific types of cuisine, menu items, and more. This can be good news for your brand. Longtail queries convert at 2.5x the rate of single keywords, so optimizing for the longtail generates efficient and inexpensive organic traffic.
Being able to answer your customers' questions both on and off your website is particularly important for restaurant brands. Why? Whereas an average business sees 2.7x the traffic on third-party sites compared to their own website, the average restaurant gets 12x the traffic.* Restaurant brands must acknowledge that these third-party delivery aggregators will continue to grow in 2020, but search provides an opportunity for brands to direct traffic to first-party experiences as well. 62% of web engagement begins in search, and that must be optimized.**
3. Delivery platforms will continue to invest in search, and so should you.
Here's some quick homework. Choose a cuisine type or menu item and add "delivery" to the end of your search. "Pizza delivery near me" is a good one to try out.
Above the Google Map pack, you'll find ads. Underneath, you'll often find organic links directing consumers directly to the delivery aggregators. Grubhub, UberEats, Doordash, EZCater and their regional competitors will continue to drive up the cost of those high-intent searches both via paid search and organic.
Restaurant brands must take advantage of the opportunities to win in organic search around key KPIs. While it won't beat out the aggregators in every situation, it's a cost efficient and effective way to acquire a hungry consumer with high intent in search.
4. AI will transform a restaurant brand's marketing stack.
How can restaurants deliver answers in search results and capture more high-intent traffic? By making a knowledge graph the basis of the brand's marketing stack.
To truly "speak the language" of search engines, your organization needs its own knowledge graph to store your own facts, all mapped to one another. This is the foundation for leveraging artificial intelligence in a martech stack and answering complex questions everywhere consumers search. By the end of 2020, expect to see the marketing stack look significantly different than it did last year.
Want more insight into what's ahead for search in 2020?Get marketing predictions from 10 experts at companies including Microsoft, Adobe, Yum! Brands, and more in our latest eBook.
*Internal Yext study
**Estimates compiled using web traffic data from SimilarWeb.com and Yext Listings data