For most people, SEO is pretty vague if they are not consistently learning about the subject. In fact, when I deal with clients, I would say only 20 – 30% of small business owners actually know about search engine optimization and local SEO. Now, you might have already been pitched this exact product about 1000 times already by different companies, but most of the time, from what I hear, people still don't get what it is and what it brings to a business.
On the flip side, I totally understand why most business owners don't even think about searching the topic. It's pretty simple, you guys are constantly harassed by salesmen; On the phone, on the road, by email, etc. You get 10 different stories on what you should do to bring more clients in your store and you end up confused on what to do and why.
The reality is that most of the strategies offered by these reps will work; most of them have case studies to back up their product. Others will claim your sense of logic while pitching the product. You'll find yourself realizing that you have 5 different offers on the table. A bit of SEO, local SEO, an inscription to a directory like Resto Montreal, a guy pitching you some pamphlets or radio ads, and someone proposing for you to go all-in on AdWords.
If I was the one facing the choice, I would want them all at once. However, we know that restaurant owners are razor thin on margins. Most of you guys can't afford to put 10 thousand in marketing each month. That is why you need to optimize your decisions. You need to understand how 1$ can be worth 1$ instead of 0.70$. But how do you do that? Simple, you learn, learn, & learn.
The more you learn by yourself about the impacts of different methods you can use, the easier it is to make a decision. In this article, I'll try to illustrate the power of 2 different techniques. I want everyone to clearly understand what it is that you are buying when you pay for SEO & Local SEO. I want everyone to understand the value of local directories such as Resto Montreal. I want everyone to understand how to pick a marketing strategy when on a limited budget. And lastly, I want everyone to understand how to make a good marketing decision based on their audience and their long-term goals.
*Note that I will mostly speak of Resto Montreal to explain referral traffic and local directories. However, any directory related to your niche can act in the same way for your online visibility. E.g. Yellow Pages ( Bookenda) and restaurants work as well.
SEO VS Resto Montreal
Resto Montreal is pretty darn huge in the restaurant industry. Most people don't even need to be sold on the idea, once they open their restaurant it's the first thing they sign up for. This is in part due to their early domination in Montreal SEO. I don't know if you remember but, 5 years ago, whenever you would type restaurant + any other keyword e.g. Italian, Indian, etc. Resto Montreal would come out in first second and third position. Their reputation was through the roof, which made it really easy for them to sell their products.
However, in 2016 there were 7182 restaurants in Montreal city alone, constituting 34% of the total amount of restaurants in the entire province. With these incredible numbers, how can you make your restaurant stand out from the competition? Pretty hard eh… So unless you're extremely unique, which is pretty rare, your best chance is to stick with search engines.
With all that has been said, you might think that you only need to get found in order to close a client, but it's not that simple. There are many factors that you need to analyze if you want to fully understand whether or not your visibility is worth it. Consumers have more and more choices at their disposal. So, if your website, Facebook page, Google picture, or anything else they land on does not appeal to them, you'll lose the client for sure. In fact, there are 26.81 restaurants for every 10,000 people that live in Montreal. 20% more than New York. So, if you think that your proximity or restaurant style is the only thing that helps clients come to your business, you have the picture all wrong, my friend.
Let's talk about traffic & visibility
Before even considering analyzing the quality of your visibility, I suggest that you focus on generating visibility first. If you had 1$ where would it be best spent? This is where the war between SEO and Resto Montreal begins. In order to explain the situation better, I analyzed a client of ours that is using local SEO and Resto Montreal to generate traffic on their website. The goal of our experiment was to see which service would attract more people on any page of their website, and the results might surprise you. Also, to make sure that the results were not biased, we made sure that the investment in the 2 services were the same, in other words, the restaurant paid 600$ to Resto Montreal and 600$ in Local SEO.
Here is what we got as a result
Let me explain this a bit so that you understand it better. We took a random week during March and decided to read all the data we could through Google Analytics. As you can see, we selected March 17 to March 22. We decided to analyze a short period of time so that results would not be affected by a random event occurring in the neighborhood during a specific time of the month. We also made sure that all the weeks were similar from one to another in order to not favorize any party.
In this graphic, there are 4 stats that are truly important to our study.
- The users column indicates the number of people that came from different sources. In this example, we can see the difference in traffic from the 2 services. 8% of the traffic came from Resto Montreal. Sure, you might say that 26 views on your website per week could end up as 1,300 views at the end of the year. And even if you closed only 10% of this traffic as actual sales (the average close rate for online reservation), this would mean you would have 135 different clients that come in through the year, which also means that you would need an average of 4.40$ in sales to refund your investment. It sounds really good at first, but wait for the second part. Google Organic reach drove 193 views in one week, which would end up as 10k views in one year. If we take the same closing rate then earlier, this would mean 1,000 clients over the span of a year, thus it would cost an average of 0.60$ in sales per client to refund your investment. But don't get too excited yet, we have much more to cover.
- The Bounce Rate is extremely important data to take into consideration. The bounce rate is basically the statistic that helps you understand if your website is attractive to your traffic. A high bounce rate means that people leave without doing an action after entering your website's first page. A low bounce rate means that your traffic interacts with your website, which means that it most likely well suited for them. The example above is really interesting because it allows us to verify the quality of traffic. In fact, you can see that the referral from Resto Montreal generated a high bounce rate (86%) while the organic traffic generates a lower bounce rate (32%). This is a classic in the universe of websites. You can find stats all over the internet that prove that organic traffic brings a better quality of visitors to your website.
- The Average Session Duration is as interesting as the bounce rate. The reason is simple, the more time people spend on your website, the higher chance you have to generate income from this traffic. In the example above, we can see a difference of almost 2 minutes of time spent on the website. My hypothesis about this is that people coming from Resto Montreal are given more choices, thus they read faster and leave quickly. It's the ‘Fear Of Missing Out' mentality that drives this type of behavior. The more people sense that they are missing something elsewhere the less chance you have to close them as a client.
- Finally, the page/session stats help us understand the behavior of visitors on your website. The more sessions they have, the higher their interest is in your brand. For this particular restaurant, we saw twice as many pages visited per session. Which means, once again, that the traffic might be of better quality. The average page per session is still quite low for the brand, this might also mean that the website could use a small redesign or a better traffic flow.
However, when analyzed at a larger scale. A one-month period brings slightly different results than a one week period.
In fact, when we checked out the results of this same business in the month of February, we realized that the organic searches contributed to 66% instead of 62%. A minor increase that can be explained by the number of statistics accumulated. On the flip side, the bounce rate of Resto Montreal diminished by 20% when comparing a full month to one week only. This is proof that the more stats you have, the more accurate your information gets.
As mentioned, the quality of your traffic is a very important concept to understand in regards to online visibility. When it comes to campaign optimization, you want to make sure that you make the most out of your dollar, which might just be one of the most important things to consider. By understanding your traffic's behavior, you are able to understand where your problem resides. Sometimes it is the way you convert your client, e.g. your website. Other times it is your channel of advertisement. Also, perhaps the message that you communicate is not the right one. The good thing with directories like Resto Montreal is that your audience is super targeted. A person that searches for an Italian restaurant on Resto Montreal has no chance to end up on a non-related website. They will be directly targeted because the audience is pre-segmented.
We've seen organic traffic pay a lot when it comes to client conversion. It seems that the consumer is more ready to buy then when it comes from a keyword related search. Luckily a directory is similar to SEO in terms of search behavior.
Once you have a visitor, your next step should be to understand his on-site behavior.
In this graphic, Google Analytics helps us understand the path of our client starting from their first-page visit. This is where your traffic flow becomes really interesting. As you can see, Resto Montreal owns 139 sessions of 198 visitors (70.2%). In this scenario, since the social media presence of this company is extremely weak, the top referral traffic comes from other websites, such as Resto Montréal or Apportez Votre Vin. In fact, backlinks like those can be very valuable for a local business like that. It is to understand that even if the traffic could end up being of low quality, you still want traffic on your website.
However, when we take a close look at the traffic behavior of the visitors coming from referral traffic, it might not be optimal. On 198 sessions, 138 of those dropped off after visiting one page. Again, there is a lot of different factors that can explain such results.
- 75% of visitors landed on the menu first, which would explain the behavior since most people leave after they've seen what they needed to see.
- As I mentioned earlier, the fear of missing out psychologically influenced people's behavior. By coming from a referral source, they often have a lot of choice on one page, which means that they may be visually attracted to more than one restaurant.
- The traffic quality can be weaker, but there's no actual proof on that since we did not cumulate enough data on these different platforms.
When we continue checking the path of our visitors, we notice a 45% drop off after the first interaction. Which means that out of the 198 sessions, only 33 people are left after only 2 clicks. These are not very good stats. Again, it can be explained with a large amount of the 50% traffic flow going on the contact page; perhaps people leave the website after finding the information they need to make their reservation or to get to their destination.
Here is a graphic that shows organic traffic behavior
As you can see the paths are much more different than the one from the referral traffic. In total, 870 sessions were created from 3 different search engines. Google, Bing, and Yahoo. When we see the starting page of these sessions, we understand that they are split into 2 main categories: The Homepage and Menu page. This means that these two pages are the ones that rank the best on Google, according to this restaurant's keywords. Now, the drop off is a really interesting comparison point here. Even though there's more of an actual drop off after the first-page visit, the percentage remains 27% lower than a referral website when the traffic comes from an organic traffic source.
However, when people reach their second click, the drop-off is quite similar to the referral sources. There are only a few percentages of difference. My hypothesis for this behavior is that since the first page is usually the one ranking before the menu, it would explain why people are more enticed to go through with a second click to see the menu or the contact page. Once they've reached their destination they begin to leave again, thus why after 2 clicks the drop off ratios are similar from one source to another.
The conclusion in the SEO VS Resto Montreal war
Even though it's a really small analysis, and we're missing a lot of data to claim a scientific article. Our team thinks that in terms of quality, both sources are similar. The audiences are pre-established for both sources: Resto Montreal has a really specific audience (people searching for a restaurant) & Google tries to make the search as relevant as possible for their users. Which means that in this case, ”numbers” are the best game you can play.
If you're hesitating between investing in Resto Montreal or any local directory like Yellow Pages and Trip Advisor VS SEO & Local SEO because you have a small budget, take the one that generates the most traffic when analyzing your Google Analytics. If you're starting from scratch and your SEO isn't good at all, keep in mind that nothing is magic. 600$ won't rank you in the first position. It will, however, definitely help your situation, but if you want a real investment that can bring you long term volume be prepared to either pay a small amount per month or a bigger amount to boost your ranking in the beginning.
In this specific example, don't forget that the analyzed restaurant is not downtown. We took a restaurant on Fleury street in Montreal, which means that the competition in SEO might not be as harsh as it could be somewhere else in Montreal. In other words, 600$ per year downtown is not the same as 600$ per year in the north of the city. Take into consideration that this might have influenced the research.
Lastly, your final move should aim for the long game. When local directories bring you short-term solutions, your investment in SEO will be for life. Double down on anything that is already working for you and everything should end up working just fine.