Three Ways to Handle the Growth in Mobile Searches for Restaurants

In a recent article on SearchEngineLand.com Bryson Meunier offers his opinion on why restaurants, in particular, need a separate mobile website to handle mobile search traffic.  He explains that if you examine search terms carefully, most people are looking for different things from a mobile device than from their desktop computer.  Desktop users might be looking to print a coupon, to download an online application or perhaps to read the accolades of your chef, but mobile users aren’t looking for that same detailed content.  Meunier suggests there are a few ways to handle mobile users, but of the options available, Meunier recommends that restaurants have a separate mobile website. We agree with him but we thought we’d give you a simple breakdown of the options available to handle searches from a mobile device so you can decide for yourself.

Do nothing

Keep your current website without making any changes. Be warned: those Flash elements, PDF menus, and extensive copy are not mobile-friendly (and frankly not very appealing to desktop users nowadays either).  When you combine the statistics related to the rapid growth in mobile search with research from a Compuware study that says 57% of customers would not recommend a business with a bad mobile site, and that 40% would even chose a competitor with a better mobile experience, there is overwhelming evidence that doing nothing is not a sound option if you want to remain competitive.

Build a responsive site 

What is a responsive site? Basically you take your existing desktop site (or get a new one built) and have someone create responsive content for each page. The user still goes to the same web pages but the code recognizes what type of device the user is coming from and delivers the content on each page formatted for that device.  In a responsive site, you can hide content or images from mobile users although many developers don’t recommend that as a best practice in favor of allowing the user a full content experience.

One of the challenges with responsive design is that it is really difficult to take an existing content-rich desktop site and reformat each page to look good on a tiny screen.  For this reason, starting from scratch is a better option if you are leaning towards a responsive site.  However, keep in mind that sometimes when you try to design something one-size-fits-all, no audience gets a really good experience. And you know that ability to hide content or images we mentioned?  Just because the user can’t see it doesn’t mean it isn’t there.  That content still gets downloaded in the mobile browser and can slow down performance which translates to slow page loads which equals frustrated users.  You’ll need an excellent developer that keeps up with best practices and some room in your budget to pull this approach off.

Create a separate mobile website

In this instance you create a mobile website with limited content that is entirely separate from your desktop site and you auto-redirect mobile users who visit your regular site to the mobile version.  Jakob Nielsen recently published some mobile guidelines  on his website, useit.com.  He states, “Good mobile user experience requires a different design than what’s needed to satisfy desktop users…Two designs, two sites, and cross-linking to make it all work.”  According to Nielsen, when people access websites using mobile devices, their measured usability is much higher for mobile sites than for full sites.

Mobile searchers don’t want to be served those printable coupons, flash elements, or PDF menu’s we mentioned earlier. They want the basics: location, phone number (with click to call), hours, menu information and possibly reservations.  If your audience is savvy, they will want to connect to your social media.  Mobile users also demand that the content be easy to read and navigate on a small screen.  Many restaurants wouldn’t feel comfortable with a desktop site that merely provided that minimal information, but it is entirely appropriate for mobile users, so the two sites are suggested to accommodate both audiences.

Most of the major chain restaurants handle mobile searchers this way rather than trying to build a responsive site.  There is one main drawback of building separate sites: managing content in multiple places.  Most of the content on a mobile site is rather brief so the menu is really the most challenging section.  That issue can be efficiently handled by using an online menu service. Your menu is maintained in a single place but the content can be published out in different formats for different uses such as your desktop site, Facebook page, print, or your mobile website.  ThriveSpot partners with MenuPlatform to offer this elegant feature within our free mobile websites.

Those are your main options for addressing the increase in mobile searches for restaurants. In our opinion a separate mobile website is the simplest, most affordable approach that is guaranteed to deliver the best user experience for all audiences.  What is your take?

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Tags: mobile, search, websites

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Comment by Tina R Wells on June 20, 2012 at 8:17am

Courtney, I like how simple you kept your site.  We find that people really only want the basics that you mentioned on a mobile but some operators aren't convinced of that!  Good luck with your implementation of online ordering. That will be a great feature for your customers.

Comment by Courtney Boone on June 20, 2012 at 7:15am

When our restaurant chain was searching for a mobile solution, we ended up using ZipScene. They have a restaurant-friendly platform already built and your information just needs to be plugged in. This was the most practical and affordable solution we found and it only took a few weeks to implement. Our mobile traffic is high with Locations (driving directions), Menu,  and Click-to-Call being the most popular features. Check out pizzaranch.com on your mobile device for our example. Although mobile ordering hasn't been implemented yet, it's in the works, and at least our buffet guests and those needing directions or calling for delivery can find what they are looking for quickly and in a format that makes sense.

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