COMMENTARY

Are you an invisible QSR? The new requirements of online search

Are you an invisible QSR? The new requirements of online search

By Lee Zucker, Yext head of industry for food service,

At a time when most of us must at least try and do two things at once just to meet personal and professional demands, it just makes sense that voice searches and intelligent devices are rapidly becoming indispensable for the many tasks we now do online. As a result, there's a massive shift taking place in the way diners find and engage with QSRs. 

Consider, for instance, that in just two years' time forecasters estimate that half of all online searches will be completed by speech or image query, with voice-enabled device use alone expected to grow 120 percent in just the next year.

Already, the way people decide where to eat has changed. For example, research indicates that 68 percent of consumers either search by cuisine type or food item, rather than by restaurant name. For a restaurant to succeed in this new landscape, let alone thrive, it's essential to have a strong search presence and to attract consumers in their micro-moments of need. 

Boost discoverability with details

In today's world of voice assistants and connected devices, the digital footprint spans far beyond a restaurant's website. Instead, facts about hours of operation and menu information live in maps, voice search, knowledge cards and beyond.

The rise of AI-powered services also have created hyper-mobile consumers who perform searches in the moment and expect immediate answers. In fact, half of consumers most often search for food when they're on the go, and searches for "open now" are on the rise. As a result, consumers now expect that search engines will factor in relevance, distance, and prominence for every search they execute. 

But beyond the immediacy factor, consumers want to be well-informed before they even cross the restaurant threshold, drive-thru lane or hit complete order online. They look for rich attribute information like price range and meals served, so they can choose the restaurant that's right for them--so much so that we have found 76 percent of consumers say they're more likely to choose a restaurant that gives them in-depth attribute information in search results. 

This means that restaurants and attribute information need to be optimized to come up in searches relevant to the business, especially considering that 63 percent of searches end up purchasing within a day. So, requests like "drive-thru open now" or "nearby burger place good for kids with wifi and outdoor seating" are reigning supreme. 

These rich details around the things consumers care about are restaurants' secret ingredients to showing up in search. Intelligent services need these details, known as structured data, to answer consumers' queries and restaurants must ensure that this digital knowledge is organized and available.

The implications for fast food brands

The way consumers search is evolving quickly as a result of smart devices, voice search, AI and intelligent services, which make it easier for people to make a quick decision.

With a direct correlation between speed of food and speed of dining decision, the impact on quick service and fast casual restaurants is immense. So while fine diners demonstrate lower engagement rates and lengthened time for research, QSR shoppers want convenience and proximity, and they'll make their decision off of the results within the search. 

For instance, most consumers searching for a restaurant end up completing a purchase within 24 hours and more than 30 percent do so within the hour. Therefore, it's critical that limited service restaurants, in particular, are able to reach hungry searchers in these moments of high intent.

While AI-powered search tools are smart, they still rely on restaurant brands to provide them with rich, accurate information. That begins with making sure the menu items listed online are both accurate and current. 

Because the sheer number of unbranded restaurant searches continues to grow, consumers are more likely to choose a restaurant that makes in-depth menu information available and easy to get. So, keep it in a structured format and optimized to appear in search, as well. 

For instance, by indexing menu and attribute data, restaurant brands can boost their chances of appearing in a consumer's search by using the terms most people use for such attributes. Additionally, work to manage structured data from one central system because this ensures consistent information for both intelligent services and customers. 

This kind of unified foundation ensures that details needed to make a dining decision are accurate--and most importantly -- in front of consumers at the moment of intent, regardless of how they're searching.

The competition for "share of stomach" in the food industry is becoming more complex, but improving your online customer experience for the intelligent future is the only way to play to win. 
 

Photo: iStock


Topics: Business Strategy and Profitability, Customer Service / Experience, Marketing, Mobile Payments, Online / Mobile / Social, Online Services, Operations Management


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