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Marketing online as a restaurant can seem like a difficult task, especially when the competition already has a handle on their social media and other online marketing tactics. But this shouldn’t stop you from giving it a go anyway–why not do it with the right advice instead of doing nothing at all? Besides, since when did you last use Yellow Pages to find a restaurant you wanted to try out?

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Here are the best online marketing tools a restaurant owner could ask for. A word to the wise here — you do NOT have to use all of these tools all at once. If you’re not a fan of Facebook, don’t use it. The same is true for all other ideas here. But DO choose one or two that you love, feel comfortable with and your customers use — and then GO FULL OUT.

1. Facebook Marketing
There’s a lot of hub-bub surrounding Facebook and how its been treating brand and business pages as of late. While the social networking giant used to be a wild west when it came to online marketing and most businesses just relied on natural, organic growth of their followers, lately it has become more of a “pay to play” model. You need to pay up a couple of bucks in advertising in order to expand your reach on Facebook and get right in front of potential customers.

Facebook has a couple options for a restaurant looking to grow: paid advertising, boosting posts (another form of paid ads), or just staying the course and pushing out relevant content without having to pay. The last option is becoming increasingly harder for most businesses but throwing a couple dollars toward Facebook can definitely be worthwhile. You can have ads show up on the sidebar or even boost content straight from your Facebook page and it can cost as little as $1.00 per day to do.

But the best online marketing tools also work as microcosms for your customers and that’s how you should treat your Facebook business page. You need to nurture it by providing exclusive deals, engaging content, and available information such as your menu and restaurant hours. Engage with customers commenting and Liking, show that you appreciate that they chose your restaurant over the competition. Facebook will be kind to you when you’re kind to your followers.

A contest for another fun way to engage with your customers. You don’t have to struggle with the specifics, there are a ton of online tools you can use to run successful Facebook contests.

Heyo – This is a Facebook contest platform I’m somewhat familiar with. It’s crazy-easy to use and their results have been fantastic. Check out this webinarfor more information on how to leverage your Facebook fan page. Heyo specializes specifically in Facebook. There are other platforms that you can try that go beyond that into the realm of “social marketing campaigns,” right now, the one I see the most about — and that has a decent price point for DIY Marketers is Wishpond.

2. Email Marketing
You may have heard some marketing know-it-all say that email is dead, but why do we still obsessively check it on our smartphones? Instead of saying email and email marketing is dead, it is better to say that it has adapted and changed for the times and so should your email marketing game.

In fact, there’s a simple formula when it comes to emails that are actually opened:

  • A catchy subject line while conveying what the email is all about.
  • The body of the email is clean, easy to read, but still enticing enough for a click through to a website, landing pages, or wherever.
  • Timed during peak hours when most people are checking their inboxes and more inclined to actually read through emails.

Services like MailChimp, Constant Contact and aWeber make for the best online marketing tools when it comes to email. For example, MailChimp is very user-friendly and offers analytics to show which types of emails are being opened the most, on what days, and even show you which contacts opened your email compared to the ones who instantly deleted it. This can be super valuable information when you’re looking to put your email list through a makeover.

SNEAKY TIP: Pick an email platform that you can grow with because when you move from one platform to another, you WILL LOSE subscribers — even if you upload the subscribers you have, there will be some attrition. Now, I happen to believe in cleaning email lists and encouraging people to unsubscribe because you’re better off with fewer, better, subscribers than a large list who ignores you

3. Business Blogging (Content Marketing)
Do you know any restaurants that blog? Even if you don’t, why not become the first that you know to do it? Business blogging is a simple, easy, and affordable way to get customers through your door and all it takes is a little bit of humor. Okay, there’s a little bit more to it.

Restaurants have an advantage when it comes to content marketing, especially blogging. You have content that can easily write itself walking through your door and even in your restaurant. No, you can’t complain about certain customers, but you can certainly share behind-the-scenes posts of your kitchen, the fresh foods you’re using, and the special nights or promotions you host in your restaurant.

Content marketing is so crucial and one of the best online marketing tools because it can keep generating leads, even if you wrote a post two months ago (ideally you’d post something every week, though). That same blog content can be shared on your social media channels to generate more buzz and more exposure for your restaurant. The possibilities are near endless!

4. Local Search Marketing
Local search is a highly important tool for any restaurant out there, including yours. The difference between local and just regular search is that search results are highly targeted and help people find nearby businesses. One of the biggest local search tools out there is, of course, Yelp.

There are a handful of other local search listing websites that you can add your business to in order to boost up your local marketing efforts, although Yelp happens to be the top one in terms of the best online marketing tools for your restaurant. Others to consider include:

  • Yellow Pages (Yes, they still exist!)
  • Local.com
  • Small Business on Yahoo
  • Small Business on Bing
  • Yext
  • Listings on Patch

YELP, Google and Review sites – As a frequent traveler, I depend on sites like YELP and Google local reviews to guide my dining decisions. One of the great things about these review platforms is that they are relatively difficult to “game” and they are also platforms that your customers use all the time. This can be a wonderful way to build your business and get the word out about menu items you want to feature.

CitySpeakEz is a DIYMarketers community member who actively uses YELP to bring in new customers — they aren’t a restaurant, they are a language school, but they use social gatherings to teach language and restaurants are an integral part of their experience.

All of these and more can help turn you into a online marketing rock star and really expand the growth of your restaurant. And the best part about this? You don’t have to go it alone.