3 Things Restaurant Menus Can Teach Us About SEO.

I was recently reading about a fascinating corner of the world — the psychology behind restaurant menus.

Much like the world of SEO, there are gurus and consultants out there with a ton of tricks up their sleeves, ready to help the big and the little guys alike. In fact, the parallels abound — the really big contenders, the 3-star restaurants with the celebrity chefs — they do their own menus, study the psychology behind them, and put everything into them. Just like big corporations have in-house SEO teams, top chefs take a direct hand in their menu preparation.

Restaurant menus are a psychological exercise. People make decisions about what to order for lunch or dinner based on the way the text is laid out, the fonts that are chosen, whether or not there’s a dollar sign present, what kind of cents (if any) are used in the price — a whole series of decisions.

So — what can restaurant menus teach us about SEO?

Split Testing Works

For one thing, it’s fundamental to split test. Restaurants that really take advantage of the psychology of their menus realize that every customer is a living, breathing survey, and that even the most rudimentary analytics can determine what dish gets ordered the most often, and how those orders might change if a word is swapped, a price is shown without the cents attached, or the menu item is placed next to a more expensive one.

While analytics might not tell us everything about why a menu item isn’t doing so well (some people probably just don’t like brussels sprouts, and maybe not everyone loves the product you’re selling, either), they certainly give us a better handle on the reasons behind a consumer decision than, say, our own intuition. Use it to your advantage.

Context For Buyer Psychology is Crucial

The reason specialized consultants exist in the restaurant industry, specially devoted to menu copywriting and design, is because consumer psychology isn’t just a blanket discipline that can be applied easily to every corner of the market.

People make different decisions when hungry, when in a restaurant environment, when they have someone serving them, and so on — than they do, say, in a retail store.

The same goes online — if your site fosters an anonymous, cold feeling, you might have the best product in the world, but you’ll never break through to your customers, and all the abstract psychology in the world won’t help until you fix that one fundamental. Context matters.

The Best Copy in the World Can’t Hide a Bad Product

A mediocre restaurant can improve its completely average breakfast by referring to “country” ham, “farm-fresh” eggs, and “smoked” bacon, even though every single piece of ham, single egg, or strip of bacon is always all of those things. But in the end, that restaurant will never really take off, never get that top review in the paper, and never have people telling their friends about it with true passion.

Good, persuasive copy can drive sales up, but even the finest copy in the world can’t mask an underwhelming offering forever. If you’re selling something that’s so/so, good copy will do all it can to hide that fact. And if your site is selling something truly phenomenal? Then it deserves the best copy around. There’s a reason all the top restaurants have descriptions that seem right out of a classic novel — the food is worth it.

Make sure your website’s product or service is, too.

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One Response to “3 Things Restaurant Menus Can Teach Us About SEO.”

  1. [...] the same lines as yesterday’s article, I want to look a little more at how tiny psychological decisions can make all the difference when [...]

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