Why Restaurants & Other Local Businesses Need Mobile (Not Responsive) Sites

In his Smashing Magazine response to Jakob Nielsen’s directive to build separate desktop and mobile sites, Bruce Lawson used the line “you never know better than your users what content they want” to argue that we shouldn’t be building separate mobile websites. I would agree with him that you never know better than your users what content they want, but would argue that’s usually a reason to build a separate mobile website.

In search, we have the benefit of user queries that tell us what the majority of users want, and those queries often tell us that they’re looking for different things than what’s on the desktop site.

I’ve illustrated this discrepancy in the past with individual examples from State Farm, Walgreens and others, but I wanted to see if these were isolated examples, or if they were the rule rather than the exception.

To find out, I used the category keyword lists in the Google AdWords Keyword Tool, supplemented with the top queries per related category in Google Insights for Search, to get a better sense of whether mobile searchers are looking for different things in different frequencies than their desktop counterparts.

It turns out they are, but more so for certain categories.

For example, if you have a restaurant or a local business that provides entertainment, a large portion of the keywords in your category (21% of the total) are searched more from mobile devices than desktops or laptops.

This includes the high funnel keywords, [restaurants], [restaurant], [bars], and [fast food]. According to Google search volumes, 88% of the total search volume for the keyword [restaurants] comes from mobile devices, and 97% of the total volume from [bars] comes from mobile devices.

It’s not an accident, then, that Google lists restaurants and bars on their smartphone browser UI homepage and not on their desktop UI.

Ironically, according to a recent Restaurant Sciences industry study, 95% of independent restaurants do not have a mobile website, and only about half of chain restaurants have some sort of mobile site.

Real-World Mobile & Desktop Queries

Word cloud of top 200 dining and nightlife keywords on Google desktop search

When we look at the top two hundred queries for desktop versus the top two hundred queries that have more mobile volume than desktop volume, we start to get a sense of what mobile searchers in the category need, and it’s not the same as what desktop searchers are looking for.

Desktop searchers are mostly looking for coupons, menus, locations, and specific names of restuarants like McDonald’s or TGI Friday’s. What’s more, they’re putting geomodifiers like Atlanta, New York or Puerto Rico to find a location in a specific area.

However, when we look at a visualization of mobile search queries, we see a different story. A lot of the same words appear, but with more or less frequency, and some of the words are absent entirely. Other words appear (like “number” and “nearest”) that didn’t appear in the desktop list.

Word cloud of top 200 words primary mobile searchers use on Google mobile search

For example, we can see that while desktop searchers were looking for locations of restaurants, they’re looking for coupons and menus more often.

Where mobile searchers are mostly not looking for coupons in this category, are looking for menus, but much less than they are for locations, which is clearly the most repeated word in the query list by far.

What’s more, they’re not putting in specific locations, but seem to be expecting the search engine to find the location nearest them without that information (e.g. “nearest”).

In fact, the keyword [restaurants near me] has almost 10,000 searches per month on desktop computers, but four times that on mobile devices. Beyond that, they’re looking for hours and phone numbers more with the mobile site.

This is consistent with recent Google smartphone research, which found that 94% of US-based smartphone users look for local information on their phone and 90% take action a result, such as making a purchase or contacting the business.

If you represent a restaurant or bar, you don’t want to serve your mobile searcher printable coupons, job applications or a Flash animation illustrating how irresistible your atmosphere is, as there’s a very good chance that user is just looking for a phone number, directions, or hours.

They have different goals than the desktop searcher, as illustrated by their queries, and if you try to serve them the same experience with a lot of content hidden, you’re just going to slow them down and make it more difficult for them to achieve their goals.

This is probably why the major chain restaurants that do have mobile sites (e.g. Wendy’s, McDonald’s, Burger King, Subway, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, Domino’s, etc.) serve stripped down versions at mobile subdomains or subfolders with the Store Locator foregrounded instead of a responsive home page at the same URL with a lot of hidden content reformatted for mobile searchers.

We know what the mobile searchers want in the case of dining and nightlife, and it’s not what desktop searchers want, generally. Providing them a mobile experience at an m dot subdomain makes sense in this case.

To Bruce Lawson’s point, however, there still could be searchers looking for content that most mobile searchers aren’t looking for, and they should still be able to access that content. By providing a mobile home page and making duplicate pages responsive, we should be able to give all searchers a positive user experience regardless of what they’re looking for and from which device (unless their device doesn’t support media queries, that is).

How To Target Mobile Searches

How do you know if your audience has different search behavior on mobile devices than on desktop computers?

Use the research summary chart below as a guide. Based on Google search volume and queries, the categories at the top of the chart are more likely to require a separate URL for the mobile home page, while the categories toward the bottom of the list are less likely to have differences in user behavior and are more likely to benefit from a single site made responsive.

Google AdWords Keyword Tool list sorted by mobile search variance. Categories most in need of dedicated mobile content toward the top.

If you’re going to SMX Advanced in Seattle in June, be sure to attend the iSEO: Doing Mobile Search Engine Optimization Right session for more details on how this research was done, and what it could mean for your business. If you won’t be able to make it this year, contact me through the author contact form for specific vertical info.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: SEO | Mobile Search | Search Marketing: Mobile | Search Marketing: Search Term Research | SEO: Mobile Search


About The Author: is the SEO Director at Vivid Seats, is an SEO veteran with more than 14 years experience both agency and in-house, and is a thought leader in permission marketing as a columnist and a frequent speaker on SEO and mobile marketing.

Connect with the author via: Email | Twitter | Google+ | LinkedIn


Get all the top search stories emailed daily!  


Other ways to share:

Read before commenting! We welcome constructive comments and allow any that meet our common sense criteria. This means being respectful and polite to others. It means providing helpful information that contributes to a story or discussion. It means leaving links only that substantially add further to a discussion. Comments using foul language, being disrespectful to others or otherwise violating what we believe are common sense standards of discussion will be deleted. Comments may also be removed if they are posted from anonymous accounts. You can read more about our comments policy here.
  • http://twitter.com/svolinsky Slavik Volinsky

    Bryson, good post and I agree with you to some extent. Nationally-recognized chains can afford optimizing their “mobile experience.” However, for other mom-n-pop restaurants, auto shops, beauty salons, creating a website is an expense. Still, not 100% of them have an actual website and convincing them to create an additional mobile site wouldn’t fly (and it wouldn’t make a good business decision — optimizing experience of small % of traffic).
    I think responsive design really makes sense for small sites like family-owned restaurants. Not at an additional cost, but as an additional benefit to pick designer X over designer Y.
    Full site would still display info about the menu/location/hours, on the mobile site it can be easily emphasized using different CSS thru RWD.

  • http://www.brysonmeunier.com/ Bryson Meunier

    Slavik, thanks for your comments. Traffic-wise, search volume suggests that most restaurants without a web site at all would be better served by creating a mobile site than a desktop site, as there are 1.83 million monthly searches for [restaurants] on average from mobile devices and only 200k from desktops and laptops according to Google’s tool. You wouldn’t be optimizing the experience of a small percent of traffic then, but actually the majority of the traffic. A mobile first responsive web site could also work, but given that responsive web sites are generally more expensive than dedicated mobile sites, it would seem to make the most business sense for the restaurant to just focus their efforts on the mobile site. If there are cost issues, they would need to consider the cost benefit of making a site responsive versus focusing efforts on one dedicated mobile site. It could be that for many local businesses (and especially restaurants), the biggest return would be in investing in a dedicated mobile site.

    But you make a good point. Because these columns have a wider audience I’m usually focusing on the ideal rather than what makes sense with a specific business. Because of the difficulty of addressing audiences with separate goals with a responsive site, the ideal, or optimized, approach is to build a desktop and a dedicated mobile experience for businesses in this category. This is what most large organizations in this category have done. Companies will have to make individual decisions about whether this approach works with their budget and business goals.


  • http://adrielmichaud.com Adriel

    I agree with Slavik, for most mom and pop’s, responsive with prioritization of key elements based on device might do the trick just fine and keep you off of maintaining 2 separate sites. Combined with some decent local SEO, you’d do alright.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1213514796 Tina R Wells

    Bryson, I enjoyed your article.  It is tough to get people to understand that some content on a desktop site is not appropriate for mobile users.  Try telling a proud restaurant owner that every item (and their description) on his 300+ bottle wine list  doesn’t need to be on his mobile site!  Slavik, I can appreciate your comments as well.  Once we (Restaurant Sciences) completed the Restaurant Internet Marketing Study mentioned in Bryson’s post, we were surprised at how few independents had a desktop website.  Many of them are all aboard the Facebook bandwagon, which is great but it is not a substitute for a website (desktop or mobi) that shows up in search results.  Under our ThriveSpot brand we even offer free customizable, ad-free mobile websites to restaurants and are surprised at the number of folks who sign up that don’t have a desktop site on which to place a redirect code for mobile visitors.

  • http://twitter.com/IanBM Ian Bowen-Morris

    Very interesting post Bryson, I found it very insightful and relevant to our new venture, thanks.

    Our recent market research in the UK revealed similar finding on mobile searching for bars and restaurants as well as a bunch of other local service providers. We found a big gap between mobile user needs in terms of content and connectivity and what independent businesses and national chains are displaying. We concluded that the vast majority of SMBs and
    Professionals simply need an easy, quick and cheap way to present their
    services in a mobile-friendly way. Our new service http://www.telnames.com
    has laser like focus on this huge market opportunity, utilising .tel’s
    unique domain technology. For one small annual fee of just £14.95 ($24),
    in around 15 minutes businesses can choose their own top level domain,
    populate their single page with contact info. and rich profile content
    including map, photos, video link and coupon – and that’s it, they’ve
    created a very smart mobile optimised single page web presence.
    Everything is included – .tel name, smart page template, hosting – no
    hidden extras, no ads, and excellent usability for both mobile user and
    merchant self-set up. Everything is click to call, click to email etc,
    and all social media links can be added e.g. like this London fashion
    jeweller, http://youniquejewellery.tel/

    Businesses own and control their named place online which gets indexed
    in search and which they can promote everywhere – they are not a
    subordinate of somebody’s else’s site e.g. a sub-domain. Content updates
    take just a minute to complete. Telnames’ rapidly growing customer base
    does include Restaurants and Bars http://baffitos.tel/, as well as Life Coaches and Hypnotherapists http://hypnotherapy4life.tel/ – a wide spectrum of colourful Service Providers and Professionals as can be seen on Pinterest: http://pinterest.com/telnames/our-customers-tel-names/

    We aim to quickly build on the positive reaction from the UK SMB
    market with global expansion either directly or via strategic partners
    especilally those focused on accelerating SMB mobilisation. Whether a restaurant has no web site at all or site that sucks when viewed from mobiles, a .tel from Telnames provides an excellent user experience – the result of exhaustive usability testing and in-depth research with 32 small businesses including restaurants and bars.  

    Kind regards, Ian http://ianbm.tel/

  • Dennis Brennan

    Great insights, thanks.  I don’t know why the hesitation on SMB’s on having a “Mobile Friendly” site, it’s not like they have to update it.

    As mentioned, only a few items are essential: phone #, location & hours.

    Explain to them it’s like their fax machine, set it and forget it…

  • http://twitter.com/PascalStolz PascalStolz

    Fascinating post and very much in line with our internal research at http://www.mymenuworks.com.  The company was founded on the very premise of the necessity of a mobile friendly presence for restaurateurs in a simple and cost effective way ($10/m).  There are other tremendous efforts in helping restaurants have a better digitized presence such as http://www.openmenu.org, singleplatform and others.  

    Interestingly enough while there is an abundance of clearly documented numbers based evidence until a “pain” is felt (i.e. customers complaining about their mobile presence) there is little urgency to add perceived complexity in their front-end marketing operations.  

  • http://twitter.com/IanBM Ian Bowen-Morris

    Very good post and kind of sums up the thinking behind .tel from Telnames  
    http://www.telnames.com/ which offers restaurants and other local businesses a quick, easy and inexpensive mobile-friendly presence e.g. 
    For one small annual fee ($24), SMBs get full control over updates and can add video, coupons etc. Telnames are designed with the needs of mobile users in mind and busy SMBs that need to get something good up and out there within minutes. 

  • IQ2

    So how does a business have a mobile website without having a desktop website to inbed the mobile URL code into it so that it can be found on the www? 

  • http://twitter.com/MarkETennant Mark E Tennant

    Kick a$$ article sir…..I love putting articles like this in front of biz owners, especially restaurants, bars, pizza places and auto repair shops….very cool read.

  • Peter

    I believe you can have both, tailoring to the needs of your different audiences and have a responsive site. See culvers.com is a fine example.


Get Our News, Everywhere!

Daily Email:

Follow Search Engine Land on Twitter @sengineland Like Search Engine Land on Facebook Follow Search Engine Land on Google+ Get the Search Engine Land Feed Connect with Search Engine Land on LinkedIn Check out our Tumblr! See us on Pinterest


Click to watch SMX conference video

Join us at one of our SMX or MarTech events:

United States


Australia & China

Learn more about: SMX | MarTech

Free Daily Search News Recap!

SearchCap is a once-per-day newsletter update - sign up below and get the news delivered to you!



Search Engine Land Periodic Table of SEO Success Factors

Get Your Copy
Read The Full SEO Guide