Marketing coach says rewarding Web site turns Internet into gold

Marketing coach says rewarding Web site turns Internet into gold

C. Dickinson Waters

HOUSTON — As a marketing adviser to restaurant companies ranging from McDonald’s to Joe’s Crab Shack, Joel Cohen of the Cohen Restaurant Marketing Group has watched with interest what he describes as the “gold rush of restaurants to get a Web site.”

“Unless you know how to turn a Web site into a revenue generator, having one is like having a restaurant on a dead-end street without any signage,” Cohen said.

Cohen, who refers to himself as a restaurant marketing coach, has distilled the knowledge he gained in developing more than 45 Web sites into a 150-page primer he called “The Ultimate How To Guide to Increase Sales Using Your Website.”

The recipe for successfully marketing a restaurant through Web site is fairly simple, Cohen explained.

“You have to tell people where the site is, you have to motivate them to go to it, you have to reward them for visiting it and you have to get them to the restaurant,” he said.

Assuring a restaurant’s visibility on the major search engines is a crucial step, Cohen said, a process he described as “a trial and error exercise in where to place your meta-tags or keywords so that search engines find them.”

Web site design also is an important ingredient Cohen said. “The site has to have the look and feel of the restaurant” it is promoting.

Cohen said some degree of interactivity is essential and suggested using downloadable software for such features as scratch-and-win cards, coupons and contests as inexpensive and readily available methods of involving customers.

“A restaurant’s Web site can’t be a passive information site,” Cohen explained. “You have to get the customers involved even if it is as simple as having them vote for their favorite products.”

One of Cohen’s favorite Web-based marketing ploys for restaurants is “a kid’s page where a child can print out and color in a picture that can then be brought to die restaurant and used as a coupon to to receive a discount or other reward.”

Because he believes “people need to be rewarded for visiting your site, or they are not going to come back,” Cohen said all restaurant operators should include coupons on their Web sites.

According to Cohen, the easiest market for a restaurant to reach with Web-based marketing is its current customers. Lobby cards, table tents and buttons help drive diners to a restaurant’s Web site, where they can be encouraged to become repeat customers, Cohen said. He added that collecting e-mail addresses and circulating a regular e-mail newsletter that is “short, concise and promotes a product special” is one of the most effective Web-based marketing strategies.

Cohen cited Texassteakhouse.com, a Web site he developed for the Rocky Mount, N.C.-based Texas Steakhouse chain, as an example of an effective site that was developed at relatively low cost. According to Cohen, Texas Steakhouse spent between $3,000 and $5,000 on its Web site.

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