Can Google Read Your Menu? Search Giant Now Showing Menu Box in Results
Yesterday Matt MecGee from Search Engine Land published a post about Google showing restaurant menus "card style" in it's search engine results. While Google merely commented that it was more or less a random test, this exposes something that Google will be looking to roll out in the near future for people searching for things regarding a restaurant's menu.
[br][clear] One of the main issues that plague many restaurant websites is the problem of keeping their menus up-to-date, especially if your menu changes quickly or you have daily specials. People want to know what you're serving TODAY and usually go to the web to find information about a restaurant, even more-so now that most people have the web at their fingertips with their smartphone. Having your website (and other web profiles) updated is super important to make sure you have the right information out there to entice a guest (and to make sure you're not giving out the wrong information, which can ruin a guest's experience if say they came to taste a certain dish).
[br][clear] One of the bad habit's many restaurants use is keeping their menus in PDF form for the website. Now, this format may be fine if you're emailing people the lunch specials for them to print out for the office staff or something, but generally PDFs are not the right answer to feature on the website.
For one, and maybe this is just me (a very heavy computer user), but PDF files are just generally not fun files to open. Why should I have to download a file then open it up on my desktop just to find out what your menu is today? It's probably not a file I am going to keep very long, which makes one more step for me as I have to delete this file after I'm done reading. The other problem is just the fact that some browsers open PDFs right there in the browser and can take forever to load or even crash. PDFs are for e-books and important files and don't need to be used for your menu. I know many restaurants use this system where maybe a manager has FTP access to the website and has the process down where he or she just uploads a new menu PDF over the old one to keep the menu updated, thus not having to touch and HTML or other code. It works for them but not for the visitor and is a an outdated pre-CMS (content management system) way of doing things.
[br][clear] And it certainly doesn't work for Google or other search engine "robots". While Google has made headway over the years of reading contents in a PDF file, if it's ever going to include a restaurant website's menu in a search box or "card" like shown above, it's probably not going to show your PDF version. That menu needs to be in plain text/HTML and featured on a page of your website, just like an article or blog post. Eliminate the fancy-schmancy font and design and make it easy for people AND Google to find the details of the menu.
[br][clear] Plus, this makes it easier for ANY device to read, like your smartphones. Have you ever tried loading a PDF on your iPhone? If your connection isn't great it can be a pain! Text pages can load anywhere and on any device and can easily be copied and pasted into a document or email or shared on social media.
[br][clear] But what's to say that Google is going to use YOUR website's menu to populate the menu cards of their future SERPS (search engine results pages)? The example Matt includes in his post is that the menu Google chose was in fact from the menu listed on allmenus.com. There are a lot of sites out there that include data about a restaurant for those using them to find information about a restaurant, including hours, reviews, and yes menu options as well.
[br][clear] Think about all the social and review sites out there, plus the online ordering sites, etc. Think they will be able to update your menu with that annoying PDF? Most likely you're going to be the one doing the updating anyway, so again being able to simply copy-and-paste from a text document is going to make your life a whole lot easier.
[br][clear] It's very possible that Google will reach out to partners like allpages or Grubhub to find information for menu listings, but it's probably even more of a possibility that Google will first look for Schema.org markup for some kind of menu validation, or use an existing format like the OpenMenu format for determining which menu to display in it's card-style results. More on that to come when we start to test these things out with our own restaurant websites, but that's probably safe to say how those results will be found and displayed.
[br][clear] Don't let all this menu-tech-uploading and search engine robot stuff scare you - adding your menu to your website is very easy if you're using a modern CMS like WordPress to power your content. Even if you were to include a menu-centric markup for search engine discovery, that code isn't something you need to learn how to write yourself. It's very easy to login to your menu pages, update the content, and be on your way. Just as easy as it would be to update those annoying PDF files anyway. All you need is to make sure you're up-to-date with your website solution and to make sure everyone can access your menu data - both the customer and the search engine - and you'll be on your way to making all those wanting to know your menu happy!