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The agency landscape has changed dramatically as a result of numerous challenges across the marketplace. Learn more about how we’re filling the gap for agency partners that have found themselves with limited media and research capabilities. In this episode of Fast-Forward the Conversation, VP of Business Development Fabio Ramos and Planning Strategist Misty Castellanos join President Zac Keeney to discuss the value Mindstream can provide not only to agencies but to their clients as well.



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Tackling Restaurant Challenges Through the Pandemic

There have not been many industries more severely impacted by the pandemic than the restaurant industry. Coming into 2020, the restaurant industry was projected to gross $899 billion. As of the first week of December 2020, the restaurant industry was estimated to have grossed only $659 billion. This $200 billion shortfall impacts small business owners, restaurant workers, industry partners and subcontractors, and even advertising partners.

As an experienced digital marketer responsible for national restaurant campaigns at Mindstream Media Group, I wanted to share my learnings from this experience in order to help any restaurant or marketer out there in some small capacity.

It may be obvious to point out, but the pandemic has seismically affected user behavior, both in real life and online. Under normal circumstances, 60 percent of dining is done off-site. During the pandemic, that figure has swelled to 90 percent.

This shift in consumer behavior increases the importance of placing a greater emphasis on carryout, catering and delivery. Unsurprisingly, restaurants with drive-throughs have generated a noticeably higher portion of visitors and sales than those without drive-throughs. 90 percent of Wendy’s 2020 sales is attributed to their drive-through business.

Source:  Wall-Street Journal

Many restaurants were not preemptively equipped to handle this increase in carryout and drive-through business initially, so they got creative. Several restaurants we work with have added meal kits and unusual carryout items (like charcuterie boards) to their menus to help boost sales. Some restaurants are now selling wholesale ingredients to ensure their surplus inventory does not spoil. And I would say many of us are thankful that some restaurants now offer alcohol for carryout and delivery.

Adjust Keyword Targeting

With an additional 30 percent of diners choosing to eat at home, how does that affect their online behavior? Simply put, user search behavior has shifted to what is local, and what is available. Searches that include the words “available near me” have increased 100 percent globally year over year, and searches that include the words “restaurants open for” have increased 1,000 percent year over year.

Based on these statistics, one of the most important changes we’ve implemented in our client campaigns is to make sure keyword targeting reflects these consumer behavior changes, both for SEO and SEM. Some examples of these keywords include: “local restaurants open for delivery,” “restaurants open near me” and “nearest restaurant open.”

It is important to also keep in mind that other restaurants have taken this into consideration as well, which has led to a noticeable increase in SEM cost per click due to the increased competition among these keywords. In order to mitigate these cost increases, smart digital marketers are now looking for opportunities to add both exact match and longtail keywords and putting less emphasis on phrase match keywords. Another best practice is identifying variations of these more popular searches that are less competitive, by adding in the specific city or street name into campaign keywords.

Google Ads’ Keyword Planner can be used for ideas and estimates of keyword costs, as well as perform frequent search query reports within search campaigns to see which search terms are performing well, and which aren’t. If certain keywords aren’t performing well over a long period of time, the decision can be made to pause them, or look for opportunities to add negative keywords to the campaign.

Google keyword research also shows an uptick in search behavior that includes the words “safe” and “safety,” so those keywords are worth exploring as well. With that being said, I would encourage marketers to watch the performance of any ad text or messaging that focuses on “safety” closely. At the beginning of the pandemic, safety messaging performed extremely well. However, as the pandemic has continued, we are seeing across multiple campaigns that consumers have become less and less responsive to safety messaging, and more responsive to general brand messaging and Limited Time Offers.

Leverage Google Offerings

In addition to adjusting your SEM and SEO, it’s also critical that each Business Profile of all Google My Business restaurant locations are kept up to date. Make sure to update any changes to business information due to the pandemic, including hours of operation, menu limitations and safety measures you have taken. Users can reserve tables and order online through your business profiles, so this is just another avenue that can be can utilized to generate business and keep customers informed.

Another option Google offers small businesses that has helped greatly with the onset of the pandemic are Google Local Campaigns. Local Campaigns run dynamic creative across 4 different Google platforms: Google Search, YouTube, the Google Display Network and Google Maps to local customers in a business location’s service area. The campaign optimizes in real-time, mixing and matching the different headlines, descriptions, images and logos uploaded to the campaign, and automatically shows the best performing combinations. These algorithms utilize 7 million data points in a split second, determining when, where and to whom to show your ads, based on performance.

There is a caveat for running Local Campaigns: Google does recommend that a business run Local Campaigns with a Store Visit-focused strategy in an account that has at least 10 different restaurant locations, so this option lends itself more toward medium and large sized businesses. However, there is a separate bidding strategy for smaller businesses to run Local Campaigns: optimize towards phone calls and/or Google Maps driving direction clicks. So, while the primary option of Local Campaigns is to drive as much foot traffic as possible, Local Campaigns can use the same algorithmic data points to optimize towards driving customers to call and/or search for directions to your restaurant. Even during a pandemic, Local Campaigns remain one of the best digital marketing tactics a restaurant business can leverage – whether big or small.

Overall, marketing budgets are going to be much tighter in 2021 than they would be under normal circumstances, and marketers may not be able to execute all the digital marketing tactics they would otherwise. Being flexible and staying up to date with Google’s offerings and best practices can help businesses succeed and thrive in a changing environment.

Stay Creative

Saying that 2020 has been an unpredictable year would be an insulting understatement. It is difficult to tell if consumer behavior will return to normalcy in the long-term, or if this will drastically affect customer behavior permanently going forward. Regardless of that answer, it is important for all of us to remain creative and ensure that we’re not stagnant in our strategies. If I have learned anything from both digital marketing and 2020, it is that flexibility is imperative.


–Brian Pappas is a Sr. Digital Manager at Mindstream Media Group. An experienced digital marketer for over 7 years, Brian enjoys helping clients with their goals, voice acting and taking long walks on the beach.


Which Features in Google My Business Impact Ranking?

Business owners that are utilizing Google My Business profiles have a variety of features on the platform to display their business’s information. These features continue to evolve over time on Google, but do these features impact business listing ranking in search results? Over the last few years, the Sterling Sky Agency has been conducting studies to help answer which features impact rankings in Google’s search results.

Business Name Keywords

In 2018, Sterling Sky Agency owner, Joy Hawkins, tested the impact of keywords within business names on Google My Business by adding and removing the words “Salad Bar” into the business name of a restaurant that did not actually offer a salad bar. The study reflected a large increase in visibility on Google when the keywords were included in the business name.

While an increase in rank might be appealing to business owners, including keywords in the business name of listings on Google is prohibited. Including keywords could result in Google suspending the listing, and business owners can report competitor listings that may be using this tactic to improve ranking. Instead of placing keywords in the business name, they should be used within the description of the business. Accurate categories should be selected as well.

Source:  Sterling Sky

Listing Categories

In January 2019, Darren Shaw conducted a study to see if visibility on Google would fluctuate if unrelated business categories were added to the listing, by adding random categories to a listing for Whitespark. He found that including unrelated categories had a negative impact; business owners should make sure that listings include only relevant categories. Additionally, it was found that adding related additional categories to a listing would not have a negative impact and could potentially increase ranking.


When Google began removing reviews from anonymous profiles in May of 2018, Joy Hawkins used it as an opportunity to find out if the number of reviews on a Google listing impacts ranking. During the case study, she studied the position of several dentist listings in New York City that had fewer reviews being displayed because of Google’s removal of anonymous profile reviews. While reviewing visibility over several weeks, Joy determined that fewer reviews on the dentist listings caused a decrease in ranking. Therefore, Joy concluded that the number of reviews on a Google listing does, in fact, impact ranking.

Website URL

A similar study was conducted in March 2020 to determine how the URL on business listings influences rank on Google’s search results. This test consisted of changing the URL on the listing of a New York City law firm from the business homepage to one of their specific law category pages within their website, the bus accident page. After making this change, the test showed that directing users to the bus accident page, and not their overall business landing page, did have a significant impact and caused an increase in ranking results.

Because the content on the specific URL you link to is important and impacts ranking in the local results, we typically recommend that multi-location businesses use the location’s landing page on the business website to help with local rankings.


While the above studies have highlighted the Google My Business features that do impact ranking performance, tests have determined that the Services field of the business profile does not. Both the usage of pre-defined services and custom services were included in the study. During the test of the pre-defined services, keywords used as services were added and removed, but there were no noticeable increases. The test of the custom services field resulted in a slight change, but there was not enough evidence to suggest that rankings were impacted by services within Google My Business.

Source:  Google My Business

Key Takeaways

Even though these experiments show that not all features offered in Google My Business impact ranking results, it is still important to make sure your Google profile is complete. Profile completeness not only impacts ranking, but ensures that essential information is readily available for customers, creating a better user experience that increases engagement. As many Google features continue to evolve, we will provide insight on these updates and how they will impact business listings.


Marketing Insights to Navigate the Coronavirus Pandemic – Weekly Recap of News You Can Use

Week of April 6, 2020


Greetings from the home office. 

In our third weekly roundup of insightful content related to the coronavirus, we’re taking a deeper look at brand messaging strategy, search and marketing trends and most importantly, planning for the rebound. (ICYMI catch up on our previous posts from the week of March 30 and March 23.)

We as an agency are planning and positioning ourselves and our clients for the rebound strategy. Our business has changed along with that of our clients, and our media and marketing plans have drastically changed. 

Whether this “new normal” has you busier than ever or reeling from the lack of business, marketers can all agree that now is the time for learning. Learning a new business skill, diving into your customer data to improve segmentation, researching an emerging digital platform or even reading that book that’s been gathering dust on your shelf. With stay-at-home orders in place for most of us, the focus is at home with a new level of work-life balance. How are you advancing your skill set, finding a new perspective and preparing for the future of your brand (and yourself)? 

Read on for the most insightful articles for marketers this week. 

Content Roundup

How brands are adapting their strategies and ad creatives in real time to address the coronavirus. While all brands are different, many have responded with a meaningful approach to get through the crisis and move forward together. Learn more.

Many franchise and multi-location businesses are closed now, and even while open they are still facing challenges in the marketplace and uncertainty about the future. This article provides great rationale on why you should be planning for the rebound now. Learn more.

Not surprisingly, many brands are anticipating a decrease in their marketing budget, although their goals remain unchanged. SEO is expected to gain importance as a marketing strategy during the downturn. Learn more.

While some of the behavior changes prompted by the coronavirus pandemic may be temporary, many may become permanent. Marketing leaders must take actions to understand the impact to their brand and customer journeys, lean into digital interactions with customers and mitigate risks to the customer experience. Learn more.

The impact of the coronavirus crisis on the business climate has necessitated a reset of marketing budgets and campaign expectations. The sooner current marketing efforts are audited and reset, the sooner they will contribute to positive gains. Learn more.

There is no playbook for how to advertise during a pandemic. We’re all learning as we go and mistakes are inevitable. However, to avoid a total fail, the key is to think long-term, focus on brand building and keep an eye on the context surrounding your advertising. Learn more.

Google search trends can be a powerful tool for marketers to aid in keyword research, development and optimization. It can even be used to help identify emerging COVID-19 outbreaks in specific geographic areas and reveal previously unrecognized symptoms. Learn more.

We hope you’ve found our compilation insightful. Stay safe and if you haven’t already, subscribe to our blog to get next week’s roundup delivered straight to your inbox.

Confirmed: November 2019 Google Algorithm Update Based on Neural Matching

Google has confirmed a local algorithm update took place in early November 2019 and has been rolled out on a global scale. The update is based on neural matching, which is an AI method used to connect words with concepts and could help tackle spam in local search results.


Starting November 5, the industry started seeing quite a bit of volatility in Google Local rankings. The majority of those changes were updated further on November 10 (resulting in many of the November 5 changes being reversed). Changes continued, with a significant ranking change on November 13, only to be reversed a few days later.

Joy Hawkins named this update “Bedlam” based on the absolute chaos she was seeing everywhere. Hawkins hadn’t seen this many drastic changes since the Possum update in 2016, which was a major change in the way Google treated proximity.

Hawkins noted that she was seeing changes that were mostly related to relevance with the “Bedlam” update. She noticed that Google is doing a lot better job of understanding a broader set of search terms that apply to a single business.


On December 2, 2019, Google confirmed via Twitter that a local algorithm update using neural matching for local search results was rolled out in November 2019.

Google began using neural matching in 2018 primarily to better understand how words are related to concepts. It can be compared to a “super-synonym system.” The use of neural matching means that Google can do a better job going beyond the exact words in a business name or description to understand conceptually how it might be related to words searchers use and their intent.

The Local SEO industry now has clear evidence it was not just our imagination that rankings were changing based on local search results. Since Google is now using neural matching to better understand local queries, Google may now also show different local results because of it.

One of the most significant impacts of the update (which is most likely good news to many) is that keyword spam in a listing’s business name will not be favored as much as it once was. Although Google once relied on keywords in the business name to provide relevant results, it will now use neural matching to pull relevant results beyond just the business name or description. This will help local businesses that are more relevant to the searcher’s intent rank higher.

Google’s expansion of understanding relevance with neural matching could be a great stride forward for local search. However, although Google claims the update has officially rolled out, many industry experts speculate that the algorithm is still learning what to rank as relevant, based on volatility in local search rankings.


While it may be natural to default to panic-mode, in theory, this update should mean that your business is more likely to benefit from site and store visitors with truly local intent. Google’s advice to businesses remains the same: relevance, prominence and proximity are the keys to ranking well in local. Continue focusing on those best practices and avoid any blackhat or spammy techniques.