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What Diners Write About Most: A Study of Restaurant Review Place Topics

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What Diners Write About Most: A Study of Restaurant Review Place Topics

The author’s views are entirely their own (excluding the unlikely event of hypnosis) and may not always reflect the views of Moz.

Marketing a restaurant? You already know what a huge role online reviews play in your reputation, rankings, and revenue, with 98% of US adults reading this content and 86% writing it. You may have read that there’s a demonstrable Google local ranking boost when a brand-new restaurant gets its first ten reviews. You may also have seen that many experts consider your overall Google review rating to be the sixth most important of all local search ranking factors.

But have you advanced yet to full use of Google reviews as a source of business intelligence for the brands you’re marketing? Formal surveys can be costly to run, so don’t overlook the free, ongoing sentiment analysis shorthand offered right on your listings in the form of Google Place Topics, telling you at-a-glance what real-world attributes inspire reviewers to get typing. These most compelling offline components, aggregated by Google online, can give insights into the areas a business should focus on most.

Back in 2020, I examined Place Topic trends for US grocery stores. Today, I’ll do the same for restaurants, and I want to emphasize that this is a case study you can do for any industry to get a sense of what drives customers to take the time to leave reviews. Given the impact of reviews on business viability, this type of study is a very smart thing to engage in!

Methodology

I wanted to find out which factors inspire the most mentions in restaurant reviews. This small survey looks at 250 data points. I found the top-ranked business for the phrase restaurant+city (like “restaurant sacramento”) in all 50 US state capitals. I then recorded the top 5 place topics for each restaurant, put them in a spreadsheet, and after reviewing the data, realized I could bucket the findings into three main categories: food & drink, amenities, and other.

But first, what is a Google Place Topic?

Screenshot of the review overlay of a Google Business profile showing a set of Place Topics drawn from reviews, including words like crepes, savory, vegan, and gluten free.

If you navigate from a Google Business Profile to the full review overlay, you’ll see a section right below the star rating labeled “People often mention.” Place Topics consist of this row of clickable tabs displaying the words that come up most in the review set, including the number of times each phrase was mentioned.

Restaurant review results

Pie chart showing that 64% of place topics refer to food, 24% to amenities, and 12% to other information in the reviews of the top ranked restaurants in the fifty US capitol cities.

Here’s what I’ve learned:

  • 64% of reviews for the top-ranked restaurants in state capitols across the US mention food & drink most prominently.

  • 24% mention amenities prominently.

  • 12% mention something else prominently.

Under the ‘food & drink’ category, I included any reference to specific foods (tacos, risotto, coffee, etc.), any mention of meals (brunch, dinner, etc.), as well as food qualifiers like “vegan” or “gluten-free.” Fun fact: people seem very excited about paella at the moment in the United States.

Under the ‘amenity’ category, I included any reference to physical amenities (patio, lake, antiques, etc.), any reference to intangible amenities (atmosphere, happy hour, entertainment, fine dining, etc.), and any reference to staff and services (bartender, valet parking, waitress).

The ‘other’ category proved interesting. One thing that stood out to me was the number of references to personal celebrations, most prominently “birthday” and “anniversary.” So much is riding on a restaurant when it’s chosen to mark an occasion. There were also several compliments like “gem” and some concerning trends like “cold.” I also filed a few things in this category that weren’t immediately intelligible to me, like “6:00,” “night,” and “silver.” Fun fact: I had to figure out why reviewers kept mentioning “wall,” only to discover they were describing an eatery as a “hole-in-the-wall.”

Interpreting the results

Different diners offer contrasting opinions of the same dish in their reviews

Place Topics simply indicate which subjects are being mentioned most by your reviewers. For example, lots of reviews might mention your alfredo. That’s good to know as a first step. But the essential second step is to understand what people are actually saying about your alfredo. Place Topics don’t automatically tell you whether the sentiment is positive or negative. As seen above, these two reviews characterize alfredo quite differently, as being worthy of love and as being just okay, but both count as Place Topic mentions.

The simplest way to drill down is to choose one of the Place Topics Google is surfacing on your listing and then combine it with a ‘Sort By’ filter. Here, you can see that I’ve combined “alfredo” with “most recent”:

Combining a Place Topic with one of the sort by filters in the Google review interface enables you to segment data for more insight.

This filtered view will allow you to see if the most recent customers talking about your alfredo are satisfied or not. By scrolling through the reviews surfaced by this filter combo and noting down what you see, you can get a sense of present performance for a most-talked-about topic. You can then go through the same process with both the ‘Highest’ and ‘Lowest’ filters to note the best and worst sentiment you’ve ever received on the topic. You could create a spreadsheet to compare how you’re currently doing with a particular topic to your overall highs and lows. The ability to use Place Topics in combination with sorting makes the information a bit more intelligible!

This workflow is reasonably manageable for the 10 Place Topics shown by Google for a single-location business. It becomes less so for each additional location of a multi-location business. And, of course, Place Topics only relate to your Google reviews – not to your customers’ sentiments across multiple review platforms. While this feature is useful, it’s limited and feels very manual. If you’re starting to realize this, you may be at a point of learning that an investment in more sophisticated sentiment analysis would make sense if it could highlight multiple most-discussed review elements across all your listings and across various platforms. In that case, you might want to sign up for software like Moz Local, with its more sophisticated sentiment analysis data and clues to whether your locations are trending upward or downward in terms of customer satisfaction:

Screenshot of the sentiment analysis section of the Moz Local software dashboard

But back to the more limited Place Topics, what should you actually be doing with this information?

What to do with Place Topic information

Screenshot of article discussing how chicken alfredo is Olive Garden's most popular entree

I was interested to see that only one truly large restaurant chain appeared to be given a top spot for my search through the 50 state capitals: an Olive Garden in Topeka, Kansas. All the rest were small businesses. I spent a little time looking at a variety of Olive Garden listings. According to Popsugar, chicken alfredo is this well-known brand’s most popular dish, and this is borne out by it showing up as a Place Topic for the Kansas City location in my screenshots above, as well as for many other locations.

The most practical use of Place Topics for restaurants (or any other businesses) is to understand that they represent the factors you must get right, because they are the things your customers will talk about most in your reviews.

86% of consumers say local business reviews are either the most important or a somewhat important factor in whether they can trust a nearby company. We can readily imagine prospective diners looking at all the sentiment about whether they can get a good alfredo at Olive Garden. If the sentiment is positive, this would be a yes. If negative, maybe not. Whatever the majority of your customers are writing about in your reviews, you need to examine those areas of your operations with a magnifying glass to ensure that you are giving customers every reason to speak well of your most prominent features.

Additionally, if worrisome Place Topics are trending on your Google Business Profile, it’s an actionable piece of business intelligence. For example, if enough people are writing about food temperature to make “cold” a top Place Topic on your listing, a structural fix will be needed so that guests are no longer experiencing this problem, and other things they’re mentioning can replace this word as a Place Topic. Even during the brief period of my study, I saw Place Topics change for specific locations, so take courage from that.

If the restaurant you’re marketing is experiencing a downtrend, you might also want to check out your top competitors’ Place Topics for amazing, fast insight into what their customers think they are getting right (and wrong). How does your establishment stack up, and what changes might you make to catch up?

Big takeaways for today’s restaurants

Overall, what we’ve learned about restaurants from this examination of Place Topics is that for top-ranked dining establishments:

  • Your food matters most. It is the subject that the overwhelming majority of your guests will mention most in their reviews.

  • Your amenities come second but still get lots of mentions in your reviews.

This may come as no surprise, but I grew up in a funny era where the emphasis on food in restaurants threatened to disappear. As food writer M.F.K. Fisher described the 1980s,

“Many of those young chefs pay more attention to the way food is arranged than the way it tastes.”

And as food historian Sylvia Lovegren explains the habits of eighties two-income fueled, credit card-wielding diners in that era,

“When they went out to dinner, it wasn’t to a quiet corner bistro where they could relax over a favorite and familiar dish. It was to an expensive, flashy, trendy place, where the fame of the chef or the hipness of the food might help guarantee their place in the demanding, unending struggle for status.”

If Google Business Profiles had existed back then, amenities might well have topped the Place Topics, but the 2020s are a very different period, with Americans feeling poor for good reason and restaurateurs really struggling to source affordable ingredients to keep menu pricing reasonable for patrons. Given these factors, it makes sense that the actual food on the table is what drives customers to write about their experiences rather than the atmosphere or social cachet of the spot.

When I look around my own town, I see how many pretty restaurants have closed over the past few years, while every night, a very ugly parking lot near me is filled to bursting with people seeking the affordable and fabulous Mexican entrees of a humble food truck:

Place Topics for 4.5 star food truck

In fact, they’ve been so successful in their tiny mobile kitchen that they’ve got a second truck now, and its location, which is totally lacking in prestige or ambiance, is full now, too. Reviews tell the story of success while also helping to build it.

This is a great week to form a new habit of analyzing Place Topics on a regular basis to see what matters to your best salespeople over time, perfecting your fulfillment of those components which could help your reputation most and give a meaningful boost to new customer acquisition.

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Why We Are Always ‘Clicking to Buy’, According to Psychologists

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Why We Are Always 'Clicking to Buy', According to Psychologists

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A deeper dive into data, personalization and Copilots

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A deeper dive into data, personalization and Copilots

Salesforce launched a collection of new, generative AI-related products at Connections in Chicago this week. They included new Einstein Copilots for marketers and merchants and Einstein Personalization.

To better understand, not only the potential impact of the new products, but the evolving Salesforce architecture, we sat down with Bobby Jania, CMO, Marketing Cloud.

Dig deeper: Salesforce piles on the Einstein Copilots

Salesforce’s evolving architecture

It’s hard to deny that Salesforce likes coming up with new names for platforms and products (what happened to Customer 360?) and this can sometimes make the observer wonder if something is brand new, or old but with a brand new name. In particular, what exactly is Einstein 1 and how is it related to Salesforce Data Cloud?

“Data Cloud is built on the Einstein 1 platform,” Jania explained. “The Einstein 1 platform is our entire Salesforce platform and that includes products like Sales Cloud, Service Cloud — that it includes the original idea of Salesforce not just being in the cloud, but being multi-tenancy.”

Data Cloud — not an acquisition, of course — was built natively on that platform. It was the first product built on Hyperforce, Salesforce’s new cloud infrastructure architecture. “Since Data Cloud was on what we now call the Einstein 1 platform from Day One, it has always natively connected to, and been able to read anything in Sales Cloud, Service Cloud [and so on]. On top of that, we can now bring in, not only structured but unstructured data.”

That’s a significant progression from the position, several years ago, when Salesforce had stitched together a platform around various acquisitions (ExactTarget, for example) that didn’t necessarily talk to each other.

“At times, what we would do is have a kind of behind-the-scenes flow where data from one product could be moved into another product,” said Jania, “but in many of those cases the data would then be in both, whereas now the data is in Data Cloud. Tableau will run natively off Data Cloud; Commerce Cloud, Service Cloud, Marketing Cloud — they’re all going to the same operational customer profile.” They’re not copying the data from Data Cloud, Jania confirmed.

Another thing to know is tit’s possible for Salesforce customers to import their own datasets into Data Cloud. “We wanted to create a federated data model,” said Jania. “If you’re using Snowflake, for example, we more or less virtually sit on your data lake. The value we add is that we will look at all your data and help you form these operational customer profiles.”

Let’s learn more about Einstein Copilot

“Copilot means that I have an assistant with me in the tool where I need to be working that contextually knows what I am trying to do and helps me at every step of the process,” Jania said.

For marketers, this might begin with a campaign brief developed with Copilot’s assistance, the identification of an audience based on the brief, and then the development of email or other content. “What’s really cool is the idea of Einstein Studio where our customers will create actions [for Copilot] that we hadn’t even thought about.”

Here’s a key insight (back to nomenclature). We reported on Copilot for markets, Copilot for merchants, Copilot for shoppers. It turns out, however, that there is just one Copilot, Einstein Copilot, and these are use cases. “There’s just one Copilot, we just add these for a little clarity; we’re going to talk about marketing use cases, about shoppers’ use cases. These are actions for the marketing use cases we built out of the box; you can build your own.”

It’s surely going to take a little time for marketers to learn to work easily with Copilot. “There’s always time for adoption,” Jania agreed. “What is directly connected with this is, this is my ninth Connections and this one has the most hands-on training that I’ve seen since 2014 — and a lot of that is getting people using Data Cloud, using these tools rather than just being given a demo.”

What’s new about Einstein Personalization

Salesforce Einstein has been around since 2016 and many of the use cases seem to have involved personalization in various forms. What’s new?

“Einstein Personalization is a real-time decision engine and it’s going to choose next-best-action, next-best-offer. What is new is that it’s a service now that runs natively on top of Data Cloud.” A lot of real-time decision engines need their own set of data that might actually be a subset of data. “Einstein Personalization is going to look holistically at a customer and recommend a next-best-action that could be natively surfaced in Service Cloud, Sales Cloud or Marketing Cloud.”

Finally, trust

One feature of the presentations at Connections was the reassurance that, although public LLMs like ChatGPT could be selected for application to customer data, none of that data would be retained by the LLMs. Is this just a matter of written agreements? No, not just that, said Jania.

“In the Einstein Trust Layer, all of the data, when it connects to an LLM, runs through our gateway. If there was a prompt that had personally identifiable information — a credit card number, an email address — at a mimum, all that is stripped out. The LLMs do not store the output; we store the output for auditing back in Salesforce. Any output that comes back through our gateway is logged in our system; it runs through a toxicity model; and only at the end do we put PII data back into the answer. There are real pieces beyond a handshake that this data is safe.”

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Why The Sales Team Hates Your Leads (And How To Fix It)

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Why The Sales Team Hates Your Leads (And How To Fix It)

Why The Sales Team Hates Your Leads And How To

You ask the head of marketing how the team is doing and get a giant thumbs up. 👍

“Our MQLs are up!”

“Website conversion rates are at an all-time high!”

“Email click rates have never been this good!”

But when you ask the head of sales the same question, you get the response that echoes across sales desks worldwide — the leads from marketing suck. 

If you’re in this boat, you’re not alone. The issue of “leads from marketing suck” is a common situation in most organizations. In a HubSpot survey, only 9.1% of salespeople said leads they received from marketing were of very high quality.

Why do sales teams hate marketing-generated leads? And how can marketers help their sales peers fall in love with their leads? 

Let’s dive into the answers to these questions. Then, I’ll give you my secret lead gen kung-fu to ensure your sales team loves their marketing leads. 

Marketers Must Take Ownership

“I’ve hit the lead goal. If sales can’t close them, it’s their problem.”

How many times have you heard one of your marketers say something like this? When your teams are heavily siloed, it’s not hard to see how they get to this mindset — after all, if your marketing metrics look strong, they’ve done their part, right?

Not necessarily. 

The job of a marketer is not to drive traffic or even leads. The job of the marketer is to create messaging and offers that lead to revenue. Marketing is not a 100-meter sprint — it’s a relay race. The marketing team runs the first leg and hands the baton to sales to sprint to the finish.

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via GIPHY

To make leads valuable beyond the vanity metric of watching your MQLs tick up, you need to segment and nurture them. Screen the leads to see if they meet the parameters of your ideal customer profile. If yes, nurture them to find out how close their intent is to a sale. Only then should you pass the leads to sales. 

Lead Quality Control is a Bitter Pill that Works

Tighter quality control might reduce your overall MQLs. Still, it will ensure only the relevant leads go to sales, which is a win for your team and your organization.

This shift will require a mindset shift for your marketing team: instead of living and dying by the sheer number of MQLs, you need to create a collaborative culture between sales and marketing. Reinforce that “strong” marketing metrics that result in poor leads going to sales aren’t really strong at all.  

When you foster this culture of collaboration and accountability, it will be easier for the marketing team to receive feedback from sales about lead quality without getting defensive. 

Remember, the sales team is only holding marketing accountable so the entire organization can achieve the right results. It’s not sales vs marketing — it’s sales and marketing working together to get a great result. Nothing more, nothing less. 

We’ve identified the problem and where we need to go. So, how you do you get there?

Fix #1: Focus On High ROI Marketing Activities First

What is more valuable to you:

  • One more blog post for a few more views? 
  • One great review that prospective buyers strongly relate to?

Hopefully, you’ll choose the latter. After all, talking to customers and getting a solid testimonial can help your sales team close leads today.  Current customers talking about their previous issues, the other solutions they tried, why they chose you, and the results you helped them achieve is marketing gold.

On the other hand, even the best blog content will take months to gain enough traction to impact your revenue.

Still, many marketers who say they want to prioritize customer reviews focus all their efforts on blog content and other “top of the funnel” (Awareness, Acquisition, and Activation) efforts. 

The bottom half of the growth marketing funnel (Retention, Reputation, and Revenue) often gets ignored, even though it’s where you’ll find some of the highest ROI activities.

1716755163 123 Why The Sales Team Hates Your Leads And How To1716755163 123 Why The Sales Team Hates Your Leads And How To

Most marketers know retaining a customer is easier than acquiring a new one. But knowing this and working with sales on retention and account expansion are two different things. 

When you start focusing on retention, upselling, and expansion, your entire organization will feel it, from sales to customer success. These happier customers will increase your average account value and drive awareness through strong word of mouth, giving you one heck of a win/win.

Winning the Retention, Reputation, and Referral game also helps feed your Awareness, Acquisition, and Activation activities:

  • Increasing customer retention means more dollars stay within your organization to help achieve revenue goals and fund lead gen initiatives.
  • A fully functioning referral system lowers your customer acquisition cost (CAC) because these leads are already warm coming in the door.
  • Case studies and reviews are powerful marketing assets for lead gen and nurture activities as they demonstrate how you’ve solved identical issues for other companies.

Remember that the bottom half of your marketing and sales funnel is just as important as the top half. After all, there’s no point pouring leads into a leaky funnel. Instead, you want to build a frictionless, powerful growth engine that brings in the right leads, nurtures them into customers, and then delights those customers to the point that they can’t help but rave about you.

So, build a strong foundation and start from the bottom up. You’ll find a better return on your investment. 

Fix #2: Join Sales Calls to Better Understand Your Target Audience

You can’t market well what you don’t know how to sell.

Your sales team speaks directly to customers, understands their pain points, and knows the language they use to talk about those pains. Your marketing team needs this information to craft the perfect marketing messaging your target audience will identify with.

When marketers join sales calls or speak to existing customers, they get firsthand introductions to these pain points. Often, marketers realize that customers’ pain points and reservations are very different from those they address in their messaging. 

Once you understand your ideal customers’ objections, anxieties, and pressing questions, you can create content and messaging to remove some of these reservations before the sales call. This effort removes a barrier for your sales team, resulting in more SQLs.

Fix #3: Create Collateral That Closes Deals

One-pagers, landing pages, PDFs, decks — sales collateral could be anything that helps increase the chance of closing a deal. Let me share an example from Lean Labs. 

Our webinar page has a CTA form that allows visitors to talk to our team. Instead of a simple “get in touch” form, we created a drop-down segmentation based on the user’s challenge and need. This step helps the reader feel seen, gives them hope that they’ll receive real value from the interaction, and provides unique content to users based on their selection.

1716755163 298 Why The Sales Team Hates Your Leads And How To1716755163 298 Why The Sales Team Hates Your Leads And How To

So, if they select I need help with crushing it on HubSpot, they’ll get a landing page with HubSpot-specific content (including a video) and a meeting scheduler. 

Speaking directly to your audience’s needs and pain points through these steps dramatically increases the chances of them booking a call. Why? Because instead of trusting that a generic “expert” will be able to help them with their highly specific problem, they can see through our content and our form design that Lean Labs can solve their most pressing pain point. 

Fix #4: Focus On Reviews and Create an Impact Loop

A lot of people think good marketing is expensive. You know what’s even more expensive? Bad marketing

To get the best ROI on your marketing efforts, you need to create a marketing machine that pays for itself. When you create this machine, you need to think about two loops: the growth loop and the impact loop.

1716755163 789 Why The Sales Team Hates Your Leads And How To1716755163 789 Why The Sales Team Hates Your Leads And How To
  • Growth loop — Awareness ➡ Acquisition ➡ Activation ➡ Revenue ➡ Awareness: This is where most marketers start. 
  • Impact loop — Results ➡ Reviews ➡ Retention ➡ Referrals ➡ Results: This is where great marketers start. 

Most marketers start with their growth loop and then hope that traction feeds into their impact loop. However, the reality is that starting with your impact loop is going to be far more likely to set your marketing engine up for success

Let me share a client story to show you what this looks like in real life.

Client Story: 4X Website Leads In A Single Quarter

We partnered with a health tech startup looking to grow their website leads. One way to grow website leads is to boost organic traffic, of course, but any organic play is going to take time. If you’re playing the SEO game alone, quadrupling conversions can take up to a year or longer.

But we did it in a single quarter. Here’s how.

We realized that the startup’s demos were converting lower than industry standards. A little more digging showed us why: our client was new enough to the market that the average person didn’t trust them enough yet to want to invest in checking out a demo. So, what did we do?

We prioritized the last part of the funnel: reputation.

We ran a 5-star reputation campaign to collect reviews. Once we had the reviews we needed, we showcased them at critical parts of the website and then made sure those same reviews were posted and shown on other third-party review platforms. 

Remember that reputation plays are vital, and they’re one of the plays startups often neglect at best and ignore at worst. What others say about your business is ten times more important than what you say about yourself

By providing customer validation at critical points in the buyer journey, we were able to 4X the website leads in a single quarter!

1716755164 910 Why The Sales Team Hates Your Leads And How To1716755164 910 Why The Sales Team Hates Your Leads And How To

So, when you talk to customers, always look for opportunities to drive review/referral conversations and use them in marketing collateral throughout the buyer journey. 

Fix #5: Launch Phantom Offers for Higher Quality Leads 

You may be reading this post thinking, okay, my lead magnets and offers might be way off the mark, but how will I get the budget to create a new one that might not even work?

It’s an age-old issue: marketing teams invest way too much time and resources into creating lead magnets that fail to generate quality leads

One way to improve your chances of success, remain nimble, and stay aligned with your audience without breaking the bank is to create phantom offers, i.e., gauge the audience interest in your lead magnet before you create them.

For example, if you want to create a “World Security Report” for Chief Security Officers, don’t do all the research and complete the report as Step One. Instead, tease the offer to your audience before you spend time making it. Put an offer on your site asking visitors to join the waitlist for this report. Then wait and see how that phantom offer converts. 

This is precisely what we did for a report by Allied Universal that ended up generating 80 conversions before its release.

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The best thing about a phantom offer is that it’s a win/win scenario: 

  • Best case: You get conversions even before you create your lead magnet.
  • Worst case: You save resources by not creating a lead magnet no one wants.  

Remember, You’re On The Same Team 

We’ve talked a lot about the reasons your marketing leads might suck. However, remember that it’s not all on marketers, either. At the end of the day, marketing and sales professionals are on the same team. They are not in competition with each other. They are allies working together toward a common goal. 

Smaller companies — or anyone under $10M in net new revenue — shouldn’t even separate sales and marketing into different departments. These teams need to be so in sync with one another that your best bet is to align them into a single growth team, one cohesive front with a single goal: profitable customer acquisition.

Interested in learning more about the growth marketing mindset? Check out the Lean Labs Growth Playbook that’s helped 25+ B2B SaaS marketing teams plan, budget, and accelerate growth.


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