Is advertising on Yelp a good strategy? When potential customers search for a nearby restaurant – your ad can show front-and-center, which sounds great on the surface.

A recent study, however, revealed that Yelp’s effectiveness is hard to track for ROI purposes. Many participants were confident the money they spent did not “have any more impact than a meaningful review.”

The study also found that independent restaurant operators budget about $7,200/year on local advertising. Yelp’s average revenue per independent restaurant is a shocking $4,600. So, restaurants that do use Yelp are likely spending more in that venue than any other.

How about Google AdWords and other venues? One restaurant commented that their campaigns with Google AdWords and Facebook had driven a significant increase in online ordering. This, however, touches on another hot button for many restaurant owners: “How much money should they invest on a Google AdWords campaign, if any?”

Consultants working with Google AdWords cite numbers between $300 and $1,000 a month (for a general business – not just restaurants), and the learning curve at the outset can be high. Translation: your initial results may not be that good, but they will be expensive.

While easier to track from an ROI perspective, another consultant warned that successful advertising for most businesses on Google takes substantial money, closer to the $1,000 a month level. “It takes a budget and a lot of work to make this medium work for you,” mentioned the consultant.

What are the alternatives for independent restaurant owners when it comes to online promotion?

First, look at Google+. When you use Google to search for any business, Google’s Knowledge Graph provides the business’s details in the sidebar. A large chunk of that info comes from Google+, and guess what, Google+ is free.

Another piece of advice for any online forum you may use: mention that your restaurant offers online ordering. That information should be everywhere. The customer is already online, and given the opportunity, they will stay online to place their order.

The best news: Online ordering can be one of your least expensive marketing tools, with a very high and easy to track ROI. Best of all – if you were to invest the average annual Yelp expenditure into online ordering, your restaurant would probably see north of $30k/month in revenue! (Given the right market conditions, of course.)

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