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The Painful Truth About Hotel Website SEO

March 28, 2016


You are a director of sales and marketing overseeing all day-to-day activities for your property, maybe several properties, from meeting/group sales to Trip Advisor reviews and website promos. It all falls on you.

Then one day, your GM calls and says, “I just did a Google search for ‘Miami Hotels’ and we don’t come up anywhere. What are we paying that hotel website company for?”

You immediately go online to do more searches and panic ensues. You start to think, what ARE you paying them for? Aren’t they supposed to be handling all of that Google stuff? Why isn’t your hotel on the first results page for all of those non-branded keywords?  Why is everything so different on Mobile?

The answer is that everything you’ve expected or known about search engine optimization for hotels up until the last year is now obsolete. Even if you’ve invested thousands of dollars into your SEO efforts to have your website successfully rank on page one of Google for “Miami Hotels,” you may never see your website show up on page one, let alone see a measurable ROI.

So how do you answer your GM and hold your Hotel SEO firm accountable? It’s time to redefine your KPIs when it comes to search, and face some of the harsh realities of SEO for the hotel industry.

Problem 1: Google Has Commercialized Its Results Pages


Summary: In 2015, Google reduced its Google Maps and Google Places results from displaying a “7-Pack” to a “3-Pack”, only showing three Hotels with a thumbnail image and Google’s own commercialized meta-tool. Hotel Ads may lead a consumer to book via Google or with one of their OTA advertising partners.

And recently, Google made further, MAJOR layout changes to its SERPs (Search Engine Result Pages), especially for broad search queries like “Miami Hotels” or “Hotels in Times Square.”  As a result, natural/organic search listings have now been pushed further down the pages and are seeing a reduction in organic click-throughs, and even less traffic on mobile devices.

Solutions: While you cannot control the search engine’s giant layout or where your listing is displayed in the SERPs, you do have some control on what information is being populated:

Claim your property’s Name and Place (NAP) and make it consistent across all platforms from Google Plus to Yelp. Make sure your Google Plus page is verified and links directly back to your hotel’s website. Services like Yext or Moz Local can help you manage all of these in one simple platform. Other services like Whitespark can assist with citation cleanup or updating any listing on the web that has your property’s business name, physical address and phone number, in addition to helping build safe, credible backlinks.

  Control the images you display across the online universe with image parity software like ICE Portal or VFM Leonardo. This will help clean up images of your hotel across the web, including the OTAs.

Target answers not keywords. A recent study revealed that 15 percent of Google’s 3.5 Billion daily searches were questions or queries that the search engine has never seen before! Hotel websites need to target “long tail” search queries by adding content that answers a traveler’s questions and provides information about the destination or the experience guests will have. Don’t be afraid to promote local businesses or restaurants; not everything on the site can be self-serving. A hotel site is more likely to rank for long tail queries that have less competition and will see a rise in user engagement.  Quality website traffic over quantity!

Utilize a content mapping and interlinking strategy. What page does your website user visit most before they book?  Is there a pattern in the sequence of the pages they visit before entering the booking engine? Once you identify the most relevant pages on your hotel’s website, analyze the typical user’s journey to complete a booking. This “path” report can be pulled from Google Analytics.  Content mapping ensures that the content on those pages, and the text links within the site copy, are interlinked properly, making it easier for the user to find the information they are looking for in addition to passing signals to Google about what content is most related and important.

Problem 2: Increased Competition for Your Own Hotel Name

Summary: Google’s Hotel Ads and Book on Google products have made it harder than ever for hotels to get traffic from their own brand name. TripAdvisor, big brands and the OTAs have always out-muscled individual hotel websites for popular non-branded keyword searches (ie: “Miami hotels”). But in 2015, new paid advertising products emerged, making the search engine marketing space even more competitive for individual properties.

Last year, Google introduced its Book on Google model alongside its Hotel Ads module. Online users now have the option to view rates from all OTAs or book with Google directly from the SERP page, without ever having to actually visit a hotel or OTA website! Properties connecting via a CRS are paying approximately 10-12 percent commission to Google for the Book on Google feature, and anywhere from $1.00-$4.00 cost per click (CPC) to have their rate listed alongside the OTAs on Google’s Hotel Ads module.

You can read more about how Google’s products work on their official websearch blogBut here is a simple visual breakdown of Google’s new page structure:



  Dominate the SERP by combining PAID and Organic Search Efforts. Consider having your PPC and SEO teams working side by side to implement tactics like Review or Ad Extensions and Event Schemas to take up as much real estate as possible on a page for brand related search queries.

  If budget permits, participate in Meta Search Advertising or Hotel Ads, but be sure that the hotel rates are in parity!

    Add alternative tags to all of the property’s images and with the hotel’s name to influence branded image results.

    Invest in having unique content in other places that have direct links back to your website from authoritative places like Wikipedia, Youtube, etc.

• Refresh the website’s title tags and header tags if you notice click-through rates on your organic results are decreasing. Use strong language in your site’s title tags and meta descriptions like “book direct” or “official hotel website.”

Check back next week for Part 2 of Painful Truths about Hotel SEO

About Tambourine

Tambourine uses technology and creativity to increase revenue for hotels and destinations worldwide. The firm, now in its 33rd year, is located in New York City and Fort Lauderdale. Please visit:

The Road Ahead: The Future of Hotel Marketing

December 11, 2013

Tambourine: Digital Marketing

In 1985 my grandparents took me to their local travel agent, a sweet woman named Ruth, to book a vacation to Florida. I remember being mesmerized by the beautiful brochures and exotic posters on display.

Ruth keyed our information into a computer terminal that consumed most of her desk, made a few phone calls… 30 minutes later, we wrote a check and walked out with a thick envelope full of printed material. Months later, we arrived at the hotel Ruth had booked for us and presented our well-worn reservation documents.

As stunning as the technological developments in travel marketing have been in the last 20 years, the next 20 promise to be equally incredible.

The hotel knew nothing about us. We knew practically nothing about the hotel (Ruth picked the hotel for us), what our room would look like, the amenities or the immediate area around the property.

Who knew that within a relatively short period of time, Ruth and the entire travel ecosystem would be disrupted by technology that empowered consumers to plan their own trips, preview images, videos, reviews from previous guests, make dinner reservations and chat (for free) with a concierge in Bangkok from the comfort of their home!

As stunning as the technological developments in travel marketing have been in the last 20 years, the next 20 promise to be equally incredible.

According to recent report from Expedia, travel could be on “the cusp of a transformative technological revolution.” Thanks to rapid adoption in smartphone usage, geo-location technology and younger generations’ comfort with sharing their personal information online, travel is set to become more effortless and streamlined than ever before.

Imagine this:

  1. You TELL your smartphone (or soon, smartwatch) to create a calendar event for a trip to a specific destination, or a “family” vacation and your “virtual digital assistant” goes to work researching and collating trip options.
  2. She (he?) starts checking flight prices based on your airline loyalty memberships, airport preferences and knowledge of your past trips (and your reviews). It will also tap into airline and hotel historic pricing databases to evaluate whether the price of your vacation may go up or down in coming weeks.
  3. Siri and her next of kin will then produce a list of options for you to consider. You can purchase, share with family and friends or refine the itinerary and send your virtual assistant back to work.
  4. When you arrive at the airport, new geo-location and payment technology in your smartphone will allow you to seamlessly pay for parking and baggage fees. While innovations in airport security and boarding pass technology will have more of us spending less time in line. Driving to your hotel? Apps on your mobile device will alert the hotel that you are approaching so your room can be ready for check-in.
  5. Hotels will have more actionable data about their guests than ever before. Aggregated from multiple “big data” sources including: social media, past stay history, loyalty programs and perpetually automated data appending programs connected to PMS and CRM systems.
  6. This trove of data will enable service-minded hoteliers to differentiate their product experience by personalizing offers and add-ons at the right time in the trip planning cycle for each customer.

The future is now.

Struggling to believe these advancements are just around the corner? Think again about how far we’ve already come. Tech-savvy hotel marketers are already doing remarkable things that would have sounded like science fiction just a few years ago:

  1. Global chains and boutique brands are working with consumer research companies to append demographic data to their past guest records to gain greater understanding of their customer base and create a model guest profile. This profile is utilized to identify new potential guest/consumers online who match the profile and engage with them via pinpoint digital marketing campaigns. Many believe this new science of past guest profiling and modeling increases advertising response rates and delivers higher ROI than “dumb” campaigns which ignore demographic and behavioral indicators.
  2. Tech giants like Google and Yahoo enable properties of all sizes to launch hyper-targeted campaigns (in hours!) that engage guests in proven feeder markets, past website visitors, fans of their competition’s social media pages, flyers to nearby airports, consumers who’ve received booking confirms from comp-set properties and an endless list of filters that increase ROI and reduce wasted marketing dollars.
  3. Most smart hotel marketers send post-stay surveys, but the most advanced are now automating additional emails to past guests who submit positive scores, encouraging them to leave reviews on TripAdvisor, Yelp and other important review sites.
  4. Brand managers are reviewing guest sentiment data from online reviews across their global portfolios to determine the optimal mix of amenities for future products/projects.
  5. Innovations in revenue management and powerful new yield management software are empowering even small properties to automate pricing decisions in real-time.

And more change is already in the pipeline, according to CB Insights: nearly half a billion dollars was invested in the travel and hospitality sector by venture capital firms from August 2012 to August 2013, with over 60% of that amount invested in tech pioneers outside the US, a clear indication that change is underway worldwide, not just in Silicon Valley.

Embracing it all.

The rapid pace of technological innovation in travel can easily overwhelm time-starved operators with limited resources and budgets. How can you prepare for the technology tsunami without losing sight of short term revenue targets and goals?

Here’s three ways we organize ourselves to embrace innovation without taking our eye off our clients’ needs and company goals:

  1. Use technology to find technology: Google Alerts, RSS feeds, personalized news feeds and specialized newsletters make it easier than ever to pluck relevant subject matter from the firehose of web content. A free tool we use often is Topsy (, which scans the social web for relevant conversations about subjects we care about. It helps us identify key influencers and participate in conversations we otherwise might never know about.
  2. Hire tech-lovers: All things being equal, we always hire the candidate who is more passionate about technology. They read blogs, love gadgets and fearlessly plunge into spreadsheets in search of actionable data. After putting all these techies together over the years, we now have a company culture that stimulates rapid adoption of new tools and software.
  3. Start at the bottom (of the sales funnel): In the limited time you and your team have to tackle marketing R&D, focus on technology that impacts the bottom line most rapidly. Ask yourself: which technology will add revenue or prevent lost revenue in the short term? A great example of this is an enhanced reservation abandonment/recovery process, whereby adding simple technology at the point of purchase can result in immediate revenue acceleration. Celebrating a few small victories that convert immediately to measurable revenue will give ownership/upper management more confidence to invest in more resource intensive R&D efforts.

The future is now.

In the time you took to read this article, undoubtedly at least one frothy press release has come out about a new technology in the travel/hotel sector. The pace and volume of change is staggering. And while the road ahead is unknown, it’s an absolute certainty that we will seek, engage, transact, share and communicate with guests in entirely different ways 10 years from now than we do today.

And if you don’t want to take my word for it… just ask Ruth.

Dave Spector is a Partner at Tambourine, an ROI-obsessed marketing agency driving demand, revenue and brand awareness for travel and leisure clients since 1983

About Tambourine

Tambourine drives revenue for hotels and destinations worldwide using advanced marketing technology. The firm is celebrating its 30-year anniversary. For more information, visit

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