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 blog. But 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