Most hotels use a website to market themselves online, either using the pages a brand offers or using an independent site. If a hotel’s website can appear on the first page for a relevant, high volume search term, then they will see a significant increase in website visits (which will, ideally, lead to more reservations and revenue).
When it comes to improving your rankings on SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages) there are several steps you can take to show search engines you have quality content worth displaying. However, no matter how well written, relevant, or just plain amazing your website’s content is, if it is presented the wrong way, search engines will look at it unfavorably and your placement on SERPs can and will drop dramatically.
When you are looking at your website and attempting to rank, you should not only be considering what tactics will help your site, but also what tactics can cause it to fail. Below are five extremely common but easy-to-avoid mistakes many hotel websites make that prevent them from ranking on the first page.
Mistake #1: Slow Page Speed
How quickly, or slowly, your individual website pages load is a key determining factor for the success of your website. It is a primary talking point when discussing SEO performance; however, page speed sometimes is overlooked by new marketers or is sacrificed for features and widgets that sometimes do not provide value to the page. Google has been using page speed as a ranking factor for years and there are two clear reasons why this should be (and is) the case.
Google’s web crawling robots have a limited amount of time with which they can explore your website. If your website loads quickly, Google and other search engines will get a wide scope of all your content, allowing you to rank for more search terms and deliver your most helpful content. This means websites loading slowly might not be crawled completely. New pages and changes to your website may not be crawled for weeks, and Google’s index (including your own search rankings) will not update to reflect these changes. However, if you can make sure every page on your website, both new and old, are loading quickly and efficiently, you will know web crawlers will be able to explore your whole site and recognize the SEO value of every page!
Many search engines and web browsers monitor how users interact with websites and use that data to determine if their content is valuable or not (we will be digging into the implications of this briefly). When a website loads slowly, users are more likely to abandon it and move to a different result. This sends a message that users are not happy with your content. If they are more engaged with other results your website will drop in rankings in favor of what user data suggests are more effective.
In order to be sure your website is loading quickly, you should make a point to review all of your content and run it through a website tool that will measure how long it takes to load a page. GTMetrix for example, has become a favorite choice for Blue Magnet’s SEO team. However, Google Analytics will also show you how long it takes your existing pages to load for users (this is simply an average). These tools not only give you a strong metric on where your site speed stands, but also provide recommendations on how to improve it.
Most hoteliers do not plan on having a slow website, but there are many situations in which certain website elements take priority or a lack of web design knowledge causes them to have a slow site. For example, many hotels rightfully want as many of their highest resolution images to appear on their site as possible. However, if you were to load an extremely large image into a small screen (mobile browsers are a great example), the full size of the file is still being loaded. In short, you are forcing users to download a much larger file than they need to in order to properly view it your page.
Typically, the most effective way to speed up your pages is to look at the images you are providing users. Most websites with slow load times are hosting extremely high resolution images that are also a larger size than they appear on the site. Making sure the data files that support your site are as clean and efficient as possible can be a major help. Considering how complex the back end of many websites can be, it is unwise to meddle with your code without proper experience as there are parts of this code that are essential to your page performance. Finally, consider what elements of your site are being pulled from outside sources and determine the value they provide to your users. It is possible that the need for browsers to pull a significant amount of extra data is what is causing a slowdown.
Mistake #2: Providing a Poor User Experience
Do you remember when I mentioned earlier about Google monitoring their users’ behavior? It is strongly believed by many prominent SEO researchers, Google uses that data to determine how easy it is for users to interact with your website. If you were in Google’s position and needed to recommend websites to searchers, you would make a point to serve up content that you had clear data which suggested users had a better experience. With that in mind, it is understandable a website where user data suggests the content is valuable would rank highly, and sites with user data that suggests otherwise would receive a low ranking.
When it comes to user experience it can be extremely difficult to objectively say what is “good” or “bad.” In some cases, when a webmaster does not look at user data at all or has decided without evidence that an idea is good, a feature of a website will make it less intuitive to navigate for a user. Or perhaps it slows down the speed of the website, and users opt to leave for a faster loading page.
This is another case where looking at user data (which can be easily tracked and reviewed in Google Analytics) can help you determine where to improve your site. Bounce rate, for example, can be a great indicator of a user’s experience.
A bounce is when a user leaves a page without interacting with it (clicking links or buttons). Bounce rate is the percentage of a page’s visitors who left without interacting. In the case of major revenue driving pages (like your homepage or a guest rooms page), you should see a low bounce rate (30% or lower is considered strong). If users are visiting important pages and leaving without taking any actions, it is possible you are not using the best marketing strategy.
Keep in mind that in some cases a bounce means a page is doing exactly what it should. If a user lands on a page all about your amenities it can be assumed they were looking for amenity information (if you are optimizing pages for terms other than what they are about you have much bigger problems at hand). If that user immediately leaves the site after landing on a page that is only meant to show information and facts, it is likely you answered their question and they will not be clicking on another result, demonstrating value to Google.
Mistake #3: Pages Not In Index
When you launch a new page for your website, you are likely expecting it to appear in search results. There are a small number of pages with a very specific purpose where this should not be the case. However, it is possible for a hotel to launch a new landing page that, after several weeks of being live and accessible, is still not in Google’s index. If you are not regularly double checking your recent work and making sure it appears in search you may never realize Google is not indexing your pages, and over a long period of time your site doesn’t benefit from the extra content.
If you have noticed a page of yours has not been indexed by search engines (it will not appear in SERP when you do a site: search) there is no need to worry, it can be easily remedied. However, there are several reasons why this could have happened, some reasons mean there is no cause for concern as it is a one-time problem, others will require an immediate update, but in those cases it will have been a prevalent and recurring problem.
First off, pull up your website’s sitemap. This should be a full directory of all the pages on your website that you want users to see. It is extremely common for this part of a website to go overlooked, however it is one of the easiest ways for search engines to see what pages are actually on your site. If you have been updating this and making sure all of the currently live web pages are included you are on the right track! If there are old pages that are no longer on the site, or live pages missing from the sitemap, you will want to update this immediately to remove the work search engines need to do to explore your site.
Next, check the support files (.htaccess, robots.txt, and website configuration files) of your website and make sure there is no code instructing Google and other search engines to not follow links or not index certain pages. This should only be the case for pages that are meant to appear in SERP. You do not want every page indexed because they are exclusive to visitors who performed a specific action, like logging into an account; however, major pages that can be easily reached by an interested user should always be followed.
If both of these problems have been resolved, and your site is loading quickly and effectively, make sure there is a solid linking structure to make the page easy to find. If there’s no links to your page there’s no way for search engines to find it.
Once all these issues have been resolved you can go to Google Search Console and manually submit the page to Google’s index. Ideally this is not necessary but if your page has been live for weeks or even months without the opportunity to appear in SERP the issue should be resolved immediately.
Mistake #4: Unconventional Website Architecture
The architecture of a website is how pages and subpages connect and reference each other. When people say the word “architecture,” typically, buildings are what would come to mind. And much like the architecture of a building, the quality of your website’s structure is heavily tied to a solid foundation and a clear support structure. While many real world architects are praised for finding unique and innovative ways to design their buildings, you should not try to reinvent the wheel with your website architecture.
By having a clear site structure that a machine (in this case search engines) can understand, follow and map out for themselves without issue, you are creating a strong signal for search engines that your website is valuable. The key to an intelligent site architecture is simple: your home page should have a clear list of sub-pages (typically shown by your navigation menu), which all serve as the main resource for pages that are relevant to that topic. Internal links to other pages should only lead to pages with relevant information and your navigation should clearly break down to relevant pages under the same main topic.
If you treat your website as a sales tool, this should all come together naturally. The simple tip to keep in mind is to consider what pages you want users to end up on. Once you have determined what those are, you can find relevant ways to link throughout your site to direct users there.
Mistake #5: Poorly Planned Keyword Strategy (or No Keyword Strategy)
This may be the final entry on the list, but there is no doubt that keyword strategy is the aspect of your website that can make or break its success on SERPs. If you have carefully and strategically picked the right keywords to target, you can show up on the top of extremely relevant searches and you will be providing your website with high quality traffic.
Whether you are designing a new website or simply writing a single landing page, you should always consider what searches you want to rank for. By using tools like SEMrush and Google Search Console you can find insightful data on the exact queries that people around the world are searching for. When you have data on these searches you will want to ask yourself three extremely important questions.
- What searches am I currently appearing for?
- Are there other queries with higher volume that I could be targeting?
- Is it actually possible for me to rank for those higher volume searches?
I have seen many websites in my time where it was clear that the content marketer who worked on it thought about those questions the wrong way or had the wrong attitude while conducting their research, which inevitably leads to a bad keyword strategy. An even greater offense is when a content marketer does not think about these questions at all. In this case, you might as well be trying to shoot an apple off of someone’s head with a crossbow while blindfolded.
Keyword research and strategy targets what search terms you want your website to appear for and provides you with ideas on words and phrases to use in your copy and on your internal links. This will help send the correct signals to search engines to designate, “This is what the page is about and this is why we are relevant for this topic.”
Where most content marketers make a mistake in keyword research is they look for the keyword with the highest search volume and call it a day. I see this quite often while doing keyword research for our own clients when I see a competitor site trying to rank for a highly competitive keyword they aren’t even close to the first page for.
For example, I can run a search for, “Hotels in Chicago” and will see many extremely strong, authoritative websites appearing at the top of the page. As I go through the next few pages of results I manage to consistently see hotels that are targeting that phrase and have no chance of being seen. (How often do you pay attention to what shows up on the third or fourth page of a search?) What these hotels need to do is continue to run searches for queries with somewhat lower volume, and find a keyword where reaching the top page is achievable.
When you strategically target certain keywords, Google will recognize that you are talking about that topic. If you are consistently providing good content and are generating links, clicks, and completing your goals Google and other search engines will recognize your value and cause you to rank higher for more relevant terms. In time, you will be able to rethink your keyword strategy and you may find that what was once an impossible keyword for you to rank for is now more realistic!
Keep Your Hotel Website Running Smoothly
When you work on your hotel’s website, it is vitally important you make a concentrated effort to avoid fatal mistakes. Always remember to check and double-check how quickly your pages load and make sure there’s nothing bogging them down. Always verify that your pages are appearing in SERPs, and if they are not, make a point to find out why. Consistently track how users interact with your website to guarantee you are providing them with the best experience possible. Organize how your pages fit together in a clear, logical, and predictable pattern. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, do thorough research on what keywords each individual page is targeting and determine if that is your best option for a page 1 ranking.
It can sometimes be difficult and even confusing to manage all the high priority steps for a solid SEO strategy. If you would rather trust the skills and experience of SEO experts to make your website be all that it can be drop us a line!