SEO and keywords go together like fish and water and keyword research continues to be a vital part of digital marketing. How keywords are used in search engine optimization has changed since the early days of shoving hundreds of keywords onto a webpage in anyway possible, though.
Old timers know the tricks. Make the text the same color as the background. All the messy spammy copy is now hidden from the reader.
As the search engines were developed and made more sophisticated, they became able to process the code on the webpages, and could see the ‘tricks’ being used. The old ways of using keywords is now slowly fading away.
The modern method of using keywords is more evolved, more reader focused, and more complex.
As part of our ongoing Front Desk SEO series, this article will discuss the details of keyword research for hotel websites and provide those writing copy for hotel websites a unique keyword research tool.
What is the Search Funnel for Hotels?
Keyword research for hotels begins with an understanding of the search funnel.
Every expert has a notion of what the search funnel looks like. Some funnels are composed of 7 steps broken down into a section for marketing and a section for sales. For hotel keyword research, there are only three elements of the search funnel a hotel digital marketer should be concerned with.
For those hoteliers familiar with the 5 stages of travel (Dream, Plan, Book, Experience, Share), the first three sections of the search funnel (Awareness, Consideration, and Action) align with the first three stages of travel: Dream, Plan, and Book.
This is the first encounter a searcher has with the hotel’s website. This might be from a search for information about attractions, restaurants, or specific amenities. These keywords relate to the DREAM stage of travel.
At this stage, a searcher is pondering “What is there to do in San Francisco?” “Tiki Bars in Chicago” “Top restaurants in Denver” “Must see beaches in California” “Where is the most romantic place to propose in Glacier National Park?”
These searches do not necessarily lead directly to a reservation, but they are relevant to the hotel. With the right content, the hotel will appear for these searches and become the trusted portal into the community around the hotel.
After the searcher moves from dreaming, it is time for the PLAN. Now the searcher is looking for a place to stay but is not committed to any particular hotel. The hotel website that helped answer the DREAM questions, helped excite the traveler’s imagination, has an advantage here.
Due to how Google personalizes the search, getting the Awareness searchers to land on the hotel’s increases the likelihood Google will show the hotel’s site for these searches.
What types of searches fall into the Consideration part of the funnel?
“Best hotel deals in Miami” “Hotels near Laguna Beach” “Pet friendly hotels in Dallas” “Best hotel to stay at for GenCon” “Seattle hotels with free wifi”
These searches are now looking for hotels in specific areas with specific features and comparing one hotel to another. These searches also tend to be where price consciousness kicks in. There are many conversion optimization tactics that can be used to sidestep price consciousness, but those techniques are better explained in a conversion optimization blog post, not a keyword research blog post.
At this stage, the hotel wants to answer the key questions for the searcher. How close is the hotel to the attractions and events the searcher is interested in? How will the searcher once at the hotel get to and from these places? Are there packages or specials the searcher can take advantage of to reduce the expense or enhance the experience? Is there a breakfast served at the hotel? Where are yoga classes close to the hotel? Are there safe places to go running nearby? Does the hotel have free Wi-Fi?
The bottom of the funnel is where most corporate hotel sites focus. These are brand searches and relate strongly to the BOOK stage of travel. Here we find keywords like “Hilton Chicago” “4 Star Hotel Detroit” and “Embassy Suites in Los Angeles Silverlake”
The searcher is ready to make the reservation and now it is the site’s duty to get out of the way. Remove every bit of friction from the moment the searcher lands on the website to actually making the reservation.
Again, this is more to do with conversion optimization and how your site’s conversion funnel works.
The point is, these are the keywords the site is normally heavily optimized for and are easiest to rank for.
How to Research Keywords for Each Section of the Search Funnel?
When performing keyword research for a hotel website, it is easiest to move from the bottom of the funnel to the top. The number of possible keywords increase at each section. For sites that have been published for awhile, most of the keyword research will focus on expanding the Awareness and Consideration sections of the funnel, trying to capture more traffic at those portions because the brand should already be well establish.
If those brand specific searches do not bring the hotel’s website up in the first two or three positions, and the on-page optimization is done well, then other SEO tactics need to be used.
What Keyword Research Tools Can Hotels Use?
There are dozens of quality keyword research tools available to hotels to help with the research process.
- Google keyword planner
Most of these tools operate in the same way. Enter a topic and it spits out a list of related keywords. Sometimes the tool will grade the keyword based on how difficult it would be to rank for it, what the search trend for the keyword is like, and how many searches on average are performed for that keyword each month.
These calculations are based off a bunch of variables and have a wide range of accuracy. The tools use these metrics to help in the determination of whether or not the keyword is viable. There are inherent problems with this which will be discussed at the end of the blog post.
All a hotelier needs to know at this point is a keyword with a high volume is not necessarily better than a keyword with a low volume. Additionally, most of the search terms people use in searching have such low search volume these tools do not capture them.
How to Find Relevant Keywords to Start With
For keywords related to the Action section of the funnel, it is usually easy to know where to start – brand searches coupled with location. These tools most likely won’t give you many variations based on such a specific starting point, though.
The difficult part is in the Consideration and Awareness part of the search funnel.
The researcher needs to begin with some core concepts and assumptions. Are people looking for ‘hotel’, ‘hotels’, ‘lodging’, ‘rooms’, ‘accommodations’, or one of the many other variations of ‘place to stay’? Crafting all the basic keywords can be a time consuming process.
There are tools that can help. Google’s Keyword planner has a built in function that will assist in sorting through all the variations. And there are tools like longtailgenerator.com which also helps create variations to start researching from.
Blue Magnet Interactive’s Keyword Stubsheet Tool
Blue Magnet does massive amounts of research for keywords related to client websites. We do keyword research for brand new websites and for well-established sites adding additional content to broaden the search funnel. To help jump start the process, we use a keyword tool we call a stubsheet, which we are now releasing to any hotel digital marketer who wants to use it.
Feel free to make a copy of this Google sheet to assist in starting the keyword research process.
The sheet is based on the standard pages found on most hotel websites. Each page has its own topic and purpose. By entering the hotel’s city and state, the stubsheet creates lists of keyword variations for the different types of pages on the site.
These are starting points for research, not the end result. This stubsheet was created to work in relation to Google’s keyword planner. Copy the entire list of keywords for one column and paste them into the keyword planner.
The keyword planner will then create a table of the keywords followed by average search volume (just a wide range to give you a general idea), and other information related to Adwords like cost-per-click and competition.
Some hotels are located in small towns next to large cities and want to appear for those large city search terms. In those cases, it is best to focus on the ‘hotel near…” type of keywords.
If there is no search volume listed for any keywords associated for the small town the hotel is located in – do not be demoralized. People are still making those searches but there aren’t enough to for Google to report on.
Go ahead and make sure the home page uses the small town’s name because that one searcher who needs to stay in that town needs to find that hotel’s website. For additional insight into this specific issue, I recommend this Moz.com’s Whiteboard Friday, 3 Tactics for Hyperlocal Keywords.
Fat Head and Long Tail
No article about keyword research is complete without a discussion about ‘fat heads’ and ‘long tails.’
‘Fat head’ refers to those few high volume keywords a site ranks for which get all the attention. These are keywords like ‘hotels near Disneyland’ or ‘Downtown Chicago hotels’ which have search volumes in the tens of thousands per month. Long tail refers to those search terms which have tiny search volumes in comparison.
The chart above took 90 days of non-brand keyword data from a site. Using just the keywords the site received impressions for on page 1 and 2 of Google’s search engine result page, it is easy to see a small handful generated a large number of impressions.
Just 13 search terms of the 480 represented in the chart generated 50% of the impressions. These are keywords like “Atlanta hotels” and “hotels in downtown Atlanta”. If the hotel website focused solely on those keywords, it would be missing out on 50% of its traffic.
Down in the long tail portion of the chart are keywords like “hotels near the Fox Theater in Atlanta Georgia”, “hotels near the foundry at puritan mill”, and “hotels near topgolf midtown atlanta”. These are specific keywords designed to meet a specific intent as the searcher considers the hotel options while in the PLANNING stage of travel.
The hotel best satisfying the searcher’s intent is going to get the searcher to convert into a guest.
Discovering those long tail keywords takes time as you collect the data from the searches people are making which the site shows up for. There are shortcuts, though.
Using a tool like SEMRush or Spyfu, you can take a competitor’s website, insert it, and get a list of keywords that site is ranking for.
Once a small set of keywords has been gathered for each page, it is time to write the copy for the page. How to use the keywords on the page has changed over the years. Good SEO is not about trying to rank for a specific keyword.
It is about trying to fulfill the searcher’s intent. This means writing useful content. If a searchers is looking for a pet friendly hotel in St. Louis, then it is not enough to have a few lines on your website saying the hotel is pet friendly.
The website should clearly spell out the policy regarding pets (No tigers, please!) while demonstrating the level of pet-friendliness. A hotel offering pet treats at the front desk, offering bags to guests taking dogs on walks, recommending nearby dog parks, and bars or restaurants with dog friendly patios is a different level of pet friendly than a hotel that states there is an additional fee for having a pet and that is it.
The idea is not to just write enough content to use the keyword on the page, but to answer all the questions related to the keyword. The content needs to be thorough.
At the upper part of the search funnel are the Awareness keywords. These keywords sometimes have very little to do with reserving a hotel room. From the example set of keywords used above, there are keywords like “indoor water park Atlanta”, “midtown pizza Atlanta”, “places to go on data near me”, and “things to do in midtown Atlanta at night”.
As mentioned at the start of this post, with the right content the hotel website becomes the trusted portal for the guest into the city and community the hotel is based. Of course, the demographic data of the guests should not be ignored. If the hotel targets business travelers and is near the airport, there is little reason trying to be the trusted source of family friendly activities.
Researching Awareness keywords is the most difficult because the competition for those keywords comes not just from hotels but from every type of website out there. These keywords can also be extremely long tail in nature which makes the cited tools less than useful.
Research starts from looking at the city from a traveler’s point of view and the relationship the hotel has with the city. By considering why travelers visit the city, the neighborhood, the hotel is located, the keyword research can focus on those elements. What questions are asked about the city by people wanting to travel there?
- Do travelers ask how to get from the airport to downtown?
- Are they asking about sushi restaurants?
- Do they care about places that play live music?
- Are they seeking outdoors adventures, like hiking or kayaking?
- Will they want information about museums, theaters, and art galleries?
- Will they want to know where the nearest temples, churches, or mosques are?
The hotel’s reception desk probably can supply a lot of the keywords needed. What questions do guests ask them upon check in and throughout their stay? These are the topics around which keywords can be researched and content can be created.
Words of Caution About Keyword Research Tools
Before concluding this blog post, a warning about keyword research tools like Moz, SEMRush, and other services need to be given. These tools are only as good as the data they collect and sometimes the data is kind of garbage.
Once upon a time in the world of SEO, going after misspelled words was a tactic used to syphon off traffic. A site might not be able to rank for ‘hotels near Mississauga’ but could rank very well for ‘hotels near Mississagua’. These tools still capture this efforts to rank for misspelled words, but as a tactic it no longer works in Google search.
Google corrects misspelled words. So while SEMRush might say ’embassy suutes’ has a search volume of 50 searches a month a searcher actually has to take an additional step to tell Google to search for the misspelled version of the word.
When doing keyword research, perform the search and see the results returned to see if it meets your expectation.
TL;DR Version of Keyword Research for Hotels
There are 3 sections to the search funnel: Awareness, Consideration, and Action. These 3 sections correspond to the first 3 of the 5 stages of travel.
Awareness keywords relate to the DREAM stage of travel and are used by people when first thinking about visiting a new city. Consideration keywords relate to the PLAN stage of travel and relate directly to the location, accommodations, and amenities of the hotel. Action keywords relate to the BOOK stage of travel and are keywords people use when they are ready to make the reservation at a specific hotel.
Each section of the funnel requires a different research strategy. The Action keywords are the easiest and most obvious. They are mostly brand or brand related keywords in association with a location. (e.g. Downtown Chicago Marriott)
Consideration keywords can be researched using many free and paid tools available, including the BMI keyword stubsheet made available in this blog post. (e.g. hotel near Three Floyds brewery)
Awareness keywords come from questions guests ask about the neighborhood, community, or city when the stay and questions a traveler might ask when making plans to visit. (e.g. What is there to do in Minneapolis?)
Search engine optimization plays a role in helping a website appear in the search results for relevant terms. Discovering those relevant terms is the essence of keyword research. In some cases there is a hit or miss aspect to it. There are many guides to help determine if a site has a chance to rank for a keyword or not.
The school of thought behind Blue Magnet’s keyword strategy is simple. If it helps the searcher to have the content on the site, then even if there is no chance for the site to rank for the keyword, have the content targeting the keyword on the site. At the end of the day, helping the searcher find the right information is what Google is trying to do and being the site with the information that helps the searcher makes your site more valuable.
Blue Magnet will continue to offer tools and information related to SEO for hotels through this blog and specifically through the Front Desk SEO series. Sign up for our newsletter and receive the best of the best of our blog sent directly to your mailbox.