Let’s break down a quick scenario. You are a hotel owner and you just spent a lot of money to create a well designed independent website. You have invested a significant amount of time and effort making sure your hotel is the best one in your area, but for some reason you are not getting noticed by search engines like Google, Bing, or Yahoo. What can you do?
The best way to make sure the right people see your independent website is through a concentrated focus on various on-page factors affecting how well you appear in search results. Search engine algorithms are complex, taking multiple details about your website into consideration when determining which search terms you appear for and how well you rank for those terms.
It is important to note many off-page factors will also determine the rankings of your independent website; that being said, there is significant work you can accomplish on page that will make your website appear more attractive to search engines.
On a fundamental level, the keyword strategy of a page is the first and foremost step to performing well in search. Keyword strategy determines what search terms you expect your website to rank on the first page of search results for. You literally cannot have SEO without keyword strategy; doing so would be as if you are setting off on a cross country road trip with no map and no destination. After a long enough time you will likely end up somewhere but without your keyword strategy you will have no way of anticipating where that is, how long it will take you to get there, or how well it suits your goals.
In order to create a fully optimized keyword strategy (for an individual page or for your hotel’s entire website) you will need to conduct a bit of research. The results of this research will provide you with insights on what you are currently ranking for, and provide you with the average monthly searches for terms you could be ranking for (knowing your current rankings should give you an impression on what you should target, and knowing the number of people searching for those terms can help you determine if what you have selected is a worthwhile target).
There are many reports from different sources regarding keyword search volume and your website rankings that you will need to look at when conducting keyword research, and an SEO could spend days pouring over the data in an effort to come to a conclusion on the best terms to target. We have a lot to cover in this post and we have a whole entry regarding keyword research for hotels, so I will keep this short and sweet.
The volume of a search query is the most basic, high level component of keyword data. This is the average monthly number of searches that exist for a term. Most beginner SEO’s look for the highest volume search term and point to that as their primary keyword. While you do want a term with high search volume, it is a common misstep to quickly decide that the highest search volume indicates the ideal keyword and end your research there. You should be looking at the search volume of a wide range of queries your website would be valid for and tracking their monthly search volume with the rest of your research factors in play.
How well you rank for various search terms should be a much more important factor to you than the volume of those terms. If you are ranking on the bottom of the sixth page in search results for an extremely high volume term, there will be a significant amount of time for you to rise up in the rankings. On the other hand, if you are currently on the bottom of the first page or the top of the second page for a somewhat lower volume term, you are much more likely to find yourself in a place to be seen and clicked on. Even though fewer people are performing that search your current higher position gives you a better opportunity to reach a place where you will be seen.
Highest Ranking Sites for a Search Term
While you look into your ranking opportunities, you should see what sites are currently ranking at the top of search results. As a best practice, you should consider what qualities have been determined by search engines as “worthy” of the highest place. From there you should consider if you provide a unique or more valuable quality relevant to the search.
A helpful way to determine if you should so much as consider a possible search term is to see if other hotel websites are close to the top spot or even the first page. For many queries, there are sites vastly different from a hotel independent website that are so authoritative it is difficult (and sometimes impossible) for a hotel website to reach the front page. This is why you should look into the terms you want to rank for and ensure the top spot is something attainable.
Your Own Relevancy
This may not be surprising for most, but your website will not rank well, or at all, for a term if it is not relevant. In extreme cases this is very obvious; a hotel in Schenectady, New York would not appear for “Jet Ski rental in San Francisco.” That would be silly and far from the main purpose of a search engine. In some cases, the hotel might determine there are not enough people looking for hotels in Schenectady, but there are plenty of searches for “Hotels in Albany” and that’s only a 30 minute drive away; this is less extreme than our jet ski example, but the principles of relevancy still come into play.
Somehow with SEO, an idea has spread that “close enough” is the best strategy, and I want to make something perfectly clear. If you are not located in the city you are targeting with your keywords, you will, most likely, fail to rank. In the same way Google can identify that your hotel does not rent Jet Skis and it is not in San Francisco, Google can also easily identify you are a hotel in Schenectady, not Albany.
Even if you did manage to reach the front page and get in front of guest searching for Albany, they will immediately leave when they see that you are not located where they want to go, because your hotel is a significant detour from the destination.
One concern that always comes up when discussing this is the keyword volume issue. If 5,000 searches occur per month for Albany and there are only 500 for Schenectady you want to target the one with more potential visitors; however, consider the fact you are automatically less relevant than every hotel that is actually within the Albany city limits, regardless of the competing hotels quality. Because Albany is a bigger city with more hotels, searches for hotels in the area will feature more competition in the SERPs.
For hotels in less competitive markets, this can be a tough pill to swallow, but you are much more likely to rank on the front page and gain qualified traffic for search terms that are targeted to your city. There is a lot of variety and highly qualified searches happening in your own backyard that you have the strong potential to rank on the first page for. Your SEO efforts can be much more effective if you carefully consider what your guests are looking for and work to achieve that.
Implementation of Your Keywords
Once you have a set primary keyword (at the end of the day your whole site should be striving to rank for this term) and a list of other terms you want to rank for you will need to consider how you are going to use them effectively. There was once a period where all you needed to do was plug your keywords into an HTML tag and so long as your content was relevant to those terms and you had solid links pointing to your site, you would rank.
Today, it is much more important that your keywords are effectively implemented into your copy, while at the same time maintaining the same level of value to the reader. While you do want to use your high priority keywords often, you can run another risk of overusing them. Overusing keywords is an action called “keyword stuffing” which Google has become tougher on over the past ten years.
When writing content for SEO, you need to use your targeted keywords as if you are adding seasoning and spices to a recipe. If you do not use enough then Google might not find your content relevant (much like how an under seasoned dish would be considered “bland”). If you use them too often then Google will assume you are using a bunch of keywords to cover a lack of quality content (as if you over seasoned your recipe to cover off flavors).
At the end of the day, your page should be like a properly cooked steak, with plenty of thick, savory content to satisfy Google’s appetite, and a rich, salty sear of keywords to highlight the natural flavors. Thin content that has been heavily stuffed is more like a well-done steak slathered with ketchup. In short, you should utilize your target keywords in a way that draws out the natural quality of your content. Remember to place them at prominent points in a way to tell readers and search engines, “Here is what my page is about.” Let your writing take the reins from there.
Meta Titles and Descriptions
When you enter a search into a search engine you always see a list of websites in what is typically a similar format.
Each search engine has its own unique style, but a consistent element to this format is the larger page title that you click on to visit a site and the brief description that denotes every result. A vast majority of the time, those large, clickable headings are defined by a page’s meta title and the text below them is the meta description. These are defined by an HTML tag within the page and are used to tell search engines (and by extension, site visitors) exactly what the page is about.
Note: In some cases a search engine will disregard what your meta title and description says in favor of one its algorithm wrote.
Meta titles and descriptions are no longer considered a major ranking factor, in fact, meta descriptions do not have a direct effect on your search rankings at all anymore. Meta titles do still hold a small amount of weight and both are still the first thing a search engine reads when visiting your site. Google and other search engines still take meta titles and descriptions into account even in the cases when that is not what is presented to visitors. At the end of the day, your meta title is the first thing a search engine sees on an individual page, making this a good place to insert your primary keyword to send a strong message of “this is what my page is about.” And while meta descriptions do not directly affect your rankings, they provide valuable marketing copy to make your site stand out and generate clicks. You should consistently write clear, actionable, meta titles and description, and always be sure to stay up to date on the latest changes to SERPs.
Meta Keywords Tag
I mentioned earlier that the meta keywords tag provides search engines with a list of keywords you want to rank for. Google has not considered the meta keywords tag to be relevant for several years; but Yahoo does take the keywords tag into account on occasion. If you see significant traffic coming from search engines that utilize the meta keywords tag (like Yahoo) you will want to consider adding in just a few of your top priority keywords to give your webpages a slight boost in performance.
Please keep in mind, the meta keywords tag is still at risk of being hit by keyword stuffing penalties. If you do choose to implement your meta keyword tags be careful about the number of terms you enter, adding search terms to that tag may not always have a direct positive effect on your rankings but this strategy can contribute to whether or not you get flagged for keyword stuffing.
The way you organized your header tags used to be one of the most important ways to control how your page ranks on Google. Your headers are HTML tags that automatically adjust the font, size, color, and several other factors for the text within them. Headers allow pages to be organized very much like an essay, where you can note when one section begins and ends, and then narrow down to topics within topics.
When choosing headers for a page they can still be used for valuable keyword targeting, but search engines have become much more flexible with what you should and should not enter. So long as your titles are suggestive of a structure and organization to the page, you will be A-OK as far as Google is concerned.
Organizing Your Page with Headers
Header tags are used to denote what different sections of your page are about. They are used in an ascending order to narrow down what points your are trying to make. For example, you would use an H1 tag at the very beginning of your page to showcase overall what the page is about (similar to using your primary keyword in your meta title, this would also be a good place to include your primary term or another high priority keyword). There should only be one H1 tag on any given page. If you include more, then you are telling search engines that your page has two main topics, two thesis statements, two reasons to exist. This should never be the case. If a keyword or phrase is worth saying in an H1 tag, the topic is deserving of its own page.
Note: If your website is built using HTML5 you are allowed to use multiple H1 tags and will not be penalized by search engines. However, it is definitely a best practice to think in terms of one H1 per page.
Once you have laid down your H1 tag, you should begin to clarify individual sections of your page with an H2 tag. H2s will break up the main individual talking points of your page. For example, if you were to write a page about on-page ranking factors, you might have a section about keyword strategy, followed by a section on how to implement keywords, and another section about meta titles and descriptions. You may then reach to a section for header tags, and realize that the organization of the page deserves to be a sub-topic within the overarching theme of headers, so you break that into an H3 tag, and if you continue to get more granular you can go even farther than that!
Your H2s should always relate back to your H1 and your overall topic. Within each H2, you have an option to add H3 tags. H3 tags are when you want to get into the finer nitty gritty details of an H2 that warrants its own topic. H4 can even break down a finer point of an H3. In short, you should be using an H1 tag to denote your overall topic, H2 tags to break down the major points, and can continue to call out important information in an ascending order up to H6.
As Google improved its search algorithms, headers have become less important because Google’s bots do not need them for direction as much as they did in the early stages of the internet. That being said, the organization of your headers allows for search engines to navigate and understand your pages more easily and H1 tags still hold a small amount of weight to improving your authority for a keyword. Both H1 and H2 tags are quick and useful ways to tell website visitors and search engines exactly what they are about to read, helping to set the stage for improved search rankings.
Internal Linking Strategy
Once a search engine reaches one page of your website they will begin following links on the site, and every page they find will be added to search results unless otherwise specified. Having a link pointing to a page is the only way a search engine will find it, so if you do not have this occur somewhere on your site that particular, linkless page will not ever have an opportunity to rank, and your website as a whole will not gain credit for your hard work. Any effort you take to building out a page is wasted if there is not a way to access that page on your site.
For a best practice on internal linking, you should ensure every page of your site you want crawled can be reached within two link clicks. This practice ensures both search engine bots and site visitors can find every piece of content on your site with ease. You may be asking, “How can I accomplish this?” Your best bet is to make sure you have a clear navigation bar defining the major topics of your hotel website. Within each of these topics, you should have an internal list of pages, sorted into menus appearing on the main topic pages of your site. If your navigation is built to accommodate this set-up, you can even have this list appear on the navigation.
When you begin to understand how search engines operate the reasons why speed becomes a ranking factor are fairly obvious. When a search engine looks at a website the search engine has a limited amount of time to spend on each page. This means the quicker a page loads for the search engine means, the more of your content the search engine can look at, and that content will contribute to your search rankings.
Along with their ability to see the entirety of your site, a search engine also wants to consider what is the best content to show potential visitors. Under no circumstance has a website visitor said, “This page is loading way too fast, I wanted to wait a bit longer.” Typically, a visitor to a website is not going to wait longer than 30 seconds for their content to load and they have a very limited amount of time where they will engage with your site before leaving. In fact, according to a recent Kissmetrics study a delay in page response of only one second can result in a 7% drop in conversion. You should not be surprised that visitors will leave a slow site, and this is not a positive signal for search engines when they consider how your website should rank.
Image Optimization and ALT Tags
Optimized (and non-optimized) images will affect your site speed, and will play into how search engines ultimately view your site and determine your rankings. If your images are not optimized, you are essentially forcing visitors to load more data than they need to when they download your website.
Un-optimized images lead to slower site speeds, more data being used by your visitors, and is a sign of low-quality content to search engines. When you place an image somewhere on your website, it is likely that there will be a height and width the image needs to exist at in order to look the way it should. Having the image itself be larger than this size means it needs to be unnecessarily scaled down, wasting data and slowing down the page. Using a smaller image than required can be even worse, as the image will not appear at the best possible resolution. Your visitors will feel like a detective on a crime show, hoping to “enhance” your photo in order to get a better idea of what they are looking at.
ALT tags are a snippet of code that tells visitors and search engines what the subject of individual images are. These are important for your SEO capabilities as well as your websites ADA compliance. Since search engines cannot determine what an image is of with 100% accuracy, they rely on image ALT text to tell them what they should be looking at.
Also, when a visitor with vision difficulties arrives onto your site, they may be using a screen-reader service. ALT text allows screen readers to tell the visually impaired what image content is on your site. In regards to your hotels SEO strategy, you should always include a valid description of what your image includes, and if there is a way to bring back the relevancy to your hotel or your local area that can reinforce to search engines what your page is about.
URLs, or “web addresses” are the unique details that tell a web browser what website and webpage you are visiting. Every page on the internet has a distinct URL that identifies its location on the world wide web. One of the most important aspects of your page’s URL is for the user experience side of things. Visitors have an easier time remembering your website when they can associate your site with clear words, rather than random characters.
The usage of keywords in your URLs will only have a relatively small effect on the overall SEO performance of your site. Having clearly written URLs meshing with your website’s navigation structure can help with how users interact with your website and your perceived authority on a topic. A clear and easy to read URL also allows for your visitors to share and remember your site more easily.
Proper Page Redirection
Understanding how redirects work is extremely important to maintaining the health of your website whenever there is a major change. A redirect is what occurs when a visitor goes to one page, and you want to automatically send them to a new destination, this can be necessary for a few reasons. If your hotel’s name changes or if you rebrand the property and your old domain can no longer be used, you will likely need to implement a redirect throughout all of your website. If you have changed an amenity so that a dedicated landing page for it is no longer valid (to a point where it is fundamentally inaccurate and would be misleading) this may be a cause to redirect a page.
If you remove a page without properly redirecting it you risk losing massive amounts of authority that it was bringing in. So the proper implementation of them is not meant to “improve” your rankings, but more so prevent them from falling when you make a major change to your website.
Please note that redirects of a page should not be implemented casually. Redirects require the editing of sensitive files that need to be coded properly to ensure your site functions correctly, and the effects of your redirect will have long-term repercussions to a website.
When “Temporary” Redirects Stop Being Temporary
I have personally seen sites where the owner had half of their pages redirected “temporarily” because vendor information needed to be updated and they did not have new information to replace the old, but expected to have everything they needed in a few days.
Fast forward to three months after those redirects were made and the website tanked in search rankings because the client had not received the information they needed. Half of their site underwent a temporary redirect, which does not transfer the full authority of the redirected page, because you are informing search engines that those pages will return shortly. So there was less authority for the site as a whole, when simple messages about new vendor services coming soon would have sufficed with none of the negative repercussions.
If a redirect on a page is absolutely necessary it is going to be important for you to understand the different types of redirects and what implications are involved. I recommend reading up on the importance of redirects and canonicalization so you can gain a thorough understanding of what you are about to undertake and if possible, consult a digital marketing professional throughout the process.
Code to Text Ratio
One final factor search engines consider you may not have thought of is the ratio between code and text on your individual landing pages. For the most part, the design and style of your page will be determined by a CSS file, this tells web browsers how a page should look on a fundamental level, and prevents each page from being a slow loading and easily broken mess of data. When you are creating editorialized content you have opportunities to make updates to pages to your liking, this requires additional code but you can do amazing things not automatically permitted by your websites initial design if you are able to take the extra time and effort to make it work correctly..
Every time you make a change to a portion of a page, you are adding more and more code that exists in-between the written text of a page. This could be as simple as adding a small margin to an image to give the content some visual breathing room, or as complex as adding an entirely redesigned element to create a unique selling point.
If your landing page requires a high volume of custom code in order to function properly this will create more work for search engines as they crawl and index your pages. I mentioned earlier in this post that search engines have a limited amount of time to look at your site and more custom code is less time devoted to the text of your site.
In short, you need to minimize the amount of unnecessary code running on your website, so a search engine can easily crawl it.
Bringing Your Website to the First Page
When you launch a new landing page, or a full website, you should be considering from the get-go how you will ensure it ranks well on search engines. There is a long list of factors you will want to focus on in order to ensure your website is optimized.
- Determine exactly what you want to build authority and eventually rank for, this will be the roadmap for your website’s journey to success.
- Implement your choice keywords throughout your website this will send out the right signal to search engines that you are relevant to the keywords you want to rank for.
- Include your focus keywords into actionable meta titles and descriptions for each page, while they are not as important as a ranking factor as they used to be, they can still tell search engines what you are focusing on and are and are the key contributor for generating clicks from a results page to your website.
- Organize your page with clear, logical headers, providing it with an understandable structure and flow.
- Build out links within your website to help direct search engine bots and your website visitors to each individual page.
- Make sure everything going into your page is fast, clean, and efficient. This will make it easier for search engines to explore as well as site visitors.
- When creating your page’s URL, make sure that it is clear and easy to read and repeat to someone. If you can’t verbally read the location of a page to somebody it is probably not an ideal page destination.
- On the rare occasions where you are adding a redirect to your site you should be taking special care to make sure it is done 100% properly. This is a complex section of your website so you will want to double, triple, and quadruple check to make sure your choices are accurate.
- Finally, keep the excess code on your pages to a minimum so that search engines do not need to crawl through irrelevant data while they explore the rest of your site.
Keeping your website optimized for search engines is a constant struggle as you should be researching and reviewing your rankings to look into the best strategy. On top of that, you should be constantly performing maintenance on your pages to remove errors and make sure the entire site is running as smoothly as possible. A lot of time, effort, energy, and skill is required in order to keep a website optimized for search. Get in touch with our team and learn how else we can help you reach the first page!