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In an industry rife with competition, breaking through to a potential guest can be a challenge. Organic search traffic is a powerful source of high-quality customers that are interested in finding the specific services you provide. However, every year, it seems there are new competitors entering the digital marketplace, and with them come new challenges. Whether it is a newly constructed hotel across the street, a creative OTA with a large advertising budget, or a disruptor like AirBnB, new competition can eat into your potential profits. In the competitive online market, everyone is vying for the majority of their revenue on the same platform – search.
Just how important is search traffic? Out of a selection of hotel websites managed by Blue Magnet Interactive in 2015, organic traffic accounted for, on average, 65.2% of all site visitors. Of this organic traffic, 94.4% came directly from Google searches. Let’s take a step back and look at the big picture: 62 out of every 100 visitors found a hotel’s site by typing a query into a Google search bar, seeing the site URL in the search results (among many others), and, from there, deciding to click through to the hotel’s website. This traffic was not easy to earn; in the crowded, travel marketplace, there are a lot of competitors vying for this traffic, and, ultimately, the revenue that follows. A combination of both art and science, these are the SEO basics and trends that you, as a hotelier, need to be aware of as we make the turn into 2016.
Laying the Foundation for SEO Success
Lucky for us, local businesses operate within a designated philosophy of SEO that comes with a specific set of guidelines for achieving high rankings. If you know what these guidelines are and allocate time and money to laying a solid foundation, you can begin to shift your focus to the newest and most nuanced ranking factors of Google’s ever-changing algorithm.
First things first, check your fundamentals. It may sound like something you might hear from a high school sports coach, but it holds value in organic search as well. If you lay a solid foundation, you can begin a steady, sustainable pace of growth. Studies have identified strong correlations between a number of on-page and off-page elements and a website’s ability to rank well on organic search engine results pages. As you begin your hotel SEO campaign in 2016 you need to focus on optimizing these first and foremost.
Local listings manage to be, at a glance, both incredibly simple and frustratingly complex. Let’s save each other some aggravation and look at them simply. Through the lens of a search engine expert, local listings are databases of online businesses from which Google sources information. Listed below are the most important databases; focus your initial attention on these listings to have the most effect:
- Apple Maps
- Infogroup/Express Update
Once you have a listing created and claimed, you will need to optimize it. The two most important items to keep in mind when optimizing a local listing are accuracy and consistency across all listings. The consistency part of the equation is simple – just remember NAPU. NAPU is an acronym for Name, Address, Phone, and URL. Make sure these four categories are listed correctly in the above listings and you will be well on your way to increasing visibility for local hotel searches. Once you have the above listings claimed and optimized, you can move on to a more comprehensive list of important local listing databases and aggregators.
High Quality Links
An important factor in your website’s search performance is building a large portfolio of high-quality links to your site. Google considers links to your site as referrals to relevant content and prefers to recommend sites that have been linked to many times across the internet. Think of it this way: on the internet, your website is your hotel. Just as you want local businesses, colleges, attractions, and medical institutions to recommend your hotel as a preferred lodging option in the real world, you want those same entities to endorse your hotel online. These recommendations are accomplished through links to your content from their sites. Keep this in mind as you go about your daily tasks and you will start finding more opportunities to ask for and receive links. For example, if you are planning on sponsoring a local event and are providing a discounted room block, request that the event website links to your hotel site. Effective link building should never end – take every chance you have to network and acquire new connections. Once you have exhausted the most intuitive possibilities, start aggressively pursuing links strategically.
Search Friendly Site Structure
There are two overarching concepts to keep in mind when thinking about creating a solid site structure. The first is Google must understand how your site is structured in order to properly recommend content for specific queries. In order to do this, you will want to ensure that the following elements are optimized to Google’s liking:
- Robots .txt file
- Linking to internal content
- Properly written redirects
In addition to site architecture, you also want visitors to be able to use all the functionalities on your site with ease. With advances in machine learning, Google is increasingly factoring on-site engagement into their search algorithm. This can include anything that indicates a positive user experience, such as time spent on the page and bounce rate. With these changes, it is more important than ever, to remember that you should be providing content that is both useful and engaging to users.
Ideally, you will want to perform a full site audit to identify strengths and weaknesses in these two categories. Since some of these can get technical, you will want to reach out to your webmaster or marketing contact once you find areas with room for improvement. Don’t have a dedicated web content manager? Lucky for you, that’s what Blue Magnet Interactive excels at!
Emerging SEO Trends for Hotels
Now that you have the foundation of your SEO success plan in place, you can focus on optimizing your site for the increasingly nuanced SEO landscape of Google’s rapidly-evolving algorithm. Google makes dozens of updates to their search algorithm each year. Furthermore, with the advancement of deep and machine learning, the algorithm is becoming more and more aware of online human intent and is using this as a factor in suggesting sites.
Building landing pages to target niche terms can provide increased traffic from leisure travelers to your site. For example, in 2013, one of our account managers recognized a need for a guide to the honky-tonks in Nashville and took the opportunity to research and publish a profile of local bars on the strip. The landing page has subsequently climbed to the first spot in “Nashville strip” related queries and has been viewed more than 36,000 times since its launch with more than one out of every four visitors ultimately checking room availability at the hotel.
In 2015 alone, nearly 16.5% of all traffic came from individuals landing on the honky-tonks page! The power of original and comprehensive information to generate traffic is strong, but there are a few general guidelines to keep in mind when building out content:
- Research what people are searching for.
- Position yourself as a local expert and create unique content with value.
- Shoot for a visitor to read the content for about 10 minutes, about 1,900 words in length.
- Include a call-to-action at the end. Something that will encourage users to check out your rooms and availability.
Mobile Device Optimization
Mobile optimization was a hot topic in the SEO world in 2015 – largely because of Google’s announcement that their algorithm was beginning to place mobile-friendly sites higher in search rankings. With more than 60% of all online activity taking place on handheld devices, this should come as no surprise to seasoned digital marketers. However, those in the hospitality industry can be forgiven – with the older-skewing demographic of frequent hotel guests, mobile usage has grown at a slower pace compared to other industries. Despite this, the change in our industry is upon us.
According to a sample of BMI-managed hotel websites, nearly 37% of a hotel’s independent site traffic came from smartphones in 2015 – when accounting for tablet traffic as well, that percentage increases to above 50%. Even more significant, the share of traffic that came from handheld devices increased by more than 25% in 2015 YoY. This explosive growth in mobile device usage speaks to the changing behavior of internet users, and cannot be taken lightly. In essence, optimizing your website for mobile devices begins with the implementation of responsive functionality or the creation of a separate mobile site. If you haven’t invested in mobile optimization already, 2016 is the time to do so.
In addition to playing a crucial role in increasing your website’s search traffic, reputation management can also help convert online traffic to booked rooms. Although it is unclear whether these ratings have a direct effect on increasing organic traffic, they have an undeniable influence on overall traffic as potential guests read reviews and decide whether or not to book with your property. Furthermore, major review sites will often appear on the first page, alongside your property website, of property-specific search queries. In addition to this, reviews on Google + show directly under your property name in the local business column of the first page.
As a reflection of your physical property, responses to complaints about the hotel need to be acknowledged, responded to, and taken into consideration when making decisions to change things on property. Never before in history have local businesses had such candid feedback about their services, and, at times, the lack of control of these reviews can be harrowing. However, responding to these reviews and reaching out to solve issues is the best way to regain control of your reputation. Want to learn how? Stay tuned for a best-practices post from our in-house reputation guru.
Let’s Get Started on a Successful 2016!
So, you’ve made it this far. Congrats, you must be very interested in boosting your hotel’s organic search traffic! One key thought to hold on to moving forward is this: in many ways, SEO is just a new form of the sales and marketing techniques hoteliers have been using for years to sell their hotels. Presenting your property in a similar fashion both online and offline will yield positive results. Need help getting started? That is what we are here for. We are up to date with the latest SEO trends and can help your hotel achieve prominent search engine rankings.
Browse our comprehensive collection of online blog posts for hoteliers or reach out for information about Blue Magnet Interactive suite of services for hotels.