Sure, with an endless marketing budget, any hotel can get perfect SEO. But what about hotels with limited funds? What about hostels, bed and breakfasts, inns and other small properties?
NB This is a viewpoint by Brandon Dennis, VP of marketing at Cloudbeds.
It is harder for small properties to get SEO right, but the good news is that it’s possible. Here’s how you start:
Set the right expectations
SEO is a long-term strategy. There are no quick wins. There are no shortcuts. You might not see success for months, or even years. You need to be ok with that.
Think about SEO like investing in the stock market. Sure, a few people get quick wins, but for most investors, they only find success after years of investment in mutual or index funds. You will only find success with SEO if you understand that you are in it for the long-haul.
Become “the SEO guy (or girl)”
The big hotel chains have SEO teams. Even large independent properties have a marketing and SEO person. You need one too. Now, maybe you already have a web development person on staff. Or maybe you have someone who produces content, and does social media. Great! This person needs to take on SEO duties.
If you don’t have an employee who does this, then you need to do it yourself. I realize that you’re already busy with running your property. I realize that you are already stretched for time. But you must market your business online to ensure its success. If you don’t have someone on staff who can do this for you, and if you don’t have the resources to hire one, then you need to it - pure and simple.
A great way to free up time to work on your property's SEO is to simplify the other aspects of your business. Too many properties are still using spreadsheets to manage their daily activities. Invest in an affordable property management system to free up your time, and then use that time to forge an SEO strategy.
Optimize your website
There are countless guides on how to optimize your website for SEO. The truth is that the success or failure of your SEO doesn’t depend on technical website optimization. It rests more on the content you produce than on the technical “i's and “ts that you dot and cross.
You can optimize almost any website platform for search engines. This includes Wordpress, the world’s most popular content management system. Once you choose your platform, look up guides on how to optimize that system for SEO. Spend some time tinkering, but not too much--your primary concern is content.
And if you have a managed web hosting provider then be sure to reach out to them to fix SEO issues. You’re already paying for their help, after all.
Content is the most important part of your SEO strategy. If you have no content on your website, then Google has nothing to index, and nothing to rank. The more quality content you produce, the more visitors you will get from search engines. The more visitors you get, the more guests you get. Thus content, and the velocity at which you produce it, impacts how much business you get from your SEO strategy.
You’re not the big guys. You can’t have content on every single topic that might relate to your property. So instead, specialize. If you can’t be an expert on everything, then become an expert on one thing. What is the one thing about your area that you can become an expert on? What can you write about that people will find interesting, and that will draw people to your business?
Find this focus. Make it part of your brand. Write about it. Post about it on social media. Make it part of your identity. Become a topical authority on this focused idea, so that guests go to you instead of OTAs and large chains.
This focus ties in with keyword research. There are many ways to research the kinds of words your guests use to find properties like yours when booking travel. One tool is Google’s free Keyword Planner tool. You can discover the words that have sent people to your website, and to the websites of your competitors. You can understand how competitive they are. Using tools like Moz’s Keyword Difficulty Tool (paid), you can discover good keyword opportunities.
Understanding these things is essential to produce the right kind of content. I once was doing keyword research for a customer. I discovered that my client was getting a lot of traffic about something called a “grunion run”. What on earth is a grunion? Some sort of...greasy onion?
I did some Googling, and discovered that a grunion is a special kind of fish. Once a year, millions of grunions crawl out of the sea to lay their eggs in the sand. This event is a popular tourist attraction. Wouldn't you know it, my client’s hotel was smack-dab on the very beach where the grunions came out of the sea each year.
Now, my client had no content about grunions on his website. So I created a content strategy around grunions. My client changed his property’s brand to focus on the annual grunion run. He became a topical authority on it. He produced maps on where to find the best grunions, lists of tools to use, recipes for cooking grunions, and so on. This one, niche topic became part of his hotel’s brand, and it improved his business.
Keyword research will help you discover things that you can use to brand yourself. It will help you uncover topics about which you can become an authority. This will make your property a homing beacon for people interested in your topic.
Share your content
Once you start producing content, you have to promote it. You can’t rely on friends and family alone. You can’t post it to Facebook and hope that it will “go viral”. No, your only shot at success is if you get your hands dirty and promote your content.
Let’s say you made an infographic about the best spots on a specific beach to catch grunions. Sure, post it to Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram, but then go even further. Find a dozen popular blogs about fishing. Email the owners and journalists and share your infographic with them.
Find local businesses. Contact them and ask if they will publish your infographic on their websites. Email your local newspaper and share it with them. Find online fishing communities and share it there.
You get the idea? Content won’t share itself, so you have to.
Consider online ads
I’ve discovered a funny thing. Every time I spend money on ads, I tend to get a burst of organic traffic from search engines that sticks. I can’t explain it. Google has said that it does not improve a website’s ranking just because the website purchases ads. Nevertheless, I have noticed that properties who spend money on online ads tend to get more organic traffic too. It works using Google Adwords, or even social media ad platforms such as Facebook Ads.
Take a look at your marketing budget. Even if you did not intend to start advertising, it may be worthwhile to create a few campaigns with limited budget, to see how it goes. Spend, say, $100 a week or even less. It doesn’t have to be a lot. But try it, and then compare your organic traffic before you started advertising to after. If it has improved, you may want to expand your online advertising.
The Billboard Effect
Everyone is familiar with the Billboard Effect by now. It describes the phenomena by which your website’s direct reservations improve by as much as 25% when you start listing inventory on online travel agencies (OTAs).
It works like this: Your guest goes to Expedia to shop for travel. While there, they discover your property, but they want to learn more. They open up a new browser tab and Google your property name. Your website pops up, and while on your site, they see a deal that they just can’t miss. So, instead of booking with Expedia, they book with you. This is the Billboard Effect.
Now, this can help your SEO too. Google tends to reward websites in the rankings that display “positive brand metrics”. That’s a fancy way of saying that people know about you and use Google to search for you. The more branded searches your property gets on Google, the healthier your SEO will become. Leveraging the Billboard Effect is a great way to get more branded Google searches. It’s good to list at least a few rooms on a healthy variety of OTAs.
You may be concerned about overbookings. If so, use a channel manager to make sure that your online listings are always kept up-to-date.
Online business profiles
Claim as many online business profiles as you can, and keep them up to date. Use a channel manager to create listings on popular and niche OTAs. Then, use a tool such as Moz Local (paid) to discover online business directories. Create listings for your property on them.
The thinking behind this goes like so: Google likes seeing positive brand metrics. It likes seeing lots of listings about your property, and it likes seeing listings that all agree about you. You have a dozen listings. But if the hotel name is misspelled in half of them, or has the wrong address, Google gets confused. It doesn't know what to think about your hotel. But if all your property’s online profiles are complete, then this gives Google confidence in the quality of information they have about you. This makes them more likely to promote you on Google.
Ensure your listings have correct spelling, updated contact info, and helpful descriptions.
Claim and update your business listing on Google Business Places, Bing for Business, Yelp, YP.com, TripAdvisor, and more.
Yeah, this is a lot of work. No doubt about it. But no one expects you to finish it all in a day. Instead, create a strategy. Break it into phases, and give each phase a due date. Work on it slowly over time. One day you will wake up and realize that you have a killer website, with great content, and a vocal fanbase on social media. You’ll see your organic slice of the pie get bigger and bigger in Google Analytics. One day you’ll realize that most of your direct reservations are coming from search engines, and you're not paying for them.
It’s a long journey, but one worth taking.
NB This is a viewpoint by Brandon Dennis, VP marketing of Cloudbeds.
NB2Image by Shutterstock.