NB: This is a viewpoint by Brandon Dennis, technical marketing manager at Buuteeq.
Last week I took an informal survey and asked a group of hoteliers we work with what the top SEO questions they often hear.
Below is a summary of some of those items that came up during the course of the discussions which can pretty much be loosely described as six myths around SEO in the hotel sector:
Myth #1: I must constantly update my content to rank
This myth stems from Google’s November 2011 "freshness" update, which is largely misunderstood. Turns out that the freshness algorithm only affects between 6-10% of searches, and only searches about three types of events:
- Recent events or hot topics (protests, disasters, celebrity deaths)
- Regularly recurring events (presidential elections, quarterly stock earnings, Black Friday)
- Frequently updated ideas, events, or things (the latest iPhone news, celebrity trial updates, the latest Mars rover findings).
Hotels are none of these. Hotels are stationary brick-and-mortar objects that rarely change, and so the freshness algorithm doesn’t apply to most hotels. The homepage description of a hotel and its area will rarely change, just like supplemental content like reviews for local points of interest.
The only time this wouldn’t be true is if an event were associated with a hotel. Suppose a recurring conference takes place at the same hotel every year, making the hotel name synonymous with the recurring conference. The freshness algorithm might then come into play for queries related to conference updates at that hotel.
The freshness algorithm does not apply to the majority of hotel queries, so we need not worry about it. But even when we did, the tiny, frequent web page changes recommended by some SEOs wouldn’t help to boost the article’s freshness.
There are some services out there that will claim to game Google’s freshness algorithm by installing a script that updates the published date of the article every day, or randomly injects new words into the article.
None of these tricks work because Google looks for substantial changes made to the body of a document to qualify as a change worthy of getting a boost from the freshness algorithm.
Freshness exploiters are further frustrated by Google, which considers several off-page indicators when judging a page’s freshness. These include the date of recent backlinks and the attention of recent visitors.
A page that only has ancient backlinks won’t qualify for a freshness boost, because Google will conclude that the content isn’t as pertinent to users looking for up-to-date information. Similarly, if visitors used to spend ten minutes reading your page, but lately they leave after 30 seconds, the freshness algorithm may conclude your content is less interesting to people today.
Old, static content is just fine, as long as it continues to answer a user’s query. In an excellent article on SEOmoz by Cyrus Shepard, he illustrates this with the perfect example:
"Google understands the newest result isn’t always the best. Consider a search query for 'Magna Carta'. An older, authoritative result is probably best here. In this case, having a well-aged document may actually help you."
Take Home Point:
Myth #2: I can pay someone to get me the first spot on Google for highly competitive keywords
- Make quality content and only revise it to improve its quality.
This myth is a sad one. I can empathize with hoteliers who want to be the #1 spot for "hotels in Miami" or "Seattle hotels". Who wouldn’t want that spot?
Because hoteliers want it so badly, they sometimes fall victim to the outlandish promises of some unscrupulous SEOs, costing them thousands each year.
Few hotels will ever gain the #1 spot for their so-called "money words" because there are dozens or even hundreds of other hotels trying to get that spot too, and because there are established websites that already have them.
Use Google to search for the two examples I gave above. Ignoring Adwords ads, Hotel Finder, and the Google Local block, we see Expedia, Hotels.com and TripAdvisor as the top three results for the first query, and TripAdvisor, Expedia, and Travelocity for the second. In fact, no single, independent hotel ranks on the first page at all for either query, outside the Local block.
This is because the sites that rank have older domains, hundreds of thousands of backlinks, and web traffic we can only imagine. It would take millions of dollars and decades of work to oust them. It’s impossible.
Instead, it pays to focus on specific long-tail keywords and Google’s other products, like Google+ Local (using Google+ Local is how you appear in the local block). Long-tail keywords are usually easier to rank for, even though many of them are now being targeted by the big guys.
Specific neighborhoods like "hotels in green lake washington" or "camden harbor maine hotels" may still be tricky, but you’ll have much more success than targeting broad keywords.
Take Home Point:
Myth #3: I need to stuff my page with keywords and change them often
- No amount of money can buy the top spot on Google, though it is possible to rank well for specific key phrases after hard work and time.
We can all agree this myth is a bad one. And yet, you’d be shocked how often I hear hoteliers tell me they want X number of keywords stuffed into the header, footer, or peppered throughout the page to get a keyword density of X%.
This tactic is an old one. It is so old, and so bad SEO, that it has its own Wikipedia entry. It’s hard to find any recent condemnation of keyword stuffing from industry thought leaders because this myth has been busted for so long, and those who use this tactic have been suffering for so long.
Back in 2007, Google head of web spam Matt Cutts entered a humorous encounter he had with keyword stuffing on his blog, again demonstrating how easy it is to spot keyword stuffing and how swiftly Google will penalize it.
Just because readers don’t see keyword stuffing, doesn't mean Google can’t. Keyword stuffing was so prevalent early in the history of search engines that Google began completely ignoring the meta keyword field entirely years ago, as Matt Cutts explains on the Google blog in 2009.
It is best practice to leave the meta keywords field completely blank, and to use keywords in meta titles and descriptions sparingly. See this article on Search Engine Watch for a great guide to using keywords effectively.
In short, Google will penalize websites they think are keyword stuffing, keeping them from ranking for that keyword at all. Changing keywords on a page won’t help it rank for new words, but instead will harm any ranking factors the page has and force it to start fresh for new words.
All of this over optimization is an exercise in futility.
Take Home Point:
Myth #4: I can’t rank well without a blog
- Write for people, not robots.
This myth exists because blogs make it easy to churn out content quickly. Over time, somehow SEOs have convinced hoteliers it’s the blog itself that has magical SEO properties, allowing blog content to rank higher on Google than non-blog content.
The idea is silly for several reasons, which I explored in my previous post here on Tnooz: Are Blogs Really That Important to Hotels?. Google ranks content, not the software used to produce content.
Take Home Point:
Myth #5: All backlinks are equal
- Google doesn’t care if you use a blog or not; they prefer to rank quality content they can understand.
This myth often coincides with hotels who hire agencies to get backlinks for them, paying $X for X backlinks through the next six months.
The agency will gain easy, low-quality backlinks and then present a report for a job well done. Sadly, not all backlinks are made the same, and many of them that hotels pay for are actually worthless.
- For years now, Google has given webmasters the ability to keep their domain “juice” all to themselves by marking external links with a rel="nofollow" tag. This tag tells Google that the author does not endorse the website he is linking to, and that Google should pass no authority from the author’s domain to the website. This means that any link gained that has the nofollow tag is worth far less than regular dofollow links. The links described below are often nofollow on modern websites.
Blog Comment Links:
- Most blogs that allow comments forbid commenters from including links in the comments, or they’ll tag the links with nofollow, to prevent blog comment spam. While blog comment links have had a history of benefiting websites, they were hit hard after Google Penguin, and are now worth much less. Google can tell a link is in a blog comment, and will pass less authority to the website.
Forum Signature Links:
- Similar to blog comments, forum posts and signatures by members often include links not manually approved by the website owners. Google has chosen to only recognize authority from links placed as part of an editorial decision by the website owner. Since there is little to no editorial oversight for forum posts and signatures, these links pass little authority.
Links in Press Releases:
- Press releases pass no SEO benefit. Don’t take my word for it—Matt Cutts explained the issue on his blog way back in 2005. Press releases are a good tool to get noticed by reporters, who might write an article about your hotel and include a link that helps your SEO. But press releases themselves, even those that include links with great anchor text, won’t help your SEO. Google disavowed link authority from press releases because many people pay to have press releases listed—they aren’t included because of an editorial decision by an author. People use press releases to buy backlinks, which Google actively combats.
Sidebar and Footer Links:
- Many websites, such as Wordpress blogs, have dynamic sidebars and footers identical for every article on the blog. Many people place external links in them, which could equal hundreds or thousands of links from one website to another. This isn’t a bad thing per se, but Google gives far less credibility to links in dynamic footers, headers, or sidebars, as opposed to editorially placed links in the body copy of an article.
I made a heatmap
last year that shows where the best place is on a page to get a link from.
Take Home Point:
Myth #6: Even new websites, with great SEO, can take the #1 spot in 30 days
- Don’t pay for backlinks. Instead, seek editorial links placed in an article’s body.
Frustratingly for many of us, building online authority takes time. Loads of time. When you launch a new website with a new domain name, you start at the bottom rung of an infinitely tall ladder, with websites like Twitter or the US Government at the top, and infinity between you.
To climb that ladder, it takes constant, quality content, building online relationships with people who can pull you up the ladder, and time.
No one can launch a new website and pay someone to take the SEO ladder to the top. It just doesn’t work that way. Google writes time limitations into their algorithm to prevent this kind of elevator elevation, because they only want to offer their users quality, trusted content that has stood the test of time.
Now obviously, they sometimes get it wrong, and you’ll find some crazy website that has nothing to do with what you queried. But Google is the #1 search engine in the world because, for the most part, their algorithm works.
This is why I recommend to new clients that they launch their web presence immediately, even if their hotel is not open yet. The sooner they launch their website, the sooner they start their journey towards thought leadership. The sooner they launch, the sooner they collect quality backlinks and building brand recognition online.
Take Home Point:
- It takes time and effort to build a quality web presence. Good things can’t be rushed.
All of these myths stem from the idea that you can pay money to manipulate Google. When I get questions about these myths, I remind people that Google is a multi-billion dollar company with more resources than us, and some of the brightest talent on the planet.
The likelihood that a rinky-dink black-hat SEO agency from Australia can do anything to outsmart Google is very unlikely (nothing against Australia, mind you).
Instead, we should spend our time and money building something great. Having a friend or trusted service provider help with SEO is just fine, as long as that person is trying to help Google understand your content, not trying to game the system.
If the latter, it could come back to bite you.
NB: This is a viewpoint by Brandon Dennis, technical marketing manager at Buuteeq, a digital marketing system for hotels. He manages Buuteeq’s SEO, paid media channels, social outreach, and the company blog. You can connect with him on Twitter @buuteeq.
NB2:Guide to Google+ for hotels.
NB3: Hotel search keyboard image via Shutterstock.