NB: This is a guest article by Max Starkov, president and CEO of HeBS Digital.
So even if we're now agreed that hotel search on engines such as Google is not about to disappear any time soon, there is still plenty that hotels can do to improve their performance in the channel.
Following my recent article (How real are challenges to dethrone Google as king of hotel distribution?), I thought it would be helpful to outline some ideas for properties to examine and perhaps implement.
So, here is the HeBS Digital Top Ten tips for Hotels to Improve Their Search Engine Presence:
1. Redesign your website.
"Fixing" the hotel website remains of paramount importance to hoteliers. Anything you do online today – from social media to banner advertising to email marketing – leads back to the hotel website.
The ongoing Google Panda updates (Panda 3.9 just launched) have made many hotel websites obsolete and have raised the bar for hotel websites, demanding not only deep and relevant, but unique and engaging copy.
Redesigning your site allows you, with the help of analytics, to develop an intuitive site structure that organizes relevant content. Additionally, this is the time to button up things on the back end: XML site maps, canonical tags, robot.txts on minor pages, site load speed, and so on. Install a state-of-the-art content management system (CMS) on the website.
Another important reason for the hotel website re-design is the growing need for centralized website content and digital marketing asset management technology.
Hotel marketers are challenged to create and manage fresh content; store and distribute the hotel digital marketing assets; and circulate special offers and packages as well as events and happenings, all through several distinct channels.
Managing a desktop website, mobile and tablet websites, and social media profiles on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ can become overwhelming without a content management system.
Obviously, hoteliers need more than just a simple website CMS capable of adding and editing textual and visual content.
2. Create engaging content on the hotel website.
The ongoing Google Panda updates mandate that website content be not only deep and relevant, but also unique and engaging. Search engines are now looking for strong editorial content.
Web content has always been the king of SEO – the recent Google Panda algorithm updates turned website content into the emperor. Each of the updates that punished poor practices ultimately underscored one thing: unique and engaging content is here to stay.
Quality content has taken center stage over the past 18 months, making it imperative to have strong copy supported by a focused SEO strategy.
Any hotel website without sufficient depth of content and without unique and engaging content, would have hard time with search engine rankings. HeBS Digital recommends a minimum of 25-40 content pages for a select service property, and 35-50 pages of content for a full-service property website.
A big full-service hotel or resort’s website should start with 75-100 pages of content. Utilizing the website’s CMS platform, create landing pages for each hotel special offer, package or promotion, as well as for events and happenings at the property or in the destination.
3. Use professional copywriting.
You get what you pay for – cheap copywriters typically provide thin, lifeless content that does little more than take up space on a page. Take the time to find professional copywriters with both SEO and hospitality experience that can be called “travel writers” in their own right.
These writers will be able to not only generate unique, engaging and quality content, but also help you brainstorm ideas and provide guidance on how to best present the hotel product online. Money spent on lasting content is money well spent.
4. Develop a content creation plan.
Building additional content does three things for your site. It creates deeper content, gives you more real estate to target segmented keywords, and it increases your PPC campaigns’ quality scores and lowers their cost per click.
Capture incremental revenue by targeting events such as nearby college graduations or upcoming sports games. Knowing these events ahead of time will allow you to post them far enough in advance to gain traction by the time the event happens and will prevent a last-minute rush.
Develop content based on special offers related to local attractions, such as theme parks, museums and sporting venues. Ultimately, the goal is to allow the website content to grow by hundreds of content pages every year.
Now that you have done all this work on your website and its off-site extensions, set aside some money to maintain it. Having the flexibility to tweak your SEO strategy throughout the year is a great thing. Anticipate minor content changes, new landing pages, linking incentives and other recommendations your SEO team may have.
5. Implement mobile SEO.
Quality content is the biggest "must-have" for a mobile site. The Google Panda algorithm updates favor mobile websites with rich visual and textual content that is fresh, engaging and optimized for the search engines.
Having a hotel mobile website – even if developed according to industry’s best practices – is only the beginning. The mobile web abides by different rules that require mobile web-specific marketing initiatives.
Mobile search engines favor and predominantly serve local content; therefore, hoteliers need to optimize their local content and listings on the search engines, main data providers, and local business directories.
6. Create a blog on the hotel website.
The Google Freshness update values – you guessed it – fresh content. This can sometimes be difficult to do for a static product such as a hotel, which is where a blog comes in handy.
A branded blog can keep followers up to date on the latest happenings at the property as well as area events and, for strong brands, include a lifestyle element. Keep in mind that a stale blog is worse than no blog it all.
7. Bring local search listings up to date.
Since the Google Venice update, local presence has become more of a focus. Over the past year or so, the SERPs have changed to allow for more local results, meaning that it is even more important to have strong local search listings.
Be sure that you have uploaded quality photos, included accurate information and written an optimized description. All of this information will help you build a strong local presence and increase your performance in mobile searches, which are increasing annually.
Creating and maintaining a Google+ page is a vital component of any hotel’s SEO strategy. While Google+ may not be the sensation that Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest are, it is the most important social medium when it comes to SEO.
Google+ essentially gives Google direct access to your browsing habits, what results you find useful and what sites you give your seal of approval to. Once you create a page, put relevant users in your circle and interact with them. This will give you an opportunity to take up more real estate on the SERPs and show up more often in "personal results".
8. Devise a quality inbound linking and citation strategy.
The Google Webspam update further penalized link farms and purchased links. Generally speaking, paid links have very little SEO value.
Go for unique organic links with relevant anchor text, such as editorial links and mentions of the property, listings on local CVB websites, local colleges, and nearby convention centers, theme parks and attractions.
Remember: bloggers are your friend, so work with local bloggers to have your hotel mentioned and linked to in their blog postings.
9. Utilize online press releases to promote special offers.
Press releases in the form of travel consumer deal alerts are an important tool for increasing traffic, awareness, and quality inbound links and citations.
Use a distribution system that allows you to target specific geographic areas for the most impact, and don’t forget to include a few links back to your site.
However, keep in mind that press releases should still be "newsworthy" items – announcing that your hotel is great for group travel does not warrant a press release.
10. Implement high-powered analytics and search ranking technology.
Search engine result page (SERP) rankings are just one measure of success. Organic performance can also be measured by revenue, bookings initiated, time on site, and other metrics.
Platforms such as Adobe Omniture can give detailed metrics on each keyword such as pages viewed, entry points, and revenue to help you make tweaks to your SEO strategy.
Revenue attribution SEO analysis, complemented with search ranking and recommendation technology such as BrightEdge, provides hoteliers with a concrete action plan to improve SEO results. When possible, analytics should be implemented prior to SEO work so you have a baseline to judge success against.
NB: This is a guest article by Max Starkov, president and CEO of HeBS Digital, a US-based full-service digital marketing, hotel website design and online channel strategy firm.
NB2:Hotel search image via Shutterstock.