With the recent release of Google Panda and other updates to the Google search engine results there may exist some confusion on what hotels need to do on their websites to optimize their site. We’ve noticed some marketing agencies communicating to hotels with advice on how to optimize their sites to capture lots of keywords sometimes related and sometimes not.
There is a lot of information out there about search engine optimization. I’ll be quite honest with you, the vast majority doesn’t have a lot of value. Most of them try to position SEO as “free advertising” for hotels (or other verticals), which is actually a lie. Search engine optimization is in essence a matter of ensuring one’s website is configured correctly so that search engines can properly read the site and properly categorize the information within the site in their systems.
SEO has gotten a bad name in many circles because it is being done to trick the search engines rather than to help users. This makes for results on search engines which are less than useful and thus both users and search engines start avoiding them or classifying them as spam.
There is a very precise point when search engine becomes spam. The moment SEO is not done to help the end user navigate your website, it can be classified as spam. Practices like adding 500 words of text on your hotel’s home page for no other reason than to get good indexing in search engines is spam. If the end user isn’t going to read that text and if it isn’t going to help them decide if they are going to book a room then it just has no purpose and should be avoided.
As a hotelier or hotel marketer what you are probably being approached by some unscrupulous “SEO experts” that show you a long winded analysis of your website and then tell you that they can remedy that. Or who propose you a huge list of backlinks that they can get you “cheap”. Not being an expert in the matter one can easily fall in the trap of buying into these services that are actually useless for one’s bookings or which reduce a website’s efficiency.
Here are a few simple steps to know about search engine optimization for hotels:
1. A hotel should focus on the keywords that will generate bookings.
It’s a common misbelief that the more traffic one gets the more bookings one will get. The real datum is, more relevant visits the more bookings. Let me give you an example: someone proposes to get you listed on “Design hotel in London” while this is tempting because there is a high search volume for that keyword. Now factor in a few more points:
(a) the competition for that keywords is going to be huge, as a hotel it’s going to cost you a fortune to get there,
(b) the guest who is searching for design hotels in london is quite early on the buying cycle and unless you’re the most amazing design hotel in London meeting all of the guests criteria (location, price, comfort) you’re not going to get a booking since the guest is still shopping and
(c) people searching such broad terms are more interested in finding a selection of design hotels to compare rather than a single hotel.
This doesn’t mean it wont get you any bookings but if you compare the cost it will take to get and stay at such a keywords versus the actual bookings made you will see it’s a low yield opportunity.
2. Your hotel’s site doesn’t need to be loaded with text to have good SEO.
What these “experts” are probably telling you is that your site needs to have much more text which is written with a 2% to 5% keyword repetition. Thus in many cases convincing you to fill the home page with text so it looks something like this.
Now ask yourself how many times you read that text as a user to decide which hotel you are going to book in. Well guests don’t either. Hotels are visual, users want to see where they are going to. Either the decoration fits their needs or it doesn’t, no amount of sales copy can make a bad decoration look good.
While this may be a “strategy” that will capture more traffic from search engine results the fact remains that if it isn’t there for the end user then it is an attempt to trick search engines into seeing something that isn’t there and let’s face it, that is spam.
What your site does need is to properly represent what is there. List the amenities in the rooms. Make a short description of the room decoration if it deserves some description and list your services, but limit it to information that will help your guests choose your hotel. For example hair-dryers in rooms, free or paid wifi, Hermes room amenities etc all contribute to the end user’s understanding of the room and hotel.
A hotel marketer asked me about this recently pointing out search terms like “Luxury wedding package hotel”, if your hotel offers such service and is set up to make a great user experience for luxury weddings then by all means create a page that gives all the details about that.
An additional point you should verify as a hotelier is that all the pictures are properly tagged and each have alternative descriptions. While this could seem like a way to “trick” search engines it shouldn’t be. It helps the visually impaired understand what is on the image and if the person can’t load the images for some reason they actually have additional information about what should be there.
3. “You need more back-links to your site.”
At the outset of search engines back-links was the dominating factor that determined if you would be well ranked with search engines. While that remains a very important factor today realize that buying link packages is considered a very bad practice and should be avoided. If someone proposes something like this to you, steer clear of that marketing agency.
Yes you need links back to your site but chances are you already have quite a few and most of them are probably very good.
There are some basics you should do such as ensure your site is listed in Google Places, Yelp, Local phone directories etc and those should be done. These links are good for the user and of course will help your site. If you want to receive more incoming links then work with local or international travel news sites etc to inform them about events, changes, upgrades, renovations or other elements of your hotel that they would want to write about.
4. Email alerts that your site is badly optimized.
There are some companies that have automatic systems which they send out to non-clients alerting them that the website isn’t properly optimized and should be improved. These are automatic emails and you can treat them like you treat all the other spam. If it’s not your marketing agency or webmaster telling you this (and chances are it isn’t) then it’s unsolicited mail and probably useless. If they alert you of something useful like there are no headers on your site then you can forward it to your webmaster and ask them to remedy it.
5. Blog on your site.
A great way to add content to your site is to have a blog, because you can update it as a hotelier and you don’t need to ask your webmaster to do it for you, thus save you lots of money. However when you have a blog there are a few points to take into account.
You need to have the manpower to keep it updated. Count at least 5 hours a week. A stale blog is worse than no blog so either you do it right or don’t do it at all.
Content you put on the blog needs to be relevant to your hotel. We’ve noticed two types of hotels and the content to put in there.
(a) A city hotel is often found after the person has decided to go to the city. Chances are the guest knows about the museums, monuments and main events in the city. There’s no point telling them about these on the blog. However putting more information about the hotel would help them. If you’ve just renovated a few rooms, if you’re doing an easter party (or just did one and want to post pics) etc. In general talk about the hotel for city hotels.
(b) Resorts and hotels outside the city are often found before the guest explores the area. For those types of hotels it would add value to talk about monuments, excursions, treks and trips that can be done around the hotel.
But don’t use the blog as a tool to capture traffic, use it as a tool to inform guests and answer guest questions. If it’s well written, if you’ve tagged the photos correctly people will share them, search engines will like them and you’ll get relevant traffic.
To make a real-world analogy on SEO we could say SEO is like the signage outside your hotel. No SEO would mean nobody knows you even exist and there is no sign outside the hotel telling people where to go, so people that are interested in your hotel never find you and go elsewhere and people that are looking for a hotel in your street also don’t find you.
Good SEO would be a proper sign that reflects the quality of the hotel and guests that expect to find out about you easily do. If you’re a luxury boutique hotel you wouldn’t want a flashy neon sign flashing “Open”. It would be relevant with your hotel’s quality.
Bad SEO would be a billboard in the middle of the street stopping all traffic and forcing the pedestrians and cars to go through your hotel in order to move further down the street. You’ll get lots of traffic, if your hotel is great you’ll probably get some more bookings, but 98% of the people being forced through your hotel would be upset by the experience. The traffic from that billboard would soon destroy your reputation and classify you as a “spammer”.
If you’re going to work on your hotel’s marketing and SEO chose a partner that specializes in hotel marketing with a track record in efficient hotel websites and who can show you stats of bookings not just visits.
VP Marketing and Sales
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