The last 5 years have seen a major shift in the way travelers search for hotels online.
Some years ago when the traveler emancipated from Travel Agents and started doing their own hotel search the typical search could would have started with a broad query such as “Hotel in New York” and then drill down from there, as the traveler created their shortlist of hotels.
Not so anymore.
Since 2004 hotel search via broad queries has been on a steady decline. In most major cities the search volume for “hotels in [city]” has lost over 70% in just the last 6 years.
See the graphs below from Google Insight for Search on the search volume for three major cities.
Maybe search engine results were better back then (probably not), maybe there were less hotels to choose from, maybe too much optimizing of websites has spammed the results or a myriad of other things.
However the fact remains that travelers aren’t using search engines at the early stages of the buying process.
There is the possibility that guests are using long tail keywords such as “wedding luxury hotels in Geneva” and countless varieties of long tail keywords. Per Google there is a more focused search happening where guests are now looking for hotels in specific neighborhoods rather than cities. But even that doesn’t come near the loss of search using the city.
The new way to search for hotels
Just like yourself, the traveler isn’t going to search for a hotel using Google. They’re going to use meta search systems and in particular OTAs or TripAdvisor, from a travelers viewpoint it’s obviously the place to look as the results are pre-selected, sortable and in some cases one can book from right there.
When we first noticed the change in search we thought it was a problem, until we realized that it isn’t a problem because it doesn’t reflect on hotel occupancy, there are more rooms available in most cities and occupancy rates are quite similar (most certainly not following the search trend).
So it just showed us that the way they search has changed and not the number of people needing a hotel.
Look at the graphs of searches for Booking.com and Priceline combined
Volume de recherche combiné pour Booking.com et Priceline.
Google Hotel Finder and Hotel Price Ads on Google’s search engine results is obviously how Google is working in staying relevant in the hotel space. Both of these are also added value to the user, an integrated meta search on the results page with direct booking link can only be good news.
What this means for hotels
For hotels this means the billboard effect is more important today than ever before. It means you must work with OTAs to increase your distribution. It means you should search out all the different travel search sites like Kayak, Hotelscombined etc and work out how to be present on their platform with a link to your site and if possible your rates and inventory (direct to your site).
This also means that your SEO efforts should target very relevant keywords, less is more. Be precise if you are in SOHO don’t just target Hotels in SOHO but even more precise than that. Combine your SEO with your USP and focus on that skip all the useless keywords that are anyways not on the rise.
Separate the buying process out like this: Leave the broad search and early steps of the buying cycle to OTAs, TripAdvisor, Travel Writers. They give the best user experience but make sure you’re represented on these sites.
Take the typology search such as “boutique hotel in [city]” and leave those searches to special interest sites and travel writers. Again ensure your hotel is represented on these sites.
And when the search is more focused ensure your site is capturing all the visitors that are now ready to purchase.
VP Marketing and Sales
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