Search engine optimization – aka “SEO” – is a vital component of digital marketing that helps your property’s website gain visibility in front of the right travel shoppers at the right time through relevant search results.
What makes SEO important for hospitality businesses?
85% of travelers begin their travel planning on the Internet (source: Google). That being said, if you’re not appearing in search engine results, your property is basically non-existent to the majority of travelers who do their research online. Even if you have implemented SEO for your website, travel shoppers aren’t likely to click past the first page of search results, so if you’re not ranked high (or showing up at all) in search queries, you’re losing visibility to your competitors. And, in this arena losing to your competition means you’re handing them bookings and revenue that could have easily belonged to you.
Beyond that, you’ve got more competition than you think. Not only is your property pitted against other hotels, motels, resorts and B&Bs, but you’re also competing against aggregate websites (like online travel agencies) and brand websites – these kinds of websites are given a lot of authority by Google because they are considered extremely trustworthy, which automatically gives them an advantage in where they appear in search results.
By adhering to SEO best practices – and choosing terms and keywords most relevant to your property, location and target market– you can gain visibility and achieve significant increases in traffic, eventually leading to more bookings and higher revenue.
The key to being seen and driving traffic and direct bookings through SEO is understanding exactly what kinds of people and searches most accurately relate to your property and its role in fulfilling travel shoppers’ needs. In the same way that airport locations wouldn’t target wedding groups, high-end resorts shouldn’t be targeting budget-conscious travelers.
Getting Started with Hospitality SEO
If you were to speak with Billy Jefferson, Senior SEO Analyst at VIZERGY, he would let you know that research is essential to effective SEO:
“Keyword research is quite possibly THE most important step. No matter what your business is, or what type of search engine marketing you’re pursuing, this step needs to be taken from the get-go.”
Your target market determines what keywords have the most value and will return the most relevant travel shoppers to your website. For instance, resorts on Miami Beach have a different target market than airport hotels and should use different keywords to attract this market. Zeroing in on keywords that most accurately describe your property will direct the highest converting traffic to your website.
Simply considering what your key selling features are or the differences between your property and your competitors’ property is a great place to start your keyword research. Ask yourself questions like those that follow to help you determine what keywords and phrases will return the most qualified travel shoppers to your website:
- Are you a hotel, motel, resort or bed & breakfast?
- Are you pet and/or family friendly?
- Are you located on the beach, in a city center, historic district, or close to a sports stadium or ampitheater?
- Do you offer suites, a variety of business amenities, or a large meeting space?
- Do you offer free shuttle service to/from the airport and other local businesses or places of interest?
- Is breakfast inclusive in stays at your property?
Assessing your competitors’ websites to see which words and phrases they use can also be helpful. Using a keyword research tool like Google’s can help you determine if some keywords are worth targeting, and, if so, how much competition there is for that term, as well as what iterations of the term appear in search results.
Visitors and bookings to your direct website are what your property is looking for, so it’s important that your website show up first for your brand in order to avoid OTA or third-party fees for bookings made on other websites – and yes, no matter how small your property is, you still have a brand.
Beyond brand, the second most important set of terms to optimize is location. In general, location paired with terms like “hotels”, “lodging”, “suites”, “cabins” or “resorts” often return a higher quantity of searches, but will result in a lower conversion rate because they are so broad. Adding more targeted niche terms to these location phrases may return fewer searches, but result in a higher conversion rate due to the specificity of the search.
- Corporate offices
- Theme parks
- Historic Districts
- Convention centers
- Shopping, dining and entertainment districts
- Popular annual or seasonal events
SEO Practices to Embrace & Avoid
As far as SEO goes, it’s important to understand what is and isn’t acceptable to the search engines to avoid any potential disasters, like having your site disappear altogether from search results. Knowing the difference between good and bad SEO practices can help you avoid pitfalls.
White hat optimization is any optimization technique that is recommended and approved by search engines and does not involve any form of deception. Simply put: the content that a search engine uses to index and rank your site should be the same content your visitors can see.
White hat optimization will naturally produce long-term positive results, while the alternate type – black hat optimization – only works as long as a site can get away with the “malpractices.” When a search engine discovers deceptive optimization techniques, it either temporarily or permanently bans the site from its search engine.
Use the chart below to stay on point with acceptable SEO practices and save yourself from dealing with a major headache:
As you consider the best SEO strategy for your hotel, resort or bed & breakfast, don’t forget: there is no “one size fits all” solution within the hospitality industry. Through research, keyword targeting and optimization, properties can expect to see valuable traffic that ends in conversions. An effective SEO strategy takes into account each property’s unique qualities, target market and demand generators, ensuring your website is highly visible and easily found by future guests.