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HomeSEOSEO for Hospitality Businesses: Attracting Guests and Visitors Online

SEO for Hospitality Businesses: Attracting Guests and Visitors Online


As a medium, search marketing also has the advantage of being one of the most accountable and cost-effective online marketing platforms. A well-optimized website with a well-run paid search campaign has the potential to provide the lowest cost per acquisition when compared to any other online marketing initiative. This is ideal for travel businesses that generally compete in an industry cluttered with costly third-party online travel agencies and aggregators. High commissions from these services often erode the profit margin of direct online bookings from a hotel or other accommodation supplier.

SEO may not be the first consideration for a marketing manager within a travel business. The marketing budget is often allocated to other initiatives, and there is a perception within the travel industry that search engines are not a significant source of qualified online leads. However, this perception is far from reality. According to a study by Webvisible and Nielsen on where consumers research and purchase travel online, search engines were unanimously voted as the top source.

This guide is structured around the rationale, strategy, and tactics of search engine optimization for brands and businesses in the travel industry. It is intended to help marketing managers, general managers, and owners of accommodation properties understand the depth of SEO and its potential to transform their business.

Importance of SEO for Hospitality Businesses

SEO service is essential for all industries in today’s business climate, but it is particularly pertinent in the hospitality industry, which has become one of the most competitive in the world. The main reason for the importance of SEO for hospitality businesses is the ability to attract increased website and real-time foot traffic. This can be crucial for small or medium-sized hospitality businesses looking to stand out in a crowded market. Ultimately, increased traffic driven by search can provide a large number of bookings and increased revenue. Specifically targeting users who have shown search intent (i.e., looking to book a holiday as opposed to those who are just browsing) has been shown to increase sales by as much as 20% for hospitality businesses. High-quality SEO can also give hospitality businesses long-term and consistent results. This is in contrast to paid search, as once you stop putting money in, you will immediately lose visibility. For those operating in the highly competitive tourism sector, SEO is not just a marketing expense. It is an investment in their company’s future.

Benefits of Optimizing Websites for Search Engines

An increase in visitors to a hospitality business website can be translated to an increase in sales and loyal customers. This may then create a snowball effect, as the increase in sales may provide a further opportunity to promote the brand using offline marketing methods. The end result is a cost-effective method of promoting the brand and obtaining sales, as SEO has the potential to generate a high return on investment. This is particularly attractive during tough economic conditions when many other competitor companies may not be marketing aggressively.

SEO presents an effective alternative to traditional online marketing methods which can be expensive, and often ineffective in reaching the target audience. Optimizing a website using SEO techniques enables the website to become more visible in the search engines index. When a potential customer is seeking the product or service that the website offers, it has a far greater chance of the website being visible to the customer, as it will appear on the first page of the search engine analyses. By being more visible, the website has more potential to obtain new customers and/or sales.

Hospitality businesses have traditionally employed various techniques to attract customers through both offline and online marketing. However, a global shift in market behavior to internet-based information has necessitated the restructuring of marketing approaches so as to remain competitive. The RCSA has identified that in 2005 there was a global total of $17.7 billion dollars spent on internet advertising. This alone is concrete empirical evidence to suggest that reevaluation of marketing strategies to include the online marketplace is crucial.

Overview of SEO Strategies for Hospitality Businesses

As mentioned at the beginning of this essay, the strategies that will be suggested in the following sections are aimed at optimizing the hospitality website to attract guests and visitors. These strategies will direct the hospitality website towards being an informational resource for travelers, an advisor for guests who don’t know where to go or what to do, and a lodging resource for visitors. These strategies differ significantly from strategies aimed at e-marketers looking to make a sale. E-marketers seeking a sale want the visitor to leave the search engine and view their product as a potential purchase. Often times these strategies are aimed at moving a web page higher in rankings so as to increase visibility. Retail and sales strategies often employ ‘doorway pages’ and ‘gateway pages’ that move browsers directly from search engines to the main page of a product website. Often times these strategies are not appropriate for general websites and can detract from useful content. The strategies suggested here are less concerned with moving pages up in ranks for better visibility as they are with making site prominent search engine destination and landing spots for travelers and potential guests. Essentially an e-marketer wants his product to be the destination, while most content sites want their pages to be considered destinations. Considering the millions of travel-related searches conducted everyday, the strategies suggested herein work to make hospitality websites the final destination for many searchers.

On-Page Optimization Techniques

Following this is the often overlooked area of URL optimization. This involves having a uniform set of URLs across your whole site that are relevant to the content in the pages. Dynamic URLs and session IDs are two common problems that many sites encounter. Search engines do not like to index pages with a lot of query strings; the indexing of these pages often leads to a lot of duplicate content. Session IDs are also problematic as they tend to result in the indexing of multiple URLs that all link to the same page. This can also cause duplicate content and, in addition, can split the link popularity of a page between the various URLs. Both of these issues can be dealt with effectively with the use of a good content management system and a sitemap.

Keyword density is also an important factor, but it is vital that you do not sacrifice quality and good readability of copy in an attempt to increase density. Keyword stuffing is the common mistake where your page is loaded with keywords in an attempt to manipulate rankings. This is not only ineffective but can result in your site being penalized.

A popular example often used is the term ‘five star hotel’. This phrase may be too competitive to attain high rankings, and even if it could be achieved, it would bring a vague audience looking for anything from information to jobs, to hotel listings, and also people looking for lower quality hotels wanting to find out what the term means. It would be much more effective to target a more specific phrase such as ‘luxury five-star hotel accommodation’. This would be far easier to attain high rankings and would bring in a far more targeted audience of people who actually want to spend money on this form of accommodation.

First up on the list is keyword research and optimization. Specifically, pages should be developed for all the potentially relevant keyword variations. In identifying the best keywords to target, it is important to remember that single keywords are almost unachievable as they are too competitive; therefore, it may be necessary to aim for a two to three keyword phrase. Single keywords are also somewhat useless as they do not bring in a targeted audience.

Keyword Research and Optimization

This is perhaps the most important step in the entire SEO process. If you do not choose and target keywords for which your potential guests are searching, you will not generate traffic. To start the keyword research process, you need to select the most important URLs for your site. This could be the homepage, or a specific page of a hotel, or a page of a restaurant within the hotel. You must then brainstorm a few solid keywords that you think would best describe the content on that page. Once you have a small list compiled, it’s time to use a keyword research tool. There are many keyword research tools out there. Some are free, and some are quite expensive. For the travel and hotel industry, Wordtracker and Keyword Discovery are the two best tools. Each of these tools will provide you with a list of related keywords to the ones you are searching. It will also show you how many times on average each word is searched within a specific time frame around the world, and how competitive the keyword is in terms of pay-per-click advertising. It’s important to note here that these search metrics are for PPC and sometimes are inaccurate in relating to natural search, but it is still a good guide. Another really useful keyword research tool can be found in Google’s Adwords advertising program. It will generate a list of suggested keywords for you based on your input, and the list can be very comprehensive.

Meta Tags and Descriptions

Adding to the importance of keyword research, meta tags and descriptions are also a relatively easy task to implement and yield significant results. A meta tag is an HTML tag that provides metadata about your web page. Meta tags don’t appear on the page itself but only in the page’s code. Its purpose is to provide the search engine with information about what the website is about. An example of a meta tag is typing a series of words that relate to your site’s content. Meta tags can be in the form of a single word, a sentence, or a short paragraph. Similar to the importance of a title tag, search engines often give meta tags a higher weighting when determining search engine rankings. This, in turn, increases the traffic to your site. Although search engines have no trouble reading meta tags, they will pull directly from the tags to display on the search engine results page. Since meta tags are essentially a reflection of what a site offers, it’s important that it gives the user a clear summary of what the site is about – enticing them to enter. An important tip to remember with meta tags and descriptions is to make sure you make each one unique. The worst-case scenario is having multiple duplicate meta tags and descriptions – this is essentially considered spamming and it’ll hurt your ranking. Different meta tags will also mean better keyword density.

Content Optimization and Internal Linking

Content optimization means a lot of things to different SEOs. To me, content optimization means making sure your content appeals to both users and search engines and is the basis for every other optimization an SEO performs. Content will become less important over time, but for the interim, it is something that cannot be ignored. With the dawn of personalized search, taking into consideration the identities of different visitors and showing them different content, now is the time to make a strong effort towards content optimization. Coming up with good, relevant content can be difficult, and many times it is hard to gauge what exactly your visitors are looking for. Keyword research tools can be helpful in this regard, as you can see how many people are searching for specific terms and which terms are related to others. On the whole, the goal of content optimization can be a hard thing to quantify and show results for, but your website analytics will be the best place to look to see how changes in your content affect your site’s traffic and conversions.

An important factor in understanding the algorithms of search engines is content. Intelligently crafted content with just the right amount of keyword phrases, proportionate keyword density, and well-written, interesting information will make a website stand out in the crowd. Using keyword phrases is crucial because search engines give higher preference to metadata and text that has been selected by or is typed in by the user. This means that there is a higher probability that the user will be directed to your website. If the content is high quality, other webmasters may find it useful and link to it. This will increase the number of relevant inbound links, further increasing the website’s rank. A measure often ignored by webmasters, content should be reviewed and updated often. Search engines favor recent content, and a website that is changed often will be revisited by search engine spiders more often.

Off-Page Optimization Techniques

Social media marketing is a new concept that enables hospitality businesses to engage in online conversations with their current and potential guests about their products and services. It is the 14th most important factor in SEO and is increasingly playing a more significant role. It involves promoting a product or service through social media platforms and content sharing. This method is proving to be more effective than traditional advertising and is having a massive impact on customer relationships. To be effective at social media marketing in the hospitality industry, it is important to create and establish an online objective, build a trusted brand, engage with multiple and diverse demographics, create and manage sponsored content, and integrate websites and social channels.

Link building is the process of developing incoming links to your website. This is an important off-page optimization technique as it helps improve your website’s page rank. The link building technique helps create a network of hyperlinks from other websites with the aim of driving traffic to your own website. It is important to build links with other websites that have similar interests to attract the type of visitors you want. It is also beneficial to have high page rank sites linking to your own. An effective way to build links is through backlink analysis, which involves finding out which links are helping your site the most. Periodically running link checks is necessary to ensure that the linked content is still relevant to your site. The first step in backlink analysis is to determine the quality and quantity of backlinks associated with your website and other online properties. The next step is to compare your links to those of your competition to identify new link building opportunities. It is important to analyze and understand the three main factors that influence the value of backlinks: keywords, content, and page rank. The third step is to resolve any backlink issues that may be affecting your link relationships. Finally, use the data obtained to develop and implement an effective link building campaign.

Link Building and Backlink Analysis

Backlink analysis encompasses the diagnosis of your website or your competitors’ backlinks. This can be done using various tools to assess where your website is currently situated in terms of backlinks and also to see who is linking to your website. The latter is particularly important as it is likely that there are many backlinks which are not from websites that are in any way relevant to your site and may, in fact, have been ‘spam’ generated by automated software. An example of an irrelevant backlink would be a hotel in London having a backlink from a website that sells car tyres. This could actually harm search engine rankings, as it may indicate to the search engine that your website is not, in fact, a hotel website if the backlinks are coming from off-topic sources. In this case, it would be wise to request that the website remove the backlink. It is more likely, however, that the backlink has been added by the owner of the other website and therefore never reviewed by the hotel.

Link building involves the cultivation of a wide array of high-quality backlinks for your website. A backlink is considered a vote of confidence for a website. The more high-quality backlinks a website has, the more popular and important search engines perceive it to be. For hospitality businesses, a backlink could be placed on a local tourist information website, sending a referral to your website for hotel booking.

Social Media Marketing for Hospitality Businesses

We must now understand the modern purchase and search behavior of consumers today. Consumers are now used to searching for brands on social media. Many will eyeball search a brand name into the Google search bar when trying to find out more about the brand or business. With this in mind, it is important to ensure that a brand is visible within search engines when users are searching for the brand name on both organic search and paid search. This can be done through implementing a branded PPC campaign. Although it’s not strictly an SEO activity, the long-term increase in click-through from search engines is likely to increase due to the increased brand visibility as a result of the campaign. A working example of this process can be found on a recent Ignition campaign for Travelodge. Because searchers are familiar with the Travelodge brand, the PPC campaign resulted in an increase in organic traffic due to users clicking on the organic search results after seeing the ad.

Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ have all implemented a structured data markup that can optimize how a website is visible when shared via social media. When visitors share things like hotels or restaurants, the shared content has the opportunity to include a picture, a description, and any relevant metadata assigned to that page. An effectively marked-up website can result in more frequent, branded, and potentially higher converting visits from social media.

Social media marketing has the potential to increase website traffic through the process of linking. Social media links are now often considered to be good quality inbound links, and a majority of the search engine algorithms are including these links as a factor that shows a strong website. This, in turn, contributes to PageRank.

Online Reputation Management

After the most widely recognized framework of the online hospitality sector has been established, one must heighten its “Online Reputation”. This can be done through feedback from customers who have recently visited a particular property. Testimonials can be used throughout the site, stating customers’ satisfaction with certain aspects of the property. This will infatuate potential customers. During a search conducted by a potential guest, chances are they would explore several options before a selection is made. Constructing a voice for the property will most likely close the deal with newly attracted customers. Branding is key to developing an effective reputation. This can be done through acquiring a domain with the property’s name. Steady traffic from links and searches is more probable for a website with a domain. An optimized site will rank higher, and a likely result of this is more traffic. With more potential customers finding out our brand, familiarity will come into play. Most consumers feel comfortable purchasing something that they are familiar with. This results in an increase in sales and repeat business from the same customers. An effective online reputation will steer new and repeat business to the direct website, as opposed to booking through a third party. Considering the vast amount of hospitality businesses available online, reputation can be everything. Non-branded search is something that cannot be controlled. This is why maintaining the best on-page and off-page reputation is crucial. A potential customer who has found a property through a non-branded search and may have never heard of it before will form an opinion through its website and others’ opinions of it. If the opinion is a great one, it is possible that this customer retains the site and its location and comes back to the area directly booking with the same property. Booking can also occur if the reputation is a good one. Providing a link in certain ads or links to the property can result in redirected traffic directly to the site, as opposed to the company providing the link. With so many businesses competing, an effective reputation may spread your company far ahead of others in its category.

Local SEO for Hospitality Businesses

A major part of local SEO is observed within the Google search engine. When you Google something, it used to be the place you Google’d is now a prime region for paid ads and the Google Map, which is accompanied by local search results. When using SEO to enhance local search results, your purpose is to have your hotel appear in the pinnacle seven automatic search results, sometimes known as the 7-pack or map-pack. Appearing in this range will greatly increase the quantity of natural traffic to your site and a byproduct will in all likelihood be an enlargement in direct revenue via calls and website traffic.

Local SEO plays a critical role in enticing visitors to a hotel. A recent research by Revinate found that 18% of hotel visitors begin their investigation for a hotel by doing a local search. According to comScore, 54% of searchers encompass local intent and your odds of converting the visitors with local intent is incredibly high. 18% of local searches lead to a sale inside one day. The identical research found that 72% of local searchers visited a store interior five miles in their region. With an effective local search method, your hotel ought to be in a position to tap into part of that potential revenue.

Importance of Local SEO for Attracting Guests

Recent data shows that somewhere between 20% to 50% of the money businesses are spending on advertising and marketing is being wasted. These are very scary figures. It’s shown that a large number of SMEs have no effective ongoing marketing plan. This is a significant mistake. The lifeblood of any business is a long assembly of consumers and successful buyers. This is a challenge to build a brand and make it into the customer’s consciousness so they recognize and consider the brand when it comes time to purchase a service. SEO solves this problem. By implementing an effective SEO campaign for a hospitality service, they will experience an ongoing assembly line of customers and lucrative customers. This is because SEO never sleeps. It is a non-stop and ongoing process that will eventually bring more and more traffic and income. This is different from paid advertising where the traffic is only turned on as long as you are paying for the ads.

Local SEO (Search Engine Optimization) offers a profound opportunity for hospitality businesses to convey their services to local customers at the exact time they’re seeking your service. Unlike traditional advertising mediums, with local SEO, there is almost no wastage exposure. You reach potential consumers when they require your service and are actively seeking it. This makes it more effective than traditional advertising (i.e., leaflets and local newspapers), as it builds your business, increases income, and improves the ROI of your marketing.

Optimizing Google My Business Listing

GMB provides insight about the ways in which consumers search for your business and where they are located. It helps you to gauge the effectiveness of your marketing strategies and the demographic you are reaching. By understanding your consumers’ behaviors, you can design smarter, more strategic ads that will really resonate with demand. GMB also provides a two-way street between your business and the consumers. People can follow your business to stay connected and informed, and you can respond to your customers by utilizing the review feature. By acknowledging and responding to both positive and negative feedback, you can gain credibility, show empathy towards the consumer, and build a loyal clientele.

By providing insightful and useful facts about your business, GMB can help you get a leg up on the competition and stand out to potential customers and visitors. A well-managed GMB listing can increase the chances that a customer who found your business via Google will make a purchase.

When it comes to finding an ideal location for a leisurely afternoon or an evening out, today’s customers want to engage with the businesses around them. They’re looking for more information about your business – which can be frustrating if you don’t have a GMB profile.

Google My Business (GMB) is a free and user-friendly tool for businesses and organizations to manage their online presence across Google, including Search and Maps. By verifying and editing your business information, you can both help customers find your business and tell them your story.

Generating Positive Reviews and Managing Online Listings

Step by step, business listings in the form of positive reviews began to accumulate. After two years of progressive review management, an analysis done by the hotel showed that 40% of its new guests were referred there by online reviews, and the business had seen a 20% increase in customer retention. This is an example of how happy customers can act as free marketers to the business and lead to tangible return in terms of new customers and revenue.

For evidence on the impact of reviews in local SEO, we can turn to a case study of a Seattle-based boutique hotel. The hotel had been newly opened for business and had a minimal online presence. However, by making some good hires in both staff and management, the hotel was able to provide an exceptional level of service to new guests. Guests were often informal advocates for the business, but the hotel’s staff suggested that they post their recommendations on review sites in order to help attract more guests to the somewhat obscure location.

An analysis by eMarketer indicates that 89% of US internet users make a decision on which hospitality business to book with based on the online reviews of the business. This shows that effective management of business listings and positive reviews is a vital aspect of local SEO.

The lifeblood of local businesses is word of mouth. For a hotel or restaurant, this goes beyond simply offering a great service. Business listings have existed in one form or another for decades, acting as recommendations to guests or visitors looking for a place to stay or a bite to eat. However, many hotel and restaurant owners may not have given much thought to translating the concept of word of mouth into the digital context.

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