Every hotelier needs to know their market, and which customers they wish to target. This is the number one rule of all marketing - to be as niche as possible, so that your marketing is directed towards the right customer base, with the maximum effectiveness. Social media and online searches are now the overriding way potential guests look for the right hotel for their needs, and hoteliers must therefore be very clued-in about what people are searching for, how to appeal to them, and maximise the process. Understanding Search Engine Optimisation, or SEO, is therefore a crucial part of the marketing strategy of any hotel.
The power of hotel SEO
SEO is used to make a hotel's website and online presence more visible online, and to increase its ranking in search engine results pages (SERPs). The primary goal of hotel SEO is to attract organic (that is, non-paid) traffic by ensuring that it appears prominently in search engine results when users look for relevant ‘keywords’ or phrases. But what constitutes ‘relevant’?
Well, think about how you might describe your hotel: You might say ‘Cosy hotel,’ or ‘Nice hotel’. But pause for even a moment and it’s clear that this isn’t enough to attract attention. ‘Cosy hotel close to the beach’ immediately starts to convey something of the character of the business. Add ‘boutique’ to the description, and now a potential guest is starting to see that a ‘Cosy boutique hotel close to the beach’ might be just what they are looking for.
Note that the locality is something which is important for search engines. There are many hotels in the world, close to many beaches, but a search engine will be looking in a specified area, either because the customer has defined their terms, or because they are responding to a prompt such as ‘Find nearby boutique hotels’. This shows us that the more accurate a description of a hotel is, the more easily it can be ‘ranked’ by a search engine.
To be ranked in SERPs can be the difference between being noticed, and being ignored. At least a quarter of all searchers choose the first item on a list returned by the search engine. This falls off rapidly to 15% and 11% for second and third placings, down to just a few percent by the bottom of the first page. Few people are persistent enough to continue to search pages two, three, and so on. So the hotel leading the rankings is king, and tends to stay that way as long as it remains current and SEO-aware.
SE rule number one: Know your guests
So let’s return to the target audience, and knowing who your guests are. While a word like ‘cosy’ may be a fitting description for a certain demographic such as retirees, it’s unlikely to set the hearts of millennials on fire. If it’s millennials who are your target, then you need to think of what will really attract them (Great wifi? 24/7 refreshments? Easy access to nightspots?) Being close to a beach will probably be just the thing for families, and well worth mentioning if you’re offering family-friendly accommodation. However, always remember - no hotel can be all things to all people, so put in the time to figure out what your ‘secret sauce’ really is, and who it appeals to, then craft that into short messages that search engines can optimise.
Why Search Engine Optimisation can't be ignored
This presumes that you have a website, and are maintaining it to ensure that it’s attractive, and current. A hotel website which mentions interesting events from last year, will annoy potential guests, and demonstrates a lack of thought and care on the part of the hotel. If the most customer-facing part of the operation isn’t well-maintained, then what can be expected of the hotel’s services?
So a great website is very important in attracting and retaining people’s interest. That doesn’t mean it has to be complex, or ‘all-singing, all-dancing.’ Attractive and smoothly functioning, yes for sure, but simplicity and ease of use are super important too. And however good you think your website is, having read this article, and studied the art of SEO further, you have to be prepared to revisit your online presence in order to tune it for maximum optimisation.
But how do people reach your hotel website through search engines, or find it through platforms such as OTAs, TripAdvisor, or Airbnb? This is where SEO comes into play, and without optimisation, the chance is slim of standing out from the crowd and reaching the upper ranks of SERPs.
SEO consists of 3 main areas
- On-site SEO: that is everything you find on a specific webpage
- Off-site SEO: actions taken off your website that directly impact your website’s rankings. This is for example acquiring backlinks to your pages.
- Technical SEO: the technical health of your website that enables effortless crawling processes.
Let’s see what these entail in detail and how you can use them to improve your website’s rankings.
On-site SEO tips
Let’s begin by looking at some of the actions you should take to get your website and online presence humming more effectively. Some of these actions are well within the abilities of hoteliers and their staff. Others may require specialist technical assistance, but it’s important that at least you understand the principles:
1. Utilise the findings of a Keyword research
Keywords are descriptors such as we have already mentioned, ‘hotel’ obviously being an important one. You and your team should meet and brainstorm to figure out what keywords work best for your hotel and your target audience. Never forget the needs of those searching for your hotel! Are you a city hotel, a backpacker-friendly hotel, a comfortable and secluded hotel?
Also, brainstorm and research long-tail keywords, which are specific phrases that provide more flavour, such as ‘luxury accommodation close to all major attractions’ or ‘a pet-friendly hotel’. The long-tail keywords help qualify the traffic that’s coming your way, and that makes the process of guests finding you, and booking with you more likely.
Local keywords are also clearly important. If your hotel is well-placed to visit a nearby landmark or place of natural beauty, then be sure to include that in the list. When thinking about keywords and phrases, focus on your hotel’s main characteristics, as seen from the searcher’s perspective:
- Target terms that travellers will likely use to describe your hotel
- Think about why people travel to your location
- Consider what they are looking to do
- Ensure that you know what they will like and appreciate about your hotel
- Be sure to include relevant additional services, such as spa and wellness facilities
- Location, location, location! If your hotel is handy for visiting something interesting or even spectacular, mention it!
2. Making SEO keywords relevant
By this point it should be clear to you and your team which keywords and long-tail words and phrases look like winners in pushing your hotel up the SERPs rankings. However this isn’t done only on ‘feelings’ - there are well established online research tools available to analyse the effectiveness of keywords. These include Google Keyword Planner, Semrush and Ahrefs - simply enter your chosen ‘seed’ keywords and these programmes will automatically generate the predicted ‘search volumes’. It’s worth mentioning at this point that Google dominates the search engine market at over 85%, with closest rival Bing managing 8.23%. Therefore, Google’s ranking requirements cannot be ignored.
3. Getting your metadata cooking
You’re a hotelier, not an IT wizard, but having an appreciation of metadata will at least help you understand the IT wizard about what needs to be done to make your website and online presence work more effectively. ‘Meta tags’ are part of those endless lines of code that programmers tap into computer screens, that somehow then turn into useful information: great text and images of your hotel. Meta tag elements provide additional data about the page. This information can include the author, page title, description, date, or any other important information that we want to emphasise on the page.
The 2 most prominent pieces of information that appear in the search results after doing a search are the meta title and meta description. Google actually considers the title as a ranking factor as it’s one of the primary indicators of a page’s topic. Therefore, you need to make sure to optimise your titles, making sure that it addresses the searcher’s question. Apart from that, a catchy and descriptive title can improve the click through rate, which further improves the page SEO.
Meta description, on the other hand, is not a ranking factor. However, being one of the first things users see after making a search, it’s crucial to optimise it in order to encourage clicking through. No need to stuff it with keywords, just make sure you summarise what users find on a page in a helpful manner.
You want people to be attracted by the ‘headline’ search result, with a high ranking, but then the meta information will provide a strong additional push to get them to ‘click through’ to your website or posting.
As such your meta description should always be kept simple, and ‘punchy’:
- Use less than 155 characters for a meta description. If you write more, your description will be truncated.
- Don’t keep repeating the same information - use different descriptions for each page.
- Always think of what the searcher is looking for - your job is to help them!
- Use sentence case - meaning only the first word of a sentence is capitalised. Why? - Because the search engines ‘prefer’ this, and we really want to feed them with what they prefer!
4. Analysing the competition
As you home-in on a list of likely keywords, long-tail keywords and meta data, also analyse what the competition is saying and how they are saying it. It’s super easy: all you have to do is search for hotels in your area, trying the various keywords that you’re thinking of using, compared to the keywords they use. It should soon become obvious which keywords help push a hotel up the rankings. Study that, and see where they come in the rankings. This can easily be done by looking at search results, but there are also automatic tools, such as Google’s own ranking algorithms, and many other proprietary tools including SE Ranking and Moz. Then, all you have to do is to create better, more helpful, more comprehensive content.
Off-site SEO tips
These are the more ‘techy’ aspects of ensuring that your hotel’s online presence is high in the SERPs rankings, creating an impact with people searching for exactly what you are offering. That’s not the only way to make your presence felt though, because building links creates further beneficial connections, and lets others do some of the ‘heavy lifting’ on your behalf.
1. Partnering for SEO success
Building local partnerships is a great way of increasing the ‘footprint’ of your hotel. For example if there is a local wine or particular food delicacy, then partner with the producer so that there is mutual mention of their product on your website and your hotel on their website. This can extend to such things as offering the product as a welcome gift, or providing vouchers for it. Anything which spreads a positive word about your hotel is of value, especially when this can mean other websites also adding to your visibility to search engines.
2. Local organisations for SEO success
Places without some form of local tourist authority or promoter are rare indeed, but how well is your hotel represented on other websites? Are you ‘on the radar’ of the city tourist board, or the regional promoters? When someone searches for ‘hotels in the area’, will they find links to yours through trusted local sites? They certainly should, so start investigating what organisations are in your area to ‘piggyback’ on and increase your presence.
News sites and ‘influencers’ are another way of pushing your hotel up the rankings, so think creatively about who to approach and partner with, and then take the time and effort to link up with them. You may be pleasantly surprised by the rewards that partnering with local businesses and organisations can bring.
The technical part - making SEO really work
We have already agreed that as a hotelier you are probably not completely up to speed with the latest trends in the technology of Search Engine Optimisation. Neither should you be - that’s a job for specialists - however being aware of what is needed, and particularly how you describe your hotel and target guests really is your responsibility. And expect your web presence to be as you would wish any other site that you use: Fast to load, efficient, user-friendly, and working equally well for mobile or desktop use. If your website is not all of those things, then you must insist on achieving these qualities, at pace.
Although we have concentrated on keywords in this article, and that search engines look for significant words, the importance of great images cannot be stressed enough. Make sure that you present your hotel, and attractions in the area, in the best light. In order to keep your website fast and not overloaded by large image files, make sure to optimize your images, and to upload them in new generation formats, such as webp, or avif.
It is claimed that websites with video content are 53 times more likely to feature on the first page of Google rankings. However, beware: low-quality videos can achieve the opposite result and lower rankings. As with everything about your online presence, see it through the eyes of your audience and if it doesn’t look good enough, bin it and start again. Second best will not get you ranked first.
Local and global Search Engine Optimisation
Even if someone from the other side of the world is searching for a hotel, they are looking for somewhere local. That is, they are thinking of coming to the area where your hotel is located, or indeed they are already in the region. Always aiming to make your SEO local is vital, by including many of the principles we have discussed here, which help identify where your business is, how it is partnered in the immediate area, and what features there are nearby. This can mean using local city and attraction names, and in effect becoming the go-to resource for information about the immediate area.
The Google Local Pack enables improved local visibility for your hotel, including the precise location on Google Maps, with photos and other details, such as the opening times of your restaurant. As Google explains its algorithms for local ranking: ‘Local results are based primarily on relevance, distance, and prominence. A combination of these factors helps us find the best match for a search.’ The Google Business Profile also provides the ability to respond to guest reviews - a very important part of being findable and proactive in the market.
While the local aspects of SEO are important, it’s also true that you want to have a wider presence. In part this comes from cultivating the OTAs as a resource, and getting placed high in their rankings. Notable OTAs include Airbnb, Booking.com, Expedia and Tripadvisor. Although the rankings process is similar to how Google works, the OTA algorithms are looking more at the performance of a business - that is the revenue from guests, and the positive or negative reviews received by the business. However the essential message for getting higher in OTA rankings is the same as for search engines in general:
- Craft a descriptive and attention-grabbing title that includes relevant keywords and long-tail phrases.
- Think about what guests are searching for and aim to match their expectations.
- Write engaging descriptions which highlight your hotel’s unique features, amenities, and nearby attractions.
- Keep it current! Monitor and respond to guest reviews, and make sure that mentions of events in the area are always up to date.
Hotel SEO - the key to standing in the front rank
Hotel SEO plays a vital role in improving the online visibility of hotels, driving organic traffic, and increasing direct bookings. It enables hotels to reach their target audience, provide an improved user experience, and establish their brand as a credible choice in a crowded field. Hotel marketing is an ongoing, never-ending process, and it's vital to stay updated with the latest hospitality industry trends, and technology advances. Search Engine Optimisation is an essential part of this, to enable your hotel to stand in the front rank.
In fact that’s why we take the time to publish these Blogs, to help the industry we’re so proud to be a key part of. We are SabeeApp, the all-in-one Hotel Management System software company that really understands the market that modern hoteliers operate in. We can help with your software needs right across the board, so book a free demo and let’s take your business to the next level.