Hotel SEO: menace or opportunity?

Courtesy to Guestcentric

February 2012 – Independent hotels are paranoid about visibility. The hospitality industry is extremely competitive: as within any market with oversupply, capturing market share means someone else is losing market share. Hence, most hotel managers spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about ways to make their hotels more visible than their competitors. And increasingly so they are thinking about ways to do it online through digital marketing strategies.

Dennis the Menace

A friend quoted to me that in one of the big OTAs, the #1 spot of the search results gets 36% of the reservations, and results on page one get a whopping 90% of all bookings.

It sounds a bit extreme, but this single fact is the reason why in certain markets, though’s published commission rate is 15%, hotels are providing commission overrides of close to 30% to be on the first page. Because hotel visibility is key in a crowded market. And driving higher commission is a “simple” solution for many of these hotel managers. But is it the intelligent solution?

“Buying rank” is driving an increasing commission war between hotels that solely benefits the OTAs. Typically hotels only notice this at the end of the month, when they pay tens and hundreds of thousands of dollars to the OTAs. Using that budget for better digital marketing would be an alternative. This is why the big chains have recently launched RoomKey. We are also seeing an increasing number of independent hotels thinking of Online Travel Optimization, not just hotel SEO.

The biggest obstacle is that hotel digital marketing is considered by many as complex, rocket science or a black art. The “hordes” of what we at GuestCentric call “fake SEO experts” that sell naive hotel managers on the fact that through “advanced strategies” they will get the hotel on the first page on Google makes this matter worse. Be aware of what Google says on the topic:

Be wary of SEO firms and web consultants or agencies that send you email out of the blue.

No one can guarantee a #1 ranking on Google.

Be careful if a company is secretive or won’t clearly explain what they intend to do.

Still, all hotel managers know that leveraging digital marketing is a good idea to increase their revenue and lower their distribution costs and it should be a powerful alternative to ever-increasing OTA commissions. Most hotel managers are also aware that never before were there as many tools that they can leverage to engage consumers. Finally, technology now enables them to do so at a reasonable price through their hotel websites, by creating special offers, or by leveraging social or mobile.
But these solutions sound like “a lot of extra work”. So, is there a silver bullet?

Below are five checklist items that you should consider when selecting a hotel digital marketing solution to solve your digital marketing problems:

Highlight your website as your main channel with automatic SEO
Google has many rules on how a website should be optimized. Ensure that the content management system you select as part of your hotel digital marketing solution enables you to change content and pictures quickly, but also optimizes basic Google content like title tags, URLs, Alt-text for pictures, heading tags, robots.txt automatically.

For more information on this topic you can refer to Google’s Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide.

Create great content, spell check it!
Google nowadays looks at content quality. So be original and create content relating to your destination that is original and fun. And don’t forget: and one basic element of content quality is spelling, so spell check your content before pushing that “Publish” button.

Optimize for Mobile users
19% of hotel searches come from mobile, says Google. Hence, optimize your online presence for mobile users. Make sure you have an iPad-ready website (no Flash please!). Create a mobile version optimized for lower bandwidth networks and quick completion of basic tasks like calling the hotel or checking the address. Make the booking experience simple and straightforward for a mobile user.

Leverage social networks like Facebook, twitter, flickr for a multi-channel strategy
Get a tool that populates your content and booking engine in as many channels as possible. Think about what the big OTAs do: they sell on their websites, but they also power hotel sales on websites of airlines, rental cars, etc. So, use the same strategy: distribute your promotes to as many content networks as possible. And leverage social networks: they are a great way to engage consumers.

Centralize customer databases
One key element of any digital marketing strategy is customer engagement. To achieve this, a hotel should have a central reservations platform that enables it to track the history of every customer. This customer relationship database should enable the hotel to engage customers on special occasions, create additional value for loyal customers and provide incentives to return.

To combat OTA dominance hotel managers need a powerful hotel digital marketing solution: one that is simple and intelligent, that maximizes return from their direct channels and creates long-standing relationships with customers.

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