A hotel’s website will never drive conversions if it’s not properly optimized. With 60 percent of leisure travelers and 55 percent of business travelers using search engines to plan a trip at the start of their shopping journey, according to Google, hoteliers who haven’t seriously thought about search engine optimization are doing their wallets a disservice.
“Search engines help drive organic traffic to your website. It’s the best kind of traffic because it’s free and can reduce your customer acquisition costs,” said Darlene Rondeau, VP of best practices and online merchandising at hospitality technology company Leonardo, during a webinar hosted by the Asian American Hotel Owners Association.
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However, hoteliers need to note that ranking on the first page of Google using generic keywords will be difficult due to domain authority. Domain authority is a major ranking signal that influences organic search results. For example, Marriott.com has a domain authority of 96 out of 100 while Expedia.com has a 90. Most hotel websites have a domain authority in the low teens. That’s why Rondeau suggested hoteliers let the brands duke it out on the generic search terms and opt instead to focus on long-tail keywords.
Long-tail keywords contain four or more words that are specific, less competitive and drive more qualified traffic to hotel websites. “Kid-friendly Miami hotel near zoo” is an example of such a keyword. Of all the search queries in the United States, 85 percent are for long-tail keywords and they convert 2.5 times better than generic terms.
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To identify which long-tail keywords to use, Rondeau said hoteliers should first think of what types of guests stay at their hotel and determine what they are looking for.
“If you attract mainly business travelers, for example, you may want to focus on keywords that will resonate with them,” she said. “Maybe try ‘Chicago hotels with small meeting rooms.’ Ask your guests why they book with you to get an idea.”
Targeting the right keywords is only part of the SEO equation. Content is also key, Rondeau said.
She said hoteliers need to write for humans, not robots. That means content should be original, sound natural and be of use to searchers. She suggested hoteliers think about what their ideal guests want to know and cited an example of a hotel that provides on its website suggested itineraries and restaurant recommendations for different types of travelers they target: couples, dog lovers, business travelers, etc.
“It adds value for the shopper and increases the likelihood of being discovered,” Rondeau said. “Google is looking for the answers that best match what the consumer is typing in the query bar.”
She said it’s important to avoid “keyword stuffing,” which leads to unnatural language and repetitive use of the same words. Google’s algorithms look for these practices and suppress these sites in search results.
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When it comes to branded hotel websites, Rondeau said it’s not enough to simple copy and paste from brand.com. Individual hotel websites need to have content that captures their own unique story.
“It needs to be different,” she said. “This is how you can make your website more localized and personal. Create your own special offers in addition to what the brand provides.”
There are other factors to consider for SEO purposes that will help to drive conversions, Rondeau said, including:
- page speed;
- overall user experience;
- logical navigation; and
- prominent calls to action.
“People should know where they need to click to get the information they need or access your booking engine,” she said. “A great way to test this casually is by watching someone navigate your website and try to book that hotel room through it.”
Additionally, mobile is becoming more important than ever, Rondeau said. Google will be switching to a mobile-first index later this year or early 2018. Google will now crawl mobile websites first instead of desktop sites, even if a user is searching via desktop. Thus, mobile-friendly and responsive websites will be rewarded with higher search rankings.
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Elements of a mobile-friendly site, according to Google, include:
- provides a positive user experience on mobile;
- avoids software not compatible with mobile (for example, Flash);
- content renders on mobile without zooming, pinching or scrolling;
- avoids pop-ups between Google search results page and web page; and
- loads quickly and caters to touch.
“Fifty-three percent of people will leave a website if it takes longer than three seconds to load,” Rondeau said. “The average website in travel takes 10 seconds to load.”