Hospitality professionals looking for the most bang for their buck need to focus on hospitality SEO.
I have worked both in the hospitality industry and hospitality marketing for years. And dabbling in various channels has demonstrated return both in money as well as time spent versus time receiving benefits.
The biggest problem is hospitality search engine optimization is that it’s mysterious. It makes no sense to the casual observer. But it doesn’t have to be. That’s why we’ve created a definitive hospitality SEO guide.
Why Is Hospitality Search Engine Optimization So Important?
Don’t get me wrong, social media and email marketing are important. But both have limitations as far as additional exposure to potential customers. Guests who haven’t heard of you but may be interested in your hospitality services can find you much more easily in a search than via any other channel.
Only your fans can see your posts, and not even all those fans will see your posts.
- Email marketing campaigns are highly effective, and generally have a high return on investment for every dollar spent creating them. But recipients of those campaigns have to opt-in in the first place. Spamming is both terrible business practice and illegal today.
But being effective at SEO will ensure a regular supply of people who have never heard of you before but are interested in staying at a place like yours.
Search engines are the modern-day version of the phone book. Remember looking for a plumber and finding AAAA Plumbing Services? Search engine optimization is just ensuring that you’re #1 when people are searching for companies like you in the place they’re bound to look for you. But search engine optimization is usually the last thing people in the industry think of as far as marketing goes. Or worse, they hire a company to do it for them without understanding what exactly that company is doing.
We have plenty of experience with companies in the hospitality industry that first need us to clean up the mess another company made. And that’s before we can actually be successful on their behalf.
Why Do We Need a Hospitality SEO Guide?
You may or may not work with us, but you should know what to look for as far as effective search engine optimization. Then you’ll be sure of a decent return on investment, whether you’re doing it yourself, or paying someone else. This guide will also feature plenty of free tools you can use to manage your own hospitality SEO on your own.
Table of Contents of Our Ultimate Hospitality SEO Guide
Reading this entire guide from start to finish is encouraged. You are also welcome to skip around according to what matters to you at the moment.
7 Things to Remember When Planning and Implementing Your SEO Strategy
- Focus & Prioritize
- Establish Your Goals, How You’ll Measure Success
- Market Research
- How Visitors Interact with Your Site
- Cultivate Trust in Your Brand
Step One of Hospitality SEO: Focus & Prioritize
As with anything you do in your business, you want your focus to be an inch wide and a mile deep. To quote Patrick Leoncioni, extensive writer on business management:
“If everything is important, then nothing is important.”
Want to be effective at hospitality SEO or any aspect of hospitality marketing?
Make sure you prioritize what you believe will get you where you want to go. You can’t measure effectiveness if you don’t know what effectiveness looks like.
And the only way to determine that is by understanding what your business’s goals are. Then, you can determine how hospitality SEO (or social media management, or email marketing, etc) will help you achieve those goals.
Whether you’re a vacation rental company, a bed and breakfast, or a hotel, the reason you have a website is to get more people paying to be on your property.
With that in mind, I recommend focusing on the overarching goal of gaining more bookings with everything you do in marketing. With that goal set, you can then focus on sub-goals.
Step Two: Some Tools to Track the Success of Your Goals
To use the example of bookings above, you can create sub-goals that you know will help boost bookings. That is, once you know that bookings are your end goal.
Some potential sub-goals to track (as well as tools to use, some free, some not) include:
eCommerce Conversions on Your Website
This requires properly setting up your Google Analytics account to track eCommerce conversions on your site. If the location where visitors to your site book is not hosted on your site but a third-party booking platform, you’ll have to work with them on this as well.
Phone Calls to Your Business
Getting people on the phone is usually a more effective way to provide a sense of humanity in relation to your business. But that’s not as easily tracked in Google Analytics. This may be most effectively tracked using extra software to supplement a free tool like Google Analytics. We recommend NAVIS Analytics Suite.
Conversions of Anonymous Website Visitors to Leads
Tracking how many people:
- land on your site
- and then hand over their contact information in exchange for something of value
Is a great way to measure the effectiveness of your marketing efforts. After all, people have to trust you to hand over something valuable like their name, phone number, and email address. And that trust often translates more effectively into a booking.
Lead conversions can be tracked for free as a goal in Google Analytics.
Step Three: Do Your Market Research
It’s hard to bring in more guests when you don’t know what kind of guests you’re looking to attract. And the lodging industry has become heavily niche. As such, saying you’re the perfect lodging option for everyone ensures that no one will feel very strongly about you.
And indifference is as bad as hatred.
For example, a couple on a romantic getaway likely doesn’t want to be interacting with children.
How to Understand Who You’re Targeting
The first step in understanding who you’re targeting is to determine who your “ideal” customer is. Think of the type of people who are repeat guests that you actually like staying with you. Look for trends as far as their demographics. A few examples include:
- Relationship status
- Geographic location
- Age Range
It’s much easier to attract people similar to current customers than new demographics. A lot of times, you may need to change your entire business practices to do so.
Free Tools to Do Your Market Research
These are not technical, but they’re insanely useful:
- Your business records
- Your brain and memory
- Your customers
Understand How Your Customers Find You Now
One important way of understanding how to acquire more of your ideal customer is to understand how your ideal customers find you now.
Free Tools to Understand How Customers Find You
The easiest, though more time-consuming, way to understand how customers find you online or elsewhere is to ask them directly. It’s a very effective way to do this.
But for those looking for technology to fix all their problems, here are a few free tools:
Google Analytics can be overwhelming for the untrained. But it provides a wealth of information if you know where to look. In this case, to best understand how visitors to your website find you in the first place check:
- Geographic Location
- Channels or Source Medium
- Landing Pages
- All Pages (for pages viewed, not just where people arrive on your site)
Google Keyword Planner
This tool is helpful if you’ve already determined that a lot of your customers find you through organic searches. It’s great in doing market research to understand how searchers in Google stumble upon businesses like yours in your area. But like any free tool, sometimes you get what you pay for. The limitations of Google Keyword Planner are:
- You have to supply the keywords, it’ll just tell you how many times per month people search that term in Google, if at all.
- If you don’t have an Adwords account setup, Google Keyword Planner will give you estimated ranges of search, but nothing concrete.
Now that you’ve established who you want to attract to your website, then to your property, it’s time to make sure your place is welcoming.
Step Four: Setup Your Business for How Visitors Interact with You
Think of your website as your house. However visitors arrive, and wherever they arrive, you want to ensure that they’re comfortable and know where to go. If you’re not a good host, they may leave in disgust and never come back.
Don’t do that.
In the end, Google and the other search engines just want to provide the best answer possible to every question presented to them. By doing so, their users will continue to use their search engine.
By the way, Google is where 2/3 of searches in the American market occur. The other major search engines in the USA are Bing and Yahoo. But Google is the big kahuna, hence the focus in the SEO community on it.
Make sure you provide the best answer to whatever question, or keyword, that you’re trying to answer. In addition, make sure that a visitor’s experience to your website is the best it can be, regardless of when or how long they’re there.
Free Tools to Measure How Effective Your Website Is
Again, Google Analytics is the best free tool to see how much people like what they see when they visit your website.
How you may ask? Check Behavior-based metrics. For example:
- Bounce Rate
- Pages per Session
- Average Session Duration
A high bounce rate means lots of people arrive on your site and leave without doing anything. Generally, the recommended metric is in the 30% range for bounce rate. That said, websites that blog will generally have higher bounce rates, as visitors will arrive, get an answer to their question, and leave.
Broadly, you want people arriving on any page on your site, looking at more pages per visit, and spending lots of time on your site.
As with anything, there are caveats, visitors spending a lot of time on your site could mean they like what they see, or that they can’t find what they need.
Some recommendations on how to attract your ideal guest to your website, and keep them from looking for alternatives to you include creating an appealing headline on each page on your site that includes the keyword for which you’re optimizing the page sounds simple. In actuality, it requires understanding the psychology of readers. Only by understanding what words have an emotional pull can you ensure that you will stand out above the competition in Google’s results. Who is your competition? The other pages in those results. Making this one simple change has been shown to bump pages from the second page to the first in results.
For a more in-depth explanation of this, check out our guide to creative blog titles for travel websites.
Free Tools to Create Click-Worthy Headlines
There are a couple of free tools I use to gauge the effectiveness of the headlines on our pages. The first is CoSchedule’s Headline Analyzer. The limitation of this one is that its library of words it recognizes is not exhaustive.
The more straightforward tool is to do a Google search or two for keywords you’re going after. You can then see which headlines appear to be most compelling for you. Yes, it’s subjective, but if a page is in the top 10 results (or in the first place in paid ads), they’re doing something right.
I do not recommend just taking someone else’s headline. Rather, use it as a stepping stone. Take what they did and add your touch and make it even better.
Why Meta Descriptions Still Matter for Hospitality SEO
What is a meta description? It’s a snippet of about 160 characters that explain the content of a page on your website. Search engines use it as a teaser for people searching results. Social media platforms often pull it from your site for the same reason, like:
When blogging or creating a page on their site, a lot of people ignore the meta description or just let Google pull something. It is highly recommended to put just as much thought, if not more, into writing your meta description as you do your headline. You have about as many characters as a typical Tweet to get visitors to Google excited to click on your link instead of everyone else’s, so don’t waste such a valuable opportunity.
The only free tool I can think of to get started on a fantastic meta description is, again, a Google search. What do your competitors write? If you are looking at a keyword that companies spend Adwords campaign budget on, good for you! Leverage what they have spent a lot of money testing and incorporate their copy into your meta description.
Why is Site Speed Important for Hospitality SEO?
Only people who work at Google know Google’s exact algorithm in determining who wins in SEO (ie: gets to #1 in SERPs) and who doesn’t. But money’s on-site speed is definitely a big one. Site speed is also important for getting visitors to convert, so any work on that will benefit.
Amazon determined that a webpage that loads just one second slower resulted in $1.6 Billion in lost sales. Amazon has a lot more resources to measure the effectiveness of their marketing strategy, so they know what they’re talking about.
What’s a good rule of thumb for site speed? The easy answer is under 3 seconds. But the better answer is faster than whatever your competitors’ sites load. And that’s not just your local competitors.
If you’re going after vacation rentals in the Outer Banks, you also need to worry about all those OTAs that have pages on their site for that keyword as well. That includes but is not limited to:
- And more
A free tool to measure the effectiveness of each page on your site’s load speed is again offered by Google, with its Google Page Speed Test. Like all free tools, there are limits to their usefulness.
Google’s own homepage doesn’t score well on its own score. Some standard recommendations from the Page Speed Test will make your page load quickly but will provide a terrible user experience.
Removing all your images on your website will make your pages load quickly, but who’s going to book if they can’t get a feel for what your property is like?
Before you make any broad changes to your website, be sure to check with your webmaster on recommendations. On our websites, we shoot for a score of 70 for any page in Google’s Page Speed Test (out of 100). Higher than that number, and we find that the resources required to improve beyond that will not provide a sufficient ROI for our customers.
Make Navigation on Your Website Easy
First of all, your website needs to be mobile-friendly. It’s 2021, there’s no longer an argument otherwise for this.
Now, the only area of growth in terms of internet use is on mobile phones as opposed to desktops. You’re leaving money on the table if mobile users can’t easily navigate your site and book, all on their phones. It’s especially important if your hospitality marketing strategy includes marketing to business travelers, for example.
To use the analogy of your website as your house, you want to ensure that no matter how guests enter:
- The front door
- A window
- The basement
- The chimney
They can easily get where you want them to go.
As such, in a perfect world, no page on your site should be more than 3 clicks away from the homepage. I would argue no page should be more than 3 clicks away from any page on your site.
At a minimum, no matter where people arrive on your site, they should easily be able to navigate to where you want them to most. How do you decide that? Your previously established priorities!
If you want more bookings from your website (you do, right?), you would want to direct people to compel them to spend money with you. If not that, at least get them on the path of spending money with you:
- Accommodation or room pages
- Vacation Rental Unit pages
- Pages of specials and packages
- Lead generation conversion pages
Another great free tool to use to measure the effectiveness of all these metrics is Testmysite.thinkwithgoogle.com.
Content is King. Or is it?
Now that your website loads quickly and is easy for a casual visitor to poke around, we next need to focus on what those visitors see when they arrive.
Design is important. Great design is no longer limited to guests of boutique hotels. All businesses in the lodging industry need to incorporate great design into everything they do. That includes your responsive website design. An ugly website or unattractive images of your property will turn people off, no matter how quickly the site loads.
That said, great design is like a vase. A beautiful one doesn’t make your dead flowers look any better.
Unattractive images in a beautiful website will not convert.
Buttons are pretty, but they alone are not going to get the job done in getting people to convert on your website.
Most marketing professionals learn the standard mantra of marketing early in their careers. That is, the 3 most important rules of marketing are:
- People don’t read.
- People don’t read.
- People don’t read.
But based on our research, that’s not actually true. Even small edits to copy on our websites can result in big improvements in conversion rates, both in terms of bookings, and lead generation.
In fact, we know from myriad tests that links in copy are more effective than buttons. They also provide opportunities for internal linking with good, descriptive anchor text. An effective internal linking strategy within your site is important for SEO.
Quick Guide to Internal Linking for Hospitality SEO
You could write an entire guide on creating just an effective internal linking strategy. We know this from experience because we have. All our writers are trained in internal linking at the start of their careers at Q4Launch.
But effective internal linking is to make sure the text you use in your link tells human and bot visitors to your site what the page you’re linking to is about.
Compare these two lines of text. Which is more compelling or telling:
- Vacation Guide
- Free Fort Lauderdale Vacation Guide
Following this rule will help humans navigate your site. It will also help Google better understand the topics of specific pages on your site.
That said, copywriting is a skill that I have simplified to an embarrassing degree.
Were you a decent paper writer in college, or do you write books?
That’s not copywriting!
Copywriters can take an idea and turn it into a picture that will get readers excited to do whatever the copywriter recommends they do. There are even niches within copywriting: from sales copywriting to SEO copywriting.
Free Tools to Measure the Effectiveness of Your Writing, or Whoever You Hired to Write
The simplest way to measure the effectiveness of your copy is still Behavior in Google Analytics. Just as before, check:
- Bounce Rate
- Pages per Session
- Average Time on Site
But if your writing is not up to snuff, there are no cheap fixes for this. It really is okay if you’re not a great writer. It’s better to outsource that to a freelance writer and be able to measure their effectiveness. That will free you up to focus on what you do best: taking care of your guests.
How to Cultivate Trust in Your Brand
Now that your online house is in tip-top shape, it’s time to help people trust you enough to want to book, sight unseen. The most effective way to do that is to be transparent as possible to remove all doubts.
Keep in mind that while the Internet can be a fantastic resource, it’s also scary. There’s always the risk of finding a site that claims to be a reputable business only to pay them and watch your money disappear along with that business.
Be sure to do everything you can to establish that you’re a legitimate business in a specific location, with human beings working there.
Here are a couple of approaches to increase trust in your business brand, while also expanding your presence online.
Hospitality Social Media Management
Regardless of which social media platform you use:
- Google My Business
Make sure you’re all in when you focus on increasing your presence. That means posting regularly and consistently. You need to post compelling updates that other people will see and interact with by sharing or commenting.
Some believe interactions with your brand on social media platforms result in higher rankings in search results.
I would say it’s more straightforward than that.
Humans seeing other humans interacting with your brand implies that those humans trust you. Therefore, you can be trusted.
Overwhelmed? Pick the social media platform that you know your target demographic is most likely on. Generally, in the hospitality industry, that’s Facebook.
Citations are not sexy, but they’re important. Managing citations simply means making sure you’re listed in relevant directories around the Web. It’s the equivalent of making sure you’re listed in the Yellow Pages.
Overwhelmed by managing and maintaining citations?
You should be, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of directories online. And creating and updating citations is boring and tedious work.
But start by focusing on making sure your information is consistent for the national brands where people can and should be reviewing you:
While you want some variety in your descriptions, you need to make sure that your NAP is consistent across the web. That’s:
- Phone number
And I highly recommend using a local number at all times, to help establish where your business is actually located. Save your 800 numbers for something else.
For free help checking to see if your citations are in order, check out Moz’s free Local Business Listing Review Tool. It focuses on major websites and doesn’t include niche websites for our industry like TripAdvisor business listings, but it’s still great for a free tool.
Do Backlinks Still Matter? Wait, What Are Backlinks?
A backlink is a link from another website back to yours. Or to and from someone else’s. Whatever.
Backlinks are seen as a digital vote of confidence. Getting a backlink from a high-authority site like Travel + Leisure is awesome. It’s akin to Google overhearing Travel + Leisure personified speaking highly of you at a cocktail party at their lavish home. And that applies not only to Google but to human readers.
Getting backlinks is not as important as it used to be, it is slowly being supplanted in importance by things like quality of content and site speed. But it’s only been bumped from #1 in importance to one of 3 major aspects (ie: still very important).
When getting backlinks to your website, aim for the stars. If you know of a way to get national newspapers to write about you, go for it.
But more realistic ones to easily get that are also high-authority include:
- Your town or city website
- Your local chamber of commerce
- Local universities and colleges
- Your local newspapers and magazines
- Other well-established local businesses
- Us at Q4Launch
Hear me out on that last one! Give us a testimonial about our services, tell us how awesome we are, and of course, we’re going to want to write that up and post it. And posting that will score you a decent backlink from a high-authority site. It’s a simple thing to do for any business with whom you work.
And I’m not even going to charge (extra) for that last recommendation.
To remove a little confusion, posting to social media is not a backlink. Most social media sites label all outbound links (ie: links going out of their site, as opposed to internal links) as nofollow. That tells search engines not to follow the link to wherever it’s going.
It’s important to have a healthy mix of both follow and nofollow links. I don’t want to overwhelm you by going too deep into that. Just know that posting something to Facebook is not cause to pat yourself on the back for your backlinking profile.
How to Manage Reviews for Your Hotel, B&B, or Vacation Rental Company
As time goes on, reviews are becoming more and more important. That counts twice:
- for potential guests researching where they want to stay, as well as
- search engines deciding who to recommend when users do searches
Reviews of a business imply that people have stepped foot on your property and interacting with you as a business. That’s a plus for demonstrating that you’re not some shady, fly-by-night company.
Are those reviews positive?
That’s an even better recommendation that someone researching you should spend their money with you.
That is something that puts us, small business owners, at a disadvantage against national brands. Their product is well-recognized, and staying at a Marriott in Philadelphia will give you a good idea of your stay at a Marriott in Seattle. And one of the most effective ways to overcome that obstacle is with more and better reviews of your business.
Need another positive of effectively managing your reviews?
How about that they provide an opportunity to get honest feedback on how your business is operating from people who have used it?
I used to love reading negative reviews of my competitors and get angry reading negative reviews of my business. But reading reviews, looking for trends, and focusing on emphasizing your positives, and correcting your negatives is the best way to use them. You’ll be continuously improving your business. And telling reviewers and those reading reviews how you’re improving your business is the best response to negative responses.
That will create a cycle of more reviews, more improvements, and more revenue. And everyone wants that.
Hospitality SEO Wrap-Up
There’s no question there is a lot to keep track of when managing your hospitality SEO strategy. But the important thing to remember is that it’s a process you can follow, without the need for technical terms and skills. Or even fancy, expensive tools, for that matter.
What to Do Now for Hospitality SEO / Your Next 3 Steps
Ready to go crazy doing your own hospitality SEO, or find a company whose hospitality marketing services include SEO?
Before you do that, start with these 3 steps (in order):
- Create Goals
- Look in Google Analytics for your website to determine what’s not working towards your defined goals (or install Google Analytics on your website, if you haven’t)
- Make changes to your strategy based on your goals and what you determine is not working
If you need:
- help with planning your hospitality marketing strategy
- reviewing your website’s analytics in Google Analytics
- Questions specific to hospitality SEO marketing
Be sure to contact us here at Q4Launch.