If the term “search engine optimization,” or “SEO” for short, confuses you or evokes the practice of packing keywords into your website, you’re not alone. For years, using SEO in online marketing has been a confusing game of tricks to rank higher in search engines.
For those completely unfamiliar, the Oxford English Dictionary defines search engine optimization as “the process of maximizing the number of visitors to a particular website by ensuring that the site appears high on the list of results returned by a search engine.”
Put more succinctly: Will people looking for hotels in your area or for hotels with your amenities find you?
It seems simple, and it’s one of the most important questions facing hotel marketers.
It’s also one of the most challenging. Continual tweaks and changes to search engine algorithms—Google, in particular—make SEO success a moving target.
“SEO is really the beginning of everything in the digital world, which is always in a state of flux. Google updates algorithms hundreds of times per year,” said Layne Matthews, director of marketing and e-commerce of Peachtree Hotel Group.
What worked in years past is now obsolete, sources said.
“The big issue is that for years, webmasters could game the SEO system,” said Zachary Weiner, CEO of Chicago-based Internet marketing firm Emerging Insider.
“In the past, the No. 1 thing Google looked for was the number of backlinks,” said Adam Deflorian, CEO of Denver-based AZDS Interactive Group, which has worked to promote the Heavenly Spa by Westin, Montage Hotels & Resorts, Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide and the Edward Thomas Collection of Hotels, among others.
“People would try to get some sort of website publisher to list a hotel with a link on its website,” Deflorian said. “Google noted this and things began to change; they no longer put so much weight on lots of links. They began going after Web spam and began to penalize websites by dropping rankings.”
Deflorian said that Google now looks at the website and content as a whole.
These changes are a good thing, sources said, but you must know how to use them to your advantage.
Here are some tips to rank your hotel website higher in search engines:
Google changed its algorithm this spring to rank mobile-friendly websites higher.
“It is all about the user experience now,” said Aalap Shah, co-founder of Chicago-based SoMe Digital Media. “Overall, mobile use is at 20% to 30% and about 60% in the hospitality industry. User experience is king when it comes to Google.”
Critique the content on your website, especially on the home page.
It’s important to know what your potential customers are searching for. Shah suggested adjusting the page titles to reflect Google’s left-to-right reading system. “Instead of putting in the hotel name and then the locale, put in locale and then something about the hotel such as ‘Anaheim boutique hotel central to Disney.’ Think of it as an ad.”
Make sure all of your hotel’s information is the same on each and every page and on every directory, sources said. The difference between “Rd.” and “Road” spelled out might make the difference of throwing off the search engine crawlers when Google is searching other sites such as Yelp.
Shah said it’s best to use keywords appropriately and not toss them aimlessly into any piece of content. Think locale, hotel name, activities such as “ski,” etc.
“I recommend using three to five main keywords and sprinkle them on each page,” Shah said.
“You always want to use your hotel, brand and then use broader words like what the hotel is nearby,” Matthews said.
Content is the most important thing on your website. The goal is to engage your visitors and keep them on your site, which will result in higher rankings and ultimately more bookings, Shah said.
Matthews said the key drivers are keywords, pictures and reviews—both the number and quality.
“Quality copy on a website is key, but you don’t want it to be too long,” she said. “The more copy now, the more it is rated negative (because) attention spans are getting shorter. The most important thing is using the right words in a minimum amount of copy.”
Video content is also important.
“They were unpopular for a while due to the length and the low quality,” Matthews said. “You want to have high-quality video. Make it an experience and think about how much you want to be communicated without using words. The key is connecting with the audience and making them feel like they belong at your hotel.”