The Days of Cruise Control SEO Are Over. Hoteliers Must Dig Deeper

by Jennifer Dunphy

Aug 28, 2013

If you are like many hoteliers, you are constantly on the lookout for the next silver bullet marketing strategy that will not only fill your rooms year round, but will have all of your property’s amenities booked to capacity as well. With the convoluted online landscape and the way consumers research and book their travel accommodations constantly changing, it can be a daunting task for hoteliers to find the proper channels to reach their targeted audience, let alone entice them to make reservations and engage them once they arrive. While there may not be a silver bullet solution that will keep you booked throughout the seasons, there certainly are strategies that can be implemented that will generate more bookings and increase your profits.

Good ol’ SEO still does it. With the rapidly changing quality guidelines and search engine ranking algorithms your business can benefit from your competitor’s cruise control approach. Leaving your SEO strategy in cruise control will ensure you miss out on the opportunity. Many hoteliers focus on the low hanging fruit or what they understand as “SEO” and then move on. A quality SEO Strategy requires a comprehensive web strategy. If you’re willing to dig deeper it can be a game changing strategy for your hotel or travel business.

The Opportunity

With numbers as high as 50%-70% of all hotel website visitors and website bookings originating as leads from the major search engines, driving bookings directly to the hotel website needs to be every hotelier’s priority in 2013. Implementing a comprehensive SEO strategy will allow hotels of all sizes, even boutique hotels and B&B’s, to compete with the likes of Trip Advisor,, Expedia, etc. Although having a positive reputation on TripAdvisor and other OTAs is a part of having a successful SEO strategy for hotels, the fact remains that all of these reviews point to the OTA sites and directly compete with your own website for favorable rankings in the organic search results. By implementing a SEO strategy for your hotel you can and should keep your presence on the OTA’s and drive direct, more profitable traffic, to your own website.

According to a recent study published by eMarketer, US online spending is projected to reach $46.5 billion in 2013. What does this mean for hoteliers? It means that there is more opportunity now than ever before to capitalize on the growth of the internet and cash in on your piece of the pie by creating a comprehensive online strategy that will not only drive new guests to your website, but to your hotel as well. SEO can help you increase your website traffic, and better yet it will increase your room occupancy rates, your spa reservations, your banquet facility bookings and even your restaurant reservations. Various hotel SEO case studies point to revenue increases anywhere from 37 percent to over 100 percent once the website and its usability have been updated and improved. Now if that isn’t reason enough to take SEO seriously, I don’t know what it will take.

SEO in a Nutshell

The internet has become a convoluted digital black hole full of countless avenues to divert ones attention. To create a successful digital marketing strategy, hoteliers must focus on their own websites and increase direct online revenues via SEO. Most people these days are familiar with the term SEO, but do not fully understand what it really is and how all of the pieces come together. SEO is compiled of numerous online avenues that your hotel needs to partake in to effectively diversify your online strategy and to interact with your potential guests wherever they may be engaged on the web. In its simplest form, SEO is like a giant puzzle made up of dozens of different pieces. No one piece alone will be enough to achieve or to maintain the first page rankings that are necessary to drive new guests to your website and to your property. Although it is not rocket science, SEO isn’t only about keywords and links. It is so much more complex. It is all about crafting a comprehensive ongoing strategy that will have your hotel covered from all online angles. You will need to open as many virtual doors to your hotel as possible to achieve true success with your SEO strategy. Successful hotel websites must look at online marketing as a holistic effort that includes as many pieces of the puzzle of inbound marketing as possible. Some of the pieces that should make up your comprehensive SEO strategy should include, but should not be limited to:

 Ongoing content creation
 Social media marketing
 Blogging
 Review sites
 Press releases
 Articles
 Online videos
 Optimized images & distribution
 Travel search engines and booking engines
 Deal sites
 Mobile applications
 Local directories
 On-site merchandising if it is applicable for your hotel
 Semantic search content support

Do you have a strategy for each item on this list?

With Google’s Knowledge Graph, there is a new emphasis on semantic search, therefore you will also want to create content around not only what the hotel offers, but about all of the area attractions as well. A good rule of thumb for SEO is to always think about your guests. Where do they spend time online? How might they search for your hotel or area attractions? What can you do to make it easier for them to find your website, and engage with you? Just like you strive for the ultimate guest experience in your hotel, the online world all boils down to the customers’ experience as well. Is it easy for people to find you? Is it easy for them to interact with you? Are you going out of your way to help them? How are you engaging them? The internet is merely an online gate to your hotel and SEO is your gateway that will open all of the doors of the web. Just as it is important for you to explore all the services available to enhance your operations and customer satisfaction, it is equally important to make sure that your hotels website has a presence in all of the potential places that your future guests may be spending time online.

Putting Together The Pieces Of The Puzzle

Although SEO is a puzzle, with many different pieces, there are always a handful of pieces that are larger and more important than others. To add another layer of complexity, this puzzle is constantly changing and evolving to ensure that the search engines are delivering the freshest and highest quality content available. In this rapidly evolving web landscape, taking time on a daily basis to stay current with hotel digital marketing trends is a must to stay ahead of the competition. This year SoLoMo (Social Local Mobile) initiatives will remain at the forefront of the critical SEO puzzle pieces for hotels and the travel industry. Mobile and social have forever changed the way people research, plan and purchase travel. They have opened up a whole new world of opportunity for hoteliers. A solid SEO strategy needs to incorporate all of the online avenues that are right for your hotel and this may change from one hotel to another.


Although social signals only make up a small portion of the overall search algorithm, one segment of SEO that has been quickly gaining momentum for the travel industry is social media. Some great social avenues for your hotel to consider mastering are Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Pinterest, Instagram, Foursquare, Google+, LinkedIn, and of course your own hotel blog. Although social media is a stand-alone strategy, it is in fact a piece of the overall SEO puzzle as well. It is a piece that can greatly impact your hotel, especially as consumer generated media continues to grow. The search engines love social media because it is a way for them to better “know” your brand and gage your level of social influence on the web. Google is able to see how many Facebook fans you have, Google+ followers, Twitter followers, Pinterest followers, LinkedIn connections, YouTube subscribers and consumer reviews that have been posted throughout the web. This gives them insight into what your brand is doing to better communicate with your guests. In a nutshell, The search engines, like Google and Bing, are all about delivering the most relevant data to searchers and if they can gain additional insight into your hotel via social media, this can be used to help determine the relevancy of your website to a searchers search query thus improve the likelihood that your website shows up higher in the search results. Think of Facebook likes, Google+ +1’s and Twitter re-tweets all as votes of confidence for your hotel. The more votes of confidence your social profiles achieve, the higher your social capital, the better chances to improve your organic search rankings, and the higher probability that a guest finds your website vs. going to a site such as TripAdvisor or Expedia to book their accommodations. Additionally, as you have probably noticed by now, if you are logged into any Google account, your search results are even more personalized and are utilizing the data form your social realm to make your search hyper personal. It is thought that social signals currently make up approximately 7-8% of the overall search algorithm, but as SEO continues to evolve and social media continues to play a larger role in society, it is likely that this percentage will increase. Think of social media as word of mouth on digital steroids. It has the ability to grow and better yet, engage your past, current, and potential guests. It is a tool of discovery for those that do not know you and would not find you otherwise. Social media has been proven too heavily influence travel decisions. In fact, 48% of people consulting their social media connections have actually changed something about their travel arrangements after gaining feedback from their social circle. They changed plans ranging from their choice of hotel, airline, resorts, even their end destinations. Think about how this could impact your business. Furthermore 92% of consumers say they trust earned media such as word of mouth ( Social Media ) and recommendations from friends and family , above all other forms of advertising. What does the social presence look like for your hotel? Even if you feel like you are late to the game of social media and SEO, remember, it is better to be a fast follower than to not jump on the bandwagon at all. Did you know that 55% of travelers liked Facebook pages specific to their vacation? By having an active Facebook presence, your hotel can easily spread word of mouth recommendations and stay top of mind with former guests. Moreover, 52% of Facebook users stated that their friends’ photos inspired their holiday choices and travel plans. Think about the impact that this could have on your bookings. With all of the obvious benefits of social media, the positive impact that it has on your SEO rankings is merely icing on the cake.

What types of posts should you create for your social profiles? …Anything that will create buzz and engagement. You should post guest testimonials, images of your property and amenities, area attractions, guests images and video clips, hotel/restaurant/spa specials, fun facts about the area, contests and giveaways, anything that may interest you past, present and future guests. Most importantly, don’t forget to engage your audience and keep the “social” in social media. Ask your followers questions about what makes their hotel stay an exceptional experience, what factors are important to them in booking their accommodations, and what was their favorite part of their vacation. Use your social platforms as tools to better your guests experience. You will also want to encourage your guests to mention your hotel in their posts and “check in” when appropriate. This will further your social presence to their networks and show the search engines that your social profiles are not only active, but also popular with your audience, thus increasing your social capital and likely your search rankings.

In addition to traditional social media, travel search engines, booking engines, and review sites offer tremendous value to your SEO strategy, while simultaneously leveraging the social integration factor. Not only do they drive qualified traffic to your website, and business to your hotel, but more importantly they can help to protect your brand. It is not enough to simply receive good reviews on sites like TripAdvisor, Expedia,, and Yelp, you need to be part of the conversation. You need to respond immediately to negative reviews and for good measurement, thank guests for their positive contributions. By responding to your reviews, you will not only show your guests that you care about their experience, but you will also keep your reviews fresh in the search engines increasing the likelihood that a searcher may stumble upon your hotel when scouring the web for an accommodation. It is difficult work to build a good reputation for your hotel, but easy to lose it with just a few bad reviews. Explore research recently found that many travelers immediately put off booking a hotel or resort after reading a single negative review. They also discovered that 14% said they would seek another holiday option in light of a bad review and 5% would search elsewhere for a holiday destination. In summary, one in five travelers react to a single bad review by looking elsewhere to book. Proper review site management and optimization all boils down to risk management. Travelers blog frequently about their experiences, the destinations they visited, the food they ate, the hotel they stayed at and the excursions that they embarked on. To put things into perspective, 70% of global consumers say that online consumer reviews are the second most trusted form of advertising. An additional 46% of travelers post hotel review after their vacations, while 76% will post their vacation photos to their social networks. The positive reviews and social sharing help your SEO efforts by increasing your referral traffic and the places in which your website is mentioned online, and they also greatly enhances your chances for keeping your rooms booked. User generated content can be a wonderful thing for your hotel, but it can also be bad or downright ugly to deal with when a guest (or a competitor disguised as a guest) posts a less than desirable review of your property. However, review spam and how to handle negative feedback is an entirely separate post altogether.


Another aspect of SEO that is critical for hotels online success is to complete and optimize local profiles and local listings such as Google Places, Bing Local, etc. The search engines are becoming hyper personalized, offering tailored search results that are narrowed down to the city or zip code; thus, it can be extremely beneficial to optimize and claim your hotel profiles to ensure your appearance in the local results. Research shows that the majority of people will include the location or geo targeted term in their search query when seeking hotel accommodations. This is an opportunity that your hotel cannot miss out on. Some of these local sites also give businesses the opportunity to create special offers that can be used to set your hotel apart from the competition. For instance, after claiming your Google Places listing you can craft a coupon to redeem special offers that will display prominently for viewers to see. Be creative and establish enticing offers. Try offering a gift upon check-in, or a gift card for the spa or restaurant. To insure that your hotel is showing up in these local searches you need to optimize your presence for local searches as well as organic searches. By having a prominent placement in the local search results, you are offering your potential guest one more place in which they can find your website.


Were you aware that an overwhelming 50 percent of travel-related mobile queries result in a purchase? Furthermore, five percent of all hotel bookings are made via mobile devices, and 51% of business travelers use mobile devices to get travel information. It is projected that mobile Internet usage will surpass desktop internet usage by 2014 (Morgan Stanley). With this increasing rate of mobile adoption hotels cannot afford to miss out on the opportunity to capitalize on the bookings that are made via mobile devices. It is essential to encourage mobile bookings by creating a mobile friendly website or better yet, a mobile specific website that makes finding room rates and booking reservations as seamless as possible. You can’t forget to adapt to your mobile visitor by creating an easy to use mobile website. Mobile websites convert much better. Current mobile web development technologies allow your mobile website to detect the device and properly resize the screen size for your visitor’s device.

What’s Next?

Before you get started with your SEO strategy, be sure to set SEO-related goals that are clearly aligned with your hotels overall goals and objectives – optimize the pages, create quality content and enhance the user experience once they arrive at your site, just as you would when they arrive at your hotel. Most importantly, assign responsibility for each part of the strategy. The key is to keep this at the forefront. A cruise control approach will not lead to sustained success.

In conclusion, a robust and comprehensive SEO strategy still delivers a great ROI as long as the strategy is comprehensive and top of mind. Don’t just check it off the list, dig deeper.

Jennifer Dunphy, an accomplished sales and marketing executive, is currently the Vice President of Sales and Marketing at Vayu Media . You can connect with Jennifer on the Vayu Media Blog, LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest , Google+ and YouTube.

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