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By Asher Fusco & Megan Harr

Change is the only certainty in the world of search engine optimization. To succeed in the ever-evolving SEO landscape, hoteliers should adopt a proactive approach to content creation, marketing and optimization.

SEO continues to play a critical role in hotel digital marketing success, with at least 30% to 35% of hotel website revenue generated as a direct result of organic search engine referrals to the hotel website. Every year, Google’s algorithm changes more than 500 times. This past year was no different, with Google throwing a major curveball to mobile sites with the Mobile-Friendly Algorithm Update in April 2015, a change that resulted in a 21% decrease in non-mobile-friendly URLs appearing on the first three pages of search results (BrightEdge).

In 2016 and beyond, hoteliers and digital marketers should make data-driven, analytical decisions based on measurable results and research. They should stick to proven best practices, updating these tenets as needed. And they should think of search engine optimization (SEO) as a living, breathing, ongoing effort.

1. Create conversion-minded, hospitality-specific content.

Hotel websites are inherently different than common retail sites, demanding unique approaches to copywriting, content marketing, and SEO. A hospitality website should inform and inspire the travel planner, educating them on the value propositions of the hotel and the destination as a whole. A hotel website should create engaging content that targets a specific subset of users: conversion-minded, qualified users in various stages of the travel planning process.

In addition to supplying the information readers seek when shopping for a hotel, high-quality content leads to more robust user engagement: longer website visits, more pages visited during each session, and fewer single-page bounces from the site. These user engagement metrics send positive signals to search engines, which rely on these cues to decide which pages to rank prominently.

2. Inform your content strategy with user engagement insights and traffic metrics.

Creating high-quality content is a critical first step toward generating visibility and traffic via organic search. Utilizing rankings visibility tracking, user engagement insights, and organic traffic to gauge the success of that content and additional optimization opportunities is the second – and equally important – step.

Adopt a proactive approach to performance tracking via an array of analytics tools:

  • Drive content creation and optimization decisions with consistent monitoring of keyword ranking visibility on a platform such as BrightEdge.
  • Stay current on organic traffic and user engagement trends by consulting industry-leading analytics platform like Adobe Analytics.
  • Conduct technical SEO spot checks and assessments using Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools.
  • Perform regular, ongoing inbound link profile assessments using a fresh web explorer such as Moz Open Site Explorer.

3. Devise a plan for proactive, ongoing SEO and content recommendations and updates.

In order to keep up with Google’s consistent flow of algorithm updates and changes, a proactive, ongoing approach to SEO is a near necessity for hoteliers dedicated to driving direct bookings. The centerpiece of these efforts should always be the creation of high-quality content that informs and interests users.

In addition to focusing on producing engaging content, SEO efforts should prioritize quick and effective reactions to shifts in search engines’ algorithms, user search demand, and the competitive market. Monthly reporting and recommendations, weekly data-gathering, and ongoing optimization efforts should be placed at the forefront of any hotel digital marketing strategy to maintain organic search traffic, conversions and revenue.

4. Utilize an industry-leading search visibility platform.

A robust performance and search visibility platform lies at the heart of any effective SEO strategy. One such platform is BrightEdge, a multi-faceted SEO analysis tool centered on tracking the organic search performance of digital content. The service allows the hotelier and digital marketing team to identify high-performing pages, search visibility opportunities and successes, top traffic and engagement sources, along with in-depth performance analysis versus a pre-set group of competitors.

A hotel digital marketer should take into account a number of factors, based on the results shown in their search performance platform. For instance, BrightEdge provides the streamlined information necessary to make data-informed content recommendations and optimization suggestions. By targeting high-value keyword terms, tracking performance on an ongoing basis, and continually assessing past optimization efforts, it’s possible to improve visibility, traffic, and ultimately revenue via organic search.

5. Ensure content complies with Google’s new Mobile-Friendly Algorithm update.

Mobile search is here to stay. A high-impact and fast-emerging traffic channel, the mobile web now accounts for 32% of website visits across HeBS Digital’s hotel client portfolio. Mobile and tablet traffic combined were responsible for nearly 45% of all visits, nearly 21% of all bookings, and more than 17% of all revenue, portfolio-wide.

It’s easy to miss out on this critical source of traffic and revenue: Google’s stringent Mobile-Friendliness Algorithm update – rolled out in spring 2015 – left many slow-to-adapt hotel websites lacking for traffic and searching for answers. Meanwhile, sites that relied on Google-compliant content management technology enjoyed traffic bumps as a result of additional mobile search visibility.

Hoteliers and digital marketers should remain attuned to the latest developments in mobile search. The ability to adapt via rapid-fire CMS updates or content strategy shifts will pay off in the form of visits, bookings, and revenue as the mobile channel continues to expand.

6. Secure key local listings and ensure the consistency of online citations.

Maintaining a uniform local search presence is one of the most important components of a comprehensive SEO strategy for hoteliers. A high priority in 2016 should be correcting any inconsistencies within the hotel’s local search presence, reducing duplicate directory listings, and ensuring streamlined and optimized local search information.

Maintaining these online citations is a key piece of satisfying ranking algorithms across both Google and Bing/Yahoo. Citations from well-established portals aid in increasing the degree of certainty that Google and other search engines have about your business’s contact information and category. Local search optimization efforts should include verification and maintenance of local profiles across a variety of listing platforms. These outlets include high-visibility services like Google My Business, Yelp, and Bing, as well as local citation sources such as CitySearch, Superpages, Yellow Pages, 411.com, and more.

7. Adopt a proactive defensive link management strategy.

Search engines learn more about specific pages and sites by conducting sophisticated analysis of the links pointing to the page or domain. If a page or site has been linked to from trustworthy, high-value sources – such as .edu, .gov, or popular editorial sites – the search engine will take a hint from these link sources, deeming the site valuable ranking it prominently in search results.

On the other side of the coin, search engines may consider links from non-trustworthy, spammy, or low-quality sources a negative ranking factor, detracting from a site’s overall ability to rank highly. This became relevant with the advent of Google Penguin in 2011, and remains a focus of Google as it refines its algorithm. Adopting a strong defensive link management strategy to avoid the negative impact of these links is a crucial piece of the search marketing puzzle. Hoteliers should perform inbound link audits to gauge successes, discover opportunities and isolate any potentially harmful links. Once low-quality link sources are weeded out, link disavowal can be performed.

Learn more about defensive SEO and link evaluation.

8. Utilize content management system (CMS) technology to make on-the-fly content and technical SEO updates.

A content management system (CMS) can be a hotelier’s best friend or his or her worst nightmare. Ideally, the hotel content management system is tailored for the hospitality industry specifically, rather than operating as a more general publishing platform.

The CMS should offer the ability to author on-the-fly updates to on-page content, meta data elements, special offers, photo galleries, home page promotional tiles, and other critical pieces of the website’s role in the property’s digital merchandising strategy. On-site staff members or dedicated agency personnel should be able to easily make updates within minutes, ensuring the site stays current from SEO and content management perspectives.

9. Take a holistic approach to SEO, paid search, and digital marketing as a whole.

SEO is just one element hoteliers face when laying out budgets and allocating their attention. Other hotel digital marketing initiatives – paid search, banner advertising, email marketing, reservations retargeting, and more – play complementary roles in turning a hotel website into a revenue-generating machine.

Hotels that boost paid search spend while investing in ongoing SEO efforts can see measurable benefits. In one case, a hotel took its paid search campaigns from dormant to 40,000 impressions over the course of six months and saw its organic search traffic ride a similar trajectory. In that case, the hotel’s organic traffic grew by 116% over the course of nine months, growing organic bookings initiated by 161%.

10. Content should go beyond “hotel website copy” to inform and entice the visitor with insightful area information.

A hotel website should go beyond providing basic information about the property. In-depth descriptions of the attractions and activities surrounding the property help to position the hotel as a champion of the destination and a beacon of local know-how and knowledge.

Robust area guide content pages and dynamic “What’s Nearby” interactive maps can turn website visitors into bookers and indicates to search engines that a site is worthy of ranking. Thin, boilerplate-style area guide content – often included on brand.com hotel websites – does not do users any favors, does not send positive signals to search engines, and does not generate any of the incremental search visibility or traffic generated by a high-quality vanity site.

Other Recent Copy & SEO-related Articles by HeBS Digital Experts:

About the Authors and HeBS Digital

Asher Fusco is Associate Director, Copy & SEO, and Megan Harr is Senior Copy & SEO Specialist at HeBS Digital. Founded in 2001, HeBS Digital is the industry’s leading digital technology, full-service hotel digital marketing, website design and direct online channel consulting firm based in New York City (www.hebsdigital.com).

HeBS Digital has pioneered many of the “best practices” in hotel digital marketing and website revenue optimization, as well as a range of industry-first digital technology applications. The firm has won more than 300 prestigious industry awards for its digital marketing and website design services, including numerous Adrian Awards, Davey Awards, W3 Awards, WebAwards, Magellan Awards, Summit International Awards, Interactive Media Awards, and IAC Awards.

A diverse client portfolio of top-tier major hotel brands, luxury and boutique hotel brands, resorts and casinos, hotel management companies, franchisees and independents, and CVBs are benefiting from HeBS Digital’s direct online channel strategy and digital marketing expertise. Contact HeBS Digital’s consultants at (212) 752-8186 or success@hebsdigital.com.

Contact: Sara O’Brien

Sara@hebsdigital.com / 917-546-0830

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