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Expert advice on SEO strategies & resources for independent hotels and regional chains

Published on November 20 2023

For hotel marketers, SEO can be a mystery and a source of anxiety. How can you climb the rankings? What keywords should you target?

For answers to these questions and more, D-EDGE consulted with our Chief Digital Agency Officer, Jean-Dominique Brivet. The former Associate Director of Equaero, acquired by D-EDGE in 2022, Brivet has over 20 years of experience in digital marketing, with a speciality in SEO strategy. 

Why is SEO so important to hotels?

SEO (search engine optimisation) is a key part of a comprehensive digital marketing strategy for any hotel that wishes to increase qualified website traffic, bookings, and revenue. And Google Search is one of the most effective platforms for doing so. 

 

If you look at search results on Google, a lot of space is occupied by paid ads. However, if you do SEO well, you should be able to generate up to about 40 percent of your website traffic from organic (unpaid) clicks, which is a rate achieved among the best-in-class hotels. This can represent a huge volume of traffic. And Google rankings tend to be quite stable. If you attain a high ranking, you should be able to hold on to it for six months to two years, if not longer, as long as you don’t make any major mistakes that result in a penalty. 

 

So, the costs of attracting organic traffic are relatively low and the value is very high. Of all digital marketing activities, SEO can generate some of the highest returns on investment.

Are other search engines important besides Google?

Google has between 80 and 90 percent of search market share worldwide—aside from in Japan, where Yahoo! Japan is also important, and in China, where Google has no presence in search. Microsoft Bing has about 3 percent of global share. Anyway, both search engines work very similarly, so what you do for Google is generally applicable to Bing.

How easy is it to climb Google rankings?

If you’re following a good SEO strategy—and that means managing a combination of on-page, off-page, and technical optimisation, which I will explain shortly—it should take between six months and one year to begin to see significant results. But it depends on your overall strategy and what you want to achieve in terms of positioning and ranking. It takes time and effort, and you need to be realistic. 

 

Let’s take an example. If I operate a standalone hotel in Sydney, I have almost zero chance of appearing in the top ten organic results for “hotel Sydney” queries on Google. Competition for popular search terms is huge, and independent hotels are up against powerful SEO competitors with pages and pages of highly relevant content—from OTAs to hotel chains to local city guides. As an independent hotel, my website just doesn’t have enough relevancy to outperform them in rankings. 

But I may be able to rank high on second-level queriesor long tail querieslike “3-star hotel in Sydney near the Opera House.” This will generate less traffic, but the traffic will be more qualified. Or, if I operate a chain of ten 3-star hotels in Sydney, I can potentially reach the top-ten rankings on “3-star hotel Sydney” queries. And an independent hotel in a small city, where there is less competition for rankings, can aspire to rank high for popular search queries.

How can hotels rank higher on Google?

Let’s look at the technical aspects of how sites are ranked on Google. First, you need to ensure that Google can crawl your website and discover all your pages. If it can’t access pages, it won’t index them, and they won’t be searchable. 

 

After that, there are two main ranking factors to focus on. In fact, Google’s algorithm considers hundreds of factors to determine rankings, but these are two of the most important:

 

  • Content. The more content you post on your website, the better your chances of ranking high in search results. But the content must be high quality, unique, and relevant to users. If it’s relevant to users, it will be relevant to Google.
  • Popularity. Popularity is measured in part by the number of links to your site and the quality of those links. To rank higher, hotels need an external link strategy to get links from high-traffic and official websites such as the local tourist board, blogs on the destination, etc.

How can hotels choose the right keywords to target?

Be pragmatic. Your keyword choices should be based on a combination of search intent, behaviour, and context, as well as brand positioning. Target one primary keyword phrase and a few secondary phrases. Check out what your competitors are doing and then do it better. Look for queries that are less common but more relevant to your property, such as “boutique hotel in Montmartre,” because a lot of people type queries using these types of keywords. 

 

Identify the characteristics that distinguish your property from others in the area. You can, for example, look at what guests are saying about your hotels in their reviews, or you can answer the following questions: 

 

  • Where is your hotel? 
  • What kind of hotel is it? 3-star, 4-star, boutique, or other?
  • What kind of travellers do you target? Young people, families, couples, solo travellers, business travellers, or other traveller types?
  • What special amenities do you offer? A restaurant, bar, meeting rooms, a pool, spa, or something else? 
  • What other distinctive features and services do you offer? For example, pet friendly, child friendly, accessible for people with disabilities, eco-friendly, etc. 

Once you have selected your keywords, include them on web pages as appropriate in the following areas:

  • Page URL
  • Title tag
  • Meta description tag
  • H1 tag (main heading)
  • Hn tags: H2, H3, H4, H5, H6 (subheadings)
  • Alt tags (image alt text)

 

But don’t overdo it. If you repeat a keyword phrase more than three or four times on one page, Google may think you are keyword stuffing and penalise your site. 

What are some of the SEO fails you see on hotel websites?

 

Here are some of the common mistakes we see:

  • Flashy websites. A lot of hotels like to have flashy websites, and Google is not able to crawl their content. As I said, if Google can’t access your content, you will not rank. At D-EDGE, we make sure the websites we build and maintain are fully compliant with Google’s guidelines.
  • Not enough text content. Hotels like to display beautiful pictures of rooms, the swimming pool, spa, and so on, but if you want to appear on Google, you need to write effective text content, too. Content really is king in SEO. But to do it well takes effort, know-how, and money. 
  • Misleading information. Website content must be accurate, too. We’ve seen hotels advertise being located near the Champs-Élysées, but they are actually in Bastille, which is a half-hour away by metro! Google favours websites with high-quality, accurate, and helpful content. 
  • Auto-play videos. Sometimes hotels post a video on the homepage with no text content because all the information is in the video. But then how can it rank? And it takes too long to load. Google also considers site speed and user experience. If too many visitors bounce, your ranking may decrease. You can keep the video but without auto-play, and add a brief description of the hotel behind the video. 
  • Off-topic content. Hotel website content sometimes strays too far from the core SEO strategy. For example, a hotel writes blog posts about a local exhibit or art show, hoping to appear in related search results. But it probably won’t, so it’s not relevant for SEO.

Does this mean that SEO objectives are different from conversion objectives?

In some respects, yes. SEO is a life of compromise. You must compromise on the technical part and on the content part. You can’t build a website solely for SEO, and you can’t build a website solely to promote a brand. The question is what is a good balance between the two? You have to try to satisfy all these needs and push SEO as much as possible to have a chance to succeed. At the same time, you need to feature elements on your site that help convert visitors to bookers, like photos and descriptions of rooms, special offers, and a best-rate guarantee. 

 

This is why, as far as your online performance is concerned, it is important to take a comprehensive approach because everything is connected. At D-EDGE, that’s what we do – we offer a holistic approach in terms of Digital Media.

As far as your online performance is concerned, it is important to take a comprehensive approach because everything is connected. At D-EDGE […] we offer a holistic approach in terms of Digital Media.

Jean-Dominique Brivet

Chief Digital Agency Officer

D-EDGE

Should hotels have a separate SEO strategy for mobile?

The Google crawler has been mobile-first for three years now. It mostly crawls only the mobile version of websites because between 80 and 85 percent of business-to-consumer (B-to-C) traffic around the world is mobile. So, you should think mobile first for your website and SEO strategy. At D-EDGE, for example, we don’t separate desktop and mobile strategies, we do mobile strategy as it applies to both. 

Because the screen is small on smartphones, you have to prioritise the features and content people look for most when visiting a hotel website. The first priority is the booking button. Then you need photos, with text content hidden behind the web fold that only crawlers can read—or behind a “Show More” button so it doesn’t take up too much space. Ensuring Google can easily follow your mobile menu is important too. 

What tools do you recommend to help manage SEO?

Here are some of my favourites:

Google Keyword Planner. This free tool helps you research keywords and see estimates of the volume of searches they receive. But if you are not a big buyer of Google Ads, it won’t give you precise information. At D-EDGE, because we are a big keyword buyer, we have access to more extensive data.

Google Analytics. This tool tracks and reports on website traffic. It can provide a wealth of information about who visits your site, how they found you, and what they do while there. 

A content management system. This software will help you create website content and manage pages to ensure they are search friendly. There are numerous CMSs to choose from. Some of the most popular include WordPress.org, Wix, and Joomla.  

Screaming Frog SEO Spider. This is a website crawler that will audit your website for SEO issues. It will help you determine if your website is compliant with Google’s guidelines and, if not, what needs to be changed. 

Semrush. This is a tool for conducting keyword research, competitor analysis, and Google Ads optimisation. It works best for hotel groups with large search volume.

Yoast. This is a plug-in for WordPress that analyses page content and helps you optimise your site’s content and keywords. 

Majestic. This tool specialises in backlink analysis to help you find out who links to your website.

Xenu. This tool checks websites for broken links. 

Google Analytics has become extremely complex. Is there an alternative?

With the new version of Google Analytics, GA4, if you’re not an expert, you will probably become completely lost. Our recommendation — and this is a new service D-EDGE is launching — is to create a dashboard in Google’s Looker Studio. There you can summarise and easily track key website data, including traffic, sources, demographics, Google Ads performance, and more, without having to try to find it in Google Analytics.

Can hotels do SEO on their own or do they need a digital agency?

It depends. If the hotel has staff who are very knowledgeable about SEO, it’s possible to manage it in house. But you need time, and most hoteliers don’t have a lot of spare time, especially in a staff shortage context. In reality, most digital disciplines today require an expert because our world has become so complex, whether it’s managing a website, paid campaigns, CRM, or revenue management. SEO is no exception. 

And the digital space is constantly changing. In Europe, for example, the Digital Markets Act (DMA)a legislative proposal from the European Unionmay bring major changes to search in 2024 that hotels will need to adapt to if they wish to stay competitive. 

Generally, I think it’s better to work with an expert digital marketing agency that specialises in the hotel industry, or at least a freelancer. A good agency will make sure your website is fully compliant for SEO, will help you find the right keywords, and may even write content for you. It will also keep up with trends and adapt your strategies, ensuring you’re always as well positioned as possible to capture the optimal number of bookings and revenue.

Do you need help with your SEO strategy?

Our experts are here to discuss your challenges and needs and help you identify the ideal solution for your hotel.

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