Travel booking websites like Expedia, Priceline, and hotels.com have changed the way that hotels do business. These portals are an important part of any hotelier’s marketing repertoire: they enjoy massive traffic volumes, help fill rooms at the last minute, and perk up low booking seasons. But they also charge a commission on each booking and many of them have rate parity clauses that prevent hotels from advertising lower rates on their own websites.
It’s an interesting dilemma that has resulted in more than one hotelier asking me if there was any way to get more bookings. Indeed there is, and it’s called good SEO.
What is SEO and how can it help hotels?
SEO, or search engine optimisation, is the process of applying proven creative and technical elements to a website in order to increase its search engine visibility. Its multi-pronged approach to search engine success includes quality content, strategic meta tags, and incoming links from trusted websites. Some of it is basic, like writing text that will entice guests to book, while others require expert input, such as ensuring that the hotel site is mobile-friendly and displays well on multiple devices.
Choose effective keywords
Keywords are phrases that describe your hotel. Which ones you chooses depend on how you want to position the hotel in the search engine results pages (SERPS). Do you want to rank well for “Hotel near Luton Airport”? Or “pet-friendly Manchester hotel”? Once you have chosen a few keywords, use Google’s free keyword analysis tool to see which combinations show the most promise in terms of search volume.
Keywords need to be inserted in your site copy and Meta Title Tags. Compile the latter using the following strategy:
Primary Keyword | Your Hotel Name | Secondary Keyword
Each page on your site needs its own Meta Title, so once you have compiled them, pass the list on to your web developer.
Quality and relevant content
At one time, so-called marketing gurus would send client sites to the top by peppering page copy with their chosen keywords. The result was painful to read, and this trick is fortunately no longer tolerated by the search engines. Today, quality and relevant content is the way to go.
For example, if your hotel is in Brighton, you might have a page focused on beach activities, local festivals or family-friendly things to do. Make it information-rich, use preferred keywords in a way that reads naturally, and keep your title tags and and ALT attributes both descriptive and accurate.
An informative and well-structured website is an excellent start, but more remains to be done. Now you have to establish your site’s relevancy. In other words, make it clear to the search engines that it merits a higher rank than the competition.
In my experience, two factors play a leading role in how a search engine assesses a site’s relevancy:
- Relevant links: If the hotel site is listed on what Google regards as an ‘authority’ site, the search engine will conclude that your business is also trustworthy. Approach the closest airport, tourism association, or public event websites and suggest a mutually beneficial link exchange.
- Local listings: Most search engines now have a local search feature. Businesses can set up a Google+ Local Page, Bing Local Listing, and Yahoo Local listing, and use them to inform the search engines that they are more relevant to a local search than competitors in neighbouring towns.
Keep them coming
Once all of your dedicated SEO work has paid off and brought your hotel site to a top position in the SERPS, encourage potential guests to book directly instead of hurrying off to their favourite travel portal. An existing portal agreement may prevent you from advertising a lower price, but you can still persuade them to make a direct reservation by doing the following:
- Making the reservation process quick and easy
- Promising the lowest price guarantee
- Creating a loyalty programme that offers special discounts and rewards for direct bookers
- Offering complimentary upgrades and services such as free breakfast or airport shuttles
- Posting professionally taken photos of the hotel’s exterior, rooms, and amenities as well as the local area attractions
- Using promo codes, which will enable you to offer discounts during checkout without taking your room rates out of parity
Make your hotel’s direct booking incentive programs prominent on every page of the website, and accompany each mention with an easy call-to-action. Use the hotel’s social media channels to advertise the advantages and rewards of direct booking.
Over time, good SEO can increase your online visibility and bring you traffic, but once potential guests visit your hotel site, the onus is on you to give them reason to book their next vacation with you. Having a beautiful website and offering programmes favouring those who book directly should do the trick.
About the author
Shaz Memon, creative director at Digimax. Shaz has been tutoring professionals in the creative industry since he was 18, and has gone on to win multiple awards for his work. Regarded as one of the most creative designers in the industry today, Shaz works with leading names such as BBC, FHM, Barclays.