Searching for opportunities
Apparently there are 5.6 Billion searches on Google each and every day. However, the most important search is when someone carefully types in your hotel's brand name and hits return. That, right there, is an opportunity.
But just how do you 'own your search results' in 2022 and control as much as humanly possible of what appears on your brand's SERP (Search Engine Results Page)?
In this article we'll breakdown a typical SERP into its core components; Paid, Organic, Local and Metasearch. We'll provide helpful tips on how to optimise them all and how to measure the success of all your efforts.
The TLDR (Too Long, Didn't Read) Version
Short on time? No problem. Basically;
- Paid search - continue to invest in non-brand and brand PPC. The 'billboard effect' of running brand PPC, even when you rank 1st organically, can give you an extra 20% of valuable traffic. Extensions, sitelinks and automation help expand the reach and conversion of your campaigns, if managed correctly.
- Organic search - review your Page Titles and Meta Descriptions as they represent your digital first impression. Make sure yours include 'best rates direct', alongside your USP's and clear CTA's to maximise CTR on your SERPs. This acronym frenzy is explained below.
- Local search - this growing trend continues, accelerated by the pandemic, with local searches now accounting for 50% of all searches. Make sure your business listings are up to date! Thankfully there are helpful tools that can update them all from a central point.
- Metasearch - this high converting channel should also be high on your priority list. Opt in for organic metasearch listings and invest in paid metasearch advertising. Rate parity is unsurprisingly still vital here, but so is finding a trusted partner - avoid the 'setup, switch-on and go' types!
Own the space above organic search results by running Pay Per Click (PPC) advertising on your brand as well as non-branded keywords, e.g. "5-star hotels in Kensington"
OK, let's start by addressing the elephant in the room. Yes, you should still bid on your brand, even if your website ranks organically in position 1. Here's why:
The 'Billboard Effect' Study
A study conducted by 80 DAYS in September 2021 highlighted that while PPC 'cannibalises' approximately one third of organic searches, i.e. 1 in 3 clicks on a PPC ad would have come to your website anyway if the search ad had not appeared, by running brand ads in addition to ranking 1st you'll still receive a net increase of traffic to your brand site of around 20%. Given that branded traffic generally converts at a high rate, that's a very valuable 20%.
Beyond an incremental gain in traffic, bidding on your brand ensures that OTAs, competitors and opportune affiliates or third parties can't capitalise on your hard-fought brand awareness, pinching a conversion at the very end of a guest's purchasing decision.
Brand and non-brand PPC also afford you complete control over your messaging. Organic Page Titles and Meta Descriptions can be a bit more rigid, making seasonal or campaign-related messaging more of a challenge. With paid advertising, you can include the copy and keywords that most effectively convey your brand and positioning, capturing a user's attention and driving them to your website.
Additional extensions and sitelinks within a paid advert help you further promote special offers and highlight your location to users - two key factors that help convince a user that you are deserving of their click. They also help use valuable 'space' within a SERP, meaning that OTAs and other sites are pushed further down the page.
Automation can really help to scale your campaigns quickly and efficiently. Making use of Responsive Search and Display Ads, Dynamic Search Campaigns and Performance Max campaigns can be very effective at expanding your campaign's reach and return, but should always be monitored closely to ensure your budget is being spent most effectively.
Finally, while it can be tempting to dive right into paid advertising, we'd always recommend speaking to an agency first. Well of course we would, right? It truly does make sense though. Bluntly, mistakes can be very costly as poorly setup campaigns can spend quickly and return meanly. Agencies have the advantage of a breadth of experience, working across multiple accounts, channels and tools with a best practice approach. Also, our partnerships with Google and Bing afford us beta access to shiny new technologies too, which helps our clients keep pace with the OTA behemoths and their ever increasing budgets.
Every now and again you'll read the headline, 'SEO is dead'. It's not. It's fighting fit and there's still an opportunity for savvy hoteliers and travel brands to capture traffic organically.
But how should you make the most of your organic search result in 2022? Great question, let's dive in.
It may have been said before, but the importance of carefully crafting your Page Titles and Meta Descriptions remains key. These are, effectively, free adverts for your hotel or travel brand. Ensure they include your Unique Selling Points (USP's), value-driven messaging for your target guests and clear Call To Action (CTA) where appropriate.
Don't forget that Page Titles/Meta Descriptions are your opportunity to reference that you offer the 'Best Rates Direct' too. This helps catch the eye in busy search results and attract that all-important click.
A common question we get asked by hotel groups; should we have individual websites for our hotels, or a group site, or both? While it may sound like a politician's response; there's honestly no definitive answer. When individual hotels are part of a group and have unique offerings and brand positioning, it can often be best to have a group website with separate domains per hotel. This gives you the opportunity to take up two spaces on your SERP's (the individual website and the group site), which of course means one less OTA site to compete against on Page 1.
However, hotels that have a similar offering and positioning may decide that a group site is the best approach. This can also have its benefits in terms of SEO. For example, a larger site will likely have a higher amount of inbound links to the group domain.
Of course we must caveat that there are a vast number of different factors at play in Search Engine Optimisation. We've not even touched on ensuring your Wikipedia page is updated to appear on page 1 (and therefore push OTA's further down the list) or how you can use schema markup to have your content appear within the 'People Also Ask' (essentially Frequently Asked Questions) section. That's for another day; in this article we're focused on some of the more essential SEO elements to 'own your SERPS'.
The end of 2021 saw us going loco for local and with good reason! Local searches now make up more than 50% of all search traffic and between 15-20% of all website traffic for our client's hotel websites.
Let's be clear, local search is growing every year and it doesn't look like this trend is set to slow any time soon. Indeed the pandemic has expedited its growth as people take to search engines to determine what's reopened, what opening hours have changed, what's good 'near me' etc.
Thankfully, gone are the days when hoteliers had to scramble to update multiple local business listings across a whole host of different sites and platforms. Tools like Uberall help centralise the management of external listings, ensuring that your local search data is always up to date and helpful to the end user.
Local search is evolving too. There's now more opportunities for brands to provide additional detail to customers via local channels, such as their amenities, opening hours, offers, FAQs, sustainability policies etc.
Of increasingly importance is the need for brands to respond to reviews on local channels, just like you would on TripAdvisor. Your responsiveness impacts local search rankings and can help instil trust in your brand. Again, tools like Uberall can help centralise your response to reviews in a single dashboard.
Careful ongoing management of your local search profiles will ensure you appear consistently in search results, further 'owning your SERP'.
Metasearch typically converts higher than any other channel for our clients, consistently above 2%. It's there, ready and waiting, when demand for travel spikes and is a fantastic driver of incremental bookings.
So how do you ensure your rates appear alongside those of the OTAs and competitors? It's actually pretty straightforward. For the sake of your sanity (and avoiding having to manage multiple channels independently) we would recommend working with a provider that offers a single connection to multiple metasearch channels. Conveniently and unsurprisingly, we do.
Give careful consideration to the provider you entrust with this valuable channel. Take care to avoid the 'setup, switch on and go' brigade who promise fantastic results based solely around automation. While automation can help with some of the more menial tasks, we're advocates of retaining some human involvement when investing significant marketing spend. It's important for hotels to feed directly into their metasearch strategy for optimal results.
Callouts and competitive rates will help to make your listing stand out alongside OTAs and you should always make sure that your most competitive rates are available to book on metasearch. It probably goes without saying (but we'll say it anyway) that rate parity is quite (read: VERY) important to improve both the visibility of your rates, Click Through Rates (CTR) and overall conversion of those who are in-market for your property.
Don't forget to invest time in working on the user experience of your site and booking engine so that you give yourself every feasible chance of converting metasearch leads into metasearch bookings - attracting the click is just the first step.
Don't forget to opt in for organic metasearch listings too. This is really a no brainer as you don't need to have a paid metasearch connection to run these.
Finally, remember that metasearch generally forms part of much wider marketing plan. Take the time to ensure your metasearch budgets, targeting and targets are aligned with other campaigns to create a high performance holistic strategy.
So you've invested all that time and effort in owning your SERP. It sure looks pretty now, but how do you know if it's delivering the results you want? Step forward, attribution and reporting!
Start by making sure you have crystal clear objectives confirmed, before any paid advertising campaigns are launched. Are you looking to drive awareness, consideration or conversions? This investment of time upfront, both in setting objectives and adding tracking to your site, makes it a breeze to measure reach, traffic, engagement and conversions, post-campaign.
Benchmarking your existing performance is also a very worthwhile exercise and wouldn't you know it, we can help with that too! Our sister company, Hotel Benchmark, can help to establish how you're performing, relative to the industry average.
When it comes to evaluating your SEO efforts, tools like Google's Search Console and Bing's Webmaster Tools show you actual keyword impressions and clicks, making it far easier to uncover potential organic keywords worth optimising towards in the future.
Still struggling with your SERPs? Seek out the SEO (and alliteration) skills of 80 DAYS.