Search engine optimization (SEO) particularly in the travel industry is fiercely competitive and the landscape evolves at a rapid pace. Online travel agencies dominate the top organic search results as well as paid ad spaces with their mammoth marketing budgets. Hotels are also contending with the ever-changing organic search layouts and map packs that can reduce those all-important clicks through to the official hotel website.
This post is going to take a look at the current hotel SEO landscape, how the hotel search interface updates can impact traffic, direct bookings and includes some strategies to maximize your organic search performance.
Hotel search interface and map pack layout updates
In October 2018, after months of testing Google released an updated design for hotel search results. Hotel SEO specialists braced for a potential drop in organic Click Through Rate (CTR). The new design, while arguably aesthetically more attractive than its predecessor, is not great news for hotels and resorts working towards increasing their direct accommodation bookings.
Previously the hotel map pack utilised the design you see across other industries. Like this below example for event venues in Phoenix.
However, since the hotel search layout updates, the map pack has a drastically altered appearance where price comparisons are more prominent than ever. As seen in this example for hotels in Florida below.
When a user then navigates to a specific hotel listing to learn more, they are visually bombarded with a more comprehensive and arguably distracting dashboard setup as seen in this example.
Pricing insights feature
Google have been testing a new pricing insights feature (highlighted in the above example), it shows the user a message about the current property they are viewing in comparison to “similar” hotels and resorts nearby during selected dates. During our research and review of the “similar hotels nearby” presented by Google, the algorithm didn’t seem to have taken into account many factors that give a hotel that unique quality and experience that justifies the cost of rooms. Luxury resorts with countless amenities had “similar hotels nearby” presented that included 3 star hotels with little to no amenities. These travel experiences are available at significantly different price points with reason. Presenting the two as similar properties with such a huge price disparity could result in a consumer who is now less confident about making that booking decision with the original hotel they viewed.
We must not forget, most hotels and resorts really sweeten the deal for travelers booking direct. This can include the addition of complimentary options like cocktails or appetizers, late checkouts, additional spa treatment time, VIP access to water parks and loyalty points. These have a monetary value that isn’t reflected in this pricing comparison and the traveller as a result is potentially missing a great deal and extra value they would receive by booking direct.
Call To Action (CTA) differences: Book a room vs Website button
Over the years hotel knowledge panels have gone through a few changes, in the past website and direction buttons were a dull grey that faded into the background while Ads were vibrant and eye attracting. At that stage there was no “book a room button”. The next step was a simple blue outlined “book a room” button directing you to the Google hotel booking tool. Now, with recent updates the button is a bright attention grabbing blue as seen in the example below. This is a routine conversion optimization principle, whereby you highlight the key action you prefer the user to make by creating your CTA in a high color contrast button compared to your background. These updates can have an impact on website CTR so it’s important to note when reviewing year on year data.
When the user then hits the book a room button they are directed to the Google MetaSearch Ad area. Here the hotel property is again potentially losing profitable website clicks and direct bookings partly as a result of the market comparison section seen below. Whilst booking through an OTA isn’t the ideal for a hotel, it still is a booking minus the commission paid. Which is preferable compared to losing the user to a “similar hotel nearby” instead, as again on the right a market comparison is displayed, comparing different hotels to the one being viewed. So this feature is important to note.
Branded Searches: Pricing and availability widgets, and how your hotel brand name has an impact
Many hotel SEO specialists have discussed the hotel search layout changes that are triggered with [hotel + location] related searches but what about the updates to when potential guests are searching for your brand name?
Branded searches are the most profitable organic search traffic type for your hotel, so you want to maximize your impact here as much as possible. Recently Google started testing a new pricing and availability graph for hotels via desktop. Normally this is where you would expect to see the hotel’s official website, instead we see another pricing comparison table.
The hotel in this above example has a very unique name, without much crossover from competing properties and the brand name is not in any way a common keyword cluster. To contrast this, what we observe in branded searches for hotels with a name that does have common elements with other properties or where the brand name incorporates some common keyword clusters is another map pack as seen in the below example. This isn’t directly related to the layout updates, rather algorithmic updates over time but again this is important when reviewing year on year data changes.
How your hotel pricing strategy can impact your organic traffic
When it comes to SEO many people believe that it’s simply about improving rankings and impressions alone, so if you improve these metrics you will enjoy more traffic and revenue. It’s simply not always the case in this sector. This is largely because there are so many opportunities for consumers to easily compare prices online. A pricing difference between one hotel and an online travel agency, or even another hotel can significantly impact click through rates and website traffic. These hotel search layout changes are amplifying this occurrence, again in part because book direct benefits are not included in the equation.
The observed impact of these layout changes
Many hotels and resorts will be experiencing a loss in clicks year on year to varying degrees, regardless of increased impressions year on year. We often see the most profitable searches are being impacted here, which can translate to a lower website revenue. In the research we conducted across a portfolio of hotels and resorts, we identified that clicks on average were down 30% in comparison to the same month, previous year even though impressions had increased on average 38%. As such it’s important that we maintain a holistic view and strategy when it comes to competing in the hotel SEO space.
What can we do to maximize our Hotel SEO results?
It’s not all doom and gloom when it comes to the hotel SEO space and where there are challenges there is always opportunity. So let’s review some strategies so you can maximize your results.
Book direct pricing and value – more important than ever!
Today’s travel consumer is incredibly savvy and they typically shop around for the best deals. With accommodation, in many ways it’s similar to shopping for a specific TV, in that it’s the same product sold by multiple vendors, so which would you shop with? The best value deal of course! So it’s paramount that your pricing and book direct benefits strategy is aggressive and promoted effectively. Take the opportunity to educate your customers on your book direct benefits via your website and all communication channels you have, this can help to steer more profitable consumer behavior moving forward. It’s a good idea to review local competing properties and their pricing strategy so you can make any adjustments needed on your end, don’t forget to include “similar hotels nearby” from the market comparison sections in your research.
Make consumer behavior changes part of your strategy
The current online landscape for hotels is complex. User behavior has shifted over the course of many years and a growing number of shoppers are directly searching for online travel agencies instead of specific hotels. A great strategy for the long term is to change the consumer’s mind. As mentioned you want potential guests to recognize that doing business with you directly is the most rewarding. There are many tools at your disposal from social media marketing to website content and email marketing. Lay out a defined strategy to become top of mind with potential guests.
Include more specific queries and long tail keyword clusters in your SEO plan
Getting your keyword focus correct is a challenge for many hoteliers and their SEO partners. Many are completely focused on broad terms to get the brand in front of as many eyes as possible, because more eyes means a larger volume of direct bookings right? Not always. By including more focused and buyer specific search queries you will find that your conversion to traffic ratio can be higher than for broader terms. In addition, with the increase of voice based searches this also positions your hotel brand to stay ahead of the pack as voice search queries can be longer and more conversational in nature.
Embrace good quality SEO optimized content
Many hotels have specific branding guidelines prohibiting content heavy main pages. This doesn’t mean you can’t embrace content. If you are a hotel that isn’t blogging with the direction of an SEO and content marketing specialist you are losing money. Content should be crafted with your ideal consumers in mind. Work with your team to identify content opportunities for potential guests at each stage of the buying funnel and then map out specific content you can create per buying persona. This strategy does take time to craft but it pays off because it gets your brand in front of cold audiences who do invest time in thoroughly researching locations and hotels before making that booking decision further down the line.
Conversion optimisation strategies
Getting the most out of your existing traffic is going to be incredibly important for hotels. Your website should be facilitating and not hindering conversions. Work with a conversion optimization consultant to identify any key areas that may be holding you back from generating more bookings. Your website structure, navigation, content, call to actions, imagery and more can impact your site performance. Don’t be afraid to test adjustments until you find the right mix for your specific audiences.
As a hotel or resort it’s crucial that you partner with an online marketing services provider who can help you effectively navigate the complete hotel SEO landscape. There needs to be a holistic view and understanding of the market through extensive ongoing experience so that your brand is maximizing its efforts to drive more direct accommodation and event bookings. Rankings, impressions or sessions alone don’t tell the whole story. If you neglect to look at the whole picture it’s likely you are losing many bookings due to some of the external elements we covered here.
If you want to speak with an SEO team that has extensive experience with hotels and resorts of all sizes then get in touch with Ormi Media to see if we might be the right fit to help your hotel not only improve its online presence, but to make the key changes that drive more direct bookings.