This week, I was thrilled to be a guest speaker on Sojern’s webinar, “Search Engine Marketing for Hotels: Making Sense of Organic and Paid.” It’s a timely topic for Leonardo, given the recent launch of new SEO Marketing Service with our Vizlly solution. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is a complex beast; it’s time-consuming and constantly evolving. With that said, hoteliers should understand the basics if they want to succeed in today’s digital landscape. Webinars like this one from Sojern are a great place to start.
If you missed the presentation, Scott Mclin and I discussed how to drive more direct bookings using a 3-pronged approach. First, you need to drive traffic to your hotel website using a combination of SEO and SEM (aka paid) initiatives. Second, when a potential guest arrives on your website they should see why your property will satisfy the needs of their trip over your competition describing your value. Finally, seamless website integration with your booking engine of choice is essential to closing the sale and winning that direct booking.
Go Long with Your SEO Strategy
In the webinar, I predominately focused on SEO talking about how trying to get the primary spot in search results is virtually impossible. The OTA’s and big brands spend hundreds of millions of dollars vying for the top placement and devote a huge amount of resources to SEO. Your best bet is to fine-tune your strategy to include long tail keywords that you can rank for organically (non-paid).
Long tail keywords are search terms comprising of 4 or more words and are very specific in nature. For example, “Kid-friendly Miami hotel near zoo” is much more targeted than just “Miami hotel.” Long tail keywords like this are less competitive to rank for, drive more qualifiedtraffic to your website, and convert 2.5 time better than head terms. That’s because the travel shopper has already identified their main hotel shopping criteria, and is further along the travel shopping journey when they hit your website.
Consider what specific attributes about the property or the local area travel shoppers might be searching for. If you’re unsure, ask your guests or staff; use search engine analytics. Tailor your keywords strategy around these things to attract more qualified or targeted traffic to your website.
Give Travel Shoppers What They Want
Here’s the thing; if you want more bookings at a lower cost, give travel shoppers what they want in one place – aka your website! If the consumer doesn’t find all the information they are looking for they will go elsewhere and you risk not getting them back.
We analyzed the market to understand how to increase direct bookings in hospitality and uncovered some powerful insights about hotel shopping behavior:
- People want to know what makes your hotel different than others on their list (what experience can they expect with you?)
- They want to know what your rooms look like (the whole story – bed, desk, sitting area, bathroom, amenities, etc.)
- They want to know if there are any special offers. Who doesn’t love a deal?
- They care about what other people think about your hotel (think reviews!)
The OTAs do most of these things really well, but the one area they can’t compete is the guest experience. They have no earthly idea what makes your property unique, nor do they care as it doesn’t fit within their model and site layout. Everything looks homogenous on an OTA site, making price the main decision criteria. But hotel shoppers don’t just care about price! They care about value. And for that, they need to understand your story.
Your hotel website is an opportunity to tell your unique story in a visual way, with compelling images, captions, short descriptions, and links. Storytelling creates an emotional connection with travel shoppers, and emotion is known to have a huge influence on purchase intent. When you add this missing element to the other things travelers care about, 92% of all travel shoppers are more likely to book directly with you.
Make it Easy to Book
So let’s now talk about booking. You’ve spent time fine-tuning your SEO strategy, driving qualified traffic to your website, and telling your unique story – but it can all fall flat at the time of booking. Booking abandonment is a serious problem in the travel industry. According to a study by SalesCycle, 81% of online travel bookings are abandoned. One of the main reasons for this is a cumbersome booking experience.
To help address this, the integration between your website and your booking engine provider should be seamless. It shouldn’t feel confusing or disjointed, and ideally, it should carry over attributes (like travel dates, number of guests etc.) to your booking engine, so travel shoppers don’t have to enter them again. You basically want to do all you can to make the booking process quick and easy; get out of the way of travel shoppers!
Don’t assume that people are only booking on your desktop website. Travel shoppers are booking on mobile as well. In fact, both leisure and business travelers have booked travel using a smartphone. They are also researching your hotel on-the-go. For this reason, you need a strong mobile strategy, one that includes SEO, SEM, a mobile optimized website, and a booking engine that supports mobile transactions.
If you follow these best practices, you’ll have a complete solution that can increase quality traffic, convert visitors at a higher rate, and ultimately drive more direct bookings at a lower cost. Watch the webinar recording for additional best practices from me and Scott.
Darlene Rondeau has more than 25 years of marketing & sales leadership focused on providing solutions for Fortune 1000 Companies. Over the last 2 decades, Darlene’s client list includes worldwide brands such as American Airlines, AT&T, Carlson Wagonlit Travel, Disney, General Electric, Hilton Hotels, Southwest Airlines, Starwood Hotels and Resorts, and USA Today. Currently, Ms. Rondeau is Vice President, Best Practices, Online Merchandising for Leonardo Worldwide. Her role is to educate hoteliers and work with industry associations to heighten awareness of new visual marketing techniques that motivate consumers throughout their travel shopping journey.