It was in October 2015 that Paul Hennessy, CEO of Priceline, as much as announced the death of SEO in the travel industry. “I believe it is a paid world”. And he’s not the first. The death of SEO has been at the core of many marketing debates over the last few years. But booking.com have 12 staff dedicated solely to SEO – so there must be some benefit to it.
At Equator, we work with a variety of hotels at different sizes, using a range of integrated digital strategies – and I can confirm, SEO is not dead. How do I know? Because organic search consistently delivers the highest portion of traffic to our clients’ websites. As long as Google holds the top spot on Alexa’s top 100 websites, online marketers cannot ignore SEO and search marketing as an essential part of their campaigns.
But the changing landscape of search has led to a complete change in SEO strategy – or a failure, for those who haven’t kept ahead of the curve. A particular challenge is the dominance of Online Travel Agents, or OTAs, of organic results. And while OTA presence is a given for many hotels, they do take a hefty cut of the booking price – up to 30% in some cases. Direct bookings will always be the most profitable for hotels. So what role does SEO play in getting those rooms shifted?
It’s easier to market an excellent offering
Put simply, whether you’re ranking on page 1 or page 101, if customers can get a better deal elsewhere, they will. Price parity is one way that hotels can get a step ahead of the OTAs to get those direct bookings in. Can you offer a lower price than the OTAs? Great, do that!
In some cases, though, the lowest prices are given to the OTAs due to contracts. That’s okay though. There are heaps of other direct booking benefits you can offer your customers. According to a recent survey by Triptease, the top benefits valued by hotel customers are free breakfast, free WiFi and late check out. Building these into your direct booking prices means that you might just edge the OTAs out for some customers. After all, you don’t have to offer the lowest price to offer the best deal, and customers value the added extras.
Hyperlocal is in
As I’ve mentioned, the search landscape has changed dramatically in the last few years. One of these changes is the introduction – then drastic reduction – of local results in organic search, also known as the Snack Pack. And only local businesses can rank in the Snack Pack – not OTAs. Hooray!
Now, OTAs still have presence in this space with Hotel Price Ads (HPAs). This is more the territory of PPC, but it’s essentially where certain Google Partners can place price ads within local listings, like below:
Google are selective about who joins directly at the moment. In many cases, OTAs are able to price smaller hotels and chains out of the market. However, the same search on mobile looks more like this:
With the direct website and phone number much more prominent. This is from a mobile search using Google in browser, and the result looks much the same in Google Maps.
Over £9 billion per year is spent by people on the commute home from work on their mobiles, via phone calls and online transactions. At the Independent Hotel Show, we learned that they spend on 3 main areas: consumer electronics, travel and leisure. And that a whopping 53% of same-day bookings happen via mobile. Any hotelier should be grabbing at the opportunity to get their hotel’s contact details right under the thumbs of these big spenders.
How to rank here is a whole other article (we wrote it here), but a combination of specific local activities and really good SEO is key. Companies who rank well in organic tend to rank well in the Snack Pack, and vice versa. And with only three spaces on page one of SERPs, hotels can’t afford to neglect their organic campaigns.
Team up with PPC
Another positive correlation exists between organic and paid results. I say correlation because there’s no official confirmation here. But a lot of experts in both SEO and PPC have noticed that as they find success in one campaign, so they find success in the other. And ultimately, having excellent SEO and PPC is key to dominating SERPs.
Good SEO can improve your click through rates on ads; and good PPC can boost your organic rankings. And studies show that pages that rank on page one in both organic and ad spaces benefit from increased click through rate for both.
SEO carries more benefits than just rankings
As an SEO, my bottom line is goal completions via organic traffic. This does mean I have a huge focus on rankings. But a part of the strategy is ranking for the right keywords, so that I deliver users that are actually interested in what’s on a page. In fact, relevance and user behaviour are key to good SEO. Good SEO means optimizing for your ideal user – while having an expertise in Google’s guidelines and algorithms, of course.
An example of this is in the copy. When I’m checking copy for keywords, length and clarity, I’m not just making that copy clearer for Google. I’m also making it clearer for the end user. Is one of your main offerings a full cooked breakfast? Great! Use the words full cooked breakfast, and everyone – search engines included – will know what to expect from your hotel.
We also use structured data, like Schema, to present information in a way that is easy for search engines to understand. This also brings this data to the forefront in search – for example, a properly marked up table might be pulled through to the top of search results, even if the page isn’t ranking first. This means that we’re presenting information that is easier to read for both search engines and users.
SEO is not dead; long live SEO
Ultimately, having a good SEO strategy means having someone on-side who understands how Google reads your website; and Google understands what users want from a website. The two go hand in hand.