For any business, understanding how search engines function and rank content is essential to maximizing your reach and visibility. For hotels, search engine optimization can dramatically increase your direct bookings — at a fraction of the cost of paid advertising.
Thing is, hotel SEO isn’t just about the content on your website or the keywords you choose to target. Brick-and-mortar businesses also need to maximize their local listings, build quality links, and more — and all of that happens off-page.
Wait a second… what’s the difference between on- and off-page SEO?
On-page SEO refers to the content and technical aspects of your website, ie. things that are (mostly) within your control. Off-page SEO refers to a number of different tactics that increase the authority of your website to Google, like local SEO and backlinks from other trustworthy websites.
The short version of that is pretty literal: On-page SEO covers what’s on your website, while off-page SEO includes the things you do off of your website.
I like to think of on-page SEO as that first, most actionable step in a well-rounded search strategy.
You own your website, can create or update content yourself, and likely have access to a developer charged with making that website run like a well-oiled direct bookings machine. Start with what you can control.
Even the smallest changes you make to your hotel website can improve your standings with Google — and sure, less popular search engines like Bing and Yahoo, too.
But Google, Bing, and Yahoo all use a whole bunch of other signals to determine how content ranks and what they display on Page 1.
Google’s bots are constantly “crawling” the depths of the vast, endless Internet to find the most relevant, accurate, timely, and trustworthy information.
Now you might be thinking, “Well, of course my website is relevant, accurate, timely, and trustworthy!”
But it’s not enough that YOU think it is. Google doesn’t just take your word for it — it wants to know that OTHER websites and OTHER information channels think so too.
This is where off-page SEO comes into play.
Off-Page SEO Part 1: Local SEO
In 2020, it’s easier than ever for anyone and everyone to create a website. It can take as little as a few minutes to set up a page on Squarespace or Wix, buy a domain, and call it a day. That’s not a bad thing, by the way — but Google still wants to know that your business is real and legitimate.
So Google looks beyond your official website, at a number of off-page signals to check the legitimacy of your business.
Some of the most important signals to know about fall under a category called “Local SEO.” That includes things like UNAP, Google My Business, and other online citations. Since hotels are a brick-and-mortar business, local SEO is an important way for your physical location to get found by the right people.
LOCAL SEO: UNAP
In an online search context, UNAP stands for URL, Name, Address, and Phone Number. Google representatives like to call this your business’ digital fingerprint — it should be completely unique to you.
(Some like to refer to this as simply NAP, dropping the web address, but it’s essentially the same thing.)
If you want to know why UNAP is important to local search, it’s all about consistency and trust.
Your hotel UNAP must be accurate and consistent across all the different places someone might look for your hotel. I’m talking about online business directories, local listings, OTAs… if you’re listing your URL, name, address, and phone number somewhere, it MUST be consistent with what you’re showing elsewhere.
Most importantly: whatever UNAP is given on your hotel website should be the same UNAP you use on other sites.
Google wants to provide its users with the best search results possible. They don’t want to return pages of businesses that display inaccurate information or no longer exist — folks don’t really like that.
In order for Google and the other search engines to show your hotel, their web crawlers need to know (and trust) that your hotel is open and operating*, it’s located at a specific address, and it has a working telephone number.
If there are different variations of your URL, name, address, and/or phone number floating around online, Google is less inclined to display your hotel in local search results. If you want to know how to improve local SEO for your hotel, understanding UNAP is the best place to start.
*Of course, there’s a COVID-19 caveat to this, which I’ll explain in the next section.
LOCAL SEO: GOOGLE MY BUSINESS
Google My Business is a free platform and one of the biggest drivers of local SEO success. Having a consistent UNAP applies to all websites, but Google My Business is a particularly important one. Think of Google My Business as a very specific online directory for local businesses. Owned by Google, of course.
When you set up a free account and “claim your business,” you can feed important information about your hotel to Google, from what your business is to where it is and how to reach you.
Google My Business listings for hotels include your UNAP, and quite a bit more:
- Name of business (✓ UNAP)
- Address (✓ UNAP)
- Phone number (✓ UNAP)
- Opening hours
- Website URL (✓ UNAP)
- Hotel amenities
- Questions & Answers about your business
An added perk of claiming your hotel Google My Business listing is that control over what information is being fed to Google. You can respond to Google reviews, write public answers to specific questions from guests, list all of your important hotel amenities, and more.
Now, what do you with your Google My Business listing if your hotel closes temporarily due to COVID-19?
Will marking my hotel as closed negatively impact my search ranking?
According to Google, no.
In their specific search guidance to businesses affected by COVID-19, Google says, “Marking your business ‘Temporarily closed’ won’t affect local search ranking and it will be treated similar to open businesses.”
Depending on your situation, your hotel restaurant could be different case. Note that Google also says, “Businesses offering pickup or delivery services should not mark the business ‘Temporarily closed,’ otherwise those services won’t show on Google.”
Off-Page SEO Part 2: Link Building
One of the most important tactics in off-page SEO for hotels is link building. Link building is the process of getting other, trusted websites to link back to your website. That link itself is often referred to as a backlink.
Quality links are an essential part of your off-page SEO strategy as they signal to Google that your website is credible. It’s like when someone you trust or admire vouches for a specific product — you’re much more likely to think that product is worthwhile.
In the same way, good backlinks signal to Google that your website is worthy.
DOFOLLOW VS NOFOLLOW LINKS
Link building is a big part of off-page SEO, but you should know that not all backlinks are created equal. Let’s talk about the difference between dofollow links and nofollow links.
When you place a hyperlink to another page or website, that link will be “dofollow” by default.
This means search engine crawlers can follow that link. If a reputable website adds a dofollow link to your hotel website, it’s going to pass on some of their credibility to you — “link juice,” if you will.
On the other hand, a “nofollow” link does, well, exactly what you’d expect. It prevents the crawlers from following that link and passing one website’s signal of quality on to the other.
Since all links are dofollow by default, a nofollow link has to be manually created. To create a nofollow link, you would add a short attribute to the link, rel=”nofollow” which in HTML, looks like this:
<a href="https://fivestarcontent.co/" rel="nofollow">Five Star Content</a>
Depending on your hotel website’s content management system, doing this could be as simple as ticking a box while editing your text. WordPress, for example, has plugins which allow you to control which links are dofollow and nofollow.
So, why does this matter?
When would your hotel want to use a nofollow link instead of a dofollow?
One of the main places we see nofollow links is on blog comments. If your hotel website has a blog with comments enabled, anyone can comment any link to any website. If that website isn’t relevant or high quality, your SEO is negatively impacted because Google thinks you’re vouching for it. Guilty by association!
Otherwise, don’t get too caught up in when and where you should manually create a nofollow link. It’s much more important to know how to recognize them on other websites.
To do this using Google Chrome as your browser, simply highlight the linked text, right-click, and select “Inspect.” Look for that rel=”nofollow” attribute, like in the example above.
Nofollow links will not give your hotel any sort of “link juice” or SEO benefit, but they do still send visitors to your website.
If you’re unsure of whether a nofollow backlink on Website X is worthwhile, consider how much traffic it could potentially send you.
HOW TO GET QUALITY BACKLINKS FOR YOUR HOTEL
Earlier in this article, we talked about local SEO for hotels as it relates to online listings like directories and Google My Business. But there are plenty of other places on the web to consider when building links to your hotel website.
Some examples include:
- Your local tourism bureau
- Vendors you work with
- Travel forums (TripAdvisor, Fodors, etc.)
- Q&A websites (Quora, etc.)
- Contribute to reputable blogs as a guest author
- Press coverage
Some of these could even overlap — maybe your local tourism bureau has a destination-focused blog that accepts guest posts from time to time.
I will also add that not every vendor, florist, event planner, or limo company has a quality website. If you still want to include them on a page of partners/vendors, this is another time you might want to use a “nofollow” link.
When it comes to travel forums and Q&A sites like Quora, my best advice is to participate only when and where your contribution is relevant. Take some time to provide clear, thoughtful answers — don’t just promote your own business!
And don’t forget about the traditional press release.
Press releases are (still) a great way to get backlinks from reputable media sites, local news, and even relevant bloggers.
The key here is to create something newsworthy — and I must be clear, 10% off BAR ain’t it.
Different media markets consider different things “newsworthy” so it’s hard to say exactly what will work for your specific hotel and destination. Here are a few things that worked at my hotels:
Unique rooms packages — something timely, following a specific theme, or even downright cheeky
Profiles and personal stories — from colleagues or guests
Subject-matter expertise — ie. original tips from your wedding planner, who has 20 years of experience
Limited-time F&B activations — themed afternoon tea, a pop-up restaurant or chef dinner, Tiki-themed cocktails in the middle of winter (yes, seriously)
Memorable experiences — Oscars watch party, pop-up coworking
Giveaways — win something exciting, like a weekend in your finest suite or your entire wedding, paid-for
It goes without saying, but if you’re going to send out a press release about any of these, make sure your hotel is actually delivering above-and-beyond on these experiences. Digital marketing might get guests through the doors, but Operations makes the magic happen!
Oh, and when you format any press release, here’s a tip for SEO: Use anchor text to make it easier for media to copy/paste those backlinks exactly how you want them to appear. (What’s anchor text? Keep reading!)
ANCHOR TEXT AND WHY IT MATTERS
So what is anchor text, anyway? According to Ahrefs, anchor text is the clickable text used to link one website to another.
As a rule of thumb, it’s a good idea to use your keyword or the topic of the page as anchor text.
All over the web, folks link to other websites in weird and often unhelpful ways. Here are some types of anchor text to avoid:
Linking a generic word or phrase: Click here to read my post about hotel copywriting examples.
Linking the URL: See the best examples of hotel copywriting (https://fivestarcontent.co/blog/hotel-copywriting-examples) on Five Star Content.
Both styles of anchor text don’t really give Google any context into what your page is about.
The better way to link to that post would be to tell you that I’ve put together a new article with a few of my favorite hotel copywriting examples. (See what I did there?)
While you can’t control everything that happens off-site, understanding how to use anchor text can really help your link building efforts.
When you send out press releases, make sure you link to a relevant landing page on your website — and use anchor text correctly right in the text of the release. Chances are good that the journalist or blogger receiving your release will copy/paste that link (and its anchor text) exactly as-is.
Same goes for backlinks you acquire through guest posting or by reaching out to local websites like your tourism bureau. Be direct in your outreach and supply them with a link that’s already formatted with your preferred anchor text.
Off-Page SEO Part 3: Social Media
Social media, content, and online marketing are all tied together in the hotel business. The exact relationship between SEO and social media, however, is a bit murkier.
One thing we know for sure is that search engines like Google and Bing do crawl pages on most of the main social platforms — if they have a web version, at least. (Sorry Snapchat.)
We know this because our social profiles can and do appear in search results.
In fact, these profiles often rank on Page 1, sometimes beating OTAs and other travel websites — that alone makes it necessary to claim (and update!) your profile on each of the major social media platforms.
From a hotel SEO standpoint, social media plays a role in driving traffic to your website. While there’s no hard evidence that posting on social media alone impacts your search rankings, social can certainly amplify your content’s reach.
As with other directory listings, you also want to make sure your UNAP is consistent.
If you’re still reading this, it’s likely you’re motivated to learn how to do hotel SEO effectively! I hope this deep dive into all things off-page proved helpful, so let’s quickly recap.
Make sure your URL, Name, Address, and Phone Number (UNAP) are consistent, wherever you put it
Claim your Google My Business listing (and use that same UNAP)
Build quality “dofollow” backlinks on reputable sites (those online directories, relevant blogs, etc.)
Keep an eye on “nofollow” links that could still drive valuable traffic
Create and share interesting, newsworthy content
Claim your social media profiles (again, use that UNAP)
Off-page SEO for hotels is all about ensuring your website is recognized as a credible, trustworthy resource. Google, Bing, and other search engines need to see external signals from other websites to know that yours is legitimate.