Keywords form one half of a successful paid search strategy, and selecting the right ones is important no matter what your goal is. For many hoteliers, the objective of engaging with Paid Search will be twofold; ensuring that you secure traffic from people searching for you using ‘branded’ keywords, and reaching a new audience of people searching for less specific ‘non-branded’ or generic keywords.
Non-branded or generic keywords include:
- ‘Hotels in Florida’
- ‘Things to do in Daytona Florida’
- ‘Daytona Beach hotel Florida’
Branded keywords include:
- ‘Westgate resorts Florida’
- ‘Marriott Daytona Beach’
The first thing to notice is the difference in the reach of the two terms. Branded keywords address a potential audience already aware of and searching for your hotel. It’s a narrower segment of potential customers than those searching unbranded keywords. But because they already know who you are, it’s also the segment most likely to convert to a sale.
Unbranded keywords increase visibility and brand awareness to help generate new customers, but this traffic is typically much less likely to convert as they are at an earlier stage in their booking journey. It’s for this reason that hotels typically find it much harder to generate a good return from unbranded keywords.
We recommend that hotels focus the majority of their Paid Search budget on branded keywords because if you don’t, Online Travel Agents (OTAs) will. Not only is this traffic the most valuable, it’s the most easily lost to OTAs with bigger budgets. Therefore, it’s always recommended to invest in ‘brand protection’ first. Only once you’re getting a good return on branded keywords is it advisable to look at unbranded – but then what? What strategies can hotels use to improve performance on unbranded keywords?
In our in Hotelier’s guide to Paid and Organic Search in 2022, we asked Alex Velazquez – National Director of Marketing at Westgate Resorts – to share his expertise on the matter.
Understand your ‘why’ (it might not be what you think it is)
There’s a really interesting strategy that’s specific for hotels to tap into.
According to Alex, It’s really important for hotels that are looking to invest in an unbranded keyword strategy to understand their ‘why’. Meaning, something that you’re committed to or an experience customers will have when they visit your hotel.
As Alex explained: If you’re a chain of more basic hotels, and you don’t have a ‘why’, it’s really challenging to do unbranded keywords well. Alex often tells hotels to hold off from running unbranded keywords until they’ve defined this, or they’ll end up dumping money into bidding for destination keywords against the OTAs, which they probably won’t win.
But if you have that ‘why’ – for example you’re a small family hotel in Cincinnati and you’ve got lots of fun amenities and activities for families – you have a story behind that niche that actually means something in your unbranded ad.
You have callouts that you can use in the extensions, you have promos that you can use, and you have a lot of different ways that you can articulate yourself – because don’t forget that Google allows you to have 15 different headlines and four different descriptions these days.
“We had a resort that we felt had a really strong ‘why’, but in reality people just wanted to see a heated pool because it was in a destination that was really cold. We started to notice what people were commenting on and asking our customer service about, and we realised our ‘why’ was very different to what we thought we were about.”
“We aligned our unbranded keywords around that and as a result we had months where our unbranded would do 4:1 return – which is almost unheard of these days, and it was predicated on what people were really looking for in the destination. So I’d go through those steps when it comes to unbranded. There’s no shortcut to it, you have to be deeply involved with receiving information from the outside. You’ve got to take it seriously try it out for a month or two and see what comes back from it.”
The wider strategy
Unbranded keywords are a tough nut to crack, particularly if you’re looking to drive immediate returns in terms of direct bookings within a small window, since this source of traffic is much lower-intent.
It’s important to look at how your unbranded strategy fits into your wider direct booking strategy. For example, even if you don’t see immediate return on last-click attribution from unbranded terms (meaning that the credit for a conversion is attributed to these ads as the final ad clicked before a booking), is it adding to the boiler room of traffic to your website that you can retarget?
In addition, once that traffic arrives on your website, what tools are you using to serve them a relevant onsite experience that aligns with the unbranded terms they were searching for? How is your onsite experience set up to improve the chances of conversion? For example, if a guest searches for ‘hotels near Fenway Park’ it’s important that the guest is served content related to baseball at Fenway Park when they land on your website. Whether that’s an offer that you’re running for baseball fans, or simply a mention of your hotel’s proximity to that location. This can be quite difficult and time-consuming to manage, which is why Triptease Paid Search has the capabilities to automate this when used in conjunction with Target Messages.
As mentioned at the start, your keyword strategy is only one half of your overall paid search strategy. The other half is when and how much you choose to bid. This is where it’s tough to beat the OTAs since they have seemingly unlimited budget and resources. But it is possible to work smarter, not harder.
With Triptease Paid Search, you can leverage your unique onsite data to identify the most valuable traffic and raise your bids for this traffic only – ensuring you attract the guests that are most likely to convert and improving your returns overall.