Category Archives: Search Engine Optimzation

Optimizing Your Hotel Distribution Strategy

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2013 was a year full of tremendous growth within online distribution in the travel industry with meta-search engines, mobile bookings and social media all taking significant steps forward.  However, hoteliers expecting similarly massive changes in 2014 may be in for a surprise.

While new technology and platforms of distribution may emerge suddenly, the overall distribution strategies should still be based on the channels that offer measurable ROI.  Understanding the intricacies of each of the following channels is essential in developing a strategy that will be unique to your hotel.

Mobile and Same-Day Bookings

In the multi-channel travel space, mobile has become a major player.  Mobile bookings doubled from 2012 ($6 billion) to 2013 ($12.3 billion), and that trend is expected to continue in 2014 with experts at PhoCusWright forecasting $24.3 billion in bookings made from these devices.  In all, about $1 out of every $12 in travel bookings will be generated via mobile.

A rise in mobile users appears to be influencing business strategy and changing customer behavior.  A recent Hotel Business Review infographic showed that 65% of travelers choose their mobile phone for same day hotel bookings.

Mobile applications will allow you to engage a greater number of potential customers and may allow you to increase your same day booking potential without falling pretty to heavy discounting in an attempt to garner these “spur of the moment” travelers.

OTAs

Whether you hate them, or love them, Online Travel Agencies appear to be here to stay.  These oversized companies have seemingly limitless resources that make them effective in reaching out to customers, often times in markets that hoteliers may find difficult to penetrate.  Along with these positives, third party channels and other travel intermediaries are quick to adopt emerging opportunities to stay ahead of the market.

Although these channels may be among your least profitable thanks to outrageous commission fees (market averages range from 15 to 25%), they offer visibility and exposure like no other platform.  The key in using OTAs is maximizing your revenue potential with room rates (i.e. selling lower rates to OTAs with lower commission rates, thus making these rooms more desirable).

Meta-Search Engines

On the surface, meta-search engines appear to be the perfect channel for distribution of your available rooms.  The concept is simple – meta-search sites neutrally compare various travel sites and other sources to give travelers the best overview results of their requested search.

However, meta-search engines add an additional level of complexity to the system with a keyword bidding system.  Essentially, these sites control the ranking of OTA and hotel websites within the hotel search results based on the value of bids each website has paid for the search keywords.

Larger OTAs have an advantage in this particular arena thanks to larger marketing budgets that allow them to outbid independent hotels and other properties.  If you want to go the meta-search path, it will be important to invest time and resources in understanding the bid management process, or finding an intermediary that can do the keyword bidding for you.

Because of this modified pay-per-click model, you must evaluate the strength of meta-search sites as a traffic source and monitor the click-to-book ratio generated from it.  If not used properly, these meta-search engines could be more costly than helpful to your site.

Direct Online Booking

In a perfect world, you would be generating all of your bookings and filling all of your availability through your brand.com website.  Flashing back to reality, there is only one way to increase bookings on your own site: driving traffic to (YourBrandHere).com.

How do you drive traffic to your website?  Try the following techniques.

1) Make sure your site layout is simple and user-friendly with logical navigation that allows guests to make bookings in just a few clicks.

2) Visual content is always a plus.  Highlight your unique accommodations and use images to share a story of what a traveler can experience when they stay with you.

3) SEO management is a key to showing up on results pages for major search engines like Google, Yahoo and Bing!  A picture may be worth a thousand words, but keyword-heavy content is king when gaining customers on the internet.

4) Using Google Analytics, or other analytics software, allows you to see where your site traffic is coming from.  This will help you to develop customized marketing plans to attract these guests.

By effectively using some combination of these distribution channels, or all four of them if your property can afford it, you can optimize your online distribution strategy and fill your availability in 2014.

Understanding Why ResortsandLodges.com Works For You

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In today’s travel and hospitality industry, it is clear that brand loyalty is on the decline and consumers are looking for the best value, deals and the most choices.

This is where Niche marketing comes into play.

Consider the decision to buy a television from an online retailer. When you search for a Flat Screen TV, you can search for a certain brand (Samsung, Vizio, LG, etc.), and you likely will find these brand websites on Google, Yahoo and Bing!  However, consumers statistically will choose to click into sites such as Best Buy, Target and Amazon.

These sites allow shoppers to compare the televisions produced by multiple brands, making a comparison and ultimately choosing the product that fits all of their needs.  Some may choose to buy online during that initial user session, however, most will purchase at a later date and may come back through a different search, or even purchase at a local retail store.

Similarly, travelers who are looking to find a specific accomodation type in a certain location head to major search engines to help them find properties.  The search engine is not where they transact however, it is the means to finding a niche shopping site to research all of their options.

These niche shopping sites in travel include OTA (online travel agents ie. Expedia, Hotels.com) Meta Search Sites (Kayak, TripAdvisor) and Niche Portals (ie. ResortsandLodges.com, Bed&Breakfast.com) Although travelers who prefer consumer choice enjoy the option of searching for the perfect destination, they only spend five percent of their time typing in search queries.

Maximizing the 5%

If consumers are spending such a limited amount of time searching to shop, your property needs to be visible, and visible early on a search engine’s results page.   Most companies bid for premier placement on keyword searches, but on average, you will likely only be able to advertise on three out of every ten sites with front-page placement on Google, Yahoo and Bing!

Like television shoppers, travelers want the ability to compare travel accommodations in specific areas.  Would you prefer to click-in to see a single Pocono Mountain resort, or head to 800Poconos.com or ResortsandLodges.com and compare multiple resorts, lodges, VRMC’s, Inns and B&B’s in the Poconos?  The choice between a niche and individual business usually weighs in favor of having more options.

Since most properties already dominate in hyper-local keywords (ie. St. Pete Beach Hotels) and of course their own brand search, the challenge of many marketing directors is in expanding their reach to target travelers further up the funnel, then influence them to come to their destination and furthermore, stay with their property.  That is the role of ResortsandLodges.com.

Do a quick Google search for Arkansas Resorts or Wisconsin Lodges. ResortsandLodges.com uses Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and keyword bidding to keep placement of Search Enginge Results Pages (SERP) high.  In addition to our region pages, you will find independent region directories or individual properties.

You will not be able to advertise on individual property websites, and regional sites can limit the range of comparison to certain territories. ResortsandLodges.com offers the opportunity to be one click from a detalied property profile, and at the top of many Google, Yahoo and Bing! SERPs.

This is only one of the ways ResortsandLodges.com brings 1,000’s of travelers direct to our partners each and every day.

 

Quick Tips and Takeaways:

1. On average, consumers will only spend five percent of their online shopping time typing queries into a search engine, putting a premium on high placement on Search Engine Results Pages (SERP).

2. Niche shopping sites allow travelers to compare similar properties in a given location, allowing  them to choose the property that fits all of their needs.  At ResortsandLodges.com, you are one click away from being linked directly back to your property website.

3. Because most major companies bid for premium placement on SERP, and on average you can only advertise on three out of ten sites with first-page placement on Google, Yahoo and Bing!, it is important to spend your advertising dollars wisely.  Essential things to consider are the right media, the right message and the right time.

 

Online Content and Readability: They Both Matter

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With recent updates to Google’s infamous search algorithm, creating high-quality content is of the utmost importance.

Blog posts, articles and other forms of written content should be both highly relevant to your audience and tailored to them.  This is especially important in the language you are using.

Before you begin writing, it is important to understand your audience.  If you are writing for travelers in a particular area, it can be helpful to use less formal language, and perhaps throw in some of the local jargon.  Make sure the language you are using, and the readability factor, match for the audience you are trying to reach.

Some Best-Practices for Writing for the Web

Writing online content uses skills, language and design elements which are different from those used in standard print.  Here is some basic information to keep in mind when creating text for the Web:

  • Do not be afraid to use white space.  Keep paragraphs shorts (no more than six lines) and ensure there is clear white space between each.
  • Use shorter words and sentences, depending on your audience.
  • Use language that is known to the target audience.  Some jargon may be necessary, for example, when writing for technology or corporate markets.

Flesch-Kincaid Readability Scoring

The Flesch-Kincaid Readability Test was created by Austrian-born Rudolf Flesch, one of the earliest proponents of writing in plain English.  This formula works because it is based on some very complicated facts of human psychology, and is based on the way the human mind works.

Boiled down to the basics, the longer the word, sentence or paragraph, the longer the brain has to suspend comprehending ideas until it can reach a point where all of the words make sense together.

Because they require more mental work by the reader, longer words and sentences are harder to read and comprehend.

Flesch based his readability formula on three key variables:  total words, number of syllables in these words and sentence length.  On a score of 0 to 100, 0 is measure as the most difficult and 100 is the easiest.  To view the readability chart, click here.

Basic English is considered to have a Flesch-Kincaid score around 60, and if a text’s readability score is between 60 and 70, 13-15-year-old students should easily understand it.  You may think you are insulting your readers by sticking to a score of around 60, but you are not; you’re just writing in plain understandable English.

Here are some examples of average scores for various types of content:

  • Comics – 92
  • Consumer Advertisements – 82
  • Reader’s Digest – 65
  • Time Magazine – 52
  • Harvard Business Review – 43
  • Standard insurance policy – 10

It is obvious that scores differ according to the target audience.  Harvard Business Review assumes a readership with a certain level of education.  Most insurance policies will include a lot of industry-relevant language, causing their readability scores to be quite low.

Microsoft Office users can check readability statistics when reviewing a document, and can edit their work accordingly if it does not meet your content standards.

Troubleshooting

Let’s say that you have finished your blog post, and your readability score is 25.  Some editing options to consider would be breaking up long sentences into one or more smaller sentences and cutting out words of three syllables or more.

One of Flesch’s overriding principles is that there are no complex, legalistic words that cannot be translated into plain English.  Use the thesaurus to help you find alternatives that will make your content more readable.  It can also be a good idea to use contractions, such as don’t and they’re, to help keep your content flowing.

To sum it all up, the key to writing good content is to use language that won’t detract from your message.  Just because you, the expert, understands dictionary terms doesn’t mean your readers will as well.  Keep it simple, use plenty of white space and let the Flesch-Kincaid formula help you craft plenty of solid content!

How Much Should You Be Spending on SEO?

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Nearly every business today must make a decision about how much to spend on search engine optimization (SEO).  This is no longer an “if” question for businesses as a robust online marketing strategy is imperative for survival in a web-driven world.

“How much will we spend on SEO?” is the question that every business professional must ask themselves in 2014.  One of Search Engine Watch’s 10 most popular stories of the 2013, written by Jayson DeMars, took deeper look at SEO spending.  Here are a few helpful tips from DeMars, and hopefully all the information you will need to help make a decision about hiring an SEO agency and forging a crucial partnership with an online marketing firm.

SEO Payment Models

To get a better understanding of the dollars and cents you will be spending on services, it is important to understand the payment models used by agencies.  Typically these agencies offer four main forms of services and payment:

  • Monthly Retainer:  Clients in this model will pay a set fee each month in exchange for an agreed-upon array of services.  This is the most common payment model because it provides the greatest return on investment (ROI).  These arrangements commonly include regular analytics reports, on-site content improvements, keyword research and optimization.  (Average Range of Rates: $750-5,000 per month) 
  • Contract Services at Fixed Prices:  Typically before a client is ready to engage in a monthly retainer, they will select contract services they wish to have completed.   SEO agencies will commonly list their services on their site, along with a price.  An example of one of these services could be an SEO website audit, which will help determine your current strengths and weaknesses as well as keywords with the highest ROI potential.  (Variable Prices dependent on services)
  • Project-Based Pricing:  Project fees are similar to contract services, but they are customized specifically for the client.  Pricing will vary according to the project.  A local business may want an agency to help with local online marketing by establishing social media accounts.  Together the business owner and the SEO agency will decide on the scope and cost of the project.  (Variable prices typically between $1,000 and $30,000)
  • Hourly Consulting:  This familiar consulting model is an hourly fee in exchange for services or information.  (Average Range of Rates: $100-300/hr.)

Things You Should Be Suspicious of

With the amount of money you will be spending on SEO, it is important to heed a few warnings to ensure that you are getting the best service available.  Be suspicious of the following promises:

  • Guarantees – SEO firms generally cannot provide guarantees due to the constantly changing nature of the industry.
  • Instant Results – It is true that using some SEO tactics will garner “instant results” by gaming the system, but these can hurt you in the long run.  Instant results often involve SEO practices that are against the webmaster guidelines put out by search engines.  Major search engines like Google seek out these techniques and penalize them, resulting in a loss in rankings that could take months to make up.
  • #1 Spot on Google – It always sounds great when a company makes a promise like this, and hopefully you will be able to get it.  However, this is not something a firm can promise to hand over to you.
  • Costs Lower than $750/Month – When it comes to SEO, it is always great to find a bargain, but you really are not shopping for the lowest price.  What you should be looking for in your SEO agency is the best level of service.  Be wary of rock bottom prices or “unbelievable deals.”
  • Shady Link Building Services – Link building is an incredibly important part of SEO.  It is impossible to have a highly-ranked site without inbound links.  As with most things, there is a dark side of link building.  Link trust is gaining importance to appear high in the rankings.  Make sure your agency’s link building services are ethical, white label services.  You may even want to ask them where they may be able to gain links for a business in the hospitality industry.

Things to Keep in Mind

  • SEO Takes Time.  A Monthly Retainer is Best. You must think of SEO as a long-term investment.  Aggressive campaigns and major pushes have their place, but the best and most enduring SEO results come from a long-term relationship.  The best agencies do not just wave a magic wand and get instant results.  Instead, they perform extensive operations that will produce results months down the road.
  • SEO Changes, and Your Rankings Will Change, Too.  There are plenty of competitors out there for your company to battle, and rankings will rise and fall with the changing of algorithms along with the entrance of new competitors.  It takes constant monitoring to keep your website ranking high on results pages and performing at top-notch levels.  Stay away from the one-and-done SEO tricks that simply do not work!
  • Not All SEO Services are Created Equal.  You have to keep in mind that SEO is not about shopping around for the lowest prices.  You should be focusing on finding the finest agency you can.  An SEO agency that defines its scope of services and takes the time to educate you is what every company should be looking for.
  • SEO is Important.  Do it.  The point of having a website is to increase and/or improve your business.  Unless people are finding your website, it is not even worth having one.  Do the smart thing and pay what it takes to keep your site findable by the people who are looking!
  • Hiring an SEO Agency is Best.  Do not fall into the mindset that you will be able to manage your SEO on your own.  A tiny percentage of business owners or professionals have the skill and savvy to do their own SEO.  On top of this, comprehensive SEO takes much more time than most business owners can afford.  Save yourself the stress because more than likely you will never get the same level of ROI that you would with a competent SEO agency.

For many modern businesses, SEO is the highest ROI marketing effort.  Direct mailing, broadcast advertising, online ads and other forms of advertisement do not provide the value SEO can.  It is no longer a question of whether businesses will spend, but how much to spend. As long as a quality SEO agency is the choice, the decision has the potential to lead to incredible amounts of revenue.

The Evolution of Online Search: SEO, SEM and Keyword Bidding

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Search engine optimization and search engine marketing can be very effective ways for hotels to reach prospective guests, but as the “keyword world” changes, hoteliers need to keep pace.  As online search features continue to change, there must be a greater focus on developing higher quality content for guests to compete against online travel agencies.

OTAs’ ads outnumber hotel brands’ ads on Google, Bing and AOL, but not on Google Mobile according to a recent BrandVerity study titled “Hotel Brands, OTAs and paid search: How do these relationships unfold on the SERP?”

According to the study, each Google Search Engine Results Page included almost two OTA ads.  Bing and AOL had considerably more, with 4.77 and 5.27 OTA ads per SERP, respectively.  The number of OTA ads per SERP on Google Mobile was only .49.

It is important to nail down the art and science of keyword bidding, and this is evident in the case of Expedia. They spent a substantial amount of time studying the science, and as a result their “quality score” translates to less expensive cost-per-click prices.  You can learn more about keyword bidding here.

Budgeting for SEO and SEM can vary across the spectrum of hotels.  Budget and economy hotels do not need to spend as much time on SEO because they rely more heavily on brand traffic, walk-in traffic and ratings and reviews sites.  However, If the return on ad spend is positive and you are getting better returns than spending with OTAs, meta-search, meeting planners or travel agents, the investment should be considered worthwhile and continued.

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From Desktop to Mobile: The 2013 Shift in Hotel Bookings

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As technology continues to shift the way people acquire information, travel sites have observed a shift in the way potential travelers are accessing and booking hotel reservations.  A HeBSdigital case study has quantified this data, and shows how dramatic this shift has been in the past 12 months.

Some of the Key Developments found in Q3 2013 include:

*Over 35% of web visitors and nearly 32% of page views were generated from non-desktop devices including mobile and tablets.  Within this statistic, the iPad outperformed all other tablet devices and was responsible for 88.2% of page views and nearly 97% of tablet revenue.

*Over 12% of bookings, room nights and revenue came from tables and mobile devices.  This does not include voice reservations originating from the mobile websites of HeBSdigital clients.

*Tables generated 210% more room nights and 603% more revenue than “pure” mobile devices.

Notable Developments from Q3 2012 to Q3 2013 include:

*Page views, visits, bookings, room nights and revenue have all declined through the desktop channel.

*Website visitors to desktop websites declined by 17%, while increasing by nearly 85% via mobile channels.

*Revenue from mobile devices nearly doubled as travel consumers become more comfortable conducting transactions through their smartphones and as smartphone penetration reaches an all-time high – nearly 50% in the U.S.

With this dynamic shift from desktop to mobile/tablet options, what can you do to ensure your content is properly accessed?  Try to treat the desktop, mobile and tablet as three separate channels:

Desktop Channel:  Always make sure your desktop website is in good health, and complies with best practices in hotel distribution, design, site architecture and SEO.

Mobile Channel:  A mobile website generates incremental revenue through mobile and voice reservations.

Tablet Channel:   Present tablet users with an enhanced, highly-visual version of the desktop website enabled for the touch-screen tablet environment.

Make sure the correct website content is being served in the right device category while ensuring the maximum user experience, relevancy of information and conversions.  All three channels (desktop, mobile, tablet) must be integrated in the hotel’s multi-channel marketing strategy. Use analytics to determine contributions from and the dynamics of each of the three channels.

For more information on this study or to see additional studies regarding the Three Screen Shift, click here.

Visuals: They Are Everywhere!

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As valued ResortsandLodges.com customers, you are more likely than not familiar with the emphasis our team places on visual assets. ResortsandLodges.com on the Road, a traveling media team dedicated to making your property shine through photos and videos, is an extension of this emphasis. While the importance of high level visual assets is understood, the question of “why” are these important has been something raising questions as of late. We know it is important to have them…but why?

There is seemingly endless amounts of data, theories, tests, and case studies driving the power behind high level visual assets. When it comes to your ResortsandLodges.com listing, there are 3 primary reasons to invest in your visual assets. These 3 reasons are based off of our travel expertise and industry data, coupled with a dedication to ensuring the success of your listing. Let’s take a look at the 3 reasons:

1. One Minute of Video is Equal to 1.8 Million Words - Think about that statistic. Data published by Diamond View Studios (a video production agency housed in Miami, FL) suggests that just one image holds the equivalent value of 1.8 million words. That’s a lot of words! Simply put, visuals are a great way to get your message across in a crowded web marketplace that can easily become overwhelming with written content.

2. Images and Video Sell - How much you ask? According to a recent study conducted by the same video production company mentioned above, indicates that consumers who view a video during the research phase, are 85% more likely to purchase. The same is true for images, as 67% of all consumers said that images are “Very Important” in the purchasing process.

3. The Travel Industry - Images and video are important across various segments and markets for their own unique reasons. But what about the travel industry? Why are visuals so critical to your hotel, resort or lodge? The answer; we are in the business of selling experiences. There is no true physical product to what we are selling aside from the hotel itself. We are in the industry of capturing emotion, inspiring people, connecting families, and so much more. Visuals play a key element in all of those things. Visuals give our travelers something to grab on to, something to engage in, and something to share.

If your website is in need of new visual assets, take the time and invest in what needs to be done. The metrics are to incredible to deny, and the industry that we as hotel marketers are in is one that sells on experiences and the whole human spectrum of emotions.

Rock Solid SEO

SEO – What it Means

SEO, or Search Engine Optimization, is the process of getting traffic from the “free,” “organic,” “editorial,” or “natural” listings on search engines (Search Engine Land). Major search engines such as Google, Yahoo and Bing all spit out results in an order based on what the engine deems as the most relevant to the searcher. Unlike paid advertising, SEO is free.

Meta Tags – What They Mean

Within the pages of your website lies the source, or the coded makeup of your multiple pages. Unique to each page, the source contains two critical elements: The Meta Title and the Meta Description. Let’s take a closer look at each one of these -

1. The Meta Title

The Meta Title is the most important element to the makeup of any page on your site, and generally contains no more than 70 characters total. Contained in the Meta Title are a select number of keywords, related to your property, site, and specific page. When Google indexes a search query, it looks for and deems words that it finds to be the most relevant to the search. For example: If you have a hotel in Phoenix, Arizona, and you are writing the SEO specific to the Spa page of your site, your Meta Title might look something like this at its most basic form:

<title> Arizona Hotels – Phoenix – Spa </title>

“Arizona Hotels” is the most relevant search term in this Meta Title, so you want to put it first. Next, specify where exactly in Arizona your hotel is – in this case, Phoenix. Lastly, curate the Meta Title to the specifics of each page – in this case, the Spa page. If this Meta Title were for the “Golf Course” page, you would curate the title accordingly.

2. The Meta Description

The Meta Description is the snippet of information that is displayed on Google, directly below a search result (insert screenshot). Again, curated to specific pages across a site, the Meta Description is loaded with keywords, generally containing no more than 150 characters total, that search engines index as the most relevant. While the value of the Meta Description has declined in recent years, it is still important to tuck in as many keywords as possible when curating the content.

The Big “No No”

When writing the SEO for your site, it is important to keep in mind a number of factors – keyword relevance, page specification in the Meta Title (as mentioned above) and content curation specific to the page (the Meta Description).

What is often times overlooked, and what is a major mistake in SEO, is duplicate title tags. Duplicate title tags are Meta Titles that contain the same keyword more than once. For example:

<title> Arizona Hotels – Phoenix Hotels – Hotel Spa </title>

Notice the number of times that the words “Hotel or Hotels” were used. What is the problem here? Google, or any other search engine, reads that title as having duplicate content. When a duplicate is picked up, the search engine squashes it…disregards it, throws it out of consideration completely. Essentially, your page becomes non existent to a search engine result.

Recap

Whether you outsource your SEO to a web services company, or house your SEO internally, the points covered here are extremely important to take into consideration. It is important as a property owner or marketing team member to understand the value behind quality SEO. A solid SEO plan accompanied by a great website design is a golden ticket to success in the marketplace. An investment in your sites SEO lands a solid chance that you will see a positive ROI. For all of the latest and greatest SEO news, tips, and insights, check out the links below, and visit our business blog.

1. www.seomoz.com

2.www.searchenglineland.com