6 Answers to the Most Frequently Asked Questions About How Your Hotel Ranks On Google
In 2022, we saw more independent hotels and groups invest in search engine optimisation (SEO) than in any of our previous nine years providing digital marketing for hotels. Many of these hoteliers had never invested any time or money into this often misunderstood, complex and technical area of digital marketing – so why now?
Well, as the cost of business has risen and the OTA commission line on the P&L, at best stays stagnant and at worse grows ever greater, we’re seeing more and more hoteliers explore new ideas and ways to grow their digital presence, attract more potential customers to their website and entice them with attractive ‘book direct’ rates and offers.
So if you’re a newbie to this form of digital marketing, or indeed if you’re currently investing but adopt a healthy level of scepticism, this article will answer some of the most commonly asked questions we get when pitching SEO services to hoteliers. To start, let’s define: search engine optimisation is the process of maximising the number of visitors to a particular website by ensuring that the site appears high on the list of results returned by a search engine… which sets up nicely for our first questions:
- How does SEO work and what’s involved?
Broadly speaking there are three types of SEO.
Technical SEO refers to website and server optimisations that help search engine spiders crawl and index your site more effectively. This can include things like compressing image files on your website so it loads faster or, more technically, moving unnecessary coding from the site so it operates in a more efficient manner for the website user.
Off-Page SEO refers to actions taken outside of your own website to impact your rankings within search engine results pages (SERPs). This can include things like encouraging and responding to Google reviews, updating holiday working hours in your Google My Business account or receiving referral links from highly authoritative websites.
On-Page SEO refers to the activity you make to a specific page on your website to make it easy for the search engines to find queries related to the keyword it’s targeting. This can include things like publishing blogs, updating meta descriptions (the 150-160 character description displayed on the SERPs) or changing H1 and H2 tags so your website can be more easily read by Google’s spiders.
When some or all of these techniques are employed on a website, along with a keyword strategy targeting relevant search terms, the result can and should be a higher ranking position when those target keywords are Googled.
- How can I find the current Google ranking of my hotel?
You could of course google every relevant search term (keyword) and trawl through the pages until you see your own hotel’s listing but this is obviously not going to be a particularly good use of time. That’s where SEO tools like SEMrush can help. There’s lots out there to assist but we find SEMrush the best and most accurate. With new accounts, you can take a 7-day trial and the best approach is to copy and paste your website’s domain address into the search bar and you’ll see a page that looks like this:
Scroll down on the left hand side until you see “Top Organic Keywords”. Click on View Details and you’ll be taken to a page that looks like this:
From here you’ll be able to browse through the long list of keywords your hotel ranks for within the top 100 listings (top 10 pages). There are 10 organic listings per page on Google so position 11 will be page two and 35 will be page four and so on. Next to each of the keywords, you’ll also see interesting detail like the type of intent the keyword suggests (commercial, transactional, directional or informational), the volume of monthly searches that keyword receives on average in the country selected and the keyword difficulty (a score of 1 to 100 determining how difficult the keyword is to rank highly for) and many more. By scrolling to the very bottom of the list you’ll see which keywords your website is positioned on page one (positions 1-10) – many of which will include your hotel’s name but some may be more generic. It’s the generic keywords that will really make a difference to your bookings as these people are finding you even though they didn’t know of your brand when they start their search.
- How do I get on page one for ‘hotels in [location]’?
This is a question we get asked all the time, and it’s often not the best question to ask. Often hoteliers unaccustomed with SEO assume that for SEO to have any impact on their business, they need to be ranked on page one for the most obvious search term of “hotels in [location]”, when in fact this term may have a keyword difficulty score of “Very Difficult” meaning that it will be some time before this is achieved, if ever, and most significantly, this generic term may well not be the most relevant for their business. A luxury hotel in Bath for example may have much greater success in ranking for and driving business from users who searched for ‘Luxury hotels in Bath with a spa” even though the search volumes are not as high as “hotels in Bath”.
An SEO strategy therefore could (and in most cases should) focus on targeting a position on page one for smaller, more specific and relevant keywords that suggest a high commercial or transactional intent rather than the most obvious, generic, highly competitive keywords. This approach more often than not would yield faster results and greater organic traffic overall than a single-minded focus on the keywords with the highest search volumes.
- How long does it take to see results?
Our work at DHM has seen enormous spikes within as little as two months or some steady gains starting to emerge after nine months. The speed and scale of the results a business sees is heavily dependent on the amount of time and work being put into growing your digital presence, where your website currently resides on Google and the quality of the website. To draw on the example used above, the Savoy Hotel in London, a world renowned iconic business, is listed on page one for 2,695 keywords. Achieving a 2-3% growth on this number over a period 6-12 month period would be a realistic objective, whereas a hotel with 20 organic keywords listed on page one could well see this figure quadruple or quintuple in the same period.
As a general rule of thumb, any SEO investment should be seen as a long term strategy – minimum 18 months – with quarterly milestones to review and evaluate whether progress is being made. For instance, with a client last year we saw their page one listings double within the first quarter however the biggest gains in the second three-months were made on page two, followed by another sizable jump after nine months. The real substantial gains, typically come after 18 months of consistent activity.
- How does my hotel’s Google ranking compare with my competitors?
Flick back to SEMrush, they have a very clever tool for this called Keyword Gap. On the left hand side, you’ll see a Keyword Gap near to the top, once clicked, you can enter the website address of up to four of your competitors. SEMrush will then give you an illustration of both the volume of keywords your website ranks for in comparison with your competitors, as well as there is overlap.
Below this, you have the long list of keywords that are shared, missing, strong, weak, untapped and unique. The highlighted green number shows which of the group has the highest ranking position.
- Why do we seem to be getting fewer direct bookings than in previous years?
There could (and probably is) a multitude of reasons for this but a drop in your digital visibility may well be one of the factors that are affecting the volume of direct bookings your hotel is receiving. Google regularly updates its algorithm which determines where each site is ranked for a particular keyword, but there has been a significant update in recent times that has impacted the hotel industry more than other sectors. It’s known as The Page Experience Update (link to article) and it was completed in August 2021. In short, for the first time, the page experience offered to users has become a significant ranking factor whereas before this time it was not weighted so heavily. In layman terms, the loading speed, the level of security and the browsing stability of a website are all now factors on where your website ranks for a particular keyword. The reason the hotel industry has been so adversely affected by this update is due to the very image-heavy nature of hotel websites, which, if not optimised correctly, can slow-down loading speeds. It is therefore very common for us to see a downward trend of page one visibility which started on or around August 2021. This can and ultimately will have an impact on traffic and booking volumes.
In summary, where your hotel ranks on Google can be easily found, analysed and improved if you know where to look and adopt the correct strategy. There continues to be a growing trend in 2023 of hotels who are seeing the significant benefits of apportioning marketing budget to this area of digital marketing to not only grow their digital visibility and direct bookings, but also to ensure they are not diminishing their presence by inactivity.
To receive a detailed analysis of where your hotel currently stands on Google, along with a quick-start guide tailored to your business, request an audit by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.