Let’s be honest, if you’ve visited the Internet lately, it’s not hard to find AdWords ads from Booking.com, Expedia or TripAdvisor. Big spenders!
During my time as a Digital Solution Manager at Booking.com - focusing primarily on helping hotels with their online branding - I noticed that many hotels were complaining about Booking.com and it’s online “presence”. Spending millions of dollars yearly on Google Adwords has made hotels feel as though Booking.com was trying to steal their thunder.
Luckily for hotels, they still have the billboard effect. And although the latest studies have shown that this effect (a term OTAs use to describe their ability to provide free exposure to hotels and hotel brands to consumers who then make their booking at the hotel’s website) is on the decline, it is still there. Use It!
So, how can you use it? My advice to hotels when it comes to the the billboard effect: use it to your advantage, see it as positive. OTA’s are helping you shine, you just need to make sure that it shines directly into your own booking engine! Not having a personal online presence is definitely not an option, so you better make yours a good one. How can you do this? This blog will give you some best practices to see if your website can put up with todays standards.
When you ask a hotelier: “Who did you have in mind, when you built your website?” Most of the time he or she answers: “My guests (or potential guests)” and that’s a great answer! It means that hoteliers care about their guests and they want them to be able to find the hotel online. But, there is a catch. How can potential guests find a hotel online, when almighty Google can’t find them? You should be aware that Google needs to be able to find the hotel website first before a guest can actually find it.
Of course this is a trick question. Not really fair, and normally everybody gives the same answer. Actually, if you are reading this article and your answer would have been “for Google”, then please stop reading. You don’t need my advice, you can easily make it on your own. But trick question or not, visibility comes with SEO (Search Engine Optimization) and SEO is important!
SEO in a nutshell
“Proper SEO lures people to your website like ants to honey. The more content your website offers, the more ants you can feed.”
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the process of getting traffic to your website from the “free” or “organic” search results on search engines like Google, Bing and Yahoo. But… keep in mind that nowadays the best place to hide a dead body is page 2 of Google’s search results, so you better make sure you are on the 1st page. To get your website “SEO-ready”, you need to look at a few key-factors to get started. Here is what it takes to make it in to Google’s organic ranking:
- Most important lesson: Google’s search results cannot be tricked, and anyone who tells you otherwise is just trying to get inside your wallet.
- Content is King: Write extensive, quality content. Watch spelling and grammar. The average web page ranking on the first page of Google has over 2000 words. Important:DON’T write content just to please Google. Make sure that the content you display on your website brings value to the potential guests that inevitably convinces them to make a booking!
- Write content for your guests and optimise for Google robots: Nobody wants to read standard SEO content. It is boring, not helpful and it will not convince potential guests to stay at your property. Furthermore: what’s the point of being at the first page of Google when your page does not convert? Think about your audience and write your content for them.
- Webpage visits & Bounce rate: Google tracks the percentage of visitors to a particular website who navigate away from the website after viewing only one page. This is called a bounce. The higher the bounce rate, the less important Google thinks you are. If 80% of the potential guests that visit your website leave without clicking to another page, then Google assumes that your website does not match with the search criteria that people filled in. This affects your rating. A good way of lowering your bounce rate is to use great HD photos and less written content on the first page. The better the photos, the higher the interest when people land on your homepage and the bigger the chance that they will click to another page.
- Hyper speed load time: Having a fast-loading website, regardless of the size of the photos, is super important. First of all, when a page does not load fast enough potential guests will leave immediately (bounce) and this will hurt your ranking. Secondly, if your website is slower than Microsoft releasing a new version of Windows, then the chances are that your website is not going to convert. Check the loading time of your website here: http://tools.pingdom.com/
- Like written content, your images need keywords too: Re-title the file name of images (e.g. topic-of-image.jpg instead of h75#hky.jpg) and include a title, a description, and ALT attributes that matches keywords on the same page.
- Social Votes - I Like: Social votes are getting more and more important for SEO. Likes, tweets and especially +1’s are helping you to rank faster and better. Since Google tries to push companies to start using Google+, you will see an increase when you set up your G+ profile and actively start using it.
- Domain age - the older the better. Patience is a virtue. The age of your domain is a factor in your site’s search ranking. Give it some time, the results will come.
- Number & quality of web page backlinks. Link to other websites with relevant content and have other websites link to you. Linking out and getting websites to link back is really, really important when it comes to SEO.
- Don’t forget appropriate Meta titles & descriptions: Meta descriptions are commonly used on search engine result pages (SERPs) to display preview snippets for a given page. Include keywords of your business in the website title, domain name, description, tagline, keywords, page titles and in the content on your pages.
- Update your website frequently: Changing the content on your website regularly helps your ranking. Websites with dynamic content often rank higher than those with static content. It’s like everything else in life. The more work you put into it, the more you will get in return. No need to say more.
It is time to tell your story.
You optimized your website for search engines and potential guests are landing on your website, now it is all about creating awareness & interest. One of the most important aspects of a hotel website is that you let guests experience your property the way it should be. Great design, beautiful HD photo’s, well-organised, mobile optimized and fast loading. Once guests land on your website, no matter if they came from Google, Booking.com or TripAdvisor, they will stay and make a booking if you can effectively create awareness and interest. What is the result? More direct bookings, more money going into your pocket. Ka-Ching!
The Goldfish principle.
The average attention span of a gold fish is 9 seconds, the average attention span of a human is 8 seconds. Does this mean that I am comparing you, the reader, with a gold fish? No! But what it actually means is that when guests land on your website, you need to attract their attention really fast! Otherwise they are gone and they will not come back.
When a guest is presented with your brand for the first time, they have a split second to make up their mind about what they think of it. They need to find the rooms button, the locations button, they need to find photos and of course the Book Now button should be displayed. This in combination with elegant design and great photos on the homepage.
Your Hotel Website - The Dashboard of a car
You can actually compare a hotel website with the dashboard of a car. Cars have changed a lot over the years and you have multiple brands available, but what they all have in common is the dashboard. You can see your speed and if you still have fuel. With hotel websites it’s the same. Providing information about the history, the restaurant and such is fine, but if the rooms, location, photos and book now button are not displayed correctly, there is a high chance of a potential guest leaving your website. Time to get in your car and start driving.
When guests press the rooms button, it is important that they get a good overview of the different room types in the hotel, along with room information, amenities and photos. It is also important that they can make a booking at any moment. As soon as a guest would like to book a room in your hotel, you want to give this guest the option to land straight into your booking engine. Everywhere guests go on the website, the book now button should be displayed.
Next to the rooms, the user experience is optimized when hotels share their location and tell something about the surroundings. What are the points of interest? What can a guest do nearby the hotel and how can they get there? Make sure you display things like shopping, dining, tourist attractions and much more. Why? This is good for several things. First, guests can stay on the hotel website and find out more about the location of the hotel, they won’t leave the website to go to google maps lowering your chance of losing a potential guest. Furthermore all the content on your website will be ranked in Google, so the more information you give on your website, the better it is for visibility.
Here are some examples of what I believe are great accommodation websites:
BOOK NOW / RESERVAR AHORA / 現在預訂
Last but not least: Give your guests a choice of language. Although English is the language of the web, there might still be guests who prefer their own language in order to make a booking. Hotel websites with local-language content appeal to both potential guests and search engines. Despite the fact that services like Google Translate have made it easier to understand websites with no local language support, looking at a fully translated website by Google is just like watching a badly German dubbed English movie - It just does not make any sense. Make sure to know where your guests come from and translate your website into those languages. It might be a bit of work, but the end result and the higher direct booking conversion is worth the effort!
Want to learn more? Join our “Turn Lookers into Bookers” webinar on the 28th June at 15h00 CET. Or feel free to send me an e-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org) with any questions you may have. Although we don’t build websites at Mews, we always like to share our knowledge and give free consultation.
Luc Lammers - Sales Manager
For a 40 minute Webinar on this topic click HERE