Search will always be important to hotels no matter what the trend of the day may be. In fact, understanding Search has become more important than ever for hoteliers who are looking to increase direct bookings and keep the high priced commissions paid to OTAs.

As Search engine real-estate has become more cluttered, so has the customer path to purchase. In addition, Google has claimed a stake in Travel over the past few years, which has resulted in less “organic” or free search visibility than ever before.

Add to this, the change in consumer behavior in spending more time searching on mobile devices, and we have a whole new set of rules for accommodation suppliers.

1. The change in the consumer path to purchase:

According to Google Think Travel research “Organic Search may have a different impact on your customers depending on when they interact with it. At the beginning of the purchase path, Organic Search helps customers gain awareness of your product or service. In the middle, it creates desire and boosts interest. And at the end, it helps to seal the deal.”

The percentage of Customers who access organic search at the beginning, middle and end of travel buying has shifted with 43% accessing search most in the middle of the buying cycle:

Source: Google Think Travel Research 2015

Source: Google Think Travel Research 2015

What does this mean for hoteliers?

Property websites must be found for searches beyond “Hotel + [Destination]” category keywords, but also for search terms related to search terms that may include:

“Things to do in [destination]” – insert packages that may include tours and attractions or content about location to popular attractions or terms that are searched often “near [Destination} airport” “near Hospital” “[Destination] convention centre” etc.

TIP: The home page is not the only page that can be indexed in search – optimize multiple pages of the website to be found for different keywords. If your property is located close to a popular icon, service or area of your city, optimize content to reflect that. This tells both the search engine, as well as your customer what differentiates you from the competition.

2. What has really changed for marketers as it relates to SEO is the importance of Mobile optimization

Source: Google Think Travel Research 2015

Source: Google Think Travel Research 2015

Now, more than 85% of travel plans begin online and 90% of travelers start their search with Google, a travel site or an OTA. If you want travelers to discover your website, that’s where SEO can come into play. We’re getting to the point where Internet and mobile are becoming synonymous. In fact, 60% of internet use now takes place on mobile and more than 75% of all clicks within search results are for organic versus paid links. Travel buying can move through various channels, across multiple devices – with the conversion happening either on a mobile device, desktop or through a call.

This move to mobile has impacted the way that consumers search as they are spending more time searching while on the go, or have fragmented their travel buying to different devices throughout their beginning, middle and end stages of buying. Take in what happened with the J House Greenwich for instance. This boutique luxury hotel in Greenwich, Connecticut wanted to refresh their mobile site for a much cleaner layout for their end users. What they found was that 40% of bookings in 2015 alone came from transient guests booking on mobile devices. To say that mobile is instrumental in the booking process would be an absolute understatement.

Changing Travel Trends: Travel buying is fragmented across platform and device with more time spent overall researching on Mobile devices than ever before.

Source: Luth Research March, 2015, Google

Source: Luth Research March, 2015, Google

3. Measuring Return on Investment for SEO:

SEO can be a difficult balance to strike, seeing as the path is riddled with myths and booby-traps. First off, there isn’t a real clear-cut way to reliably measure your SEO return on investment. You’d be very hard-pressed to find a company producing a report stating how much money SEO made them last year. Instead, you need to think of SEO with a long-term focus in mind. Think of it as a stock market.

“You choose your stocks (keywords) based on the knowledge you have at hand, and then you wait. You’ll likely experience periods of growth and decline (like ranking fluctuations), but one thing is certain: the stock market and SEO are both long-term endeavors.” – Jayson DeMers, Forbes Contributor

Building up a solid SEO structure is not an overnight fix, and similar to the stock market, the path to gains can only be found in the long-term scope. And regardless of fluctuations in rankings, as Warren Buffett said, ” Over the long term, the stock market news will be good.”

TIP: You can verify the website with Google Search Console to track keywords used to find the website. This must be enabled in Google Analytics, but can help you present a baseline with your keyword strategy.

In order to implement a successful SEO strategy for your hotel, it means researching effective keywords based on potential traffic levels, competitiveness, searcher intent, past performance of keywords and the potential for conversions. All these factors add up to a unique concoction on structuring your SEO strategy. Organic Search should be the #1 referral of traffic to a hotel website. Want more incentive? Achieving the #1 spot on Google for any given keyword means your hotel is receiving an average of 33% of the total clicks – I think that’s worth the investment.

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