Why Ranking on Page #1 in Google is Not the Goal of SEO


NB: This is an article by John McAuliffe, President of Leonardo

A lot of conversations I have with hotel marketers about SEO go something like this:

John: “What’s the goal of your SEO strategy?”

Marketer: “My goal is rank in the number one position on Google.”

John: “For what phrase?”

Marketer: “Umm…”

That “Umm…” is usually paired with a blank stare or a look of confusion.

Maybe we read that the top spot on Google is the silver bullet to success or someone told us it’s the only way to get more business. Either way, we are all so concerned with ranking first on Google but we don’t really know why. It reminds me of the running scene in the movie Forrest Gump where Forrest ran for over three and a half years for no particular reason.

So if the goal of Search Engine Optimization for hotels isn’t to rank first on Google, then what is?

“SEO is about attracting more and relevant visitors to your website organically (meaning without paying for ads).

With that in mind, let’s explore some important SEO mistruths that hotel marketers need to know.

1. It’s all about rank.

You already know my stance on this one, but I’d like to get in to more detail. My apologies to Meghan Trainor (who should probably apologize to us for the song she sings), it is not all about the rank!

SEO is about ranking for phrases that align with the questions consumers are typing into a search engine to find a hotel like yours that matches their criteria. I’m not talking about a phrase like “hotels in New York City” (if your hotel is in NYC).

Trying to rank for that would be nice but is a waste of effort because it’s been snagged by Expedia, TripAdvisor, Booking.com and every other organization that spends billions of dollars yearly on digital marketing to drive traffic to their website. More importantly, it’s too generic. Even if you did rank for it, you would get a lot of traffic to your site, but you may not see the conversions you were hoping for. Here’s why…

Your hotel has a story – unique attributes and reasons why consumers choose it. You know what those are better than anyone else. You hear it from your guests every day when they are checking in and out. You read it on surveys and from guest reviews on websites like TripAdvisor.

You should be publishing hotel content online, and to your website specifically that focuses on these unique features and attributes, so that when a consumer types in “I want a small hotel with a pool close to the Kamloops Performing Arts Festival,” your website has been indexed and is served up in response to the query. You’ll get a lower volume of website traffic that you would for the “hotels in New York City” phrase (or Kamloops in this case), but it will be more relevant traffic and therefore, more likely to result in bookings.

2. There’s a magic set of keywords.

There’s no magic set of keywords. In fact, the term key “word” is not even accurate anymore.

Search engines have come a long way since early 2000’s (I remember we used to have to type “hotel+New York+boutique”). Now, consumers are putting questions into the search engine and searching all sorts of terms during their travel-shopping journey. Google is no longer just trying to match the keywords we type into its search engine to the keywords of a web page. Instead, it’s trying to understand the intent behind the keywords we type so it can match that intent to relevant, high-quality content.

We need to start thinking not about keywords but about phrases and questions. Specifically the questions consumers looking for a hotel like yours would type into a search engine. For instance, the top trending search term in the online travel segment in the U.S., as of March 14, 2015, was “afternoon tea at burj al arab tour.” Search engines are smart and can display results that match complete phrases and answer specific questions that we type into our search box.

These “long-tail” queries – with three, four or five + words – will make up 80 to 90% of the website traffic you’re likely to receive. Phrases with long-tail keywords are easier to rank for, and usually convert at a much higher rate than shorter, more generic terms.

You could beat your head against the wall trying to optimize your hotel website for “hotels in New York City.” But if you do some great business around the CMJ music festival, you could develop content on your website that’s relevant for search terms like “hotels for the CMJ Music Marathon and Film Festival in NYC”  – if you’re a great hotel for the music festival, which search term do you think is going to convert better? The latter.

There’s a magic set of keywords


At the end of the day, make sure you’re writing for your audience – not the search engines. This leads me to the next mistruth about SEO.

3. The more content you have, the better.

I’ve been a believer that modern SEO is all about adding quality rather than quantity. This belief was solidified by the leak of Google’s Quality Rating Guide back in August. This is where the old adage of “quality over quantity” comes in. It’s a flat-out myth that the more indexed pages you have, the higher your search ranking will be – especially if most of your pages are filled with repetitive content, which is bad for SEO.

Instead of building oh-so-many pages, focus on creating relevant, compelling and link-worthy content. Once again, focus on the content that your target guests want and that will bring them to your hotel.

According to Searchmetrics, the number of inbound links to a website is still in the top five list of most important rankings factors, but you must build links in a much different manner than you used to.

Sure, even with the changing link landscape links are important to your website’s authority, but if you’re even considering hiring an “SEO expert” or agency to “build links” for you, do yourself a favor and quash that idea, fast.

These experts and agencies will focus on the quantity of links rather than their quality. You might get more traffic to your site, but that won’t help you if it’s not the right traffic (as I explained earlier). Take that budget you were going to allocate to link building and put it toward content. When you invest in quality, relevant content for your website it will get you more links over time.

In my opinion, the two most fundamental elements of a hotel SEO strategy are:

1. Ensure your website is easily discoverable and searchable by search engine bots.

Websites are not assets you build and forget about. Google makes 500 to 600 changes to its search algorithm every year. In the spring of 2015, Google had an algorithm update called “Mobilegeddon,” which expanded Google’s use of mobile friendliness as a ranking signal. The update rewards mobile-friendly websites and penalizes those that aren’t fully optimized for mobile in mobile search results.

You need to monitor this and make adjustments to your website code, navigation etc. in order to ensure that you are still indexing for the terms and content that drives purchase intent for your hotel. And you need to make sure it’s easily accessible and functional on all types of screens and devices – desktop and mobile.

You can achieve these things in a couple ways – by having a SEO or web agency constantly reviewing your site and making necessary changes and optimizations, or you can subscribe to a SaaS based hotel marketing system, like Vizlly, that keeps up with search engine algorithm updates and technology advancements for you, included in the overall monthly subscription price.

2. Create compelling content that resonates with your target guests.

You know why people stay in your hotels – both from the attributes “friendly hotel in Kamloops with good breakfast” and location based reasons “small hotel in Redwood City close to Oracle” make sure you capture these reasons in your content and be true to who you are. Focus on humanizing your hotel and providing value – that’s what attracts consumers to your hotel and your online retail store (website) resulting in sales with lower cost of acquisition.

Vizlly makes it easy by walking you through the story creation process step-by-step


If creating content that tells your hotel’s story scares or overwhelms you, I assure you that it doesn’t need to. We designed Vizlly to help hoteliers create hotel stories based on the types of written and visual content consumers look for when shopping for hotels online. Vizlly makes it easy by walking you through the story creation process step-by-step with best practices along the way. You don’t need to hire a writer and the stories you create and publish using Vizlly are optimized to be discoverable by search engines and the types of guests you’re looking to attract to your hotel.

I hope this article leaves you with a better understanding of what SEO is really about, and clarifies that there’s no such thing as “doing SEO” on its own. Beware of the hocus pocus SEO services some companies are touting because there’s way more to it than flipping the SEO switch to on. Effective SEO is part of a comprehensive, multi-channel hotel digital marketing strategy and everything you’re doing from a marketing standpoint plays a role.

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