Proving your credibility on Google will undoubtedly pay dividends when potential visitors are online looking for a place to stay. Learn the best tricks to ensure you are top of the pile from David Barrett, managing director of Pic PR
Your hotel website is your hotel’s online face and, given our penchant for all things online these days, the one a prospective guest is most likely to see before anything else.
Well, I say likely, but seeing that online face is easier said than done.
Even if you have a gleaming online presence, with a wonderful looking website that portrays your hotel in a magnificent light, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to be seen by prospective guests.
That’s because hoteliers, like any other business, need to bow down before the online god that is Google. Other search engines too, of course, but Google rules supreme when it comes to the world of online search.
So how do you appease such an omnipotent online being?
The first thing to acknowledge is that Google’s search engine is a very intelligent beast. Its algorithms are second to none and the tech wizards that conduct its online symphony are the best in the business, which means, simply, you can’t cheat it.
A few years ago, Black Hat SEO was in common parlance. This is where aggressive SEO practitioners used underhand tricks that violated search engines’ terms of service to increase a site’s, or even a specific page on a site’s, ranking.
Link building – the right way
Some of the tricks involved paying for links, creating sites specifically for link building, using automated content and more. At the time they provided a quick fix, which sent websites flying up the ranking to be the first result on Google. As mentioned though, Google is very intelligent. It didn’t take long for its tech bods to recognise these tactics, which subsequently led to penalties for any sites that had used them. Very often, they plummeted to the 6th, 7th or even further page of Google search results, which, in layman’s terms is nowhere. We all use search engines, how often have you ever gone beyond the second page of search results to see what lies beyond?
A classic example of a brand falling foul of this involved Interflora, which attempted some dodgy link building and subsequently stopped appearing in the search results for its own brand name, let alone “florist” and “flowers”; the key words associated with its offering.
It’s a cautionary tale about the risks of trying to circumvent the rules. Google will sniff you out in the end…so do it properly or face the consequences.
Well, how is properly then, you might ask?
While there are no short cuts, there’s plenty you can do to boost that ranking. Above all, Google wants to portray relevant results. So if your hotel is relevant, which – providing it actually exists in the place you say it does and provides accommodation – it most certainly is, Google will want its users to know about it.
If someone is searching for a hotel in Oxford for example, Google wants to present the best options to meet their need. Of course, in the hospitality industry competition is fierce. There are plenty of other hotels out there all trying to achieve the same result so relevance alone isn’t the decider. You need to do more.
Put more in, get more out
One way of doing more is providing content. Google will welcome regular new online content. Creating a website and leaving it be with no subsequent activity will suggest to Google that it’s an inactive site (of which there are plenty) with outdated information, which means it’s unlikely to shunt you to the top of its rankings.
What does content consist of? An easy win for hotels is blogs. These can consist of new offers, advice for guests, local attractions or more.
Content alone though isn’t enough. Link building is another key area, which is where agencies such as ourselves can really come into play. Google places great stock in high authority links. This is where websites with a high domain authority (essentially those that receive a high amount of traffic), such as news websites, magazines and popular blogs, host a hyperlink back to your hotel’s website. Google will recognise that a supposedly ‘authoritative’ voice is talking about your offering and is willing to link to it. For its algorithms, that’s effectively an endorsement.
PR work helps to get journalists at these sites talking about you. Organising a press stay with an ensuing review not only flags you up with the readers of the publication, it also flags you up with Google. If a high authority website includes what’s deemed a ‘follow link’, then it’s considered gold dust amongst online marketers.
The concept of ‘follow’ and the alternative ‘no follow’ links stems back to the days of Black Hat SEO. It was brought in my Google to help counter illicit link building, where anything and everything was contributing towards a page’s ranking. ‘Follow’ links count towards PageRank points – with every inbound link to a certain page, effectively counting as a point in favour of its SEO credentials in the eyes of Google.
‘No follow’, by contrast, don’t add points to a page’s ranking. They do, however offer value in terms of traffic. If it’s in a popular article, readers are likely to click on the link to look at your offering and could potentially book a stay with you as a result – therefore improving conversion rates.
But while links are the most beneficial, just a reference to the term <insert hotel name here> on these high authority sites will help, as Google’s complex mechanisms will pick that up too. So, if national online press is talking about your hotel, Google will see this and your search ranking will improve as a consequence.
One thing to note, is that publications are increasingly savvy to the value of links so it makes them increasingly reluctant to include them within an article. A heavy dose of flattery and persuasion often has to be used to get these added in, which is again something PR agencies specialise in having built relationships with key press contacts.
Social and video are still king
Having active social media channels can provide another boost. Ongoing social activity in your hotel’s name will be taken into account by the algorithms. They help to create a broader picture of your offering, again making you standout to Google as a legitimate offering.
Video’s influence is also important. Google loves ‘rich media’, where websites use multiple formats to deliver their content. Having video on your website will make you more attractive to Google – especially on landing pages. With video becoming ever more popular online, this importance to SEO is only set to increase.
I’ve mentioned having a wonderful looking website, but it’s also essential that the mechanics of the website are right. Ensuring it’s been properly optimised by your web developer will help to boost its search rankings – with the other elements, such as content, press coverage, high value links, social media and video all helping to pad out the picture of what your hotel has to offer.
Think of your online presence as a rich tapestry – there are many threads contributing to it, but all form a picture, which Google will recognise. The greater the quantity and the quality of the threads, the better the picture. Google is looking to display the most relevant results so you need to do what you can to ensure that you match what Google is looking for.