By Tammie Carlisle, Head of Hospitality, Milestone Inc., and member of HSMAI’s Marketing Advisory Board
Is search engine optimization dead? No, in a world that focuses more than ever on digital interaction, SEO is increasingly important. 93 percent of online experiences start with a search engine. However, SEO is not just about keywords anymore. To have a genuinely optimal website, you have to design a well-functioning, easy-to-read site and provide a plethora of information designed to answer the questions customers are asking..
HSMAI’s Marketing Advisory Board (MAB) learned more about optimizing your website user experience for SEO on a recent call. Here are key takeaways that you can take advantage of to drive more visibility and reservations for your hotel..
CORE WEB VITALS
Google has announced the rollout of Core Web Vitals, a set of metrics related to speed and digital experience that evaluate websites. Core Web Vitals will become a ranking factor in May 2021 and include three components websites should focus on Largest Contentful Paint (loading stability), First Input Delay (interactivity response), and Cumulative Layout Shift (visual stability).
The first metric is the simplest. How long does it take for your website to load? Google recommends a load time of under two-and-a-half seconds. And an important thing to note is that more and more people are using mobile devices, which means Google defaults to the mobile version of a website. When designing your mobile site, it’s essential to balance the desire for pictures, videos, and other elements that make a website pretty against the load time. It doesn’t matter if the website looks brilliant; if it loads too slowly people will bounce out, and it’s not getting as much traffic or results.
Secondly, how long does it take for a page to be interactive or respond when someone clicks on part of the site? Google recommends a First Input Delay of under 100 milliseconds until the page is interactive.
Lastly, the page and the navigation shouldn’t shift or move around as the page loads because that’s confusing and irritating for customers and makes them less likely to stick around and buy. This is called Cumulative Layout Shift, and the benchmark for this is less than 0.1 index.
If your website meets these three criteria, research from Chronium indicates that consumers are a24 percent less likely to abandon sites. If this sounds daunting, don’t worry! Google has a free tool called Page Speed Insights, which will tell you your current stats and give recommendations on how to improve your website.
Leverage the benefits of core web vitals by doing the following:
- Compress and optimize the images to help them to load faster.
- Lazy load images and videos to improve page load time that will help users interact without waiting for everything on the page to load immediately.
- Prioritize elements on the website so that the most critical features load first.
- Pay attention to fonts to ensure that all elements optimize the loading time.
After you’ve improved your website’s layout, what content do you need to have on it? Another way to optimize search results is to make sure that the website provides critical information. Customers are using search engines to ask questions, and if your website answers them, you’ll increase the chances that your website will show up more prominently.
Having critical information and content on your website that can answer these questions is essential. Search engines don’t just use keywords anymore, they look for topical information linked to the search, making it critical to provide a full picture of your hotel and its attributes, including the address, when it was founded, what events you have hosted or will soon host, when it was last renovated, and what is nearby.
Additionally, a list of FAQs is critical. The search engines are hoping to provide the best answer to the consumer. They don’t care where that answer comes from. By having content and FAQs to answer questions on your website, it not only helps customers on your website itself, but it also increases the likelihood of getting an answer box, or position zeroresult at the top of the search engine results page. I shared more information about this at HSMAI’s 2020 Marketing Strategy Conference, in my lightning round presenttion “Marketing in a Zero-Click World” — the main point being that, as more people are looking to have the answers they seek immediately, you want your site to be the one providing them, not OTAs.
An added benefit to FAQs is the ability to capture voice searches. As people increasingly turn to mobile devices and voice-activated assistants such as Alexa, they conduct more voice searches, so you need your content to pop up when they do that. Voice searches typically provide only one result, so customers can miss out on your property’s site altogether if it’s not showing up in voice search. This reinforces the need for crucial information, FAQs, and currently relevant information, such as COVID-related protocols or questions, to be included on your website.
Leverage the benefits of content marketing by doing the following:
- Find keywords that represent the search intent you seek.
- Use your content to offer exact value, answer your customer’s questions and offer solutions.
- Try to incorporate frequently asked questions (FAQs) as much as possible in all your pages.
- Add backlinks from reputable sources and within your website.
- Make taking action easy by creating a clear call-of-action (CTA)
ATTRACTING LOCAL BUSINESS
Finally, while the market for long-distance travel may have slowed, local markets are still drawing in customers. SEO is far more locale-oriented. Properties should verify that all of their information is correct, so platforms that focus on a specific area can pull that information, whether through Google My Business (GMB), Yelp, Apple Maps, or other avenues.
Having an optimized profile on these types of sites helps you stand out from the competition. Hotels have been allowed to make posts about COVID, such as new or adjusted hours of operation, safety protocols, and other related items and restaurants and certain other businesses can take even more advantage of posts and other items in GMB.
The need for consistent contact information, such as UNAP (URL, name, address, phone number) has always been critical, but it’s just as important to showcase the things that make you unique. An important GMB feature is being able to highlight the amenities the property has and doesn’t have as well as descriptions and other details. Specifying what you don’t have is just as important as what you do, as it eliminates customers who may view your site but won’t book because you don’t have what they are looking for.
Another recent update in GMB is business messaging, so properties can send and receive messages to customers. This allows you to update customers with the latest information and answer questions that customers have about the property.
Leverage the benefits of local marketing by doing the following:
- Go beyond UNAP and make sure your local profiles are fully updated with photos, hours of operation, and other available fields.
- Ensure your business location is accurately updated on Google Maps.
- Ask your customers to review your product on local profiles, like GMB and Yelp.
- Highlight local content and offers using Google Posts.
- Make sure you add relevant videos and photos – most people respond to rich media.
The search engines are constantly updating their algorithms and processes to make search better for the user. The more your hotel stays on top of these changing conditions, the better positioned you will be to capture organic search traffic.