NOTE: This is a long article but is worth reading if you’re in the tourism and accommodation industry – the recommendations here could easily be a 6-12 month project if you’re a small business so don’t be scared off!
UPDATE: This strategy is now available in audio form. Click play below to listen. Additional notes on the audio are available at http://www.businessmarketingshow.com/hotel-tourism-hospitality-online-marketing-strategy/
We do a lot of online marketing work with small accommodation providers, boutique and small private hotels. This article goes into the broad strokes strategy or checklist we implement for a lot of customers in the accommodation space to help them increase their visibility in the search engines, increase bookings and their occupancy rate.
Where to start?
If you’re a smaller business looking at getting more visitors to your website, as a starting point we usually recommend our Onpage SEO & Website Best Practices implementation service
…if you’re an established business you probably already have a lot of traffic
What we commonly see is tourism businesses come to us looking for more SEO or Adwords services to get more website visitors. The truth is, more of often than not the website already has enough visitors they’re just not making a booking or enquiry.
If you’re reading this and wondering where to start we recommend first looking at the photography and imagery you have on your site. Commercial grade photography can make a world of difference – click here to see a real world example of the difference good photos can make.
Second, you need to be able to take bookings on your site – in todays smartphone web enabled world people expect to be able to book online. If a visitor is looking at your website and one of your competitors, all things being equal, they’re more likely going to book with the business that allows them to book online at 11pm on a Thursday night than the business that they have to call the next day and book over the phone.
Feel free to use this as a generic checklist in your accommodation business and drop us a line in the comments section if you need more detail on any of the points.
1. A Modern Looking Website with Online Booking capability and a CMS
Firstly, your website needs to feel modern and fresh and it needs to be easy to navigate for visitors. Your website is effectively the face of your business so its important that people feel good about it when they visit you online.
Fresh and modern doesn’t necessarily mean complicated design, a clean layout with plenty of white space will generally be a better experience for your visitors, here’s a great example of a small business providing accommodation in Dongara in Western Australia – Port Denison Holiday Units. Its a fresh looking five page website that has a clean modern style that doesn’t get in the way of the user experience.
You also need to make sure you keep your website up to date which means you need the ability to edit the website yourself. WordPress is our preferred CMS (content management system) platform – its also the most popular CMS platform in the world and from our experience, the most search engine friendly.
Here’s an article with more information on why WordPress is our preferred CMS: http://www.thesearchengineshop.com/why-wordpress-preferred-cms-platform/.
Note, if you don’t have a CMS:
In many cases your website can be converted to a WordPress CMS website. With a CMS conversion, the look and feel stays identical but the underlying engine driving the website is completely different. Typically the cost to do this is $1000-2000 for a small 5-10 page website and $2000-5000 for larger or more complex websites.
Often online booking capability is overlooked or undervalued
Today’s consumer books their travel and flights online and expects the ability to book directly on your website. Quite simply, if you don’t have online booking capability you’re losing customers. If you take two accommodation providers and all things are equal between the two of them, the site that accepts online reservations is more than likely going to get the booking.
If you don’t currently have online booking capability its worth looking at checkfront.com which is an online booking system that can integrate directly with your website. Often third party sites will have an online booking widget you can integrate with your site but my advice is to integrate your in-house booking system with your website wherever possible.
Accepting credit cards online is easy…
Accepting credit cards online is easy too. Most business owners aren’t aware that Paypal also allows you to take credit cards as well as Paypal payments and doesn’t require a big upfront investment to setup like a full bank merchant facility.
If you want a full bank merchant facility, Eway.com.au is our preferred provider. Typical setup costs including bank fees are around the $1-2k mark with yearly ongoing fees of around $300-500. Generally once you’re processing more than $20,000 a year through Paypal it becomes more cost effective to use a full merchant facility. If you’re interested in this option head over to the Eway website and give them a call. Their sales team is awesome and will take care of everything for you.
2. High quality commercial photography
DIY photography is a bad idea. Taking a good quality photo is a lot harder than you think. Elements such as lighting, composition and post production play a huge role in how good your photos look. People are visual creatures and particularly with accommodation a large part of their decision will be swayed by the quality of your website photography.
Again, high quality photos are an easy way to increase your bookings without necessarily increasing your website traffic.
3. An organic search engine strategy or SEO strategy (rankings don’t happen by accident)
The search engine results are split into two – paid results and unpaid or organic results. (here’s an article highlighting the difference)
There are approximately 200 factors the search engines use when deciding where to rank websites in the search results. The process of ranking higher in the search results is called “SEO” or “search engine optimisation” – its part science, part art and unfortunately when paying for SEO services there is no guarantee of where you’ll rank in the search results.
That said, there are some best practices that can be implemented that will dramatically increase the chance you’ll appear number 1 for a particular search term and help increase your “organic traffic” or visitors coming to your site from organic search.
SEO Best Practices for Accommodation Providers
Here’s a list of the SEO Best Practices we typically implement for our accommodation customers as part of our SEO Best Practices Implementation Service. Balingup Heights Hilltop Forrest Cottages is one of our customers who have used this service so we’ve used them as an example below. The same core strategy can be applied to regardless of whether you run a small bed and breakfast or a large multinational hotel chain.
1. A Well Optimised, Well Managed Google Places listing
Google Places is the business directory that integrates with Google Maps. Any time you see a map, addresses and phone numbers appear in the search results you’re seeing results driven by Google Places.
Its important that your Google Places listing is claimed under an account you control, all fields are fully used and you have at least 5 positive customer reviews on your listing (note, don’t do dodgy self-reviews, here’s a simple strategy to help you get genuine reviews: http://www.thesearchengineshop.com/how-to-get-google-places-reviews). The reviews will help your listing rank higher once you have 5 or more.
Click here to visit the Balingup Heights Google Places page – note the reviews towards the bottom of the page.
There are several other steps involved in optimising your Google Places listing including making sure your address details are clear on your website and that you’ve embedded a Google Places map on your Contact Us page. These are all things we take care of as part of our SEO Best Practices service.
Also note that as of mid 2012, listings on the Map application on Apple iPhones and iPads is driven by Yelp instead of Google so its important that you have a Yelp listing too!
2. A Tripadvisor listing
Tripadvisor.com is one of the leading accommodation websites on the internet and a business listing there carries a lot of weight. We recommend every business operating in the travel and leisure industry have a presence on Tripadvisor, the basic listing is free and paid enhanced listings are also available.
Here’s a link to Balingup Heights on Tripadvisor – again note the huge number of reviews, plenty of photos and up to date information. Tripadvisor is especially important if you’re looking to attract overseas visitors as its generally the first stop when people are doing travel research.
3. “Onpage SEO”
On page SEO refers mostly to hidden code fields on your website. Because search engines don’t really understand language they use many of the fields embedded in your website code to determine what your site is about and what keywords you should rank for. Two important fields here are the page title and meta description on each page which determine how you appear in the search results.
We’ve included a screenshot below of the page title and meta description at work. You can see in the example that the page title and meta description are well written, make sense and contain important keywords. Also, important to note that if you do have a CMS with a “keywords” field that you’ve been shoving a bunch of words into – that field actually does nothing and is ignored by search engines. 10 years ago it was a useful field but due to years of abuse is no longer used.
You can do a quick title and meta description test yourself to see how your business is showing up in the search results. Go to Google and search the term below replacing it with your domain name. This will show you all the pages on your website that Google currently sees, here’s the search phrase:
Page title and meta description at work:
4. Basic Link Building
One large factor that helps determine how high you rank in Google is the number of websites that link back to yours or the number of “backlinks” you have. In the eyes of the search engines each one of these leaks effectively counts as a popularity vote, the more links you have, the more popular you are therefore the higher you rank. Again as part of our SEO Best Practices service we setup profiles of your business on a variety of directory websites around the web thereby increasing the number of backlinks to your website.
5. An ongoing SEO strategy if you operate in a competitive market
If you operate in a competitive marketplace you’ll need ongoing SEO help and management to rank higher and higher in the search results. A large proportion of this work involves a consistent effort to get more backlinks to your website. Typically the cost for ongoing SEO work is based on how competitive your market is – cost can be as low as $500-1000/month and much higher for more competitive terms.
4. A paid search engine strategy: Google Adwords for Search
Google Adwords is Google’s paid advertising platform where you pay to appear against various search terms for example “accommodation SUBURB”. While SEO or organic search can be unpredictable and depends largely on the strength or weakness of your competition, Adwords is very predictable and is largely based on how much you want to pay for each click on your ad hence the term PPC advertising or “pay-per-click advertising” where you pay for each click. (as opposed to traditional advertising where you pay for impressions or views of your ad)
Adwords cost is split in 2
There are two components to the cost of an Adwords campaign – the setup and management cost you pay for an online marketing professional and then the advertising fees you pay to Google.
The cost of an effective Adwords campaign varies in line with the result you expect, how competitive your marketplace is and the realtime demand in the search engines.
We have some short-stay and small accommodation providers paying $200-300 a month to Google on ad spend and have us review the campaigns every 6 months and then on the other end of the scale have boutique luxury hotels paying $10,000-20,000 per month in ad spend for competitive terms as well as a monthly management fee to manage that spend.
Determining Ad Spend
Using the Google Keyword tool we can get basic insights into the competitiveness of the marketplace as well a rough idea of per month ad spend. In the example below you’ll see a screenshot from the Google Keyword tool for the search phrase “accommodation sydney” with data showing for searches done in Australia on PCs (as opposed to smartphones or tablets)
In the local column we can see there are on average 12,100 searches per month for the term “accommodation sydney” and the approximate cost per click in Adwords is $5.06. Based on these numbers, if we wanted to capture a fair proportion of these searches our ad budget would need to be in the range of $10,000-20,000 per month. Depending on the complexity of the campaign, you can expect your management fees for an Adwords professional to cost around 10-20% of your ad budget so in this example, management fees would cost between $2000-4000/month.
5. Email Marketing & Social Media Strategy
Particularly in the tourism space, Facebook is a great way to keep in touch with past customers. We recommend our tourism clients at least have a Facebook page and post to it a few times a month with updates on local events and news; photos in particular also get a lot of traction on Facebook.
Note that you should have a news or blog section of your website and be posting information there first and then linking across to it from Facebook. Don’t rely on Facebook alone as the place to publish your news as they regularly change the rules and your focus should be on making your own site the centre of your business on the web, not Facebook.
Email marketing is a much more effective tool at generating repeat bookings but is often very poorly done and can have the reverse affect when a DIY approach is taken. Avoid big broadcast newsletter style mailouts with fancy formatting, your email marketing should feel like it was written one to one as if you were writing to that person directly or writing to a friend. Aim to use a dedicated email marketing tool like Mailchimp.com instead of your own mailbox.
A big point to note before looking at any social media strategy is that it amplifies sentiment about your business so if that sentiment is average or even slightly negative then you need to work on lifting that first before even thinking about a Facebook page.
6. Advanced and Second Tier Strategies
I’d call the strategies above foundational strategies. They’re relatively easy to implement and easy to measure the return on your time and investment. Here are a handful of second tier strategies we’ve implemented for clients with some success:
Airbnb is fantastic for short-stay and small accommodation businesses. To me they’re kind of like the Ebay or Amazon of accommodation with their own eco-system and users who use it as their go-to source when looking for accommodation.
Here’s how they describe themselves:
Airbnb is a trusted community marketplace for people to list, discover, and book unique accommodations around the world — online or from a mobile phone. Whether an apartment for a night, a castle for a week, or a villa for a month, Airbnb connects people to unique travel experiences, at any price point, in more than 33,000 cities and 192 countries.
Definitely worth a look if your business is on the smaller end of the scale or you only have a handful of rooms.
When done well video is a powerful tool in your marketing arsenal but when done poorly will absolutely hurt your business. Avoid making your video look and feel like a TV ad as that won’t work on the web.
Two examples for you below of professionally produced videos. The first is from Didgeridoo Breath, a didgeridoo store in Fremantle, Western Australia – a large proportion of visitors to the shop are tourists, this video was produced by the guys at Photography Project. The second video is from Otahuna Lodge, a small boutique luxury lodge and hotel in New Zealand.
Google Adwords Display Ads
I written about Google Display Ads over on this article. Especially where there is low demand in the search engines (e.g. you’re located in a regional area) or where there is high competition in the search engines display ads are worth a look.
Facebook ads can be a great way to generate business if your target mark has a well defined demographic or has very specific interests. For example, I love mountain biking and my Facebook profile reflects this and I regularly see ads on Facebook promoting a mountain bike resort in New Zealand.
Getting Started – Our Services
For small businesses getting started the process is relatively straightforward. As your first steps we recommend our Accommodation & Tourism website best practices pack and trialling an Adwords campaign for 1-2 months. For bigger businesses we’ll generally customise an approach to suit your business.
Most websites that would fall into the small business category usually see great results within 4-8 weeks. The screenshot below shows Google Analytics traffic data for a small accommodation provider in a regional area.
This client purchased a best practices pack in November 2013. By December 12, they were on the first page of Google for their target keywords. As you can see this led to a 69.5% increase in organic search traffic, a big win especially considering this isn’t their peak period and Christmas week is included in these stats where most websites typically see a 50% drop in their traffic.
For more information or to get in touch, head over to our Contact Us page and drop us a line.