Hotel Marketing Coach
Neil L. Salerno, CHME, CHA
Hotel Internet Marketing Articles
Building Traffic (SEO)
Search-Ready & Sales-Driven Hotel Web Sites
It’s More Important Than You Might Think
By: Neil Salerno
Since the 1990’s, hoteliers rushed to create a presence on the web. Most of the early sites were no more than online brochures created by techies who had little or no marketing experience. The sites couldn’t be easily found by search engines and lacked the necessary sales text to encourage visitors to make reservations. Many independent hotels didn’t even have a booking engine to enable online real-time reservations.
Technology has changed a lot since then; in that time, we learned that designing a functional hotel web site is a lot more complex than anyone anticipated. Many hotel web site designers, owners, and managers are only concerned with how the site looks, but they don’t understand that there are many more factors which make a web site functional and successful.
Web sites are totally worthless unless Internet users can find them using endless variations of organic search. What this means is that the site must be designed to accommodate search engine requirements. A web site that doesn’t conform to search engine requirements cannot be improved by search engine optimization or anything else for that matter.
Page titles, page descriptions, and key words/phrases are the means by which search engines select web sites to list in search results. With search, images mean nothing and flash content is totally ignored; generic search is text driven.
Yet, in site after site, we see text, which appears to be someone’s after-thought, or simply written to fill space. Well thought-out text is vital to Internet search engines. Key words/phrases must be incorporated into the text of your site.
The clever saying “a picture is worth a thousand words” does not apply to Internet search, which is text driven. Good, low density images should, of course, supplement the text on your site, but images can never replace text. The text on your site and how it is constructed is the most important element in generic web site search.
Web Site Optimization (WSO)
The principle behind web site optimization is, first, “can search engines find the site” and, next, “when found, does the site contain the necessary location, facilities, and amenities text information to convert visitors into reservations”.
A pleasing layout with properly-prepared text and images, and an “easy-to-use” navigation scheme, works much better than flash elements and confusing navigation with more images than text.
Advertising people take heed; this principle is the direct opposite of good advertising and brochure design, because print advertising and brochure distributors never had to rely on search engines for viewers to see their ad. A good web site needs much more than just a pleasing design.
Every hotel web site needs to serve two masters; search engine requirements and well-written sales text to create enough interest to convert visitors into reservations online in real-time. Print advertising and brochures never had to deal with search elements and the concept of online real-time reservations.
Change Your Paradigm
Change the way in which you view your web site. Remember that text is how search engines find your web site. This principle applies to each and every page of your web site. Writing web site text, therefore, is more clinical than it is esthetic.
Unfortunately, we see many web sites, which look beautiful, but with text that appears to be an after-thought or with too little text to make it fully searchable. Fulfilling search engine requirements, in the design of your site, is the most important element hotel web design. Just about 8o% of hotel site visitors use generic search to find a hotel.
Content is King
It has almost become a source of irritation to me to see hotel web site designs, which ignore the importance of the hotel’s address and location. I’ve seen hotel sites which challenge visitors to determine where the hotel actually is.
The fact is that most hotel searches are location focused; your hotel’s location is its most important sales tool. Remember also that your hotel’s address is not its location; location is much more.
With few exceptions, travelers plan to visit an area or attraction, then, select a hotel which serves that area. This is why most searches are performed by area or attraction. Location, therefore, consists of describing where your hotel is in relation to businesses or attractions in your area; critical to its success.
Location is still the first and foremost criteria for choosing a hotel. No matter how extraordinary the facilities, services, and amenities, location is still number one.
Content also includes the necessary sales information describing why your hotel is the “best value” in the area. Believe it or not, few travelers seek the lowest rates, when selecting a hotel. It can sometimes appear to be a rate driven decision, but, most experts agree that rates are almost always compared to location, facilities, and amenities to make an overall “value” determination.
This means that the text and images, describing your facilities and amenities, are extremely important. Why then, are there so many hotel sites with poorly written text? My belief is that too many hotels are leaving text writing to techies who don’t know nor understand how search engines work and how consumers select hotels.
Back in the days before the Internet, brochures and advertising invited the reader to call or write the hotel or to contact their favorite travel professional. eConsumers want and need all the necessary information in order to make a reservation decision, immediately and online. We are simply dealing with a more sophisticated and less patient consumer.
Online Booking Engines
This new eConsumer wants the instant gratification only provided by an online booking engine. Most franchise booking engines are well designed and the product of continuous research and development. To compete, independent hotels need a good booking engine.
But, not all booking engines are equal. True, they all accept information to make a real-time reservation; but, some do this better than others. Choosing a booking engine for your site shouldn’t be simply a financial decision. Some booking engines charge a flat fee while others charge a commission and/or booking fee.
There is more to consider. How well do they handle the collection of marketing data? There are engines which provide the hotel with valuable marketing information such as the number of visitors entering the booking engine versus the number who actually make a reservation; “lookers-to-bookers”.
There are engines which enable hotels to send an automatic sales letter after a reservation is made; others which will automatically send a sales message after the guest checks out of the hotel and much more. If you use packages, how well does the engine handle package information and bookings?
Does your hotel have a need for a booking engine which will operate in other languages? Most booking engines only operate in English, but there are some multi-language booking engines which enable users to make a reservation in their native language.
Try making a reservation using a booking engine you are considering; how well does it function? How many clicks and pages are required to see availability? On the back end of the booking engine, how easy is it to adjust and manage rates and availability; this is the heart of the booking engine; you’ll be touching and adjusting it daily.
If you need an interface with your front office system, does the engine offer that as an option? Can you deal with managing rates and inventory in a separate transaction without an interface?
Look at all the options when choosing a booking engine; there are many hotel consultants who can help you make that decision. Choose wisely.