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Hotel SEO 101 with Cyrus Shepard from Moz

Hotel SEO is arguably one of the industry’s most misunderstood marketing strategies, in part because it overlaps with other types of marketing and in part because it’s constantly evolving. Just when everyone thinks they understand the rules of SEO, Google launches a new algorithm and seemingly changes the game completely.

To better understand how SEO works for hotels, we interviewed Cyrus Shepard, an online marketing consultant and director at Moz. In particular, Cyrus is an expert on Local SEO, a special branch of SEO dedicated to businesses with a physical address and location.

Listen to our podcast below (30 minutes) for our interview with Cyrus—we promise it’s worth listening to in full!  Feel free to share your comments directly on Soundcloud or at the bottom of the blog post below. You can access a full transcript of the podcast here, or read on for a summary of the main points covered in our interview.

Hotel SEO 101 Guide

The following guide summarizes the key points and strategies from our interview with Cyrus Shepard. To learn more about local SEO, visit his website for SEO resources or visit the Moz blog’s local SEO section.

1. Build NAP consistency

One of the most simple but fundamentally effective ways a hotel can improve SEO is by ensuring they have “NAP consistency,” a term that refers to a hotel’s Name, Address and Phone number being consistently listed across the internet, including your own website.

Google uses NAP consistency to verify that business is legitimate and has presence in the local area, which includes looking at listings on sites like the Better Business Bureau, Yelp, and Yahoo Business, among others. But simply being listed on the sites is not enough—ensuring that your NAP is exactly the same across these sites is the key factor for SEO.

For hotels, that means not having your hotel listed as “Fairmont San Francisco” on one site and “The Fairmont Hotel San Francisco” on another. Or listing your address as “123 Market St.” on one and “123 E. Market Street” on another.

Some quick resources to help you: make sure to have an up-to-date Google My Business page, use Schema.org markup for your own website NAP, and complete local citation audits across various business directories to ensure that you are achieving the proper NAP consistency.

2. Encourage reviews

One of the more obvious yet significant ways a hotel can boost ranking is by doing something very simple: asking customers for reviews.

Online reviews carry a lot of weight with Google. The more the better, in fact. While it can be tempting to cherry-pick only positive feedback, Google’s algorithm is generally geared to trust quantity over quality.

The principle makes sense. Just as customers might be suspicious of seeing a hotel with only a small handful of five-star reviews, Google similarly better trusts hotels that have published feedback by a larger quantity of customers, even if the star rating is not perfect.

Google sources reviews from two places, the first being their own site, which is why a hotel with a Google local listing and lots of reviews stands to receive a serious SEO boost. The second source they look at is third-party sites like Yelp and TripAdvisor. Reviews from OTA sites such as Priceline or Expedia do not factor into SEO algorithms, primarily because they are profit-oriented sites, so encouraging reviews on open-sourced review sites has much higher impact.

Though tempting as it is to try and get as much feedback as possible, it’s important to ensure reviews are legitimate. If reviews have all been submitted from the hotel lobby using the same IP address, it’ll instantly look suspicious. Equally, offering incentives for reviews should be avoided (it’s actually against Google’s terms of use).

Done in the right way, however, gaining customer reviews can give a hotel a serious SEO boost more than any other practice. Learn several easy ways to encourage guests to write hotel reviews.

3. Adjust your on-page optimization strategy

Many hotels have adopted the practice of adding keywords that they want to rank for into their website copy, for example “best boutique hotel in San Francisco.” In theory, this practice might work, but only if the page was actually about your hotel being the best boutique hotel in San Francisco—meaning that there was extensive copy and quotes from visitors explaining why you deserve that title.

In reality, hotels abuse the heck out of this practice and it’s rarely effective in search rankings. Google’s job is to serve up the best results that answers the user’s query, not keyword-stuffed pages. Typically when users type something like “best resorts hawaii,” they want a list of hotels, not just one.

We recommend avoiding those types of on-page optimization practices. Basically, don’t title your spa page “Best Spas in Miami” unless you’re planning on listing all of the best spas in Miami.

It’s still possible, however, to create a dedicated keyword page and gain SEO benefits. Instead of trying to optimize existing webpages for popular keywords, hotels should reverse the approach: identify questions users are asking about your hotel and create content answering the questions.

The question itself is the basis for the keyword—so instead of “Best Spas Miami,” you’re better off with “Luxury Spa Treatments at XYZ Hotel, Miami.”

Be thorough in your website content—the reason why Google favors sites like TripAdvisor over the hotel website is because users find the content there more useful. So be sure your website also offers the same information, including room pictures, maps, access to reviews, local information, basic hotel policies, and amenities.

In approaching on-page optimization this way, hotels are creating a better user experience on their websites. When people find all the information they need, they’ll spend longer on the site and make return visits. Google sees this behavior as positive, because it indicates that customers are discovering relevant and valuable content—and that is ultimately what is good for SEO.

4. Blog for the right reasons

There’s no doubt that blogging can be beneficial for SEO purposes, but it needs to be done for the right reasons. For a blog to be considered worthwhile, it needs to actively build an audience by getting people to consistently read articles, or it should be gaining backlinks from reputable external sites—a sign that the content is reputable and useful.

Unfortunately, a lot of hotels blog without these two goals in mind, instead creating content purely for the sake of “SEO.” But it won’t get much SEO benefit unless it has engaging, quality content that people want to read, share, and link to.

Although Google Analytics and social media tools out there are useful to see how much traffic and social shares your blog is getting, we recommend using tools like Moz’s Open Site Explorer to see if you are getting any backlinks.

Backlinks are key for SEO juice, and you’ll need them if you want your blog to be an effective SEO tool. For hotels, that means spending as much time marketing your content as you do creating it. Find out here if you’re blogging for the right reasons.

5. Create a mobile-friendly website

Google wants people to have the best online experience possible, which is why it looks favorably on mobile-friendly websites. In fact, having a mobile-friendly website has officially become part of Google’s algorithm. Since April 2015 when the algorithm was fully implemented, mobile-friendly sites have seen a 5-10% boost in traffic.

Having a site optimized for mobile quite simply makes viewing and navigating content on a small screen much easier, which brings some distinct advantages for hotels looking to capture the last-minute booking market.

If a person reaches a destination late at night and quickly needs to find a hotel room, they’ll generally be less patient dealing with a website that isn’t mobile-friendly. If it’s hard to see images properly or read text, people will leave the site and look elsewhere.

Having a mobile-friendly site also gains importance when you consider the fact most mobile results are local results, particularly within the maps Google displays. As aggregators such as TripAdvisor and the OTAs are less “local-focused,” hotels can come to dominate the map space on mobile.

Mobile-friendly websites are also only going to gain significance when it comes to ranking. So now really is the time to take the next big step and deliver the kind of online experience that both customers and search engines truly value.

In summary

As illustrated in our SEO guide, there’s a huge amount your hotel can do to improve SEO without having to invest a huge budget. Many of the main resources you’ll need are either completely free to use or involve a relatively minor expense.

Here are the 5 key messages to remember:

  • Maintain NAP consistency
  • Encourage reviews—lots of them
  • Answer user questions when it comes to on-page optimization
  • Blog not to blog, but to create great content
  • Invest in a mobile-friendly website

In the end, SEO is not a short-term marketing strategy for hotels—the results can take months to materialize—but the end result is worth the investment. Start first with mastering the basics, especially when it comes to local SEO results. That way when you’re ready to take your digital marketing to the next level, you’ll already have a solid foundation to build upon.

What has been your experience with hotel SEO? Have you heard of these SEO strategies before? What SEO tactics are you currently using? We’d love to hear your feedback in the comments!

Nancy Huang

Nancy Huang

Nancy is the Senior Marketing Director at Pegasus and expert in strategic communication, brand development, and content marketing. She is an admitted travel junkie and loves finding amazing hotel deals when booking direct. Contact her at nancy.huang@pegs.com.

5 thoughts on “Hotel SEO 101 with Cyrus Shepard from Moz

  1. You hit a lot of great points Nancy!

    Although I don’t own a hotel, I have owned a large vacation rental (www.FourSeasonsLodge.com) for over 20 years.

    I started my blog about 2 years ago and have always picked topics that I feel my demographic would be interested in or I try to answer recurring questions I get when chatting with potential guests.

    I’ve never written anything with SEO in mind… I’ve kept my eye on just helping folks have a better experience on vacation!

    Looking forward to your next blog!


    1. Thanks for your comments, Teena! We love hearing from readers about their own experiences with digital marketing. Let us know if there is anything you’d love to learn more about.

  2. Hi, I have already done all the above changes in my hotel website i.e. http://www.thesignatureleaf.com/, but my keywords ranking not improving even my local keywords ranking is still strict on the fixed position from last 3,4 months, can you please suggest me what should I do?

    1. Hi Tarun, there are a number of additional factors that play into SEO, including technical aspects such as URL structure, page titles, etc. We recommend doing a review with an SEO expert to see where you might make improvements on your site. For starters, your website doesn’t list the address on every single page (i.e. such as in the footer) — that’s already a big improvement in the NAP consistency that we mention in this article!

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