The basics of keyword research for Search Engine Optimization: a guide for hotels

Welcome to the Hotel SEO Strategy series in which our expert shares the best SEO practices with hotel marketers! This is part 2 of the blog series.

Part 1: How to avoid a traffic drop after a website redesign

Part 3: When should your hotel expect results from SEO changes?

Questions or suggestions? Shoot us an email at marketing@pegs.com.


While the world of SEO can seem complex and daunting, adhering to a few basic fundamentals will serve you well. As we’ll explain, choosing the right keywords is just part of the story. Building great content around those keywords is really what modern SEO is all about.

The following post offers hotels a basic introduction to keyword research. By the end, you’ll be far better equipped to navigate the world of SEO, helping you to capture the attention of the search engines and engage more visitors on your hotel website.

But first, let’s begin with a basic explanation.

What is keyword research?

Keywords are words and phrases used to find information, products, or services in a search engine. When you build a website, keywords help to focus the site on a particular subject, which allows the search engines and web users to understand what that website is about and what it has to offer.

Typically, keyword research is conducted to find the best keywords for a specific website, helping it to move up through the search results. To understand more about keyword research, we’ll break things down into three distinct areas:

  1. How search works
  2. The role of user intent
  3. The buyer’s journey

How search works

There are a lot of factors that contribute to SEO success. But in short, search engines make it a priority to provide the best content for users based on a given query. This is often referred to as “intent-based search” and it’s at the heart of Google’s machine learning algorithm.

As a hotel marketer, this means that what is truly going to make an impact is whether or not your content truly satisfies the queries that brought visitors to your website.

The role of user intent

Put simply, user intent is what the searcher was hoping to find when they originally went to their phone or desktop. A person searching for “hotels in Vegas” wants to find options for hotels in Las Vegas. A person searching for “[X Hotel] reviews” wants to find out what other guests are saying about a certain property.

While this might seem obvious, it’s worth noting that the “intent” of a search query wasn’t always so important to the search engines. As we discussed recently, previous versions of Google’s algorithm prioritized websites based on their keywords—even if those websites didn’t provide the most useful or relevant content.

This is no longer the case. Now, regardless of your keyword choices, if a page on your website doesn’t fulfill the intent behind the query, you’ll see increased bounce rates, and in time, lower overall traffic to your site.

So during the keyword research phase, it’s vital to review if the keywords you’re selecting are relevant to the information you can provide. Are your customers looking to understand information? Are they ready to book their stay? Are they trying to find directions?

Each search will have a different intent, so the goal is to build a website that considers what different searchers are intending to find and providing that result for them.

The buyer’s journey

Buyers’ typically don’t follow a straight path from discovery to purchase. In fact, their journey is often a meandering one that involves a number of distinct consideration stages.

In a recent study, McKinsey revealed the complexity of the typical accommodation-purchase journey, illustrated by the graphic below:

Typical Accommodation-Purchase Journey Graphic by Mckinsey

In a single journey, McKinsey’s data set found the average number of touchpoints was 45. That’s 45 different places where a person is being influenced and guided towards their final purchase decision.

In a separate 2015 study by Google, a traveler named “Amy” had a staggering 419 digital moments over a two-month period as she planned a trip to Disney World.

Google Digital Moments Graphic

The message from these data sets is clear. As a hotel, you simply can’t afford to wait until the end of the travel journey to connect with customers. They’re interacting with a huge number of digital touchpoints before they encounter your brand, so you need to be present much earlier to influence their decisions.

Applied to your keyword strategy, you need to adapt your strategy to deliver the right message at the right time. Consider which touchpoint your customers are interacting with during your keyword research. This will help you develop pages and content that speak specifically to them at the right stage of their journey.

Working with a digital marketing agency can be extremely beneficial to help you navigate this process.

Adapt to the marketing funnel

When you conduct your keyword research, it’s also important to consider the travel search funnel. As you can see from the graphic below, the search funnel is a way to describe the different stages of customer awareness during their buying journey:

Travel Search Funnel Graphic

A customer “higher in the funnel” isn’t certain what they want yet. They’re looking for inspiration and conducting tentative research using broad search terms, such as “Hotels in Las Vegas.”

In contrast, someone in the “middle of the funnel” is starting to refine what they want. They might search on terms such as, “Hotels on the Las Vegas Strip with Jacuzzi in room.”

At the “lower end of the funnel,” customers have done their research, know what they want, and they’ll likely be searching for your hotel name.

Clearly, you need to market to these different stages of the funnel very differently. When you know where your customer is in the funnel, you can choose the keywords that align with their level of awareness and buying intent.

To learn more on this subject, see our article on how to use the search funnel strategically in hotel marketing.

Keyword research

Now that we’ve reviewed the fundamentals of keyword, it’s time to start the all-important research. You can carry out keyword research using several tools, including SEMrush and Mangools (both offer free trials) and Keywords Everywhere (available as a free browser extension). Google Keyword Planner and Google Search Console are also great options.

Here’s a step-by-step guide to conduct your keyword research:

  1. Download or login to your chosen SEO research tool.
  1. Use your tool to either analyze your current website, or plug in some keywords into the tool to test some basic queries (e.g. “casinos in Las Vegas”).
  1. Make a list of all the keywords you think have some SEO value to them (remember to research your hotel name and variations). SEO value is usually indicated by a certain threshold of search volume. You’ll be surprised to find that search terms you thought everyone would use are actually not used at all.
  1. Your chosen SEO tool will help you discover a wide range of keywords similar or relevant to the one you originally started with. Go down the rabbit hole and make a master list of all the keywords you find, but make sure to only keep relevant search terms.
  1. Sort your search terms into several views: by volume, competition, and user intent. This will help you decide which terms are the most important and relevant for your website.
  1. By this point, you should have a focused, yet sizable keyword list to focus your website around.
  1. Remember that keyword research doesn’t stop at finding the keywords with the highest volume. Aim to find keywords that are a blend of high search volume, targeted intent, and low competition.

How to use keywords in your content

Now that you’ve identified the keywords you want to use, it’s time to integrate them into your website content. Here are a few of our top recommendations.

Place your keywords in the right place

In terms of your main content, try to implement keywords sparingly and in a natural way. If it feels like a keyword or phrase has been shoved into a sentence, cut it out.

In addition, include your keywords in your headline (both H1 and title tag), your meta description, a subheading, and in one of the first paragraphs of text. You should also aim to feature your keywords in your URLs, images titles, and alt text.

Remember, don’t overuse your keywords. Instead, use them strategically and in the right places. Also, avoid forcing a keyword into existing content unless it’s a natural fit. Ask yourself, if users type that keyword into Google and come across your article, will it satisfy their search intent?

Focus on topics, not just keywords

It’s well-known that keyword stuffing can harm your search engine position. And it’s also pretty irritating from the perspective of your audience. Nobody wants to read an article where “best reasons to visit Las Vegas” gets mentioned in every other paragraph.

So what’s the optimal approach?

First, don’t obsess over keywords. You should absolutely use them in your content, but don’t let them dictate your strategy. Instead, aim to create great content around your keywords. Use them to discover what people are searching for, and then provide a valuable resource that answers their needs in a natural way.

Why take this approach? Because Google is constantly looking for quality content. A great post that’s packed with relevant information should result in lower “bounce rates” (visitors are less likely to leave your site after arriving) and a higher “dwell time” (they’ll stay on your site for longer). These positive ranking signals will help boost your SEO.

Use keyword research to spot opportunities

Keyword research can also help you to understand what pages may be missing from your site. Say, for example, that “rooftop pool” is a high-volume keyword, and you’re seeing a lot of keywords surrounding that topic during your research. If your hotel as a rooftop pool, you would definitely want to think about adding a page specifically about this amenity and selling the experience to guests.

Your keywords should also form the bedrock of other quality content, such as blog posts, landing pages, and special offers. Again, let the keyword research guide your strategy. Whatever content you’re creating, it’s essential that it satisfies the needs and goals of searcher intent.

When that happens, visitors will be engaged on your website for longer, which will send out a positive ranking signal to the search engines.

The basics of keyword research

Modern SEO isn’t just about trying to rank for specific keywords. It’s also about using keywords strategically—in the right place and at the right time.

With their volume of traffic, OTAs have the site authority to rank for high-volume keywords. But remember, Google now confers significant ranking value on websites that provide the best resource for a particular query and particular user.

The takeaway for smaller hotels is this: in the hyper-competitive world of SEO, you can gain a crucial advantage by carefully selecting your keywords, weaving them into quality content, and keeping your focus on the unique needs of your audience.

Crystal Vera

Crystal Vera

Crystal is a Marketing & SEO Manager at Travel Tripper. Her digital marketing expertise includes SEO, social media, reputation management, and influencer marketing. In her spare time, she likes to sing songs loudly, read books quietly, and explore Northern Indiana. Contact her at crystal@pegs.com.

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