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Pros and Cons: Purchasing Hotel Branded Keyword Terms in
Paid Search Marketing On the Main Search Engines
Google, Yahoo
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by Max Starkov and Evan Rosenblum, July 2009

We at HeBS are often asked whether it is necessary to purchase the hotel branded keyword terms (property names, trademarks, hotel brand names) in paid search marketing on the main search engines Google, Yahoo.

This is a great question, indeed- do we really need to purchase our own brand terms? Even if the hotel site is coming up number 1 organically, do we have to launch a paid search campaign using the hotel brand name terms? Isn’t this a waste of advertising dollars? This question has actually been on SEM practitioners’ minds for quite some time.

Search Marketing (SEM) has become one of the most popular online advertising formats. Actually, 45% of every advertising online dollar is spent on paid search today. SEM is an essential component of a hotel’s direct online distribution strategy.

HeBS is one of the early adopters of Pay-per-click (PPC) Marketing. Our experts have been actively using and managing PPC campaigns for clients since 1997. Over the years HeBS has managed the PPC marketing campaigns of hundreds of hotel companies, from large hotel brands to small boutique properties. This expertise translates into saving precious marketing dollars for its clients.

There are several reasons why you need paid search campaigns (PPC) focused on the official property names/trademarks/brand names:

Branding
Paid search listings play a very important branding role. We should not forget that each paid search campaign generates thousands of “free” impressions i.e. how many times people see and potentially read your marketing message without clicking on the PPC listing. This costs nothing, as you only pay for each click. For example, a $1000 AdWords campaign on Google, at 2% CTR (click-through rate) would generate over 65,000 impressions at practically zero cost.

You can brand your hotel paid search listing as “This is the official website” of the property to differentiate it from various third-party paid and organic listings for your hotel, including TripAdvisor, all major OTAs (Expedia, Orbitz, Travelocity, Priceline), including thousands of OTA affiliates that use hotel brand names in their PPC on a consistent basis.

Online Travel Purchasing Habits
There is a natural progression of travel-related searches that are done on the main search engines, especially with long purchasing cycles, as with hospitality. Oftentimes, online travelers search for generic terms during their initial research phase (e.g. downtown Houston hotels). Once the research is complete, the user will remember the name of the hotel they liked above all else, but typically won’t remember the site’s URL. Therefore, they will go back to a search engine and search for the hotel brand name and make the booking. In other words, often generic terms are only used in the research stage, not when the user is ready to buy.

The above is witnessed by our experience with Omniture Search Center, the most sophisticated paid search management technology today. HeBS utilizes Omniture SearchCenter for all of its hotel clients, and we are tracking the so called “keyword stacking” i.e. conversion and assist keyword terms for any PPC campaign. Quite often conversions come from brand term clicks, while the generic keyword terms play an assist role.

Typical Conversion Path in Paid Search Marketing

This is one of the reasons why hotel brand terms will always have the highest revenues associated with them.  Generic keywords act as conversion “assist” keywords and generally will not yield as much revenue or as high Return-on-ad-spend (ROAS) as the brand terms.

Search Engine User Behavior
Over the years, many surveys show that up to 50% of Internet users go to the second page of the search engine results. Even if your property organic listing is on the first page, it is not shown on the second page of the search engine results, while your PPC listing is. In other words, your PPC listing provides enhanced visibility.

The Competition is Waiting!
If the hotel does not purchase brand terms, someone else will. This is particularly valid for the OTAs and their thousands of affiliates (e.g. Travelocity has 50,000 affiliate sites, all bidding on hotel brand terms). We want to make it as easy as we can for the user to find our hotel directly and book on the hotel website, and not through Expedia.

Double your Visibility!
Even if the property’s natural listing is on the first page of the search engine results (e.g. when people search for the name of your hotel), the paid search listing enhances the hotel visibility on the search engine results page (SERP) — it doubles your presence on the page and is like having a 1/4 vs. 1/8 of a page advertising.

So even if your organic listing is on page one, this is still only 1 listing out of 10 organic listings, plus a minimum of 4-5 paid ads coming up. Simple logic and probability says that your site has less than 10% chance to be clicked on with those odds. However, if you also have a paid listing, now you are doubling your odds and have an approximate 20% chance to have one of your listings clicked on.

Control Your Marketing Message
In the PPC listing you have full control of your marketing message, which is not the case in your natural listing. You can use a phone number, sample rates, or promote a concrete special offer e.g. weekend special, or suite special, etc. You cannot do that with your natural listing.

Case Studies:

There have been several well-publicized case studies in this regard about well known travel brands (Marriott and Delta).

In February of 2008, Marriott (by far the most recognized hotel brand worldwide) experimented with stopping all brand-name related PPC campaigns, both at the brand level and property level (the properties’ own campaigns). After they saw a “significant drop in revenue,” Marriott quickly resumed the brand name PPC campaigns. All major hotel brands are spending heavily on the brand name related keyword terms.

When Delta Airlines (now the biggest airline in the world with one of the most recognizable brand names in the U.S. today) stopped purchasing their “brand” terms in early 2008, total revenue decreased, total visits to the brand site decreased and their test proved that utilizing both PAID and ORGANIC brand terms in your marketing plans yields the best results.

Conclusion:

Based on the findings outlined above, our own extensive experience in search marketing, plus industry’s best practices and benchmark tests by major industry players, it has been undoubtedly proven that the best strategy in search marketing is to use both organic and brand terms in your PPC campaigns.

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Contact:

HeBS
Max Starkov
max@hospitalityebusiness.com
 

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Also See: A Hoteliers How-To Guide to Online Advertising and Media Buying / October 2008
Ten Standards for Promoting Your Hotel Online / March 2008
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