by Lisa McCreary | GCommerce Solutions | Search Marketing Manager
The top search engine marketers in the world met over 3 days in Seattle to discuss and present current and future trends within the industry, covering everything from how to obtain position 0 in the SERP to the exciting future of Voice Search and everything in between. Here’s a breakdown of what all hoteliers need to know about the present and future of search engine marketing for hotels.
1. ROBOTS ARE TAKING OVER! EMBRACE TECHNOLOGY AND START USING CHATBOTS. It’s been proven for many years that live chat on your website boosts conversion rate but many hotels run into operational limitations. Independent hotels are stretched thin on operational staff and typically don’t have someone available to monitor and respond on their website’s live chat. There’s a solution and it’s called CHATBOTS. It’s not a new concept but platforms such as Bing are making it easier than ever to build your own. Just take a visit to The North Face or Skyscanner websites. These two sites are actively using chatbots to interact with visitors – helping them shop, find content and products as well as make purchases.
2. START USING ADWORDS NEXT AS SOON AS YOUR ACCOUNT IS ELIGIBLE. Google Adwords is slowly rolling out access to their new version of Adwords called Adwords Next. It features a completely new user interface. While it does take a bit to get acquainted with the new layout, using the new version gives you access to important new features you can’t access in the old Adwords UI, such as promotion extensions & call bid adjustments.
3. THE FUTURE OF SEARCH IS VOICE, BUT MOBILE IS NOW. The question on everyone’s mind and a breakout topic at this year’s SMX Advanced was “how do I optimize for voice search?” Alexa, Siri, Cortona, Google Home; there’s a smattering of new technology built upon voice search commands. The fact remains that this technology is still in its infancy and has many limitations. In an industry such as hotels where consumers rely so heavily on visual results to assist them in their research and purchase funnel, other devices continue to be more important for hotels. While voice search is something to be considered in search strategies for hotels moving forward (and there are a few tactics to help you now), hotels should be more focused on optimizing their mobile and desktop experiences before focusing on voice.
4. LOCAL SEARCH WILL MOVE TOWARDS ADS – YOU’LL NEED TO PAY TO PLAY TO BE VISIBLE. Google reported a 53% increase in paid clicks YOY on their Q1 2017 earnings report. It’s no secret that they’re in this business for the money, they have to answer to shareholders and the majority of their income comes from advertising dollars. They’re constantly looking for ways to monetize the search results, which is evident from the evolution of the SERPs page year after year. One thing that was agreed on by every member of the Local Search Braintrust of experts at SMX Advanced was that Local Search results are going to become pay-to-play. This is apparent from the changes to the knowledge panel with Google’s Hotel CPC program that allows OTAs and hotels to present sponsored ads showing current rates, the launch of local ads on Google Maps, and their recent tests that show rates directly on map results.
5. THE MOST EXCITING, NEW FEATURE TO TAKE ADVANTAGE OF RIGHT NOW FOR PAID SEARCH IS AUDIENCE TARGETING. On the last day, during the last session of SMX Advanced, a panel of SEM experts sat down for a Q & A session with the audience. One of the best questions to round out the series was “what is one thing you want to do to your paid search campaigns but haven’t had time to yet”. All of the experts voiced their excitement and goals for their paid search campaigns focused on better use of audience targeting. This includes:
– In-market (coming soon to Google & Bing) – RLSA – Customer match Enhancements to audience targeting have been a focus of Google for a while now, most likely to compete with the incredible targeting options available within Facebook advertising. If you haven’t started testing different audiences in Google and Bing don’t wait. Options like RLSA and customer match are already proving successful for many advertisers. We can’t wait to test the new in-market audiences Google and Bing will be launching this year.
6. YOU SHOULD ALREADY BE USING SCHEMA/STRUCTURED DATA. A common theme across many SEO sessions was the use of Schema structured data markup to improve your presence within search results. From local search to voice search, all SEO experts agree – if you’re not using schema structured data throughout your site, you’re missing out on having the best-optimized pages for search engines. With such a low adoption rate by hotels so far, now is the time to implement schema structured data on your website and get ahead of the competition.
7. GOOGLE IS NOT QUITE READY TO MOVE TO A MOBILE-FIRST INDEX. The two sessions where Google’s Gary Illyes stood up to speak were both packed to the brim, standing room only. Since what Google says is considered the holy grail of the search marketing world, a room full of SEOs waited with baited breath as he delivered cryptic statements about Google’s stance on a variety of questions. The biggest topic being the recently announced Mobile-first Index. If anything was apparent from the bits and pieces of information Gary would give up, it was that Google isn’t close to being ready to transition to a solely mobile-first index. If they made the switch now, it would risk poor results – considering many websites are still not providing a mobile-friendly experience. Gary also stated that Google may smear over desktop signals to mobile to fill in gaps of knowledge for the index. All of that being said, Google is still a ways out from transitioning to a mobile-first index and it probably won’t happen until 2018 at the soonest. So if you don’t have a mobile-friendly experience for your consumers – fix it now.
8. SEM’S ACROSS ALL INDUSTRIES ARE SEEING INCREASES IN CPCS. It’s an unfortunate trend we’ve been seeing for clients over the past year and we’re not alone. CPCs keep going up. This was a concern voiced throughout the conference; SEMs across all industries are continuing to see a rise in CPC, most alarmingly for exact match branded keywords. These are supposed to be your most qualified, lowest cost-per-click keywords but they keep rising. One thought was that it came from a recent algorithm update in May but no one has an exact answer. It remains to be seen how CPCs will continue to rise and how much of an impact that might have on hoteliers.
9. YOU NEED TO BE WORRIED ABOUT PAGE SPEED. There is a reason Google is pushing AMPs so much, they are worried about page speed – specifically for users on mobile devices, but it’s a true concern across devices. Any page taking longer than 5 seconds to load is too slow. Do what you can to minimize scripts, compress images and more to improve your page load time. Even minimal improvements in speed can make big differences in bounce rate and conversion rate of your website. Users’ expectations are getting even tougher; if your page doesn’t load fast enough, users are going to leave. According to a study by Kissmetrics, a 1-second delay in page response time can result in a 7% reduction in conversions (Kissmetrics Blog). Do you want to risk losing that revenue?
10. CONTENT MARKETING IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN EVER. Content has always been important for SEO. The recent buzz word for content marketing is just a new packaging for something that SEO’s have been pushing for years. Google even came out and confirmed last year that content remains one of the top 3 ranking signals. It remains extremely important to have substantial, relevant content on your website that is valuable to your consumers. But, it’s important to remember there are no one-size/one-kind-fits-all solutions. The type of content that’s important for success differs by industry. Word content remains an important factor, with pages that rank in the top 10 consistently having at least 1,900 words (Search Metrics – Periodic Table of SEO Ranking Factors 2017). But it’s not just size that matters; the content and messaging also need to be relevant to the user’s intent. According to Search Metric’s 2017 ranking signals for hotel and travel websites, success is found with more image content. For hotel websites, success is more closely tied to having great visual content and great word content. Are there ways for your hotel to have more compelling visual and word content that better speak to your audience? If so, now is the time to implement it!
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