By Carmine Fischetti & Sara O’Brien
Search Engine Marketing continues to be one of the highest revenue drivers for HeBS Digital’s clients, with more than 25% of direct online revenue coming as a direct result of SEM/paid search via the hotel website and voice channel. Add to that Google Display Network (GDN), Remarketing Lists for Search Ads (RLSA), Gmail Ads targeting users with text and email ads, as well as YouTube TrueView video ads, and this contribution grows to beyond 30%-35% of direct online revenue.
Obviously advertisers agree with the above and more than 41% of every online advertising dollar in the U.S. is spent on search engine marketing (eMarketer 2015), further underlining the importance of SEM. No doubt, SEM is a crucial part of hotelier’s multi-channel digital marketing strategy. Here are the top ten ways to maximize revenues from SEM campaigns in 2016.
1. Allocate the right budget to account for the increased competition with the OTAs.
In the new environment of OTA consolidation and rate parity removal in Europe, the market share dominance of the OTAs can seem overwhelming. Keep in mind that the mega OTAs’ advertising spend on average is less than $300 per contracted property per month. These services generate fewer than 300 visitors per contracted hotel per month. Compare this to the average full-service independent or boutique hotel’s advertising spend of $7,500 -$10,000 per month and property website traffic of 10,000 plus visitors per month: proof that any hotel, on its own, can achieve much more online exposure for its products and services, as well as much better engagement of the online travel consumer audiences relevant to the property.
Hoteliers also enjoy a distinct hidden competitive advantage over the OTAs: they know their property, their hotel product, their customers, and their destination better than any OTA can. Hoteliers should develop an SEM strategy to “own” their destination and the unique features of their property.
In this new environment, hoteliers need to outsmart the OTAs by maintaining focus on their most lucrative market segments and feeder markets. Work with your digital marketing partner to plan an optimal budget to maximize return on ad spend and efficiency. We recommend budgeting at least 7% – 9% of the digital marketing budget to SEM / Paid Search and Google Products.
Learn more in our article, “Hotelier’s Action Plan to Win Back Market Share from the OTAs.“
2. Take advantage of growing trends across each of the three screens.
Mobile continues to take center stage in the SEM / paid search arena. In 2015 the age-defining shift from desktop to mobile and tablet devices continued its rigorous pace: more than 21% of online bookings and nearly 19% of roomnights are generated from non-desktop devices (smartphones + tablets), while 54% of web visitors and nearly 40% of page views come from tablets and mobile devices (HeBS Digital Research).
Consumers are increasingly using their smartphones for search queries. In fact, we reached the big milestone where more searches now take place on mobile than on computers (Google Research). It’s no longer just about “including” mobile, you need a "mobile-first" strategy by ensuring your average position is greater than 3, using shorter keyword phrases, and accounting for inevitable misspellings. Your SEM campaigns should include mobile-specific ads and bid modifiers to get the full value of a mobile optimized site.
3. Align SEM campaigns with SEO and website content.
When your SEM and SEO strategies are aligned, your natural search and paid placements will work together to achieve the highest level of success and allow you to establish a strong Quality Score. Why is the Quality Score so important for maximizing revenues? Search engines have a vested interest in providing the best search experience possible by providing the most pertinent information for each query. Having a high Quality Score means that Google and other search engines believe that your ad and landing page are relevant and useful to someone looking at your ad (Google). The more relevant ads tend to earn more clicks, appear in higher positions, and bring you the most success.
Utilizing BrightEdge – the industry’s leading SEO management and search engine ranking optimization platform – is the best way to achieve true synergy between SEO and SEM. The tool can help SEM managers balance campaigns by triggering your SEM campaigns to ramp up in areas in which SEO might be lagging.
4. Make SEM campaigns an integral part of your multichannel campaigns.
The average travel consumer’s journey takes about 17 days, including eight research sessions, 18 site visits, and six clicks before a booking is made (Google Research). eMarketer research shows that people progress through 15.5 touch points within the week before they actually make the booking. In addition, the process does not take place on only one device. Nine out of ten people move from one device to another at different times, with 65% starting on their smartphones (Google Research). For that reason, you need to reach potential guests at every touchpoint of the travel planning process with one cohesive message across channels, capitalizing on key micro-moments across devices.
Integrate SEM campaigns as one part of a multichannel campaign and create a dedicated paid search campaign for each multichannel promotion, including rate and package details in the ad copy.
5. Optimize your paid search campaigns for seasonality and key customer segments.
A successful SEM campaign should account for the property’s seasonality and specific business needs (i.e. need to fill weekdays vs. weekends, occupancy needs, group cancelations, seasonal slowdowns, etc.).
Start by determining the seasonal behavior of the various customer segments and how it affects your property’s occupancy levels. Next, map out an SEM campaign and budget plan according to demand. For example, in low season months you will spend less, because there is less demand. In the high season you will spend more because there is more demand.
During the high season, you should focus on branding when potential guests are looking to travel. From the shoulder season to the low season, you will want to implement more promotions with added value (free breakfast, free parking, and other perks) to secure bookings for the upcoming low season. From the shoulder season to the high season, you can offer advanced booking rates to secure bookings now. The SEM strategy should shift with every season and in accordance with demand.
6. Utilize advanced targeting methods to improve SEM performance.
Take advantage of innovative targeting options for SEM, such as Remarketing Lists for Search Ads (RLSA). RLSA allows you to customize your search ads campaign for people who have previously visited your site, tailoring your bids and ads to these visitors when they're searching. For example, if a visitor leaves your site without making a booking, you can set your bids, create ads, or select keywords for these visitors during later searches. You can do things like bid on more generic keywords or increase the bid for past site visitors since they have shown interest in your property. Another strategy is to show different ads to site visitors who have started a reservation and abandoned the process.
Utilizing these advanced targeting methods will set you apart from the competition and maximize return on ad spend.
7. Expand your SEM Strategy expand beyond the SERP.
Search strategies have evolved to encompass much more than just a text ad on a search engine results page. To maintain competitive in SEM, you must embrace emerging Google initiatives that can complement your SEM campaigns.
For example, Gmail Ads target users within their inboxes with text and email ads. YouTube TrueView are video ads featured on YouTube. These initiatives make an impact on their own, but what you may not have known is that they can actually assist your SEM campaigns. You can use the audiences from these initiatives and reach them again during their travel planning process and searches.
The Google Display Network is another crucial initiative that will expand the reach of the hotel’s message beyond the Search Engine Results Page (SERP). It is proven to grow the customer base as well as re-capture those who have visited the hotel website and not yet converted. You can target users based off the content and subject matter of the site they are viewing and serve relevant text and/or banner ads on those sites where it is contextually relevant. Retargeting is another method to get in front of visitors who have visited the property site before and encourage them to return to make the booking.
Getting involved with these alternative ad formats will allow you to magnify your brand presence, stay in front of users, and amp up your paid search efforts.
8. Create campaigns with a hospitality-specific focus.
The hospitality industry is a unique vertical that requires expertise and knowledge when it comes to marketing. SEM for the hospitality industry requires a tailored approach that centers on promoting concrete specials and rates, focusing on top feeder markets and customer segments, accounting for seasonality and ad-hoc occupancy issues, and more.
A hospitality-focused firm will provide, at the very least:
- Preliminary research of the hotel’s business, including customer segments (business travelers, meeting planners, wedding, planners, group organizers, etc.), feeder markets (domestic and international), seasonality (based on occupancy and behavior of feeder markets).
- Keyword campaign research by evaluating market-level and demand-driver keywords by relevance, volume and cost.
- The latest technology and tools, including Google Keyword Planner, Adobe Analytics, BrightEdge, ReviewPro, Radian6.
- Campaign conceptualization targeting key customer segments and feeder markets.
- The latest targeting methods: RLSA, retargeting, interest categories, demographics.
- SEO and SEM synergy: aligning campaigns with the site’s SEO strategy and utilizing BrightEdge and Adobe Analytics integration to balance campaigns.
- Latest site extensions to improve user experience and ad rank.
- Cross-device campaigns, optimizing speciﬁcally for mobile and desktop users.
- Setting up Google Display Network, Gmail Ads, and YouTube TrueView to work synergistically with the SEM campaigns.
- Ongoing optimization of messaging and landing pages to maintain a high Quality Index.
A hospitality-specific approach will allow you to achieve the highest level of success by planning for seasonal campaigns in line with the hotel’s business and occupancy needs.
9. Utilize long-tail property and customer-specific keywords.
Utilizing long-tail, property-specific keywords in SEM will allow you to capture market share that the OTAs and other competitors may not be bidding on. For example, if you are a Chicago hotel, OTAs may be bidding on keywords such as “Chicago Downtown Hotel.” However, the property can bid on even more targeted keywords such as, “Chicago hotel with rooftop bar.”
In addition, hotels should launch and optimize campaigns for key market segments such as:
- Small & Mid-Size Corporate Meetings
- In-State & Regional Corporate Meetings
- Convention Attendees
- SMERF (Social, Military, Educational, Religious, Fraternal)
- Leisure Travelers
- Weekend Travel
- Family Travel
- Romantic Travel
- Special Occasions (Wedding Parties, Birthdays, Etc.)
- Senior Citizens
- Event-Based Travelers (Sporting Events, Festivals, Fairs, Etc.)
Implementing a more focused keyword bidding strategy in your SEM campaigns will allow you to outsmart the competition and the OTAs to capture more market share.
10. Work with a digital agency that is an accredited Google Partner Agency. Whoever manages your campaigns should be a Certified Google AdWords Professional.
A firm that is a Google Partner maintains a dedicated team of contacts at Google and carries Google’s trust that the agency will abide by best practices and generate the highest returns for their clients. The firm must pass Google advertising certification exams, follow best practices and deliver quality results for their clients.
As a Google Partner, a firm enjoys access to tools and insights to better serve clients, such as special events, industry research, training sessions, and information on Google’s product and algorithm updates.
The team managing your SEM campaigns should be Google AdWords Certified, a professional accreditation presented to those who demonstrate proficiency in basic and advanced aspects of AdWords.