SEO has a different focus if you’re in the travel accommodation game: it’s all about the Places.
Google Places, to be exact.
By dominating the SERP real estate for related search terms, taking around 65% or more of all search traffic (depending on the flavour of Places functionality) for top level terms, Google Places performance is critical for travel accommodation businesses across the globe.
Optimising Bulk Feeds For Google Places
If you’re a hotel chain operating in a single country (that’s covered by Places functionality), then your first port of call should be to walk through Google’s comprehensive guides to getting your data verified and live.
But what about optimising your listing to become one of the listed properties in the 6 or 9 slots triggered via Google Universal for relevant searches?
Looking at the multinational aspect, what if that search is made outside of the hotel country, in a different language? How do you make sure that when a business traveler in the UK searches for ‘hotel singapore’, your hotel pops up in the hallowed map slots above the fold?
The key is twofold: get your foundations as detailed as possible, and layer up with reviews.
The Foundations Of Places Optimisation
When Google Base launched back in 2005, it provided a way to bulk upload information to Google Local (now Google Places). While this was greatly needed, the process was fiddly, and often failed to validate for imperceptible reasons.
That said, ensuring you included information for all available fields meant you would find yourself almost immediately ranked in the top positions for Google Universal results which pulled in Google Local listings.
For my money, in 2005 it was just about the most cost effective use of an SEOs time bar none for clients in the Travel vertical.
The only real additional optimisation available back then was to constantly refresh your feed content, each resubmission bumping your results back up to the top of the 9-pack for highly trafficed terms.
The days of mindlessly resubmitting slightly tweaked content are over however, since, as we will see, we have a more sophisticated way to take advantage of the ‘freshness factor’ these days while also leveraging the power of reviews.
In the meantime, our hotel chain should be getting all the required places information in place, then digging through the extensive custom attributes suggested by Google. Remember: today’s suggested custom attribute is tomorrow’s required attribute for a vertical.
In particular, for hotels the following custom options should be considered essential:
Also, if the hotel also has a restaurant, the custom attributes for that should be included.
Finally, including image content, and – in particular – video content will not only benefit your Google Places listing, but will trigger better performance in Image & Video search results too: both of which are growth search markets (did you know that 10% of all searches in Google go though Google Image search? That’s more traffic than most other search engines’ total searches.).
Building Places Performance Multinationally
For our foundations, it’s simply a case of localising and uploading a version of our bulk file in each language using the correct language selection. Google even hosts a sample file using multiple languages you can crib from (don’t forget to add in all those juicy extra custom categories though!).
More challenging is building the review support for the feed and tying it in with our listing. While Google promotes the ability for users to rate businesses via Google Maps, they also pull in reviews from highly trafficed review sites – particularly for accommodation – from the likes of Trip Advisor, Booking.com, Hotels.com, Expedia and so on.
But reviews are also pulled in from correctly microformatted data found on other websites – including, with some vetting, the hotel (or hotel chain’s) own website.
So we have two types of review content we can influence: content we host, and content hosted on external review sites.
Given we have the ability to respond to reviews on most of the big player review websites, most chains will already be engaging with the Trip Advisor et al already as part of their social media strategy (and if not, why on earth not! Get cracking!).
They are also, hopefully, responding positively and making sure that they take action to prevent the cause of poor reviews (improving service levels, adding room amenities, etc), which has the benefit of delivering better average review ratings.
This is particularly useful for our second strand of Google Places optimisation.
We need to ensure two things:
- Lots of review content
- Generally positive reviews
If I was forced on pain of death to assign a percentage of importance on those two metrics, I’d go for 70% on the quantity of reviews. So even if you’re getting poor reviews, you should be stepping up to the plate to get more reviews up (and, of course, also working hard to improve your customer experience where it’s being shown up as inadequate in reviews).
Given we are able to improve the quality of our reviews by hard work on the business side, how do we increase the number of reviews?
Simple: by raising the profile of the review site brands in your hotels, and by running display advertising campaigns on their sites to raise the awareness of your brand to their audience (as their audience is de facto more likely to leave a review after staying in one of your hotels).
So, the underlying strategy is the same for each country operated in by multinational brands, but it’s important to know that each territory will have different triggers for a positive holiday accommodation experience, so catering to that, and promoting those aspects through your display channels will drive up the quantity and value of your rating content in each territory.
Increased review activity will refresh the Google Places listing, ensuring it stays in the top positions for Google Universal results triggered for high value search terms globally.
Congratulations: you’ve not only optimised for a high value traffic stream, you’ve also got your business focussed on improving its core service; that’s a win win in any book.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.