Web Site Optimization for Hotels | by Richard Zwicky

When visitors first arrive at your web site they are craving two important features. First and foremost content. People visit a web site because it is a source of information, they come back because it is good, credible content.
Secondly, consumers want things simple. They don’t want to have to learn how your web site works, or spend any time discovering how to get to point B. Consumers crave ease of use, and they want to be able to get to all the information they deem relevant as quickly and easily as humanly possible.

Oddly enough, these two elements are also what the search engines crave when indexing web sites. Search engines need textual content to be able to understand your web site. As I often say, a picture may be worth 1000 words to you and me, but it’s worth zero to a search engine. To fully comprehend the content, subject matter, and context of your web site, the search engines need to be able to successfully navigate throughout your entire web site. Your top page may have very little content, and lots of graphics, but your site as a whole probably has lots. That’s food for the search engines, you need to ensure they can get to it.

In the case of a hotel, this means having lots of good information about your property, and what surrounds it. Consumers are searching for this type of information and you should have it. Your customers will be guests in your hometown, and they want to explore it. What’s near the hotel that they might like to visit while staying with you? Include that information on your web site, let people know. Present your hotel and its services in a meaningful and intelligent manner which promotes not just your hotel, but also your community.

You need to ensure your web site shows up in relevant search results. Unless your business is based on a shareware model, you’ll need to show up ahead of anyone else reselling your product. If your resellers are outperforming you in the search results, it probably means that your content is lacking. When a third party promotes a hotel better than the actual hotel’s web site, something is wrong with your branding efforts. The good news is, it can be fixed.

The first thing to remember when optimizing your hotel’s web site is that online consumers behave exactly like off-line ones. In the off-line world, consumers overwhelmingly shop from locations which they believe are authorities on the subject at hand. Success for any online business is in turning browsers into buyers. To get the browsers in the door, your web site needs to convince the search engines that the information which your web site presents reflects is an authority on its subject. Build confidence with credible information.

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Make it easy for them to navigate to that information.
First off, let’s tackle building content, which is the only real tool that your web site has and can use to build consumer confidence. You are the hotel operator, an expert in your field, and on your local market. Put some of that information to paper (or pixel) and share it! Demonstrate you have a clear grasp of any and all information which is pertinent to your property and its environs. By demonstrating this knowledge, your hotel’s web site becomes a resource of choice for consumers and staff. Build confidence with credible content, and you’ll see improved communication too.

Regardless of any other features that you might add to your hotel’s web site, it needs content, and more content. Through the use of imagery and sounds you will be able to convey an impression of the experience that your guests will receive when staying at your hotel. But through content, they can determine if your property is the right one for them. A visitor to your city has a reason for visiting. They are on business and have meetings. They are on pleasure and want to explore your town. It doesn’t matter which; they want to know what is around your hotel. For a businessman, restaurants and coffee shops, are important. For a vacationer, you will need to highlight the city’s attractions that are close to you; the museum, etc.

The content that you need to build/write is often referred to as the ‘body copy.’ It is the textual content that describes your property’s features, services, amenities, and local destination information. This content must be completely accurate and written in short, descriptive, sentences. Don’t be afraid to use bulleted lists, they were invented for this purpose. Be sure to include key terms and key phrases that speak specifically your target audience. If you are located close to a museum, mention the museum by name, but also make mention of what type of museum it is. For example, being close to the National Gallery or Smithsonian is great, but which part of the National Gallery or Smithsonian? Some people will want to go to see specific exhibits, they will consider that information when choosing a hotel.

Creating a proper list of key marketing terms requires a combination of Internet marketing and hospitality marketing skills. This a step where you will want to work closely with your Internet marketer. Provide them with a complete list of your selling features and ask them for their input and expertise. Ask them what to do to improve the results from a search engine marketing perspective.

Why Content Matters to Search Engines

Imagine each search engine as an ant colony, each one having millions of search engine spiders constantly crisscrossing the Internet. They sift through textual content on web pages, analyzing, indexing, and cataloging each word on every web page they can find. All this data is returned to the ant hill, where the search engine algorithms are applied to the individual words and key phrases. Every one of these is examined and their overall weight to the document as a whole is contemplated. Finally, the web page has a value assigned to it. Remember, these search engine algorithms only look at textual content. Your pictures and graphics at this point are practically worthless.

Once your content is complete and has been thoroughly reviewed, you can rest. Search engines and your visitors, have everything they need. But do they? Is all the information laid out in such a manner to be easily accessible? Can they get what or where they want quickly?

Easy navigation seems simple enough. Mostly because you know where it is and know how to get there. Yet in reality it is commonly overlooked. Have a third party try and navigate your web site for you. Ask them to find some specific information. You’ll know that your navigation needs help If they can’t find it within the first 10 seconds. You’ll be losing visitors if you make navigation frustrating. Enough time, money and effort has now been invested drawing browsers to your hotel’s site. Don’t drive them away before the browsers become buyers.

Better Navigation For Your Site

When building the navigation portion of your web site remember that no two of your visitors will be alike. They will not all flow through the web site in a manner that is predictable. They will jump from page to page in no particular order, by either following links or seeing something of interest, or searching for more information. Because of this tendency, each of the web pages with your hotel’s web site should be constructed in a manner which provides easy to understand bites of precise information for quick reference. Make sure you arrange the navigation menu in a way which encourages users to flow naturally towards booking a room.

Ensure that the navigation menu only contains the core products and services. The rest can be used for sub menus within sections, or an internal search engine or a site map. Simplicity of presentation cuts immediately to the experience you are trying to convey.

Poorly designed, cluttered or overly busy navigation turns people off. I despise web sites that use multilayered menus. I have to click the main heading and then choose from a list of option pop downs. Beside many of the options is an arrow which gives me yet more options and so on. In a lot of these circumstances, I give up. These sites will never turn me into a buyer. I suggest that I am not alone. By comparison, a web site which clearly lays out a few main options and allows me to drill down to the details I’m looking for quickly is much more likely to attract my attention, and receive my business. Remember, simpler is better.

Summary

This article has focused on two main web site issues: Content and Navigation. These are the two single largest issues which need to be addressed for optimizing your hotel’s web site. There are many other issues as well, such as linking strategies, but if these two elements are not properly dealt with first, you are fighting a losing uphill battle.

Web site optimization for your hotel is a major component in any comprehensive strategy for boosting your hotel’s search engine positioning. It enables your web site - the Ultimate Distribution Machine - to perform to its maximum capability and to turn browsers into buyers. Should your hotel’s web site not be performing in the search engines the way you think it could be, or if you are find yourself depending on third parties to fill your hotel’s vacancies… Then you need a new search engine strategy.


About the Author: - Richard Zwicky is a founder and CEO of Metamend Software. (www.metamend.com
) Metamend’s cutting edge Search Engine Optimization (SEO) technology and software has been recognized globally as a leader in its field. With successful clients on 5 continents, and over 50 countries worldwide, the company has experience in a broad range of markets and marketplaces. Metamend’s client web sites rank near or at the top of the search engines for their respective search terms.
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