Local Search: Why IT Matters to Your Hotel | by Richard Zwicky

29th Nov 2004

Local search will impact the hospitality industry faster and more strongly than any other industry. Local search is what every hotel and restaurant operator dreams of! Imagine, people will be finding your property based on your precise location, and services. If your hotel is close to Legoland in California, local search will drive customers who are visiting that park to your door, and if you do it right, they won’t even charge you for the honor!It has long been obvious that eventually the world wide web would become truly local. This is the only natural evolution course possible for the Internet. While there will continue to be many Internet only operations, most web sites are reflections of traditional brick and mortar businesses. As the Internet continues to grow, it continues to evolve from being a research tool, to a general usage tool which competes with the Yellow Pages to geographically connect people to products, services, and even communities.

I’m sure you have already read lots about local search; it’s all over the news, and not just in the business section. About three weeks ago SBC and BellSouth announced that they had jointly paid $100 Million for YellowPages.com - you know they see where the market it headed. I was at the conference where the YellowPages.com announcement was made, and in the halls chatted with a number of people who were in total awe of ‘local search.’ The latest and greatest! The next BIG thing!

So why all this fuss on local search? Because the market is now filled with billions of web pages, representing over 10,000,000 individual businesses scattered around the world; It can supply business and consumer needs for anything except perhaps hot coffee! The number of users online has also reached critical mass. Users are no longer automatically turning to their traditional paper Yellow Pages, (now a popular door stopper), instead, they now click over to Google, Yahoo, or MSN. Consumers no longer just use the search engines for research, they expect to find information about their community.

In the future, people will expect to find coffee shops, restaurants, shoe repairs, and more and more local services. They will want to find businesses that are close to their present positions. Today however, they use local search for trip planning; for travel. It only makes sense; most people travel to a destination, and want to be located close to it. For example when I next go to Hawai’i, I’ll search for a hotel based on my family’s interests; proximity to the right dive shop, or to the volcanoes, and so forth. If I’m traveling on business, I’ll search for a hotel with proximity to where my meetings will occur as the crucial decision maker; not much point in my flying to L.A. and then commuting; Commuting is for locals!! As a business traveler, I need a hotel that is centrally located to my work day. I’ll search for it accordingly.

Fulfilling this desire for locally relevant information is a logical step in the development of the search engines. I own a Palm Treo; When I’m driving around and need to find something which I know is offered locally, I pull out my Treo and search for the item. If it’s a restaurant, I look for the particular dish I am craving. But like many people, I also plan ahead. Then I use my desktop. For example, next month I’m traveling to Banff. I’m going to want to take my son dogsledding and also find a place to have a good fondue. I’m not worried about the dogsledding; I know someone who provides that service. I could wait until I’m there and look around for a Swiss restaurant, but I thought I would give the latest local search tools a whirl; Take them for a real world test drive. I tried all sorts of searches, but none of the engines could handle the queries properly. I tried for an hour. Good thing I wasn’t using my Treo. I couldn’t afford the bill!


Why couldn’t I find what I was looking for? What use is local search to you can’t find what you are looking for? That’s the problem you as a hotel’s web site operator need to tackle. One of the challenges you need to deal with is to ensure that your property is properly found in local search results.

Right now, the search engine companies are botching their offerings in local search. They are not doing much to ensure your property gets listed. Do you believe that finding search results based on zip code is relevant? Neither do I. But that’s the base off which local search is working. Look at how much territory that covers, it’s far too much to be useful. Did you know that it’s possible to get a correct location online to within 10 feet? So why don’t the search engines do this? That’s your piece of the puzzle. This is the part of local search you can help with.

The search engine business model is built on relevance. Get the right answers to customers quickly and efficiently. Get them off your site, and to their destination. So what can you, as a web site operator, do to attract local search customers from the search engines? How can you help the search engines fulfill their mandate? This is where local search engine optimization comes into play.

If your business has a physical location and a web site, then local search is part of your future. In fact, if you operate a hotel, it should already be part of your present day operation. The fact that most people have not considered local search yet demonstrates how often overlooked it is as a tool to draw traffic to your business.

Local search can be supported simply by properly including local information in your web pages. If your web page is properly optimized and is also tuned for local search, then customers will be finding it regularly when they need the goods or services you offer. For example, I was in a restaurant recently that served pizza topped with escargots. Not many of those around! But if that’s what your customer is craving, wouldn’t you expect them to find your eatery when they search online? That’s what optimization does for you. Now add localization to the mix and the same people can easily figure out how close to you they are, and how to get to your location! For a hotel, the opposite is true. People plan their stays based on the destination they are visiting, and the activities they plan on doing. Ensure that the search engines know you are close to desirable activities. List them on your site, but also ensure that your site is properly geo-located.

There are many way to include localization terms to facilitate the search engines working with your web site. At the most basic, you need to include your address in visible textual content within your web pages. Assuming the search engines can get to those pages, you’re part way there. You will also need to include that information in other areas of the content of your businesses web site. Include it in the appropriate meta tags, and where applicable, in link text. There are specific meta tags, and xml schema tags for localization; if you don’t know about them, get a professional optimization firm to help you. If they don’t know about them, then you need a new SEO firm.

Search engine optimization for local search works the same as regular web site optimization. But by localizing search terms, you are providing additional contextual information for the search engines to do their work.

Optimizing your web site’s content to ensure local attention will not minimize the opportunities your business receives from regular, Internet wide search engine traffic. Instead, it will supplement existing traffic with increased highly localized traffic which will likely result in people just walking into your business without ever mentioning that they found your business online. When you ensure your local clientele can find you, you make it easier for them to support you. Ensuring that they find you is the only thing that should matter to your business.
Richard Zwicky is a founder and CEO of Metamend Software and Design Ltd, a Canadian firm located in Victoria, B.C. Metamend’s cutting edge Search Engine Optimization (SEO) technology and software has been recognized globally as a leader in its field. Metamend’s business comes from around the world with clients of every size, from every continent. Metamend’s client web sites often rank near or at the top of the search engines for their respective search terms.

Metamend is a Online Marketing company which has been recognized by Microsoft and others as delivering the world’s leading search engine optimization software. With successful clients on 5 continents, and over 50 countries worldwide, the company has experience in a broad range of markets and marketplaces. Search engine traffic is crucial to the success of any online business, as over 90% of first time visitors arrive at a web site as a result of finding the site through a search engine result. The search engines are your most cost effective marketing and branding tool. Metamend helps you take proper advantage of the opportunity at your fingertips, and drives customers to your business.


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