Will the Optimization Ever Stop?

In 2012 it was link building. The next year it was geo-targeting and negative keywords. 2014 reminded us to track ad campaigns and cut down on page load times. Last year, we were urged to focus on mobile site design and dynamic content marketing. And as 2016 kicks off, we’re all wondering if we should just be honest with ourselves and pursue a degree in Information Technology.

For hoteliers, there seems to be no end to the onslaught of optimization. The ever-shifting tides of technology produce a new wave of requirements every year, and staying on top of it can seem like a full-time job.

The problem is, hoteliers already have full-time jobs. Some franchises have in-house technology whizzes, and some independents use marketing firms to lighten the load—but the majority of owners and managers are out there scratching their heads and stretching their job descriptions. Me? I take advice from experts in the area like Sidekick Communications

Many hoteliers though are beginning to ask themselves: Will the carnival ride of optimization ever stop? Will the rules ever lock into place, or will hoteliers forever be shooting at moving targets?

According to Sidekick, the answer is…yes and no. Many rules have been locked in place—at least for years to come. For example: You want your static pages and blog content tuned for keywords, not inundated by them. Search engines are in the business of providing information that people actually want. Google is light-years beyond the keyword-mongering stone ages. Unless you’re willing to put in long hours, you’ll need to invest periodically in the services of people who know what to do.

Even though I am not managing hotels directly at the moment, I do advise several and it is clear that hotels today need active social media channels and timely responses to guest reviews, whether those reviews are negative or not. Every engagement, when carried out with professionalism, bolsters your brand and improves customer loyalty. It also helps with your search ranking.

Hotels want to make peace with OTAs. Regardless of their bogeymen reputation, these are commission-based salespeople with advertising budgets that work in your favour. Also, the reviews they generate are a huge driver for bookings.

But you don’t want all your reviews on OTAs. It pays (and will pay) to cultivate buzz elsewhere. Google is an important review channel. Its ever-popular map service is tied directly to reviews from Google Plus. Those reviews are also good for bookings and good for your search ranking. Facebook and Twitter, though not “official” review channels, also help the cause.

Speaking of OTAs, there’s also evidence that increasing numbers of people are using them to find a property, then jumping ship to book directly. This has been called the “billboard effect,” and may be related to the perception of higher accuracy, better terms and conditions, and lower rates through direct channels.

And speaking of direct channels, you want your proprietary booking engine to be fast and clean. Direct bookings are still at the heart of a successful business, and for good reason: When guests book direct, the hotel banks more money.

Some of the bigger chains are abandoning subversive territory altogether and taking this fight to the OTAs. Marriott’s #itpaystobookdirect campaign has gained significant traction in social media, and although your hotel can’t afford a campaign like this and probably doesn’t need one, the efforts of major players to push direct bookings may effect the industry as a whole. Accor have radically overhauled their online sales engine as well and claim to deliver more rooms directly than via OTAs. Either way, direct bookings will remain important; hence the need for a fast, clean engine to facilitate them. A low price guarantee on your web site (so long as you’re prepared to honour it) and other in-house promotions can also drive direct bookings.

All in all, there are only a handful of optimization pillars that hoteliers need to hold up. Without these fundamentals, not even a Ph.D in SEO Theory can help you. Of course things will always change, and hoteliers will need to stay abreast of those changes, but this has always been so. Just remember though: The merry-go-ground of web optimization revolves around one penultimate thing, and that is your ability to deliver an experience that people love. 

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