SEO – or Search Engine Optimization – is a buzzword that’s been around since the dawn of the Google, Yahoo, and Bing empires. It’s pretty common knowledge for anyone who sells anything online that you need it, but it’s not always common knowledge exactly what it is or how to do it.
I wrote this basics guide for hotel and restaurant managers and owners to provide a general overview of what SEO is, organic vs. paid search in SEO, and a few easy ways to optimize your site. If you’ve built or renovated your site within the last few years, especially on a CMS platform like WordPress, then chances are you’re site is already equipped with what’s covered in this article.
But if you’re curious about what makes a website ‘Search Engine Friendly’ or are considering re-evaluating your digital marketing strategy, use this article as a good place to start. Looking for some help to get started with your site? Let’s talk.
Before we begin…
A quick note before we begin: SEO is the culmination of many, many factors that include lots of key players, including – but not limited to – your SEO manager, webmaster, hosting company, copywriter, website designer, your sales and marketing team, and social media managers.
*There is no single solution or approach to optimize all websites.
SEO is a science that requires constant updates on the most recent releases of search engine algorithms and monitoring privacy and security regulations and consumer behavior. For this reason, if you’re looking to get serious with SEO, or learn more about investing in an SEO specialist, then let’s talk.
SEO should be a critical component to your overall digital marketing strategy. The SEO specialist manages not only paid marketing campaigns but also monitors your organic performance, the keyword searches that pertain to your specific target market, and the most effective content on your website. The return on this kind of analysis is gradual but imperative for long-term, sustainable growth.
If this is a service you’re interested in, let’s talk and tailor the right service for your business goals.
In its most basic terms, SEO is about making your website ‘search engine friendly’. This means, you assist Google, Yahoo, and Bing in technically reading your website, providing a clear concept for each page, producing quality information for visitors, and keeping the content fresh and up-to-date. This makes it easier for the search engines to index your website and pull it out in search results when a search query matches.
There are technical and non-technical ways to improve SEO. Even traditional marketing efforts make up an important part of SEO because they drive traffic to your website. Print ads, events, and press trips are rarely thought of as having any thing to do with SEO, and while they may be hard to measure, any method that ultimately brings people to visit your site is important for your SEO strategy.e content fresh and up-to-date. This makes it easier for the search engines to index your website and pull it out in search results when a search query matches.
In this article we’ll go over the most basic terms and aspects of SEO so you’ll be able to think critically and speak intelligently about it as part of your overall digital marketing strategy.
- Organic Search
- Paid Search
- <title> tag
- <description> tag
- <h1> tag
- Alt attributes
- Quality Content
- Page Content
- Shareable Content
- XML Sitemaps
- Page Load Speed
- Responsive Design
Organic vs. Paid Search in SEO
There are primarily two types of SEO: Organic Search (unpaid performance) and Paid Search (paid ad campaigns).
Organic search is the best kind. With a well optimized website, your content will appear among the top results (below paid advertising) for relevant search queries simply because the search engine regards its content as valuable to the person searching. Organic search is highly swayed by the amount of traffic that visits a site, as higher traffic equates to higher value in a search engine algorithm. The more popular a site , the more highly regarded its content, and thus the more likely it will appear among the top organic results.
It not only takes technical skill to achieve high-performing organic search results but also time. While your site can be well indexed by search engines in a matter of days, it may take weeks or months for search engines to begin consistently displaying it among top organic search results. For this reason backlinks by popular websites (discussed later in this article) and social media shares can help drive traffic and thus prove your site’s relevance to search engines as an organic (free) way to improve your organic earch.
Paid search is just what it sounds like: paid advertising. PPC – or Pay-Per-Click – and Remarketing campaigns through Google AdWords identify keywords or phrases commonly used by your target market to display an ad at the top of the search results.
Pay Per Click Campaigns
While this may sound simple, it’s actually an incredibly complex system. Pricing for keywords is structured like an auction, factoring in the strength of the keyword(s) and the maximum price different campaigns are willing to bid for that ad.
Search engines are seeking to make the most money from your advertisements, so they seek to put the highest bidders in the most coveted spots resulting in a game where the biggest budget wins. And in this way, you can understand why Booking (and other OTAs) have championed the digital marketing game, effectively stealing the #1 stop for top hotels in virtually all global markets.
Remarketing campaigns share a similar structure with Pay-Per-Click campaigns, but follow the user for several days as long as the cookies that recall this data remain valid. If you’ve ever wondered why after searching for a hotel in the Bahamas you start seeing ads for the Bahamas pop up on Facebook, blogs, and even your email, this is generally from remarketing campaigns that save your search history and use it for targeted marketing.
I won’t get into any further detail about paid search, but leave it with this final thought:
As long as OTAs and review sites continue to rule the search engine marketing game, hotels (and restaurants) need to get more creative to drive and convert direct business through their website. This is probably the single-most compelling reason to invest more in an effective social media strategy – versus investing in PPC or remarketing campaigns.
Basic ways to optimize your website for search engines
There are several simple technical ways to optimize your website to render it more ‘search engine friendly’. Special tags or meta data are used to communicate with search engines and provide specific information about your content. If these data aren’t included, search engines will generate their own data based on their interpretation of your website. Likely the information they generate won’t be as precise and lose out on your organic search performance.
If you’re unsure about your website including these features, drop us a line for a free basic analysis of your website’s SEO status. We’ll be able to look at the code of your website through the front end to determine if these basic elements exist or not and can provide a tailored report for what could be done.
The <title> tag is a form of meta data that is included in every page or archive of your website and must be unique. The <title> refers to the single topic that the written content and media content support. The <title> tag is also used by search engines as the clickable title in the search results. While there is no set limit for the number of characters in the <title> tag, usually about 60 characters is optimal for most applications.
The <description> tag is another form of meta data that is also included in every page and provides a brief description of the page which can be pulled to display in search results. These descriptions should be written carefully and strategically, choosing words that could be linked to relevant search queries by your target market while still reading as complete sentences. Like the <title> tag there is no set limit for the number of characters but generally no longer than 300 characters is widely accepted.
*Tip: If you hire a copywriter for your website content, (s)he should write the meta data for each page as well.
The <h1> tag is very similar to the <title> tag but varies mainly in that the content wrapped in <h1> tags is visible to the reader while the <title> tag is not. There should be <h1> title on every page of your website that is displayed near the top and wrapped in <h1> tags. Search engines use both <title> and <h1> tags to identify the main topic of the page, but they shouldn’t be exactly the same – they shouldn’t conflict either. Multiple <h1> tags or a page <title> that refers to a different topic can actually hurt your SEO performance as it confuses search engines who in turn may be unable to properly index the content.
Alt attributes are a meta property added to media (images, video, and audio) and links that provide search engines with additional information about the media content or link. If you examine the code that creates one of your web pages, you will see what the search engine sees; you’ll also notice that media content is transformed into links and lines of code. It’s important to add descriptions to these pieces of content help them get indexed properly by search engines and appear correctly in search results.
While good quality content may seem subjective, it’s one of our most common critiques of hotel and restaurant websites. The meat of your website – from an SEO perspective – is the content typed and loaded into it, so it’s crucial that this is high quality.
There are a few factors that go into what makes the content on your website ‘good’:
- Appropriate length. An individual page is unlikely to be indexed properly if there isn’t at least 300 words of written content but even more is advised.
- Stick to a single topic. Don’t cram too much content on a single page. A landing page that provides an overview of your room types should be just that, an overview. Leave the room specifications for a separate page dedicated to that room type. Use an <h1> heading and subheadings (<h2>, <h3>, etc.) to organize the rest of the article.
- High quality, professional photos. For every breathtaking, full-screen shot, include a well-written alt attribute describing the image.
Copywriters are trained writers specialized in writing online content. An effective copywriter is able to wordsmith your content while naturally repeating keywords to help improve the organic search. If you’re interested in learning more about hiring a copywriter or would like a quote to rewrite the content on your hotel or restaurant’s website, reach out and let us in on it!
Your page content includes all of the written and and media content on each page. This information should be structured with headings so that it can be easily read and navigated by a reader either curious about the topic or looking for some specific piece of information.
A blog can be a very effective tool for driving traffic to your website and improving your organic search. We wrote a post about Why Your Hotel Needs a Blog, explaining the benefits; but in short, a blog provides a consistent flow of fresh content. Search engine robots like scanning websites and coming across new content. Old content is less likely to appear in search results since search engines typically consider new content more valuable.
Making it quick and easy to share your website’s content with visitors is a strategic way to let your visitors help you drive targeted traffic directly to your website. You can add social media sharing buttons to each page of your website and customize the title, description and even image for various social media platforms, like Facebook and Twitter.
XML Sitemaps are a special kind of site map made up of all of your website’s URLs in a hierarchical structure. They give search engines more information about the structure of your site and update information to help search engine robots crawl the site better. Any time a page or the site structure is modified, it’s a good idea to submit a new XML sitemap to each search engine, so they know to update the information in their indexes.
Other factors of SEO
Aside from some of the technical data elements that make up crucial aspects of your website’s SEO, other factors like user experience, privacy, and security have been added to search engine algorithms in recent years. In their quest to provide the most accurate, relevant, and up-to-date information, search engines are taking into account all aspects of your website’s experience to ensure that the top results in the search query are the all-around best.
Page Load Speed
How fast your website loads is now a factor in SEO. Naturally, faster loading websites are privileged to slower sites. It’s not necessarily the case that all the top search results will be fast websites, but given the choice of displaying 2 different websites with comparable content, the faster site will win.
Privacy and security are two key topics right now, especially with GDPR coming into effect earlier this year. SSL (or otherwise known simply as HTTPS) is an encryption measure installed on your server that provides a level of protection for visitors to your site. It used to be primarily used for large e-commerce websites to protect users purchasing online but has since become commonplace for all websites, big and small. A few years ago Google announced that it would be a factor in its algorithm as a demonstration for their commitment to user privacy. Since then we’ve highly recommended to all our clients to register an SSL certificate for their website.
Certificates can generally be purchased through your hosting account (or any other hosting company) and must be installed directly on the server. They are typically purchased for a period of 1 year, and the most basic certificates can cost under $100 for a year. Need help? We got you.
Since the advent of smartphones and navigating the internet on smaller screens, ‘responsive design’ is becoming increasingly important. Responsive design means your website content will adapt to different screen sizes and navigational habits. Smart web design will start with the smallest screen size and work up (known as mobile first design) in such a way that even at the smallest size, content is effectively presented and engaging.
Any website not responsively designed will miss out on the growing share of internet surfers who read, explore, share, and purchase directly from their phone or tablet. Like SSL certificates, Google announced a few years ago that responsive websites would be privileged to those not that are not responsive.
Backlinks harken back to a time when slick SEO managers and business owners could coroborate with other businesses and improve each other’s website’s organic search by adding long lists of links on each other’s sites. A site’s relevance was calculated in part by how many other sites linked back to it. This strategy was terribly abused and short lived, so now websites that link each other can actually risk being penalized by ranking lower or not at all.
Instead, having your website linked (one-way) by a popular website is a powerful way to improve organic search quickly and drive traffic to your site. Your property’s online press features on international media circuits that link back to your website, for example, are a great way to improve organic search with backlinks.
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