In search of…simplification! An introduction to Search Engine Marketing for Hotel General Managers and Directors of Sales & Marketing
Search Engine Marketing has been a hot topic for quite a while now and there have been a plethora of articles written on the subject, ranging from the tediously academic to those hailing Search Engines to be the be-all and end-all when it comes to selling online. But there still seems to be a lot of confusion surrounding the true value of Search Engines in the hotel industry, especially in the Middle East, and just what hoteliers can do to stay ahead of the curve. This article is an attempt to de-mystify and present the big ‘Search’ picture.
Why is Search so important on the Web?
Understanding the Internet does not require a degree in rocket science! Essentially, all the publicly accessible computer networks, hooked up together worldwide, form what we know today as the Internet. The Web, on the other hand, is just one application of this vast network…basically all the publicly accessible web sites (simply pages comprising text, pictures, videos, sounds, etc) linked together give us the ‘World Wide Web’. And it’s a BIG web too…comprising of over 63 billion pages (as of June 2008) ranging from your hotel website to today’s news, adolescent musings, grandma’s recipe for apple pie and much, much more.
So how does one untangle this mess…er, Web? With spiders, of course! Search spiders, to be more specific. Search Engines like Google send out these electronic crawlers from link to link to decipher the content and location of the information offered on the Web, making this more accessible. It is estimated by eMarketer that about 80% of all activity on the Internet starts with Search Engines. Comparatively then, one would suppose Search Engines were as indispensable as putting on footwear before leaving home every day, except in the virtual world, of course!
Why is Search so important to Hotels?
So we’ve established that armed with the right virtual footwear (i.e. Search Engines), we’re ready to take on the pathways of the Web and navigate our way to what we’re looking for. But what does this mean for hotels and their guests? The answer is simple…so guests can find the ‘real’ you and choose you over the competition. Chances are that if you ran a search on Google today for “hotels in dubai”, you’d get over a million search results. And likelier is the fact that out of these results potential guests will only click through to results listed on the first one or two pages (results that include an often confusing array of hotel sites, online intermediaries and travel sites). So appearing on these results for the right search terms is a crucial part of the hotel’s marketing strategy.
A recent HeBS / Merrill Lynch report claims that by the end of 2010 over 45% of all hotel CRS bookings will be completed online, compared to an existing 40% for major hotel brands today. While the Middle East distribution landscape may not consistently reflect this statistic like its European and American counterparts, the future certainly calls for it. The web not only makes for the lowest cost booking channel, but is also frequently used for research before booking through other channels, especially in the Middle East. The ability of the customer to break through the clutter and find your official hotel site, possibly choosing your hotel above your competitors hinges on having a functional website and harnessing the power of Search correctly.
So Search is pretty important…what can I do about it?
Search Engine Optimization (SEO): SEO is more than just an eMarketing buzz word tossed about at nerd symposiums. It is a Search Marketing approach that, if executed well, ensures your site appears higher on natural search results, for the right search terms and keywords. The benefit is improved volume and quality of traffic to your site (read “more bookings…more money”). The way your website is built and the content on the site are keys to good SEO. Classic mistakes include designing flashy websites that cannot be indexed by Search spiders and sparse, poorly tagged content that is not relevant to the search terms your guests are likely to use. At the very least, ensure that you employ qualified designers that have experience building reliable eCommerce platforms, employ White Hat SEO (i.e. respect Search Engine policies and don’t use tricks and shortcuts that may get your site de-listed) and provide good ‘targeted’ content that is appealing to both guests and Search Engines. Also ensure that you use excellent tracking software (eg. Omniture SiteCatalyst, Atlas, etc) on your sites to get accurate, detailed reports on search performance and user booking behaviour.
Paid Search Engine Placements and Inclusions: For keywords and search terms where a significant amount of competition exists, advertisers employ the popular method of paid search engine placement called ‘Pay Per Click’ marketing. For example, that same search you ran on Google for ‘hotels in dubai’ will probably give you ‘Sponsored links’ that appear at the top and side of the Search Results pages. Advertiser listings get ranked based on the $ bids they’ve placed on these keywords and are only charged when visitors click through on the ads. This is a great way to capture paid traffic where natural search results are lacking, and the Return on Investment for good campaigns is usually significantly high, ranging from 4 to 10 times the spend (or more).
The above is just a simple introduction to the world of basic search and how hotels can capitalize on the same. The applications and developments in the world of Search and eMarketing are extensive and continually evolving. But for hoteliers looking to begin ‘somewhere’ in the world of eMarketing, Search is the best place to set up base camp, since the trackability and return on investment offered by Search Optimization (especially) and Paid Search Marketing are significantly higher than most other forms of online (and certainly offline) marketing available today.
– Jitendra Jain
About the Author: At work, Jitendra Jain (JJ) is employed with Starwood Hotels & Resorts in Dubai as an E-Commerce Manager and handles hotel online marketing & distribution. At play, he is the founder of various online initiatives and free platforms like www.thetalentjungle.com, www.younghotelier.com (among others) that aim to connect, educate and shine the limelight on the true stars of the industry – the people that run it!