Hotel Web Sites; the missing link(s)... by Keith Paulin
There's a Fifth Element to building online revenues from your hotel web site, and without it you will never appear on page one of Google, Yahoo or MSN for the highest volume search terms...a Fifth you say? And the first Four Elements are?
Well, the first Four Elements are: a search-engine-friendly technical site structure, rich original content, appealing design and conversion techniques focussed on converting lookers to bookers...but even if you get these first four completely right, and you can, you still won't appear on page one of Google, Yahoo or MSN for high traffic generating search terms. Highly frustrating I know - been there, done that, got the t-shirt; this is the answer you have been looking for...
The Fifth Element has nothing to do with anything actually on you hotel web site; the Fifth Element involves actively building more Inbound Links to your web site from other web sites. In the simplest of terms, a Search Engine sees a link to your web site as being like a vote of confidence in your web site. Search Engines believe that if other websites are linking to your web pages, you must have something good to link to and they will rate the page being linked to positively.
Search Engine robots or spiders continuously travel virally from web site to web site following links like an enormous daisy chain; in fact Search Engines initially discover your web site via a link from another web site. Once your hotel web site has been found, each page of your site is then ranked by Search Engines based on a complex set of criteria known as an algorithm; a piece of computer code that takes into consideration on-site and off-site factors collected by the robots or spiders. Data is then assembled, collated and evaluated in order to come up with a Page Score or Rank. This is how a search engine determines which sites to present when someone types in "Hong Kong hotel with harbour view" or "New York five star lodging near Wall Street".
All things being equal, when two hotel web sites have similar structure and content, the site with the best links will be served up first. Note that I wrote "best links" not "most links". Some time ago, a site with the "most links" would have won out, however, although Search Engines may be blind to images, they are not blind to webmasters manipulating their algorithms. They are continuously fine tuning their spiders to exclude web sites that attempt to "fudge" their results. Remember that a Search Engine's prime function is to deliver highly relevant results, not some mysterious pharmaceutical products when you are searching for that "boutique London hotel near Knightsbridge".
Search Engines today take into consideration several additional factors when rating Inbound Links to your site:
* the reputation or "Trust" value of sites linking to your hotel web site
* the Theme or Relevance of sites linking to you
* the "Anchor Text" (the words that the link is embedded within) in links to your site
Trust - for example, a link from a government tourism site is highly trusted by Search Engines, is "on theme" and will most likely have anchor text including your hotel name (and "destination + hotel" if you have been e-smart or have read ahead).
Theme or Relevance - a link from a destination guide web site that may also list other hotels in your region is "on theme"; a link from your local scout troop site is of little value; not "no value" but little value.
Anchor Text - this is now so critical in maximising your site's appearance at the top of the Search Engines Results Pages (SERP's) that we recommend that, for online purposes, that you include your destination in your official property name eg The Stafford "Paris Hotel". The terms "destination + hotel" are usually among the major search terms that online searchers use for locating their accommodation options. The result of this is that links to your site embedded in you property name will also, almost always, have "destination + hotel" in the anchor text. Having your keywords in the anchor text in links to your web site will help you climb up to page one on the Search Engines.
There are already some links to your site from other web sites, you just don't know who and how many. Helpfully, the Search Engines can tell you how many links there are currently to your site and from which sites. Go to Yahoo and type in linkdomain:www.yourwebsiteurl.com (replacing yourwebsiteurl.com with your own URL) and hit the Search button. Now, before you get all excited, do the same on Google...using the slightly different command link:www.yourwebsiteurl.com ...and you will see a much smaller number. Each of the Search Engines evaluates and counts links differently and Google is the fussiest of them all.
How many trusted, on theme, relevant links with the right words in the anchor text (getting the hang of this now?) do you need to march your web pages up the rankings? Whilst it does depend on how competitive your keywords are, about 30 links recognised by Google, and 600 on Yahoo and MSN will suffice...and adding about 100 a month means six months work and a lot of patience, although you will start to see results within a few weeks. And please don't try to add 600 links in a week (or sign up for those "1000 links for $19.95 in a week" services); the Search Engines are smart enough to know the difference between reasonable, "natural" link growth (some acceleration is acceptable) and web sites that are trying to fudge the results and compensate for that.
So, how do you go about building more Inbound Links? Here are three simple, easy methods to start with:
* talk to you suppliers and ask them to link to your web site...your suppliers web sites are likely to be on theme (they supply your industry), somewhat "trusted" (don't we all trust our suppliers) and will more than likely be happy to phrase the link text exactly the way you want (and if you add this request into your final negotiations it is difficult for them to say no)
* encourage your Conference and Events team to ask their clients to link to your hotel web site, that is, the venue for their upcoming conference, event or meeting...not so strong on theme but usually they are trusted corporate or association sites and again, if you supply them with the link and anchor text, there's a pretty good chance that they will simply add the link verbatim
* talk to your local partners, attractions and neighbours and ask them to link to you...they will be on theme (destination), relevant etc etc
You may be asked to provide a link back, and that is fine, but the preferred result is a "one way link" to your pages. In simple terms "links in" minus "links out" gives you a net link value from the Search Engines (in reality its more complex than that).
Naturally, there is a lot more to building more Inbound Links...we haven't touched on submitting to web directories, outbound links to trusted sites, reciprocal links, link exchanges, buying links, renting links...in highly competitive online markets you may need to use all of these tools and more.
Oh, and sorry, but there IS a Sixth Element to consider as you work your way up to page one on Google for your main keywords...patience. You just can't hurry along the Search Engines. The same way that the very best chefs know that you need time and patience to create a culinary masterpiece, so you will need time and patience to work your web site up to page one for your optimum search terms. There is no "quick fix" and anyone who promises to achieve "a page one listing for high volume keywords in a month for $49.95" is a liar.
Yes, short term results can be achieved through certain "black hat" techniques and I know a lot of them...but the risk of having your web site banned from Google, Yahoo or MSN, is just too great. Remember, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. The Search Engines employ some of the smartest software engineers on the planet and they are light years ahead of anything you could think up to fool them.
Starting today, now, put into practice the simple methods I have outlined above to build relevant, theme-based links with the right anchor text...and watch as your web site starts heading North over the following few weeks and months. Assuming you have the first Four Elements in place, the results of implementing your own Fifth Element, an effective Inbound Link building program, will be rapidly growing visitor traffic to your web site, increasing online revenues and growth in RevPOV (Revenue Per Online Visit). And don't forget to add in that elusive Sixth Element, a little time and patience. Or you could just contact us at Hotel Marketing Workshop (www.hotelmarketingworkshop.com)...we'd be very happy to assist.
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Keith Paulin is the General Manager of Hotel Marketing Workshop (www.hotelmarketingworkshop.com). Keith has worked in senior marketing roles within the hotel industry (Hilton, Regent, Hyatt, Accor) and in other industries (HP, Lion Nathan, Shell) and holds degrees in Marketing and Business Management. Hotel Marketing Workshop works with chain and independent hotels, large and small, delivering tactical, practical hotel e-marketing strategies that work and they assist with expert implementation. Keith has a deep interest in the world of e-commerce, Search Engine Optimisation and Search Engine Marketing and a clear track record in producing growth in RevPOV (Revenue Per Online Visit) for hotel clients.
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About the Author
Keith Paulin is the General Manager of Hotel Marketing Workshop (www.hotelmarketingworkshop.com). Keith has worked in senior marketing roles within the hotel industry (Hilton, Regent, Hyatt, Accor) and in other industries (HP, Lion Nathan, Shell) and holds degrees in Marketing and Business Management. Hotel Marketing Workshop works with chain and independent hotels, large and small, delivering tactical, practical hotel e-m