ITB 2023 Special Reporting
The End of an Era: Google Says Goodbye to Keyword-Centric SEO
By Max Starkov & Sue Wiker
Thursday, 26th September 2013
Since late 2011, Google has been moving in the direction of secure search; put simply, this means that Google users' keyword searches are 'protected' and are not disclosed to any website analytics tools, including Google Analytics, therefore showing up in analytics data as [not provided].

In other words, Google is not disclosing to website owners the keyword terms visitors use to find the site, e.g. "downtown Houston Hotels" or "Hotel near Times Square."

Lately, such protected searches in the travel industry hovered just below 50 percent, meaning that almost half of all traffic from Google could not be broken down to the individual keyword level and attributed to a specific keyword referral. As of this week, Google has made secure search the default, meaning that SEO marketers will no longer be able to see how much traffic and revenue were brought in to the website by specific keywords.

Why is this important for the industry? In spite of all the new digital marketing initiatives that overwhelm hoteliers nowadays, search engines produce more than half of total website revenue across HeBS Digital's client portfolio, including SEO revenues (32.7%) and paid search revenues (22.9%). Therefore it has always been of utmost importance to determine which keyword terms bring the most relevant website visitors and contribute to the bulk of the bookings.

This major shift on behalf of Google marks the end of the keyword-centric era and ushers in the page-centric era. This new initiative is in tune with Google Panda Update, which punishes low-quality content that provides poor user experience and engagement. Focusing on keywords is a relic from the days when paid search (SEM) did most of the heavy lifting for sites; campaigns had to focus on keywords within the confines of the bidding structure.

While individual keyword-level reporting is gone from website analytics for Google, the sum of the data is still available. SEO marketers will still be able to monitor organic performance for Google on the whole, as well as keyword-level data for Bing and Yahoo. This information will still be valuable for generating content themes, blog posts, and other quality content with a focus on an engaging user experience.

Without keyword-specific data, SEO marketers must focus on what HeBS Digital has been supporting all along: relevant, editorial-quality website content.

What does this mean for hoteliers?

These new policy measures by Google make keyword-centric practices utilized by most cottage SEO "experts" obsolete. Hoteliers should reconsider spending money on old-fashioned keyword-centric techniques such as keyword stuffing and mindless meta data optimizations, and instead focus on practices centered on the creation of high-quality, unique, and engaging website content that is valuable to the user.

In addition, there is a direct correlation between the quality of the website SEO and the results from your SEM campaigns. The better the SEO on the site, the better the Quality Index assigned to your paid search campaigns by Google, which means higher ad position, better conversion rates, higher ROIs, and lower cost per click. A robust content strategy, supported by adequate technology and marketing funds, can make all the difference and allow the hotel to maximize its revenues from the search engines.

What do HeBS Digital's marketing experts recommend?

Hoteliers should devise an ongoing SEO strategy to ease the transition from keyword-centric to content-centric SEO.

a) Create engaging content on the hotel website.

The transition to page- and content-centric SEO demands that website content be engaging and highly relevant. Search engines are now looking for strong editorial content. Web content has always been the king of SEO these recent Google algorithm updates turned website content into the emperor.

Google will ultimately punish poor keyword-focused SEO practices and reward unique content on the hotel website. Quality content has taken center stage, making it imperative to have strong copy guided by a page-focused SEO strategy.

Any hotel website without sufficient depth of content would have a hard time with search engine rankings. HeBS Digital recommends a minimum of 25 content pages for a select service property, and 35-50 pages of content for a full-service property website. A big full-service hotel or resort's website should start with 75-100 pages of content. Utilizing the website's CMS platform, create landing pages for each hotel special offer, package or promotion, as well as for events and happenings at the property or in the destination.

b) Use professional copywriting.

You get what you pay for inexperienced, home-grown copywriters typically provide thin, lifeless content that does little more than take up space on a page. Take the time to find professional copywriters with both SEO and hospitality experience that can be called travel writers in their own right. These writers will be able to not only generate unique and engaging content, but also help you brainstorm ideas and provide guidance on how to best present the hotel product online. Money spent on lasting content is money well spent.

c) Develop a content creation plan.

Building additional content does three things for your site. It creates a deeper website, gives you more real estate to target specific themes and topics, and it increases your paid search campaigns' quality scores and lowers their cost per click.

Capture incremental revenue by targeting events such as nearby college graduations or upcoming sports games. Knowing these events ahead of time will allow you to post them far enough in advance to gain traction by the time the event happens and will prevent a last-minute rush. Develop content based on special offers related to local attractions, such as theme parks, museums and sporting venues. Ultimately, the goal is to allow the website content to grow by hundreds of pages every year.

Now that you have done all this work on your website and its off-site extensions, set aside some money to maintain it. Having the flexibility to tweak your SEO strategy throughout the year is a great thing. Anticipate minor content changes, new landing pages, linking incentives, and other recommendations your SEO team may have.

d) Use SEO monitoring technology.

Hoteliers should consider using sophisticated SEO monitoring tools that are designed to ease the transition from keyword-specific strategies to content-specific strategies. One such tool is BrightEdge, the most advanced SEO-tracking tool in the market.

As a Certified BrightEdge Partner, HeBS Digital uses this advanced tracking technology to support all of our clients' SEO efforts. One of the very useful BrightEdge features is the Page Manager, which allows our team to identify the organic performance of each page on the website and receive targeted recommendations for each one. Working in this manner, SEO tools strengthen the impact of each content page as opposed to focusing on how to achieve rankings for individual keywords.

HeBS Digital offers comprehensive ongoing SEO packages that are custom-tailored to each site's needs. By including BrightEdge, our team has access to features such as the aforementioned Page Manager as well as a host of others that deliver invaluable insights. These packages allow our team to fluidly apply an evolving SEO strategy as opposed to delivering an arbitrary number of pages or links per month. The end result is an SEO-sound site complete with quality pages, valuable links, and an ongoing content strategy that will continue to drive revenues.

About the Authors and HeBS Digital

Max Starkov is President & CEO and Sue Wiker is Manager, Copy & SEO Dept. of HeBS Digital, the hospitality industry's leading full-service digital technology and marketing firm (www.HeBSDigital.com).

HeBS Digital has pioneered many of the best practices in hospitality digital technology and marketing, and direct online channel best practices and strategies. The firm has won over 275 prestigious industry awards for its digital marketing and website design services, including numerous Adrian Awards, Davey Awards, W3 Awards, WebAwards, Magellan Awards, Summit International Awards, Interactive Media Awards, IAC Awards, and others.

A diverse client portfolio of hospitality clients: from restaurants to major hotel brands, luxury and boutique hotel chains, resorts and casinos, hotel management companies, franchisees and independents, and CVBs are benefiting from HeBS Digital's direct online channel strategy and digital marketing expertise. Contact HeBS Digital's consultants at (212) 752-8186 or success@hebsdigital.com.

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