Sooner or later, every hotelier must confront the age-old question of whether or not to outsource their digital marketing. And it’s not a decision to take lightly: for many hotels, their ability to drive traffic and bookings online will be the single biggest determinant of success in years to come.
It’s no secret which side of the debate we’re on. Ultimately, however, we want you to make an informed decision on this question. In this series of articles, we offer real-world examples to help inform your decision, shedding light on the pitfalls of in-house digital marketing and illustrating the advantages of working with an agency.
In our last blog post, Why Work with an Agency – Part 1 – we examined this issue from the lens of ad campaigns and targeting strategies, illustrating that the X factor for success in these areas is access to large volumes of data and the ability to interpret this data—areas where in-house talent often falls short.
This month, we’ll look at what many consider to be a more nebulous and difficult area of digital marketing: SEO. Let’s walk through some examples of how hotel SEO can look when managed in-house vs. with an agency.
The In-House SEO Approach
SEO (Search Engine Optimization) is challenging for two key reasons. Firstly, the field is constantly evolving—what worked 6 months ago may no longer be relevant today. Secondly, without the right tools, it’s difficult to track your successes and failures in SEO—that is, to distinguish between the impact of factors outside your control versus that of your own efforts.
When we onboard clients who previously managed their own SEO, we see all too often a trail of misguided attempts to boost their search rankings and inadvertent disruptions to the balance of factors that contribute to their SEO performance.
Decisions about the structure of the website are often at the root of these problems.
A good example is a hospitality organization who came to us with a very large website to manage. Over 800 pages, in fact. They had created all of this content in an attempt to positively impact their SEO. And if they had been doing so around seven to ten years ago, they would have been successful—at that time, more content meant more keywords for Google to crawl and more opportunities to rank.
SEO has since evolved to focus more on user experience than mere volume of crawlable text. Keywords are still important, but they must exist within content designed to serve the user. No user is served by having to wade through hundreds of website pages to find the information they’re looking for.
Our analysis for this client quickly identified 20 key pages that drove the most search traffic for them. Restructuring their website around these pages allowed us to improve user experience and, despite removing many pages of keyword-rich content, ultimately have a positive impact on their organic rankings and traffic.
A similar misstep we have often observed is the disruption of historical SEO value and domain authority by attempts to restructure the property’s website to serve a new branding or marketing strategy.
A prime example of this is a resort client of ours who had taken a single website covering three related but distinct properties and divided it into three separate websites. From a marketing standpoint, this made sense—they wanted to showcase the unique aspects of each property. From an SEO perspective, however, it was a disaster, as their search traffic promptly plummeted.
Our first order of business when onboarding this client was to return to the previous approach, consolidating back to a single website to recapture the domain authority and brand equity they had once enjoyed.
In the graph below, you can see the impact that their decision to divide the website in May of 2018 had on organic search performance. In April of 2019, we launched the new unified website leading to consistent growth back to previous levels.
The In-House Keyword Strategy
When you mention SEO, many people’s minds turn to keywords. Specifically, the desire to rank higher for certain search terms. Many properties doing in-house SEO find that, despite their best efforts, they are unable to affect their rankings for search queries that they feel are important to them—say “hotels in Cincinnati” or “best Myrtle Beach resort”.
The issue often is not with their strategies to rank for these terms, but with their decision to focus on these terms in the first place. Again, data and research—not hunches or conclusions from experience—should be your guiding light here.
A successful search strategy should start with a comprehensive analysis of all available data to determine which search terms present the greatest opportunity for growing the property’s traffic. This hinges on having access to and expertise with the tools required to perform such an analysis—something many hotels’ in-house operation does not have.
For these reasons, the most high value search terms for a property sometimes end up being ones they hadn’t even considered prior.
Keep your eye out for a continuation of this topic in next month’s blog post: our final installment in this series, where we’ll take a closer look at in-house website management and the importance of a strong knowledge base in your marketing team.
If you enjoyed this blog and would like to work with us, please reach out to our Director of Sales, Linda, at email@example.com.
Read the other posts in this series: