SEO for Hotels – A Thought Piece

Why SEO? – An Executive Summary

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the practice of formatting website data for search engines like Google to encourage indexing and increased rankings on search engine result pages (SERPs).

buuteeq has chosen to follow SEO best practices as outlined by Google. They frequently perform their own internal SEO research and implement other research provided by the white-hat, professional SEO community. Combined, these practices place a hotel’s best foot forward, encouraging higher SERP rankings and protecting hotel websites from penalties due to future algorithm changes.

buuteeq incorporated these best SEO practices into their product, Cloud DMS, which powers and publishes hotel websites, mobile optimized websites, Facebook apps and more. Since Cloud DMS is software as a service (SaaS), hotel clients will gain the benefit of future SEO improvements, adaptations and innovations as technology evolves, ensuring their SEO is never outdated.

The Data

Google is currently the most powerful search engine in the world. Google enjoys 82% of market share, with Bing coming in at second at 8.5%, as StatOwl reports. Because of this, most SEO is made to conform to Google’s requirements and suggestions.

A chart on browser useage

 

Chart by StatOwl.com

Each year, Google makes between 500 and 600 changes to its algorithm (a full list of algorithm changes is provided by SEOmoz). This shows the SEO industry is always changing, constantly having to keep up with Google and alter its methods in order to maintain impact and avoid penalties for black-hat practices.

buuteeq adapts to these changes by keeping a close eye on SEO forecasts, in order to provide clients with safe, updated built-in SEO.

A Bit of History – Penguin & Panda

In April of 2012, Google released two changes to their search algorithm, drastically changing the way websites ranked. On April 19th, Google released Panda 3.5, which was a refresh of its Panda update in 2011. This update was intended to demote low quality content within SERPs. On April 24th, Google launched Penguin which, unlike Panda, was designed specifically to target websites engaging in questionable SEO practices and either de-index them or demote them.

Penguin was an attempt by Google to discourage “over-optimized” website content, undertaken to game Google’s system. Many websites paying for SEO services were hit, and some businesses even went out of business because of Penguin. Conversely, many websites following white-hat SEO guidelines enjoyed greater SERP prominence. Google targeted gray-hat and black-hat SEO practices, including using exact-match anchor text for backlinks, backlinks from low-quality blogs, blog comments or forums, and keyword stuffing.

As a statement to buuteeq’s SEO practices, all of their customers enjoyed steady SERP ranking during and after Panda 3.5 and Penguin. None of them were penalized. In fact, some even enjoyed a significant boost due to Penguin.

Example 1

Penguin and Panda activity for our clients

This data is from the analytics of one of buuteeq’s North American bed & breakfast clients. Web traffic spiked for the month after Penguin, and ended higher than it began the month.

Example 2

A graph showing one of buuteeq's clients just after Penguin.

This is data from the analytics of one of buuteeq’s boutique hotel clients in Chile, South America. As expected, the website saw weekend valleys and weekday peaks, but noticeably, one of the site’s three highest peaks of the month happened the day Penguin was released, and this property also ended the month higher than it started.

Product Features

The following is a specific, but not exhaustive, list of SEO technologies buuteeq incorporates into their Cloud DMS software.

Metadata

Cloud DMS supports metadata in the form of meta tags for websites. Every page on the website has a unique meta title, keyword field, and description. Cloud DMS automatically generates meta titles and meta descriptions for all published pages, which can be manually edited if desired. This metadata is scanned by search engine crawlers and used to decide how and where to rank the website for specific keyword phrases.

Meta Titles

The meta title is the most important part of metadata and is a signal search engines use to decide how to rank websites. Cloud DMS ensures that every page meta title is completely unique in two ways:

Homepage

Shows where you can add hotel meta data on your webpage

 

The homepage meta title is created by combining the hotel name with the hotel’s city, state and country, as inscribed by the client in the Hotel Info field under the Settings module. This ensures the homepage can rank for queries most common to trip planning, which often include brand names and location information. Clients can customize their meta title at any time by editing these fields as they wish.

All Other Pages

The meta title tag for all articles, promotions, galleries and maps is taken from each page’s navigation label, as chosen by the client. Meta titles on all pages can be changed at any time.

Where to insert all other title meta.

Meta Descriptions

The meta description, while not used by search engines to rank a website, can be seen in a SERP and read by guests. Google will bold keywords found in a page description, thus increasing the chance guests will click on the result. It is a good idea to have a meta description, including keywords and fewer than 150 characters long, for every page.

Cloud DMS includes an ‘SEO Setting’ option for the homepage and all article pages. In this section, clients can hand-craft meta descriptions. Google can choose not to use an included meta description in favor of more relevant copy on the page itself.

Adding meta descriptions using cloud dms for your hotel

Meta Keywords

Meta keywords were once used heavily by search engines as a way to discover how to rank a website. Due to abuse of the keyword function, most search engines, including Google and Bing, completely ignore keywords. In fact, Google may even penalize websites stuffed with dozens of keywords and key phrases. That said, it is safe and harmless to have one or two keywords (no more than five) and so Cloud DMS includes this functionality for clients who desire it.

Keywords can be added to the homepage and all article pages from the ‘SEO Settings’ section.

How cloud dms creates hotel meta titles

301 Redirects

Google assigns authority to each unique URL, which it calls a “page rank”. A page rank is based on the TLD’s rank, and steps down a place with each subfolder or category. Thus, an article right beneath a domain name with PR 5 will have a PR 4.

However, if a website’s URL structure changes, as is common with a website migration, page rank can be completely obliterated since Google won’t know where to find the content it had previously indexed and ranked.

The solution is a 301 redirect, which tells Google the page it is looking for has permanently moved to a new location. Google honors this information and assigns the page’s old authority and page rank to its new location.

Cloud DMS comes equipped with a powerful 301 redirect tool as part of its website migration onto the system. Before turning off an old site and switching over the old domain, Cloud DMS scans the old domain to discover its URL structure, which it records in BackOffice. Then, before launching the new site, it is a simple matter to assign a 301 redirect from the old URL to its new URL and location, running on Cloud DMS.

This innovative feature eliminates any loss of domain authority due to site migration under the same domain, allowing clients to keep and grow their existing page rank.

An example of how our 301 redirect tool looks in BackOffice

 

Cloud DMS Keyword Tool

This feature is in production with a release projected at Q4 2012.

Cloud DMS collects search behavior data about website visitors over time. It then presents this data in the form of a keyword chart within BackOffice. From here, clients can see which keywords are directing traffic to their website, the global competition of those keywords, which keywords convert more visitors into guests, and more.

The tool then presents clients with the best conversion opportunities available, giving clients guides concerning necessary on-page changes, new articles to create about which topics, and so on. This vital information can help hotel marketers learn more about their guests and make important decisions to maximize the effectiveness of their SEO.

An example of how buuteeq's keyword tool works

 

Page Load Speed

While the verdict is out on whether or not Google will penalize websites in SERPs for slow page load, it is still the number one cause for visitors to bounce—that is, to hit ‘back’ to the SERP. If a visitor immediately goes back to the SERP after visiting a website, Google offers the visitor the option to forever block the website from appearing in their personalized search results.

Showing the block feature in SERPS

If Google records a specific website having received many block requests from visitors, they may demote the website in SERPs or de-index it altogether. For these reasons, it is critical that a website loads quickly on all devices as part of a robust SEO strategy.

buuteeq invested a great deal of time and energy to ensure their clients enjoy fast-loading websites with high performing SEO. The following is the result of an in-house experiment buuteeq performed to gauge the homepage load speed performance of their clients’ websites compared to those of other suppliers. They tested the YSlow scores and Google Page Speed scores of a random sample of ten hotel website clients per supplier, and then averaged the scores. They also tested each site’s overall SEO score, performed by FreeSEOScoreCard.com, which uses a methodology (seen here) derived from Google’s SEO Report Card (seen here). Below are the performance averages per supplier, on a scale of 1-100, 100 being an impossibly fast page load speed and the best possible SEO score:

Chart of buuteeq's results during a page speed test.

 

The following is a table of the sample used in this test. Client websites were taken from each supplier’s featured customer showcase. We provide links to buuteeq’s sample but have hidden those of other suppliers to protect their privacy.

Yslow / Page Speed / SEO Yslow / Page Speed / SEO Yslow / Page Speed / SEO Yslow / Page Speed / SEO Yslow / Page Speed / SEO Yslow / Page Speed / SEO Yslow / Page Speed / SEO Yslow / Page Speed / SEO Yslow / Page Speed / SEO Yslow / Page Speed / SEO
buuteeq 82 / 96 / 95 84 / 94 / 93 80 / 93 / 83 80 / 94 / 93 83 / 94 / 100 83 / 84 / 83 83 / 95 / 95 81 / 95 / 65 82 / 96 / 68 82 / 91 / 75
Supplier 1 78 / 68 / 50 69 / 75 / 55 70 / 93 / 88 76 / 54 / 78 69 / 59 / 15 67 / 80 / 40 70 / 70 / 53 82 / 75 / 5 65 / 53 / 85 70 / 81 / 78
Supplier 2 75 / 92 / 38 73 / 79 / 63 78 / 80 / 58 78 / 82 / 48 70 / 83 / 68 77 / 81 / 88 73 / 83 / 90 74 / 87 / 38 73 / 87 / 83 66 / 91 / 83

Canonical Links

Search engines dislike duplicate website content, and they often penalize the SERP rankings of websites publishing duplicate content. The problem with this is, since search engines robots discover new websites by following links on other sites, search engines can think a website has duplicate content when it really doesn’t based on the page’s URL structure. For example, MySampleHotel.com/rooms and MySampleHotel.com/rooms?channel=tracking are two distinct URLs, both pointing to the same page (the latter just includes tracking information in the URL for marketing purposes). However, Google will see two different links pointing to webpages having the same content, and so it will penalize the website for having duplicate content.

The solution to this problem is a canonical link element on each webpage specifying rel=”canonical”. This element instructs search engines where to find the true page URL address, and to ignore any other URLs directing them to the page. This will keep a page from being penalized for duplicate content, for the element instructs Google that the specified page is the first publisher and owner of the content. This same solution is used to instruct a preference between a naked domain and a subdomain with the ‘www’ prefix.

Cloud DMS incorporates rel=”canonical” so client websites never suffer from duplicate content penalties.

How canonical links appear in a page

404 Redirects

When guests try to access a page that does not exist on the website, they are presented with a ‘page not found error 404’. If search engines like Google record a website rendering many 404 errors, they may decide to demote the website in SERPs in order to keep their users from having a poor user experience. It is therefore important that websites are designed to reduce the number of 404 errors.

Cloud DMS redirects all guests who experience a 404 error to the homepage. This provides guests with a better user experience and points them to a hotel’s marketing content, instead of a blank page.

Search Optimized URL Structure

Instead of producing dynamic URLs filled with strange symbols changing over time, Cloud DMS produces static URLs built with a ‘pretty permalink’ structure. This means they are readable and understandable by both humans and search engine robots. This is important for SEO because search engines often use the actual words of a URL when deciding how to rank a website. A hotel website with keywords in the URL will often rank higher than websites that don’t.

Example of keywords appearing in SERPs for URLs.

Organized Web Architecture

Search engine crawlers use on-page links to discover and index other pages. Good navigation is built with information architecture than not only makes guest navigation easy and intuitive, but provides clear navigational hierarchies between website pages.

Cloud DMS neatly organizes pages into categories. Articles within categories are shown as side-bar navigation options, clearly discoverable by both guests and robots. Cloud DMS keeps each article page close to the category, which is directly beneath the top level domain (TLD), so page rank is distributed logically across the site.

Additionally, Cloud DMS uses the page’s full URL when cross-linking within the website, instead of using a shorter page location. This domain-level referencing aids with SEO, providing search engines the exact URL for content in order to distribute domain authority properly.

Organized web structure, on page and in the url.

Mobile Identification

Cloud DMS properly identifies mobile optimized content using the ‘Googlebot-mobile’ User-Agent. This ensures that Google will recognize mobile optimized content when it indexes a website, encouraging better SERP results from mobile devices and greater CTR as Google marks mobile optimized content in SERPs.

Google places a mobile indicator in SERPs

Google is experimenting with marking mobile optimized websites in search engine result pages (SERPS) with a mobile icon.

Mobile Redirects

With mobile search and Internet use increasing, it is important to have mobile optimized websites in order to encourage mobile bookings. Cloud DMS publishes a mobile optimized website within a subfolder of the same domain.

Mobile websites hosted on a 3rd-party domain dilute the domain authority of the hotel’s TDL. A mobile redirect to a 3rd-party website could also potentially cause Google to rank the 3rd-party website higher than the actual hotel website. Instead, Cloud DMS publishes the optimized experience under the same domain, and redirects guests using a rel=”canonical” mobile redirect, listing the mobile optimized site as an alternate (not primary) site, keeping the guest on the hotel website and avoiding duplicate content issues.

An example of the correct way to do a mobile redirect.

This subtle but important feature ensures the website does not lose any of its domain authority over time, due to a mobile redirect.

Page-Pairing

In most cases, mobile website redirects will redirect the guest to the mobile optimized version of the homepage. This provides a poor user experience as it often fails to provide guests with the information they were initially looking for.

Cloud DMS solves this problem with page-pairing. When guests discover a specific page of a website from a mobile device, e.g. through search engines or website bookmarks, they are redirected to the mobile optimized version of the initial page they were looking for, instead of being redirected to the mobile homepage. This helps decrease bounce rate and give guests the information desired, encouraging more conversions. It also improves website SEO, ensuring search engines do not get confused as to the true location of website content which could affect SERP rankings, regardless of how it is optimized.

Semantic Web Content

Semantic web content is structured using rich snippets, to be easily shared across platforms, devices, services, and other entities. For example, many entities, including search engines and social networks, look for the same types of content when listing or sharing web pages, including brand names, product descriptions, locations, events, and so on. Rich snippets aid these entities in quickly finding, indexing and sharing this content. Websites that are structured with rich snippets are more likely to enjoy optimized SERP listings, including map directions, user reviews and phone numbers right in the SERP, and more compelling details in social shares, including photos and page descriptions.

Cloud DMS supports the Local Business and Event rich snippets, which will improve the visibility and CTR of website content in SERPs.

Freshness

Since November of 2011, Google uses what they call a “freshness algorithm” to decide how to rank websites. They consider new pages on websites with new content to be “fresh”, and they give a modest boost in the rankings to fresh content. They gauge the health of a website by how fresh it is—websites producing new, fresh content more frequently are given preference in SERPs.

Cloud DMS gives clients the ability to quickly create and edit website content, which can positively affect a website’s freshness. Article content can be updated in real time, allowing hotels to produce fresh content as often as they like. This is especially useful for quickly creating or editing promotions, deals and time-sensitive event information.

Automatic Upgrades

The SEO improvements to Cloud DMS over time happen automatically, without necessitating client interaction. buuteeq’s development team can publish upgrades to the live software powering thousands of hotel websites around the world in real time. This saves time and client disruption, and ensures every client can immediately enjoy the benefit of buuteeq’s updates.

Search Optimized Article Builder

Cloud DMS’s article builder allows great freedom and creativity while packaging the produced content in an optimized way for search engine consumption. It keeps user-created content within a consistent architecture and clean of unnecessary scripts.

Header Tags

In an effort to better discover what a web page’s topic is, search engines scan header tags and give weight to them when deciding how to rank the page. Cloud DMS includes H1 and H2 tags, which are customizable and can be used anywhere the client wishes to organize on-page information in a logical, linear way both readers and robots prefer. It is wise to include keywords and key phrases one wishes to rank for in H1 and H2 tags.

An example of header tags in a web page.

 

Image ALT= Text

Since search engines can’t see images like humans can, they rely on a snippet of code called image ALT= text in order to understand what the image is about. Google will combine the text included in the ALT= tag with text surrounding the image to decide how to rank the image in image search.

Cloud DMS currently supports image ALT= on all images published within BackOffice. ALT= text is taken from the image label given by clients in the image library. It can be edited for more direct SEO precision from the photo library within BackOffice.

Social Graph

There is evidence Google and Bing are starting to favor websites integrated with social networks in their search results. Therefore, websites communicating with social networks like Facebook and Google+ will not only gain the benefit of social interactions, but could even rank higher in search results as they gain more social interactions.

Cloud DMS integrates with a number of popular social networks, with support for Pinterest, Stumbleupon, and others currently in production.

Facebook

Guests can like and share hotel content, right from the hotel homepage. Since Bing integrates Facebook data with its search results, it is important to gain likes and shares so the hotel website ranks higher when friends of those who liked it make travel plans from Bing.

Google+

Google’s social network is fully integrated with Google search. When logged into Google, guests will see websites they and their friends have previously +1d more prominently in search results, along with their friends’ photos and names beneath each result. This is a trust indicator leading to more visits.

Additionally, Google allows integration between a website and a Google+ profile so the photo of the profile owner appears next to the website in SERPs, which increases clicks.

Cloud DMS supports the +1 button on the homepage, which allows guests to +1 a hotel page and share with their friends. It also supports custom code snippets in the header, where clients can install Google+ publisher code to integrate their website with their Google+ page.

Cloud DMS also supports Twitter and TripAdvisor.

Showing off social integration on a website.

 

Google Webmaster Tools

Google Webmaster Tools (WMT) is a free service Google provides to gauge the health of a website and see interesting data about it, such as which keywords and key phrases are being used to find the website, how many backlinks the website has and where they come from, if there are any errors needing to be addressed, and more.

Cloud DMS is compatible with WMT in two ways: Code Insertion and Google Analytics.

Code Insertion

Cloud DMS’ code insertion function allows clients to perform the necessary syncing to integrate with GWT so they can enjoy this rich data. Clients collect the code snippet provided by WMT and place it directly in the header of their website.

Google Analytics

If they have a Google Analytics account, all clients have to do is insert their Google Analytics code into the website, sync their Google Analytics Account with WMT and then verify the website.

XML Sitemaps

XML sitemaps are documents installed in a website’s root directory, helping search engine spiders index and understand website content. XLM sitemaps can help websites get indexed by Google and other search engines faster and more completely.

XML sitemaps are an integrated part of buuteeq’s Cloud DMS software. All sitemaps are properly configured for web pages and both image and video multimedia files. buuteeq’s XLM sitemaps have a number of powerful features including:

  • Automatic updates to the sitemap whenever a client publishes.
  • Automatic sitemap submission to Google, Bing, Yahoo! And Ask.com. Updates are submitted to Google via buuteeq’s compatibility with Google Webmaster Tools, ensuring swift indexing.
  • Separate image and video sitemaps, to direct search engine crawlers to client multimedia. Image sitemaps append the hotel’s name to each image to improve branded organic search results.
  • Automatically creates mobile sitemaps and submits to Google to ensure greater mobile content discoverability.
A schematic for the way xml sitemaps work.

No Flash

Over the past decade, it has been popular to build hotel websites with Flash, a technology first released to the public in 1996. However, Flash has never worked on iOS devices, including the iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch, and recently, Flash for Android was removed from the Google Play marketplace. This makes Flash an obsolete technology that is not officially supported by mobile devices.

Instead, developers are switching to HTML5, which has much of the dynamic interactive capabilities of Flash without any of its limitations, such as poor performance on older browsers and devices, the consumption of operating system resources and battery life, and its inability to be crawled and indexed by search engine spiders (making Flash websites invisible to search engines as well).

In sum, websites made using Flash do not function well on mobile devices. It is imperative that hotels abandon Flash and instead embrace HTML5, which is the modern technology buuteeq uses to create mobile optimizetion for their clients. HTML5 loads faster, can be indexed by search engines, and fully supports rich media like images, slideshows, image animation such as transitions, and video.

Cloud DMS produces websites and mobile optimzied webistes built with HTML5, ensuring search engines have clear visibility when indexing every page, and that every page looks perfect on all screen sizes and mobile devices.

HTML Sitemaps

An HTML sitemap is a web page containing organized links to every page on the website. It can help aid guests who are looking for a way to scan all website content quickly, but they are primarily useful for search engine crawlers. An HTML sitemap ensures search engines like Google crawl and have the opportunity to index every page of a website’s content, since search engines can only index what they discover through links.

buuteeq’s Cloud DMS produces websites fully equipped with an HTML sitemap, linking to every page of the website’s content and automatically updating whenever the client publishes changes.

This is what an html sitemap looks like

Client Performance Examples

buuteeq’s clients enjoy powerful SEO, increasing ROI. Listed are a few examples of hotels using buuteeq to achieve the SERP listings they desired. Results are accurate as of October 15, 2012.

A chart showing where some of buuteeq's clients rank.

Summary

buuteeq has integrated today’s white-hat SEO standards with Cloud DMS so their clients enjoy the benefits of information architecture optimized for search without any of the dangers of aggressive black-hat SEO.  buuteeq is in a constant state of research, adaptation and innovation to offer guests up-to-date SEO that weathers the tide of Google algorithm changes. Because Cloud DMS is SaaS, subscribers gain the benefit of this research automatically.

buuteeq has helped hotels from all over the world to manage their SEO and attain their unique individual search goals.

Contact

For more information, buuteeq, inc. can be reached using the following contact information.

About Brandon Dennis

Brandon M. Dennis is the Technical Marketing Manager at buuteeq, the digital marketing system for hotels. He manages buuteeq’s SEO, paid media channels, contributes content, and writes for the company blog. You can connect with him on Twitter @oxhorn.

3 Comments

  • You say you direct all non-existent pages to the homepage, yet it appears that Google does not advise this. From Webmaster Tools guidelines:

    “Returning a code other than 404 or 410 for a non-existent page (or redirecting users to another page, such as the homepage, instead of returning a 404) can be problematic. Firstly, it tells search engines that there’s a real page at that URL. As a result, that URL may be crawled and its content indexed. Because of the time Googlebot spends on non-existent pages, your unique URLs may not be discovered as quickly or visited as frequently and your site’s crawl coverage may be impacted (also, you probably don’t want your site to rank well for the search query [File not found]).

    We recommend that you always return a 404 (Not found) or a 410 (Gone) response code in response to a request for a non-existing page. You can improve the user experience by configuring your site to display a custom 404 page when returning a 404 response code. For example, you could create a page containing a list of your most popular pages, or a link to your home page, or a feedback link. You can also use the Webmaster Tools Custom 404 widget to add a search box and more site search options to your site. But it’s important to remember that it’s not enough to just create a page that displays a 404 message. You also need to return the correct 404 or 410 HTTP response code.”

    Do clients have the option to create a custom 404 page to comply with Google’s policy if they don’t want to send everything to the homepage?

    • The SEO community has conflicted opinions about how to handle 404 pages, as SEO titan Rand Fishkin explains on his blog (here: http://www.seomoz.org/blog/are-404-pages-always-bad-for-seo ). There are some SEOs who prefer to have 404 pages. And those are fine. There are others who prefer to redirect all 404 pages to an appropriate category page, or to some other destination, in order to retain link ‘juice’. And this strategy is also fine.

      Really, people don’t need to worry about 404 errors all that much, unless they have thousands of them on their website, as I’m sure you’ll agree. In that case, 404 errors could greatly hurt the search ranking of a website, since Google prefers not to rank websites that have broken, low quality content.

      Naturally, Google recommends that websites return 404 pages. They do this because they want to know when there are links out there pointing to broken content, so they can discount them. They also want to know when a website has 404 pages, so that they can better judge how often the website is updated, and give the website a quality score for broken content.

      Even though Google recommends webmasters to deliver 404 pages, this may be the best thing for them, not necessarily for the website owner. What we know for sure is that all links pass a modicum of link ‘juice’. At buuteeq, we have decided that we want our clients to retain as much link juice as possible, which could be otherwise lost due to site migrations, navigation restructuring, new owners, and so on. We therefore use the 301 redirect for 404 pages as a safeguard for our clients, to ensure that they retain as much link juice as possible.

      That said, I know some clients like 404 pages, and many people enjoy having fun with them. Currently, we do not support 404 pages, but we may in the future. I’ll take note of this request and pass it on to the product team.

      Thanks for posting!

      • The only issue is I heard nearly the exact same line of reasoning (preserve link juice, divided SEO community, etc, etc) from another CMS vendor with a global redirect to the homepage, and my site is full of “soft 404″ errors in Google Webmaster Tools.

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