Boasting large marketing teams, recognisable brands and sizeable budgets, Online Travel Agencies (OTAs) occupy 73% of the organic search results on Google’s first page for generic hotel keywords, such as ‘hotels in [location]’.
With national chains taking-up 24%, independent hotels are often left contending for just one remaining spot on that all-important first page. In Pay Per Click (PPC) – the adverts on Google’s top and right hand-side – there is often just 6% left for independents, once OTAs, national chains and other non-hotel-related results are taken into account.
With the majority of Google’s first page containing links to comparison websites, the odds of successfully being listed or visible here are certainly against independent hotels. The result can be costly commission payments every time a customer books via an OTA rather than direct, hitting profit margins in a competitive marketplace.
Is there a solution? Thankfully yes. Although increasing budgets and resourcing are unlikely to be options, independents can use their agility and uniqueness to outwit the OTAs, using a few savvy online marketing tactics:
1. Claim and optimise your Google+ Local page
The Google+ Local listings – the seven or fewer localised results in the centre of the organic listings – provide a tangible way for independent hotels to gain visibility on page one. They are influenced, amongst other factors, by a business’ Google+ Local page and, because these pages must be created by individual businesses, and comparison websites do not own the websites they advertise, they cannot create Google+ Local pages for the hotels they list. Consequently, OTAs cannot feature in these particular results.
To take advantage, create a Google+ Local page, or claim yours if it already exists, (by visiting Google My Business), and fill out your hotel’s profile, including name, location, telephone number and URL. If you belong to a chain, create a separate page for each venue and ensure that the information you include is consistent with any other listings elsewhere on the web. Provide a detailed hotel description and add a selection of imagery too.
2. Get your hotel mentioned with citations
Citations are online references to your website, for example a listing on Yell.com, which include your hotel’s name, phone number, address and, hopefully, a link to your website. They are an important part of how Google ranks its localised search results, with the more citations a website has, the higher it usually appears in the Google+ Local results.
You should submit your hotel’s information to a range of websites, such as local directories like Yell.com, local newspapers, blogs, niche directories and social media platforms. Once again, be consistent in how you refer to your hotel across these websites.
3. Encourage customer reviews
It is not just travellers that like customer reviews – search engines are fans too. Reviews submitted to your Google+ Local page are ranking factors in the localised search results, with the more reviews a website has, generally the better its ranking. The number of Google+ Local reviews a business has received appears alongside its details in the local search results, with hotels with five or more gaining a star rating. The more reviews you can display, the better you can stand-out and the more likely it is that a consumer will click through to book on your website.
Give your customers the opportunity to offer their feedback by adding links to your Google+ Local page to your website and customer emails. But remember, never create or buy fake reviews.
4. Bid on your brand terms
When it comes to OTA-beating pay-per-click, start by reclaiming your brand traffic, i.e. the traffic that is generated by searches for your specific brand name. PPC operates on an auction model, enabling any business to appear in the paid-for listings, provided they bid enough money. Consequently, OTAs can, and often do, bid to place their adverts when a consumer searches for your hotel name. This is problematic because the top PPC ads appear above the organic listings, meaning the first search result that a consumer may see could be an advert to book your hotel using an OTA, with you paying commission for this sale.
Therefore it is essential that you bid on your brand name to protect against the risk of a rival’s ad appearing above your organic listing and prevent losing direct traffic to OTAs.
5. Add extra to your PPC with ad extensions
Ad extensions can help to make your PPC adverts more enticing. This extra functionality, for example online reviews or clickable telephone numbers provide consumers with useful information to help them decide whether to click on your advert. They also make your ad bigger, giving it more prominence over others and increasingly the likelihood of a consumer clicking on your advert rather than one belonging to an OTA.
6. Use remarketing to catch the one that got away
Remarketing enables you to target consumers that have visited your website, but left without making a booking, by serving adverts on the other websites these people visit, encouraging them back to complete their transaction with you. It enables you to be highly targeted with your messaging by narrowing the lists of who sees a particular advert, with examples including offering discounts or promoting corporate events.
Although OTAs can use remarketing too, your adverts will only be served to people that have already visited your website, helping you to build awareness with these individuals and encourage them to return to your website to book, rather than visit a competitor.
OTAs are certainly useful sales channels, but increasing direct bookings can help you to be more competitive and even increase profit margins. Comparison sites may have large budgets and lots of resource, but I hope I have shown that it is possible to outwit them with the right digital marketing strategy in place.
Ian Miller, Search Director at digital agency Crafted. Read the full report, visit http://www.crafted.co.uk/latest/resources/hotels-increase-bookings-outwit-the-otas
This article first appeared in the March 2015 issue of Hotel Owner