Google just announced that it would be launching a new search algorithm update over the next few weeks, enabling people to find high-quality content. The new ranking improvements aim to reduce the low-quality or unoriginal content that people find in the search engine results pages (SERPs) and allow them to see content that is useful, credible and original.
Content marketing includes creative content and descriptions about the property, its amenities, services, calendar of events, destination, local activities and attractions that are being delivered to targeted audiences through various communication and media channels. Typically, content marketing does not explicitly promote a price, package, campaign or discount, but is intended to stimulate interest in the hotel product and services.
Content formats include the hotel website content, SEO, PR, email marketing, social media posts, videos, podcasts, infographics, blog articles and posts, expert knowledge marketing (tips, how to, advice and recommendations by the property’s experts such as golf pro, tennis instructor, spa specialist, wedding coordinator, recipes from your chef and bar tender, etc.), announcements, as well as B2B marketing initiatives to engage corporate group planners, SMERFs and transient business travel like conference speakerships, white papers, panel discussion participations, award announcements, sweepstakes, etc.
Like the tentacles of an octopus, content marketing spreads the word out about the hotel and its product and value proposition and plays an important role in engaging and enticing travel consumers in the Dreaming and Planning Phases and creating ready-to-book customers in the Booking Phase of the digital customer journey. This type of marketing turns online travel consumers into bookers by winning positions, ranking and backlinks in the Google SERPs.
Content marketing is neither new nor free and should be an integral part of the hotel digital marketer’s toolbox. All segments of content marketing cost marketing dollars, since someone must create the content and creatives, set up and manage the campaigns, monitor analytics and prepare reports. When done well, content marketing is much, much cheaper than performance marketing like paid search, metasearch and display advertising.
How does this new Google Update affect hoteliers?
Let’s start with the hotel website: stand-alone property website, property section on major hotel chain website, small and midsize hotel brand site. Websites with shallow, unappealing, schematic and bullet point-type of content will be the losers from this new Google algorithm update, while websites with deep, editorial-level, storytelling and original content will be the winners.
In other words, the hotel website content – textual, visual, promotional – should be unique, credible, engaging, of editorial level and should tell a compelling story about the property, convince potential guests of its value proposition and position it as the hero of the destination.
Let’s take content credibility, for example. Travel consumers always judge the credibility of the hotel website content through the prism of three criteria:
- User-Generated Content: What did fellow travelers had to say about your hotel via reviews, social media posts, etc.?
- Professional Content: How does the professional travel media – travel writers, bloggers, TV, etc. – describes your hotel, and finally
- The property “official content” – How does the hotel itself describe its services, amenities, location, etc. on its website and in its media presence?
The bigger the gap between the “official content” and the user-generated content, the less credible is the official content – travelers trust their fellow traveler reviews far more than what your website had to say. Therefore, when coming up with your website content, you should pay attention to both the user-generated content and the professional content out there. Ex. If past guests repeatedly describe your hotel on Google Reviews, TripAdvisor, or other review sites as “affordable family-friendly hotel,” you better include the sentence “We are often described as an affordable family-friendly hotel” or something like that in the first paragraph on your website Home Page.
Another key point is content originality on the hotel website. Original content means content that is not duplicated on any other website i.e., that is unique. Duplicate web content is when two web pages with different URLs contain “largely identical content.” These two pages may reside on the same website (internal duplication) or on two different sites with two completely different core URLs (external duplication), the property website and an OTA site, for example.
Google hates duplicate content. Why? As mentioned above, Google is working very hard to index and show pages with distinct and original information. For Google duplicate content is not beneficial to its users and inhibits the user experience. In other words, duplicate content is “spam.” This is the reason why when two website pages are identified as “too similar”, one of them gets demoted and usually disappears from the SERPs.
In hospitality, a typical example for duplicate content is the hotel providing descriptive content about the property to the OTAs that is identical (“copy and paste”) to the one from the hotel’s own site. When Google discovers this duplicate content about the hotel on two different websites – the hotel and the OTA website, which one prevails? Of course, the OTA site that has higher authority – a larger user audience, higher backlink count, etc. In other words, Google will include the OTA pages about the hotel in the SERPs and ignore the hotel’s own website.
How about hoteliers providing content to third parties?
Naturally, hoteliers cannot avoid providing content descriptions about their hotel to other sites – distribution partners, CVBs, travel directories, etc. In addition to distributing the hotel inventory to a wider audience, some of these content listings provide added benefits to the hotel’s own website. Hotel listings on directories, destination sites, CVB sites, etc., which feature a URL link to the hotel website or a citation about the property, directly affect how your hotel is ranked on Google. This search engine loves such incoming links to your site (so-called backlinks) as each such link is considered a vote of confidence in your website’s content.
But hoteliers must be very smart about it and avoid providing duplicate content to any external distribution or marketing partner site to avoid the hotel site from being marginalized in Google’s SERPs. A list with number of rooms and floors, amenities, square footage of meeting spaces and business hours is one thing, but any descriptive content provided to third parties about the hotel, services and amenities must be “significantly different.”
Unfortunately, this has been a serious problem in the industry for many years: hoteliers provide the third-party sites with the same content descriptions found on their websites. Why? It is much easier to “copy and paste” than write “significantly different” hotel and room descriptions.
The inevitable result of the existing practices is that many of these third-party sites like the OTAs know content marketing and SEO techniques far better than the hotels do, and the result is that the OTA listings end up higher in the SERPs than the property’s own content.
In my 25 plus years of hotel digital marketing experience, I have rarely – if ever – seen successful content marketing conducted by an internal team at a property or hotel brand. Content marketing is simply not in the hotelier’s DNA. Very few hotel employees have ever been hired where content marketing and copywriting has been one of the job requirements. The optimum solution is partnering with a specialized PR or digital marketing agency who understand the intricacies of how Google algorithms work and provide editorial-level copywriting and SEO expertise as per industry’s best practices