Your hotel’s online traffic and online bookings come from a variety of sources but none is more important than search. Google continues to outrank all other search engines in market share, handling over 90% of all searches today1. It’s virtually impossible for your business to succeed online without prioritising Google in your digital strategy Presence on the first page of Google’s SERP (search engine results page) is the holy grail for brand owners and marketeers. Branded searches also have higher click-through rates on the first half of the first page of Google2. This is truly hallowed real estate.
With Google reserving as many as the top four search results for their paid ads, the challenge for brands is how to maintain consistent visibility given that anyone, including competitors, can bid on their brand name.
For bricks-and-mortar businesses, there is fortunately a simple and direct way of maximising a property’s visibility outside of paid search. It’s something that only your business can do and that something is to optimise for local search results. ONLY the actual physical property can play this game, and it costs you nothing. It is the perfect opportunity for hotels to steal the advantage over third party OTAs (online travel agents) and industry competitors who can often win at the paid game.
Local Search is not Organic Search
Optimising for local search results (Local SEO) is a specialized form of the more familiar organic SEO. Both aim to improve unpaid ranking or placement on search engine results pages to drive targeted traffic to a website. Most businesses would already have some form of organic SEO in place, whether it’s through highlighting key unique selling points or ensuring that the brand name is mentioned on all pages. But there is definitely room for improvement when it comes to hotels grasping the specific opportunity that Local SEO offers over general organic SEO.
Local Search Engine Optimisation (Local SEO) is a specific digital strategy focused on increasing search visibility for businesses that serve their communities face-to-face3. It’s most beneficial to businesses that have a physical location because it’s meant to show the most relevant content to searches with local intent.
We can gauge whether queries have local intent by seeing if they include a geographical component. For hoteliers, search queries may include your location, nearby landmarks or attractions, or include proximity e.g. “hotels nearby” or “hotels near me”, but local intent qualifies the search further – it’s the difference between searching for “spa hotel deals” and “spa hotel deals in Cork”. We can recognise that the second search has a higher potential to become a booking because the user has gone from the planning stage and knowing what they want (“spa hotel deals”) and added a location that they can potentially travel to (“Cork”).
Local Search carries strong user intent
Because local search carries strong user intent (46% of all searches on Google are seeking local information4) It should come as no surprise that Google has put such a strong focus on Google My Business and the development of the Google knowledge graph.
The inclusion of a geographical element in queries shows that users are at a stage of the customer journey where they are ready to act. Statistics show that 88% of searches for local businesses on a mobile device either call or visit the business within 24 hours of the search5. Local searches are therefore valuable revenue-generating searches.
In reviewing Bookassist’s own extensive data on organic traffic, we have found that 40-60% of such users come to websites through the knowledge graph6. This means that over half of your organic visitors’ buying decisions will be influenced by local search results before they can even view your organic search results.
Local SEO is strongly focused on serving mobile users
Local SEO is strongly focused on mobile users. Local SEO statistics from 2018 show that nearly 70% use their smartphones to help them shop. Of those users, 82% conduct “near me” searches7. This is also why it’s valuable to practice local SEO, because the platforms on which we are publishing our information are moving to prioritise mobile users. Google’s Mobile-first indexing8 is a prime example of this. Mobile-first indexing means Google predominantly uses the mobile version of the content for indexing and ranking. This is also why Google updated to the so-called local 3-pack9 in search results (see Figure 1), to provide users with condensed relevant local information that better matches their searches.
This shouldn’t come as a surprise. The way that we are using the internet is changing rapidly and dynamically. According to April 2019 data, the global mobile population amounted to 4 billion unique users. As of February 2019, mobile devices accounted for 48 percent of web page views worldwide10.
Local SEO is meant to benefit mobile users and provide us with more timely information on mobile because it’s what we have grown accustomed to. 60% of Google searches in the USA alone are done via mobile devices. Only 5 years ago, the figure was nearly half that, just 34%11. Integrating local SEO into your digital strategy can therefore help your business better connect with your mobile audience.
5 Steps to optimise your Local SEO
1. Have a complete and accurate profile for your business on all relevant search and maps services
Such services include Google My Business (GMB), Apple Maps, Bing Places for Business. Local search results primarily take their information from map listings. Ensuring that your local map listings are up-to-date with the most relevant information and consistent with your business details as it appears on your website allows search engines to properly recognise, categorise and give directions to your business.
2. Generate high quality links that refer users to your website.
Just as with organic SEO, creating high quality links that refer back to your website can impact your visibility. To maximise your efforts, focus on generating links from recognised sources such as local news and PR websites that help build your website’s authority in the eyes of both website visitors and search engines.
3. Maintain consistent and accurate business listings and citations.
Particularly important on relevant platforms such as Yelp and Facebook. Similarly to your local map listings, ensuring that your listings are up-to-date on relevant third-party platforms such as OTAs or business listing sites like Yelp are part of local SEO. Search engines also aggregate data from these websites and show it as part of local organic search results. Check to see that your Name, Address, Phone Number (NAP) are consistent across third-parties along with information on your key selling points.
4. Manage reviews on public platforms.
Stay on top of platforms such as Tripadvisor and Google Reviews and provide customer feedback. Search engines factor in reviews and ratings as part of local search criteria, giving weight to the quantity, frequency, and diversity of the reviews from other users. Encourage the review process by responding regularly to reviews and voting on the most relevant reviews for your business.
5. Build engagement and followers on social media channels.
While social signals only count for a small percentage of local search criteria, algorithms still include social media engagement as part of local search rankings. Ensure that your information is also consistent on platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, and encourage users to engage with your content by publishing regularly and responding to reviews.
Harnessing the power of Google My Business
One of the biggest factors that the local pack considers is your Google My Business listing. Between 2017 and 2018, Google My Business signals had a significant increase in ranking importance — rising from 19% to 25%12.
Google My Business content is published on the knowledge graph, where users can view and interact with your website, property directions, phone number, common questions and answers, customer reviews, photos, and virtual tours. Making use of Google My Business also ensures that your business appears correctly on other Google media such as Google Maps (see Figure 2).
It is important to prioritise Google My Business for local SEO primarily due to the amount of engagement it receives as part of Google search results. According to an insight study conducted by BrightLocal, the average business is found in 157 direct searches each month, and 852 discovery searches. This totals an average of 1,009 searches per month. The number of searches goes up significantly for hotels, with an average of 2,011 direct searches and 8,480 discovery searches13.
However it’s not just search users that are benefiting from the amount of local data that Google My Business provides. Hotels and restaurants who have access to Google My Business also gain relevant user behaviour insights into their business with Google My Business Insights. When you make use of Google My Business, you gain access to actionable user information that you can use to refine your local SEO strategy. Insights that you can find include:
- How customers search for your business, categorized by
- Direct Customers who find your listing searching for your business name or address
- Discovery Customers who find your listing searching for a category, product, or service
- Branded Customers who find your listing searching for a brand related to your business
- Where customers find your business
- Listing on search
- Listing on maps
- Customer actions
- Visit your website
- Request directions
- Call you
- View your photos and those of similar businesses
Google is also taking steps to better recognise and highlight local businesses. Earlier this year we saw Google roll out a number of different new features for Google My Business, the most interesting of which is the “Local Favorite” designation. This distinction is meant to bring attention to the top five percent of businesses in a particular category. Google slated to launch this feature with digital and physical badges of honor14 with more details coming to us later this year.
Local SEO and Voice Search
Local SEO allows you to build on other potential strategies that you can later expand. Local SEO can, for example, tie in with location-based marketing by helping you rank highly for users within your immediate vicinity, allowing you to promote events or exclusive offers specifically to your community.
It can also help you optimise for voice search. The voice assistants currently out on the market pull their data from local map packs. Google Home, for example, will pull from Google Search results and Google My Business, while Apple Home takes its localised results from Apple Maps.
While voice search is not yet the norm, it’s important to note that its popularity is growing. The number of voice-based smart speakers in use globally, could reach 100 million in the next 3 years15. With voice search now accounting for 20% of searches in the Google App16 it also shows that the digital landscape is still changing and that the strategies that can best benefit us are the ones that can be future-proofed.
Local SEO is a relevant and timely addition to your digital strategy because it allows you to distinguish yourself and maintain brand visibility in local search results. Because search engine algorithms also take multiple localised ranking factors, conducting local SEO can also help reduce the costs of paid search because it focuses on building targeted traffic with high intent.
Isn’t it time you optimised your business for Local SEO?
Samantha Salazar is a Digital Marketing Specialist at Bookassist, (bookassist.com), the multi-award-winning technology and digital strategy partner for hotels worldwide
1 New Jumpshot 2018 Data: Where Searches Happen on the Web (Google, Amazon, Facebook, & Beyond) https://sparktoro.com/blog/new-jumpshot-2018-data-where-searches-happen-on-the-web-google-amazon-facebook-beyond/
2 Google Organic Click Through Study: Comparison of Google’s CTR by Position, Industry, and Query Type https://www.internetmarketingninjas.com/additional-resources/google-ctr-white-paper.htm
3 Local SEO MOZ https://moz.com/learn/seo/local
4 12 Local SEO Stats Every Business Owner and Marketer Should Know in 2019 [Infographic]
5 Mobile Trends & Statistics That’ll Change Your Whole Marketing Strategy | Our Mid-Week Marketing Mash-Up https://www.nectafy.com/blog/mobile-marketing-trends-mash-up
6 What is Google’s Knowledge Graph? https://yoast.com/google-knowledge-graph/
7 New Uberall Survey Finds That 82% of Mobile Shoppers Do ‘Near Me’ Searches https://uberall.com/en-gb/resources/blog/new-uberall-survey-finds-that-82-of-mobile-shoppers-do-near-me-searches
8 Google’s mobile- first indexing now powers over half of Google’s search results https://searchengineland.com/googles-mobile-first-indexing-now-powers-over-half-of-googles-search-results-309650
9 Unpacking SEO for the Google Local Pack https://seranking.com/blog/google-local-pack/
10 Statista Mobile internet usage worldwide – Statistics & Facts https://www.statista.com/topics/779/mobile-internet/
11 Mobile share of organic search engine visits in the United States from 4th quarter 2013 to 2nd quarter 2019, by platform https://www.statista.com/statistics/275814/mobile-share-of-organic-search-engine-visits/
12 Do Businesses Really Use Google My Business Posts? A Case Study https://moz.com/blog/google-my-business-posts-case-study
13 Google My Business Insights Study https://www.brightlocal.com/research/google-my-business-insights-study/
14 5 New Features Coming to Google My Business https://bookassist.org/blog/post/5-new-features-coming-to-google-my-business/en/
15 Global Smart Speaker Market Size worth over $30bn by 2024 https://www.gminsights.com/