"refers to information with a high degree of organization, such that inclusion in a relational database is seamless and readily searchable by simple, straightforward search engine algorithms or other search operations."
But what exactly does that mean and how does it apply to hotels? In order to best describe Structured Data, it is probably easiest to start with examples.
Structured Data Examples
If we do a Google Search for "spinach and artichoke dip", the first thing on the result page is a list of ingredients and instructions on how to make it:
That formatted list of ingredients and instructions is a pretty straightforward example, but what about more complex, personal details to your gmail account? If you do a Google Search for "my previous flights" - so long as you have flight info in an @gmail.com account and you are logged in, you should see every flight and details that are in your gmail account displayed in the search result page for Google:
We can also click into those details and see specific information about the flight that is listed:
We can see the same information on hotels if we do a "my previous hotels" search in Google:
The question then becomes, how does Google take recipe information from a website or flight and hotel data from your gmail account and display those details in a clean table in the search results? The answer is that the data is organized in a way that inclusion in a relational database is seamless. In other words, it is Structured Data.
We can markup data on a hotel's website in a similar fashion so that necessary elements for a hotel are present so that inclusion in relational database is seamless. An example of how this is done can be seen on this page here.
On the right side of that page, we can see that there are different types of data marked up. Website, Hotel, Hotel Room, and Organization. We can click into each of those sections and Google will display all of the data that is marked up for us to view:
However, this is how it looks within the code of your website:
What is important to note here is that the Structured Data markup is not actually meant for the audience of your website, it is meant for bots and spiders that crawl the internet to aggregate information for users in other platforms (Google, Bing, TripAdvisor, Yelp, etc.)
How Does Structured Data Impact Organic Performance
While Google has said that Structured Data is not a ranking factor, they have stated that it helps the engine better understand the content on your pages and there is evidence that it helps provide additional information to the end user, which can increase CTR. CTR is correlated with higher rankings in search engines and a higher CTR can help move rankings up in Organic Results, which would lead to a higher CTR, higher rankings, and so on.
Our goal here is to create a positive feedback loop that starts by providing more information to the end user and contributes to higher rankings with higher CTRs.
Get Ahead of Competition
From the limited tests that we have run, we see that the vast majority of hotels are not currently utilizing Structured Data. As Google has confirmed benefits of having it on a website, this is a great opportunity to get in front of competitors.
Impact Positive Performance On Your Site
So far, clients that have implemented structured data have seen some positive improvements to organic search traffic and we encourage our clients to implement Structured Data for improved website performance.
Contact GCommerce today for more information on implementing structured data to your hotel’s website.
A Hotelier's Guide: How to Optimize for Voice Search
Voice search is the latest buzz in the digital marketing community. With companies like Gartner predicting that by 2020, 30% of searches will be voice, hotel marketers are eager to know if their businesses are optimized for this new channel.
While it may be the shiniest new marketing object to catch your attention – it’s important to first understand what this technology is, how it works and how it may disrupt the market in order to determine how it will (or won’t) change the way you need to approach your hotel’s digital marketing strategies.
FIRST, WHAT IS VOICE SEARCH & HOW DOES IT WORK?
When people use the term “voice search” they are usually speaking of one of two different areas –home assistants (think Google Home, Amazon Echo with Alexa) and voice search using your phone’s technology such as Siri to return results on a screen. The latter technically being defined as “dictated search”. We’ll dive into both to make sure your best prepared for the latest disruption in search engine marketing for hotels.
HOW DO HOME ASSISTANTS WORK?
Amazon Echo/Alexa and Google Home are currently leading the market for voice assistant devices. This area of voice search is, at its core, screen-less. That means one-answer responses, not a list of responses presented in search engine results format. It wasn’t until Amazon launched its Echo Show that home assistants started to incorporate screens into their devices. Now more home assistant devices, like Google Home, are incorporating or planning to incorporate screens into home assistant devices.
HOW DOES DICTATED SEARCH WORK?
The other area included under the topic of “voice search” is search that uses voice command to pull up search engine results on a screen. This is more accurately defined as dictated search. This includes the use of Siri on your iPhone or Google Voice Search on your android or other devices. Does the use of voice dictated search change the way Google returns results?
Home assistant devices and dictated search through Siri (and other mobile devices) are two very different voice search experiences. One relies on providing a variety of results on a screen and one relies on voice responses to answer your questions. Next, let’s dive into how consumers are using voice search with each of these device types.
SHOULD HOTEL MARKETERS BE WORRIED ABOUT VOICE SEARCH?
Voice assistant device voice search has been hard for marketers to break into considering there’s limited space available for exposure with only position O returned as a result and no space for advertising like the typical SERPs provide. The lack of screens have also made it difficult for consumers to perform travel research since they depend on imagery and visiting multiple sources for information before they are ready to book. For this reason, voice assistants haven’t made a huge impact on how people book hotels and travel. There is a possibility that this will change soon as both Amazon and Google are launching voice assistants with screens to provide more options and the opportunity for advertisements, just like the standard mobile SERP. This article from Lisa Lacy at Search Engine Journal does a phenomenal job at diving into how this changes the optimization game.
People are using voice assistant devices for everything from playing music, controlling home gadgets to ordering products online. But, how are they using these devices to plan travel or book hotels? With one-answer response capabilities provided by voice home assistants, the experience isn’t great. Maybe you’d have success using the device to book accommodations if you knew exactly which hotel you wanted to book at or if you were just looking for the nearest, last minute hotel. But in our experience testing voice assistant devices to research hotels, interacting with these devices for travel research is extremely frustrating.
HOW CAN HOTEL MARKETERS OPTIMIZE FOR VOICE SEARCH?
Let’s get down to the question that every hotelier wants to know, how exactly can hotels optimize for voice search?
The truth is, hotel marketers should be focused on a multi-device optimization strategy. The success factors you were focused on for your overall strategy previously are the same ones that you’ll need to focus on for voice searches. Yes, the way people dictate search and the devices used changes the game slightly but you shouldn’t ignore other, more lucrative channels in favor of changing everything for voice search. A few ways to expand your multi-device strategy to incorporate more voice search specific optimization includes:
Well built out and optimized FAQ pages and website content – being the content selected for Google’s answer boxes has long been touted as a solid strategy for being selected for that “position zero” spot. Hotels should focus on building out a FAQ page that answers questions about the hotel, the local area and any other common questions related to the hotel.
Targeting question keywords and near search terms – a large portion of voice search is presented in the form of questions or consumers looking for local/nearby businesses. For hotels this means that they need to expand content on their site to answer questions (i.e. FAQ page) and to target “near” search terms such as “hotel near X” to qualify for these types of searches.
Local Search optimization (local listings/GMB/reviews) – The capabilities voice assistants can offer for hotel related search seem to be limited to displaying hotel information in the form of local listing profiles such as Google My Business. These means your local search optimization game needs to be strong with a huge focus on encouraging guest reviews and up-to-date, accurate listing details.
Using Meta Search – Currently Kayak offers the only voice command to book a hotel through Alexa, which actually books it’s inventory through Booking.com or Priceline.com. Seems like one of the only ways for hotels to be visible on voice home assistants currently is through participation on OTAs and Meta Search engines.
More focus on tracking calls as conversions – other than Kayak offering ways to book hotels through voice assistants, the only other type of conversions presented for this type of search is to ask for directions or to call the hotel. As more and more traffic shifts to mobile and voice-activated search, hotels can no longer ignore that accurate call tracking solutions must be used to ensure you can optimize your campaigns and strategy effectively.
CAN HOTEL MARKETERS USE PAID SEARCH TO BE PRESENT IN VOICE SEARCH?
Depends on what type of voice search you’re referring to – dictated search or voice assistants. Currently there are no options for paid search ads on voice assistants search. One way to pay and be visible in this space is through metasearch (i.e. Kayak – Alexa). Since using dictated search (i.e. on Siri) pulls the same displayed SERP results as when you type your search queries this allows for the same advertising capabilities and paid text ads will be shown.
WHAT NEXT: THOUGHTS ON VOICE SEARCH & PREDICTIONS FOR HOTEL MARKETERS
Hotel marketers should keep in mind that “voice search” is just a new interface and that the same elements that were vital to success before will continue to be vital for success in voice search. Focus on schema.org mark-up, focus on making your site secure and mobile friendly and make sure local SEO is a cornerstone of your strategy and you’ll be well positioned for success with voice search.
Next, keep an eye on this evolving technology. Consumers depend on visual elements to properly research and book travel and hotels. As more voice activated home assistants incorporate screens into the mix it will offer more opportunities for hotels to participate.
Finally, the consumer demand for using AI and voice commands are going to expand to interaction with your hotel directly. Technology such as chat bots and ways to ensure customer service expectations are being met or exceeded through any method they want to interact with will become more important
Have more questions about how voice search works and how to prepare your hotel for success? Reach out to the team at GCommerce today.
10 Search Engine Marketing Trends Hotels Need to Know in 2017
The top search engine marketers in the world met over 3 days in Seattle to discuss and present current and future trends within the industry, covering everything from how to obtain position 0 in the SERP to the exciting future of Voice Search and everything in between. Here’s a breakdown of what all hoteliers need to know about the present and future of search engine marketing for hotels.
ROBOTS ARE TAKING OVER! EMBRACE TECHNOLOGY AND START USING CHATBOTS. It’s been proven for many years that live chat on your website boosts conversion rate but many hotels run into operational limitations. Independent hotels are stretched thin on operational staff and typically don’t have someone available to monitor and respond on their website’s live chat. There’s a solution and it’s called CHATBOTS. It’s not a new concept but platforms such as Bing are making it easier than ever to build your own. Just take a visit to The North Face or Skyscanner websites. These two sites are actively using chatbots to interact with visitors – helping them shop, find content and products as well as make purchases.
START USING ADWORDS NEXT AS SOON AS YOUR ACCOUNT IS ELIGIBLE. Google Adwords is slowly rolling out access to their new version of Adwords called Adwords Next. It features a completely new user interface. While it does take a bit to get acquainted with the new layout, using the new version gives you access to important new features you can’t access in the old Adwords UI, such as promotion extensions & call bid adjustments.
THE FUTURE OF SEARCH IS VOICE, BUT MOBILE IS NOW. The question on everyone’s mind and a breakout topic at this year’s SMX Advanced was “how do I optimize for voice search?” Alexa, Siri, Cortona, Google Home; there’s a smattering of new technology built upon voice search commands. The fact remains that this technology is still in its infancy and has many limitations. In an industry such as hotels where consumers rely so heavily on visual results to assist them in their research and purchase funnel, other devices continue to be more important for hotels. While voice search is something to be considered in search strategies for hotels moving forward (and there are a few tactics to help you now), hotels should be more focused on optimizing their mobile and desktop experiences before focusing on voice.
LOCAL SEARCH WILL MOVE TOWARDS ADS – YOU’LL NEED TO PAY TO PLAY TO BE VISIBLE. Google reported a 53% increase in paid clicks YOY on their Q1 2017 earnings report. It’s no secret that they’re in this business for the money, they have to answer to shareholders and the majority of their income comes from advertising dollars. They’re constantly looking for ways to monetize the search results, which is evident from the evolution of the SERPs page year after year. One thing that was agreed on by every member of the Local Search Braintrust of experts at SMX Advanced was that Local Search results are going to become pay-to-play. This is apparent from the changes to the knowledge panel with Google’s Hotel CPC program that allows OTAs and hotels to present sponsored ads showing current rates, the launch of local ads on Google Maps, and their recent tests that show rates directly on map results.
THE MOST EXCITING, NEW FEATURE TO TAKE ADVANTAGE OF RIGHT NOW FOR PAID SEARCH IS AUDIENCE TARGETING. On the last day, during the last session of SMX Advanced, a panel of SEM experts sat down for a Q & A session with the audience. One of the best questions to round out the series was “what is one thing you want to do to your paid search campaigns but haven’t had time to yet”. All of the experts voiced their excitement and goals for their paid search campaigns focused on better use of audience targeting. This includes:
In-market (coming soon to Google & Bing)
Enhancements to audience targeting have been a focus of Google for a while now, most likely to compete with the incredible targeting options available within Facebook advertising. If you haven’t started testing different audiences in Google and Bing don’t wait. Options like RLSA and customer match are already proving successful for many advertisers. We can’t wait to test the new in-market audiences Google and Bing will be launching this year.
YOU SHOULD ALREADY BE USING SCHEMA/STRUCTURED DATA. A common theme across many SEO sessions was the use of Schema structured data markup to improve your presence within search results. From local search to voice search, all SEO experts agree – if you’re not using schema structured data throughout your site, you’re missing out on having the best-optimized pages for search engines. With such a low adoption rate by hotels so far, now is the time to implement schema structured data on your website and get ahead of the competition.
GOOGLE IS NOT QUITE READY TO MOVE TO A MOBILE-FIRST INDEX. The two sessions where Google’s Gary Illyes stood up to speak were both packed to the brim, standing room only. Since what Google says is considered the holy grail of the search marketing world, a room full of SEOs waited with baited breath as he delivered cryptic statements about Google’s stance on a variety of questions. The biggest topic being the recently announced Mobile-first Index. If anything was apparent from the bits and pieces of information Gary would give up, it was that Google isn’t close to being ready to transition to a solely mobile-first index. If they made the switch now, it would risk poor results – considering many websites are still not providing a mobile-friendly experience. Gary also stated that Google may smear over desktop signals to mobile to fill in gaps of knowledge for the index. All of that being said, Google is still a ways out from transitioning to a mobile-first index and it probably won’t happen until 2018 at the soonest. So if you don’t have a mobile-friendly experience for your consumers – fix it now.
SEM’S ACROSS ALL INDUSTRIES ARE SEEING INCREASES IN CPCS. It’s an unfortunate trend we’ve been seeing for clients over the past year and we’re not alone. CPCs keep going up. This was a concern voiced throughout the conference; SEMs across all industries are continuing to see a rise in CPC, most alarmingly for exact match branded keywords. These are supposed to be your most qualified, lowest cost-per-click keywords but they keep rising. One thought was that it came from a recent algorithm update in May but no one has an exact answer. It remains to be seen how CPCs will continue to rise and how much of an impact that might have on hoteliers.
YOU NEED TO BE WORRIED ABOUT PAGE SPEED. There is a reason Google is pushing AMPs so much, they are worried about page speed – specifically for users on mobile devices, but it’s a true concern across devices. Any page taking longer than 5 seconds to load is too slow. Do what you can to minimize scripts, compress images and more to improve your page load time. Even minimal improvements in speed can make big differences in bounce rate and conversion rate of your website. Users’ expectations are getting even tougher; if your page doesn’t load fast enough, users are going to leave. According to a study by Kissmetrics, a 1-second delay in page response time can result in a 7% reduction in conversions (Kissmetrics Blog). Do you want to risk losing that revenue?
CONTENT MARKETING IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN EVER. Content has always been important for SEO. The recent buzz word for content marketing is just a new packaging for something that SEO’s have been pushing for years. Google even came out and confirmed last year that content remains one of the top 3 ranking signals. It remains extremely important to have substantial, relevant content on your website that is valuable to your consumers. But, it’s important to remember there are no one-size/one-kind-fits-all solutions. The type of content that’s important for success differs by industry. Word content remains an important factor, with pages that rank in the top 10 consistently having at least 1,900 words (Search Metrics – Periodic Table of SEO Ranking Factors 2017). But it’s not just size that matters; the content and messaging also need to be relevant to the user’s intent. According to Search Metric’s 2017 ranking signals for hotel and travel websites, success is found with more image content. For hotel websites, success is more closely tied to having great visual content and great word content. Are there ways for your hotel to have more compelling visual and word content that better speak to your audience? If so, now is the time to implement it!
Improving Organic Search Performance with Structured Data
THE DIGITAL MARKETING PROBLEM FOR HOTELS – DECREASING ORGANIC TRAFFIC & INCREASING CPCS
Many hoteliers have experienced a similar trend with their organic traffic from Google: it is decreasing. Over the last several years, Google has drastically changed the way they present websites on their result pages. Here, we will walk through some of the recent changes from Google’s Result Pages, how they might be impacting organic search experience and a possible solution to help mitigate some of the negative impacts that websites might be experiencing.
Around 2012 – Back in the glory days of search engines, the organic search results were displayed right up at the top, very easy for the searcher to find. Google had ads above those, and some on the sidebar, but they were more easily distinguished from the Organic Search Results and the top organic result could rely on as much as 33% of the overall clicks on the page.
2015 – By this year, Google had made some serious changes to their result pages. You can see the local map pack becomes more prominent, ads now take up multiple lines with several links available to click on and you cannot even see the 1st organic results unless you scroll further down, they are “below the fold”. The difference between this result page and the one from 2012 illustrate how much Google’s page has changed in those years. There seems to be no priority to display organic results at the top and the page seems very ad heavy.
2017 – The biggest difference between here and 2015 is that there are no longer ads being displayed on the sidebar. However, we have increased the number of ads above the local pack to a total of 4. As we scroll down, we see 2 organic search results, news results, and then more organic. As of today, most of what is being displayed on the first page are not organic results, but either ads or information that Google has deemed relevant to the searcher are shown instead. While the first organic search result still receives a vast majority of the clicks on the page, the rest of the organic results listed get a markedly lower number of clicks in comparison to the past.
Changes in Google’s Search Result Page have resulted in some drastic changes to the way people interact with Search Engines. As we mentioned above, interaction and CTRs with organic results outside of the first position have declined. With the reduction in the number of ads on the front-page, the demand for that ad space has increased significantly, which results in an increase of as much as 60% in Brand CPCs.
It’s also no surprise that Google continues to make more money off of ads year-over-year, with the largest increase in revenue coming from mobile searches. With the increase in mobile, the fact that the organic search results are being pushed further down the page is an even larger problem; with smaller screens, people have to view more of the page in order to see the full list of organic results. Evaluations from these changes show that the biggest losers for impressions and traffic with the new layout are in Google’s organic search results.
A PROPOSED SOLUTION
Unfortunately, Google doesn’t seem to be making any changes or indications that they are going to go back to an older model with more prominent visibility for organic results. The majority of the websites that we work with are seeing an increase to their CPCs through paid traffic and a decline in their organic traffic from Google. While we don’t believe that we can combat this trend and effectively give our partner websites the same visibility they once enjoyed through Google’s organic results, we wanted to explore any possible way that we might be able to provide an additional benefit above what our client’s competitors were doing. If we are not able to completely reverse the trend of declining search traffic, can we at least slow it down? One area we saw a great opportunity in was with structured data.
WHAT IS STRUCTURED DATA (SCHEMA)?
Structured Data is not anything new to the Internet; it is simply a way for very specific data to be conveyed with a high level of organization. This allows information to be easily read by spiders and bots on the Internet in order to aggregate that information in an automated fashion for relational databases. Whether or not you have heard the term structured data, you are probably familiar with the results if you have ever searched for a recipe online:
Everything within this search result is populated through structured data to be shown as a “featured snippet” from Google, which is able to show this information automatically. The screenshot below from Google’s Structured Data Testing Tool shows the amount and type of information that can be shown through Schema. Other sites on the Internet can then utilize that information automatically, as within the example above with Google’s display of the artichoke dip ingredients.
Recently, Google announced that they would be showing featured snippets for hotels through rich cards. Rich cards from Google allow hotels to display more accurate information and highlight specific amenities or aspects of their website to the searcher. Google has explicitly stated that they do not take structured data into account as a ranking factor. However, there is a lot of evidence to show that organic CTR for websites is a ranking factor. If structured data provides more information to the user, which should help improve CTR, which should improve rankings, which would improve CTR and so on. We also have a lot of evidence to show that structured data is a marker for showing information within local search results as well. So structured data could be a strategy to help improve organic rankings and traffic from Google, especially considering most independent hotels do not currently utilize structured data on their websites. We decided it would be a great idea to test this with one of our clients.
RESULTS – A SIGNIFICANT INCREASE IN ORGANIC PERFORMANCE
GCommerce works with a hotel in a major metropolitan area. They get a significant percentage of their traffic and revenue from Google’s organic search results. As a result of changes within Google’s display of their search result page, along with changes in rankings, this hotel’s website has seen a significant decrease in traffic and revenue from Google. Year-over-year, this hotel saw an average decrease in sessions, users, revenue, transactions, and conversion rate of about 14%, comparing January-May, 2015 with the same time period in 2016. In late January of 2017, we implemented structured data markup to this website. When we look at the same comparison of data, but with 2017 and 2016 data, we see an average decline of less than 6.5%. The number of users is nearly equal to 2016 data and the number of transactions actually eclipsed 2016 numbers in March:
Here at GCommerce, we are wise enough to know that we cannot completely reverse trends within Google’s result pages. Industry-wide, organic traffic is declining and it will likely continue to decline as Google continues to monetize their result pages. With increased costs in advertising, hotels are going to have to utilize new technologies in the ways that they bring traffic to their website and how users interact with their site in order to get more bookings with similar marketing dollars. One of the ways that GCommerce has proven to help impact organic traffic and rankings is with structured data markup. For help in adding structured data to your website, contact us today.