SEO and the Hotel From Hell

Author Benjamin Denis
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SEO and the Hotel From Hell

In December you helped Debbie rank for her mobile hairdressing business in Paradise. She was so pleased with your work that she recommended you to her cousin Clem who has just bought a small hotel in Idaho and he wants a website and SEO.

On the phone, Clem explains that he has bought a small 15-bedroom hotel in the beautiful lakeside resort of Cœur d’Alene in North Idaho. The hotel has a bad reputation, a lot of bad reviews in Google, and he wants to rebrand it “Paris Hotel” (because of the city’s French connections) and start afresh. He is really interested in SEO because he does not envisage “paying through the nose for Booking”.

There are a few things in Clem’s request that should ring alarm bells.

Online Hotel reservations without Booking

Going into a hotel business without Booking is a big call. Over 80 % of hotel reservations are online and Google is an important starting point for a lot of those reservations, for sure, but Booking and other reservation sites dominate in the industry, search results and numbers of reservations.

Consider this graphic from Google Trends which shows the number of searches for keywords “hotel New York” and “Booking” over time. From 2004 to January 2021. Whereas Internet use has grown since 2004, fewer and fewer people are searching “hotel New York” in Google.

Screenshot from Google Trends
Screenshot from Google Trends

Even with your immense talents in SEO and WordPress, plus the full participation of Clem in the production of great content, it is going to be hard competing with those giants.

The best strategy may be to use Booking, Google Ads and SEO to launch Clem’s business. In either case, do your best in SEO and make sure the site provides a great booking experience. If Clem does end up using Booking.com or other booking sites, make sure that he does not copy text from his own website to set up his pages on those sites. This may create duplicate content issues that mean that the website could disappear from results because it is considered as a copy of another, bigger, more well-known site.

Keyword Research and Strategy

The main keywords you want to target are searches for the hotel itself and generic searches for hotels in the region. However, to make the site really strong for SEO, you may want to consider adding a lot of content about the hotel and the region.

If you do not know anything about North Idaho, ask Clem some questions and read up on the area in Wikipedia and the local Visitor Bureau. You may pick up from these that a lot of people call the city “CDA” for short and “hotel CDA” turns out to be a popular search term too.

Capture from Google Keyword Planner
Capture from Google Keyword Planner

Brand-related searches are for people that are looking for the hotel by name:

  • Hotel Paris
  • Hotel Paris CDA
  • Hotel Paris Coeur d’Alene
  • Hotel Paris Idaho

Localized searches will look something like this:

  • Coeur d’Alene hotel
  • CDA hotel
  • hotel Coeur d’Alene
  • hotel CDA
  • hotel North Idaho

Use Google’s Keyword Planner or other keyword-research tools (see our article Finding SEO Keywords for your WordPress site) to explore popular searches for hotels. You will see that there are searches for hotels with spas, hotel resorts, hotel restaurant, etc. If these are relevant, add them to your keyword list. Otherwise, keep them in mind as keywords to exclude if you set up Google Ads campaigns.

Because there are 65 other hotels in Coeur d’Alene you may want to zoom into long tail keywords that best describe Clem’s niche, “Coeur d’Alene Bed and Breakfast” for example. The hotel may also have facilities to hold meetings or weddings that may lead you into other keyword ideas and pages to create on the site.

Go even further in your keyword research to see what people search for more generally around the city and surrounding area. To make the site great for SEO and to attract potential customers, you will need to add a lot of content. As well as providing detailed information on the hotel itself, add pages with tourist information and local events. Adding a blog will be a great idea. Just make sure that someone will contribute to it regularly with quality articles.

Teach them about optimizing WordPress posts for keywords.

Paris Hotel is not a SEO-Friendly Brand Name

Another thing you should pick up on early is Clem’s idea for the name “Paris Hotel”. You will see in Google’s results that there are 901 million results for this search and that the most popular results are for the Paris Hotel in Las Vegas and for hotels in the city of Paris, France.

Search results for “Paris Hotel” as seen in Coeur d’Alene obtained using Brightlocal’s Local Search Results Checker
Search results for “Paris Hotel” as seen in Coeur d’Alene obtained using Brightlocal’s Local Search Results Checker

This competition on the term “Paris Hotel” is going to make it difficult to be visible on Google, even for searches performed from Coeur d’Alene. You should warn Clem about this and advise him to find a more original name.

During keyword research you may pick up on the fact that the current hotel name is a very popular search too. Even if Clem is convinced that he needs to change name, add this name to your keyword list. It will be interesting to create a page optimized on the old name to keep this potential traffic and explain to old customers that the hotel has changed name and got better. You can redirect the old website to this page.

Google Hotel Search Results

Changing the name of the hotel is also going to mean some extra work for local SEO. Local search results are very visible in Google for hotel searches. Either with knowledge panels or map-based results.

Google Hotel Search results in the SERPs
Google Hotel Search results in the SERPs

These local SEO results are different from searches for other business types in that information comes from Google Hotel Search and not Google Maps. Clicking on any hotel opens a Hotel Search page for the hotel that includes a link to the website, reviews and booking options.

These results draw on different sources including Google My Business and LocalBusiness schema on websites, but to appear on the top of list, a hotel needs a means of communicating room availability and pricing in real time and provide a booking option. For a lot of small hotels, Booking.com provides this service.

If you want to be independent of online booking platforms, the hotel will need to create a Google Hotel Center account and make sure that their reservation software is one of the third-party solutions that can communicate with Google. If the hotel’s reservation software is an Excel spreadsheet, you will not be able to set this up.

Leaving behind a bad reputation

One of Clem’s main reasons for changing the name of the hotel was the bad reputation it had.

When taking over a business, it can be difficult to start afresh because in many cases Google makes the link between the old business at the same address. For the hotel, the best place to sort this out will be Google My Business.

You will need to create a profile for the new business, but you will also need control of the old profile to mark it as permanently closed and stop it merging with the new one. The recommended steps are:

  • Create a new Google My Business account (ideally with an email address using your new domain name and not a Gmail account).
  • Create a profile for the hotel with its new name. Because the address and telephone number will not be different from the existing hotel’s profile you may need to contact GMB support to achieve this.
  • In the old Google My Business account, set the hotel as permanently closed, don’t update this profile with any new information and set it to “Permanently Closed”. With this status the profile will not feature in generic searches, but it will show up when users search with the old name.
  • Change the ownership of this profile to the new Google My Business account you have created.

You will now have the old and the new business listed in one Google My Business account. Never delete or remove the old hotel from this account because it may come back in search results to haunt you!

A bad reputation is better than no reputation!

Google uses popularity as part of its ranking algorithm, and this is measured by links to websites, social signals and reviews. Some local SEO experts consider that it is the quantity of reviews that count towards ranking and not the quality of reviews. Lots of bad reviews may be a ranking factor!

Losing the bad reputation of the old hotel’s owners will mean starting with no reputation. So you will have to start building the new business’ reputation online.

As mentioned above, make sure to redirect the old website to the new one to try and maintain the advantages of links and reputation. You should review backlinks to the old site and see if there are opportunities to create links to the new website. It is important to get links from the city’s visitor bureau, for example.

Also consider strategies to obtain reviews in Google and specialist sites such as TripAdvisor from new, satisfied clients once the hotel reopens.

Conclusion

It was great that Debbie recommended you to her cousin, but Clem is going to be a lot of hard work! Make sure that the price you quote him takes that into account.

This fictitious case study illustrated a lot of things about SEO strategy, the major one being that SEO can impact bottom-line business decisions such as the choice of a business name. It is also interesting to note that Google Ads, Google Hotel Search and Booking.com are not strictly SEO, but can often be considered by the client to be your problem.

Why the Hotel from Hell? Simply because the idea to set the hotel in Coeur d’Alene came from an episode of the TV show Hotel Hell with Gordon Ramsay. Maybe Gordon should start a TV show fixing hotel’s websites!

By Benjamin Denis

CEO of SEOPress. 12 years of experience with WordPress. Founder of WP Admin UI & WP Cloudy plugins. Co-organizer of WP BootCamp.

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