We are often approached by hotel owners for advice on how they can optimise their website for better rankings and what results they can likely expect to see from an SEO project.
In our discussions with them, one of the first subjects to come up is the importance of choosing the right keywords and how this process can make or break a SEO strategy before its has even started!
We talk to hotels of all sorts and sizes and while the specifics of each property’s location, amenities and guest profile are important, the basics of a well thought out approach to keyword research and selection is to a large degree the same no matter what kind of hotel you own or manage.
Choosing the right keywords at the start of an SEO optimisation project is crucial to avoid wasting time on keywords that have low value or for which you have a low probability of obtaining good rankings. SEO is not some arcane process that allows a website to jump the queue and be in the first position by magic. It requires time and effort to achieve good results and the first step is always choosing your keywords carefully!
We tend to work mainly with independent hotels and this guide to selecting the best keywords to target for your hotel is aimed at the smaller hotel owner or manager who wants to get up to speed and hit those SEO quick wins. We are based Greece and therefore will use Athens as our example market for this post. The tips and approaches we suggest are transferable to anywhere in the world, simply switch in your city or region for “Athens” in any of the examples below and you are good to go. So, let’s get started!
An introduction to keyword research and SEO for hotels
SEO or Search Engine Optimisation is the process by which a website owner optimises their website code and content with the objective being to enable that website to rank well in the search results of Google or other search engines for a specific keyword – or more realistically for a specific search phrase.
When we say “rank well” we are mainly talking about being on the first page of search results. Ideally we are talking about being in the top 3 results.
Everyone would like to be in the first place of the search results but the travel and tourism sector is a very competitive industry in SEO terms.
While it is normal to aim for first place, do not fall into the trap of thinking any other position on the first page is a failure and that you will not see any value from your efforts. We need to be realistic in our expectations of what is actually possible for most hotels when we plan out an SEO strategy.
This is where the keyword research part of the SEO process comes into play. When someone contacts us about an SEO project one of the first things we ask is “do you already have some keywords in mind?” and we usually get a list of 5-10 phrases. These are usually something along the lines of “hotel in athens” and “best hotel in athens”. We might be exaggerating slightly, but not much!
This leads us to the most important rule in any hotel keyword research process.
Choose keywords you can actually rank for
Any hotel owner wants the maximum visibility that a number one ranking for “hotel in [insert your city here]” could bring. If you have a hotel in a well known tourist destination and your hotel is not the most well known hotel in the region (in other words you have some sort of important unique advantage in comparison to other hotels of the region) then it is important to do a quick series of SEO reality checks.
Reality Check #1
There are thousands of hotels in Athens, it is not realistic for any single hotel to rank well for “hotel in athens”. This rule is valid for most well known tourist areas including for example in Greece the islands of Santorini, Mykonos, Crete (insert any popular tourist destination and you get the idea). If your hotel is in a location with a smaller number of hotels then you might have some success, see the notes below in the section: “location keywords“.
Reality Check #2
The OTAs and travel review sites (Booking, Expedia, Tripadvisor, Trivago, the list goes on….and on) have a competitive advantage mainly due to their size and online footprint when it comes to SEO. It is not realistic for any single hotel to rank well for “best hotel in athens” unless you really do have the best hotel in Athens and this is (no matter how you define ‘best’) not going to apply to 99% of the hotels in town.
So, we know we need to be realistic, but what keywords might be both realistic to rank for and relevant enough to drive traffic that will actually convert. We are after all doing this research to get more bookings right?
Choosing the best keywords for your hotel
When it comes to keyword research, you really want to aim to get the biggest bang for your buck. As a hotel owner ranking well for a keyword is great, but at the end of the day you need bookings to stay open. So when it comes to keyword selection you need to be economical with your time and effort. You need to pick keywords which hit the sweet spot between volume and difficulty.
What is search volume?
Search volume is the approximate number of times that any given keyword or phrase is searched for on a monthly basis. Seasonal variations obviously play a role in these numbers but if all else is equal it makes more sense to target a search term that has 100 searches a month than one that has 10 searches a month. Check our section below on keyword tools to learn more about getting this data.
What is keyword difficulty?
Keyword difficulty is basically the amount of competition you face to rank well for any given keyword. Many SEO tools use proprietary methods to give any keyword a difficulty score between 1 and 100. If you have access to one of these tools then factor these numbers into your research. If you do not then see our additional notes in the free tools section at the end of this article. Some paid tools also offer limited use for free, one of the best in our opinion is the Moz Keyword Explorer but there are many others, feel free to try them out.
As a very general rule you can run the keyword difficulty eye test:
Do a search for the keyword you are interested in. If you see a four ads above the first results, three ads at the bottom of the results, a large map component with pricing driven by google hotel ads (seeing a pattern here?) and the only non paid results on the page are OTAs and maybe a national newspaper or two – this is likely going to be one of those highly competitive keywords you are better off not adding to your list for the time being.
If there are no ads and you do not recognise any of the websites listed on the first page of the results then this might well be a relatively low difficulty keyword. Be sure to reference the point above regarding search volume, we are interested in keywords that have at least some commercial intent and value and that people actually search for once in a while right?
Most keywords we will be looking at will fall in between these two extremes. There will be some competition, but we are not going after the high volume, high competition keywords we already know are not realistic. We will be looking for the keywords in that sweet spot and for most of the hotels we talk to, their keyword strategy should normally be focused on four main conceptual areas:
- Branded keywords
- Location related keywords
- Amenity related keywords
- Experience related keywords
Let’s unpack these concepts a bit.
Keywords related to your hotel’s brand
What are branded keywords? They are keywords and phrases that include your hotel’s brand or brand name in the search term. If you own the hotel Aphrodite (a totally random example) and somebody searches for “aphrodite hotel” then this is a branded search query.
Now you might think that obviously you will be number one for the actual name of your hotel right?
Well, no, not necessarily. There are actually a surprising number of times we find hotel websites that are NOT in the first position for their own branded search terms. There are a range of potential reasons for this which are out of the scope of this article but for the purposes of keyword research we want to focus on building our list for future reference in our SEO efforts.
When we are looking at branded keywords we need to keep a couple of things in mind.
Firstly, make sure what you think is your brand name is also what searchers think is your brand name.
Let’s take our ‘Hotel Aphrodite’ example.
We often see issues in how hotels have declared their ‘brand name’ in the various OTAs and other websites (including their own!) and this has created a certain amount of confusion among searchers as to what their brand name actually is.
An example might be that Aphrodite has described themselves as simply a ‘hotel’ in one place, as a ‘beach hotel’ in another and as a ‘resort’ in another. This example might be a bit extreme, but it is important to know how people are actually searching for your brand and any problems of this nature should immediately become apparent when you start doing your keyword research.
Next, make sure you include branded informational searches in your list
Informational queries are searches for more information about your hotel.
These kind of searches include your hotel’s name plus words like:
The list can be longer depending on what kind of hotel and amenities you are managing. All inclusive resorts with a lot of facilities often have a great many of these informational type queries. Villas, boutique hotels and bed & breakfast type properties will all have informational queries that are specific to their particular offerings, be thorough in your research!
There is no reason to ‘give’ these searches to the OTAs or other third party sites. If your website is properly structured then you should aim to be the first point of call for these kind of informational searches, so note down all the relevant keywords in your list and lets move on to location keywords!
Keywords related to your hotel’s location or nearby sights
We have already discussed that it is not often realistic to expect to rank well organically for searches like “best hotel in your area”. This does not mean we should ignore location keywords however, just that we need to approach our list building in a smart and practical manner. We will do this by considering the following:
Location PLUS your brand keywords are important!
Many times you will see searches for the name of your hotel plus the area it is located in. For our example Aphrodite Hotel these will be phrases like: “aphrodite hotel in athens”, “aphrodite hotel athens greece” and similar.
There is a big difference between “hotel in athens” and “YOUR hotel in athens”! So we want to also add these keywords to our list and make sure we include all relevant branded location queries.
Non branded location keywords for specific neighbourhoods or regions
If you are in a large city then chances are you will see some search volume for hotels in specific neighbourhoods. While these searches are still pretty competitive, they are usually slightly less competitive than the top level “hotel in [your city]” search. They are also more specific to YOUR hotel and more likely to bring in guests that are likely to book!
It is worth using the tools mentioned below to see exactly how much volume there is around specific queries for the neighbourhood your hotel is in – it usually makes sense to include some of these keywords in our list.
Likewise, if your hotel is on an island then you might well see volume on keywords including both the general area (Mykonos for example) but also more specific areas like a well known beach or smaller village. Again these keywords might be slightly less competitive than the main island + hotel keyword and you will want to include them on your list.
Location keywords for niche market locations
We mentioned before that if you run a hotel in a smaller region where there are not so many hotels you may have some success with high level location keywords. It really depends on how ‘competitive’ your area is and how much of a footprint the OTAs and other sites have for relevant searches. Run the eyeball competition test mentioned above and if you think you have a shot then note down the words in your list for future reference. Be as specific as possible on where your hotel is actually located for best chances of success.
Keywords related to specific areas or nearby attractions
Keywords including “hotels near [some nearby attraction]” are a smart way to optimise your keyword list and can be relevant for hotels in both popular and not so popular destinations alike. The reality check is important here also! We are not suggesting “hotel near the acropolis” as a realistic option for most hotels, especially if you are not actually that near the Acropolis! However with an insiders knowledge of your area you can probably come up with a few non mainstream ideas that you can likely hope to rank well for.
Consider attractions like:
- Small or niche museums
- Venues that host live music events
- Venues that host sports events
- Specific buildings like hospitals or theatres
Be creative and use your local knowledge! These kind of keywords are not going to have a ton of traffic, but anybody searching for this kind of information is probably going to be very interested in YOUR hotel!
Keywords related to your hotel’s amenities
Amenity keywords that will have high value for our hotel and also be realistic to rank for will usually be keywords combining our amenities with location keywords (and less often with branded keywords). Amenity plus location keywords look something like this:
- athens hotel with rooftop pool
- athens hotel with in room hot tub
- athens hotel with free breakfast
- athens hotel with meeting rooms
- athens hotel with spa
- athens hotel with gym facilities
You get the idea. Think critically about what amenities your hotel offers, particularly any services or facilities that help set you apart from the crowd and then have a look at the tools to see if any useful data comes up. As always, when you find some good candidates, add them to your list!
Keywords related to travel experiences
Last, but not least, we have experience or inspiration type keywords. This last concept opens up a range of keywords we may not have considered in the previous steps. Again, there may be some overlap with location or amenity keywords (this is often where the sweet spot between volume and competition is found) but it is worth going through the process to make sure you have completed all the steps needed to have the best possible keyword list for your hotel.
Experience related keywords often involve adjectives which can describe the hotel, but also the setting, the location, or an experience. What do we mean?
Consider the following:
There is likely a number of experiences potential guests are dreaming about when they are thinking about visiting your area. Some are coming for a romantic getaway or a honeymoon, some for a specific view or experience, some have a specific ‘kind’ of experience in mind for their accommodation. All of these can give us potential keywords to consider.
Do not try to be something you are not. In all honesty, if you looked at all the websites of every hotel in Athens, a surprising number will likely be presented as ’boutique’. Our suggestion is to not waste your time trying to convince google (and your guests) that you are something you are not. Focus on what your hotel is and its comparative strong points. Heck, even ‘cheap’ or ‘down and dirty’ are adjectives. If they describe your hotel realistically then embrace them!
Make your list (and check it twice)
This concludes our rundown of what kind of keywords we should focus on for our hotel and our main tips on what kind of keyword types are likely to have the most value for us. You should now have a keyword list that has been properly vetted to include a mixture of branded and non branded keywords that are you have realistic chances of ranking for,
How many keywords should a hotel have?
Typically the larger the hotel the more potential keywords your list will have. We suggest starting small and building up. An initial list of anywhere from 20 to 30 phrases is probably fine for most smaller hotels.
What tools to use for keyword research?
There are many keyword research tools available, we usually suggest to start with the Google Ad Keyword Planner and data from your own website via Google Search Console. Read on for more information!
Tools for your hotel keyword research
There are so many SEO and keyword tools on the web now, how can you decide which one has the ‘best’ data? The short answer is you probably cannot. If you are already using an SEO tool and you are happy with it, then keep using it! If you have tried some of the free tools that are available and are happy with them, keep using them!
Many of the online SEO tools get their volume data from the same source, Google. And since most of you are going to be mainly looking at Google when it comes to your SEO strategy lets just go straight to the horse’s mouth and see what tools Google offers to us to make informed choices in our keyword selection.
There are four main Google tools/reports we can use, each of them are useful for different reasons, they are:
- Google Ads – Search Terms Report
- Google Ads – Keyword Planner
- Google Search Console
- Google Trends
Google Ads Search Terms Report
If you or your agency are already running Google Ads then you have a head start! Head into your campaigns, go to the search terms report and open up your dates to get as much data as possible.
If you are already running branded campaigns then you will likely have all the data you need already to find your branded and branded + location keywords. If you are not running branded ads yet then you should start!
Export the results to a csv or excel file and sort them by number of impressions. An impression is how many times your ad was shown for a specific search and is a good indicator of real search volume over the specific time you ad was running.
You will quickly see the main combinations of your hotel brand plus location and also likely some brand plus amenity keywords. Make note of the volumes so that you focus on the main phrases guests already use in searches for your hotel – put them into your list.
Google Ads Search Keyword Planner
Not running ads yet or have only run them for a short time? Not to worry, you can create a Google Ads account but do not have to start spending any money to use the keyword planner tools. Sign up or sign in to Google Ads and head over to the Keyword Planner in the tools section.
With keyword planner you can start with either a seed search term or your website and then run the tool to get a list of keywords with search volume and advertiser competition. Advertiser competition is not the same as keyword difficulty in SEO terms, but it can be used as a quick yardstick.
To be honest, most travel and tourism related keywords are at the very least medium difficulty, there are very few untouched beaches left in the hotel SEO keyword space!
The keyword planner can be a bit tricky to use and the data can sometimes either be overwhelming or non existent. Here are a few tips to get as much useful data as you can:
1. Start general and drill down. Start with “hotels in [your city]”. You are not going to target this keyword, but you will use it to help surface longer phrases and related keywords for further research.
2. Once you find good candidates for further research put them individually into the keyword tool, rinse and repeat.
3. If you find that the keyword tool is not returning any results you have gone too specific, either in the keyword you have selected or the location/language combination you have chosen. Play around with different locations and/or languages as relevant to your hotel and market to see what keywords show up.
4. Do not forget to put in your hotel name to see if you can get any data for branded searches. Small or new hotels might not have much luck but if you have been in business for a year or more you should get some sort of data.
Keyword planner will take up an hour or two of your time if you are new to it. Don’t be intimidated! Be methodical and you will soon get the hang of it and will begin to see patterns in the keyword data. Once you have your initial keywords – put them in your list!
Google Search Console
If your website has been live for some time and you have connected with Google Search Console then you are in luck! If you haven’t connected with it yet go do it now!
Head to the performance section, open up the timeframe to a year or more in the first instance and make sure you show clicks, impressions, click through rate and position data in the table.
You will now see data for the number of impressions, the number of clicks to your site, the click through rate for each term (simply the number of impressions divided by the number of clicks) and the average position of your site for that term.
Now be careful!
Firstly, if you are looking at a years worth of data then the average position is averaged over the year. You might be significantly above or below that average number right now. You can use the compare dates functionality to get an idea if you are trending up, or down.
Secondly, if you have not filtered by a specific country then your average position is for all countries of the world. We all know that google results can vary pretty widely depending on what country you are in right? So if you want to choose a specific country to be more granular in you data then go ahead and do it with the available filters.
Regardless of your timeframe or country filter, you want to keep an eye on two specific things when it comes to using the Google Search Console for keyword research, and this harks back to our initial notes on volume versus competition.
Google Search console will give you useful data on both volume (how many impressions a search has) but even more crucially the difficulty of this keyword.
What you say, the difficulty?
Yes! The difficulty in this case can be extrapolated from your average position. If your website is already in high positions for any given search then you have won half the battle before you have even lifted a finger in your upcoming SEO activities! The keyword is therefore comparatively less difficult to rank well for because you are already ranking for it!
It goes without saying that the first thing we will look at are your branded keywords and your brand plus location keywords.
You should see most of the misspellings and various other ways people search for your hotel here. If all is good on your website you should see a high average position – ie a number like 5 or below and a high click through rate of at least 15%.
Beyond branded queries Google Search Console can help us find the low hanging fruit, those keywords in the sweet spot between volume and difficulty. Here we concentrate on non branded phrases in which we already appear in good positions which with a bit of help we might be able to improve into great positions!
You can filter out keywords containing your brand name and then order the results by either impressions or average position. You can also export the data for further investigation.
We usually recommend focusing firstly on impression data to grab the major keywords and then have a better look to see which keywords you rank in the top 20 or 30 positions for. This combination is likely going to give you the best bang for your buck in your research.
Last but not least we have Google Trends.
Google trends is not a keyword tool in the traditional sense. It is not really going to show you actually volume and it is not going to tell you anything about keyword difficulty. Head over to Google Trends, put in a search term and pick a country (or set it at worldwide) we usually set the timeframe to be one year for a first look. Have a look here for an example for hotels in Athens. Google Trends is useful to hotel owners in two main ways.
Firstly it can show you historical trends related to travel to your city or region. It will give you an insight into both the popularity and the seasonality of your destination. Keep in mind that the seasonality that we see here is when people are PLANNING their trip to your destination, not when they are actually visiting. It is a subtle but important difference.
We have written this article during the coronavirus pandemic and one can clearly see the difference this has made in hotel related search trends during March and April of 2020.
You can also see where in the world (or from what regions of your country) users are making these searches from. So in many ways Google Trends is not a keyword research tool at all but really a market insights tool.
This can help surface extremely interesting data about seasonal trends, and within that data you will have references to the top keywords around your target phrase. Maybe these are already in your list, maybe you have considered and rejected some due to competition, either way – note them down where relevant!
Secondly, we like to look at the trending queries tab. This data shows keywords related to your initial search term that are trending up NOW! We use Google Trends a lot to monitor trends and to source new trending keywords for use in blog posts and content pieces.
Keywords related to experiences or time specific events are often first identified with Google Trends. Oh what you say, keyword research is an ongoing process? Yes indeed it is! But don’t worry, if you have reached this point you are on the right path!
Some final (key)words
We have really only scratched the surface when it comes to all the possible combinations of keywords you might use to market your hotel.
Each hotel is different, every island and city is different. It is your job as a smart marketer to combine your knowledge of your specific hotel with your specific location to produce a keyword list that is both comprehensive and realistic.
Keyword research is just the first step in the SEO process, after that you actually have to do ‘SEO’! But that is for another guide, first steps first, take your knowledge and explore the tools mentioned above to create the perfect keyword list for your hotel!