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Choosing the Best SEO Keywords for Hotels

Looking for how to choose the best keywords for use in your hotel's SEO strategy? Read on for our no nonsense, quick win guide on selecting keywords for your hotel with an emphasis on practicality and profitability.

We talk to hotel owners every day about how they can optimise their website for better rankings and what results they can likely expect to see from a search engine optimisation (SEO) project. 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 hotel SEO strategy before it 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 boutique hotels and this guide to selecting the best keywords to target for your hotel is aimed at the hotel owner or manager who wants to get up to speed and hit those SEO quick wins. The same process may be applied to any kind of hotel including larger resorts or chains and indeed any kind of hospitality business in the wider tourism industry. We are based in 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 (often also referred to as a component of Search Engine Marketing or SEM) 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.

Hotel Serp Example
Consider the above search example with close to 50 million results and large national newspapers and OTA in the first results. Being honest about what keyword it is realistic for any single hotel to rank for is an important step.

This is where the keyword research part of the SEO process comes into play. When someone contacts us about an SEO project we always ask “do you already have some keywords in mind?” and we 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 would like the maximum visibility that a number one ranking for “hotel in [insert your location 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. It is fine to keep an eye on the most popular hotel keywords from around the world for interest, but let’s be a bit more realistic (and strategic) when it comes to making our own keyword list.

SEO 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“.

SEO Reality Check #2
The Online Travel Agencies (OTAs) and travel review sites (Booking, Expedia, Tripadvisor, Trivago, the list goes on….and on) have a competitive advantage 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

Search volume trends graph for hotels in athens

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 in business. 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. You can reference our post on free keyword tools for some tips on how to get 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 article referenced above. 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 a few national newspapers – 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.

Screenshot of search results for hotel in athens
Run the eyeball keyword difficulty test. Simply scroll through the results of the first page. If all you see is search ads, hotel ads and OTAs, this keyword is likely relatively difficult to rank for.

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.

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:

  1. Branded keywords
  2. Location related keywords
  3. Amenity related keywords
  4. 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 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, and indeed sometimes not even on the first page. There are a range of potential reasons for this which are usually technical in nature. For those interested, hop on over to our new hotel SEO agency website and run a free audit using your hotel name as the seed keyword. For the purposes of keyword research we want to focus on building our list for future reference in our SEO efforts, so let’s carry on.

When we are looking at branded keywords we need to keep a couple of things in mind.

1. 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.

2. 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:

  • Offers
  • Photos
  • Gallery
  • Menu
  • Breakfast
  • Suites
  • Rooms

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 location]”. This does not mean we should ignore location keywords as part of our SEO strategy, 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 investigating 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 the 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 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 likely 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. On a side note, these kind of keywords are going to need individual pages on your website that are focused on the particular topic at hand and is another reason why your hotel really needs a blog.

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
  • santorini hotel with in room hot tub
  • rhodes hotel with free breakfast
  • thessloniki hotel with meeting rooms
  • corfu hotel with spa
  • mykonos 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:

  • romantic
  • charming
  • boutique
  • upscale
  • picturesque
  • authentic
  • scenic
  • unforgettable
  • historical
  • timeless

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 you have realistic chances of ranking for. If you want to double check your thinking head over to our dedicated hotel SEO services website and ask for a free SEO audit which will check your current setup against a target keyword or phrase you choose.

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. We have written a separate post on which tools we consider best for hotel SEO keyword research here.

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 the SEO’! (or you could ask us to do it for you) 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!

Ready for more bookings?