In spite of the array of trendy new digital marketing initiatives and formats available to hoteliers today, the reliable old search engines still generate more than 50% of website revenue in hospitality (HeBS Digital, OTX Research). Not surprisingly, Search Engine Marketing (SEM)/Paid Search is currently the most popular online advertising format: More than 45% of every online advertising dollar is spent on search engine marketing (IAB).

Paid search allows your hotel, resort or casino to:

  • Promote concrete specials and rates
  • Focus on selected markets – feeder markets, nationwide, global, and others
  • Control the marketing message and push "promotional language" to the search engine results pages (SERPs), which is impossible through pure SEO
  • Take advantage of "game-changing" initiatives such as dynamic price marketing – already in Beta – like Google Dynamic Text Retargeting Ads, Dynamic Price Google Adwords, and more.
Paid search plays a crucial role in the property's multichannel marketing campaigns. Put simply, paid search is the best way to position your marketing message instantaneously in front of thousands of potential customers.

To ensure paid search is continually successful for your property, it's important to continuously optimize paid search campaign performance, expand efforts with new and innovative paid search initiatives, utilize sophisticated SEM campaign management technology, and keep up-to-date with the most sophisticated marketing strategies and best practices to maximize revenue and return-on-ad spend (ROAS).

Choosing the correct paid search vendor is the first step toward creating and executing highly effective SEM campaigns. Here are some of the questions you should be asking a potential paid search vendor before making a decision that could make major contributions to your bottom line.

1. Is my Account Manager Google AdWords Certified?

Being Google Adwords Certified demonstrates that the Account Manager or SEM specialist has mastered Google advertising best practices and will be able to fully understand the strategy behind your SEM campaigns, effectively analyze the results, and make updates that will generate the highest ROIs.

In addition, an agency can undergo additional certifications and advanced exams in order to become qualified, which allows the company to become a Google Certified partner. Simply put, this means that Google trusts the company, and you should too.

For example, HeBS Digital is a Google AdWords Certified Partner and has been actively using and managing travel and hotel Paid Search client campaigns since 1997. Over 35 website revenue optimization consultants and account executives at HeBS Digital are Google AdWords Certified.

2. Does my budget account for the increased competition with the OTAs?

Since many major brands have disallowed the OTAs from bidding on brand-related keyword terms (e.g. Marriott Atlanta, etc.), the OTAs have refocused their paid search campaigns almost exclusively on independent hotels, resorts and casinos.

For example, Priceline reported spending more than $537 million on paid search in Q3 2013 alone. This aggressive competition by the OTAs calls for extra campaign management efforts.

HeBS Digital's SEM Dept. recommends that 25%-30% of your 2014 digital marketing budget is dedicated to SEM to ensure our clients' paid search campaigns perform optimally and generate optimal revenues and ROAS, even with this increased competition.

3. Will my paid search campaigns reach users on their desktops, mobile phones and tablets?

In the past, companies had to only manage campaigns for desktop-related searches. We must now focus on managing campaigns for desktop, mobile and tablet devices, with each device requiring a different approach, strategy and tactics.

In Q3 2013, more than 35% of website visitors and 15% of bookings came from non-desktop devices (i.e. mobile and tablets - not including voice reservations originating from the mobile channel). Unless you want to see overall conversions start to drop dramatically, the paid search strategy should be tailored for the three screens: desktop, mobile and tablet.

For example, here at HeBS Digital our SEM Dept. understands the complexities of paid search marketing due to the explosion of the three screens, and manages separate SEM campaigns for desktop, mobile and tablet devices, since each device requires a different approach, strategy and tactics.

4. Do you manage my paid search campaigns as part of my overall multichannel marketing strategy?

In this multi-device consumer world, paid search should be a part of overall multi-channel marketing efforts. Planned properly, multichannel campaigns utilize the correct combination of online channels while promoting one cohesive campaign message across these channels. For instance, a campaign created to meet a business need might include paid search, online media, retargeting, meta search, email, social media, and more.

Here at HeBS Digital we create dedicated paid search campaigns for each promotion, including rate/package details in the ad copy. This requires additional coordination of SEM campaigns with the online media and retargeting campaigns, email marketing, PR, etc.

5. Are my campaigns keeping up with improved AdWords extensions?

Google recently introduced improvements allowing marketers to consistently show more relevant ad extensions and formats. These extensions, while valuable, double the campaign management time needed to manage the SEM campaigns. For example, Sitelinks now require extra description lines and can be scheduled around events and promotions, and call extensions now have enhanced tracking in which call time, date, duration, area code, and type of call are tracked.

As these extensions very often improve campaign performance – and Google may lower CPCs if they find extensions and formats to be highly relevant – it pays to spend this extra time needed.

Here at HeBS Digital we provide full Sitelinks campaign management for all of our SEM clients, and we were one of the pilot agencies for the new Image extensions, which dramatically improve the visualization of the hotel product, click-through rates and conversions for our clients.

6. Does my paid search budget account for seasonality?

Paid search budgets should be calculated based on seasonality and seasonal business needs, meaning extra campaign management and additional attention to bids and budgets is necessary to achieve optimal ROI. For instance: How much SEM budget to allocate to the low vs. high season? What types of SEM campaigns are needed in the shoulder season leading to a high season vs. shoulder season leading toward a low season?

All of the above requires planning for seasonality and seasonal campaigns to address the different business and occupancy needs in each season.

7. How will you use my SEM budget to target my feeder markets?

Based on your property's feeder markets – which could vary according to seasonality – SEM campaigns should also target specific locations. This involves complex targeting for the SEM campaigns to pinpoint the best target feeder markets based on seasonality by adjusting bids based on geographic location.

8. Are you keeping up with the latest Google Algorithm changes?

Google updates its search algorithm 500 times each year. Google's most notable recent updates were the Panda and Hummingbird updates, which directly affected how Google indexes and values the underlying website landing pages. Because Google is always changing, paid search professionals must treat search dynamically. SEM should align with the site's SEO in order to maintain a high Quality Index.

9. Have you introduced new search-related advertising opportunities into my campaigns?

New advertising opportunities are becoming available on a regular basis, such as Search Companion, Interest Category, Affinity Categories, and more. Paying keen attention to these new initiatives will allow hoteliers to continue to target their customers more effectively.

For example, the expansion of Google Display Network's targeting methods with affinity categories allow hoteliers to target more qualified travel markets based on their property's offerings and location. Keeping up with the new initiatives and setting them up requires additional campaign management attention, but it is well worth the effort.

10. What kind of technology are you using to manage and analyze the results of my SEM campaigns?

Utilizing the correct paid search campaign management technology could eliminate low-quality and fraudulent clicks (so called "SEM waste") and maximize ROAS and revenue. Did you know that you can save between 15%-25% of SEM advertising spend by eliminating unqualified or low-quality clicks?

For example, here at HeBS Digital we utilize Adobe's SearchCenter for all of our SEM clients, the most advanced SEM campaign management technology in the marketplace today. SearchCenter provides the most sophisticated bid rule functionality today to achieve the business and revenue goals for our clients and to successfully compete for better placement on the SERPs at optimum CPC (cost per click). SearchCenter helps the SEM campaigns with budget planning, forecasting spend, and even project revenues based on the spend level. The application provides reporting down to an incredibly granular level in order to give clients deeper insights into unresolved issues or how to maximize ROI and conversions.

About the Authors and HeBS Digital

Max Starkov is President & CEO and Sara O'Brien is Senior Manager, Marketing, at HeBS Digital, the hospitality industry's leading full-service digital marketing and direct online channel strategy firm based in New York City (

HeBS Digital has pioneered many of the best practices in hospitality digital technology and marketing, and direct online channel best practices and strategies. The firm has won over 250 prestigious industry awards for its digital technology, including its proprietary MetaSearch Gateway, digital marketing and website design. These awards include numerous Adrian Awards, Davey Awards, W3 Awards, WebAwards, Magellan Awards, Summit International Awards, Interactive Media Awards, IAC Awards, and others.

HeBS Digital works with a diverse portfolio of hospitality clients; restaurants to major hotel brands, luxury and boutique hotel chains, resorts and casinos, hotel management companies, franchisees and independents, and CVBs are benefiting from HeBS Digital's direct online channel strategy and digital marketing expertise. Contact HeBS Digital's consultants at (212) 752-8186 or [email protected]


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