Like a rumor of bed bugs that goes viral, Search Engine Optimization or SEO has haunted hotel marketers since the beginning of digital marketing.

How do we rank better in search results? How do we get more site traffic with no media budget?

The answers to these questions are ever-changing and, every year, they get more complicated.

SEO's evolution from black hat tactics like link farms, to the effectiveness of blogging, to the impact of your "Google My Business" listing leave even the savviest hotel marketers confused.

One thing we all agree on? With constant updates to Google's algorithm, wishy washy metrics on SEO reports, and all that technical jargon, half the trouble with SEO is just understanding how to talk about SEO.

It's easy to understand why hoteliers occasionally lack confidence in the strategies they pursue and what results they can reasonably expect from those strategies.

But it doesn't have to be this way. We'll break it down into four easily digestible components so you can tackle - and talk about SEO - with confidence and ease.


The first thing to understand about hotel SEO is that it's not like any other industry. And that's one reason SEO is so confusing for hoteliers. Once you understand that it's different for hotels than, say, furniture manufacturers, you're ready to adopt a hospitality industry-specific SEO approach.

So, What Does SEO Look Like For Hotels?

Hotel SEO has four main components. Each one has a unique strategy all its own, with rules and KPIs that are unique to it.

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PART 1: What Is Technical SEO?

Technical SEO has everything to do with how your site is built. A well-built site is technically fit enough to turn up in searches. In other words, Technical SEO allows the "all mighty" Google bots to crawl your site with ease.

What does good Technical SEO look like?

  • All of your pages are indexed.
  • Your pages aren't broken.
  • Your site is free of 404 errors.

Keep in mind, though, that things are going to break! That's the world we live in. So you need to monitor your Technical SEO and repair it as it breaks. After all, if your site can't be indexed, then it can't turn up in search. In that sense, Technical SEO is the backbone of your entire SEO strategy.

How Do We Measure Technical SEO?

Run a check-up of your site's health through Search Console or SEMrush. In a few clicks, you can check the quality of your Technical SEO.

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PART 2: What Is Directory SEO?

Directories don't get enough credit in the SEO conversation. Directories consist of search listings, map listings, websites and apps that house your hotel NAP (Name, Address, Phone Number) across devices.

Your "Google My Business" listing is a directory, for example - and it's one of the largest and most critical directories out there for hotels.

But the list of online directories is long and distinguished.

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When someone searches your hotel name in one of these directories, are you confident they will find what they are looking for? Is the name, address and phone number of your property correct? Some directories even include a link to your hotel website. Is it pointing in the right direction?

Directories are critically important to users finding and contacting your property with ease.

What does good Directory SEO look like?

Good Directory SEO is consistent. When someone searches your property in Google Maps, the name, address and phone number is identical to what they'd find on TripAdvisor, Instagram, Facebook, etc.

How do we measure Directory SEO?

Tools like Yext allow you to control all your listings simultaneously, view quality score reports for each listing, and check site traffic and views.

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PART 3: What is Brand SEO?

Brand SEO involves the use of keywords that include your brand name.

For example, if your brand name is Hotel Hugo, your Brand SEO goal is to rank for keywords that include the phrase "Hotel Hugo." Easy enough.

However, a comprehensive Brand SEO strategy should be a combination of paid and unpaid tactics. One of the biggest mistakes hotel marketers make is thinking about paid and unpaid search efforts on Google as entirely separate strategies.

The truth is, they work hand in hand. By separating the two strategies (goals, agencies, spend, reporting) hotel marketers do themselves no favors. The first step to creating true synergy between these paid & unpaid brand search is to understand how they interact with each other.

To start, let's look at Google branded search results.

Breaking Down Branded Search (Paid and Unpaid)

In the example below, our brand search term is "Stanford Park Hotel."

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Notice that a brand search has four main placements in a Google search result.

  1. There are two paid placements
    1. Paid Search Ads (Number 1 above)
    2. Metasearch (Number 4 above)
  1. There are two unpaid (organic) placements
    1. Directory: "Google My Business" listing (Number 2 above)
    2. Unpaid Search Results (Number 3 above)

What Does Good Brand SEO Look Like?

A good brand SEO strategy is the combination of paid and unpaid search efforts.

  1. Ranking in top position for Google search ad.
  2. Ranking position #1 in organic/unpaid search.
  3. Optimizing your "Google My Business" listing. (Directory SEO)
  4. Ranking in paid metasearch campaigns.

When all four pistons are firing at the same time, hoteliers stand the greatest chance of winning those all-important direct bookings.

How do we report on this?

The four components of Brand Search can be measured differently.

  1. Paid Search ads - Measure revenue within Google Analytics.
  2. "Google My Business" listing - Measure revenue within Google Analytics.
  3. Organic Search - You can report on organic as a whole, but you cannot isolate brand vs non brand keyword revenue. Google won't allow it.
  4. Metasearch - Measure revenue through analytics or your Metasearch platform.

Warning: Be cautious about measuring those different placements separately because they all work together to achieve the direct booking. Instead, look at whether your direct bookings are up overall. Better still, look at your bottom-line revenue.

PART 4: What is Non-Brand SEO?

Non-Brand SEO relates to how well you rank for relevant keywords that don't have your brand name in them. For example, a relevant non-brand search term for the hotel "Stanford Park Hotel" would be "Palo Alto Hotels."

Let's take a look at the Google non-brand search results for that term:

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Notice that a non-brand search has three main placements within Google's search results.

  1. There are two paid placements.
    1. Paid Search Ads (Number 1 above)
    2. Google Hotel Finder / Metasearch (Number 2 above)
  1. The rest are unpaid placements
    1. Organic search results (Number 3 above)

Notice that the Stanford Park Hotel does not turn up anywhere for the non-brand key term "Palo Alto Hotels" on page 1.

Why? For this particular keyword search term, the hotel is up against some pretty big roadblocks, including:

  1. Google Search Ads dominate top placement. (Number 1 above). If you want to be on page 1, you've simply got to pay for it.
  2. Google Hotel Finder dominates second placement. (Number 2 above) Yes, Google is now an OTA so when you search "Palo Alto Hotels," Google Hotel Finder shows you a list of hotels in Palo Alto. Google has simplified the search and made it easy to book. And that is dramatically affecting all non-brand search results.
  3. Your hotel is in direct competition with the OTAs on organic results. (Number 3 above) Notice that every single organic search result is an OTA, pushing any opportunity for a hotel to rank to page 2 and beyond.
  4. If your non-brand keywords aren't turning up on page 1-3 (or position 1-30), you're likely not getting any traffic from those keywords.

These are the struggles almost every hotel faces in the quest for relevant non-brand keywords. That's what makes Non-Brand SEO so challenging - and why paid search advertising is so important to the success of your Non-Brand SEO strategy.

Paid search ads will enable you to:

  1. Accelerate your search results. When you optimize your website for Non Brand keywords, it can take six months to a year to see the fruits of those efforts. And let's face it, there are no guarantees. Logically, if you truly believe that a particular keyword is going to drive revenue, do you really want to wait that long with no guarantee of results?
  2. Drive relevant traffic and bookings to your site via paid ad placements using those same keywords.
  3. Spend more strategically. There's no such thing as free. Many hoteliers still look at unpaid Non-Brand traffic as FREE traffic. Stop thinking about SEO as something you do when we don't have media dollars. Non-Brand Organic (Unpaid) Search is arguably the lowest driver of traffic to your website. And it's the hardest one of the four components of SEO to achieve. A simple cost/benefit analysis can show you where your time, energy, and money is better spent.

What does good Non-Brand SEO look like?

A good Non Brand SEO strategy looks like this:

  1. Optimize your website with (on average) one Non Brand Key term per page. And do it thematically. If your hotel is in Soho, don't optimize for New York City, optimize for Soho. Focus ongoing optimizations on a few meaningful keywords that you stand the best chance at ranking for.
  1. Select the key terms you think are going to drive the most revenue at the lowest cost and create a paid strategy to bid on those key terms. It's that simple. Yes, converting those users may cost a bit more than brand search, but they should! After all, these are users who may have never heard of your hotel.

How do we report on this?

The three components of Non-Brand Search can be measured differently.

  1. Paid Search Ads - Measure revenue within Google Analytics.
  2. Google Hotel Finder - Measure revenue within analytics or your Metasearch platform.
  3. Organic Search - You can report on organic as a whole, but you cannot isolate brand vs non brand keyword revenue. Google won't allow it. Note: If your non-brand key terms aren't ranking in position 1-30, (i.e. pages 1-3) then you likely aren't generating any revenue from those key terms. Warning: If you do have keywords ranking in those positions, you still can't determine how much revenue they are pulling in. This is a basic limitation of Google analytics. They simply don't want you to know.

About Tambourine

Tambourine uses technology and creativity to increase revenue for hotels and destinations worldwide. The firm, now in its 33rd year, is located in New York City, Fort Lauderdale, and Carlsbad, CA. Please visit:

Thomas McDermott
Vice President of Corporate Marketing
+1 954 975 2220

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