I believe hospitality's old friend and foe Google will be the single biggest opportunity in hotel digital marketing going in 2023, and here is why:

  • Today the average travel consumer spends almost 7 hours on digital media a day vs 19 minutes on print media (newspapers and magazines). Overall consumers spend more time with digital media than with TV, radio and print media combined (Hootsuite). So, forget about spending your precious marketing dollars on print brochures and collateral, print ads, direct snail mail, etc.
  • Google now controls 91.42% global search engine market share (Hootsuite, 2022)
  • On average, Google contributes - directly or via referrals - to over 55% of smart hoteliers’ website revenues (30% via SEO; 25% via SEM/paid search, 5% via Google Hotel ads/metasearch.

Google now “owns” the travel consumer and has become the “shepherd of the digital customer journey” by positioning itself at and making money in the form of referral, CPC, CPM, CPA and CPS fees from each of the five phases of the Digital Customer Journey: Dreaming, Planning, Booking, Experiencing and Sharing Phases.

Google has become a fully integrated advertising ecosystem, where all advertising formats are intertwined and work in concert. User engagements in the upper funnel (SEO, content marketing, YouTube TrueView, Gmail Ads, etc.) influences conversions in the lower funnel (Google Ads, Google Hotel Ads, Google Display Network, RLSA, Customer Match, etc.), and a campaign in one advertising format directly influences the results from all other formats.

So, what should smart hotel marketers do in 2023 with their limited budgets?

Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

Optimize your website for on-page SEO, technical SEO and use content marketing to increase backlinks to your website. SEO is an ongoing concern, not a one-time act when your website was launched a few years back.

Did you know that first-page position of your website on Google’s organic Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs) generates 144% more clicks than 2nd page while position #1 generates 30.2% of the clicks? (SEMRush)

Google has frequently stated that it is using more than 200 major ranking "signals" with many thousands of sub-signals and variations. Make sure your website features unique, relevant and editorial-level copy that is significantly different than the one you have used in the property descriptions on the OTAs, travel guides and directories, etc. and is fully optimized for the three main SEO categories: on-page SEO, backlinks, technical SEO.

Make sure your SEO agency can handle very complex Google-specific technical SEO requirements including automated schema markup, Google Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP), Google Sitemap XML, Google Search Console dashboard management, etc.

Website Download Speeds

Improve your mobile website download speeds to below 2.5 seconds. Make sure the download speed of your website on mobile devices is below 2.5 seconds to avoid your site being penalized by Google and reduce its bounce and abandonment rates. Google's Core Web Vitals now uses a load speed of under 2.5 seconds as one of the primary measurements of indexing a website, stricter requirement from the 3 second benchmark just a few years back.

Content Marketing

Invest in content marketing – this is the best “hotel marketing message amplifier.” Content marketing elevates your hotel website importance in the eyes of Google via the backlinks (links from other websites and blogs to your website) and citations (mentions of your hotel) it creates. An equally important benefit of content marketing is that it engages and entices the travel consumer in the Dreaming and Planning Phases and creates ready-to-book customers for the Booking Phase.

Content marketing is not a new marketing format - it has ways been an integral part of the digital marketer's toolbox. It is not free – all content marketing formats cost marketing dollars since someone has to create the content and creative, set up and manage the campaigns, monitor analytics and prepare reports: SEO, website content, social media posts, corporate group B2B marketing initiatives via LinkedIn, PR, blog articles and posts, white papers, webinars, case studies, influencer marketing, panel discussion participations, award and new amenity/service announcements, etc. Naturally, content marketing, when done well, could be cheaper than performance marketing like paid search, metasearch and paid media. When done well, content marketing is much cheaper than performance marketing.

Google Business Profile (GBP)

Update your GBP listing, which is free an easy-to-use dashboard to manage your property's online presence across Google, including Search and Maps. It helps customers find your hotel and help you “tell them your story.”

Make sure your GBP is fully optimized and updated, including your property information, amenity and services descriptions, business hours, your COVID preparedness and cleanliness programs, hotel images and videos, etc.

GBP plays another important role - it serves as the management dashboard for Google Reviews, where you can monitor and respond to customer reviews. Google now has more hotel customer reviews than all other review sites and OTAs combined!

GBP directly influences travelers in the Planning Phase and creates powerful word-of-mouth effect in the Sharing Phase.

Google Hotel Ads (GHA)

If your property hasn’t done so, I recommend you join GHA’s free property listings. ASAP! Having a listing on GHA will complete your property’s profile on Google and greatly enhance your presence by placing your “Official Site” in the GHA pricing menu.

GHA is Google's metasearch marketing format, which offers two distinct marketing opportunities: free GHA listings and sponsored/paid listings that provide better visibility. Joining Google HPA requires integration between your PMS, CRS, Channel Manager or digital marketing agency with Google’s backend so that Google has real-time access to your property’s ARI (Availability, Rates, Inventory).

If your property is in a competitive location, I recommend joining Google's paid GHA program and its pay-per-stay commission model.

Google Ads (GA)

Launch hotel-branded keyword terms GA campaign to target past guests in the short-haul and drive-in feeder markets, and level the playing field with the OTAs who are indiscriminately bidding in your branded keywords. Your past guests already know your hotel brand name, they know your hotel product, all you need to do now is to convince them that your property is safe to stay at and that you have packages and promotions that address their current needs.

As a rule of thumb, any hotel should “own” 100% Share-of-Voice (SOV) of your hotel-branded keyword searches. Ex. If there are 1,000 searches on Google for your hotel branded keyword terms (ex. Hotel Luna Manhattan and all of its derivatives like Luna Hotel New York City), you need to budget your ad to be served all 1,000 times.

Google Display Network (GDN)

Launch a GDN Retargeting campaign to target users who have visited your website. Launch a GDN Retargeting campaign, which will help communicate your property's value proposition to users who have visited your website and are already familiar with your product, offerings and location. GDN Retargeting serves as a great “reservation abandonment recovery” and “brand reminder” tool.

Based on your budget, launch a GDN Targeting campaign, focusing on your most important short-haul and drive-in feeder markets. GDN offers great targeting capabilities: Location, Keywords, Audiences, Similar Users, etc.

GDN Targeting is the perfect solution to expand your hotel marketing reach and attract new customers from your important feeder markets.

In addition, pay attention to Google’s new continuous scrolling on desktop. Over 70% of searches on Google today are via mobile devices. Now Google is introducing the same continuous scrolling they have on smartphones and tablets on the desktop screen by automatically downloading the results of the first 6 SERPs as one long scrollable list of results. Google will automatically load the next batch of results on the page once you've scrolled to the bottom of the current list. Naturally, the higher your website ranks on this endless scrollable list on desktop, the better!