Location, Location, Location: On-Page SEO for Local
by: Lauretta Shokler
Director of Search Strategy at Valet Interactive a division of Worldwide Revenue Solutions
Local optimization on Google for a local business website is important for a site’s overall SEO; however, hotel websites present unique challenges when it comes to local SEO. While they are local businesses with physical locations at a local level, their site visitors are likely to be searching for them from other cities, states, or even countries. For that reason, a hotel website can’t simple rely on search engines to geo-locate a searcher’s IP addresses to identify the closest locations to serve up in search results the way restaurants, entertainment venues, and movie theaters can.
Hotel sites must optimize their sites with specific searches in mind which will likely include local identifiers such as the names of cities/states, nearby venues, neighborhoods, or landmarks. For example, someone searching for a hotel in Los Angeles may search using any number of possible keywords including: “hotel in Los Angeles CA,” “visiting Hollywood,” or “lodging near LAX.” Use of commonly searched phrases in a website’s Meta data, body text, image ALT attributes, schema tags and other on-page elements allow search engines to associate hotel websites with keywords that indicate someone may be planning to visit the area in which the hotel is located.
While those steps are important, they are just one piece of optimizing a website for local, because local searches trigger different search results on Google than more generic searches like “hotel companies” or “best US resorts.” To take advantage of those difference, site owners need to implement additional local SEO strategies like map/places listings, business pages, submissions to quality directories, and local linking.
A Tangled Web: How Google Local Optimization is Changing SEO for Hotels
So how does local optimization affect a website’s performance in search? The answer seems to get more complex every day. Like most other aspects of Google’s search results and algorithm, one optimization can have multiple impacts, and some desired outcomes require multiple optimizations. Below is a list of some of the key effects on search performance as a result of local SEO optimization:
- Search Engine Results Page (SERP) Snippets – Traditional Google organic search results will include the page title, site URL and Meta description. Over the past few years, additional features started to appear in organic results including schema breadcrumbs, star ratings, event data and sitelinks. A Google Places Listing/Business Page, when they are associated with the website’s URL, can also enhance the snippet by displaying the business’s address and phone number alongside the Google Map pin logo. This allows the snippet to standout on search results pages which can increase the site’s click-through rate.
- Map Packs – Map packs, a collection of abbreviated search result links that feature map information and a link to the business’s website, have been a common feature in Google search results that have a local intent. The Map listings results can be a source of significant organic traffic for some hotel websites, but the only way a hotel can show in these one of these packs is if they have a well optimized Google Places Listing/Google+ Local or merged Google+ Business Page.
- Knowledge Graph – The Google Knowledge Graph, a feature added in the Spring of 2012, displays information gathered from multiple online sources about an entity (person, musical group, location, movie, etc.) on the right side of search results when someone searches keywords related to those entities. Not all hotels will produce a Knowledge Graph result when their brand name is searched, but some do. Danny Sullivan’s Search Engine Land article, “Google Launches Knowledge Graph to Provide Answers, Not Just Links” describes the Knowledge Graph in detail for those interested in learning more.
- Carousel – The Google Carousel is part of the Knowledge Graph and the most recent addition to Google’s SERPs. Officially launched in mid-June 2013, the carousel displays at the top of the search results pages for searches related to hotels, restaurants and bars and other entities.
Google has not released any detailed information about how Carousel features are chosen or ranked, but to be included a business does need to have an actively linked Google+ Local or Google+ Business page. Learn more about the way Carousel works in this Search Engine Land article by Tom Schmitz and in this Valet Interactive article by Scott Davis.
- Personalizations – Most major search engines personalize search results for certain searchers. For example, search results might vary based on a searcher’s social connections, previous searches, browser history and IP address location. For local optimization of hotel sites, the IP address location will likely to be most important on mobile devices and for guests who are traveling and using search for directions. Personalization could also have an impact if searchers have social connections with other guests who have connected with the hotel’s Google+ Business page.
You Are Here: Google Maps/Business Pages for Local SEO
Below is a very brief timeline of local optimization on Google Maps. Google Maps have been a mainstay of local SEO efforts since their release in February 2005 following Google’s acquisition of Keyhole and Where2. With the launch of Google’s Local Business Center, later called Google Places, businesses could start plotting their business locations on Google Maps and be found by potential customers. The value of these listings grew over time as Google started serving Map Packs in search results allowing business places listings to rank for non-brand keywords with local intent. In July 2012, Google moved Places listings into Google+ Local listings, which are part of the Google+ network.
For local businesses that want even more exposure in the Google+ Network, they can now setup a Google+ Business page – a close cousin to the Google+ Local page – and merge that with their Google Places listing by ensuring the NAP (name, address, phone #) information and URL are consistent and returning a PIN to verify they are the authorized local business. See this article by Mike Blumenthal for more details on the merge process.
Google+ Business pages offer more options for social engagement and search optimization than a Google Places/Google+ Local listing including the ability to post announcements, updates and information on a regular basis, upload video, provide more extensive information about the hotel, create circles for engagement and for Google+ users to +1 and follow the page as well as for guests to submit reviews.
Once merged, the Google map feature on the Google+ Business page (found under directions) still shows the standard Google Map. This Google+ Business page can also be found by searching Maps on Google.
Build It, but Will They Come? Supporting Local Optimization
Once a hotel has setup its website with on-page optimization for local and created and merged its Google Places Listing and Google+ Business Page, the next step is to start promoting both through online and offline marketing efforts. The primary activities involved with promoting a website are fairly well known, but by no means a small undertaking. For example, hotels can:
- Find ways to encourage and build quality back links to the site
- Engage in social media
- Conduct public relations outreach to news organizations, blogs, and local businesses and civic organization
- Consider paid marketing efforts like pay-per-click campaigns, Facebook ads, Yelp promotions and more
- Create email and postal mailing list newsletters for guests who visit regularly
- Conduct off-line campaigns through other media options like print, billboards, radio, etc
Supporting the newly merged Google+ Business Page is also important. This article by Ruben Sanchez on RGK provides a more detailed explanation, but below is an outline of what is involved:
- Add schema.org tags to the website to identify the hotel’s NAP information as structured data which makes it easily categorized by search engines.
- Setup a Google+ Badge on the site to encourage people to +1 (similar to a Facebook Like) the site, or follow the hotel’s Business Page.
- Add Publisher markup to the website that ties the hotel’s Google+ Business Page to the website and identifies the hotel as the owner of the content on the site.
- If the hotel has a blog, setup Authorship tags that tie the blogger to their Google+ Profile, and have that person connect with the hotel’s Google+ Business Page.
- Post updates, announcements, useful information and other timely content on the Google+ Business page to help build a following and promote engagement.
- Put videos, photos and other updated information on the Google+ Business Page.
- Encourage guests to post hotel reviews using their Google+ profiles, and then monitor and respond to reviews as needed.
- Circle/Like the Google+ profiles/pages of regular guests and even other local businesses that can be demand generators for the hotel.
- Submit the hotel’s NAP information and website URL to high-quality and relevant directories such as DMOZ, Yahoo Directory, Yellow Pages and more. This builds structured citations for the hotel which provide confirmation to Google about the accuracy of the hotel’s contact information.
- For more advanced users, try the Google+ Events or Hangouts. These could be used to promote an upcoming event at or near the hotel or communicate with future booked guests.
The Future is Here, and Here, and Here: Local SEO Looking Forward
Local SEO, like all SEO, is continually evolving. Many in the SEO community believe that Google’s ultimate play is to turn Google+ Local pages into Google+ Business pages. This would be a logical evolution considering how similar the current Google+ Local pages are to Business pages. Google’s goals for making such a change could include continuing to grow this Google+ social network so that it can encompass more people. (Remember that users need to have a Google+ profile now to post reviews on Google+ Local and Business pages.) The more people in the network, the more powerful Google’s data store becomes as they take on new rolls such as official NSTIC Identity Provider. See Kristine Schachinger’s article “Google as Your Identity Provider: Where Are We Now?” for more details on NSTIC and official Identity Providers.
Any listings associated with Maps, like Google+ Business pages, are also strong candidates to be integrated closely into future mobile devices such as smartphones, tablets, Google Glass, automobiles, etc. For hotels, this could provide promising new opportunities in the last-minute booking segment, the ability to offer new features like simple mobile check-in, or to promote on-site restaurants, spas and other hotel amenities available to non-guests.
Search could become even more personalized as more businesses like hotels stake a claim on the Google+ network. Imagine the opportunities available to connect with future hotel guests through personal connections such as the location of relatives they visit often or using information about past vacations. All of this becomes possible, though not without some privacy concerns, as more information about individuals is integrated into a data store owned by a search engine itself.
Features like the Google Carousel, in conjunction with Google+ Business pages, and Maps could potentially become paid marketing opportunities for both Google and local business like hotels.
Regardless of what the future of local SEO holds, optimizing for local today remains an important step for promoting local businesses including hotel websites.