Speakers at HSMAI’s Digital Marketing Conference discussed how marketers must deal with an ever-evolving search landscape.
NEW YORK—Hotel marketers must recognize that content on social networks is just as important in driving search engine optimization as any other content, according to speakers at the Digital Marketing Strategy Conference, produced here by the Hospitality Sales & Marketing Association International.
On a panel called “The Intersection of SEO and Social,” two speakers from Marriott Digital Services, the digital services arm of Marriott International, shared insights on how social content affects SEO. The panelists also discussed what hoteliers need to know to put their best foot forward when it comes to building brand awareness that leads to bookings.
“Social signals have an impact on Google and its ranking factors,” said Morgan Merron, manager of SEO strategy for Marriott Digital Services. While there is conflicting industry guidance on exactly how social media affects SEO, Merron said it’s undeniable that “content is still king for both SEO and social.”
Her colleague Jeri Jackson, manager of social strategy for Marriott Digital Services, stressed that “purposeful content drives organic results.” She explained that “content should answer and anticipate user questions within your social networks or on your hotel website.”
This convergence of social and SEO is important to any hotelier, Jackson said, because, “It could have a real impact on their bookings if travelers are not being driven to their websites, which is what this is all about.”
Consistency matters, too
While content may be king, consistency also is crucial, according to the speakers. Central to that consistency is a hotel’s UNAP (URL, name, address and phone number), which should be consistent across all platforms and mirror how that information appears on the hotel’s own website. When third parties are feeding information so that, for example, Autograph Collection might be called Autograph Hotels instead, that could negatively affect rankings.
Similarly, hotel descriptions (location, amenities, etc.) should be consistent. “Optimizing social pages for consistent citations will support rankings on the search engine results page. We need to treat social media like a search engine,” Jackson said, “because many of them act like search engines. There are many similarities now in how consumers use Facebook and Google.”
Merron said research shows that more than a third of consumers won’t patronize a local business with inconsistent information online—and that includes social media information. Also, if Google is having a hard time because of inconsistencies, a hotel’s site will not rank as well as it could. There are exceptions to the consistency rule, said Jackson, as in the case of platforms like Twitter, where a limit on characters might call for abbreviations.
Where social and search converge
Social search is changing, said Jackson, in a way that converges with traditional search.
“In the past, social search might have involved searching names of friends, a business or celebrity. Today, you might search a trending topic or something as vague as ‘that picture I took in that one place that one time,’” she said.
“We have to rethink what people are searching for and how they are searching for it,” Jackson said. “For instance, local is now key. A Facebook search might be: ‘where did my friends eat when they were in New York City?’ That search might turn up reviews, prices and addresses. Think about how easy that makes it. You can make a decision quickly because the social platform optimizes your search and you get input from people you trust.”
It’s important to keep in mind also that social media platforms are all different. Jackson said Pinterest is “search heaven “for hotels. If Google is where people start to look for a place to stay, she said, “Pinterest offers instant gratification in the form of a ton of authentic content. If you ask Pinterest where to stay in New York, you are given suggested filters like ‘luxury.’ Somebody may have already compiled a Pinterest board (affiliated images and information) and you could click on that, and if it’s someone you know or trust it could be really helpful.”
In summary, the speakers offered these best practices:
- Use targeted keywords in social content;
- identify relevant hashtags;
- select key pages to post on social;
- keep content consistent; and
- measure results.
And the outlook continues to change. Jackson said there has recently been discussion about people using emojis (a small image of an emotion, object or symbol) in their metasearch. She said that while there is not yet much search activity, emojis are being indexed by search engines, and it is possible they might become a factor in search in the future.