Search Engine Marketing Guide for Hoteliers

January 20, 2021

Today’s digital consumer is constantly connected. Consumers spend an average of 6 hours and 42 minutes online each day, which only continued to increase over 2020. What’s more, internet users are growing by an average of one million users per day. What does this mean for hotel marketers? Travelers are finding their trip inspiration online, and searching and booking hotels. There are several ways to get in front of these travelers, but search is considered to be the most valuable source of traffic because it is so targeted. 

Google sees roughly 70,000 search queries every second–that’s 5.8 billion searches per day and about 2 trillion global searches per year. Bing Network, while trailing behind, still sees 6 billion searches each month, and has a 34.7% share of the US desktop search market. Many of these searches are people dreaming of and planning travel. As a hotel marketer, if your brand isn’t there, your competitors will be, as well as Online Travel Agencies (OTAs) who spend billions bidding on key terms. A strong paid search, also known as Search Engine Marketing (SEM), strategy can help you own the top of the search engine results page– driving bookings directly to your website. 

When we look at where travel marketers allocated their digital budgets in 2019, 17% of digital ad spend went toward SEM, trailing only behind the 28% allocated to social. There’s a lot to learn in the world of Search Engine Marketing (SEM), so we’ve simplified the discussion to help you understand why a search strategy is key to hotel marketing. 

A Look at SEM vs SEO 

When it comes to search, two acronyms dominate the space:

1) SEO (or Search Engine Optimization): The content you put on your website helps determine your SEO ranking. For example, if you use certain key phrases often and meaningfully throughout your website, when people search for those terms, your website will appear high up on the Search Engine Results Page (SERPs). SEO drives organic, or free, traffic to your website. 

2) SEM (sometimes called PPC): With SEM, companies bid on certain keywords and then pay when someone clicks on the result, hence why it’s sometimes referred to as pay-per-click (PPC). With SEM, you pay every time someone clicks your ad, whether the end result was a booking or not.

In general, SEM results appear at the top of the search results, above the organic SEO-driven results. All listings that include the “Ad” marker are examples of SEM. Websites bid on the key phrases entered in the engine. If clicked on, they send the searcher to the website listed, exposing the hotel’s website to a potential guest.

Both an SEO and SEM strategy are crucial for hotel marketers to share their message with travelers and gain brand exposure. 

Why the Right Strategy is Crucial 

1. Chances are someone else is bidding on your brand

Third-party booking websites will bid on your property’s brand and key phrases, thereby showing up higher in the search engine results page than your listing for your property. If you don’t have a strategy, chances are that the top three or four search results will be from third parties, rather than your direct site. Travelers then book through them rather than directly with you. Thus, you’re losing a big opportunity to drive direct bookings and own the guest experience. 

2. SEO only does so much

Organic search results often do appear on the first page of a search result. However, more and more often, search engines are pushing organic results down the page and giving the top space to paid ads. Having an SEM strategy helps you secure the top spots on a search engine results page and puts your brand in front of travelers that are in-market.

3. You can’t just “set and forget”

SEM requires a thorough and thoughtful strategy. Because Google and other search engines are constantly refining their search results algorithms, you need to test and learn from your SEM strategy constantly. A strong SEM strategy allows your hotel to rise to the top of a search engine results page, protects your brand, and drives more direct bookings to your website.

4. Don’t Focus Solely on Google 

While many agencies run SEM on Google only, Sojern partners with both Google and Bing to help you run on both. We highly recommend this strategy in order to see the greatest reach.

So, we know why it’s important, but how does it work? 

Hotel marketers can bid on keywords, or frequent search terms, that can be a single word or a phrase that describe the content of your webpage. You bid on these terms to influence ad placement. Keywords help search engines match your site with the appropriate search query and help drive travelers to your site. A top bid in the auction makes your business one of the first that users see on the search engine results page.

The two types of keywords: 

Exact Match vs Broad Match Search Terms 

Target search terms exactly or keep it broad using the same keywords with additional phrasing. Broad match is less restrictive, sharing your ad to potential travelers with a range of search terms related to the keyword, whereas the exact match is more controlled. The match type you choose determines how your ad will be triggered as a result. 

We like to think of an exact match as “the spear” and the broad match as the “fishing net”. For example, an exact match could be “Rimrock Resorts Hotel” and the broad match counterpart could be “stay at Rimrock Hotels and Resort”. 

Bidding Strategies 

For any SEM strategy, there will be a few different bidding strategies for your ad campaigns. What you choose depends on your campaign type and advertising goals. Because of this, it is important that you prioritize your marketing goals. Once you’ve done so, you can find the best bidding strategy for you. Let’s look at the different bidding strategies or acronyms you might see in the space: 

  • Pay-per-click (PPC): This is when an advertiser pays only when their ad is clicked. Sometimes, PPC refers to pay-per-call, which is when a mobile user makes a direct call from the delivered ad. The Cost-per-click (CPC) is the actual price you pay when someone clicks your ad in your PPC marketing campaigns.
  • Cost-per-acquisition (CPA): This is the cost you pay for a specified action i.e., a sale, booking, or form submit. It is interchangeable with “cost-per-action.”
  • Click-through-rate (CTR): This is the percentage of people who clicked on your ad. It is calculated by dividing the number of clicks your ad gets by the number of times your ad is shown.  

Above and Below the Fold 

Having a search result or ad “above the fold” means that it appears on the upper half of a web page, making it visible without having to scroll down. “Below the fold” is the opposite, where a search result or ad is on the lower half of a web page. You should always strive to be above the fold. With it becoming increasingly difficult to achieve preferred ad placement organically, paid search is a great complementary strategy to get you above the fold.

How does Google determine when and where your ad is shown? 

Once entered into auction, Google looks at two key factors to determine where an ad ranks–the maximum bid you specify for your keyword and the quality score. A quality score is a metric used to determine how relevant and useful your ad is. The best combined CPC bid and quality score gets the best position on the search engine results page. 

When it comes to bidding and budget, you’ll need to consider both simultaneously. A budget is set at the campaign level and indicates how much you are willing to spend daily. 

A Few Best Practices for Your SEM Campaign 

When creating ads, there are plenty of factors to consider to ensure you are getting the most bang for your buck. 

  • Use low and high volume keywords. Broad keywords with over 100,000 searches a month can drive traffic, but it may be unqualified. 
  • Connect your ads (headline and copy) to the keywords you’re bidding on. This helps search engines deliver your ad when it is most relevant.  
  • Highlight what makes you different from your competitors. 
  • Include a Call-to-Action (CTA) in line with your goal.  
  • Ensure your ad and landing page match. If they don’t, create something that does, to not only attract visitors, but inspire them to make a conversion.  
  • Tailor your ads for mobile, as our data shows that in every region across the globe, the percentage of lodging bookings on mobile devices has grown substantially since January 2020.  
  • Keep the bottom line in mind. Make bids to ensure you get the right amount of traffic and earn money on conversions. 
  • Test and learn to see what works best. 

Sojern’s SEM Solution

Does all of this sound hard to manage on your own? SEM is not a part-time endeavor, as it is transforming every day. To ensure you are making the most of it, you need someone with the experience to manage things like algorithm shifts and new search policies. A trusted partner can help you navigate this complicated channel. 

Some of the challenges we hear from our hotel are that they didn’t have the bandwidth to optimize their budgets over the month to test the most effective ads, they didn’t understand the reporting and insights to ensure they were getting the most out of their SEM efforts, or they didn’t have sufficient results that drove business. This is why working with a trusted partner like Sojern can help. 

  • You decide how your campaign is set up. 
    • Option 1: Sojern’s pay on the stay model for SEM. You only pay when the guest completes their stay on a fixed commission rate–you’re no longer paying for clicks. There is no upfront cost to you to implement. 
    • Option 2: Sojern’s subscription SEM campaign has a set, monthly budget so you never worry about running out of budget mid-month. The campaign will be always-on, ensuring direct bookings are driven to your website, and consistent brand defense against third parties is in place.   
  • Sojern’s SEM campaigns are run and optimized through machine learning that generates hundreds of keywords for each campaign. This constant optimization swaps out poor performing keywords for new ones in order to drive the best performance.
  • We ensure you’re influencing people at each stage of their path to purchase. With non-branded keywords, we can influence people to learn more about you as they search for places to stay in your destination, while leveraging branded keywords to ensure your website is among the first listed in the search results. 
  • Sojern is the only Google Marketing Platform Partner in travel (Google Ads Certified) and we’re Bing Network Certified. We’re always staying up to date on best practices and new features, ensuring your SEM campaign performs at its best.
  • 24/7 access to reporting and insights via your online Sojern account. We’ll share in-depth insights into your SEM campaign performance, so you can learn more about the ways potential customers are searching for you. 

“It’s not a coin toss – it works because it is performance-based. That’s the beauty of it! The only SEM I run now is through Sojern.” – Sergio Serra, Area Director The Americas, Banyan Tree Mayakoba

Get in touch with one of our hotel specialists now.

Learn more in our Search Engine Marketing for Travel Marketers webinar.


About Christy Jobman

Christy is Sojern's Marketing Manager, US, Canada, & LATAM. She loves all things communications and she's so happy to be using the Communications/Journalism degree she earned at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. When she's not building relationships and cross collaborating to build out collateral for the sales teams and account managers at Sojern, she's coaching at her gym, dabbling in the non-profits world, exploring, and cooking new dishes.

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