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One Guaranteed Way Boutique Hotels can Win Against the OTAs
Oh boutique hotels. I feel your pain I really do!
Online Travel Agents (OTAs) and adverts pushing your hotel further and further down the Google rankings.
It seems so unfair! You’re fighting a constant battle for direct bookings through your website but feel like you’re loosing.
You may have even given up the fight and succumbed to the OTAs paying their hefty fees and being at their whim.
But you MUSTN’T give up yet. It’s a cause worth fighting for as the OTAs continue to hike their fees and take you into unknown territory.
In amongst this doom and gloom there is hope and there is an answer. I promise!
In this article I will outline one proven method that will help you out-wit and out-perform the OTAs in Google, attract more visitors to your website from Google and ultimately achieve more direct online bookings.
The aim is to save you money AND make you more money.
I’ll explain exactly why it works too.
The Golden Age
First, let’s get some perspective.
Once upon a time you could get a first page ranking on Google for terms such as “Hotels in Oxfordshire”.
Unfortunately times have changed. If you enter that into Google now, you’ll see the first page is completely taken up with the likes of Tripadvisor, Booking.com, Lastminute, and other OTAs.
It’s only at the bottom of the second page that the hotels themselves start creeping in.
But what user is really going to click that far?
Not only is it frustrating for you the hotelier from a personal experience it’s also frustrating. Sometimes we just want to hide the OTAs so you can see the hotels themselves in a nice long list.
But this is the way it is unfortunately, thus ending the Golden Age.
The Impenetrable Wall
As hoteliers, specifically boutique and independent hoteliers, you are in one of the toughest industries when it comes to Google and encouraging more direct website traffic.
But let’s not dwell on that. Instead we need to focus on knocking down this wall, zooming out and studying the bigger picture, because the answer lies within.
To understand the bigger picture properly, we must study the entire customer journey from beginning to end…
Step 1 Location Research
When someone decides they would like a short break or ‘staycation’ the first question they ask themselves is “where?”.
They may have an idea of a general location, but are likely to do some Googling to make sure it is a good and viable option for them and to narrow it down further.
Step 2 Hotel research
Once they’ve made a decision on the location based on this research, they’ll start the search for hotels.
Due to the OTAs’ prevalence in the search results, they’ll then end up on a website like Booking.com where they’ll browse for hotels and best places to stay.
Step 3 – Booking
Once they’ve found a Hotel they like the look of, in the location they’re after, Booking.com’s urgency tactics will start to work on them and they’ll place the booking.
How you can use this information
Breaking the booking process down in this way shows us that there are two points of interaction with Google:
- The first is in the “location research” stage.
- The second is in the “hotel research” stage.
We already know that it will be incredibly hard to compete and get results in the second stage due to the dominance of the OTAs. Instead we must look at ways we can take advantage of the first interaction the user has with Google in the “location research” stage.
The key to capturing an audience at this stage in their journey is all about presenting them with exactly what they’re looking for.
Users will have specific queries they need answering while researching a location and if your website contains answers to their questions, they will stumble across your site before they’ve even started looking for hotels.
You’ll be in a very powerful position!
But it doesn’t stop there. For ultimate success, you will need to keep them on your site for as long as possible. This will ensure they become more and more familiar with your brand before they go off and do their hotel research. Ultimately the prolonged time they’ve spent with your brand will increase the likelihood of their return.
If you’ve done a really good job, they even may book with you before doing the hotel research!
Now we understand the theory, we need to get into the finer details, and the content is at the heart of this.
To understand the type of content to include on your website, you first need to understand your customers, their desires and reasons for booking.
Are they cultural types who want a luxury retreat to use as a base while they spend their days hunting down museums, architecture and obscure restaurants? If so they’re likely to perform various Google searches around these interests within their initial location research.
To get your website in front of them while they’re doing this research, it needs to contain content that provides answers, help and inspiration.
Here are some examples you might consider using for this kind of market:
- Five must-see museums in [insert your location]
- Four restaurants you can’t miss out on in [insert your location]
- Cultural walking itineraries for couples in [insert your location]
- Activities for the art lover in [insert your location]
Task: draw a line down the middle of a piece of paper. On the left write down all the things that are important to your customers and what they might search for in the location research stage. On the right, start writing corresponding titles for each of these topics that you could easily turn into articles.
It may look something like this.
Now you have a list of titles, you just need to add them to your website.
Most websites have a blog, but most boutique hotels use it for inane ‘news’ type items that no-one really reads unless your boutique hotel is owned by a celebrity.
You’ll find that with this new focus, you’ll be able to write valuable articles for your customers regularly. You should find it easier than ever now you have a focus too.
My advice is to write at least one article a month, but ideally two or more for optimum success.
Optimise the articles for keywords they relate to (more tips on that here) and then get your loyal customers, friends and family to share the content over the web and social media.
In time, Google will start to pick up and rank the articles in the search results and you’ll start to get found by customers who appreciate the value you’re offering.
So you’re over the first hurdle. Now your website is being found at the location research stage and you’re noticing numbers of visitors to your site growing and growing.
BUT, only a few are booking.
You’re finding that people are coming to your website, reading the article and leaving.
They’ve had only a brief interaction with your brand but continued their research elsewhere.
How can you put a stop to this? What you want is for them to stay on your site, read more helpful articles and then get to know your boutique hotel.
The more useful a resource you can be to them, the higher the chance this will happen.
The longer you keep them on the website, the more likely curiosity will encourage them to start clicking around to find out who you are and what you’re offering. This will in turn increase the likelihood of them remembering you when they’re ready to place a booking.
There are various tactics we can employ to increase the likelihood of them staying on the website. Some of these involve adding call-to-actions (CTAs) to each of your articles. These CTAs include directing them to other similar articles. You could also produce downloadable guides (in exchange for their email) and other useful tips.
I know, I know.
I never said the solution was a quick-fix, but it’s a good one and it does works. So it’s really worth investing the time it takes to get the results you’re after.
The results will last a long time too and you’ll finally be able to say goodbye to the expensive OTAs and other costly advertising methods.
In the websites we create for boutique hotels, we always research the user and their journey first, and work out how we can use that to our advantage to increase website visitor numbers and ultimately the number of online bookings.
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