As a hospitality marketer, your marketing plan may seem perfect — website enhancements, social media strategy, a strong advertising plan. Those are all great tactics for a hotel’s marketing mix, but while they set a strong foundation for discovery, there is one other component that sometimes takes a back seat.
Every hotelier knows the importance of Search Engine Optimization (SEO), but oftentimes marketers emphasize SEO from a content and technical perspective. Yet the third branch of SEO — known widely as Local SEO — is critical, especially for hotels. Local SEO these days largely boils down to Google My Business (GMB), a free service Google launched in 2014 and has expanded since. GMB listings have become an important part of modern SEO strategies. A GMB listing includes all the information Google knows not only about your hotel (its address, business hours, website, etc.) but also about your services and amenities (parking, swimming pool, restaurant, etc.).
According to Google, 46% of all searches have local intent, meaning the search user is looking for a specific business nearby or with a specific location. Furthermore, Google found that 60% of search users have contacted a business directly using search results. Google has geared its Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs) to play into this data, adding a Knowledge Panel in the upper-right of many search results listings. That panel houses a hotel’s GMB listing for relevant searches — making it more important for hoteliers to claim and optimize their listings.
GMB listings are meant to be unique, verified, and engaging for each hotel. They allow hoteliers to describe the features that differentiate their hotel from others in the area, show off its personality, feature user-generated content (e.g., reviews), showcase amenities (e.g., free breakfast), and much more. Whether your hotel already has a Google My Business Listing or needs to claim or create one, here’s what you should know to stand out.
Why all hotels need to claim their Google My Business listing
The simple answer for why a hotel should have a GMB listing is simple: Real estate.
That is the often-discussed phrase when it comes to hospitality marketing. Given that Google and other search engines play into so many marketing tactics — including organic SEO, pay-per-click (PPC) advertising, Online Travel Agency (OTA) advertising, metasearch, and local SEO — the more a hotel engages in these various strategies, the more likely it is to command the entire top half of a search engine listing. As you can see below, The Marquette Hotel controls the top of Google for its branded website, vanity website, metasearch, and Google My Business listing.
The opportunity to claim prime real estate at the top of Google only increased in 2018 when Google launched Hotel Pack to compliment Local Pack. Have you ever searched for a restaurant in your city and been given an interactive panel at the top of the results page that allowed you to view locations on a map, click the menu, and more? Hotel Pack was Google’s expansion of this feature into the hospitality landscape.
Today, when a search user looks for ‘hotels near me,’ ‘hotels in Atlanta,’ or even ‘Marriott Downtown Dallas,’ Google will often surface this Hotel Pack feature (below) at the top of the page, including above ads and organic search results, using rankings factors including relevance, proximity, and prominence. Google now uses Hotel Pack to showcase results through Google Travel and Google Maps as well.
But while page real estate and visibility is a primary driving factor of GMB, it isn’t the only benefit to hotels. In addition to driving traffic across Google properties, an optimized GMB listing allows hotels to better engage with guests and potential customers when they're researching or considering booking a stay at your hotel. Hotels can add photos, videos, and other engaging content that helps travelers see how your hotel looks and feels, while also providing important information about the experience they can expect when they visit — all before they ever land on your website.
Even if they don't arrive on your website, search users can see your hotel’s address and phone number at a quick glance, so being in the right place matters even more than it did before. A GMB listing can be a great way to drive brand awareness and encourage travelers to connect with you in other ways. If a user finds your hotel from Hotel Pack, they also might be more likely to respond to nearby ads on search result pages. Ultimately, GMB can provide your hotel with increased visibility for relevant searches, showcase reviews to boost engagement and conversions, and compliment your other digital hospitality marketing strategies.
What hotels should include on their GMB listing
Keeping your hotel’s GMB listing optimized increases its visibility across Google properties by ensuring that you're tied into other features within Google's ecosystem. Google has increasingly aimed to provide search users with the best and most relevant information immediately, and the more signals you have to show your hotel is legitimate, the easier it will be for users to find you.
If your hotel isn't optimizing its GMB listing, it may not show up on the first page of search results for your city or region — which means you're missing out on potential customers. So, what GMB features should hoteliers be taking advantage of?
Claim and/or verify your GMB listing
First and foremost, your hotel needs control of its GMB profile. For most branded hotels, this is handled at the corporate marketing level. But for independent hotels, it’s up to you to take ownership of your hotel’s GMB and verify it.
If your hotel is new, you’ll need to create and set up a Google My Business listing. Google offers detailed instructions, as does Bright Local. If your hotel has recently been purchased or you just aren’t certain whether a GMB listing exists, you should start by searching to see if a GMB listing comes up. If one does, you’ll need to request ownership access. And, if your GMB isn’t verified, Google will require address verification via phone or by sending a postcard to your hotel’s address.
Update your hotel’s listed attributes
Once inside your GMB account, it’s important to update and/or list all of your hotel’s attributes. Think of these as the common questions a traveler might have. Google consistently allows hotels to post attributes for new categories and uses the GMB feature to allow search users to quickly find general hotel information.
Categories available for hotels to include are:
Health and safety
Food and drink
Policies & payments
Parking & transport
Business & events
Add your hotel’s amenities
Amenities are similar to attributes, though GMB doesn’t allow much customization. Google offers a checklist of items hotels can select to display or not, such as free Wi-Fi, parking, and more. Because they are visual items, it’s important to mark all available amenities so prospective travelers can quickly evaluate your hotel at a glance.
Take prospective guests through the travel journey
Hoteliers know the importance vivid photography can play on a hotel website, and it’s just as critical on GMB. Oftentimes, this will be the first time a traveler actually sees your hotel and it’s important to invite them in. GMB allows hotels to have both a cover photo, which is the first image a search user sees, as well as business photos, which is a collection of photos that showcase amenities. This is the perfect spot to showcase various areas of your hotel from the lobby to the workout center to the rooms.
At the end of the day, Local SEO and GMB aren’t set-it-and-forget-it strategies. They require ongoing optimization as Google and other providers roll out new features and as your hotel’s offering or marketing strategies change. Hoteliers should continually monitor their GMB listing for user-submitted photos and reviews and keep the content fresh and up to date. The positive is that once a hotel’s GMB listing is set up and optimized, it becomes easier to manage as part of an ongoing hospitality marketing strategy.
Google My Business listings are an opportunity to enhance your hotel's presence and engage with guests and potential guests. If you haven't optimized or claimed your listing yet, it should be part of your marketing plan. Not sure where to begin? Reach out.