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