It may sometimes seem that the bigger businesses and online travel agents have all the budget and larger marketing teams and for people looking for a hotel or restaurant, your website is the equivalent of just one potential room in a whole super-sized resort.
They may just breeze by without even realising you are there.
But, by getting a handle on the secrets of how to drive traffic directly to your site you’ll be able to even out the playing field somewhat and give your site the equivalent of a huge flashing neon sign above the door.
Here are a few top tips on how to drive more direct traffic to your website.
You will undoubtedly make the biggest profit through direct bookings, so the first step is to make the most of one of the most powerful tools in your toolbox: your own website. It makes zero sense to offer better prices or special deals through Online Travel Agents (OTAs) or centralised booking services.
The misconception with consumers is that OTAs provide the best deal with the lowest price when it comes to making a booking. You need to demonstrate the opposite, so your marketing must offer the best rate, best service and additional extras direct from your own site.
Ensure that your prices are clear and explain exactly what’s included. Remember the OTAs only have a limited amount of space per entry to give detail. You have your whole website to showcase your product and services, so make the most of it. Give the consumer the details around the room types, whether WiFi and breakfast are included, show detailed pictures of the rooms or even a 360-video tour. Please, just make sure it’s all optimised so it doesn’t slow your site speed.
Of course, due to the agreements in place, some restaurateurs and hoteliers are unable to offer exclusive rates to their direct bookers. So, you need to get creative. Perhaps you hold back the private dining element or luxury rooms from the booking service and promote these as an exclusive or include complimentary extras such as a laundry service, free glass of champagne or dinner, things that can’t be booked via the OTAs.
You need to shout from the rooftops that booking direct offers the best value for the guest and you can use paid media to help here (PPC advertising, branded content, and display ads). Remarketing lists for search ads (RLSAs) are a Google Ads feature that allows you to optimise campaigns based on whether a user has been to your website before.
Consumers regularly find a deal on an OTA and then visit the hotel’s own website to get more information, but then return to the OTA to make the booking. RLSAs can help disrupt this process by showing an ad to the user when they try to return to the OTA via search. This ad should be focussed on getting the consumer to book direct – so the call to action (CTA) needs to focus on this. E.g. 15% off all direct bookings
How you can use this:
Highlight where the consumer gets the best value
Provide detail in your on-page copy
Use RLSA’s to drive bookings
Ensure clear call to action
Use the tools
To successfully target your customers and acquire new ones, it’s no longer enough to merely know the demographics and location of your potential customers. You need to know as much about them as possible; including their interests, opinions, problems, desires, values, and personalities.
If you truly understand what makes your audience tick, you can develop your keyword targeting, enrich your content, and give an excellent user experience, therefore improving page conversions with a compelling call to action for customers. Online Travel Agents and booking sites are unable to provide this level of personalisation.
There are several tools which allow you to do some initial research, some are free, some have a cost, but often offer a free trial for you to test them out.
Google Analytics (GA) is always a good place to start. The GA platform gives you data on the actual visitors coming to your site. You can filter by age, gender, language, location. You can see what device they use, whether they are a new or returning visitor, how frequently they visit, how recently they visited, and what interests they have.
To analyse audience engagement, each of the main social media platforms also have their own insight tool (Twitter Analytics, Facebook Audience Insights, Instagram Insights etc). There are additional specialist tools such as YouGov, Answer the Public and BuzzSumo, which all give insights into your potential customers.
There is no real short-cut here, you can’t make assumptions about your target audience.
Take some time to invest in getting this right; play with the tools, understand how they work and what they provide. Then take the data from each of the tools and combine it to create your own specific customer personas to see how they match up with your internal customer insight.
Remember, your customers are human after all, with individual desires, needs, and motivations. You need to find out what these are in order to provide a personalised approach to your marketing strategy.
How you can use this:
Become a marketing private eye – do your research
Use the data and analytical tools at your disposal
Base decisions on data not intuition
Customers searching for a restaurant, hotel or holiday will all have individual needs and desires. OTAs and booking sites focus mostly on price and ease of transaction, but due to their templated format, they can’t offer more than the basics. But you can.
Customers will use the OTA for an overview search, then leave and go directly to the restaurant or hotel’s own website to look for more information. Use this to your advantage.
Ensure that you’re showcasing your offering in the best way possible, that your website reflects the experience guests can expect. Use beautiful (optimised) images and video, and ensure it reflects your brand personality. The boking sites can’t offer this, their formulaic approach means when you bring up 10 hotels in their template, they all essentially look the same.
Although imagery and branding are important on your optimised pages, remember to also provide answers to questions your customers might have. Think beyond the basic queries around room size, location, and facilities that customers want to know. Maybe its which room is quietest, whether there is somewhere they can store their bike or what nearby restaurants come highly recommended. You could also add special offers that are exclusive to direct bookers.
No booking site allows for this level of information. So, you can give yourself an edge by providing answers to questions that your customers didn’t even know they had.
How you can use this:
You do ‘you’ – ensure your website and social profiles reflect your brand and identity
Ensure that the intent you are focussed on is right for your audience’s needs – ensure your content reflects where the customer is on their purchasing journey
Provide answers – use keyword research to optimise your blog, your FAQ section and all your on-site copy
You can go as far as you want with personalisation, the booking sites don’t have that luxury.
Once you know your audience (see the section on tools), you can create unique packages that customers can’t get from OTAs and target these at your audiences.
For example, you could offer a special family package; offering a family room, an early dinner reservation and the latest kids movie [and treats] for free. Or if you’re a country hotel; a themed weekend offering outdoor pursuits and the use of Hunter wellingtons and Barbour jackets. You could also run themed packages based on an upcoming movie release, well-known calendar or anniversary dates or special events and festivals. The options are endless. Consumers are always looking for unique experiences – especially ones that can be shared on social media.
Again, you can use paid media to target potential customers. With Customer Match (a Google Ads feature), you can re-engage with customers who have previously stayed with you, as well as serve ads to other people like them. By uploading your customer email lists, you can create highly-targeted ads to specific customers. For this to work best, you need to segment your email lists into clearly targeted groups e.g. family guests, business guests, VIP guests etc.
By doing this you can target past customers for a repeat visit. So, when they type into Google, a specified keyword like “family-friendly hotels in Southampton” or “Romantic weekend country break” you could serve them a personalised advert that might say something like, “Romantic country breaks – Relive your dream break – 15% off for returning visitors”.
You can also use the Similar Audience tool in Google Ads to reach new customers and exclude past ones. This does what it says on the tin and serves ads to users who are like those past customers whose emails you’ve uploaded. For this, you’d create a different advert perhaps focussing on the package itself. E.g. “Family breaks in the country – weekend offers now available – Book your cottage online today”.
How you can use this:
Put together a unique experience or package
Segment and then upload your customer email lists
Promote the package using the Customer Match and Similar Audiences features in Google Ads
There’s nothing more frustrating than finding out that your hotel’s name has been secured at the top of a search engine – but by someone else. For this reason, and although it might grate, it’s important that you do bid on your own brand term too.
To start with you probably want to check whether any OTAs are bidding on your brand. You can do this using the Auction Insights tool in Google Ads. The Auction Insights report lets you compare your performance with other advertisers who are participating in the same auctions that you are. By reviewing this you can see where you’re succeeding and where you may be missing opportunities to the OTAs.
To make your ad resonate more with your audience, you should identify the reasons to visit your hotel that the OTAs are promoting and then add to and improve on these. You can also consider bidding on your own brand name and the name of each OTA – this would make your ad more likely to appear above the OTA ads.
Finally, the cost of bidding on brand terms is usually minimal. Google has dominated the search engine market by consistently prioritising user experience. On Google Ads, they do this through the metric ‘quality score’ (QS). In short, this is the relevancy of the ad to the search query and runs from 0 (represented by a ‘-‘) to 10.
When bidding on brand keywords the relevancy of your ad is highly relevant. As a result, brand keywords usually receive a QS of 8-10. Google rewards high-quality score with cheaper Cost per Clicks (CPCs) and higher ad rank. In the past, we have found CPCs for brand terms be as low as 20p. This, in turn, makes the cost of brand defence very cost-effective whilst stopping the OTAs appearing at the top of the page for your brand term.
How you can use this:
Use Auction Insights to see who is bidding against you
Offer more unique selling points for your hotel in your ads
Consider bidding on your brand name AND the name of each OTA
Use all the extensions
Ad extensions allow you to add information which the user might find helpful and encourage them to click. For this reason, it’s important that you use as many of these as you can. They don’t cost any extra, but they improve your ad rank and they will help your ads stand out from those of the OTAs. So, you have no reasons not to use them really.
The best relevant ones to use for the hotel industry are:
Call extensions – this makes it simple for the user to call the hotel. One-click and they’re through
Location extensions – perhaps the one most often used, this allows the user to see where you are and how close this is to where they want to be
Price extensions – by popping in the starting price the user will immediately know if your hotel is within their budget
Structured snippet extensions – gives users an easy way to see what amenities you have, what services you offer etc
How you can use this:
Add in all relevant extensions
Local Search Ads
In the bid to rely less on the OTAs this is a strong left hook.
Local Search Ads are what comes up either in Google Maps or in the local search area of Google when people search for nearby businesses E.g. “hotels near me”
In order to appear here, you need to ensure your Google My Business listing is up to date and that you’ve set up location extensions. You can then serve ads to people when they search for nearby businesses that include your keywords. You merely need to target a specific location and set bids by location, so your bids increase for people located near to your hotel
You should also use keywords in your campaigns that relate to your location and/or what people are searching for locally
As the OTAs won’t be able to claim your location on Google My Business, they can’t run local search ads, so you have less competition from them in this arena. Make the most of it.
How you can use this:
Get your Google My Business listing set up or updated
Enable location extensions
Set the campaign to target by location
Shout it out!
With customers putting increasing trust in people they know have a connection with, or simply admire through social media, more brands are working with influencers to promote and extend the reach of their message and/or products.
While this can be an expensive exercise, with little return if targeted incorrectly, it can also prove very lucrative, as influencers are able to lend them credibility to your brand and quickly make your brand visible to their relevant audience.
We’re not just referring to the likes of expensive Kardashian-level celebrity endorsement, even niche influencers are able to generate interest and results for brands (without the expensive price tag) providing the transaction is beneficial for both parties. Well, when brands engage with the right ones that is.
This can also be approached in a different way, via the publications that promote and or publish your content through either the influencer’s site or through channels they own. Getting features in the right publication can greatly increase the success of a campaign, getting it in front of new eyes and generating conversations you may not be able to create on your own brand channels.
How you can use this:
Research which influencers are relevant in your space, and how engaged their following is
Look at what influencers are talking about your competitors
Check out what publications you could work with, and what they want to talk about
No matter what tactics come and go, which signals become redundant and what ground-breaking new elements become big-game players, hospitality websites will always need strong digital marketing strategies to maximise their success.
Without strong, relevant information and content, search engines won’t be able to truly marry up what factors are adding relevance and credibility to your site.
To help you play in the same space as the bigger companies, booking sites and OTAs and rely on them less, you need to ensure you are always innovating and looking at what you can do to make life better and easier for your customers.
Check out our site for more resources or download more of our guides to learn more about each specific area of digital marketing.