Take the hospitality vertical, for example. Most SEOs wouldn’t think of hotels and restaurants as particularly difficult to escort atop Google’s SERPs, but they are. When you consider how the Internet has evolved and how Google displays search results for hotel and restaurant-related queries, you’ll quickly see the uphill battle that you’ll be fighting if you’re ever tasked with optimizing a hotel’s website for greater visibility:
As you can see in the screenshot above, the top part of the SERP for the keyword “Hotel in Manila” is occupied by a full pack of ads. There’s one organic result towards the bottom, and it’s for the website booking.com, which is one of the world’s biggest online travel agencies (OTAs) – not a real hotel property. If you scroll down on the SERP once, you should see this:
This is the part of the SERP that actually shows hotel properties that you can book directly via Google. At first glance, it looks like a regular Google Maps pack for local businesses. However, it’s not the same thing. For one, there are four listed businesses for hotel and restaurant map packs instead of just three for regular map packs. More importantly, regular map packs allow searchers to call the business or visit its website directly using buttons. Hotel map packs, on the other hand, allow users to book reservations via Google itself.
It’s important to take note of this SERP feature because it’s paramount for modern SEOs for hospitality businesses. As you scroll below the map pack, you’ll likely see this for any non-branded hotel query:
You can see here that the “People Also Ask” accordion section comes after the map pack and the actual organic SERPs are at the bottom. That’s critical since that means organic rankings matter much less in hotel and restaurant SERPs due to the fact that the map pack and the People Also Ask sections are hogging the topmost parts of the page and therefore, the lion’s share of the clicks as well.
But wait a minute, it gets even worse if you’re doing SEO for a hotel.
Notice how all the organic search results are dominated by OTAs? Literally the entire first page is owned by the likes of Trivago, TripAdvisor, Expedia, Traveloka and their ilk. This is particularly troublesome for hotels who are trying to draw more organic traffic from Google since competing with OTAs is a very tall order.
Even if a hotel had $10,000 per month to spend on SEO, this figure pales in comparison to OTAs who often have hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars to spend on marketing each month. While a hotel needs to spend on maintaining the property, paying its staff, accommodating guests and other operational expenses, OTAs don’t need to worry about any of that. Their entire business model is predicated on being middlemen between hotels and potential customers. Hence, their ability to pour more manpower, money and creativity into SEO than any hotel marketing team can.
Ultimately, this means that your best chance of helping a hotel or restaurant gain more bookings from Google is through the hotel-specific map pack. It’s the only part of the SERP that’s exclusive to real hotel and restaurant properties and it’s off-limits to dominant OTAs. Even if you had the balls to try and take on OTAs in the regular SERPs, an unlikely win after a brutal SEO war isn’t really worth it as traditional organic search results have been pushed so low on page 1. Even if you managed to secure a ranking between 6th to 10th, you’ll be receiving a tiny percentage of clicks that happen each moth for your target keyword.
How to Rank for Google Hotel Map Packs
Now that we know why hotel and restaurant SEO is harder than ever, it’s time for a bit of good news: it’s still possible to get a significant amount of bookings for a hotel without resorting to Google Ads or fighting a no-win battle against OTAs. In order to get started, we have to operate with a mindset “Map Pack or Bust” mindset i.e. the hotel map pack is where the action is at. If we fail there, we fail overall. No ifs and buts about it.
So, how do we start ranking for map packs? It’s really not that different from your typical local SEO campaign. Most of the fundamentals will still help, but with an added flavor specific to hotels. Here’s what we mean:
- Tie Loose Ends in Content Management.
The hygienics of technical SEO are a must for any website. If you’re a beginner in this area of SEO and you want a full-on audit guide for that, you can always check out this comprehensive post. In our experience, hotel and restaurant websites typically have the following technical SEO issues to contend with regularly:
- 404 Not Found Errors. This type of error can be spotted with tools like Google Search Console or the Screaming Frog SEO Spider. Basically, a 404 Not Found error happens when a search engine revisits a previously indexed URL but can’t find it again due to either intentional or inadvertent deletion. These can be corrected by bringing back the live web page, via redirection or by doing nothing, depending on the reason why the URL is giving off the 404 status.
- Soft 404s. Reported in Search Console, these errors happen when Google sees a URL displaying a “Not Found” message while it gives off a 200 OK server response code. This type of error usually occurs when custom messages saying that a page no longer exists are set up by webmasters incorrectly. These can be addressed by changing the response code to “hard” 404s.
- Broken Links. Internal links that point to URLs that are either giving off 4xx or 3xx responses can be discovered using the Screaming Frog tool. Broken links can stunt a website’s ability to get webpages indexed and disrupt the distribution of PageRank across its domain. These can be addressed by updating the link URL or deleting the link altogether, whichever makes sense.
In our experience, the most common source of these errors is the way content and webpages are managed by hotel webmasters. Promo pages that come and go, in particular, tend to contribute heavily to this. When your website runs a lot of promotions, make sure to:
- Use distinct URLs for every promo landing page
- Make sure to delete and redirect them after the promo period ends.
- Make sure they’re deleted from your XML sitemap after the promo ends.
- Use static URLs for promo pages.
Keeping your technical SEO health at good levels will allow your website to get indexed properly, earn good performance marks and facilitate optimal PageRank flow from webpage to webpage. All of these will keep your website competitive against other hotel websites.
- Represent a Genuinely Good Hotel.
There are no two ways about it: optimizing a genuinely good business for search is much more doable than trying to help a bad one rank. If you boil things down to the basics, all Google is doing with its hotel map packs is providing recommendations on hotels that people are most likely to book. The better and more popular a hotel is in the real world, the greater Google’s incentive is to drive bookings to it.
To help Google determine which hotels deserve a spot in its all-important map pack, it uses the following signals on top of traditional SEO ranking factors:
- A Complete Google Business profile for hotels. There’s a special type of Google Business profile for hotels. Make sure that you create a listing for your property. Without one, it’s highly unlikely you’ll be listed in the hotel map packs.
- Genuine and Positive Reviews. Receiving reviews from real people who were satisfied with their business interactions with you goes a long way in map pack SEO. Encouraging people to post their thoughts about your hospitality business can help Google gauge your relevance to queries about accommodations in your area.
- Local Citations. Local citations are mentions of your business name, address and phone number (NAP) in webpages outside your own domain. Though not nearly as impactful as they used to be, they still help Google better understand and validate the relevance between your business and its immediate location. They can be built by submitting your business information to sites like Yelp, LinkedIn, Facebook pages, and more but they can also be created when news sites, partner websites and other referring online publications publish your NAP. In this regard, press releases, job postings, and other activities that establish your online footprint can be really helpful.
- Driving Directions. Google owns both Google Maps and Waze, so there’s no question that it owns a lot of the world’s data when it comes to driving directions. There are local SEO experts who believe that Google factors this into local map pack rankings, though this has remained largely unconfirmed.
Getting set on driving directions means that a user already has direct intentions of going there. This means that your hotel’s branding, its ability to attract customers, and its tendency to encourage repeated visits are the most crucial aspects here. These are very hard to fake, so it would make sense why Google would use map application data as a ranking factor in hotel pack search results.
- Get [Lots of] Local Backlinks. It was true 20+ years ago and it’s still very true to this day: backlinks are still the most powerful ranking signal as far as Google is concerned. The value of links tends to be understated by people doing local SEO due to the heavy focus on map pack rankings as opposed to regular organic results. Emphasis ends to be placed more on the generation of reviews, local citations, and other secondary signals when in fact, the most important driver of map pack rankings is a strong presence on the regular search results.
Simply put, you can’t expect to rank well on map packs if you’re not doing well on regular search results. Even if you don’t rank on the first page for keywords like “hotel in [your area]” due to OTA saturation, you’ll still get a strong map pack push if you’re ahead of other hotel property websites in the traditional rankings.
To that end, you’ll need to build links. Lots of them. The more links you get from your own country, the better. The potency of the links will be at an even higher level if the website you get them from represents a business in your own city or region.
This post isn’t really about link building, but if you need a guide to get started, I recommend reading this post.
- Target Long Tail Keywords. Good SEO isn’t just about ranking for short, commercial head terms. It’s also about improving general organic search traffic acquisition. To that end, allocate a significant amount of effort and resources on developing content that will target long tail keywords related to your hotel’s business. It may not rank for the usual hotel keywords that OTAs dominate, but it can certainly gain good traction for longer phrases where the competition for SERP dominance isn’t quite as intense.
When we do SEO for hotel clients, we tend to write blog posts, travel guides and articles on the following topics:
- Landmarks in the area
- Tourist attractions
- Local culture
- Local events
- Government agency offices
Writing about these topics helps your hotel’s website get found by people outside its immediate vicinity. This helps generate positive user engagement signals, social media shares,. Natural link acquisition and brand awareness. It also reinforces your hotel’s relevance to the locality where it can be found.
To discover keywords and topics that will serve as the basis for these content assets, we use keyword research tools such as SEMrush and Ahrefs. Both tools have the typical keyword discovery features as well as tools that generate lists of questions that people type on Google when they look for answers online.
Overall, hotel and restaurant SEO isn’t as simple as it used to be, but success can still be found if you know which parts of the SERPs to target and what to put into your SEO campaign. With a combination of regular SEO, local SEO, and hotel-specific SEO strategies, you can start growing your employer’s organic search numbers and bookings immediately.