Hotel SEO: How to write engaging and optimized meta descriptions

In a marketing climate that emphasizes social media ads and Snapchat Live Stories, traditional meta descriptions and old-fashioned SEO best practices often get overlooked. With so many new tools that were technologically impossible even a few years ago, it’s understandable that marketers get caught up in keeping pace with the next big thing. In order to obtain the best bang for their marketing buck, however, hotel companies must employ a variety of digital marketing strategies that engage guests throughout the buying funnel.

Despite the fact that Google no longer takes them into account for their page ranking algorithm, meta descriptions can still have a dramatic impact on a hotel’s overall click-through rate on SEO. Like any other marketing tool, meta descriptions can be crafted very poorly or very effectively, and it’s important to understand what information goes into the best meta descriptions (and what information should be kept out) in order to maximize the resources spent on writing them.

Idiosyncrasies of the hotel industry

One of the factors that needs to be considered when determining the value of meta descriptions to a marketing plan is the nature of the hotel industry itself. Most hotels (especially large city properties) draw from an eclectic and diverse clientele. There may be a specific group that comprises a plurality or majority of the revenue, especially during seasonal events, but many properties are still catering to customers who are both young and old, travel novices and seasoned road warriors, and the tech savvy to the tech phobic. Many potential hotel customers will still be using traditional search engine terms such as “Cleveland hotels” when they are beginning the booking process.

Compare this to a company marketing a B2B microchip processor aimed at Silicon Valley tech giants. In their situation, it would probably be more fruitful to spend money on ads in trade publications or popular industry sites than on writing meta descriptions, as it’s unlikely their customers will be typing in search terms when looking for their product.

Hotel companies, however, still have the power to make a singular impression on a large audience through meta descriptions, since customers can quickly and easily see a sample of their options via a search engine. Now that Google even includes rate information for many hotel searches, it makes them even more attractive to the user.

Think of the meta description as a brand ambassador

When setting out to write the perfect meta description, it’s important to think like a brand manager. Brand managers understand that every single interaction a potential customer has with the company communicates a message about the brand. In many cases, the meta description may be the customer’s first exposure to the brand, especially if they are is looking through generic search terms such as in a situation described above. Initially, it may seem daunting to be conveying such important information about the company in such little space, but this can actually be advantageous for the hotel through using a meta description as an extension of the brand.

sixty-hotel-beverly-hills-meta-description

Consider the above meta description from Sixty Beverly Hills. In just one simple sentence, the hotel is able to convey that it is a luxury hotel in Los Angeles, while simultaneously describing its design aesthetic and brand image.

Twitter can guide the way

standard-hotel-twitter-description
Twitter profile from The Standard Hotel NY, one of the top Twitter accounts for hotels.

Since the search engine results will only include approximately 156 characters of a meta description on the page, the goal should be to craft an information-dense and brand representative statement into a small package. Seeing as how Twitter functions with a similar character limit, it can be a useful guide for creating memorable and engaging short form content that jumps off the screen.

Twitter is, in and of itself, something of an art form, and there are people who excel at it while others have difficulty condensing anything useful into the social media site’s restrictive character limit. Just like tweets get lost in the noise of the platform unless they’re concise, engaging, and value-driven, meta descriptions also run the risk of blending into irrelevance on the search engine page if not written properly. Above all, a meta description isn’t designed to include an entire sales pitch; its function is to present information to the reader that will propel them to click through and move to the next stage of the buying funnel, much like a tweet is designed to get people to take action by either clicking a link, following, etc.

Include naturally occurring keywords, but don’t go overboard

If you’ve spent any amount of time browsing the internet, you’ve likely come across examples of companies engaging in blatant and unnatural keyword stuffing. The pages often stick out like a sore thumb, and many players in the hotel industry are particularly notorious practitioners when it comes to the name of their city.

We can all agree that keyword stuffing is unsightly and unhelpful for the reader, but there are differing opinions on the employment of naturally occurring keywords when creating meta descriptions. Some experts believe it’s better to avoid trying to shoehorn keywords into the description altogether, while others assert that the bolded words that appear in the search engine draw the reader’s eye and entice them to click. Elegantly inserted keywords that sound as though they would naturally be a part of the sentence anyway are difficult to execute properly, but the audience will appreciate a subtle connection between the content and search terms even if they don’t consciously realize it. If there’s absolutely no way to include the keywords without them seeming forced, it’s best to leave them out. At the end of the day, the goal is to have a focused, high-quality meta description whether or not the keywords are present.

Communicate a unique value proposition

hotel-seo-engaging-meta-descriptions

Most hotels play in a sandbox where there is intense competition from organizations offering similar features and price points. Despite these similarities, every successful hotel, like every successful company, offers a singular value proposition that attracts its customers. It’s an attribute of the product or service that competitors can’t or won’t match, and it’s what should speak to customers when they read a meta description for the first time.

Since a search page filled with links and meta descriptions contains a multitude of data competing for the reader’s attention, uniqueness is paramount. Meta descriptions that sound or look too similar to others in the results will blend together and likely lead to the top result getting the click, rather than compelling the customer to click because of the promise of quality content. Ultimately, the customer needs to be given a reason why they should click, which is exactly what the value proposition tells them.

Use metrics to track marketing ROI

All marketing tools are useless without corresponding efforts to measure their success. Fortunately, the effectiveness of meta descriptions is easily tracked by looking at click-through rates. The Google Analytics suite of metrics makes it simple to see click-through rates after inserting new meta descriptions, and they can be compared to earlier results when meta descriptions were absent or haphazard. Assigning a definitive revenue figure to meta descriptions is more difficult, since the customer could have abandoned the buying process for any number of different reasons after clicking through to the page, none of which may be related to the meta description itself. That being said, if revenue has been predictably stable and nothing else about the company has changed, it’s possible to see what effects a change in meta descriptions might have on the bottom line.

Put your best meta description forward

There’s no doubt that writing quality meta descriptions involves juggling several different balls; they need to be concise yet informative, engaging and on-brand, and they absolutely should present the reader with a unique value proposition that piques their interest. There’s also a sense of immediacy surrounding the transaction, as consumers are quickly presented with dozens of different options and will likely click on their choice in seconds. It’s not an easy task by any means, but taking the time to write meta descriptions that provide value for the guests promotes clicks and introduces the guest to the hotel’s brand and service promise.

Nate Lane

Nate Lane

Nate Lane is a senior global director of business development, product development, and agency operations with 10+ years of experience driving growth and innovation as an "intrapreneur". He's an avid mountain biker, a coffee and craft beer enthusiast, and a proud family man. Contact him at nate@traveltripper.com

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