SEO for vacation rentals and bed and breakfast providers_Rental Tonic

A Beginner’s Guide to SEO for Small Accommodation Providers

This week we had the privilege of being interviewed by a UK hospitality magazine on basic SEO for holiday let and bed and breakfast businesses. We’ll share the article when it’s published in July.

We decided to condense the interview into an article for our Rental Tonic followers around the world, who won’t get a chance to read the published article.

How would you describe SEO to someone new to the subject?

On a very basic level SEO is a means to get noticed by your ideal guests.

I always ask clients to think about what they would type into Google to find their business? Nowadays we don’t just type a keyword to find what we want on Google, we type a question. What we refer to as a query. Your accommodation business has to answer that query to get noticed by your ideal guests.

On a more defined level I would describe SEO as one of the most important tools for marketing your holiday lettings or bed and breakfast business online. And the most important tool if you want your business to grow organically, and  rely less on paid-for marketing channels, such as listings sites. Ultimately using SEO will help improve your ROI and attract repeat guests.

What are the benefits of developing an SEO strategy?

The most important benefit of SEO is how it can help you become less dependent on listings sites, directories and other paid-for channels.

To understand why SEO works the way it does, it’s important to understand the cycle of a holiday, and where you, as an accommodation provider, fit into that cycle.

Google identified the five stages that travellers go through in a holiday cycle:

Dream Stage: Every holiday starts with a dream

Planning Stage: Before long travellers are on to the planning stage. Statistics show at this point they may visit 20 or more sites, shopping around before booking

Booking Stage: Hopefully with you!

Experience Stage: This is where you have to ensure you haven’t oversold and that their expectations are fulfilled

Sharing Stage: If you’ve done your job well, then they’ll be sharing a happy experience – reviews, social conversation, word-of-mouth

When you are reliant on paid-for listings or advertising, you are only ever going to be found at stage 3 – the Booking Stage. At this stage you are always going to be competing for a share of enquiries and bookings with competitors. And we start to compete on price, something we want to avoid at all costs, because there will always be someone prepared to offer accommodation cheaper than you.

Ideally you want to stand out before the booking stage and you want to attract guests who are looking for exactly what you have. At the planning stage, travellers are researching a destination, and the type of holiday they want to enjoy. If you identify your niche and create an SEO strategy around that niche you can create experiences that your ideal guests will buy into.

Travel businesses rank higher when they create experiences. Think destination and experience, over accommodation.

Always remember: Nobody dreams of accommodation. They dream of a holiday, of an experience. And that is what you have to deliver in your marketing. And that’s how we use SEO. As a means to deliver a holiday experience, not just accommodation.

What are the fundamentals of good SEO?

Finding the right keywords: A small accommodation provider is never going to be able to compete on top level keywords, such as ‘Holiday cottages Devon’, or ‘Bed and Breakfast Dordogne’ for example. Just take a look on the first 2-3 pages on Google, they are maxed out with listings sites and directories.

When you are developing an SEO strategy you have to bring it down a level, you have to think about your ideal guest, your niche market and those queries, or long-tail keywords as they are known, which pinpoint exactly your experience.

To break this down:

Example of a search query: What are the best hiking routes around Harrogate?

Answer it in your website copy: A guide to the best hiking routes in Harrogate.

Answer it in your listing: Our bed and breakfast is situated next to some of the best hiking routes in Harrogate. Free guide for guests available!

No OTA (listings site) is ever going to answer that query, but you can. And that is what your absolute ideal guests are searching for at the planning stage, when they determine what type of holiday experience they want to enjoy.

Keyword implementation: In your website and advertising copy: Keep it organic and authentic.

TALK TO HUMANS FIRST: Don’t overuse keywords and phrases. Be expansive and warm, not repetitive in your content.

In Metadata: Use a plug-in such as Yoast to write targeted titles and descriptions that appear on Google. They highlight the correct length of a title and description, so your Google listing appears in full and isn’t cut off mid-sentence. Just don’t get too hung-up on getting a green light for every aspect of your content with Yoast. Stay authentic and organic, be the local expert, and don’t worry if you have a few orange lights along the way.

Link building and internal links:

  • Don’t set up a useful links page
  • Do keep your links relevant and contextualised within your organic content. Linking to local businesses is an excellent way of Google understanding that you are a local expert.
  • Do build meaningful relationships with local businesses and work on building links between each other.

How important is social outreach to SEO?

When it comes to SEO, content is always king: textual, visual and video. But unless you want to play the long-game and wait for your amazing content to rise up through Google’s rankings, you’ll need to find another outlet to share your amazing content.

So where content is king. Distribution is queen. And that’s where social outreach comes into play.

Social outreach can come in many different forms and definitely needs a good strategy behind it. Blogging on other platforms, your social media profiles, user generated content and getting influencers involved. But that’s a whole other article! Have a read of our article on the power of User Generated Content for your social media strategy.

What pitfalls should people look out for with SEO?

Not investing in enough time to make it work. SEO is all about keeping content fresh and answering those queries. If you don’t keep it up, then expect your rankings to fall or disappear.

Unrealistic goal setting. If you are aiming to target a mass audience then forget it. Don’t waste your time. It’s never going to happen because there are the likes of and Airbnb, etc. that spends millions every year on reaching the masses. Be realistic. Understand your niche. Set realistic goals to attract your ideal guests.

The great thing about understanding your niche and not targeting a mass audience is those clients who find you via a very niche search are looking for exactly what you have. They are going to love your holiday experience and these are prime clients who will become your repeat guests.

What about measuring your results? What tools exist.

Setting up Google analytics and a search console is all you need to measure and analyse website traffic. There are paid-for tools such as Moz  and SEMRush, but Google will deliver what you need in terms of analysing where your traffic comes from, what query makes it arrive at your site, and how it reacts to your content.

Is it really so important to be number one on Google?

Number one is to achieve the nearly unachievable.  But yes, it’s important for Google to know you exist. And for your future guests to find you.

At Booking Stage – especially for small hotels and bed and breakfast accommodation – travellers tend to search through listings, make a shortlist and then go over to Google to find you directly.

It’s all about authenticity and making a personal connection before they book. Something that the OTAs have taken away. If you don’t have your own marketing channels they will find someone else who does. For this reason, it’s essential to have a presence on Google.

There are other ways of getting your business on to Google in the short-term, such as Google My Business and a PPC (pay per click) or AdWord campaign.

Where does PPC or SEM advertising come into the picture?

SEO is about the long-game. A long-game worth playing, as organic traffic ultimately costs nothing and delivers a higher conversion rate. But organic SEO doesn’t happen overnight. For example an article you write today, might not get ranked on Google for three to six months. You need to plan your content well for it to be visible at exactly the right moment that a client is looking for that type of content or information.

If you have just launched your business and want to get instant exposure then use PPC. Otherwise use it when you have specific promotions, seasonal messages, or when you find that your organically ranked pages have for some reason dropped down the page rankings.

Can a business really do it on their own? Or is SEO always a job for the professionals?

It depends on what you already developed in terms of your own marketing channels and how much time you have to dedicate to the project.

If you already have your own website, with a little bit of coaching, or research, and putting aside time on a regular basis, you can manage your own SEO. It’s about being constant and consistent. Keeping content fresh, analysing your queries and being able to answer them.

If you have time to spend a couple of hours a week on staying fresh and keeping your social channels fresh then the answer is yes. But as soon as you let it go, then expect to see your business disappear down the rankings.

And if we choose to work with a holiday lettings marketing agency like Rental Tonic?

We’ll start by analysing what channels you are currently utilising. What generates enquiries and what channels convert best to bookings. We then look at your ideal scenario within 18 months to 5 years and together we set goals on how to achieve that.

We always work together with the client to set goals, identify your ideal guest and niche market, and from there we create the channels and the content to entice your ideal guests to book.

I have written a course on copywriting for holiday lets and small accommodation providers, which takes you through four steps for creating content for your accommodation listings, social media and website, totally focused on organic SEO and targeting ideal guests. You can sign up to the course for $70 in the Vacation Soup Learn Centre.

Five good tips for getting started on the right track with SEO

  1. Understand your ideal guests and what they want from a holiday experience
  2. Don’t try to compete on top level keywords
  3. Instead focus on search queries/phrases and answer them in your content
  4. Be authentic, not repetitive in your message and content
  5. It’s all about creating a destination and experience channel. Remember.You have to sell more than just a bed to sleep in

Need help getting started with a website and SEO? Contact us for a free virtual assessment and let us help you conquer Google!


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