Social Media: A Growing Search Engine

By Anne Sandoval Marketing Manager, Travel Media Group | February 18, 2018

For a hotel property, appearance in search results has long been a vital strategy to increased bookings. The main places hoteliers stay competitive in search results are online travel agency (OTA) websites and TripAdvisor. OTAs have capitalized on their search results by encouraging hoteliers to purchase premium placement and featured listings. The city rank algorithm and hotel ratings on TripAdvisor have inspired an entire industry of review management. These are only a few of the strategies hoteliers employ online to reach travelers searching for hotel rooms.

In 2011, when Google launched their Hotel Finder search tool, the importance of search engine optimization took on a new meaning for hoteliers. Suddenly, the world’s largest search engine became a booking tool, and hotel owners and managers set their sights on increasing their organic search ranking. Hoteliers use a variety of tactics to get noticed on Google. Properties use vanity websites and listing management, plus Google reviews and optimizing Google local business profiles to increase their exposure in Google results.

In 2018, hoteliers don’t second-guess the importance of these website listings. They understand the correlation between ranking and booking. When the competition ranks higher, the effects are felt through lower occupancy or lower nightly rates. With such a connection between online search and hotel revenue, it’s no surprise that hoteliers are well versed in strategies to employ on Google, Bing, TripAdvisor and OTA websites.

However, there’s a new frontier in traveler search behavior. Social networks already account for a large portion of referral traffic to websites. Now, enhanced search functionality updates are making social networks some of the most frequently used search engines online. Hoteliers may be surprised to learn that users search more often on social media than they do on some of the tried and true search engines.

How do Social Search Engines Compare?

Let’s look at how social networks stack up against search giants like Google and Bing. Most people think of Google and Bing, the top two traditional search engines, when they think about search results. Rightfully so, Google receives 5.5 billion searches daily according to Search Engine Land. Bing users search a respectable 900 million queries on a daily basis, but that’s actually fewer than the most popular social networks.

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Sales & Marketing: Opinions Matter

Hotel Sales and Marketing Directors manage a complex mix of strategies to attract and convert customers into guests. Part of their expertise includes an awareness of customer behavior during the reservation process, so they can make sure their hotel is favorably positioned. One such trend is the growing popularity of travel review sites. According to one recent survey, 61% of prospective customers consult online reviews in order to validate information about the hotel before making a purchasing decision. Another survey found that the average hotel customer reads between 6-12 reviews across 4-10 properties before making a final decision on where to stay. Similarly, other studies have shown that consumer reviews are a more trusted source of information for prospective customers than other kinds of marketing messaging. In fact, reviews are often considered to be as influential as price regarding whether a customer decides to complete a purchase or not. Plus, travel sites with the most reviews - including recent reviews from satisfied customers and thoughtful responses from staff - were also found to be the most appealing. So having positive reviews on a travel website is essential and can help to increase a hotel's conversion rates dramatically. Of course, there are all kinds of additional marketing strategies for sales and marketing directors to consider - the importance of video and the emergence of live streaming; the implementation of voice search; the proliferation of travel bots; and the development of Instagram as an e-commerce platform. The June Hotel Business Review will report on some of these issues and strategies, and examine how some sales and marketing professionals are integrating them into their operations.