Search Engine Marketing or SEM is the process of gaining traffic by purchasing ads on search engines. Over the years, paid search has evolved beyond just paid advertisements based on keywords. Hoteliers can now be a lot more targeted, using behavioral data behind the regular keyword search to target customers. Given Google AdWords’ dominance in the area and the proliferation of new marketing options including mobile, banner advertising, video and more, SEM can often include a variety of digital marketing elements.
Paid Search Advertising has evolved beyond the last click, bottom of the funnel sales driver. Today, paid search plays a role throughout all phases of the vacation planning process.
According to Skift report, Evolving Strategies in Travel Ad Tech and Bookings, “Overall, brand spending on data-driven ad technology is up, and key travel verticals are helping to continue that trend. Online travel agencies, airlines and hospitality are deeply invested in programmatic, and many brands within those sectors are spending a significant portion of their marketing budget on not only maintaining their positions [in search results], but also on pushing the instruments of predictive analytics in new directions (1).”
One of the most valuable aspects of search advertising is the ability to understand consumer intent. For hoteliers, consumers self-identify themselves and put themselves into certain segments in the digital space based on what they are searching. Paid search can be used to reach consumers in the “dream phase” with broader keywords while more specific content can be used once the traveler engages with the ads. Consumers self-identify themselves into segments by the words and phrases they use to search. For example, a user searching “luxury hotel deals Miami” is different than a user searching “family hotel deals Miami. While a single hotel can meet the needs of both these users, the single word difference in the queries helps paint a picture of different consumer mindsets and what type of vacation they’re seeking. This gives a hotel the opportunity and challenge to connect the consumers’ intent with the hotel’s products and services in a more specific and relevant way.
By tailoring their marketing to the specific consumer, hoteliers will find that a properly managed paid search advertising campaign can represent the most efficient and effective of all marketing channels. Aside from the valuable consumer mindset based on what they are looking for at that moment, the key drivers of success in this channel are targeting, metrics and pay per click pricing.
Fueled by the volume and availability of Big Data (see our other article); the amount of info available to marketers about consumers is as robust as it’s ever been, and it keeps expanding. This data is at the core of what makes online adverting networks such as Google AdWords so valuable and successful.
While data and targeting options continue to expand, here are some of the most fundamental targeting elements for hotels to consider when developing a refined consumer targeting strategy and SEM campaigns.
At the core of SEM, the keywords a user enters into a search engine enables marketers to quickly understand quite a bit about what that a user is seeking (i.e. hotels in Miami), at this very moment.
Search queries most often consist of two or more words, with additional details implied. Not so subtle modifiers can give us additional insight into timing (spring 2015 vacation packages), context (family resort deals), and more. By clueing in on these details and refining the marketing messages to acknowledge these nuances, relevance to the user increases which boosts response rate and conversions.
Paid search enables refined geotargeting at the campaign level so that we can group consumers by where they live. This also helps hoteliers to provide more targeted immediate offers that would be relevant to a local customer, while key drive markets can receive packages catered to their needs. This is also a great way of reaching international markets knowing cultural needs.
Hoteliers can also track the location of a consumer based on where they are located in the moment when they perform searches on mobile device. Although a traveler may live in Brazil, you can determine that a guest is already in Miami and is searching on mobile device for area attractions by providing information about food and beverage venues or the spa.
According to various case studies, consumers initiate their booking process on a tablet or smartphone during downtime, but typically they will continue and end their travel planning process on a computer. In order for travelers to successfully plan travel via a mobile device, it’s important to create a website experience that is optimized for mobile visitors. With bid modifiers in AdWords you can decrease bids by 100 percent, which removes ads from the page display on a smartphone. Bids can increase for mobile devices by up to 300 percent (3).
Evolving data and targeting options enable more refinement in customized consumer messaging. This is the opportunity for hotel marketers to provide the right message to the right customer at the right time. Using combinations of geography, language, targeting, keywords, device and proximity to track search, this adds additional data layers that can be used as modifiers. The beauty of search is right place, right time, right message – that’s the key since the beginning of search.
According to Google, remarketing is a tool that allows hoteliers to show ads to consumers who have previously visited a website during the planning process. When using this tool, the hotelier will be able to present the consumer with highly relevant ads and offers across the Web and make sure the hotel is top of mind when they’re ready to make their travel decision. (2).
Search remarketing is a great example of the evolution of paid search. For example, if a hotel is trying to drive consumer interest in family vacations to their website, they will likely not have success with the competitive keyword “family vacations” as it is too broad. However, using search remarketing, the hotel can bid on the keyword “family vacations” and only show ads to potential travelers that have already been to their hotel website. Using this tactic, the hotel is able to take a broader, competitive keyword and use it to their advantage by adding another layer of targeting data that will make it more relevant to their end consumer.
When a hotel is new, the website will not have had many visitors and will have less data to use for targeted interests. In this case, a hotelier can target competitors or area and destination interests. Without a strong web history for re-marketing purposes, a hotelier should target interests locally. This will be more expensive at first, but it will help create awareness about the property with consumers who have already expressed interest in the destination. A hotel can also use the property’s unique amenities and services to attract consumers to the website. Once a web history is established, hoteliers can build their re-marketing audience to generate further awareness and demand.
Hoteliers typically pay 20-25 percent to book through a third party like Expedia, Travelocity, Kayak, etc. If they purchase a click that cost 20 percent or less, they own the consumer relationship. This creates a better opportunity for upselling room categories and securing restaurant reservations during the booking process. If a hotel has limited marketing dollars in the digital space, search is going to be one of the more important factors. In terms of pricing, only having to pay when a user responds by clicking ensures costs start with a clearly measurable consumer engagement.
Budget is still a huge factor, but as the budget grows, the hotel will reach a point of diminishing returns. Hoteliers then increase their options to video ads and other forms of digital marketing. Overall, it depends on the budget of the property, but it’s important to consider search as the foundation of the plan and how much it would cost in other digital channels.
Metrics enable us to measure many facets of the advertising. From clicks and impressions, cost data, impression share and more, details are highly measurable which enables benchmarking and quantifiable improvements over time. Further, thanks to widely available website analytics programs such as Google Analytics, we can measure downstream behavior and after the click.
Search Engine Options
Google controls 70 percent of the search engine market due to the large amount of consumer who utilize the advanced features within the program. Beyond Google search, a lot of remarketing features are available through the Google Display Network. Google also powers a search that a consumer views with their partners. When a hotel is ready for incremental search volume, platforms such as Yahoo! and Bing can be utilized.
About the Author
Ryan Fitzgerald founded Net Conversion, an Internet Strategy, Marketing and Results oriented agency in early 2007 with long-time business colleague and friend, Frank Vertolli. Net Conversion provides comprehensive marketing strategies and quantifiable business results to organizations seeking success via the Internet.
Specialties: Areas of expertise include: Product Development, Planning and Analysis, Pricing Strategy, Corporate Finance, Online Media & Advertising, and the overall management of a variety of clients, partner, and vendors relationships.
1. Skift Trend Report: Evolving Strategies in Travel Ad Tech and Bookings
2. Google Ads
3. Search Engine Watch
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