On March 16, Google announced the rollout of an algorithm change intended to minimize the visibility of spam content on search engine results pages. The update, known as the “Doorway Page Algorithm Update,” targets pages with thin, low-quality content and unnatural keyword usage.
Google wants to dissuade sites from creating shallow content pages that are designed primarily for search engines, rather than human beings. These pages attempt to rank for keyword terms without providing users any unique or useful information. This falls in line with the search engine’s goal of giving users the quickest route to the most comprehensive, rich, and fully formed information on any given topic.
In Google’s own words, the “Doorway Pages” the search engine is trying to steer users away from can be described as “pages that are closer to search results than a clearly defined, browseable hierarchy,” and pages that “lead users to intermediate pages that are not as useful as the final destination.”
Should Branded Hotels Be Concerned?
One of the major brands immediately used this new Google Doorway Algorithm Update to try and discourage its franchisees from operating vanity websites.
Here is what this major brand had to say:
“Doorways are standalone websites or webpages that feature very similar content and function as a second point of entry into a primary website (in our case brand.com). Google does not want doorway pages or sites in their search results because they create a frustrating experience for Internet users by limiting them to a smaller variety of options to browse through when searching for information. Hotel vanity websites/microsites closely match Google’s new definition of doorway pages; therefore, create a potential risk for brand.com to be penalized.
A recent assessment of your existing hotel vanity website/microsite has concluded that we need you to shut down your vanity website and redirect all traffic to brand.com.”
Using the above logic, an OTA website and its property pages are also a mere “second point of entry into a primary website – the major brand website,” and should be shut down as well. According to this major brand’s logic, there should be just one result in the search engine results pages, and this should be brand.com. In the real world, though things are different: A search on Google for a very specific hotel name such as “Hilton Checkers Los Angeles” brings 147,000 results!
This attempt is nothing new for this major brand. The brand has devised a new strategy every several years to dissuade its own franchisees from undertaking valuable digital marketing efforts. Despite its best efforts, neither the brand – nor any major brand – has succeeded in shutting its franchisees out of this valuable revenue stream. These tactics haven’t worked in the past, and there remains no reason for branded and franchised hotels to be intimidated in the present.
There are reasons vanity websites exist and thrive: they focus on the occupancy needs, customer segments and property-specific business needs not addressed by the major brand.
HeBS Digital’s extensive experience with branded hotels categorically shows the vanity website provides real value to online travel consumers by reaching customer demographics and market segments that are not effectively addressed via brand.com efforts – or in many cases completely abandoned by the brand:
- Leisure travel
- Family travel
- Weekend travel
- Weddings and honeymoons
- Social events
- Unmanaged business travel
- Regional and in-state corporate groups
- Spa, golf, tennis, ski, etc.
- Providing a minimum of 40 to 50 pages of unique, editorial-quality and highly-relevant content, targeting the customer segments and demographics that are not adequately addressed by brand.com. The vanity site showcases the hotel product as it relates to these travelers.
- Providing content – prized and rewarded by search engines – that offers myriad value propositions to the user, especially in comparison to the 5 to 10 pages of drab, database-driven property descriptions pieced together on the brand.com content assembly line.
- Providing a superior selection of special offers, packages and promotions, as well as non-accommodation related dining deals, spa discounts, and more, via enabling the property and its merchandising capabilities to create new marketing and landing pages on the fly.
- Providing rich information and descriptions on destinations and activities, including robust city guides, top things to do, points of interest, and local recommendations.
- Providing “fresh,” search engine-friendly content in the form of upcoming event listings in the destination and on-property happenings at and around the property.
- Providing quality content and the opportunity for travel consumers to learn more about the property – an opportunity search engines fully encourage. For instance, a search for “Hilton hotel in Los Angeles” returns 122,000 results, including vanity sites, brand.com sites, OTAs, and other relevant resources.
Conclusion & Action Steps:
Vanity websites are not doorway pages, according to Google’s own definition. Vanity websites are the opposite of doorway pages, as they provide tangible value to the online travel consumer in the form of high-quality content, rich images, user-friendly site structure, and easy access to the hotel’s secure online reservations system.
Vanity websites generate incremental revenue to the property by focusing on a property’s unique occupancy needs, target customer segments and real-time business needs – needs not addressed by a major brand website. Brand websites lack the flexibility and agility to market a single property effectively online, while devoting fewer resources and less attention to the quality, depth and relevance of the content written for any individual hotel.
Action Steps to Success via the Hotel Vanity Website:
- Ensure your vanity website features user-friendly navigation, providing users an easy path to information – and an XML Sitemap for easier indexing by search engines
- Provide unique, editorial-level descriptive content on the website
- Avoid duplicate or directly overlapping content with the major brand website
- Focus on incremental market- and customer segment-specific content the brand website overlooks:
- Leisure/Family Travel
- Unmanaged Business Travel
- Provide rich destination- and nearby activities-themed content
- Provide fresh content about onsite and area events and happenings via calendar of events functionality
- Provide a wide range of unique, enticing non-room promotions:
- Dining/spa credits
- Free parking/Wi-Fi
- Update as often as possible the property’s special offers and packages, creating unique, conversion-focused landing pages with descriptions and details for each new promotion
About the Author and HeBS Digital
Max Starkov is President & CEO and Asher Fusco is Associate Director, Copy+SEO at HeBS Digital. Founded in 2001, HeBS Digital is the industry’s leading digital technology, full-service hotel digital technology and marketing, website design and direct online channel consulting firm based in New York City (www.HeBSDigital.com).
HeBS Digital has pioneered many of the “best practices” in hotel digital marketing and website revenue optimization, as well as a range of industry-first digital technology applications. The firm has won more than 260 prestigious industry awards for its digital marketing and website design services, including numerous Adrian Awards, Davey Awards, W3 Awards, WebAwards, Magellan Awards, Summit International Awards, Interactive Media Awards, and IAC Awards.
A diverse client portfolio of top-tier major hotel brands, luxury and boutique hotel brands, resorts and casinos, hotel management companies, franchisees and independents, and CVBs are benefiting from HeBS Digital’s direct online channel strategy and digital marketing expertise. Contact HeBS Digital’s consultants at (212) 752-8186 or email@example.com.
Logos, product and company names mentioned are the property of their respective owners.