How mobile is changing local SEO for hotels

At Equator we love working with hotels. As part of ensuring we continue to deliver a cutting edge service to our hotel clients we like to keep a close eye on the hotel search landscape. Changing trends in search and user behaviour have led us to take a closer look at where the hotel sector is going in search and what can be done to capitalise on these changes.

In the last half of 2016, organic performance for our hotel clients improved markedly - especially in relation to trends across other marketing channels - and this is important considering how the market place has remained just as competitive as ever.

On digging deeper, we found that mobile traffic played a massive part in this increase – with a number of hotel clients showing increases in mobile traffic of up to 17% year-on-year.

Average mobile traffic

Average mobile traffic

An increase in mobile traffic isn’t all that surprising, it’s something that’s been seen across the search landscape for a while and is more a sign of the times than anything ground breaking. However, when looking at all of the organic traffic for each hotel, the results showed a similar trend - organic mobile traffic was not only increasing, but also taking a larger percentage share of traffic compared to other devices for the first time.

Percentage share of traffic by device

Percentage share of traffic by device

The above data shows an example for one specific hotel chain which in 2017 has seen the share of mobile traffic reach almost 60%. This situation isn’t unique to just this hotel either.

Google changes driving new user behaviours

Naturally, the increase in mobile traffic online is a trend that Google is well aware of and has put an increasing focus on since the ‘mobilegeddon’ algorithm update of 2015, which was designed to give a boost to mobile-friendly pages in Google’s mobile search results for the first time. Since the mobilegeddon update, Google has continued to refine its mobile algorithm with several further updates aimed at rewarding websites that provide a good mobile experience for users.

- May 2016 – Mobile friendly update

Google rolls out another ranking boost to mobile friendly sites a year after its first update

- September 2016 – Possum update

A major update to Google’s map pack ranking algorithm making location of the searcher a more prominent factor to the results served

- January 2017 – Intrusive interstitial penalty

Google releases a penalty to sites with aggressive pop-ups that damage user experience on mobile

All of these algorithm updates overwhelmingly signify a definitive move towards mobile and a change in user behaviour, the same changes we are seeing for our hotel clients. Delving deeper into the data we can begin to see exactly what’s driving this mobile traffic to our clients’ sites.

The rise of ‘near me’ and near location searches

The rise in mobile usage has led to different types of searches emerging. The proximity element of mobile searches has led to the rise of ‘near me’ searches that have really come into prominence in the last couple of years.

An examination of Google trends gives a picture of how much ‘near me’ terms have taken off. For example, comparing the search terms ‘spa days’ and ‘spa near me’ you can see how the near me term has taken over in 2016:

Interest over time

Interest over time

A similar trend can be seen when comparing other services and their related ‘near me’ keyword terms including, gyms vs gyms near me and restaurants vs restaurants near me.

What’s more, an analysis of Search Console query data shows that these searches come overwhelmingly from mobile users. Our research showed that an average of 84% of queries from mobile devices contained the phrase ‘near’ in them across each hotel chain analysed.

Autocomplete on mobile devices is also facilitating the rise of ‘near me’ terms. Google have described how near me searches have increased 34 times since 2011. For example, take out your phone just now, open your browser and type any kind of service such as spa, gym or restaurant. We’re willing to bet that the first autocomplete option will be the keyword term followed by ‘near me’.

This is representative of a substantial shift in user behaviour, but the question is why? Well, Google’s aim is to direct users quickly to a more geo-specific search in the belief that a mobile search often has a geo-specific intent, this in turn will potentially improve user experience and drive more qualified traffic to businesses. The better Google’s mobile search becomes, the more inclined businesses will be to buy into future products and services that go beyond just having a Google My Business listing.

Looking ahead for SEO, the discussion turns to how the importance of proximity in mobile searches could start to shift the order of traditional rankings in search results. A study carried out by Darren Shaw from local SEO tool provider, Whitespark points to this already happening. Shaw’s study found that in many searches – proximity was the most important ranking factor. Considering this, if a user’s location is the most important ranking factor, then this will possibly level the playing field when it comes to the dominance of some businesses over others in search results.

The Role of Google Maps + Google My Business

Traffic being driven by Google’s map pack results has steadily risen since it first appeared in the search results several years ago. Recently we implemented tagging on Google My Business pages for one of our clients to see just how much traffic is garnered from Google Maps and Google My Business pages. Results show that the Google My Business and the map pack have driven as much as 56% of SEO traffic in a single month for our tagged locations and that 80% of these visits were from mobile devices.

While it’s clear that Google My Business listings are driving lots of traffic, our research also found the way these mobile users behave is slightly different to desktop and tablet users. Mobile users were more often interested in food and beverage offers, with 52% of table reservations being driven by entrances through a Google My Business listing. It was also clear that many users were researching hotels on mobile, but then finishing their booking journey on desktop. This activity points to what Google calls a micro-moment, times during the day where we turn to our smartphones to research products and services which can ultimately inform our purchasing decisions – it’s through analysing our mobile traffic that we can see these micro-moments in action.

What does this mean for businesses?

Our research has shown that the trend of mobile browsing looks set to continue, and that means a focus on local SEO for businesses will be fundamental moving forward. Businesses should look to take advantage of the growth in mobile browsing by following some simple local SEO practices, those being:

  • Building consistent, quality local citations across national and local business listings
  • While also leveraging the power of having a fully optimised Google My Business listing to tie all of that citation building together.

The more information Google has about your business, the better it will perform in search results – particularly, as we’ve seen, for local results on mobile.

For hotels specifically, the increased competition caused by changes to the layout of search results, the dominance of online travel agents, and increased costs associated with PPC mean that there is a reliance on organic to pick up more traffic wherever possible. We take an integrated approach to our search strategy, combining the activities of each channel to increase the efficiency of what we do for the benefit of our clients. In practice, this means everything from sharing keyword information between channels to up weighting and down weighting activity to make sure each channel is attaining the best results it can – but we’re now going beyond this.

As Equator likes to lead by example, we are currently in the process of launching hotel price ads to help combat the OTAs and increased PPC costs, encouraging an increase in direct bookings for our hotel clients. This is something that no other agency in the UK is doing and it is our belief that combining this activity with organic local search optimisations and our integrated approach will drive more traffic to our clients’ sites through brand searches.

Increased levels of mobile search are here to stay, it’s how you adapt to the changes in user behaviour that come with it moving forward that will matter most now. Capitalise where you can by analysing where your traffic is coming from, taking advantage of how users are entering and interacting with your site and make sure you’re giving them the best experience possible on mobile as well as desktop.