4 Critical Steps To Prepare Your Hotel Website For Voice

Digital Services is excited to continue our series of guest blog posts written by MDS partners. This week’s post is brought to you by Anil Aggarwal, CEO of Milestone Internet, a leading provider of digital marketing software and agency services for hospitality, retail and financial services industries. Anil has written several articles and technology white papers related to ecommerce strategies and co-authored the book “From Hotels to HTMLs.” Anil is a board member of the HSMAI hospitality association and was named one of the top 25 extraordinary minds in the hospitality space. In this blog post, Anil shares industry trends regarding voice search and recommendations for how to ensure your website is on the cutting edge to enhance SEO.

Why Voice? Consumers are mobile- and hands-free

The modern consumer has changed. The way we search for information, shop, travel and buy is now mobile and is quickly becoming “hands-free.” Consumers and guests are interacting in new ways with new devices and apps that simply make life easier.

For the first time, eMarketer predicted that time spent on mobile devices in 2019 will surpass time spent in front of a television. In fact, eMarketer expects that the average adult will spend 3 hours and 50 minutes on their mobile devices each day. But mobile usage is not the only driver for voice search. In fact by 2020, Gartner predicts that 30% of “web browsing” sessions will be performed without any screen. The reason for this is that screen-less devices – and devices with smaller screens – are the new norm.

Whether it’s tapping on one’s AirPods™ or asking a question to Google Home or Amazon Alexa, eliminating the need to use hands or even eyes for interacting with content is already causing a huge shift in how consumers purchase goods and services online. In fact, Gartner also predicts that screenless devices will occupy more than 10 million homes. And 22% of smart speaker owners have already purchased something using their screen-less devices.

The market for “voice shopping” is poised to grow to $40B by 2022, up from an already sizeable $2B in 2018. This continuing trend towards a voice-enabled world is going to envelop all industries – including travel, hospitality and retail – where companies like Kayak have already deployed “skills” to platforms like Alexa in order to make booking flights and hotels easier and faster using voice commands. As a hotel, how do you stay ahead of these trends? How do you leverage these new voice search devices and how do you change your digital marketing approach to benefit?

Start with your website user experience

While it may seem counterintuitive to these trends, assuming your website is no longer relevant in a voice-powered world would be a big mistake. In a survey published in early 2018, Phocuswire found that nearly 75% of hotel bookings still happened on desktop sites. While the trend towards voice enabled commerce is real, your website is still at the heart of the entire process. In large part, the continuing preference for consumers to use desktop websites for conversions has more to do with poor mobile user experiences than with device preference. In fact, conversions on mobile devices in 2017 were barely at 0.8%, according to PhocusWire.

There are many factors that impact mobile conversion rates negatively, but poor user experience and how consumers tend to leverage mobile devices are two of the biggest reasons. According to Google, consumers tend to use mobile devices to research a topic, with nearly 40% of travel site visits coming from mobile.

So how should a hotel manage both voice technology along with continued reliance on desktop devices for the booking process? Outside of creating better mobile booking experiences, hoteliers must also embrace a holistic approach that leverages voice-technology across the early stages of the buyer journey and that relies on desktop and mobile sites for the conversion stage. As technology matures, enhanced booking engines will continue to improve mobile experiences, and technologies like mobile payment systems will make using credit cards on mobile devices easier and more seamless.

Schemas: How search understands your content

Let’s get to the big question first: Do schemas directly affect voice search? No, but ignoring them would be a critical error because schemas are fundamental to how search engines understand your content. This is especially true with what’s known as “entity search” or the process of searching for an “entity” using a search engine. Take for example, “what is the address of The Sinclair Hotel in Dallas?” Schemas are “tags” wrapped around the address of the hotel that tell the search engine that the content in question is an address.

Don’t be fooled into believing that having schemas for your business type and address are enough. If you go to the schema.org website, you will see that there are dozens of schemas to employ for just about any vertical, especially hotels and restaurants. There are schemas to describe products (your rooms), meeting spaces, ratings – just about anything.

We have seen incredible results with hotel standalone, brand approved outlet sites that have deployed schema, especially regarding their restaurant and spa menus. Not only does having schema make it easier for the outlets to achieve top search placement and assist with voice search, but schema has also led to some of the highest traffic going directly into the menu, on both mobile and desktop searches, not just the home page. This indicates searchers are getting the answers to their direct questions in the moment, rather than having to hunt through content and navigate across multiple pages to find what they are looking for.

FAQs: Give your website a “voice”

How do you get systems like Google Home or Alexa to answer questions about your business the way YOU want them answered? Part of your answer lies with Frequently Asked Questions.

Your guests have plenty of questions about your business, products, services and location. Answering those questions will not only engage potential guests on your site, but double as the foundation of how you answer their voice-based questions. Cool, right?

Using question aggregators like Answerthepublic.com and keyword tools like SEM Rush, you can search for keywords and questions associated with your property and location to see what queries consumers are asking about your business. Those questions are marked with schemas and can then be published as voice “actions” on systems like Google Assistant and Alexa. Of course, a critical component of any voice-search system is going to be the ability to track your actions and report on how consumers are interacting with your voice actions.

Putting it all together

Voice search and conversational interactions are the way we know, go and buy, and this behavior is growing. Consumers are increasingly looking for easier and faster ways to get information and to accomplish their tasks. With half of all search being voice driven by 2020 and nearly 30% of browsing being done on screen-less devices by the same time, having a voice strategy in 2019 is highly recommended.

Fortunately, there are steps you can take to get ready. Understanding the relationship between content and voice search systems and the need for schemas to help search engines understand your content are just the start. To be effective, your voice strategy must also include FAQs on your website, as well as mechanisms for publishing those FAQs to voice systems. Creating a holistic strategy that includes content, schemas and voice actions with related paid marketing campaigns is a powerful approach to getting maximum engagement from this shift in consumer behavior.

Anil Aggarwal

Author: Anil Aggarwal

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