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Posted by on Nov 7, 2017 in All Matters SEO

Breaking Down the 2017 Local Search Ecosystem

Have you ever wondered where search engines all pulling your business’ information from? The answer is complex, as local SEO data sharing is in constant motion within the local ecosystem. Nonetheless, the new US 2017 Local Search Ecosystem gives insight into specific relationships across the local space of digital.

What is the Local Search Ecosystem (LSE)?

The Local Search Ecosystem (LSE) is a visual explanation of the complexity of local data relationships*, and why incorrect data so often finds its way to the front page of Google or Bing. It was introduced in 2009 by David Mihm and has updated every two years.

Why is it important?

Understanding how the local search ecosystem works is important for successful UNAP consistency, which will result in better rankings and user experience. A business listing that appears to be correct on the surface might become incorrect later due to inaccurate incoming third-party data, or inaccurate data that already exists within another listings database, but has not surfaced yet.

The 2017 US Local Ecosystem

Whitespark and Tidings teamed up to create a new local search ecosystem, bringing attention to specific site relationships by hovering over and clicking the site segments on the chart. The circle shaped chart is set up with three relationships classifications:

  • Confirmed Relationships- Relationships that were confirmed either by the data aggregators’ distribution lists or by the business directories (or by both)
  • Likely Relationship- Relationships that were reported by the business directories
  • Unconfirmed Relationships– Relationships that were reported by the data aggregators in their distribution lists, but were not confirmed by their study

WhiteSpark and Tidings also noted the following categories in the circle:

  • Primary Data Aggregators –Businesses whose model consists of collecting and regularly updating and enriching business data, and then selling it to other companies, including business directories. They have the most influence in the ecosystem. IE. Infogroup
  • Core Search Engines – Most important display platforms that receive information from a number of different sources. IE. Google and Apple Maps
  • Key Sites – Sites that serve either as actual data providers of lesser significance, IE. Foursquare, or as important display platforms, IE. Facebook or as both. IE. Yelp
  • Other Sites – All other important business directories in the ecosystem that either receive, or on rare occasion provide data from/to other sites

The 2017 US Local Ecosystem(Image Source: Whitespark)

What Your Hotel Should Know

The chart helps us understand where to focus on in order in ensure our hotel’s URL, name, address and phone number (UNAP) are consistent throughout local search. But there are also some other findings and areas our hotels should note:

  • Proprietary Data –Some sites, such as the major data aggregator TripAdvisor, are not displayed because they generate listings based on business data they collect on their own. They use different methods of collecting such data, such as directly calling the business or using information found on their websites. Be sure that your associates are aligned with the correct data to give these sources and your hotel website accurately represents the hotel. Digital Services claims our hotels’ TripAdvisor pages so we can input correct data into the platform.
  • Less Significant Sources – There are hundreds of other data sources sites use. For instance, Factual has a feature called Crosswalk, through which they collaborate with business directories and display links on to third-party pages for the same business on their listing. Even if they are less significant, they are still appearing to users, and therefore should be entirely correct for your hotel’s credibility. Digital Services conducts a citation audit for hotels enrolled in our program to ensure UNAP consistency across sites like Factual, CitySearch, etc.
  • International Hotels– If your hotel is outside of the US, you may be wondering about your country’s local ecosystem. In their release, they stated that they will be releasing local search ecosystems for Canada, the UK, Australia, Germany and Brazil in the coming months. There are local ecosystems in every country and you should be keeping your hotel’s UNAP consistent no matter where your hotel is located. International hotels enrolled with Digital Services are set up with a Yext account to ensure the correct UNAP is being pushed to the countries’ specific local ecosystem.
  • The Dirty Four– Overall, Yelp, Yellowpages, Foursquare and CityGrid could be viewed as the “Dirty Four” – a secondary group of 4 semi-data-aggregators that seem to be as important as the primary data aggregators. For instance, Yelp can feed review and business data to Bing, Apple Maps, Yellowpages, Yahoo! Local and MapQuest. Yellowpages can feed to these sites as well. Therefore, it’s important to not neglect these sites and making sure they are optimized with your hotel’s correct information. Hotels in Yelp supported countries that are enrolled in Digital Services are provided with a paid Yelp listings as well as optimizations to ensure the profile accurately represents the hotel.

 

* Local search ecosystem relationships change frequently, so it is possible that such changes occurred from the time the first audit had been performed to the time the last audit was completed. As a result, the audit analysis data might be contradictory or incomplete.

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Posted by on Sep 12, 2017 in All Matters SEO

A Better Backlink

If you are looking to enhance off-the-page SEO for your hotel’s website, one of the most important factors to consider is your link-building efforts. Although link building isn’t always easy, acquiring natural links is well worth the time and investment. Below are some of the basics when it comes to backlinks and how you can take your ongoing linking efforts to the next level.

Backlink Basics

A backlink (or an inbound link) is an incoming hyperlink from one website to another. Search engines, like Google, look at these links as a source of credibility. When a site has a plethora of high-quality natural (non-paid) backlinks, the site has a greater chance of ranking on the search engine results pages. Backlinks also show readers, not just search engines, that other sites trust your website’s content, which improves a reader’s confidence in your site. Link building is also an effective way to build brand awareness and introduce your site to new audiences.

Link Ranking Factors

Although we know links are important, we also know from industry studies that not all links are created equal. The Periodic Table of SEO Success Factors shows that link quality, text and number of links are the most important link ranking factors, while paid and spammy links can have a negative ranking impact.

Periodic Table of SEO Factors_Links(Image Source: Search Engine Land)

To add, Moz’s 2017 Local Ranking Factors Results found that Google still leans heavily on links as a primary measure of a business’ authority and prominence. According to the survey results, quality/authority of inbound links, diversity of inbound links to domain and product/service keywords in anchor text of inbound links are just a few local ranking factors that have drastically increased from 2015 to 2017.

Backlink Best Practices

With this information in mind, consider the following best practices while building your backlink portfolio:

  1. Higher Domain Authority (DA) – Moz Domain Authority (DA) is a query-independent measure of how likely a domain is to rank for any given query. The higher the DA of the inbound link, the stronger the link signal to search engines that your site is credible.
  1. Diversity of Link Domains Your link-building strategy will be a better investment if you focus on inbound links that come from a variety of domains. For instance, backlinks should be from different domains, not just one domain’s different pages.
  1. Keywords (service/location) in Anchor Text – Having keywords in the anchor text (text of the hyperlink to your website) will also improve the link signal. For hotels, ensuring that the hotel name is the anchor text will be pivotal, especially if the hotel has the hotel’s city in the name.
  1. Quantity of Locally Relevant Domains – The quantity of inbound links is critical. And now, Moz’s search results show quantity from locally relevant domains is increasing in significance. Therefore, make sure you reach out to local businesses for linking opportunities.

Next-Level Backlinks

If you want to up your backlink efforts, try the following ideas that are currently being used for hotels enrolled in Digital Services by Marriott:

  • Find your competitors’ backlinks using Moz’s Open Site Explorer tool, and see if they are relevant for your hotel to target as inbound links.
  • Disavowing links can remove your hotel website’s association with links that are considered spammy and unnatural in the eyes of search engines. By using tools such as Majestic and Moz’s Open Site Explorer, you can see all backlinks and compile of list of spammy sites to disavow in Google.

Moz Open Site Explorer(Image Source: Moz)

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Posted by on Jul 25, 2017 in All Matters SEO

Another Day, Another Google Algorithm Update

Google Homepage(Image Source: SiteCenter)

We hear it time and time again: Google has updated its algorithm. The news breaks and we suddenly find ourselves scrambling for answers on these algorithm changes, which may have already taken place. Or, better yet, there is actual confirmation of an update from Google. In the past, Google regularly announced algorithm updates and how the changes could affect search results. Today, however, many of us wonder if Google’s current lack of transparency is of concern for website SEO, which leaves us questioning what we really need to know about Google’s algorithm updates.

The Basics

Google ranking systems sort through billions of webpages to give users valuable and relevant results. These ranking systems are made up of algorithms that analyze what users are looking for and what information to return in the search engine results page. Google continues to update its algorithm 500-600 times a year in efforts to improve the user experience. Over the past several years, most updates have been minor, but there have been a few major updates that could have affected your website’s natural search rankings.

Main Updates

Panda The Panda algorithm was designed to target websites with low-quality content. It required sites to up their game in terms of usability, user experience, creating meaningful content and refraining from creating duplicate content. In October 2016, Google stated that the Panda algorithm would analyze all of the pages of a website and may decide to demote the site’s search engine rankings as a whole based on its overall quality on an ongoing basis.

Penguin The Penguin algorithm began rolling out in April 2012 and focused on penalizing websites with artificial incoming links. In October 2016, Google announced that the newest Penguin 4.0 algorithm devalues or ignores spam links and would reverse any penalties from the first phase of the Penguin update.

Hummingbird Hummingbird aimed to give end users the right answers to their questions, correct facts, statistics and articles that were dense with high-quality content that related to their queries. It was in part an attempt by Google to provide better responses to voice queries, specifically within the mobile space.

Pigeon The Pigeon update focused on local SEO, which drastically changed the way Google interprets, modifies and handles location results. The local search algorithm tied deeper into web-search capabilities, including hundreds of ranking signals with such features as the Knowledge Graph, spelling correction, synonyms and more. It also improved Google’s distance and location ranking parameters.

Fred – With the March 2017 Fred update, any site content seen as invaluable, low quality, outdated or too ad-heavy is guaranteed to start seeing massive drops in rankings. Also, backlinks to the main site with old content has started seeing a clampdown by the update.

What to Consider

While it’s important to educate yourself on larger-scale updates, you do not need to obsess over the granular details of every algorithm change. Below are things to consider next time you get word of another update:

  1. Post-Update World – This phrase refers to an SEO world that has no official identifying/naming of algorithm changes, no confirmation that an update has been rolled out and no information on when exactly that rollout occurred. Updates are becoming more infrequent, so if you do see ranking changes, don’t panic; with so many unannounced updates, we shouldn’t take ranking changes as permanent.
  2. Wait to React Although you may want to make changes to your website, the smarter thing to do it wait a few days or even weeks to see if your site truly was impacted. If you aren’t taking part in “black-hat” SEO, your site probably was not impacted negatively.
  3. Know Your Data Industry leaders also explain the importance of knowing your data before concluding that search ranking decreases are coming from a Google algorithm update. Did your competitors see changes? Were you impacted in just Google? Did all your website pages see a traffic drop? If you answer “no” to many of these questions, chances are, you weren’t hit with a Google penalty.
  4. User-focused Commitment – Although we don’t know all the factors Google uses to rank, we know its mission is to help each search user find the correct information they’re looking for as quickly as possible. You will benefit by focusing on your users and their needs, instead of short-term results that can crush your site’s long-term viability.

Algorithm updates can seem overwhelming, but, at the end of the day, if you are doing SEO right—creating good, user-focused content and earning links from credible and niche-specific sites—you should be okay. Stay updated by credible sources, but don’t worry about knowing what every minor update did or didn’t do.

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Posted by on Dec 20, 2016 in Conference Recaps

State of Search Conference Recap

The Lone Star State became the State of Search as the Dallas/Fort Worth Search Engine Marketing Association hosted its 3rd annual digital marketing conference this  past November in Dallas, Texas. The event presented a variety of topics throughout the search and digital landscape, however there were three main topics that stood out as the most prevalent throughout the conference.

Communication

Industry speakers Maile Ohye from Google and Purna Virji from Microsoft, shared very different presentations, but nonetheless settled on the theme of communication. Maile took a present day focus, sharing data on search behavior, including that 1/3 of all mobile searches are location based, 20% of queries are by voice and that 53% of users abandon ship if your site takes more than 3 seconds to load. Purna shared futuristic data on how we communicate; Millennials speak with text but Gen Z will speak with images and 3.6 billion people are predicted to use messaging apps next year. Moreover, Purna said that by 2020 85% of business to consumer relationships will be managed without interaction. But what does this all mean? It means that digital communication needs to be adaptable and flexible. Searchers want fast, true, quality and easy connection across all search platforms. There are many different ways to communicate, whether it be pictures, mobile, voice, etc. and the communication delivery is just as important as the content. It’s vital to understand your audience and keep their intent in mind.

State of Search 2016

(Image Source: State of Search)

Elevation

The second topic catered around the idea of elevation. As digital marketers it is important that we strive to achieve a higher level of everything we do. Whether it’s reaching our target audience, becoming more creative with storytelling content, or even personal growth, it’s time to raise the bar for clients and businesses.  To no surprise, the industry is elevating the customer experience as well. For instance, take Google’s decision to implement AMP and start indexing mobile first. Google knows that more than 50% of searches are performed via mobile, so why not enhance the user experience with these two changes? Or think of Amazon, which shared by speaker Christian J Ward from Yext, is working on making Alexa recognize human emotion. Then of course there is virtual and augmented reality; keynote speaker Duane Forrester from BruceClay shared recent news regarding Uber’s purchasing A.I. startup Geometric Intelligence. As companies like Uber are going all in with elevation, it is vital to implement your own elevation strategy too.

State of Search Conference 2016

(Image Source: State of Search)

Empathy

Wil Reynolds from SEER Interactive took the stage with an impactful presentation on empathy. As digital marketers it is easy to get wrapped up in all the changes Google is making in their algorithm, but we need to be focusing on the humans behind the search. Wil gave examples of how people bring baggage to their search and how great marketers step outside of their own bubbles to understand the needs of people. Wil went on to explain that marketers should remove any amount of friction between the searcher’s question and the answer; it’s about giving people what they need and want. He shared how companies like Facebook have associates work for an hour on a 2G network to build empathy for users that have slow connections. Wil presented on a personal study in which he changed 8 meta descriptions for a client. Although meta descriptions do not affect ranking, the small change generated more than $100,000 in revenue by truly connecting with people through small story telling.  Throughout other presentations during the conference it became apparent that the core value of marketing is empathy, specifically how we can form authentic, lasting relations with existing and potential customers. Digital marketing is about being present in the customer’s journey and not about just ranking on keywords. To understand the journey, empathy is required.

2016 State of Search Presentation

(Image Source: State of Search)

As the digital world continues to change and develop, it will be interesting to see how these themes take charge. The Digital Services team will be keeping these themes top of mind when strategizing for our hotels in 2017.

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Posted by on Nov 22, 2016 in All Matters SEO

A Spin on Seasonal SEO

Seasons come and seasons go, but should your SEO strategy? As the holiday season approaches and sport outings dominate weekend plans, many businesses yearn to capitalize on the seasonal patterns that arise within search. And while ranking well within search engines for seasonal terms has its advantages, it’s important to consider the damaging effects of taking a seasonal approach for your hotel website’s Keyword Strategy.

Holiday

 (Image Source: Creative Commons, License)

Ranking Compromise

By targeting seasonal keywords, your hotel website will lose focus on its long-term keyword strategy. Losing focus can impact overall traffic to your website, as your website’s authority within search engines may decline for relevant keywords that are consistent. Ranking well for terms that are being searched 24/7, 365 days a year can bring a whole lot more traffic to your site overall than ranking well for terms that are only being searched for one or two months out of the year. SEO grows over time and swapping keywords for seasonal ones may hurt any progress made on these long-term keywords.

Relevancy

Time and time again, we hear that search engines like Google are focused on showing users the highest quality, most relevant pages on the search engine result page. Keyword relevancy is even said to be more important that keyword search volume. With this in mind, your keyword strategy may not be as sustainable with seasonal keywords. Sticking to content that is everlasting will continue to be significant long past when it goes live on your hotel website. By establishing an SEO keyword strategy that is always applicable to your website, the risk of optimizing content that is insignificant to your hotel will no longer be a concern. For example, using keywords based on a sport’s league playoffs can become irrelevant quickly once teams are disqualified or playoffs are complete.

Timing

Another concern about a seasonal keyword strategy is timing. In order to have seasonal SEO deliver any impact during peak seasons, the process needs to start months before. SEO is not immediate and takes an average of 4-6 months to start working. When content is optimized based on last-minute seasonal keywords, the search engines do not find and index it right away. To illustrate, optimizing your website with Christmas keywords in October will not drive the search engines results as quickly as one would hope. By the time the hotel website ranks prominently on the SERP for seasonal keywords, the seasonal peak may have already passed.

However, there are other ways to implement a seasonal digital strategy for your hotel website. Whether centered on holidays, sales patterns, trends, fads, literal seasons or sports, a seasonal approach to overall digital marketing can be successful without hindering the website’s keyword strategy.

  1. E-mail: This channel is great for building excitement for the seasonal event your hotel may be planning. Furthermore, publishing a newsletter for the event/season can help provide more details to hotel prospects.
  2. Social Media: Posting content inclusive of what is trending on social platforms is another way to add seasonality to your SEO. Hotels should remember that social media channels are search engines too, and posting seasonal content is a great way to grab a new audience’s attention.
  3. Blog Posts: Optimizing blog posts based on season may ultimately drive targeted traffic to your website. Bonus points if your post ties in local SEO as well.
  4. Offers: Research shows that travelers search for more seasonal deals and promotions around the holidays. Promoting seasonal hotel specials on your hotel deals/offers page may help draw seasonal searches to your website.
  5. Landing-Pages: These static pages would be created on your site based around the specific seasonal theme and terms you would like to identify with. Once the unique landing pages are created, they can be promoted via e-mail marketing, PPC and other various methods. Check out this example of York Marriott Hotel’s Christmas landing-page.

Happy holidays!

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