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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.


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)


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)


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.


 (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.


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.


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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Posted by on Jun 14, 2016 in All Matters SEO

Google’s Power of Three

Three is just a number, right? Well, not entirely. The “rule of three” principle suggests that things in groups of three are more enjoyable, effective and memorable than other combinations. The “rule of three” is everywhere from design and persuasion to content and more.

Recently, Google fused the “power of three” when testing changes in their search engine results page (SERP). Together, all three changes influence how search results appear and where your hotel is positioned in Google’s SERP. The changes:

Title Tags:

The first of the changes was an increased length of title tags. The previous 50 to 60 character limit has been expanded, now making room for between 70 and 80 characters. The change could allow for 2 to 3 more words in a title tag, depending on word length, before Google shortens the title with an ellipse (…).

Meta Descriptions:

The second change features an increased length in Google’s meta descriptions. The increase now budgets approximately 100 characters per line, allowing more space to explain what your web page is about.

Search Results Width:

The third and most recent change was an increase in Google’s organic search results column width from 500 pixels to about 600 pixels. The right sidebar’s whitespace, between results and features, decreased by 5 pixels.

Below is a sample of a Google search for “hotel in downtown Brooklyn,” comparing the new column width to the old. You will notice that Expedia’s title tag is shortened in the old version, while the entire “Expedia” is able to fit in an updated title tag line. Similarly, a user would be able to read more of a Marriott hotel’s meta description in the new Google SERP. The phrase “hotels in” fits on the first line, while the same words dropped to the second line of the meta description while battling the old length.

SERP Width

What Hotels Need to Know:

  1. Improving overall user experience These changes within organic search results will hopefully improve user experience and engagement on the SERP page. With more information in the meta descriptions and title tags, users may be able to find what they are looking for quicker.
  2. The search “real estate” is changing– With longer title tags and meta descriptions that could spill over into multiple lines, the real estate on the SERPs may become more competitive. Alternatively, depending on the query, a wider width could move results higher on the page if some of the multi-line listings need one less line. Our example above shows more listings with the new width.
  3. Optimized titles and meta descriptions are necessary– In order to have organic success in search engines, a hotel must write meta tags that align a user’s search query with a hotel’s featured content. Meta tags have always influenced a user’s will to click, but with more text in the title tag, a descriptive title will now become of even greater importance.
  4. Choose accuracy over length– Write titles and meta descriptions that are both engaging and true to your hotel website. Adding characters or filler words just to hit 70-78 or 160-280 characters, respectively, could prevent clicks and weaken the value of your hotel website.
  5. Ability to use natural language– Longer titles and descriptions allow room for long-tail keywords– lengthier phrases that usually indicate a higher likelihood of the user to take action or book a reservation. Similarly, the increased space would give hotels greater opportunity to use natural language in their title and description.

Intentional or not, Google embraced the “power of three” in their SERP testing. Together, the increase in title tags, meta descriptions, and the search results width can transform the user’s search engine experience and the organic results, as well as your hotel’s SEO strategy and performance. Keep in mind, Google can revert these changes back at any time in as little as one, two, three.

Note: Digital Services will wait to make sure that this design change on Google’s SERP is permanent before making a changes to hotel content best practices.

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Posted by on Apr 12, 2016 in All Matters SEO

From This Moment On

If you are in the hospitality industry, the term “Moment of Truth” may sound familiar. The phrase was coined by Jan Calzon, former president of Scandinavian Airlines in 1986 as “anytime a customer comes into contact with any aspect of a business, is an opportunity to form an impression.” For many years, hospitality companies used this concept to create customer service success. But now, more than ever, is the time to “zero” in on another moment.


Google’s Zero Moment of Truth (ZMOT) describes a revolution in the way consumers search for information online and make decisions about brands. Researching a product online prior to purchase has become the “new normal” as the internet and mobile continue to advance. This mental model of marketing focuses on what Google is calling the Zero Moment—the exact moment when the consumer has a need, intent or question he/she wants answered online. Consumers have transformed the way they make decisions and the ZMOT model embraces this change.

Zero Moment of Truth

(Source: Winning the Zero Moment of Truth)


According to Google, this new model is comprised of four steps; Stimulus, Zero Moment of Truth, First Moment of Truth and Second Moment of Truth. So where do hotels come in? Here’s an example to illustrate the concept through a guest’s hotel decision making process and experience:

Stimulus (Awareness) – Manny sees a post on his Instagram feed of a friend enjoying a hotel’s pool on vacation in Sevilla. It inspired him to take a vacation to Sevilla as well.

Zero Moment of Truth (Researching) – Manny goes online to research “Sevilla hotels” and looks at reviews, listings and photographs of various options.

First Moment of Truth (Booking) – While doing his research, Manny finds a hotel that appeals to him for his trip. He goes to the hotel’s website and proceeds to book online.

Second Moment of Truth (Experience) – When the vacation arrives, Manny stays at the hotel he booked and has a great experience. He shares a review of the hotel with a picture on TripAdvisor, which cycles back to someone else’s ZMOT research.

One could say that ZMOT in this example is the most important moment in Manny’s booking process. If his attention was not captured at that exact moment, there is a high probability that it would have been captured by a competitor.


Jim Lecinski, Vice President of America’s Customer Solutions at Google stated80% of success in winning the ZMOT lies in showing up at the right place and at the right time.” At this step, travelers have questions and hotels should have the answer. Whether it is on the search engine result page, reviews sites, social media or map pages, it is essential for hotels to have visibility when travelers do their “homework” online.

How do you show up at the right place and time? Studies show that 50% of ZMOT traffic occurs on search engines. In order to beat out online travel agencies (OTAs) and third-party travel booking sites, it is imperative for a hotel to incorporate search engine optimization into their hotel website’s content strategy, . Incorporating keyword phrases people are searching for in your hotel website content will most likely increase your natural search visibility and ability to capture a researcher’s attention. These are other significant factors to help win ZMOT:

  1. Make sure your hotel website is user-friendly, search optimized and up-to-date. We must guide the searcher through their First Moment of Truth, or in this case a direct booking, on the hotel’s website.
  2. Be mobile savvy. Recently, Google announced the evolution Moments of Truth with Micro-Moments due to our mobile-driven society.
  3. Stay active and engaged on social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. This allows guests opportunities to share their experiences, which cycles to another person’s ZMOT.
  4. Monitor your reviews on travel review sites and OTAs. Their authority is important and many travelers now turn to reviews to make decisions.

With 99% of travel shoppers being influenced at ZMOT, the expression “be in the moment” has taken on a new meaning. Marketers can now use this expression for both inspiration and strategy. Hotels have to “be in the moment,” the “Zero” moment that is, in order to help online searchers on their quest for information. Not only do hotels need to enhance their digital marketing presence to gain visibility, but they also need to guide online searchers seamlessly through the First, Second and Third Moments of Truth in order continue creating positive travel experiences.

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