How the travel landscape has changed in a few quick years!
Not so long ago, holiday plans started with a trip to the local travel agent’s office. Today we can just shout out to Siri to search for a nearby hotel while driving our car along the motorway.
Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa, Microsoft’s Cortana and Google’s Assistant are all making a lot of noise around the world. Whether activated on a mobile phone or on a smart speaker, virtual assistants all use similar voice technology to perform tasks through spoken commands rather than typing. These clever tech-helpers apply speech recognition to understand what users are saying before delivering highly customised results.
What is expected of Alexa and the likes? While teens and adults use voice search slightly differently, the majority of users ask for directions, dictate texts, call someone, check the time, play songs and of course search the web for various topics.
Voice search has long been tapped as one of the biggest digital trends of the (20) twenties - some insiders going as far as predicting that by 2020 about 50% of all searches will be conducted through voice technology.
While this might be an over-ambitious forecast, forward-thinking hotels should definitely integrate voice search optimisation into their digital marketing plans. In this article, we will offer some insights into why you should take advantage of this new technology and how to prepare your business for voice search.
Step 1: Write Just The Way You Speak
Voice searches using smart speakers, mobile phones or even desktop computers are different from traditional text-based queries. People automatically speak in longer sentences with 3 to 7 keywords when using voice technology to search for information. They might type into a search bar ‘5 star hotel Dublin’ but more likely to ask out loud ‘What is the best hotel in Dublin?’.
Why is this important? Because of this change in user behaviour, voice search SEO and traditional website search engine optimisation are different. And of course, as more people use voice technology for everyday tasks, search engines such as Google place greater emphasis on voice search optimisation.
Your hotel’s SEO plan needs to adapt by inserting more natural long-tail keywords into your content with 7+ words. As an additional benefit, key phrases containing more than two words (for example ‘city centre hotel with a spa and a swimming pool’) face less competition and have better chances of ranking at the top of Google.
Step 2: Get Featured With a Snippet
You may not be familiar with the term ‘featured snippet’ but you have definitely noticed it as a web user.
Featured snippets are selected search results that are featured on top of Google's organic results just below the ads. Featured snippets aim to answer the user's question right away without even having to click on a link. It is often referred to as ‘position zero" in SEO terms.
Why are they so important for voice optimisation? When customers use voice to conduct a search, Google returns the featured snippet as the ultimate answer and this is what gets read out loud to the user.
To get that coveted position zero, focus on creating quality content on your website that Google can classify as the perfect reply. Consider setting up a ‘frequently asked questions’ page where you can provide information about topics that are highly relevant to your target market. Anticipate your customers’ needs and provide as much detail as possible.
In terms of technical requirements, be sure to include a concise summary of a page’s content above the fold using no more than 40 to 50 words (as most featured snippet answers are this length).
As you can see on this example, we have optimised our client, the Killyhevlin Lakeside Hotel’s page for the phrase ‘enniskillen weekend breaks’ and managed to return a zero position featured snippet.
Step 3: Go Local
When creating content for your website, concentrate on search phrases related to your location as voice search tends to be more locally driven.
People often need information on the go, so naturally, many voice searches that are carried out on mobile devices have a local intent. Take ‘Where is the nearest hotel?’ as an example. The statistics back this up: 22% of voice search queries are looking for location-based content.
Businesses that use local content for their optimisation have a better chance of ranking well for voice searches. Try using phrases like ‘near me’ in your SEO. As you can see on the example below, our client, Flannery’s Hotel in Galway ranks at the top of a voice search using exactly this search phrase.
Local search is especially important to hotels as they often offer additional amenities such as a restaurant, a golf course or a spa. Complete the Google My Business profile for each entity with accurate information and updated images, reply to guest reviews and answer customers’ questions.
Step 4: Get Up To Speed
Just like traditional search engine optimization, Google voice search prefers websites that load swiftly. As users’ attention span is fast declining, speed has become one of the most important requirements for e-commerce businesses. Page load time will be a deciding factor whether your hotel website will show up in voice search results or not.
Think of your customers. Guests using voice search to find your hotel are often on the move and likely to be in a hurry. Serve them better by offering a speedy experience.
- Quality photos are crucial to hotels but very large files can significantly slow down a page’s load time. Reduce image sizes by cropping them to proper dimensions to speed up your website.
- Utilise third party platforms - such as YouTube or Vimeo - to host large video files.
- Enable browser caching so when customers return to your website, only a few site components need to be downloaded again for their visit.
- Reduce the time to first byte - the period a user’s browser has to wait to get data from your website server. You should be aiming for less than 200ms.
- Remember to uninstall any unused plugins (add-on software on your site) so they do not slow down your website if they are not needed any more.
Step 5: Put Mobile First
According to Google, about 20 percent of all mobile queries are made through voice search. While many of these activities may only be ‘incremental’ search - such as asking Siri to look up a phone number or to play a song - it is still important to optimise your mobile website for voice search. Follow these mobile best practice examples to help your hotel keep up with customer demands.
- Test your mobile site’s speed on a regular basis to ensure that it does not slow your business down.
- Implement a mobile-friendly design with intuitive features, easy navigation, clear calls-to-action as well as strong mobile SEO.
- Make sure that the mobile version of your site offers the same engaging content as your desktop website.
Listen To The Sound Of The Future
So can we say that voice search has transformed the hotel booking experience? The answer is no and it is likely to remain that way. It is the very essence of travel research to browse photos, watch videos, read several guest reviews before committing to a destination. Voice search would likely limit this process.
However, as brick and mortar businesses, hotels absolutely need to concentrate on their local search optimisation as customers do use voice technology to look up nearby places.
The biggest takeaway of this trend is that customer expectations are constantly changing and hotels must change with it to stay ahead of their competition.