In its latest report, “Luxury Hotels: Regional Search Strategies,” New York-based brand consultancy L2 suggests upper upscale and luxury hotel brands should be looking to TripAdvisor more often than they are now.

As hotel brands are forced to compete in an increasingly crowded online marketplace with both online travel agencies (OTAs), as well as Google Hotel Ads, it’s becoming more and more difficult for hotels to make it to the first page of Google search results for hotels in a specific city.

L2, which compiles an annual “Digital IQ Index” of 55 luxury hotel brands, found the following:

  • Brands that invest in affiliate site pages like those on TripAdvisor and establishing partnerships with them can compete against OTAs in search and create new conversion channels
  • Brands should prioritize their search engine marketing (SEM) and search engine optimization (SEO) budgets to regional areas that align with the brand’s areas of growth or match its regional footprint
  • More brands should optimize their SEM/SEO efforts abroad to attract international travelers who may not be familiar with the brand

Why and How Is TripAdvisor So Helpful for Hotels?

TripAdvisor is helpful to hotels in a variety of ways, says Grant Torres, L2’s study lead for this report. “They are one of the most highly trafficked sites for hotels and for reviews and information,” he said.

First of all, TripAdvisor dominates in terms of both SEO (organic searches) and SEM (paid searches). L2 tested out 452 non-branded search terms during the month of March and found that TripAdvisor was on the first page for 99% of organic search results and 72% or paid search results on Google. TripAdvisor also occupies 7% of all organic real estate in brand term search, even when competing against brand’s own sites (63%) and social media properties (16%). Within those brand term searches, these brands have the top TripAdvisor visibility: Jumeirah; Anantara; Hilton; Sofitel; and Omni Hotels & Resorts.

“That’s kind of a massive amount [7%] when you look at other industries,” Torres said. “In other industries you wouldn’t see those kinds of numbers.”

Hotels can partner with TripAdvisor in a number of ways, one being a strategic Instant Booking partnership, as Marriott has done. As it would with an OTA, Marriott pays a commission to TripAdvisor for each room booked via the site’s Instant Booking feature, and L2’s report states this “gives Marriott a fighting chance against OTAs on the site.”

“The new product rolling out from TripAdvisor puts [brands] in a new kind of stratosphere,” says Torres. “It’s a direct partner that these brands can work with to boost visibility since Google is so crowded right now.”

As reported earlier this month in Skift, TripAdvisor and other OTAs are attempting to get hotel companies like Marriott to give them access to those brands’ exclusive loyalty-member rates that they are offering on their own branded sites. Marriott has been a partner with TripAdvisor’s Instant Booking since June 2015, but neither party has divulged much information about how well the Instant Booking feature is contributing to the bottom lines for each company.

Hotels can also improve their visibility within TripAdvisor by using popular keywords in descriptions for specific markets, investing in content for their property page, and improving guest review response rate and time spent on the platform.

In markets like San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Las Vegas, L2’s index brands had first-page visibility on TripAdvisor 55%, 44%, and 33% of the time, respectively, while in more saturated markets like New York and Miami, those percentages dropped to 21% and 20%.

On average, brands are responding to about half of their guest reviews on TripAdvisor and take approximately one week to reply. The average response time to a negative review is 6.5 days. The most responsive brands with regard to all reviews were Sofitel (3.6 days) and Waldorf Astoria (3.8 days); Marriott (3.5 days) and JW Marriott (3.7 days) responded the most quickly to negative reviews.

While the L2 report seems to suggest it’s better for brands to respond to as many reviews as possible in a timely manner, a recent study from Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration suggests it’s better for hotels to respond to about 40% of their reviews, and to offer constructive responses to negative reviews.

Adopting a More Regional SEM Focus

Another way for hotels to have better visibility in search is to think about marketing to specific regions.

When U.S. consumers search for rooms in a specific region, including Europe, the Middle East, or Asia, brands like Marriott, The Ritz-Carlton, and Four Seasons dominate the search results no matter what region, the report noted. However, when L2 analyzed the search results from the perspective of a consumer based in Asia, Europe, or the Middle East, the search results were very different.

When Asian consumers use Google.uk to search, for example, a “luxury spa in Miami,” the search results that come up most are Small Luxury Hotels of the World (SLH), Mandarin Oriental, and W Hotels. When European customers do the same, the most visible brands in their search results are SLH, Four Seasons, and The Ritz-Carlton. For customers based in the Middle East, the most visible brands are The Ritz-Carlton, Four Seasons, and Jumeirah.

L2’s report suggests hotels should begin marketing more to international travelers coming to the U.S. When consumers based in the U.K., France, and Germany search for hotels in the U.S. using non-branded search terms, only five U.S. brands had top search visibility.

“I think the main takeaway is that, because traditional SEO and SEM are so crowded, you have to rely on other methods to break in, in terms of visibility,” said Torres. “TripAdvisor is one option, as well as reaching out to consumers in other search markets. Optimizing your search visibility in European and Asian markets can also boost your search.”

Photo Credit: A new report suggests luxury hotels should improve their search results on sites like TripAdvisor to help improve their overall search results. TripAdvisor