Milestone interviews Nathan Buggia, Webmaster for Microsoft Live Search and a true technical evangelist. In this hard-hitting Q & A we uncover the cutting-edge logic behind SEO for the travel industry – from the impact of organic content to creating business relationships through social media . . . and everything in between.
Benu: What are the crucial issues small businesses face in terms of site architecture?
Nathan: The first issue is with URLs. They need to be clean, consistent, and normalized – meaning there are not synonyms for the URL. An example is www.mysite.com or mysite.com. These are two different URLs but they point to the same page. The second is page content. Your website has to be easy to read, understood by a computer, and should provide a good down-level experience. And make sure your images have Alt text!
Benu: It would be great to go through the crucial on-page SEO factors. What are the 8 most important things from title to footer?
Nathan: The most important SEO on a page is that the search engine has permission to crawl the site, i.e. robot inclusion protocol. Make sure you’re not blocking the page from being crawled by a search engine. The second thing is that the page should load in a reasonable time. We are constrained by an infinite number of pages on the internet that can be downloaded, so we have to plan our capacity judiciously.
Benu: What is the industry standard in terms of download speed?
Nathan: On a normal broadband connection a page should load in a second or less, but that number is relative to the type of website you have. What that really impacts is how many pages we can crawl. The faster your website loads the more pages we can crawl and the more we can keep those pages fresh. Your page should never give 404 errors or 500 server errors.
Benu: Tell me your opinion about using flash on a website?
Nathan: Flash has a time and a place. Our concern is the text around the flash that helps us understand the page. A good and accurate title tag is veryimportant because it lets us know what the page is about. Make sure that the title tag is different on every page and that it describes that page in a concise manner.
The second thing we look at is a good description tag to tell us what the page is about. If we can’t find it in the meta description tag, we look for text on the page, which should have similar content, maybe a paragraph, that describes what the page is about.
If you want to have flash to spice up the page, perhaps to showcase how great your rooms are, that’s awesome. We recommend that you stick some text in for people with smart phones, like an iPhone, that won’t render flash. People can see text and know what’s on the page as well.
Benu: Back to hotels, what is the ideal content for a hotel website?
Nathan: Content is super valuable. As a search engine we model everything we do around understanding what customers like and look for in websites. We have hundreds of factors that we look at today. Hotel owners building a website should consider what customers like and the features they would be interested in. For example, families like to know you have suites for the kids and what’s in the area. Another great type of content is user generated content – where your customers write your content for you. The trick is to create a value proposition for them. You can provide access to reviews and family photos from your customers that describe their stay and what they did, which gives ideas to potential customers about exciting vacations at your hotel.
Benu: What are some tips to promote a brand new domain?
Nathan: Anything can be exciting and interesting if you make it human. Post interviews with the head of your kitchen to talk about what great food you serve. Post recipes or hotel giveaways. These are some easy strategies to promote your brand new domain.
Benu: How do videos impact hotel ranking in universal search?
Nathan: You’re creating content that people are interested in and giving them a reason to link to your website. Relevant links help assign trust to a page. If you post a video or an article, people get excited about it and may post a link on their blog. If they dig it they will use social mediasites like YouTube (the second largest market share for search engines), Facebook, MySpace, Flickr, and Digg to attract attention to that interview. Social networking sites are growing throughout the world and becoming major sites for promotion and search. They give people a reason to come to your website, so they help tremendously.
While the number of queries are increasing and the number of people using search engines has increased, success rates for search engines have decreased. Searchers know what they want when doing a search and are specific. It is important to ensure that the targeted keywords are relevant to a person’s query. As the definition of search engines has broadened, social networking and video sites are on the rise. Social networking sites are also building themes in the things people search on them. This can be helpful when targeting a marketing campaign for hotels. Also, user generated content sites, such as Ask.com, are becoming popular with Brand Advocates who like to share their ideas and experiences. This can be helpful when promoting a hotel.
Benu: What is the impact of social media on small businesses? What is the ROI?
Nathan: Using social media is a long-term investment. If you use PPC advertising, you spend money and you get traffic directly out of. When you invest in social media and in organic search techniques, you are building a long-term asset that you get returns on over time. Social media done right can be very effective. Creating user-generated content like having a contest for guests to post the best story or photos of their hotel experience gets people engaged and excited – it’s very viral. Another side of social media is about engaging in social networks like Facebook.
Benu: So it’s smart to create a profile on Facebook and Twitter? Does it help you in organic search?
Nathan: Absolutely! Social media is a direct way to build relationships with your customers. But it’s not about your profile, its how you use these networks to engage people. Facebook is a great medium for people to find your hotel events. Or you can use your Twitter account to talk about new food on your menu. It can also be a place where you have an empowered staff person who hears complaints and can fix them.
Benu: What is the most successful promotional mix for a website?
Nathan: The most successful websites use a mix of promotional channels, such as PPC, social media and organic. With a new website, PPC is a great way to get people into your website first and social media will keep people coming back and keep them there. And organic can help people find it directly from search engines. The more you have people engaged in your site, the more traffic search engines will send. It’s a virtuous cycle.
Benu: To wrap up, and with the economy on every business’ radar, what approach to marketing and eCommerce will create strong presence, drive traffic and convert customers?
Nathan: You have to be smarter about how you spend and prioritize your resources. Step 1 is figure out your metrics and what you are driving towards. Metrics may be hotel reservations or brand awareness – like getting people to sign up for newsletters or engage in social media, which leads to brand value. Better brand value leads to hotel reservations. Second, look at PPC tactics, display tactics, organic search tactics and social media tactics, and create the best mix over time to drive those metrics. Experiment and see which ones hit your mark!
In a volatile economy, where competition is high and every dollar is accountable, it’s monumental to give people what they want. With the insights of Nathan Buggia, hotels can master eCommerce to engage consumers and search engines with content and hands-on networking that make them stand out and cash in. Thank you Nathan for sharing your great ideas and useful tips!