How to navigate the paid search landscape
05 JANUARY 2016 8:10 AM
Many pitfalls exist in the world of paid-search advertising. Here the experts share some basic tips.
REPORT FROM THE U.S.—Search Google for “Hotels in New York,” and the paid-search results are likely to include properties from Hilton Worldwide Holdings.
That’s by design, said Dustin Bomar, the company’s VP of digital acquisition and brand marketing. It’s also big-dollar search engine marketing.
The practice, more commonly known as the acronym SEM, was once used broadly as an umbrella term to address paid search as well as organic search, the latter known as search engine optimization. Over time, however, SEM has become more synonymous with paid-search tactics such as cost-per-click advertising.
“Search engine marketing is the paid piece of the puzzle, not the organic side like SEO,” Bomar said.
- Need a SEO refresher? HNN has it covered.
In other words, SEM describes the use of paid ads on search engines to make potential customers paying customers by getting them to visit your website (and, hopefully, book).
One of the most popular SEM platforms is Google AdWords, which allows companies to bid for certain key terms that, if searched, yield their company’s website in relevant advertised rankings. Every time that website link is clicked, the company pays an agreed-upon, minimum rate to “win” that ad position over other bidders.
“Google search ads appear in all areas designated as advertisements,” Bomar said. “When a hotel ad is clicked, the customer is directed to the hotelier's website to complete the booking process.”
He advised working with search engine partners such as Google to determine which granular keywords and phrases hold relevance for your audience.
In New York City, for instance, a lot of travelers type “Hotels in New York” into Google. That makes it a costly bid on AdWords, but Bomar said it’s worth the investment.
“It brings in the bulk of traffic to Hilton.com,” he said.
Other campaigns might target a specific event, such as Major League Baseball’s 2015 World Series, which was played between the New York Mets and the Kansas City Royals. Bidding for the keywords “Hotels near Citi Field” (the Mets’ home stadium), might yield extra bookings, for instance.
“Because an advertiser is only charged when someone clicks the ad to visit the website, the advertiser can adjust spend at any time to accommodate demand and make the best use of their budget,” Bomar said. “Frequent bid optimizations driven by hotel need and general market demands are critical to having a successful campaign and delivering an appropriate return on investment.”
Hoteliers don’t necessarily need a high-profile relationship with a search engine to establish a successful SEM strategy. Here’s what you need to know:
Be aware of the major paid search platforms
Most are free to set up an account. Some examples included Google AdWords, Bing Ads and Yahoo Gemini.
Jeff Reynolds, president of Paraday Communications, said Google leads the pack for global searches, accounting for 64% to 67% of traffic. Bing accounts for 12% to 16%, while Yahoo claims 9% to 12%.
Set your budget
“You should estimate your daily budget and cost per click,” Reynolds said. “I recommend never starting a budget for more than $10 a day, which allows you to get used to the expenditure, as well as testing what is converting.”
Pick the right keywords
Layne Matthews, director of marketing and e-commerce at Peachtree Hotel Group, said hoteliers must understand their audience and the keywords they are likely to use in searches.
Casting a wide net with broader keywords such as “Hotels in Kansas City” will lure more clicks, but they might not be the right clicks, he said.
A better approach is to get more specific. Bidding on keywords such as “Hotels in Kansas City near Royals Stadium” is more likely to attract customers seeking the experience your property can offer. And as that audience gets smaller, the SEM campaign becomes less expensive to boot, Matthews added.
Another important aspect of keyword bidding involves exact versus broad matches, Reynolds said.
For example, an exact match would only bring up your ad if someone typed in “exclusive Ohio hotels” in that order. However, a broad match would bring up your ad if someone searched “Hotels in Ohio area that are exclusive.”
Reynolds recommended using the exact match. Again, it is more specific, which means it is more likely to target only the exact customers you want to target. That also means you’ll spend less money, especially when testing the system to see how many conversions occur.
Pick the right ad
Bidding to have your ad to display in paid search results is only half the battle. The quality of that ad matter as well, Matthews said.
Google ranks ads not only on the CPC bid but also on the “quality score,” which factors in things like click-through rates (how often people actually click on it), relevance to the search terms, and the experience on the landing page your ad directs users to (e.g. is it mobile-friendly?). Both the bid and quality score determine the ad rank.
Don’t forgot about SEO
SEM campaigns should be launched in conjunction with search-engine-optimization campaigns to drive organic results as well, said Zachary Weiner, CEO of Chicago-based Internet marketing firm Emerging Insider.
For example, if you’re launching a campaign for a specific term such as “Florida Magical Wonders,” make sure you launch an organic campaign at the exact same time. “Leverage press releases, blog posts and media coverage with paid content,” Weiner said.
Matthews also encouraged hoteliers to experiment with retargeting and remarketing, which allows marketers to track who visited a website and then display relevant ads that “follow” them to subsequent websites.
A user who visits Hotel XYZ but does not make a booking, for instance, might see a banner ad for Hotel XYZ if they visit a different website to check the news or weather.
But some degree of caution is advised, she added.
“Some people appreciate it, and others are aghast and think it is like Big Brother. … It can get a little creepy,” Matthews said.
A ‘gray zone’
Aside from not “stalking” your potential customers online to the excess, Weiner advised caution when considering whether to bid on a competitor’s name, a tactic he calls working in the gray zone.
“It is legal? Is it a competitive strategy? I think the answer is yes,” Weiner said. “But is it ethical? That’s in the eye of the beholder.”