I was reading a really amusing article the other day, which was explaining the similarities of link-building with picking up girls in a bar! Beyond the obvious entertainment value – and the obviously interesting advice on picking up girls – the article interested me because it spoke volumes about a typical webmaster’s approach to SEO efforts – and consequently the approach of organisations. It firmly reminded me that there is no business like hotel business, and this is particularly obvious when it comes to hotel website search engine optimisation.
I know you can easily look for the term on Wikipedia, but I thought I should do the polite thing and give you a very quick definition – which should save you reading through multiple paragraphs.
Link building is the process of getting as many in-bound links to your website as possible.
Why people bother with it? Because this is one of the most efficient ways of having your website coming up higher in search engines when someone is looking for somewhere to stay in your area. (I hope you are not missing the irony here. The more it is easy for your website to be found without the use of search engines – because it has links to it from many websites out there – the more search engines will make sure you are easily found through their own listings).
There are obviously many ways to build links. You can buy them (either in the form of advertising or simply as a listing), you can agree to place reciprocal links with a partner company (so you get one from their website and in return they get one from yours), or you can do something clever, like publish a really amusing blog that will be copied by many companies and individuals on their website (the internet world can be remarkably polite like that). My favourite, and the most elusive way to build inbound links is to achieve a PR feat (e.g. get someone famous to do something noteworthy in you hotel) which means that a lot of people will write about you, and hopefully will provide links to your website as well.
So, campaigning to get reciprocal links was the subject of the article in question, and the advice was focused on what you and I would call fist-impression sales tips; all about making the right moves and sending the right signals. And it was generally good advice…mostly.
Don’t overdress or under-dress, don’t use corny lines (equivalent of “did it hurt when you fell from heaven” is – apparently – completely out of the question, but then again can you imagine someone saying anything equivalent on a cold-call and not being arrested?) and even “play it disinterested” (it is completely beyond me how you can go and speak to a girl in a bar and then pretending to not be interested in her – but then again I am by far no expert on the subject).
The very interesting detail? This was an article written by a webmaster and addressed
to other webmasters. And that is where it all gets a little worrying.
Beyond the innocent, and well timed tongue-in-cheek approach, the article confirmed the inevitability of lost opportunity from applying general SEO principles to our industry. Because even the sharpest webmaster out there will miss the bigger, better picture of “doing it right”. A hotel company with its staff working in synch, taking advantages of the existing skill-set and focusing at becoming efficient in getting business to grow from all channels should not have IT people doing sales calls (because that is exactly what link-building calls are).
This is an important area for growth, and it should be treated as such by allocating the most skilled people to work on it. And I am probably stating the obvious but there is no better person than a sales person to do a cold call. Even if your webmaster is exceptional in his interpersonal and social skills, in this world you can’t buy experience. Just like you don’t want your accountant to take reservations however quickly they learn (which, incidentally, is the equivalent of letting your PMS company power your web booking engine), you also don’t want your IT manager to do your sales. Not because t
hey wouldn’t be able to deliver, but because they are going to miss opportunities and because they are going to create opportunity costs (quite frankly they should definitely have better things to do).
When your sales representative is visiting a local company to discuss a contract, or if they are on a maintenance sales call, they could easily suggest a firming up of the relationships by establishing a reciprocal link. They will be coming back with positive answers at least as much as they will do with negative ones, and as far as links go, you could do much worse on the quality front. Links with corporate accounts’ websites will be there for a long time (at the very least for the duration of your rate agreement). And this is a link from a company that will most likely have a high-value website (as companies with travel policies tend to be larger an better recognised names, with decent presence on the web).
In conclusion, please don’t rely on your webmaster’s charm to build links – however elegant personality they may have. They might be fabulous at picking up girls from a pub but they are very unlikely to be your best producers in terms of effort vs. results.*