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Best London hotel blogs dissected.

by Rajul on September 20, 2010

Many hotels fail to grasp the SEO, brand and loyalty benefits of blogging as a competitive weapon – but a few are now starting to see the light

As someone who blogs obsessively about London hotels, I’m sometimes asked by hoteliers if starting a blog makes business sense for them too.  My answer is “yes, but only if you are fully committed”.  The web is littered with abandoned blogs and the world certainly doesn’t need more of them.

What then defines a good hotel blog?

In my view, it should show a hotel’s unique personality – usually best represented by staff.  Blogging arguably has the longest track record out of all social media and enables a hotel to engage with guests all year round.

While Facebook lets you create a pseudo-blog, the SEO benefits of a self-hosted hotel blog are bigger: you gain better control of your link-building (with “do follow” links), you fully control link anchor text to target your keywords and create great content for your social media feeds.

If your hotel blogs consistently, you’ll benefit via direct sales, referrals and Google rank for years to come.  But the key word is “consistently”: effective blogging must be based on a disciplined business plan and regular tracking.

Why would any hotel not wish to maximise its organic search visibility and direct bookings through its own website?

There are good examples of hotel blogs around the world; for example, my hospitality blogging colleague Josiah at Hotel Marketing Strategies recently wrote an insightful analysis of one such blog in Vancouver, Canada.

But are there any big name hotels in London which blog and do it well?

Positive examples are thin on the ground: a huge missed opportunity in such a competitive market.  And it’s an area that my company – which creates unique content to promote premium brands online – specialises in.

But I’ve at least discovered two London hotel blogs which show promise.

Each has the potential to forge ahead of competitors by exploiting the power of blogging both as a link collector and a way to raise brand profile.

The first is the Red Carnation Hotels blog.  This company has 5 of the top 10 London hotels on TripAdvisor (including the current number 1 hotel).  It’s hard to dispute that they run the best boutique hotels in London.

Hotel 41 is one of 6 London hotels which dominate the upper echelons of TripAdvisor for Red Carnation Hotels Collection.  The company has great potential to harness this externally-validated positive sentiment to take full control of its organic search results.

The company has a lot to shout about but the blog is written in the humble, understated style typical of everyone I’ve met who works for them – starting with their MD (reigning Hotelier of the Year, Jonathan Raggett).

Since Red Carnation Hotels has six luxury London hotels (and several others around the world) the voice of the blog is shared between their various properties.  But they also have the potential to capture the SEO benefits of having a precise location focus centred on London.

Different staff members provide well-written articles highlighting distinct aspects of the Red Carnation experience, without being overtly sales-y.

The things I like about the Red Carnation blog are:

  • Its coherent style and design.  The colour scheme synchronises effortlessly with the company’s overall branding.  They use premium photography – essential for a blog which showcases luxury hotels.
  • The quality and originality of the blog posts.  Topics as diverse as “Successful Shopping Shortcuts” (including Burlington Arcade) and the intriguing “Hunting for Treasure in London” are featured.
  • The emphasis on destination and attractions.  A successful hotel blog has to think beyond its own four walls: most people do not visit London to spend their time in a hotel.  Good blogging should inspire people to visit you by opening their eyes to hidden gems in your local area.
  • Posts contributed by different team members (often the concierge).  This gives the blog a unique personality and information is often genuinely insightful.  The concierge is usually an ideal spokesperson.
  • Blog content matches the company’s clientele and target audience.  Having visited all Red Carnation’s London hotels I can confirm that the blog style reflects the guest profile – critical for obvious reasons.
The Red Carnation Hotel Collection’s blog is nicely designed and well-written, as well as being consistent with the company’s guest profile

The aspects which I feel could be improved are:

  • More frequent updates. There are currently only two or three posts per month – too infrequent.  Frequent update “trains” Google to crawl your site and reward your content’s freshness.  This helps in outranking the OTAs whom your hotel may otherwise have to pay commission to.
  • More guest-centred content e.g. links to guest reviews and content created by clients.  The company dominates TripAdvisor but doesn’t yet make the most of its guests’ willingness to act as brand ambassadors.
  • Greater promotion and keyword focus.  It’s not easy to find the blog from the company’s website or Facebook page.  I would also use more locality-based keywords in blog posts based on recent search data.
  • More format variety e.g. video posts, linking to photos of events, promotion of special offers, etc…these are all big opportunities to leverage the blog and raise the company’s overall online profile.

Despite the above, I feel that the Red Carnation blog has great potential to steal a significant march and outperform for certain keywords where its rivals may be forced to run expensive PPC campaigns.

Another interesting London hotel blog very different in style to the Red Carnation one is the May Fair Hotel blog.  But then this reflects the May Fair’s clientele and décor – it’s a flamboyant hotel much-loved by celebrities.

The May Fair is quite a flamboyant place to stay - and its blog plays to the hotel's strengths The May Fair is quite a showy place to stay – and its blog plays very much to the hotel’s strengths

The things I like about the May Fair Hotel’s blog are:

  • Its “easy-to-skim” writing style.  The blog engages and converses.
  • Nice integration of video and other media.  In fact, the May Fair is advanced in using video generally and has its own YouTube channel.  Video always provides excellent, search-engine friendly blogging fodder.
  • Good linking with hotel offers and current events.  Current themes are given prominence – a great method for exploiting topicality to come up higher on Google based on what people are searching for now.
  • Frequency of update.  The blog is currently updated every few days and I hope they sustain this.  The key advantage of a blog in SEO terms is freshness of content.  Irregular posting can reflect badly on your brand.
  • The broad range of blog categories.  These include topics like “Behind the scenes”, “Mayfair Village” and “Responsible Business” to name a few.  Categorisation is both user-friendly and Google-friendly.
The May Fair Hotel’s blog is written in an informal style in line with its target audience.  It is currently updated with admirable consistency but will this be sustained?

The May Fair Hotel blog could be further improved in the following ways:

  • The blog’s style is a bit “PR”. It’s OK to outsource the writing of a blog as long as content writers fully adopt your brand’s voice.  But it could be that the writing style is well-suited to the hotel’s client base.
  • Greater design consistency is needed.  Some articles are written in odd-coloured fonts for example – there seems to be no formal style guide.  These are easy glitches to iron out but need to be addressed.
  • More destination content.  The blog could benefit readers by revealing lesser known benefits related to its location.  Emphasising the attractions of Mayfair would indirectly help to better “sell” the hotel.
  • Let the staff speak.  I would suggest that the hotel concierge and others be asked to provide regular posts, videos or audio recordings.
  • Better tagging and optimisation of blog posts. Mundane steps can improve the organic search rank of the May Fair’s blog posts.  The blog’s tagging is not currently as strategic and scientific as it could be.

We’ve now examined two very different blogs.  Each successfully engages its target audience but has significant room for improvement.

While a good hotel blog must be personal and engaging, it should also be based on a business plan supported by hard data.  Extensive keyword and competitor research will make it easy to define a clear content strategy.

There should then be a system in place to ensure that the blog is updated with relentless consistency with great content meeting the following 3 criteria: brand-building, keyword-rich and social media-integrated.

The first hotel company that has the vision to do this will gain a significant advantage.  Which London hotel has the vision to grasp this opportunity?

Hotels must strike a balance between PPC – which brings short-term occupancy but doesn’t build the brand – and tactics to improve natural search position (Image credit below)

I find it odd to see how timid many hotels are in wresting the organic search initiative for their own brand names away from Online Travel Agencies.  Guillaume over at Hotel Blogs has written a great article in which he argues that hotels are in danger of being relegated to the low-value end of the value chain (“farmers” rather than “grocery stores”).

Hotels often pay Google for ads related to brand or location searches – but this is paying for something you should already own.  Similar results can be achieved more sustainably through blogging and other social media.

My message to hotels is: don’t be satisfied with popping up as number 1 when people search for you by name on Google.  Seek also to dominate the whole of page 1 with your blog posts, videos and social media.  And do this for a range of relevant long-tail searches – not just your hotel name.

Moreover, the big OTAs generally do pay-per-click better than hotels – it’s their core business and they have deeper pockets.  Hotels which rely solely on PPC play a dangerous game and one I believe they’ll ultimately lose.

The trump card of a well-run hotel is its online brand reputation.  And blogging is a great investment because it conveys the authenticity of your brand and drives bookings for the right reasons (anything but price).

As soon as hotels let OTAs control the social media conversation and content around their brands, this trains guests (even past guests who may know and love the hotel in question) to be price-sensitive when booking.

Positive Partnerships is happy to advise any hotel (and we can currently work only with one or two) keen to forge ahead of its rivals by creating an industry-leading blog, as long as it can prove it has the independent guest reviews and quality processes to back up its promise to its clients.

Search for a London hotel – Book Now, Pay When you Stay

Photo credits: May Fair Hotel, Red Carnation Hotels, Danard Vincente’s photostream.

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