How I helped this B&B appear on the first page of Google
Insight into Ruby Studio’s SEO process.
Topics: SEO case study. SEO for bed and breakfast establishments. SEO for guesthouses.
Over the last six months, I have been helping a client – Amber Avenue Guesthouse – get to the first page of Google. It hasn’t been easy. Ranking in the highly-competitive travel and tourism industry takes consistent work and does not happen overnight.
In this post I outline the steps it’s taken to dramatically improve the guesthouse’s search engine ranking.
A Note on SEO: Google aims to give users the best possible experience by presenting them with the most useful information based on what they’re searching for. Helping Google do this is the main focus of SEO and sticking to Google’s best-practice guidelines is what improves search engine ranking.
Amber Avenue Guesthouse offers bed and breakfast accommodation on a farm just outside of Howick in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands. The B&B began operating under new management and a new business name, with a new website, in September 2017.
When I first started working with Amber Avenue Guesthouse in November last year, they were appearing on the fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh pages of Google for popular search terms such as ‘bed and breakfast near Howick’, ‘Howick bed and breakfast accommodation’.
1. Make the website Google and mobile friendly
One of the first things I did for Amber Avenue was optimise their website to make it search engine friendly. This included making the website load faster by reducing image sizes. Images on websites rarely need to exceed 200kb. During this process I also made sure the website worked well on mobile devices.
Website speed and mobile optimisation are two important factors Google’s algorithms consider when ranking a website – if your website is very slow and does not scale down to fit mobile phone screens, Google will penalise it by reducing search engine ranking.
2. Install a SSL Certificate
Another Google ranking factor is the level of security a website offers its visitors. SSL is an easy-to-implement security protocol that encrypts visitors’ data. Read more about SSL here – https://rubystudiodesign.com/why-you-need-website-ssl-certificate/.
Installing the SSL certificate on Amber Avenue’s website had an almost immediate positive effect on the search engine ranking.
3. Keyword research and implementation
Keyword research is about discovering the popular keywords and key phrases people use when searching for products and / or services similar to yours. Effective keyword research is the most important aspect of SEO strategy.
I used free online tools such as Google Adwords as a guide to learning more about the keywords and key phrases online users are typing in to Google to find accommodation establishments similar to Amber Avenue.
I also looked at high-ranking websites in the same industry to assess what keywords they’re using. Competitors in this industry include booking.com, SA Venues, Safari Now, AirBnB, Rooms for Africa and Where to Stay, as well as big hotel groups.
They all have dedicated SEO teams working on improving their ranking, so I learnt a lot from studying their keyword usage.
For Amber Avenue, I also included location-based keywords such as Howick, KZN, KwaZulu-Natal, KZN Midlands, Karkloof and Midlands Meander. In usage, this resulted in long-chain keywords such as ‘bed and breakfast near Howick KZN’.
Once I had created a list of keywords, I spent time optimising page copy so as to include these keywords and adding page metadata for each page, including title, description and main keywords. Metadata acts as a guide to search engines, telling them what the page is about.
I am always very careful to not stuff the page with keywords – please never do this. Website copy must always be 1. unique – ie not plagiarized; 2. Relevant to what the web page is about; 3. Easy to read.
To further boost Amber Avenue’s ranking in location-based search results, I created a Nearby Attractions page, which talks about and lists various things to do in and around Howick. Here it is if you want to take a look – https://www.amberavenue.co.za/nearby-attractions/
4. Create a Google my Business listing for Amber Avenue Guesthouse
Google my Business is a free service offered to businesses that want to show up in Google Map results when people search for their products and services.
Google allows businesses to include a link to their website, which helps to drive more traffic to the site, further boosting ranking.
To sign-up for Google my Business, click here – https://www.google.com/business/.
5. Set-up Google Analytics and Search Console
There is no point in doing any of the above SEO work, if you don’t start analysing your efforts.
Google Analytics and Search Console are two free tools that give website managers and marketers valuable insight into website traffic, how visitors find their website, what they do on their website, search terms used to find the website, links to the website plus much more. Search Console is also a great tool for identifying SEO problems on the website, such as sitemap issues and broken links.
To learn more about Google Analytics and how to set it up, here is a beginner’s guide I wrote – https://rubystudiodesign.com/beginners-guide-google-analytics/.
5. Submit sitemap
Amber Avenue’s website is built with WordPress, so to submit a sitemap to Google, I simply used the free Yoast SEO plugin. I also submitted a sitemap URL via Search Console.
Please note: Search engines will still crawl the website regardless of whether a sitemap has been manually submitted or not. Manual submission just speeds up the process.
6. Build reviews
Building online reviews is one of the most effective ways to improve search engine ranking. Google and Bing love businesses that have a strong online presence, ie many websites and social media platforms link back to that business’s website and many people provide feedback about that business via online review systems including TripAdvisor, Facebook, Google and booking.com.
In fact, Google has even developed a clever little system that pulls through reviews from TripAdvisor, Facebook, booking.com etc onto the business’s Google Map listing.
I have encouraged Amber Avenue to be as proactive as possible about collecting customer feedback in the form of unbiased online reviews. The guesthouse uses Nightsbridge to manage online bookings and I’ve set it up so that guests receive an automated email after their stay asking them to review the guesthouse on TripAdvisor. Guests who book via Booking.com are also sent an email asking them to rate their stay.
Part of the SEO strategy for Amber Avenue was to develop a blog. This helps SEO efforts because: 1. Google loves fresh content being published on a site as this means the site is up-to-date and its information is relevant. 2. Blog posts get shared – by the website itself on social media and by others who find the content useful. This in turn increases traffic to the website and increases links to the website – two things Google also loves.
Blogging is also an important online marketing tool. Blog posts help people find out more about the business, therefore building trust and emotional connection with the brand.
With Amber Avenue’s blog, we also write about what’s happening in the local community – posting about local markets, local sports events, local cafes and restaurants, etc. By doing this we show guests how awesome the community is, guide them as to what they can do when they visit and we support local businesses and community events.
Businesses don’t have to blog every day or every week – posting just once a month is enough to really help SEO and marketing efforts.
Backlink building is probably one of the trickiest aspects of search engine optimisation. Backlinks are the websites and social media platforms that link back to your website.
With Amber Avenue, I made sure to include their website url on their social media profiles, Google my Business listing, booking websites and free directory listings including Active Web, Cyclex, YellowSA and HotFrog.
This is just a starting point; as Amber Avenue builds a stronger online presence via reviews, blog posts, brand building and relationship-building efforts, backlinks will increase.
Please note that backlink building is about getting reputable websites to link to your website because of the relevant and useful information it provides. In order to increase backlinks, some websites use dodgy strategies that include forming a network with other businesses where each of those businesses agrees to create a web page containing only links to websites in the network. Alternatively, businesses pay to appear on the link-building web page. This is known as a black hat SEO tactic, and something I really advise against as it detracts from the user experience and will eventually be penalised by Google. Read more about black hat SEO here – https://unamo.com/blog/seo/8-risky-black-hat-seo-techniques-used-today.
After four months of consistent behind-the-scenes work, Amber Avenue Guesthouse is now appearing on the first page of Google for key phrases including ‘bed and breakfast in howick’, ‘bed and breakfast howick kzn’, ‘howick bed and breakfast’, ‘karkloof bed and breakfast’, ‘b&b accommodation in howick kzn’, amongst others.
The guesthouse is also now appearing in TripAdvisor’s Top 10 places to stay in Howick – a link that appears at the top of search engine results for accommodation-based searches.
There is still a long way to go and many important key phrases that I aim to help the guesthouse rank highly for.
Do you need to do all of the above to improve your website’s search engine ranking?
It really depends on your needs and requirements as a business, as well as how competitive and saturated your market is. In the travel and tourism industry, Amber Avenue is competing against big players such as booking.com, SA Venues, Safari Now and AirbnB, to name a few. It’s also a saturated market – there are loads of established B&B’s in the KZN Midlands. Plus the requirement to be visible in search engine results is high, as this is where a lot of the B&B’s customers come from. So it was necessary to put in a lot of effort into the search engine optimisation.
For some businesses, less SEO effort will still get them to the top of Google because the competition is not as fierce or their competitors aren’t doing much to improve their ranking. In my experience, for some of my clients just having good on-page SEO, a verified Google my Business listing and a growing number of online reviews is enough to get them right to the top of Google search results for targeted keywords.