Hilton’s Melissa Walner: To Rank In Voice Search Results, Craft Content That Answers Specific Questions

Brands must start by understanding not just what their customers are searching for, but the intent behind their queries, Walner said.

As search has evolved to provide structured answers to users’ queries, businesses of all stripes are faced with rethinking their SEO strategy in order to rank in these results — especially as an increasing number of searches are made by voice and don’t result in a customer visiting a webpage at all.

But the more physical locations a brand has, the more daunting this task can seem.

“We have over 5000 hotels, so consistency is a challenge with that many locations,” said Melissa Walner, director of global SEO at Hilton, explaining the difficulty of maintaining both listing accuracy and SEO best practices. “Education is important: we have to communicate what corporate is trying to do for them on a daily basis.”

Following a panel entitled “What It Means To Rank Today” at Yext’s ONWARD conference last week, Walner talked to GeoMarketing about managing SEO for diverse franchise locations — and what marketers need to know about the future of search.

GeoMarketing: You mentioned the difficulty of coordinating SEO practices in a franchise model. How do you manage search strategies — and online-to-offline marketing in general — from a national-to-local property perspective? How do you stay consistent?

Governance is important in general: It’s just making sure that the brand itself has a key brand standard in place [at the corporate level.] I hate to say rules and regulations because nobody relishes that aspect, but there does need to be some level of that in place — just to make sure that everybody knows what they need to be doing, what they’re allowed to do from the top down.

General SEO training and education is another big piece of it. But governance for sure is the big thing.

What’s your top priority at Hilton right now when it comes to search?

I would say structured data. Because, like I said, we know that when you have that in place with the rich snippets, your click-through rate is much higher. It’s a little bit challenging, but structured data is critically important, especially in today’s day and age.

I [would also say] that map consistency is a quick win and an easy win — just making sure all of your locations are correct and consistent.

Additionally, everybody has been talking about the HTTPS changeover, so that’s a big priority for us as well — and really anybody.

The things like that are a little bit more challenging to execute around a site that has over 500,000 pages — versus somebody who just has 10 on a website. We’re working through those types of challenges behind the scenes, but I would say making sure you’ve got the SSL certificates in place is key.

Hilton tends to attract customers who plan their vacations ahead of time rather than the last-minute road trip traveler — although you said you do get a smaller number of day-of bookings.  How does this affect your SEO and/or search advertising? How do you make sure that you reach the person in the planning phase — particularly on mobile? 

Well, for the long range guest, think about a large resort where most of the business is probably going to be leisure, travel, maybe some business. It’s important to make sure that you have content on your website that is there for  those micro-moments that matter — and that it speaks to the [kinds of activities] they’re looking for.

In this “dreaming phase,” if customer wants to find a place that is pet-friendly, for example, you have to make sure that you’ve got content on your website that is speaking to that. You can’t just be a pet-friendly hotel; you have to say it [clearly and] explicitly.

For the shorter term hotel guest — someone who is just driving by — local search is critical. You want to make sure that you’re showing up on the map. That means having correct listing information, because that person is probably doing a “hotel near me” search — and very likely doing a voice search if they’re driving and on their mobile phone.

What’s the most important “future of search” trend for you? Is it voice, as you just mentioned? Or something else? 

It is; voice is definitely significant.

What I see as a challenge for some people is making sure that they have the content on their website that is answering the questions that customers are actually looking for.

This means making sure you know exactly what your customers are searching for: Looking at different types of search query data is very helpful. A lot of times, people will think they know what their customer is looking for, but then you find out later on — especially when it comes to using voice search — that they didn’t know the intent [behind the query.]

This is the key: Knowing what your customers are looking for, knowing the intent behind it, and then making sure you’ve got content on your site that specifically addresses and answers that.

About The Author
Lauryn Chamberlain Lauryn Chamberlain @laurynchamberla

Lauryn Chamberlain is the Associate Editor of A New York City based journalist, she specializes in stories related to retail, dining, hospitality, and travel.