Blog category: strategy

Using social media to build customer relationships

By Des O'Mahony | On Wed, August 12, 2009

Online marketing for hotels is quite different from online marketing for other products. For example, a hotel is in a fixed location, so marketing to those to whom the location will appeal must form part of the strategy. Hotels have quite individual character, so finding something unique to ensure you stand out from the crowd in the busy hospitality storefront is also crucial. The hotel is rarely the reason for traveling (except for a lucky minority who manage to make the hotel the destination itself), so the choice of hotel is ancillary to the primary travel purpose and this must be factored in by trying to determine the most likely reason your guest are searching for a property like yours. And on and on it goes.

This sounds like a lot of work to get right, and it usually is. But Web 2.0 tools help get to the bottom of this quite quickly if you use them effectively. Fundamentally, the tools of social media online can not only help you market your hotel effectively, but their use can wake you up to how your customers perceive your business. The valuable and free information gleaned can allow you to rapidly improve customer satisfaction. Be prepared to be humble - the customer’s perception is often quite different from yours, but remember it is only theirs that matters.

Everyone and their dog is saying that social media tools such as Facebook, Twitter, Blogger and other Web 2.0 platforms such as YouTube, Picasa are increasingly important. But important for what exactly? Before jumping in, it is important to step back and appreciate what exactly you are trying to achieve by using such tools. Put simply, when you have a particular purpose in mind, you choose a tool or approach that best suits the purpose. You don’t find a tool and then look around for something to do with it.

Not the forum for the hard sell

With social networking, you are basically trying to build or enhance your brand through engaging your customers, and you are aiming to build deeper relationships with them. While the reason for this ultimately is to raise your profile and build potential future custom, this is not a forum for the hard sell. If you want the hard sell, invest in advertising. After all, social networking is “social”, meaning people-oriented, community, common interests, like-mindedness, and “networking”, the intercommunication of those people on a voluntary basis.

Social networking is all about being part of a conversation. To be successful with social media, just like in a conversation, you have to be prepared to listen, you have to have something interesting to say, you have to contribute something new so that people are bothered to listen, and you have to engage on the level of everyone else and avoid preaching. Sticking to those rules will ensure success in social media either personally or as a business.

Charleville Lodge Boosts Business by 59%

As an online strategy partner for hotels, Bookassist (bookassist.org) has been engaged in the social media and web 2.0 arena for some time and in recent years has been strongly encouraging their hotel clients to be proactive online. Following a Bookassist seminar on web 2.0 tools in mid 2008, owner/manager Paul Stenson of Charleville Lodge boutique hotel in Phibsboro, Dublin (www.charlevillelodge.ie) decided to focus on interacting with his customers via TripAdvisor and Facebook, as well as providing a richer web experience to them via Youtube and Picasa.

According to Stenson, they’ve seen “over 8000 views on the Youtube account in that first year. We can see that people move from there to the website and vice versa so it’s definitely something people are interested in seeing.” While he acknowledges that directly attributing bookings and revenue to his use of web 2.0 tools is hard to track, he has no doubt about the success of the strategy. “We’ve had a successful website for many years, but used Bookassist for a new website in 2008. We worked with them also to set up Youtube, Facebook and other tools. In the year since we started, we’ve seen a 59% increase in direct booking income through our website compared to the previous year. Bear in mind that this is in the middle of a recession and our booking value has been forced downwards also with increased competition”, says Stenson, “so we consider that pretty strong proof of the power of social networking”.

Stenson is also rigorous in his approach to TripAdvisor, ensuring that he deals with issues that may arise as quickly as possible. “There is no doubt that guests are cross-referencing TripAdvisor content with our website, our Facebook pages, the reviews we publish on our own website in the Bookassist booking engine, all of these things. People clearly want assurance before they book and we have to be sure we keep on top of it all.”

Using Facebook to talk with customers, answer queries and provide information is something that has become routine in Charleville Lodge, with staff always online to field queries. With hundreds of followers, tracking of incoming bookings for his hotel originating from Facebook hits is on the rise, according to Stenson. “The interest via Facebook is strong, but the drawback is that customers have to request to be a friend first before we can interact. We’re now working with Bookassist on a Twitter strategy so we can converse with potential customers in a more immediate and natural way and be even more proactive in getting the news out there about our property and getting guests’ views. It’s early days but Twitter seems the way to go.”

“Getting” or “not getting” Twitter

Stenson’s experience highlights one of the key differences between sites such as Facebook, MySpace, Bebo, and the Twitter service. While Facebook and the others are largely about keeping in touch with people you know, in a leisurely way, Twitter is about finding people you don’t know but who have information you need or questions you can answer. Twitter is extremely immediate, reflecting what’s on people’s minds right now.

Twitter is undoubtedly becoming more and more important, but it is still a mystery to most business owners in terms of where it sits in their online strategy. Bookassist’s view is that it can sit dead-centre if handled properly.

There’s a typical evolution that people go through in embracing the Twitter platform. They first see it as a useless fad and ignore it, but they eventually try it out to see what the fuss is about. At this stage they don’t quite “get” it. If they persist, then they get comfortable posting tweets but even now are really just using it “one-way” to make observations or statements. This is as far as most businesses go. But moving beyond this to a real “two-way” conversation is the real hard part. Persistence pays off.

Hotels should set up Twitter accounts and use tweets to advertise special offers or events they may have. Tweets should contain keywords that others may be searching for to improve your chances of being read, (“hotel”, “special”, “dublin” book”) and the offers should be immediate, for tonight, tomorrow etc., since Twitter is so immediate. This is the basic approach of using Twitter in an advertising strategy.

But hotels should also pose questions to their guests using Twitter, to try to get conversations going. For example, “do you think our atrium dining room is the best feature in the hotel?” might elicit responses where people say they didn’t realise you had an atrium and something else was far more important to them in their stay. You now have valuable information about what is important to your guests. You can ask if guests would like to see any other kind of events, or ask how specific services can be improved. Rather than waiting for comments or fielding complaints like in TripAdvisor, you can get into the driving seat with Twitter.

Going beyond this, the open approach of Twitter where your tweets are published to the entire world by default, as are your guests tweets, means that anyone can search for all conversations that involve your hotel and can therefore see an entire history of what you say online and how your interact with your guests. And how quickly you resolve issues. Likewise you can jump into conversations involving your competitors and legitimately highlight how you would have done it differently, or offered better service, giving you a marketing advantage. Once you tweet honestly, are not overly commercial in pushing your business, and remember that everything is public and forever, then you have nothing to fear from being part of the online chat.

Undoubtedly, time commitment is an issue for hoteliers. Once you begin with Twitter, you need to continue to do so or your lack of interaction itself becomes a negative. Because it is fundamentally “personal” in its approach, it puts you the business owner at the front line. But there is no better way to engender trust in your customer base than to interact with them on a personal level, with immediacy, and to show through your public interactions with others that you actually care.

According to Stenson at Charleville Lodge, “it all really just boils down to service. If you can show high service levels online before they even arrive at your hotel, which these tools help you to do, then you are already winning”.

Charleville lodge is online at www.charlevillelodge.ie, and is on Facebook, YouTube and just beginning to take the plunge on Twitter. —- Dr Des O’Mahony is CEO and Founder at Bookassist, the leading technology and online strategy partner for the hospitality industry.

Labels: youtube, web2.0, twitter, tripadvisor, tips, strategy, seo, sem, facebook

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Google folds Mapping and Address Extensions into Adwords

By Des O'Mahony | On Mon, August 24, 2009

Google Adwords now allows you to extend your advert content to include Google Local information right in the advert (in other words Google Maps) and further enhance the utility and visual appeal of your adverts.

As an example of this in action, Bookassist’s Traffic Builder team have recently completed the addition of Google Local to a number of campaigns - for example a search for Camden Court Hotel (camdencourthotel.com) in Dublin reveals the map content added to the advert (the “show map” link at the bottom of the advert below):

When you click the “+” next to the map link, the location opens up directly in the advert. A similar search for the Mespil Hotel (mespilhotel.com) again shows this functionality, where the map is now embedded directly in the PPC advert, include the “get directions” functionality:

According to Emel Mutlu, a member of Google’s AdWords team writing on their blog on July 24th: “Location extensions allow you to “extend” your AdWords campaigns by dynamically attaching your business address to your ads. This new feature will be fully available in the coming weeks, with some advertisers having access to the feature starting today.” The features have landed in Ireland now and are extending to other countries.

Local business adverts are now no longer a separate entity, but are identical in form to the new local-enhanced Adwords adverts. This also helps streamline the Adwords process for advertisers.

This extension to Google Local shows that the adverts are themselves beginning to mix the media available to Google - Google have already implemented blended search (see: article on blended search) where different search elements like maps, video, news are listed in search results along with the traditional website results.

Folding blended search ideas in Adwords seems to be the direction this is going - expect to see embedded video and other items soon.

Labels: strategy, sem, marketing, google, adwords

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Google inserts Ads into iPhone maps - Pay Per Tap (PPT) ramps up

By Des O'Mahony | On Mon, October 05, 2009

Google has recently launched sponsored links directly on iPhone’s (and iPod Touch’s) native Google maps app. When searching for services in an area on the maps app, for example searching for hotels on a map, sponsored links can now appear alongside regular service links as shown in the example below of a “New York hotels” search. Sponsored links get a special marker compared to the usual pin also (as shown on the right).

If the user taps the sponsored link, the usual screen containing phone number, address, and directions appears but additionally shows some brief, italicised ad copy under the name of the business.

Can we propose a new acronym - Pay Per Tap?

The service doesn’t appear to be live in Ireland yet. Clearly, the drive towards mobile advertising is in full swing, with mobile the next battleground for pay per “tap” (PPT) funds.

See Inside AdWords

Labels: strategy, sem, mobile, marketing, iphone, google, adwords

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Content Continues To Be King

By Des O'Mahony | On Tue, October 06, 2009

In late September, Google finally confirmed officially what many of us have suspected for years - that the tag attribute (hereafter simply “the keywords meta tag”) in web pages has no effect on Google search results rank.

Fundamentally, what this means is that attempts to tell Google what your web site is about don’t work - Google will figure this out for itself thank you. Pretending to be something you are not won’t work. Tricks to make yourself look better than you are won’t work. Google of course uses various methods of its own to determine where you should rank in search engine results and will largely see through attempts to spoof it. Primary among those methods is to ascertain what the content of a website really is. Getting the content right is the single best way to ensure Google’s approval - plus it serves to entice and engage online readers, and to build quality incoming links.

Some Tags Are Better Than Others

There’s a bit more to the tags issue though. Web developers/designers insert various tags and tag attributes into web pages that are either necessary or useful and that are used by search engines, but not necessarily for search rank. For example, if you choose “View > Page Source” for a web page in Firefox, for example, the code behind the page you can see will contain entries like:

The keywords meta tag has traditionally been applied to inform search engines of the primary focus of the website. This is the one Google doesn’t read anymore, saying that “Because the keywords meta tag was so often abused, many years ago Google began disregarding the keywords meta tag”. a tag”.

On the other hand, Google is not the only game in town, and Bing has a slightly different approach saying that the keywords meta tag “is not the page rank panacea it once was back in the prehistoric days of Internet search. It was abused far too much and lost most of its cachet. But there’s no need to ignore the tag. Take advantage of all legitimate opportunities to score keyword credit, even when the payoff is relatively low.”

Search results do make use of other tags however, at least for result display purposes. The page title and description meta tags are used by Google directly in displaying its search results - for example the first result in the figure below (click to enlarge) shows the title and description meta tag that we “fed” to Google using the code shown above. While the effect of the title and description meta tags on the actual search result position is not clear, it is certainly important to have them correct and meaningful for the user who ultimately looks at those search results since they must create an impact and give immediate information if you are to capitalise on your search ranking. At least this is one area over which you have definite control.

The Dual Online User

This highlights one key tenet in getting your website just right online. It needs to be right for dual users - firstly, for the search engine that has to read and assess the site and determine how to return the address in search results, and secondly for the viewer who will click on results and ultimately interact with your site. The approach to optimising for these dual users is quite different but there are overlaps, content being the primary one.

What Search Engines Like

Google works very hard to make sure that its search results are as relevant as possible to the search phrase used. The more accurate Google is, the more likely people will continue using it and the more money it will make from displaying relevant adverts. So Google really needs to get it right.

The Google webcrawler program trawls the web and reads the code behind web pages, attempting to categorise the sites in its database. While the algorithm it uses to assess websites is no doubt complex, it is basically a dumb machine and must make judgement calls only on what is presented to it in plain text. The domain name, page title, the description tag are a starting point, but unless the information and wording contained therein are backed up by solid content on the page that reinforces the title and description, then the Google webcrawler feels that something is amiss and the ranking of the site will suffer.

To take an extreme example, suppose your page title is “Boutique Hotel in Dublin”, and your description tag is “We are a boutique hotel in Dublin”, but then your entire page content is about dog kennels. Then the Google webcrawler won’t consider your site a good result to show to anyone who is searching for information about “boutique hotels in Dublin” or about “dog kennels” for that matter. The structure and the content are simply not matching up. A web page has to do exactly what it says on the tin or it will be punished.

When a person searches for a specific phrase, like “boutique hotels in Dublin”, then Google really wants to display information about “boutique hotels in Dublin” and about nothing else. The likely best candidates are websites that have domain names that use the terms “boutique”, “hotel” and “dublin” AND page titles that use the terms “boutique”, “hotel” and “dublin” AND page content that makes regular use of the words “boutique”, “hotel” and “dublin” (preferably repeated use to up the keyword “density” of the content, but not too much use so that Google again is suspicious of your motives!). If external websites have links to this site that use the terms “boutique”, “hotel” and “dublin” in the text of the link, then Google further approves since other websites appear to be sending people to the site based on the same search terms, so the external link endorsement is worth something to Google.

Getting To The Top

So it is clear that the content of your website really needs attention to ensure that any search terms you want to be found for are targeted in your copy and are matched with page titles, descriptions and where possible web domains. For example, if as a hotel, your location is a key issue for your business, then refer to it at least four or five times in the content on your home page. Likewise for any other issues important to your business: if your spa treatment is a primary earner, then have a spa treatment page, with a title referring to spa treatment, a file name referring to spa treatment, content mentioning the spa treatment a number of times, images with file names relating to spa treatment and image alt descriptions referring to spa treatment and so on. Remember, the webcrawler that is trying to assess your page has no interest in colour schemes, Flash content, text rendered as images, photographs or aesthetics - it can only read information clearly presented to it in text form, so you need to get every element of the page “singing off the same hymn sheet” in order to make your point.

Good Content

Writing good content that can target keywords of the right density to Google but still be interesting enough to catch the online user’s eye is a difficult task. But it is also important that the content evolves as far as Google is concerned. Continually refreshing content is therefore critical also for search ranking, and one of the best ways to tackle the content issue is through the use of blogs.

Blogs are an easy and natural way to write content. Hotels can write on specific events, festivals, nearby attractions, recipes from their kitchen, unusual guests requests, all sorts of things, and use the blog simply as the newspage for the site. These entries make for interesting reading and are naturally full of good keyword content about your hotel and your area. It is also a way to involve more of your staff in contributing content and give them more ownership of the customer experience, as well as inviting customers to comment also.

There are many hotels who now build their entire web presence around a blog and booking engine only, eliminating completely the static brochure approach that typifies many hotel websites. For a good introduction to what blogs can do for your hotel and for your hotel website’s content, check out the video Interview with Juli Lederhaus of Hawthorne Hotel in Massachusetts available on YouTube.

Get What You Deserve

The bottom line is: the best way to get to the top of the search engine results listings is to deserve it. Forget the tricks and instead strive to give information that people are actually looking for and are interested in. With the recent launch of Google’s Sidewiki, people will increasingly pass public comment on your website in any case, so chances are you will begin to get feedback that you must tend to through dynamic content whether you like it or not.

Content of websites continues to be king. In the end, for search engine position and keeping users interested, there really is nothing else to beat it.

Dr Des O’Mahony is CEO and Founder of Bookassist, the leading online strategy and technology partner for the hotel industry. Follow Bookassist on Twitter at twitter.com/bookassist

Labels: youtube, web design, tips, strategy, seo, marketing, google, domain names

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Five Steps for Hotels to Build Repeat Business

By Des O'Mahony | On Mon, December 07, 2009

Marketers have long talked about the concept of customer Life Time Value (LTV). For hotels in an increasingly global and connected marketplace this is more important than ever. LTV is about future profitability of the customer to you, from future cash flows generated from that customer and their actions on your behalf.

Life Time Value is made up of multiple blocks of income over the lifetime of the customer relationship. There is the revenue from that first booking, the revenue from any additional purchases or services added during that stay. There is the value of good recommendations to other customers that this stay may generate, which nicely results in a reduction in the cost of acquiring new customers. And there is the premium obtained from future stays of that guest if, and this is the big if, they are satisfied with the first stay. All these blocks of income need to be considered in the LTV calculation of that customer.

For any first-time guest that comes through your door, there has already been a cost to you for gaining that customer. For customers delivered via channel websites, that cost is dominated by the larger commission fees paid to those site - but there is also the potential future loss to you of the customer loyalty whereby that customer may well use the channel site into the future and avail of different hotels instead of yours. For customers delivered directly via your own website, there are other charges such as the cost of building and maintaining your website, the cost of your own online marketing campaigns, cost of offline marketing, fees or commissions for your own online booking etc., all of which can be calculated as an average value, the Cost Per New Customer (CPNC) for your business.

In many cases, a careful calculation of the CPNC will reveal that the profit from a single stay is unlikely to outweigh that acquisition cost. Multiple stays, up-sells, or reducing cost of acquisition are therefore a must in order to grow revenue and profitability.

To calculate LTV and CPNC figures reliably, you need years of customer data. But the principles of the issue are usually sufficient as a starting point to help you improve LTV substantially.

1. Improve Front Line Service
Front line service levels are more critical now than ever. They need to be maintained and constantly monitored and improved where possible. Always ensure your staff are trained to be helpful, pleasant and accommodating at all times. Impress upon them the consequences of poor customer service for future earnings and the potential damage that can be caused by poor reviews and word of mouth. Ensure they realise that every action and every guest counts and that failure to meet standards has real financial consequences for the business, and by extension their job security. Staff training is a relatively cheap cost in comparison that the cost of offline and online marketing. Invest now and continually.

2. Aim For High Online Service Levels
You must ensure that the service afforded your guest online is as good as that offline. With more than 50% of all reservations in 2010 estimated to be completed online, your website is in a very competitive landscape. Ensure that you provide high quality imagery. Ensure that you anticipate your customers’ needs in terms of mapping, directions, local information. Above all, be sure that your online booking system is clear and informative, helps the user through the process, instills confidence through its security handling and security standards compliance such as PCI compliance, works in the user’s language and currency, and offers convenience such as SMS booking confirmation. Bookassist’s booking engine covers all of these issues and more.

3. Listen To Your Guests, And Respond
Review and discussion sites and forums are the most popular tourist sites today. It is an old maxim that bad reviews that are dealt with and handled well result in the most loyal of customers. It is critical to manage your online presence on sites like TripAdvisor, ensuring that you answer the good as well as the bad reviews. Remember, if someone praises you person to person, you don’t just ignore them, you thank them. So do the same online. Use a review service, like that built into Bookassist’s booking engine, that allows you feed genuine customer reviews right to your own website. Potential customers then see that their views are taken seriously, they know they have a direct forum if required and they know that the hotel will respond appropriately to issues they may have.

4. Don’t Abuse Email Marketing
Ensure your website or booking engine operates as an opt-in service for future communications. Apart from the legal requirements, opt-in is a very valuable concept. Batch emailing everyone simply annoys the majority, potentially damaging repeat business and referrals and lowering your LTV. With opt-in, you have a much smaller but much more dedicated list of those who specifically wish to see your special offers and other communications. The relative success rate is proven to be an order of magnitude higher without the concurrent annoyance to those who are not interested. But don’t let it lead to “email fatigue”, wearing out your welcome. Generally for hotels, emailing about once a month is not too high a frequency - but again it is proven that the higher the frequency the lower the response. Examine your client base carefully - if people on average return once a year, then isn’t emailing once a week a little excessive?

5. Reward Stays, Not Just Loyalty
We have all experienced this one, particular from telecoms or cable companies. The company advertises a great deal, but won’t let you avail of it unless you are a new customer. This is very negative marketing. It screams to existing customers that they are considered of less value to the company. It works to an extent for companies that require lock-in to long-term contracts. Hotels don’t have that luxury. As a hotel, you must therefore improve the chances of the customer returning to you by incentivising them as much as possible at all times. Consider upgrading guests when you have distressed inventory, for no reason other than that they are your guests. If there is some fee service at your hotel, consider sometimes giving it for free for a day. If the spa is underused today, offer a free spot to the first people who arrive down to breakfast. Random acts of kindness may be a small cost, but result in great reviews and goodwill.

Bottom line - be concerned about building and maintaining your customer relationship online and offline. Losing a customer is not just lost future income, but real cost too since reactivation costs are usually significant. You shouldn’t be too concerned at spending more than the average profit in order to generate the first sale, provided you have strategically planned on ensuring good life time value from your customer relationships.

Dr Des O’Mahony is CEO and Founder of Bookassist, the leading online strategy and technology partner for the hotel industry. Follow Bookassist on Twitter at twitter.com/bookassist

—-

Originally published on hotelmarketing.com as:
“Five steps to repeat booking success” http://bit.ly/8l7Aba

Labels: tips, strategy, marketing

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Be careful who you link to from your hotel website!

By Des O'Mahony | On Fri, March 19, 2010

Some third party channels suggest that hotels link back to them in a reciprocal link exchange and that the hotels will benefit from this. True, there is certainly a benefit. But there is also a cost that may outweigh that benefit.

Hotels may consider that displaying a link to well known third parties will make them look good in the eyes of a potential customer. But hotels need to be very careful about who they link to or they may end up damaging their direct business by doing so.

The issue relates to what the search engines think, not what the online customer thinks.

About Links
Links between websites are important not just for the convenience of users but because they allow search engines such as Google to determine the relative importance of websites for users.

There are two kinds of links to consider - inward links that link to your website, and outward links from your website to another site. When inward links are matched with outward links between sites, you have reciprocal linking. However the benefit may not be evenly balanced in reciprocal linking.

PageRank (or PR) is Google’s numerical value of how important a web page is and therefore its search results positioning. PageRank is calculated for a site by looking at the quantity and quality of all inward and outward links. The actual way that Google determines relative importance, and therefore position in the search results, is complex. But for the purposes of this article we will take a simplified view and think of every link you make to another site as a vote for that site (though not all votes carry equal weight).

If a search engine like Google sees many different sites all linking to a particular site, then that site seems to have a lot of independent votes and therefore seems to be more important, more relevant, than sites that have less incoming links. It begins to win in the search engine results election. Its PageRank is enhanced.

Little Things Add Up
If every hotel makes a link to some particular third party site, say a booking channel or a review site, then all those hotels are implicitly voting for that third party site to rise in the search engine results.

The third party therefore gathers many small votes together for its single website and significantly enhances its PageRank. But even when it reciprocates links back to the hotels it is spreading the links out across all the different hotel websites, donating just a small share of its vote, or PageRank, back to each individual hotel.



Therefore each hotel is gaining a small slice of PageRank from the third party channel (a small vote), but the third party channel gains all the slices of PageRank from all the hotels (all votes). Even if each of those votes is pretty insignificant, taken together they can add up to a very significant endorsement indeed.

The benefit for the third party website in terms of PageRank is therefore far higher than the benefit for each hotel in receiving a reciprocal link.

Are You Helping Your Competitor?
Whether it is a booking or review site, the third party site is likely to be a competitor of direct business on the hotels’ websites. Hotels are therefore actually enhancing competition for their own sites by linking to such third parties, pushing them up the rankings, and ultimately contributing to diverting more business from their own websites to the third parties.

From an online customer perspective, hotels linking off to third parties makes the hotel site less “sticky”, in that it presents the online customer with an array of options for booking nearby or similar properties even though your hotel may be quite bookable. It also presents your customer with the convenience of booking through a third party that may already have their details saved from a previous transaction. Either way, you are simply reducing your chances of successful direct bookings.

There are many ways to link to other sites without transferring your page rank. You may want to do this because you want to display a link that benefits your online customer, but does not give a PageRank vote to that site. This can be done for example by using links that include the attribute rel=“nofollow” such as:

the link text


But if the external link is to a third party booker or review site that advertizes booking, then the value of the link to a direct customer of yours is minimal anyway. Reciprocal links are important, but they are best if they are non-competitive.

Should You Vote?
So should you vote? The moral of the story is that you need to be very careful who you give your vote to. Just like democracy, you may think that one vote doesn’t really make a difference. But if everyone votes it can make a very big difference indeed, and how you choose to vote can have significant impact, one that you may regret.

Labels: third parties, strategy, seo, reviews, google, brand

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Social Media and the Fan Phenomenon

By Des O'Mahony | On Fri, June 04, 2010

People are constantly asking us at Bookassist what they should use social media for, which social media channels are the most important, how can they build their fanbase, or even at a most basic level, what is social media and do we really need it? We thought it was a good time to bring back to the table those issues related to social media that are particularly important for hospitality.

Ask Why? Not What?

When the web first started up and businesses began to contemplate a web presence, much the same questions were being asked in relation to websites. It took time for many companies to even realise that they had to engage with the web, that there was no choice if they were to survive. A website was about presenting your brand and offering, about projecting your image. It evolved into a marketing and commerce machine, about making existing sales efforts more efficient, about new capturing sales, and about generating revenue with better margin. It took time for that progression from static to dynamic to occur.

We know that social media is about conversation, it’s about listening to what is being said about you and engaging in that conversation with other businesses and with your customers and potential customers. But why is this conversation important? The why needs to be addressed before the what and how.

Customer Service

Social media gives you, in hospitality, an ideal opportunity to project your customer service outside your establishment in a way that you could not do before. By engaging in a more casual way through channels such as Facebook and Twitter, it shows that you are interested in your existing and potential customers, that you are willing to listen to them, and that you are open to converse.

This does not mean that you must always agree with their comments! But it does afford you a clear opportunity to clarify issues promptly and fully should they arise. For others to see that public engagement between you and your customers or reviewers is a clear sign of your commitment to customer service.

To put it another way: your customers are already online and talking about you, or commenting on you, whether you like it or not. To not acknowledge that through engagement means losing an opportunity to control the conversation, to be factual, and to demonstrate customer service. If nothing else, it is not polite to have positive customer comments online met with silence on your part.

Quality, Not Quantity

When hospitality businesses do engage online, particularly through Facebook and Twitter, there is often initially a naïve drive to simply work up a bigger list of fans and be a top ten player in fan count. While having followers is obviously important, the quantity in itself says nothing about your success on the ground, about your revenue or reputation.

What is the point in having 2000 Facebook fans who have never actually visited your premises and probably never will, but are there because their hip and cool Aunty Muriel asked all her fans to follow you? What is important is the level of engagement that you have with your fans.

How many of those fans visit your page regularly? Do you actually know? How many of your fans actually comment back to you when you post something? How many respond to questions you may pose online? How many avail of any special offers or competitions that you might run? Are you tracking that? These at least are metrics that you can use to try to gauge success, and to gauge how many of that fan base actually matter.

In many ways, the fan base can be like the huge email list of old, before privacy legislation made pruning the list an urgent necessity. An often inflated list that was regularly bombarded with emails but whose recipients rarely engaged or generated revenue. Far more important to have 100 solid emails that want to regularly receive your information, than 1,000,000 that are disinterested and bin your email immediately.

Focus on serving those who have opted to follow you for a reason, and you will naturally gain more loyal fans organically. Good customer service is always talked about and builds brand ambassadors. This is no less true online.

Des O’Mahony

Labels: web2.0, twitter, strategy, social media, facebook

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Presentation Techniques Can Confuse!

By Des O'Mahony | On Thu, February 03, 2011

Bookassist’s Des O’Mahony points out that some graphs are not quite like others…



Sometimes you see marketing performance presentations with what look like very impressive results! Until you look more closely.



Suppose someone is measuring marketing performance for your hotel in terms of conversion of lookers to bookers, i.e. the number of visitors who come to your site (green below) compared to those who eventually book (red below). If the following two graphs of this were shown to you, which of them looks the more impressive performance at first glance?




The one on the right looks like a much more impressive result! But in fact the information in both graphs is exactly the same - there are 1150 visits (or lookers) and 11 bookers shown in each example graph, a conversion performance of 0.96%.



If it’s not obvious to you that the graphs above actually show the same information, then an explanation is needed. It goes like this.



The graph that looks “worse”, on the left, has a linear scale. This is the usual sort of scale you see in graphs, a scale that goes up in even steps 1,2,3 etc. Each step is the same size, in this case steps of 250. This sort of scale reflects the natural way that people think, so its the “true” or natural scale to use to compare the size of two things. 11 bookers looks small on this, 1150 visitors looks way bigger, but that’s what you would expect.



The graph that looks “better”, on the right, has a logarithmic or log scale. Each step goes up as a power of ten, so instead of going upwards as 1,2,3 like the linear scale, the scale goes up as 10 to the power of 1, 10 to the power of 2, ten to the power of 3 etc - 10^1 = 10, 10^2 = 100, 10^3 = 1000. This means the steps are 1, 10, 100, 1000 etc. The steps are not at all the same size and get bigger by a factor of ten each step upwards you take. On this log scale, 11 bookers is just over 10, the first step, while 1150 is just slightly above 1000, the third step, making the bookers line look almost like a third of the lookers line at first glance.



Log scales have the effect of amplifying very small numbers, while reducing the apparent size of very large numbers.



Log scales are very useful and important in mathematics and science. But when used in marketing, they can sometimes mask the true result and make poor results seem far better than they are. Beware of how you interpret results that are shown to you in graphical form. When you have an option, always make sure you view data on a linear scale to get a clear interpretation.

Labels: strategy, statistics, marketing

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Five Effective Steps to Promote Your Special Offers Online

By Des O'Mahony | On Tue, February 15, 2011

In the current economic climate, customers are still spending but are far more value-conscious. Special offers and deals are appealing, and represent a strong incentive for customers to book. A competitive and attractive special offer can positively boost your online direct sales. Whether it’s a seasonal offer (St Patrick’s Day, Easter, etc.) or special package (spa, golf, etc), setting up special offers in your booking engine always serves the purpose of giving your potential customers more options and opportunities for making a reservation.

However, just setting up a special offer is not enough in itself to generate conversions. The special offer needs to be communicated, needs to be prominently visible and needs to be found by potential customers. The following five steps are what we recommend in order to get the most out of your special offers.

1. Create a proper Special Offer Page
It might seem a simple and obvious statement but the most effective way to promote offers is through your own website. The individual special offer needs to be made clearly visible on the hotel’s homepage through a banner or visual advert, and via a link in the main navigation that brings the customer to your special offers page. Keep in mind that your special offers page is the bridge between the potential customer and the reservation. The page therefore needs to be optimized with a specific purpose in mind: converting visitors into paying customers.

A special offer page optimized for conversions is relevant to the deal/offer promoted, makes use of attractive and high-quality photography, features a keyword-rich title and text for increasing visibility on search engines, includes a strong call-to-action (book now!) and a link which sends visitors directly to your booking engine, and creates a compelling reason to book. Advertising specials that are for a limited time only or that relate to an immediate upcoming event is critical. Finally, it’s important that your special offer page is easy to navigate, runs smoothly, and doesn’t take too long to load the content, so that it can create an immediate impact. (Users of Bookassist’s Sitebuilder website technology get automatic dynamic special offers pages and functionality built into their hotel websites, with updated information being automatically fed form the Bookassist database each time a special offer is created or changed.)

2. Bring Qualified Traffic with Google Adwords
With your compelling page of offers in place, you need good traffic. Running a Pay Per Click (PPC) campaign on Google Adwords can dramatically increase the volume of qualified traffic (people actively searching for a hotel/special offer) to your site.

Campaigns on Google’s advertising circuit are very cost-effective. Your advert can be seen thousands of times by an audience in over 180 countries and 40 languages. However, you pay only for the clicks your advert receives, and those who click are doing so because the find the advert appealing. You have full analysis of your campaigns, including your spend, your revenue generation and your return on investment, through Google Analytics. To be even more effective, you can have specific revenue analysis for each type of special offer and each type of advert if your booking engine provider has full integration with Google Analytics Ecommerce, as Bookassist does.

Promoting your special offers through a PPC campaign is now more effective than ever thanks to Ad Sitelinks. This feature, which was launched by Google last year, allows you to extend the value of existing ads for your hotel website by providing up to four additional links within the advert that can point to specific sections of your site, such as your special offers page (see figure 1). By availing of Ad Sitelinks in your PPC campaigns, you will make your advert more visible and eye-catching to potential customers, resulting in an increase in qualified traffic coming from PPC that varies between 10%-30% in our experience.

Ad Sitelinks are a powerful addition to Google adverts, with the example advert above for the Mespil Hotel (click on image to see full size) showing four different links to Special Offers within the advert (top of page). Google Places is also being used effectively by the hotel, with a prominent Place page and map location for the hotel showing in search results.

3. Promote Specials on Social Media
Social media is a powerful tool for promoting your special offers and your website. Social media was until recently considered a less-than-serious channel but is today recognised as being critical for business. They have become a crucial part of a hotel’s online strategy, second only to search ranking in Google and other search engines’ natural listings (eg Microsoft Bing social search).

Social media offers a free yet effective way to increase brand awareness and to build the image of your hotel online. Promoting special offers through social media such as your blog, Facebook, Twitter, and Foursquare can strongly increase the exposure of your packages and can indicate to potential future customers the value that can be found in your hotel offerings. You can, for example, write a descriptive and relevant blog post about your offer, post a short entry on the hotel Facebook profile’s wall, write a 140-long message on Twitter. While Facebook and Twitter are all the rage, blogs have another key advantage: blog entries are time-stamped content, so that even after an offer has lapsed (for Valentine’s Day for example) people who are searching next year will find the old offer and therefore anticipate that you will have a new one in the coming year. Blogs are like having a keyword-rich history online of the kinds of offers that you run and the kind of service that you offer.

In all of these social media entries, it is important that you paste a link to the special offer page on your site so that potential customers who have come across your offer through social media they can read more details on the dedicated page. Links are sometimes long and cumbersome, so use a URL-shortening service like bit.ly to create short versions of your links for space-sensitive services like Twitter. If you wish to build an loyal audience among local customers, you can reach them by setting up a special offer on Foursquare, a location-based social network catching potential customers as soon as they check in at your hotel.

4. Avail of Google Offers and Google Places
In late January 2011, Google moved into the local deals arena by launching Google Offers. The service follows Google’s well known attempt to buy Groupon (groupon.com), the very successful local offers site. Google’s move aims at bolstering the search giant’s local advertising business.

How it works is very straightforward. A user who enters a search query on Google (e.g. ‘dublin hotel offer’) is given a number of related offer results. By clicking on one of the offers, the user is taken to a dedicated page with details of the package, map, and printing options (see figure 2). The service is still in its initial phase of launch and is currently available in the United States.

Offers from Google for a hotel in the USA (click on image to see full size) . The new Offers functionality is linked to Google Places and will allow hotels to promote their offers on Google Places and have them automatically expire in order to keep the page fresh.

Hoteliers can also dramatically increase visibility of their special offers by adding them to their listing on Google Places. Google Places is an online service that allows business owners to update and manage their physical business location information (you will see it appear as a small map and business listing on search results from time to time - see figure 1). Hotels can claim ownership of their business listing and can update their details so that it appears correctly within Google Maps and lists their offers. Once set, offers are visible on Google Maps for a period of 30 days. Do a search on Google for Places and for Offers to get more information and help on how to set these up.

5. Blast an Email to Your Client List
Email marketing can be considered as an old-school marketing technique but, when used properly, it is a highly effective one. Provided you don’t over-use the medium, you can further increase the exposure of your special offers by sending an email to guests who stayed at hotel or to prospects that didn’t convert in the past. A personalised letter explaining what the offer is and including a link to the special offer page on your site, as well as a call-to-action, should do the trick.

It is important to make the offer time-sensitive and time-relevant - this offer “must close today” or this offer is for the coming weekend. We all have experience of how the airlines have used this sense of urgency to great effect. It’s also a good idea to promote your special offer by adding it to the email signature of all the staff in the hotel so that every communication helps to build the potential audience.

—-
Pasquale Mellone is Search Engine Marketer in the Online Marketing Division of Bookassist (bookassist.org), the technology and online strategy partner for hotels.

Labels: strategy, social media, seo, sem, marketing, email

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Why You Need Reputation Management

By Des O'Mahony | On Fri, July 22, 2011

Bookassist’s Des O’Mahony outlines why your hotel needs to think very seriously about Reputation Management software and why manual trawling of the web is no longer enough.



Restaurants have lived and died by critics’ reviews for years. For hotels, reviews are relatively recent. And many hotels don’t like them at all. But bemoaning online reviews by customers solves nothing. Hotels need to engage with online reviews for many reasons, not least of which is the incredible opportunity it offers for free marketing and influence.







Bookassist has launched the Reputation Alert service to help hotels deal with their reviews online, to show hotels how to turn information into corrective action plans for negative reviews, and into marketing opportunities for positive reviews. It is one of the most valuable tools available to hoteliers today, and only costs the equivalent of about one room-night per month.



Here are four simple reasons why you need this product.



It’s not just TripAdvisor

The largest volume of reviews for your hotel may be on TripAdvisor, Booking and Expedia. But only concentrating on them is not a good idea. In fact, the sheer “size” of those brands has led many people to ignore them and instead seek what they consider to be more “genuine” or “considered” reviews on smaller specialist sites. After all, if you are a specific type of traveller, it is far more relevant for you to read reviews from like-minded people rather than the mass herd. As a result, these smaller more specialised sites, often in languages other than English, can also have a disproportionately larger influence on your potential guests. But are you monitoring them?



Bookassist Reputation Alert monitors hundreds of sites, not just the top ones, and delivers reviews from them all directly into your hotel administration system. It even trawls Social Media sites to see if there is mention of your hotel. It analyses the wording of the reviews, in multiple languages, and tells you whether they are positive or negative and what areas of your business they refer to. It saves you hours and hours of time, but more importantly it ensures that issues get to you fast so you can take corrective action before they damage your valuable business.




Time Is Money

Being able to assess all recent reviews from hundreds of sites in one single online area is a huge labour-saver. You can focus on action plans to correct issues raised in reviews, rather than spending that time trying to find and assess reviews online. With semantic analysis of the review language built into Bookassist Reputation Alert, you don’t even need to read the reviews but can get an instant assessment of whether they are positive or negative. For any hotelier that values their time and their reputation, it’s a no-brainer.


But you can also collect reviews on your top 5 competitors and see where they are slipping up, allowing you to jump in and fill the gap with website text or special offers directed specifically at their weaknesses. This is very valuable strategic information available at a click.





Actions Count, Not Words

There is little point in monitoring reviews at all if they are not going to lead to action plans. With automatic analysis of ratings and reviews to assess what your customers think of your services across areas such as staff, food and beverage, wellness, lobby, room decor, internet services etc, you can quickly focus on the real priorities and issue action plans to your responsible staff.


Because Bookassist Reputation Alert tracks your average score in these different service areas over time, you can see if your scores are improving or even set targets for scores to be reached by those staff responsible for different service areas in your organization. You can generate weekly or monthly reports on where you stand for use at staff meetings. Improving service levels based on smart analysis of priorities allows you to focus your spend and efforts on the right things, therefore reducing negativity online and increasing your potential revenue. It’s like having an extremely meticulous and expensive brand consultant sitting there with you each and every day - without the associated cost.



Their Opinion Matters, Not Yours

With Bookassist Reputation Alert, you can also see what kind or category of guests are using your hotel. While you may consider yourself as, for example, a business hotel, or a family hotel etc, you may be surprised to find from detailed reviews analysis that the majority of your guests actually consider you to be a city centre hotel first and foremost, or a romantic hotel, or a great hotel for sports events etc. In other words, analysing the guest perception of your hotel from feedback can help you reposition your hotel online, offering packages that suit the majority of your guests and tapping into your real potential. This kind of invaluable insight into your true customer base can only be gleaned from analysing hundreds of reviews automatically and continuously, a critical but costly job to do manually but one which Bookassist Reputation Alert excels at far more quickly and far more cheaply.


If you’re doing well, you should boast about it to your potential guests, by displaying a seal of approval showing your average rating right on your website, automatically updated as reviews are collected and analyzed.


These are just some of the reasons why reputation management can improve your bottom line quickly and effectively. To read more about Reputation Alert, see http://bookassist.org/reputation


Labels: tripadvisor, strategy, reviews, marketing, brand

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