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.
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.
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.