“There is a risk that a hotel’s unique brand can be eroded by using travel portals”, writes Des O’Mahony.
For a hotel, the direct guest is best. Bookings through travel portals or agents incur high charges, while the direct bookings through your own website represents lowest cost of sale. With stiff competition, hotels need to move to direct business more and more and lower their dependence on indirect sales. Utilising proper technology and online marketing expertise can unlock the power of a hotel website to maximize that business.
Direct versus Indirect
Times were when travelers to a destination treated the accommodation as a side issue. These days, the accommodation is just as likely to be the reason for traveling, especially with the growth in spa treatments and luxury hotels. With over 50% of leisure bookings to be made online by 2010 (PhocusWright), direct business is there for the taking. The Marriott group boldly invested millions in their online presence and in 2007 saw over 80% of their business generated directly through their own website. This could be the norm but the majority of hotels have yet to wake up to this potential instead of handing their online business to third party travel portals at a significant cost.
Poor brand imagery and customer care
There is a risk that a hotel’s unique brand can be eroded by using travel portals. A hotel is listed blandly in categories and risks becoming “commoditised” and unable to project its individuality appropriately .Pricing is out of the hotel’s control, causing customer confusion as different rates can be found on the net by potential guests. More importantly, the customer relationship is owned by the portal and it is the portal that they will return to for new bookings. While hotels may get significant business from these channels in the short term, the long term consequences for the hotel business and hotel brand is potentially damaging.
When selling directly on their own website however, the hotel lowers the booking costs, remains in control of their brand image online and ensures the customer is their customer, thereby improving return business potential. Building customer loyalty to your website is crucial and gaining their trust that the best prices are here. Bookassist technology and services are all about empowering individual hotel (or apartment) websites to reach those goals.
Get Geared Up
As the internet rapidly develops, so too does the online customer. Web 2.0 phenomena such as social networking are making their presence felt in the travel sector as it moves to embrace the technologies in so-called Travel 2.0. The recent (November 27, 2007) Sunday Times Top 100 travel sites was dominated by travel review sites and blogs, not the travel portals you might suspect, as online users increasingly want to hear what others have to say and then go direct to book. At Bookassist we continually research internet trends and implement change quickly and we’ve been doing so in the internet arena since as far back as 1994. In our long experience, we’ve seen many trends appear and disappear just as quickly, while others stand the test of time.
The key requirements for a successful direct hotel business today include:
• Good quality, attractive, customer-focused website that provides real information, quality photography and is regularly updated.
• Effective optimization of the website content and structure to ensure high search engine natural listings placement.
• Inclusion of customer generated media or other Travel 2.0 technologies such as customer reviews, blogs, vlogs.
• Newsletters and limited special offers for members to encourage the building of a community of users, plus loyalty programmes to build return business.
• Customer-targeted and constantly-monitored online advertising.
• Leading edge booking system that facilitates quick customer booking with ease and instills confidence and projects security to the customer.
• Ensuring lowest prices are on your own website at all times so that customers can trust your prices and increase their use of hotel’s website.
• Report systems that allow you to plan ahead and adjust as you go along.
It’s what they want, not what you think they want
Your website must be compelling and must capture the user in seconds or they’re gone. It must facilitate instant gratification in the form of fast secure online booking and instant confirmation (Bookassist for example uses SMS confirmation as well as email). Already the internet is fast becoming dominated by “second generation” users for whom even email is an anachronism while social networking, blogging and instant messaging rule. These new users of today are the customers of tomorrow. You need to know their thinking and their online habits. Without proper research or advice on internet trends your business can quickly be left stranded.
Dr Des O’Mahony is co-founder and Managing Director of Bookassist
Blog category: tips
“There is a risk that a hotel’s unique brand can be eroded by using travel portals”, writes Des O’Mahony.
“Research shows that online, people are 3 times more likely to buy if the website is in their own language”, writes Mark Rodgers of Cipherion Translations.
The Celtic Tiger has brought Irish hotels into the 21st century. Most hotels have a strong online presence in the form of a professionally developed website which is seamlessly connected to a booking engine. However, with the current uncertainty in a number of our main markets, the industry is now at a watershed – how to keep the online momentum going while still focusing on revenues and profitability.
Building online relationships with your customers is essential at any time, but vital in today’s uncertainty. The Internet allows you to be a global player, in control of how your hotel is marketed online. However, sometimes you have ten seconds to build that initial relationship so how do you differentiate yourself from your competition?
I’d recommend translating your website. Research shows that online, people are 3 times more likely to buy if the website is in their own language.
At the recent Bookassist industry seminar, I was delighted to be invited by Bookassist to present hotels with a multi-lingual strategy. It was fascinating to hear Roshan mention that a recent survey of Bookassist’s main hotel clients in Ireland showed on average over 55% of their entire revenue is now generated online.
Wouldn’t it be great to start getting an even greater portion of that revenue directly from your own website?
Here’s how we, at Cipherion Translations approach it. Think of Christophe and Sophie for a moment. They are sitting at home in Lyon, at their white oak kitchen table, drinking a nice Bordeaux while getting excited about their upcoming holiday to Ireland. They know that they’ll visit Dublin, then Waterford and straight over to Galway. They just need to decide where to stay….
However, most of our hotel websites are currently in English. So while most European tourists like Christophe and Sophie have fluent English, think of their delight when they come upon your site in their own language. You’re delighting the customer and exceeding their expectations even before they arrive at your hotel. You’re building that initial relationship.
So how have the overseas visitors been able to find us in the past? This is where the third party operators, Expedia, Travelocity and the like have had a head start. They have been marketing your hotel in multiple languages for years… and likely getting a significant chunk of the online business from the European visitors.
Essentially, they are building that initial relationship, in French or in German. They have had a significant advantage since your website was previously only available in English.
FACT: Online, people are 3 times more likely to buy if the website is in their own language.
We’d love to help you build that initial relationship with your customers. We work closely with Bookassist, who already has a multi-lingual booking engine. We’ll help you translate your website to delight the customers when they come to your website. Bookassist has already done the rest for you by allowing your customers to book in their own language.
Cipherion Translations have teams of marketing specialists in over 40 languages. Because you only need to “hire” our marketing team for a day or two, the costs are not significant… and in conjunction with the multi-lingual booking engine from Bookassist you can start to grab a larger share of the business that used to come to you through third party websites.
So whether you only wish to market based on a translated home page, or feel that you want to tell the visitor more about your hotel, our team can quickly provide you with translations that will engage and hold your visitors attention. We ensure that during those initial 10 seconds the online visitor will get maximum value from the website.
The Internet and Web 2.0 now allows you to easily attract customers from all over Europe. So it’s vital that you market to this audience in their own language – to build that initial relationship with them.
Remember the fact: people are 3 times more likely to buy online if the website is in their own language. Cipherion Translations can provide you with the marketing experts in each language to guarantee that a visitor’s initial 10 seconds are meaningful and thus increase the chances of the customer wanting to book directly from your website. Bookassist, with their multi-lingual booking engine will take care of the rest.
In summary, thinking global means taking action. Translation is a cost-effective way to build your revenues and build relationships with your customers. Now is the time to think about differentiating yourself on the Internet.
Mark Rodgers is Managing Director at Cipherion Translations.
Technorati reported that the year 2008 began with more than 120 million active conversations published online in several blogging networks. Online conversations are more and more crucial for your business. As we know, the best way to start participating in this media is first to listen. But there are thousands and thousands of themes out there, how can I find relevant streams of information for my market and company? How can I start participating in these social networks? Before you jump in and partake in online social media, you need to first listen to online conversations that involve you.
Use a feed reader and sign up for regular updates of your favorites sources of information. A feed reader is a web application which aggregates or gathers together syndicated web content as news headlines and blog entries creating a single location for all your relevant updated news sources.
Go and sign up for one now! Here is a short list of well known free and web based feed readers to join: Google Reader, Netvides, Bloglines. Click on the links, review the services and select the one you like the most.
Now that you have downloaded or signed up for a feed reader you have to add subscriptions from your favorite news sources, such as this Bookassist travel industry blog. Just look for the RSS symbol in any blog or webpage and you subscribe to it as a reader.
The second way to listen your market on the net is to set alerts for your hotel keywords. From my point of view every hotel needs to set alerts: in Technorati for blogs, in Google Alerts for general websites and in Tripadvisor for guest reviews that are related to their hotel. These are the most significant online applications for managing your hotel reputation on the net and you need to know what is there so that you can make sure your image is handled correctly and fairly.
The alerts systems mail you every time their search engine spider finds a new file on the internet with your keyword term in it. This is a very powerful tool and is very helpful for hotels finding hidden clients reviews, comments, questions, special offers, etc. You can set any type of terms like your hotel name, your brand, your closest touristic attractions or even your own name. You can add any keyword term for the search and as many as you want.
This “listening” system will work as your basic collection engine for information in social media. Any time someone talks about you in the net you will be able to hear it and answer it faster that anybody else.
Foncho Ramírez is Senior Search Engine Specialist at Bookassist’s Madrid office and is a Google Adwords Professional
You can add your hotel to Google Maps as a Business so that it shows up if people are searching for hotels, notes Des O’Mahony.
People are increasingly using Google Maps to find local information, first locating the area of interest and then using Google Map “Find businesses” option as shown here.
It is vital that you get your business listed, and it’s very simple. It all happens in Google’s Local Business Centre.
If you don’t have a Google account, do this:
- First, go to Google Maps on maps.google.com
- Either move the map to your hotel’s location or use the search to type in your street address and it should locate you properly.
- In the search results column on the left you will see a link that says “Put your business on Google Maps”, click on that
- If you have a Google account, log in. If not, take a few minutes to create one.
If you do have a Google account, log in, go to “My Account” in the menu bar and choose “Local Business Centre”.
Once in Local Business Centre, choose to set up a new business:
- You will be asked to specify your business’s details and contact phone number - this will be used to verify your entry so make sure you are near that phone to complete the process
- Choose your category as “hotel” or other as appropriate - you can add more categories if you cater for other services such as conference, wedding etc
- You should consider uploading high quality photographs to give users a feel for your product, up to 10 are allowed
- Once you have gone through the addition of all information, you will have the option of having the information verified by phone, by SMS or by postal verification - if you choose phone, the system will display a PIN number on screen and will phone the main business number that you gave immediately, asking you to enter that PIN. (You must be able to take that automated call directly as it will not be switchable through a switchboard. But you can give a direct line as your main business number and, once the call verifies you, you can then edit your business profile to switch the main business number to something else.)
- Once verified, you will be quickly live, usually immediately. To check, go back to maps.google.com and use the “Find businesses” option to search for your category in your area, eg “hotel” and you should appear.
- You can edit your listing at any time by logging in and going to the Local Business Centre
Note that if you have a series of offices or hotels, you can set up multiple locations.
Also, in the Local Business Centre you can track access to your listings and see if it is popular. To make maximum use of this, you should ensure you have online reservations as an additional attribute. You will more than likely also see your business listed by other vendors - it is up to you whether you want that to continue or not.
The screenshot above right shows Bookassist being found “locally” in the marketing category.
Dr Des O’Mahony is co-founder and Managing Director of Bookassist
Aleks Grzegorzak in Bookassist’s Dublin office asks: “Have you checked reviews of your hotel at Tripadvisor website yet? “
Whether you like it or not, your previous guests like to share their opinion with friends, and the same applies to the Internet where social media websites allow them to share their experiences publicly with others. The only difference is that this time your guest shares his or her opinion with millions of people all over the world. The most popular website with reviews on hotels and vacations is http://www.tripadvisor.com.
The good news, however, is that this website allows hoteliers to respond to reviews.
There are already over 15 million reviews at Tripadvisor. Over 20,000 people visit the website daily for advice on hotels and vacation. Reviews online are a very important part of your web presence and it is up to the hotel’s general/sales/reservations managers to either monitor reviews and take appropriate action to control their image online or ignore them and allow themselves to be condemned for the image being created by somebody else.
Think: If somebody insults you in front of others, don’t you respond appropriately? If somebody compliments you, don’t you say thank you? The same rules apply to online reviews so take responsibility and act today. And remember to respond to both negative and positive reviews. It can be a great way of customer relationship management, too! You can do this in a few very easy steps.
1. Go to http://www.tripadvisor.com and write a name of your hotel in the search box provided:
2. It can yield more than one result, so find your hotel on the list and click on the link ‘Reviews of Your Hotel’ (highlighted in blue):
3. The link brings you to your hotel’s profile with reviews below:
4. Below the reviews there is a green frame for hotel’s owner with a link to the owner’s page (highlighted in blue):
5. The link brings you to the next screen with further links. Click on the ‘Respond to a review’:
6. The next page has a few drop-down lists where you can choose options of your choice:
And remember you can set a Google Alert for your hotel page also so you can be informed when any new review is added.
Aleks Grzegorzak is Internet Support Coordinator in Bookassist’s Dublin office
Christina Roche in Bookassist’s Dublin office points out some not so obvious truths about competition online
Your hotel website is your cheapest form of distribution, sales and advertising all rolled into one. So it is vital for hoteliers to invest time, money and effort into constantly upgrading and managing it. Of course this is a lot of work, and hoteliers already have enough to do offline, so partnering with online technology and marketing providers can be an ideal solution.
At Bookassist, a key component of our strategy for hotels is to provide strong and continual account management involving constant monitoring of the hotels’ websites, rates and availability, combined with surveying the broader marketplace. In Ireland, the majority of hotel websites with booking engines use Bookassist technology, therefore we have valuable and real statistics on the Irish marketplace that we can provide to all our clients to optimise their business.
However, providing this intelligence is of little benefit if the hotelier does not actually use their Bookassist Admin reports or work closely with their account manager. This is why good account management of a hotel’s online presence must be a partnership – the hotel must be prepared to action the advice of their online partner. All hoteliers are keen on the idea of making more money through their own website, and decreasing commission costs. However achieving that goal must go hand in hand with decreasing the number of third party websites you work with.
Third party dependence
Hoteliers are understandably reluctant to reduce third party partnerships, which have been an excellent source of revenue in the past. But that’s exactly it, they’ve been great in the past! In 2004, 20% of all hotel bookings were online compared to 2% in 2000, and by the end of 2009 50% of all hotel bookings will be online (Phocuswright). Third party sites capitalised on this consumer interest long before hotels, and did so at a cost to the hotels of anywhere between 10 – 30% of each booking. But with hotels increasingly moving online and making their own presence felt in Google search results, the necessity for third party sites is waning and the opportunity for the individual hotel to sell directly is growing. It is now time to invest in your own site and cut the apron strings from the excess third party sites, sticking with your top producers only.
Your Website’s online struggle
In the current online marketplace you as the hotelier must understand that your own website is in an online struggle with not only your competitors but also third party websites. People who search for your hotel name are seeing results from a myriad of different suppliers – third party sites and competitors – not just your website. It is therefore imperative to give your website a chance of competing against the larger websites bidding on or using your trademarks. “Monitor who is bidding on or using your trademarks in pay-per-click (PPC) advertising. Competitors and third party intermediaries could be bidding on your hotel name and stealing part of your market share” (from Ten standards for promoting your hotel online). So although the hotel employs the third party sites for added exposure, your hotel website is actually in competition with them and can be undercut by them at a commission cost to you.
It is time for your website to perform alone. You need to generate traffic and you need to convert it to bookings.
Your online strategy should be a key focus of your business, and your own website should be the focus of your online strategy. But directing traffic to your site may not result in increased bookings if the site isn’t up to standard. Ask yourself, “Have I had essentially the same website for a few years?” If the answer is yes then it is definitely time to change your approach. Look at the options open to you for building a new website complete with Web 2.0 features that customers increasingly want, like Google maps, Blogs, Vlogs, Customer Generated Reviews etc.
Work to ensure that you get the most from your website and in particular from your engine. With proper market intelligence you can devise appropriate dynamic packages for your website to suit your target market. With booking engine technology, you only get out of it what you put in. If you stick with basic packages, with very little variety and your rates are static all year round then your revenue will likely remain static or may even drop. Not every property has a spa or golf course and some don’t have restaurants, so in that case it is imperative to get creative and devise dynamic, interesting packages that are going to tempt online lookers to book your property. Knock on the doors of local restaurants, buy tickets to local tours and concerts, the costs will be absorbed in the packages and you will be adding to the value of the booking and the guest’s experience.
The online business is there for the taking. Either you take it, or someone else will.
Christina Roche is Business Development Advisor at Bookassist’s Dublin Office.
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So I’m a customer. I’m looking to book a hotel online in Galway. Last time I stayed at “The Green Fingers Hotel” so I’d be happy to go back again to the same hotel. Very friendly staff, and a great breakfast if I remember correctly.
I type the hotel name into Google and hit search, and up comes the results page.
There it is, the hotel website – “Book online at the Green Fingers Galway”, greenfingersgalway.com – right at the top of the Google results page. So I click through to the link. Nice hotel website this, I recognise the photos of the nice rooms, the view. I had a pretty good stay there! Prices seem ok too, still reasonable. I wonder if it’s any cheaper on other sites though, like listings sites? Only takes a few seconds to check on other sites. Back to my results page for a quick scan of my options, maybe read a review or two.
Hang on, the second result on the results page looks like the hotel website too – “Green Fingers Hotel Galway Book Now”, greenfingershotel.com. Similar web address too. So I click through on that link. Nice hotel website this, not the same as the last one though! But the same hotel? But this is the official website surely? But then what was the last one? I mean the photos are the same, even the prices are the same, or close enough. Two fairly legit looking but obviously different websites for the same place? What’s going on here? Multiple personalities?
This is like that scene at the end of The Life of Brian – “I’m Brian. No, I’m Brian! I’m Brian and so’s my wife!”
I really don’t like the look of this at all. They can’t both be “official”. I wonder if one of those sites is spoofing and is up to no good? I wonder if the hotel knows about this? Surely they must check their own Google results from time to time!? They must have agreed to this. Cleverly done though, I’ll give them that, because I have no idea which is actually the official site. They’re both pretty good and pretty representative, though I guess anyone could get photos and logos and run up a website that looks official. But why, I’m thinking, would a hotel have two different websites? Surely at best they’d just send a fraction of customers one way and a fraction the other, it can’t generate more customers! Unless of course one is being marketed well to attract a higher fraction of the existing customers at the expense of the other. But if you can do successful marketing with one site, you could equally have just applied your skills to the other and not bothered with the second site. I can’t see the business sense in this at all, for the hotel anyway.
But wait, this is getting even better - there are adverts there too on the results page, for both website addresses! Now that is hilarious because the hotel is just allowing someone else to bid on their name and drive up their own pay-per-click advertising costs in response. They’re bidding against themselves! An auctioneer’s dream. No wonder pay-per-click can make so much money for the search engines if people allow that to happen. Guess this hotel doesn’t know too much about online marketing. They really should be talking to experts about protecting their brand online for the long haul, because this marketplace is just getting more and more competitive all the time and customers are getting much more savvy.
Anyway, that’s their problem. I don’t have time to be trying to figure this out, and there’s no button on Google for “Will the real Green Fingers please stand up!”. (Mental note, I should patent a “Will the real … please stand up” button before Google thinks of it). Whatever’s going on it doesn’t look too healthy to me, no reason I should take a chance.
So I type “Hotels Galway” into Google and go find somewhere else to stay. Shame, I liked the breakfast at that place. Maybe the next place will be just as good if not better anyway.
PDF - Bookassist opinion on multiple websites and their potential problems
Dr Des O’Mahony is CEO and Founder at Bookassist
With the array of different booking engines in the marketplace constantly growing, technology heavy companies often allow new technology to overshadow the fundamental point of the booking process, which is to ease the path for the user to make a booking.
Bookassist has always adopted a customer-centric approach to the booking process, keeping the technology hidden from the customer, and uses a multi-step approach to online reservations which allows the customer to have more detail about what they are booking, more clarity in the process, more feedback on what they are doing while booking, and a far higher sense of security during the crucial credit card step than a single page on screen could possibly provide. A significant body of research, and the approach of the top booking engine systems in the world, vindicates this multi-step approach and shows it to be best practice and superior to the single page flash-style booking solution which, while promising to allow a booking in one step, often simply frustrates the user with a lack of information and leads to a lower faith in the system. This could potentially damage future business in the eyes of some customers for a hotel deploying a one-step approach.
See for example the opinion of Hospitality Net on the issue at: www.hospitalitynet.org. While tracking and optimisation issues have certainly improved recently, especially since the Hospitality Net article was published, the fundamental issues of utility for the customer addressed in that article, and other research remains. The key is to serve the customer and relegate the technology to the background.
Bookassist clients represent the majority of the Irish hotel industry. Our feedback indicates that many hotels are experiencing a downturn in overall business in recent months, and recent news articles and industry press are saying the same (see Sunday Business Post July 20th, 2008).
But other hotels have genuinely been able to boost the online portion of their business by having a strong proactive internet strategy. Our experience shows that you can give yourself a competitive advantage if you act quickly and decisively, and we want to remind you of some tips to achieve this.
THE REAL ISSUE
Firstly, focus on the real issue. If total bookings have changed, it is not a problem with your booking technology. The problem in economic uncertainty is less bookers due to less discretionary spend, not a “booking process” issue. Sure, each booking engine provider has a different angle on the customer interface, but the technology from the main players all pretty much “works” and mostly they’re just differences in approach, not serious flaws that prevent booking on a massive scale. The bigger weaknesses with online revenue generation lie elsewhere in online strategy but were perhaps less noticeable when customers were spending more. Bookassist handles tens of thousands of bookings monthly on behalf of our clients and we continue to see this volume increase not just in Ireland but in many countries. So don’t waste time on small detail issues - look at the big picture because there is still room for growth.
Secondly, we see that overall booking volume online is still on the up so the key is to get a larger slice of that pie. Make no mistake, some hotels are feeling the pinch right now but others are generating more online business and with proper strategy you can certainly seek to improve your income. Since Google search is the primary storefront for your offering, you need to look very carefully at how that operates for you. In short you need to be as visible as possible, you need to be as clear as possible about what you are offering and your offer needs to be as compelling as possible for the online customer.
It is vital that you have your website regularly (not just annually!) analysed and optimised to ensure that it has the best possible chance of getting high up on the Google rankings, the natural listings, for the typical search phrases that your customers might use. You need to have a carefully orchestrated pay-per-click advertising campaign to complement that natural listing and you need to be prepared to budget for it. Tracking and analysis of spend on pay-per-click is so clear now that there is no need to be wondering whether it is working for you or not - you can see at a glance at any time. But you must act on the information and continually adjust strategy. You also need strong analysis of visitors and trends on your website so that you can act decisively to clear any bottlenecks and provide your visitors with exactly what they are looking for. These are continual and expert tasks that your online partner company may be better equipped to handle for you.
You can also broaden your visibility by ensuring that you tap into other new markets. Have multiple languages, promote your hotel in specific language target areas on Google. Bookassist clients have seen significant new business by focusing new multilingual websites on different untapped geographical areas and the Bookassist engine already operates in 9 languages so there is scope to unify your website and your booking process for a number of different foreign markets. But you must ensure that this is not a token effort that is done once and sits there - ensure that you have special offers etc regularly translated and perhaps targetted uniquely at specific markets based on what those markets might want.
From looking at Bookassist reports throughout Ireland, with hundreds of hotels, after Ireland, UK, US and Northern Ireland, the next 20 countries that generate business are displayed on the pie chart below. These are markets you can target to get more business (click the image for a larger view). If you need more localised information for your hotel, contact your Bookassist account manager.
Many hotels for example have foreign nationals working with them and this is a major advantage for visitors from their home countries who would feel much more comfortable dealing with a native speaker. So why not highlight the languages your hotel staff can offer on your website? It’s one advantage over a competitor hotel who doesn’t. Also, read our recent blog entry by an industry expert on why translation is so important in the wider marketplace.
You want to stand out from the crowd and you want the customer to click on your link. Look at how your hotel is displayed in Google results. Is the simple website title, page title and description good enough? Can it be tighter, more to the point? Is it clear to a customer who you are and what you are offering immediately, not muddied by having other similar websites with similar names appearing to offer similar offerings on your behalf? Do not confuse the customer at this vital search results stage. See for example Bookassist’s opinion on operating multiple websites - you can’t stand out from the crowd if you yourself create a crowd.
Focus on the quality of your online presentation and on differentiating your offering. Do the obvious stuff, like making sure the best prices are on your website, but look at other things like even seeing if you can reduce prices or have particularly good value specials where you might be able to offset that rate reduction against potential higher booking volume. Package more - engines like Bookassist allow you to have add-ons and room variations at booking time so consider better virtual packaging to have a stronger offering, perhaps partnering with local amenities to offer tickets or bundles with them.
You have to sell better and dispel any doubts, so ensure good quality photos for all room types offered, not just photos of your one best room. Engines like Bookassist allow you to have room specific photos built right into the booking process, so use those facilities. Consider more customer generated content, reviews online or video reviews which you can also post on YouTube. All of these things will enhance Google’s opinion of your website, pushing you upwards, but they will certainly enhance your customers’ opinion of your offering also and make it far more compelling than your competitors.
Hotels should consider exchanging links with other hotels who are not direct competitors to boost online traffic as well, featuring such hotels in a section of their website as a preferred or recommended partner.
At Bookassist we pride ourselves in getting it right, and we consistently do, for our clients (see some Bookassist testimonials). We can see clearly from our client base that those who listen to our advice and respond quickly and decisively are increasing online revenue right now.
Des O’Mahony, Roshan McPartland, Mary Collins, Christina Roche at Bookassist’s Dublin office.
We all know that Adobe’s Flash can be used to make great looking sites, with cool animation and interaction. We “humans” love this. But the problem is that search engines aren’t human, and the spider programmes they use to crawl and index the internet often have no idea what the purpose or content of a Flash-based site is. This can be a critical flaw if you are relying on search engine rankings, which most businesses do.
Getting a Flash-based website indexed properly and search engine optimized is a difficult task, far more difficult than a standard HTML-based site.
Google’s online help specifically state that their search engine is text based (see http://www.google.com/support/). In order to be crawled and indexed, your primary content needs to be in text format. Of course you can include images, Flash files, videos and any other media you wish – but any content embedded in these included files should also be available on your site in text or description format or it probably won’t be crawled.
Last month, Google with the help of Adobe began a project of spidering the content of Flash Shockwave files insofar as it could in order to try to properly index such sites (see http://www.adobe.com/devnet). In a press announcement that effectively admits to a serious problem with search engines and Flash sites, Adobe said it is “providing optimized Adobe Flash Player technology to Google and Yahoo! to enhance search engine indexing of the Flash file format (SWF) and uncover information that is currently undiscoverable by search engines. This will provide more relevant automatic search rankings of the millions of RIAs [rich internet applications] and other dynamic content that run in Adobe Flash Player.” Google doesn’t appear to be as optimistic as Adobe though (see http://googlewebmastercentral.blogspot.com). Yahoo! hasn’t yet committed to a similar spidering project. There is no indication at all that Microsoft will ever follow suit, being a less than enthusiastic supporter of Flash, so it is likely MSN will never spider Flash-based sites.
Also, all of this new search engine aware technology still relies on the designer getting it right with the back-end content. Flash designers need to become much more search engine savvy, since up to now many have tended to not be too concerned with this and concentrated mostly on the look. So we may see improvements for future Flash-based sites designed in this new way, but existing Flash-based sites are unlikely to gain much.
Things are certainly improving, but the potential for trouble remains. For now, best practice is to avoid Flash as the basis of critical information and use alternate, text based information if you do have Flash so that search engines can spider and understand your site.
Bottom line: If you are that individual or business that does not care about web rankings or search engine optimization, but just wants an eye-catching presence, then Flash is certainly a good option for you. But bear in mind that unless you are using some method other than search engines to get your web address in front of your desired audience, chances are few people will ever lay their eyes on your creation. Or if they do, it may be because they were searching for something else entirely.
Dr Des O’Mahony is co-founder and Managing Director of Bookassist
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