If you haven’t given much thought to your hotel’s online strategy for 2011, now is a good time to critically review performance in 2010 and establish a cohesive plan for the year ahead. Its important to look at what strategies worked well in the past and try to fine-tune them to help them to work even better. Analyse strategies that did not create good results and try to ascertain what went wrong. Was it a lack of expertise, lack of time, budget constraints? If so, what can be adjusted to make it work this year?
Below is a suggested checklist for improving your online presence and driving more revenue through your hotel website.
1. Online Marketing With Pay Per Click (PPC) Advertising - Do It Right
If you are currently running a PPC campaign, examine its performance to date in detail. How effective has it really been in generating traffic to the site? More importantly, is the traffic qualified, and therefore likely to lead to increased bookings? The metrics that you should exam in detail are clicks, cost per click, return on investment, cost per acquisition and conversion rates. In order to have these figures to hand you require a good analytics package with e-commerce capabilities, such as Google Analytics with an integrated Ecommerce partner like Bookassist. This allows you to see the figures clearly and in a revenue context, and to segment different areas to give a comprehensive and true overview of performance. With Ecommerce integration you can additional see Ecommerce conversion rate, revenue and value per visits.
While it may seem straightforward to set up and manage a PPC campaign, the ability to make it work well is not so easy. So it is usually more effective to have your campaigns run by a professional who reports in detail to you. Look for a Google Adwords Certified Partner to be sure that the provider has the necessary and proven skills to set up, analyse and manage successful campaigns. Make sure that you are using all the tools provided by Google Adwords to their best advantage, e.g. Ad Sitelinks, location extensions to Ads etc. If you’re not aware of these, just search Google and plenty of information is available.
2. Social Media - Don’t Just Do It, Have A Strategy
At this stage most businesses have some sort of online presence in addition to their website. This may be a blog, Facebook page, YouTube and/or Twitter account and various others. In the rush not to be left behind, many businesses set up accounts but then neglect to assign the job of actually updating them. So the pages sit there with no fresh content. This gives a very bad impression to your potential customers, indicating a lack of attention to customer service, and is a wasted opportunity to entice new business.
Set up a schedule with one or more members of staff and give them the freedom to update one or all of the social media pages that you operate. It is better to have one page working well than having three sitting there unused so concentrate your resources if limited. If you have time, then a good rule of thumb for a schedule is to update Twitter at least once daily, Facebook three times a week, and a blog once a week or so. Empowering everyone in your organisation to take part and contribute gives an added freshness and interest to content. And who knows, you may well discover a budding social commentator in your midst.
3. Take Full Advantage Of Google Blended Universal Search
While Google is by no means the only search engine on the market, it is still by far the most important, with a huge volume of traffic and potential customers searching for your product. There has been a flurry of updates to the interface in recent months, and it is important to ensure that your website and other internet assets such as social media pages perform well.
Blended search incorporates data from all Google services (properties). Properties like Google maps (now called Places), Updates (now Realtime), image search, news search and blog search are all now displaying mixed in with traditional web results in the main Google search pages. Check that your Google Places listing is claimed by you and, like any web presence, is properly optimised with keyword text for what you want to be found for. Ensure that your blog, Facebook page and Twitter tweets are regularly updated and embed keywords to increase your visibility in search. Google Instant and Instant Preview have the potential to help change the way people search, so ensure that your site appears clearly in preview.
As of now, Flash content is a problem for you in Google preview, as Flash-based pages currently display only a puzzle piece and are visually unattractive. You need to fix this if you have Flash and have an alternative automatically served to non-Flash users.
4. Get Moving With Your Mobile Strategy - Seriously
Mobile web access is growing at three times the rate of desktop web access, and is set to surpass desktop web access by 2013. With the rise in use of smartphones such the iPhone and Android-based devices, it is increasingly vital to ensure that users with these devices can access your content easily and can successfully make a transaction.
Web search and browser usage continues to be the dominant way to get information about accommodation on smartphones. Look at your current website on a smartphone and see how easy or difficult it would be for a first-time visitor to get through the booking process on that small screen. In most cases it is far too tedious and users will quickly abandon the site in favour of a more user-friendly option, perhaps your competitor. You should never give your potential guests reason to leave your website, whether on desktop or mobile. The solution is to invest in a webapp, which displays a mobile-friendly version of your content on smartphones and allows tailor-made mobile booking to proceed with ease.
Also consider the use of QR codes in print material - these allow the user to quickly scan a barcode with an app on their smartphone and be directed straight to your web app or website, with no tedious typing of web addresses. QR code generators are freely available on the web.
5. Search Engine Optimisation - Moving Target
As search is still a large generator of traffic, it is crucial to ensure that your website is well optimised and continually assessed based on search volume for important keywords. Look at elements such as page titles, meta descriptions, page headings, text content and image alt tags. The content of these should be inviting to users, but they should also inform the search engines of your site’s relevance for various searches.
A further important aspect of ranking in search engines is the number and quality of incoming links. Try to increase these by approaching local, non-competing businesses and swopping links with them. The more relevant the site and the link wording are to your product, the better. This is a long-term strategy, and it is best to build quality links slowly and surely, but it will pay dividends in the coming months and years.
6. Email Marketing - Bring It Into Focus
Email marketing is a very useful tool for connecting with past and future customers and informing them of upcoming offers and events. Like all marketing techniques, it is important not to abuse this tool by sending out too-frequent newsletters that are irrelevant to the majority of recipients.
Consider cleaning out your email list completely and getting users to specifically opt in to future mailings, preferably by segment. This will result in a smaller but more focused lists of recipients that are far more likely to convert. Now make your emails very targeted and urgent, with short lead-in times and definite cut-offs (e.g. offer closes 5pm today!) to encourage immediate action.
Your challenge is to grab attention and get people to click, and never to let them feel they can come back later to consider the offer. To get emails to work, they must present a saving or advantage so compelling that people will want to action it now. Emails about general specials that are available all through a season will immediately be glossed over and lose urgency precisely because there is no cut-off time to compel the reader. This results in the email sliding down the inbox as the day goes on and eventually moving off screen or into the delete box.
Try different approaches using an email management system that allows you to track clicks and monitor bookings generated. As with PPC, the analysis is key. There is no point in sending email shots that you cannot quantify.
Future Trends To Watch
Some areas to keep an eye on in 2011 include:
- Facebook places - similar in ways to mobile apps like Foursquare, but with a much larger audience. Not yet available in Ireland, but possibly available in early 2011.
- Promoted Tweets on Twitter - get your tweets trending by paying for the privilege. These are currently available to a limited number of participants in a test group, but with potential to roll out to general advertisers.
- Social Buying Sites - eg Groupon.com or LivingSocial.com. These sites offer deep discounts on a variety of goods and services if enough people sign up to take part.
- Bing & Yahoo search - currently lagging way behind Google, but with the potential to improve their share of search in the coming years.
- Mobile payments systems - Apple and Google are on to it, and the mobile space needs it. To accelerate m-commerce, the entereing of credit cards and long information needs to be eliminated in favour of smart integrated payment systems
Ciarán Rowe is Senior Search Strategist at Bookassist, the online technology and strategy partner for hotels. Bookassist is a Google Adwords Certified Partner.
For more information on search marketing and online hotel strategy see bookassist.org