Posted in Social Media on September 04, 2014 by Tim Trahey
All social media and internet startups continually refine their products and services to stay current and meet the ever-growing needs and demands of their users. Typically those refinements are aesthetic changes to the layout or added functionality within the current framework to enhance the user-experience. Foursquare's latest changes to their app are much more controversial; Foursquare is completely rebranding and altering the purpose of their current app while also introducing a second app called Swarm. At first glance, this massive overhaul to Foursquare's structure seems rather insane, but it may just be pure brilliance. In the paragraphs to follow, I will explore the difference between Foursquare and Swarm and provide insight into how your hotel should cope with the recent changes.
Why is Foursquare splitting into two apps?
Foursquare's Vice President, Noah Weiss, recently told The Verge that they conducted a study to see how users were interacting with Foursquare and discovered that only 5% of users were opening up the app to find both friends and restaurants. This data inspired them to split Foursquare into two apps, each with a different purpose - Foursquare for finding places in the user's vicinity and Swarm for finding friends via check-ins. By doing so, they simplified the experience for 95% of users, and the small margin of users who use the app for both functions will be able to easily switch back and forth between Foursquare and Swarm as long as they have both apps installed on their device.
So, what exactly is Swarm and what changes can we expect to see?
What implications does Foursquare's split have on your hotel's social strategy?
With the recent changes, users can no longer check-in to places on Foursquare, so if your hotel has used check-in functionality in the past, you (or your hotel's social media manager) should download the Swarm app immediately. You don't need to do anything else on property to set up your hotel's Swarm account other than downloading the app. Even though Foursquare and Swarm are separate apps, all information that is updated on Foursquare will automatically push through to Swarm. Therefore, you don't need to worry about having to update each app individually; the update process is very efficient for business owners. For example, updating your hotel's address on Foursquare will automatically update the address on Swarm. If your hotel does not currently have a Foursquare or Swarm account, simply set up a Foursquare account online and then download both apps.
Moving forward, it will be important to monitor user activity on both apps. Foursquare will now serve as a local search tool like Yelp. Users will be able to leave reviews about their experience and upload pictures. So, as with any online review site, it is imperative to actively monitor guest reviews on Foursquare and respond accordingly to both the positive and the negative comments. While users cannot leave feedback or reviews on Swarm, they will be checking-in to your hotel's location to let their friends know their whereabouts. If the user chooses to connect their Swarm account to other social media networks, like Twitter, it will share Swarm check-ins on the user's Twitter account. Just as your hotel monitored Twitter for Foursquare check-ins in the past, you should now monitor Swarm check-ins and initiate a one-on-one conversation to personalize users' experiences.
Will Swarm be a success?
While Swarm is still in its infancy, Foursquare has stated that over 75% of its users have already downloaded Swarm and are actively using both apps. As far as what the future holds for Foursquare, I will defer to what Will Smith first told Eminem when he began growing in popularity: "You will either be the biggest flop, or the biggest thing we've ever seen." While that may be a slight exaggeration as to the fate of both Foursquare and Swarm, it also may be spot on. If Foursquare is able to contend with Yelp in the local search market and Swarm goes toe to toe with the check-in features of Facebook, Foursquare and Swarm could both be heading for success.
While the fate of Foursquare and Swarm remains in the air, one thing is certain, all restaurants, hotels, and entertainment establishments would be remise not to utilize both apps to their full extent. Both apps serve an important purpose to consumers, so as long as consumers are searching for information, leaving reviews, and checking-in on both Foursquare and Swarm, business owners must ensure that users are finding correct and relevant information. Over the next few months as we begin to see how both apps mature and grow, we will be able to provide a more in-depth look into the opportunities for hotels on both apps, but for now we highly recommend downloading Swarm and seeing what all the buzz is about!
Posted in Hotel Online Marketing on August 29, 2014 by Kelsey Nupnau
Earlier this month, my colleague and I had the pleasure of attending WeddingWire World Chicago on behalf of Blue Magnet Interactive. The event intended to educate vendors about different strategies for successfully marketing their wedding business online. After a fun-filled day attending panel discussions and presentations by industry experts, we walked away armed with the latest trends and insightful tips for marketing your hotel's wedding business. In this blog, we'll share our key takeaways from WeddingWire's event, including facts and figures provided by the speakers, to ensure that you are well-equipped to market your hotel as an ideal venue for weddings and receptions.
Top 4 takeaways from WeddingWire World Chicago
1. Implement a social media strategy. Today's potential wedding client is social.
Social Media: As a wedding vendor, why should you implement a social media strategy?
Did you know that 1 out of every 4 minutes spent online is specifically spent on a social networking site? Today's engaged couple is extremely social, and typically begins the research phase of selecting a wedding reception site by browsing your social media pages and looking for things like pictures, reviews and the vendor's personality. The speakers offered countless tips for sharing wedding content on social media to help generate more engagement and sell your services as a wedding vendor.
Some of our favorite recommendations that can be applied to your hotel's social strategy include:
Online Reviews: Why should your hotel develop an online wedding review strategy?
If you haven't been encouraging your previous clients to share their experience through a review yet, this needs to be one of your top priorities! In fact, 95% of engaged couples use online reviews to select wedding vendors. In addition, younger generations are very inclined to read reviews; If your hotel does not have a positive reputation on various online review sites, it will probably struggle to attract any millennial shoppers.
Some key tips to ensure your hotel acquires valuable wedding reviews or testimonials include:
Mobile Strategy: Why must your hotel have a mobile-optimized website (or at the very least, a mobile-optimized micro-site specifically for weddings)?
81% of people leave a website when they have a bad mobile experience. A bad experience is typically a result of the website not being properly optimized for mobile users. While Blue Magnet Interactive has strongly encouraged hotel websites to be mobile-optimized since the beginning of the "mobile trend," it was pretty astonishing to hear this statistic at WeddingWire World!
Hotels that use email marketing to promote their wedding space need to be especially aware of mobile optimization because 65% of people open emails on their phone. The industry pros at the WeddingWire event recommended checking that the emails you send out are mobile-optimized, providing content that is to the point, and ensuring that the email itself is free of overwhelming amounts of text and images. More so, the links embedded in your email campaigns are likely pointing to your website, so if a user comes straight from a mobile-optimized email to a website that is not mobile-optimized, you are more likely to lose that potential client.
One of the speakers shared an interesting perspective regards to websites, pointing out that: "You don't get business from your website but rather through your website." We felt this was important because your website doesn't necessarily yield direct business; often times it's the information you provide on your website, and the experience you provide guests that generates client interest. They see the information on your website and then decide to connect with you, whether it be through your website's contact form, by phone, or through email. At Blue Magnet, we know that a hotel's website is specifically designed to help answer any questions a potential client or engaged couple may have, and often is an important resource towards the beginning of the shopping phase; so, by the time a client is ready to book a wedding at your hotel they've gained the necessary information through your website and are ready to contact you to move onto the next step.
LGBTQ Community: Does your hotel's marketing material and contracts contain inclusive language? How should your hotel be connecting with same-sex couples?
Kathryn Hamm from Gayweddings.com gave an outstanding overview of the growth the LGBTQ community has seen over the years and why vendors should be connecting with this segment now more than ever before. To start, Hamm mentioned that 77% of people under the age of 30 support gay marriage, meaning, acceptance is continuously growing. Additionally, she explained that 46% of same sex marriages wed in the couple's home state. The remainder of same sex couples travel, usually due to the restrictions of their home state. Therefore, if your hotel is located in a state that currently allows gay marriage, you should be actively marketing your wedding space to target the LGBTQ community, as there are likely more out-of-state wedding shoppers..
Kathryn also reminded the audience to avoid "vendor awkwardness." Believe it or not, one of the biggest concerns that LGBTQ couples face when planning their wedding is not due to cost, but rather anxiety: "When I call, is the vendor going to hang up on me?" To avoid vendor awkwardness and assure all clients that their queries will be well-received make sure your hotel markets itself as being inclusive and accepting.
A few ways you can ensure your hotel's marketing materials are inclusive of all couples include reviewing your:
Based on the changes happening across the country, particularly in Congress, Hamm left us all with one final question: Will your business be ready to support same-sex marriages by June 2015?
Overall, we gained some great insight into the wedding industry and learned several helpful tips to help hotels market their wedding space more effectively, all while having an awesome time mingling and networking! To learn more about WeddingWire World Chicago, be sure to search the hashtag #WWWorld. We welcome your questions and feedback so be sure to connect with us on Twitter @Blue_Magnet!
Posted in Social Media on August 27, 2014 by Stephanie Hilger
Having a successful social media campaign can boost your hotel's awareness, increase visits to your site, and ultimately drive engaged followers to book a room. However, getting your hotel's social media activity off the ground can be challenging and not getting your desired reach and engagement can be frustrating. So, how can you give your hotel's social media presence an added boost to increase reach without spending ad money? You may not realize this, but your hotel already has social media ambassadors on hand to help your hotel increase social engagement. You see them every day. They are already putting their heart and soul into your hotel's offline marketing efforts by providing great service on property. Your social media ambassadors are your team. Getting team members involved in social media may sound intimidating or time-consuming at first; however, your hard-working team's engagement and support can be a crucial factor in obtaining social media success.
Why are your team members the secret ingredient to improving your hotel's social media performance?
For starters, they most likely are already active on social media sites. Team members that enjoy coming to work and truly love their brand are prone to spreading that adoration on Facebook, Twitter, and other popular networks. Additionally, if someone on your team shares your hotel's Facebook post, their entire network will be exposed to that post. If someone in their network then shares the Facebook post again, a new pool of Facebook users can now see the post. When your team engages with your brand, they present the opportunity to organically increase your hotel's reach into a much wider audience.
How do you get your team involved in your hotel's social media campaign?
There are plenty of ways to make it fun and easy for them. Your management team should cultivate an encouraging environment and set guidelines on what type of information is beneficial to share.
In fact, your team members that are active on social media are likely already checking into the hotel on Facebook, posting about upcoming events, and sharing their day to day experiences. Therefore, it is imperative that you provide your team with proper social media training and tools to facilitate involvement. Train your hotel team on best practices, common terminology, and how they can best assist in establishing your online community.
In this Slideshare, Blue Magnet Interactive highlights why team involvement is important for your hotel, how your property can foster their participation, and what your team can be doing to help your hotel reach its social media goals.
Posted in Reputation Management on August 12, 2014 by Cat Sullivan
TripAdvisor’s newest feature, Questions & Answers, is a trip-planning tool that offers an easy way for your hotel to interact with potential guests. When browsing a hotel on TripAdvisor, travelers can scroll down to the bottom of the page and enter a question in the designated box.
A representative of your hotel, past reviewers, and other members of the TripAdvisor community can then provide timely answers and feedback. This gives your hotel the opportunity to set travelers’ expectations by giving them all the information they need to choose your property for their next trip. The tool basically offers a more personalized version of the already popular TripAdvisor forum. Travelers can ask questions specific to your hotel like, “What time is breakfast served on weekdays?” or “We are planning to visit in December, will the renovations be complete by then?”
How Your Hotel Can Get Involved
When a new question comes in, your property’s registered TripAdvisor email will receive a notification. Login to your hotel’s TripAdvisor page to address the traveler’s inquiry as directly and concisely as possible. Responses must be family-friendly, original, and cannot include links or contact information. As a property representative, your response will automatically go to the top of the responses, giving it priority and authority over the comments from the rest of the TripAdvisor community. TripAdvisor community comments are sorted based on upward and downward votes by the rest of the users. As a hotel representative, you can answer the same question multiple times if something has changed at your property over time.
Other hoteliers in the same market will not be able to answer traveler questions for your hotel. Additionally, competing hotels in the area cannot ask questions about your hotel. These rules have been implemented by TripAdvisor to combat spam on the site.
5 Ways TripAdvisor Questions & Answers Benefits Hoteliers
In the first example below, the Marriott Oakland City Center effectively uses the Questions & Answers tool to communicate with potential guests. The hotel representative provides a brief but detailed answer to the traveler’s question in a timely manner. Now that the guest is well-informed, she can book an accessible room at the hotel with confidence.
In the example below, the hotel has the opportunity to reassure a guest so he does not cancel a block of rooms. However, no one from the property has responded to the guest, who asked the question 7 days ago. The hotel’s failure to respond is detrimental to the hotel, since they will likely lose this reservation. Plus, as you can see in the screenshot below, another TripAdvisor community member responded with her own warning to avoid the hotel, so the hotel’s silence will likely negatively impact the hotel’s reputation.
5 Things to Keep in Mind before Getting Started
TripAdvisor’s new Questions & Answers feature is a valuable tool for your hotel and potential guests since it opens up a direct line of communication. Don’t miss out on an opportunity to engage with travelers, improve your property’s online reputation, and convert shoppers into hotel guests.
Posted in Local Search on August 07, 2014 by Michelle Laing
Have you started noticing descriptive phrases showing up next to your hotel's name in Google Maps? On local search results pages, there is a relatively new section called "People talk about" which highlights commonly used phrases found in your hotel's online reviews. As seen on the screenshot below, these phrases can show up in two spots on your hotel's Google Maps listing:
When relevant and accurate, these phrases can act as a great sales feature by helping your hotel stand out among competitors in the area. When inaccurate or negative, these phrases can potentially confuse or discourage online shoppers and ultimately hurt your hotel's bottom line.
Blue Magnet analyzed fifty Google Maps listings for hotels across the US and noticed a few noteworthy trends. In this blog, I will explain how these phrases appear on desktop vs. mobile, where these phrases come from, and what you can do to control the phrases on your hotel's Google Maps listing. If you'd like to jump ahead to view our sample findings, click here.
How do the descriptive phrases appear in Google Maps search results?
Google Maps listings vary depending on how zoomed-in the user is, and the type of device they are using. Searches for hotels in a general area (e.g. "hotels in [city]") typically result in several hotels in the area, all with descriptive phrases listed beneath each hotel's name. The main difference between Desktop and Mobile results appears when someone searches for a specific hotel (e.g. "variation of hotel's name"). On Mobile devices, Google typically does not display any descriptive phrases. Rather, the results include the hotel's star rating, number of Google Plus reviews, hotel rates, and a button for directions to the hotel. When the same search is done on a desktop, the results typically include two descriptive phrases for that specific hotel. One explanation for why these results vary by device can be attributed to the intentions of the searcher. People searching on mobile devices may be looking for a quick but comprehensive snapshot about the hotel, whereas desktop searchers may be more willing to click around and perform additional searches after seeing the descriptive phrases.
Above: Google Maps results on mobile device for search queries "hotels in [city]" and "hotel name"
Above: Google Maps results on desktop for search query "hotels in [city]"
Above: Google Maps results on desktop for search query "hotel name"
Where do these phrases come from?
Google pulls these phrases from a variety of online reviews, namely Google Plus reviews. Google's algorithm searches through your hotel's reviews looking for common phrases, and then includes a couple of those phrases that Google deems most "interesting, specific, and unique" directly on your hotel's Google Maps listing.
How can this help my hotel?
Since online shoppers place so much importance on reviews, having positive and relevant phrases associated with your hotel's Google listing can help influence purchase behavior. If reviewers rave about your "free wifi" or "delicious breakfast", and your Google Maps listing pulls in those keywords, people searching for hotels in your area are more likely to click over to your website and book at your hotel.
How can this hurt my hotel?
Though the majority of the phrases that Google displays in the Maps listings are neutral in their sentiment, every now and then Google may highlight a negative phrase. If your hotel's Google Plus reviews include several mentions of "noisy" or "uncomfortable", and Google's algorithm decides that those phrases are the ones it should display on your Maps listing... well, you can probably guess that online shoppers seeing those phrases likely won't rush to stay at your hotel.
As part of our testing, Blue Magnet also came across one instance of a competitor's name appearing in the "People talk about" section. In this particular case, the hotel had recently changed brands and old Google Plus reviews about their previous brand were still appearing on the hotel's Google Plus page. Therefore, Google's algorithm was still displaying these old phrases on the hotel's current Maps listing. Though this instance seemed to be an exception, if it happened once, it can happen again!
Can I update or choose the phrases that are displayed?
While there is not currently a way for online marketers to directly choose or update the phrases that Google displays, it is possible to influence the results. As a general rule of thumb, the more Google Plus reviews your hotel has, the better the chances that Google will display relevant, helpful phrases on your Maps listing. This is just one of the many reasons why Blue Magnet recommends that hotels encourage satisfied guests to write Google Plus reviews about their positive experience.
How can my hotel get more Google reviews?
If you aren't sure how to get more guest reviews on your Google Plus page, here are a few ideas:
How can my hotel deal with unfavorable phrases?
Sometimes hoteliers may not be crazy about the phrases that Google chooses to display. Don't fret! While you are working on encouraging guests to leave Google Reviews, another simple fix is to update the map that displays on your website. Oftentimes, "Contact" or "Directions" pages on hotel websites will use the Google Maps plugin to include an interactive map showing where the hotel is located. At Blue Magnet, our account managers can work their magic to change your website from showing the Google Listings (and its associated phrases) to simply showing your hotel's address, all without altering the functionality or usability for your website visitors. See below for an example:
So what's the bottom line?
Though these phrases are not something that you can directly control, it is important to be aware of how your hotel appears in Google Maps search results. Blue Magnet recommends checking your hotel's Google Maps listing at least once per month to make sure it is optimized with relevant and accurate information.
Google Maps Sample Test Findings
Blue Magnet surveyed fifty hotels from various markets throughout the continental US. We looked at each hotel's Google Maps listing, noting the phrases we saw both on the map and on the left panel in the "People talk about" section (in desktop mode) and whether those phrases were the same or different in those two areas of the listing. We also recorded the total number of reviews each hotel had, each hotel's overall star rating, and whether the descriptive phrases were positive, negative, or neutral in their sentiment. Below are the results.
Summary of hotels in sample:
50 hotels from 6 hotel groups (below) comprising of 15 total brands, and 1 independent hotel.
Total Google reviews per hotel:
Hotel's Google star rating:
Average: 3.6 / 5.0
What were the top 5 most common phrases?
How many total phrases displayed on map?
90% of listings featured two phrases on the map.
How many total phrases displayed in sidebar?
Two-thirds of the listings displayed two descriptive phrases in the sidebar.
Were phrases the same in map and sidebar?
Nearly all phrases were the same in both parts of the listing, though a few had varying phrases.
Was phrase sentiment positive or negative?
Most phrases were neutral in sentiment and based on amenities or the local area.
Posted in SEO on July 21, 2014 by Kelsey Nupnau
When it comes to your hotel's website, there are likely a number of online marketing tactics you're aware of such as content updates to your website and promoting your site on social media. What you may not know is that there are many non-visible online marketing initiatives and updates that go into producing and maintaining a website. These essential marketing initiatives have a tremendous impact on the overall performance of a site, but, as they are "behind-the-scenes," they often go unnoticed by the naked eye. Our team at Blue Magnet Interactive works so hard on these "behind-the-scenes" features because we know how important they are to the success of your hotel's website and, ultimately, your hotel's bottom line.
In an attempt to spare you a lengthy blog post full of technical jargon, below is a summary of 7 extremely important, but lesser known, elements that go into improving the performance of your hotel's website and making it a major revenue driver for your hotel.
1. Site Speed Optimization
2. Link Profile Cleanup
Link building has proven to be valuable for improving the credibility and ranking of a website. In addition to making sure we seek out relevant, quality links to support (link to) a hotel's website, Blue Magnet audits the hotel's current inbound link profile and flags spammy sites or poor links pointing to the hotel's site. Then, we consolidate all poor, low-quality links (especially those that come from link directories) and submit them to Google through a link disavowal request. Ultimately, a hotel with a strong link profile full of links from sites that are relevant to the hotel can generate more traffic and a better conversion rate. For instance, winery tour or wine-related websites pointing to a hotel in the center of wine country will not only make the most sense for the hotel but could improve the chances of generating more booked revenue from someone looking to stay in wine country.
Having a robots.txt file is crucial to making sure Google and other search engines are able to crawl your site effectively. If your robots.txt file is not properly configured to only allow crawling of the most important pages on your site, you're going to have a hard time getting people to find your hotel website in the first place (and make search bots pretty frustrated). Likewise, if you allow crawling of too many files (particularly the technical ones that are often part of the structure of your site), you could end up having files you don't want indexed and make it even harder for search engines to piece together the important content of your site. For example, most robots.txt files will block the page that contains the administrator login from appearing in search engines (see below). While this page must exist so the webmaster can login to the backend of the site, search engines don't need to index that page and show it in the search results.
Pro Tip: Don't use your robots.txt file to get pages removed from a search engine's index. Rather, use it to stop these pages from being indexed in the first place.
4. Sitemap Creation & Maintenance
If you don't tell Google about the pages on your website, it may not crawl and index them - meaning no one searching the web will be able to find your hotel's website via search results! It is essential that you create a sitemap for your hotel's website which lists all relevant pages on your website that you want searchers to access. It is also extremely important to update the sitemap on a regular basis since you are likely adding new pages and PDFs or removing old pages and PDFs on a regular basis. At Blue Magnet Interactive, we keep track of new landing pages added to your website, update your hotel's sitemap and re-submit it to both Google Webmaster Tools and Bing Webmaster Tools to make sure they index new pages right away. We also ensure that a link to your sitemap is provided at the end of your robots.txt file to further help search bots understand the content and structure of your website.
Pro Tip: Run a "site:domain.com" search on Google to see what pages and PDFs on your website are indexed.
5. Site Backups
If your site crashes or goes down, your hotel risks losing potential online bookings, so it is imperative that you proactively back up your website on a regular basis. Blue Magnet pulls backups of a hotel's website database and server files on a weekly and monthly basis, just in case we need to revive your website or pull old files from previous versions.
Pro Tip: Set a recurring calendar reminder on the same day of every month and create a website backup checklist to ensure that you are routinely covering your bases.
6. Crawl Errors
Crawl Errors can be detrimental to the SEO and usability of your website in many ways, including: Googlebot and other search engines could have trouble crawling your website Your website could be pegged as being lower quality by search engines due to the number of crawl errors your website generates Users visiting your website can run into "dead ends" when one of your pages doesn't work or if you link to a page that no longer exists. At Blue Magnet, we regularly check for broken links on your website, in addition to broken links on other sites pointing to your hotel's website. Have you ever come across a 404 Error page (see one of my favorite 404 pages from The Huffington Post below) and had to click the back button or try your search query again to find the information elsewhere?
Aside from causing SEO issues, crawl errors negatively impact the visitor's user experience, so we strive to find and fix these errors before others run into them. If a link on your website breaks or if someone links to a page on your website that no longer exists, we can work on the backend of your website to redirect old pages to newer, relevant pages. We also reach out to webmasters from other sites and ask them to update their websites to point to the correct URL for your hotel.
Pro Tip: Use a free tool like Google Webmaster Tools or Screaming Frog to check crawl errors regularly.
7. Responsive Testing
The Blue Magnet team strongly supports responsive website design which means your hotel's website will adapt to the size of a user's device screen, whether it's a desktop computer, tablet, or mobile device. Since responsive website design uses the same page for all devices, it's necessary to perform regular testing to make sure that a visitor has a flawless user experiencewhen using any version of any browser type (Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome, Safari, Opera, etc.) on any type of device (iPhone, Android, iPad, Kindle Fire). Additional testing should also be conducted to make sure forms (contact, request for proposal, email sign-ups, etc.) can be submitted on any screen size and that all elements of the website (font styles, copy, images, etc.) automatically adjust to the user's screen size. Making sure that all elements of a responsive site work together cohesively will drastically improve the user experience of your website and the overall conversion rate. At Blue Magnet, we perform "Mom Tests" before new responsive sites launch. This entails having a dedicated QA person perform various website tasks on different browsers and devices to provide feedback.
Pro Tip: Use a free tool like quirktools.com/screenfly for screen-size testing before your hotel's website launches. Ask colleagues, friends, and family to test out the site on their preferred browser and device.
Are you feeling tech savvy now?
As you can see, there is a lot more that goes into the upkeep and performance of your website than what meets the eye. While on-page SEO efforts are often easy to explain since you can see the physical changes being made, off-page and technical SEO and user experience efforts are often just as (if not more) time-consuming and important as more visible updates. I challenge you, hotelier, to ask your online marketing account manager what they are doing behind-the-scenes to improve the performance of your website. What types of updates and reporting are they providing you to show these under-the-radar efforts? Are you seeing an increase in overall traffic to your hotel website and booked revenue because of these updates and maintenance? Hopefully they are working on all of these essential elements, and if not, run, don't walk to Blue Magnet Interactive!
What if there were simple changes to your website that could increase online revenue dramatically? You would make those changes, right? Well a site is never complete, and there is always room for improvement. All you need to do is follow a process that helps determine what changes will improve your site’s performance. By implementing A/B testing, marketers can experiment with various changes to a site and measure the impact of each change.
A/B Testing Success Story
One of Blue Magnet’s clients, a hotel in Florida, was experiencing a period of low occupancy. As their Internet marketing manager, I was tasked with the challenge of increasing reservations during the hotel’s need period. To begin, I took a step back and examined the hotel’s website as a consumer, rather than a marketer. Working with a website day in and day out can sometimes make marketers overlook issues obvious to visitors. Since the hotel’s challenge dealt with online reservations, I decided that a closer look at the hotel website’s booking widget was probably a valid starting point.
The original reservation widget contained a white and green call-to-action button reading “Check Availability.” Since the entire site’s color scheme is white and green, it seemed like the button was getting lost in the background. As a visitor to this website, I would expect the most important button on the site to command much more attention. As a marketer for this site, I wanted to see if a different color button might prove more compelling.
After some initial research, I chose red for the alternate version of the button. From what I gathered and inferred, red is a highly visible color. That’s why stop signs, fire trucks, and other things that need to be noticed quickly are painted that color. Contrasted with the green background, a red “Check Availability” button seemed like it would pop off the page, catch the eye of visitors quickly, and draw more clicks, but I needed to be sure before I made such a significant change to the site. Enter A/B testing.
Original White Button (A)
Red Button Variation (B)
I set up an A/B test to show the original button to some users and the alternate red button to others, and let me tell you, the results were exciting. After just a few weeks, the new red button was reveiving 13% more clicks than the white button. After reaching the 95% confidence threshold, I switched the button over to the red version permanently and monitored the next month’s performance. In 30 days, the total number of people clicking the button to check rate for this particular hotel improved 38% YOY which translated into 65% increase in booked revenue YOY.
Percentage of visitors that checked rate on variation A vs. variation B during the experiment.
This simple color change contributed to thousands of dollars of revenue for the hotel. If you want to make some quality changes to your own website, read on, and I’ll teach you how to implement A/B tests to improve your site’s performance.
What is A/B Testing?
A/B testing is a randomized experiment that takes two (or more) variants of a web page (A and B), presents them both to different members of the audience, and then tracks the differences in performance.
How to Implement A/B Testing
Before you decide what feature to change on a specific page, you need to determine how you want the site to improve. Think about the goal of that particular page. What purpose does it serve to your website as a whole, and what metrics indicate how the page is performing? For example, if you are trying to generate more revenue from a specific special offer, you may look at how many clicks that particular offer has compared to other offers in the same time period. If the offer has fewer clicks than you’d expect, start thinking about different page elements that could be affecting its results. Is the copy compelling? Can users clearly see where to click? Is the page layout confusing or cluttered, making it difficult to find the offer? Once you have determined what aspect of the page you want to improve, follow this simple 5 step A/B Testing process to produce a higher converting site:
1. Making an Educated Change to the Page
Once you determine what the goal of your page is, decide what the “B” in the A/B test will entail. This decision requires some thought. Don’t make a rash judgment, but don’t let this step bog you down either. Spend some time considering what changes on the page will fuel changes in site performance. Try to view your website from a visitor’s perspective. How does this page look to you if you landed on it for a specific search query? Is the information you’re searching for easy to find? If you were directed to this particular page from another page in the site, what would you expect to see? As a visitor, is there an action that you can take to accomplish your goals (e.g. contact for more information, click a button to check out, etc)? If this exercise does not help you discover an element to change, it may be useful to get a fresh set of eyes on the page and hear from an outside perspective. Ask a friend, family member, or some of your top customers for their valuable feedback.
As a fellow marketer, I know your time is valuable. I wouldn’t want you to read this article and then set up A/B tests that make little to no improvement to your site’s performance. Do your initial research and use your best judgment to determine your “B.” Whatever you decide to change, it doesn’t always have to be huge, but it should be purposeful.
2. Setting Up an A/B Test
Google Analytics makes setting up A/B tests simple. First, you need to create a duplicate page to test against the original. This duplicate page should contain your variation(s). While your duplicate page is still being tested, I would recommend that you set it up with a meta noindex, nofollow tag so it doesn’t appear in search results.
Once you have the duplicate page ready:
The objective you select to measure for the experiment should be a metric that indicates the page’s strength. Google Analytics allows you to pick from your present goals, some site usage statistics such as bounces, pageviews, and session duration, or you can create a new goal for the experiment (e.g. contact form completions, check availability clicks, wedding form RFP submissions, etc.).
There are a few other options to determine how your experiment will be run and measured. You can choose the percentage of traffic you want to participate in the experiment, and you can also choose how the two pages will be distributed to your site’s traffic. Google’s default will show the page that is performing better more often, but if you wish, you can choose to show the two pages evenly. Finally, select the confidence threshold you want to reach before the experiment is stopped. The higher the threshold, the more confident you can be that the changes you are making will produce improved results.
Next, paste the URL of the original page and the URL of the test page into the provided boxes. I suggest naming them something that reflects the variation of that page, such as White Button vs. Red Button.
Finally, Google will provide you with a snippet of code that you need to paste into the header of your original page. This code will redirect certain visitors to page B, your test page. You may need to have some technical knowledge or work with your developer to implement these changes into your Content Management System, such as Joomla or Wordpress.
Once you have set up your A/B test, you can sit back and analyze the visitor behavior!
3. Tracking How the Site Change Impacts Visitor Behavior
Google does a great job of clearly laying out the experiment statistics. The data will include the number of sessions (visits) for each page version, the number of conversions, the conversion rate, the difference in conversion rate compared to the original page, and the probability of outperforming the original page (that’s your confidence threshold). It’s fun and useful to monitor this fairly frequently. If your test page is not producing improved results, you may want to end the experiment earlier than you had intended and try implementing a different change instead of holding out hope for months on end. If you changed the color of a “Check Availability” button and didn’t see an increase in number of click in two weeks, maybe you want to keep the original button color and try different verbiage, such as “Book Now."
4. Implementing the Improved Version
This is a no brainer. Once the A/B experiment is finished, pick the version that performed better (depending on what your goals are) and make that the default page. Voila! You have just made your site better and will soon have the measurable results to prove it!
5. Repeating the Process
It is awesome that your site is performing better, but the job of an online marketer is never done. Now that your page is producing improved results, set up another test to beat the new version or take what you have learned from this experiment and apply it to a similar A/B test for another page. Winston Churchill said it best: “To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often. “
Have you tried A/B testing on your website? Tweet us at @Blue_Magnet and tell us about your experiments.
Posted in Online Marketing on July 02, 2014 by Maggie Meyers
At Blue Magnet Interactive, we try to stay up-to-date in the SEO, social media, and online marketing world by attending educational industry seminars and events. From networking receptions to conferences to happy hours and more, we enjoy meeting other marketers with innovative ideas and varying perspectives. So the Blue Magnet team was excited at the opportunity to attend a cocktail hour and networking reception sponsored by Bing and Inc. at the Wit Hotel for some Search + Social education.
The panel for the event's Q+A session included Maisha Walker from Message Medium, Bruce Clay from Bruce Clay INC., Marty Weintraub from aimClear, and Duane Forrester from Bing. The lively group of panelists welcomed questions from the audience, all of whom were concerned about one thing: the future of their business online. The attendees' knowledge level concerning SEO and social was quite varied which made for some great questions. The panelists shared a ton of valuable information and insights at the Bing event, so instead of hitting every talking point, I will give you 5 key takeaways on how to best market your business online.
1. The Importance of Usability
There are billions of websites. So what will set your website apart from that of your competitors? Why would a customer/guest/user stay on your site (and convert) instead of turning to another site? Well, there's no one absolute, but if you want to increase the likelihood of users staying and converting on your website, you need to ensure that your site is easy to use. Usability is a crucial element of your site's performance and it is important to think like a customer when designing or redesigning your website. The panelists suggest performing usability tests at several stages throughout the development of your website. You want to catch and correct user experience and usability issues while your site is still in development to save time and money. The panelists recommend asking a group of users in your target demographic to participate in these usability tests. You then supply the "test" user a list of tasks to complete on the website so they can give you feedback on their experience. Once you know what kind of issues users are having you can fix accordingly and watch your conversion rate skyrocket!
2. Target "Shopping" Keywords
As many SEOs and content marketers know, it's easy to get wrapped up in Google's Keyword Planner tool, searching for as many relevant keywords to insert into site content. At the end of the day though, users typing queries into a search engine are just people like you and me. One of the panelists gave a solid example to drive this point home. Let's say you are brain surgeon. What service do you perform? Brain surgery. So, as a brain surgeon looking to drive more traffic to your website, you may immediately think to target consumers searching for 'brain surgery' as a primary keyword. But, someone searching for a trusted doctor to perform this very serious surgery, is probably not simply typing 'brain surgery' into Bing or Google. A high school student doing a research paper on the topic might type this query, but a patient shopping for the best surgeon is probably not going to search this way. So what "shopping" keyword should you target in this instance? Ask yourself, 'What is the prospective patient actually looking for? 'A brain surgeon! Targeting 'brain surgeons in [your city or state] is a much more relevant search query for your target audience and will prove to be a much more effective keyword for your website.
The brain surgery keyword concept applies to the hotel industry as well. While it is likely that a prospective guest would type in 'San Francisco Hotels' to begin their search, it is also likely that they hone in on a specific area within San Francisco when they are closer to booking. Target their "shopping" queries by focusing on keywords like 'Hotels near the Golden Gate Bridge' or 'Hotels close to Fisherman's Wharf' to increase conversions.
3. Content is King
Once you have determined your "shopping" keywords, it's important to include them in your content. But instead of stuffing keywords in your page like you have been taught to do in the past, focus on writing compelling content that naturally incorporates variations of your "shopping" keywords. When you keyword stuff, your visitors are going to be frustrated that your page has nothing to do with what they searched, and your page will eventually be penalized by search engines for blackhat SEO techniques. Keep in mind the quality of your content at a high level as well; check for typos, grammatical errors, and accuracy. Make the content useful and informative from a consumer stand-point and update it frequently. As the panelists reiterated, having outdated information on your site will confuse users and eventually turn them away.
4. Relationship Building > Link Building
As most SEOs are well aware, link building is an effective way to prove the authority of your site to search engines. Trusted sites typically link to other trusted sites, so finding relevant link opportunities for your site can lead to better exposure in search results. Acquiring trustworthy links is easier said than done, and, as the panelists advised, it is best to think of this crucial SEO initiative as relationship building rather than link building. Find a way to make it mutually beneficial to both parties involved, rather than simply asking that the site add a link to the desired page. For example, check for broken links on their site and include that information in your email to the webmaster when requesting a link for a bit of give and take. Also make sure to explain why adding your link is in their best interest. Does your hotel offer a free shuttle to that destination? Can you offer a lower rate for customers of that business or service? Fostering a relationship and offering something of value in return makes your link building request more appealing.
5. Paid Search Can Be Pointless
Allow me to clarify, paid search is NOT pointless, in fact it can often be very lucrative for your business. However, as panelist Bruce Clay stated, "If you don't understand reporting of paid search, it's of no use to you." Invest in an online marketing partner that manages your website and can actually interpret the data from your paid search campaign and refine the strategy. Typically, the first phase of a paid search campaign is defining your goals and budget. Your paid search team will then perform extensive research to determine what keywords and ad groups will be most beneficial for your campaign using Google Keyword Planner and design attractive and relevant ads. When your campaign is active, it is crucial to analyze your data to ensure you are achieving your goals and that it is as worthwhile investment of your money and time. You can run ads all year long, but if you do not continuously analyze the performance to optimize your ads and refine your strategy, your campaign becomes pointless. Use the reporting Bing and Google AdWords provides, paying attention to ad impressions, clicks, and conversions. Optimize your target keywords and ad strategy accordingly. The panelists suggest staying up-to-date with the latest changes in reporting through industry blogs and learning more about interpreting the data through free webinars and courses. Taking the time and energy to understand your paid search campaign will result in the most bang for your buck.
There are countless ways to increase the exposure, credibility, and conversion rate of your business through online marketing. By understanding some of these key takeaways shared by the panel of industry experts and implementing them in your business's online marketing strategy, you'll be taking the reins and controlling your online presence with more knowledge and confidence.
Posted in Online Marketing on June 24, 2014 by Andrea Mann
If you have thought about going on a diet before, you have probably done some initial research to determine the right diet plan for you. And, like most people who finally decide to pull the trigger on a diet, you were probably hoping to find something that promises to deliver fast results … as in, yesterday. While you were investigating these self-proclaimed miracle diet products or meal plans, you probably noticed how easy the ads always make it look. They all claim “Just eat or drink [this] twice-a-day and never diet again” or “ban [this] from your diet forever and drop 10 pounds”. Just like these popular dieting fads, there are always new buzz words, trends, or social media sites emerging in online marketing that immediately catch hoteliers’ eyes and seem to be the “answer” that they have been searching for. They get laser-focused on that one new “it” thing. They pour all of their resources into that one marketing channel, whether it is SEO, Pinterest, or something else they have read about, and they expect a quick-fix. They expect, or at least hope, that their hotel will immediately begin ranking #1 on Google for hundreds of keywords, and their hotel will be at 100% occupancy every night. But of course, that’s not realistic, and deep down they know it.
Why doesn’t a fad diet/marketing strategy produce ideal results in the long run? Because these strategies are not focusing on the big picture and long term investment. My mom has always preached “everything is okay in moderation” and “haste makes waste”, and I think she is on to something here. (Yes, mom, you were right.) I have tried several short-lived diets, and I have even succumbed to a torturous juice cleanse in the past, and I always lose the weight only to gain it back as soon as I start eating a normal diet again. I have witnessed similar mishaps in the online marketing world. Everyone starts talking about the importance of linkbuilding. And then an SEO gets the bright idea to try to produce a miracle by cheating the system. They begin implementing some spammy linkbuilding tactics to speed up the results – what marketers refer to as “black hat SEO”. They go out and solicit any site and every site for free links back to the hotel’s website, most of which are completely irrelevant to the hotel. While the hotel may reap some benefits and rank well in Google for a few days or weeks, it won’t be long before Google catches wind of the gimmick and penalizes the hotel for failing to adhere to standard guidelines. What happens when Google slaps you on the wrist? The blackhat SEO plan backfires, the hotel drops several pages in Google’s rankings, guests can’t find the hotel’s website organically, and online bookings plunge rapidly. At Blue Magnet Interactive, we strive to create a holistic, multi-channel online marketing strategy for every hotel that we partner with because all of the various marketing components are always much more effective and produce much better results when working in tandem. Our team always follows best practices, even though that often requires more time and resources, because doing online marketing correctly the first time is a much better long term investment for the hotel.
Creating a diet/multi-channel marketing strategy that works for your hotel
It all boils down to finding the healthiest marketing mix for your particular hotel – a marketing mix that will help your hotel achieve its specific goals. When it comes to dieting, everyone has their own goals, whether it is losing weight, getting toned, or running a marathon. Everyone also has their own dietary requirements depending on their health, lifestyle, and fitness regimen. If you run 10 miles a day, you might aim for a larger carbohydrate intake than the person sitting next to you. While it is important for every hotel to have a strategy in place for its website content, SEO, social media, paid advertising, and email marketing; the actual strategy and investment in each strategy should differ from hotel to hotel. In order to determine what multi-channel marketing strategy is going to be most effective for your hotel, your hotel team needs to assess its current marketing strategy, establish realistic goals, and determine areas of improvement that are of utmost priority. If your hotel does not have a beautiful wedding space and scenic room views, you may find that you can cut Pinterest out of your marketing budget. If you realize that your hotel has been spending $1000 on a paid search campaign but your hotel doesn’t have a user-friendly website with informative content, you may realize that it’s best to halt your paid media spend and invest in a website redesign and content refresh before paying for more traffic. Once you have determined your marketing goals and needs, you can work with your hotel marketing team to put a multi-channel strategy in place for the next several months – knowing that it is going to take some time before your hotel is sold out every night. But if you continue to follow best practices and invest in a healthy strategy, you’ll get there in due time! You have to crawl before you can walk and walk before you can run – no one expects you to be running a marathon tomorrow. As with dieting, you will continue to “weigh-in” regularly and refine your hotel’s online marketing strategy.
We were honored to be invited to attend and present at a hotel management company’s leadership conference in Annapolis, Maryland this past week. Our presentation deck below uses this dieting/marketing analogy to visually depict how Blue Magnet Interactive approaches a multi-channel marketing strategy to maximize your hotel’s online visibility and drive online revenue.
When creating your hotel’s marketing plan, it’s important to examine the journey a consumer takes when traveling, because, at a high level, it is very similar for all consumers. They begin dreaming about taking a trip. They start doing their research and planning. Eventually they book their hotel, flight, rental car, etc. They travel to their destination and have an experience. Whether it’s a good experience or a bad experience, they will likely share their vacation stories and photos with friends, family, and anonymous strangers, which will then inspire the next person to begin dreaming about a much-needed vacation. For a hotel to successfully master a multi-channel strategy, they need to optimize all of the various channels that consumers interact with during any of these stages of travel. The deck below gives multiple examples that show how a hotel can diversify their channel marketing and optimize each channel with consistent, informative, and unique content in order to deliver the best possible experience, both online and offline.
Posted in SEO on May 21, 2014 by Patrick McCarthy
Yesterday, Matt Cutts announced that Google was introducing a new algorithm update called Panda 4.0. As indicated by the name, this is not the first Panda update that Google has implemented (in fact, Search Engine Land has confirmed 24 previous Panda updates), so although we do not yet know the specifics of Panda 4.0, we can make some informed predictions based on past updates.
What is Panda?
Panda is an update to Google’s search algorithm that first launched in 2011 and targets low-quality sites and sites with “thin” content. Before Panda, it was possible for sites to rank high in the SERPs for specific keywords by creating pages with keyword heavy but valueless content. Panda was designed to push these kinds of sites and pages out of the top rankings and reward high-quality sites by moving them up in the rankings.
What is Panda 4.0?
As with past Panda releases, Panda 4.0 is a refinement of the Panda algorithm, designed to continue the process of improving the quality of Google’s search results. It is likely intended to identify and penalize low-quality sites that previous updates missed. There is also some evidence that the update may boost the visibility of high-quality sites (although this could be the result of low-quality competitor sites losing visibility rather than Google directly rewarding high-quality sites).
Should my hotel be worried about Panda 4.0?
Search Engine Land has indicated that approximately 7.5% of English language queries will be affected by this update, which makes it a relatively major update (the majority of the 24 updates mentioned above affected around 1% of English queries) and means that it could potentially affect sites in your market; however, if you have been following the SEO content best practices that we have outlined on this blog though the years and have a hotel website full of high-quality, valuable content, you not only do not need to worry but you might have reason to celebrate. At Blue Magnet Interactive, we took a random sampling of the websites that we work with and found that none of them have seen any drops in traffic or visibility from Panda 4.0. In fact, all but one of the sites we sampled actually saw a significant increase in organic traffic starting on May 19th, when MozCast first registered large changes in rankings likely due to Panda 4.0.
On the other hand, if you have a hotel website that is full of pages that were created only for SEO and contain little to no unique content or keyword-stuffed content, your site is likely at risk of being negatively affected by Panda 4.0; and even if you do not see immediate declines from this update, you will almost certainly be affected by a future Panda update and should take this as a spur to start updating your website, rewriting your current content, and creating new unique content.
Check back for the latest news or follow us on Twitter for Panda 4.0 updates.