We are now just over a month into 2014, which means it’s time to sit down, get inspired, and reaffirm that you made the right New Year’s Resolutions for 2014. If you’re anything like me, you’ll likely edit the resolutions that you wrote last year and vow to really take them seriously this year. Yes, this is the year that you are going to eat healthy! In 2014, I challenge you to think outside of the box and make some promises that are going to better your hotel’s internet visibility! So, raise your right hand and read the Internet Marketing Resolutions for 2014 out loud.

  1. I promise to ensure that my annual marketing plan is customized to fit the unique goals of my hotel. There is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all internet marketing strategy.
  2. I vow to evaluate my internet partner by answering the questions below, because internet marketing partners are not created equal.
    1. Are the services apples-to-apples when I’m evaluating two different potential partners?
    2. Do they build websites on a proprietary content management system or an open-source CMS?
    3. How is account management structured? Are there different levels of support for my hotel?
    4. Is your hotel’s go-to account manager just the face of the account or do they also execute your marketing initiatives such as SEO, rather than passing the work off to a separate SEO team?
  3. I promise that I will decrease my traditional marketing budget because traditional marketing is dying. I will increase my internet marketing budget from .05% to at least 3-20% of my internet revenue.
  4. I promise to adhere to a holistic, multi-channel internet marketing strategy rather than a single channel approach (i.e. just SEO) because multiple channels produce more effective results when working in tandem with one another.
  5. I vow to be patient with my internet marketing results. True high-performing multi-channel strategies cannot be executed at a push of a button by an automated system; rather they require attention-to-detail and continual maintenance.
  6. I vow that if I choose to seek outside assistance for my internet marketing needs, I will ensure that my internet partner functions as an extension of my hotel team in order to achieve the best results. It will be a true partnership, where both the hotel and internet marketing partner are active participants in the success of their campaign.
  7. I promise to commit to on-going hotel internet marketing efforts in order to be successful; my campaign will be regularly maintained due to the changing nature of internet marketing channels and competitors hungry for top visibility.
  8. I promise to make user experience the primary focus when building my new hotel website and ensure that booking a room is an easy and intuitive process. Bells and whistles can come later.
  9. I promise not to give up my internet marketing efforts if I recently invested in internet marketing services and feel I didn’t see a return. I will remind myself that this doesn’t mean that successful internet marketing partners don’t exist; it just means that I haven’t found the right one yet. .
  10. I promise to invest in a user-friendly, functional mobile-site which may be a hefty investment today, but will undoubtedly be a valuable long term solution for increasing bookings.

I hope these hotel marketing resolutions empower you to set forth in 2014 with a fresh perspective and ultimately lead to increased internet performance for your hotel!

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Sadly, the story always starts out the same: She was a quiet girl--kept mostly to herself. Always smiling, ever so friendly and incredibly skilled in social media marketing. What a shame it had to come to this…And she had such a promising career in hospitality online marketing too.

Who would have ever suspected it would lead to a Halloween Eve massacre?

Yes, a massacre. On the dark and dreary afternoon of October 30, 2013, Maddy Fuller entered the Blue Magnet Lunch n' Learn event just as she had done every Wednesday; The only difference this time was that she was the only one to walk back out at the end. Unbeknownst to the rest of the world, behind those smiling Irish eyes lurks an online marketing behemoth. Indeed, Maddy Fuller had brutally slayed the competition that day, wresting the October 2013 Blue Magneteer Award from the cold grip of her defeated colleagues.

BlueMagneteerAward-MaddyFuller

 

Kim Armour, Director of Client Services at Blue Magnet Interactive and eye witness to the brutal slaying, had this to say about the grisly scene:

"It was awful, but I blame myself. I should have seen it coming. It all started back with a website for this hotel client in central Florida, for which we provide online marketing services. Sure their online revenue growth was slow at the start, but at least no one got hurt. But that's when Maddy stepped in, flaunting her big ideas and marketing prowess, showing a brazen disregard for traditional marketing. She completely gutted that poor website…Rich, quality page content? Re-optimizing local listings? Verifying the hotel's business listing? The girl just didn't know when to stop!

And that's when she took it too far. Schema markups?! You should have seen the revenue graph for this hotel client after that! It was disgusting. Just a few short months and Maddy had shot the hotel's revenue through the roof! Police estimated it was an increase of over 141% in revenue month over month as a result of Maddy's cutthroat tactics! The hotel's competition never stood a chance! And sadly, neither did the other Blue Magnetizens in the room that day."

Maddys Massacre

Maddy Fuller is still at large and considered armed with SEO knowledge and dangerous behind a computer. For any information regarding her whereabouts please contact Blue Magnet Interactive at 877-361-1177. 

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Facebook Tenth Birthday

At Blue Magnet Interactive, we love Facebook. Without the social giant and its enormous marketing potential, we might be out of a job! Okay, maybe not - but we felt it was only appropriate to commemorate Facebook on its 10th birthday with a classic Top 10 list.

Our talented Account Manager’s compiled their top 10 tips for hotels to effectively utilize Facebook’s prowess and stand out from their competitors!

1. Respond to all wall posts and comments, whether they are positive or negative. Hoteliers should have a similar response system in place on Facebook as they do on TripAdvisor. When a fan leaves positive feedback on your Facebook wall, “like” the post or leave a sincere comment on behalf of the hotel to acknowledge that it was received. When a fan leaves a nasty comment, respond publicly so that your other fans know that the hotel takes these issues seriously and try to take the conversation offline as seamlessly as possible.

~ Andrea Mann, Senior Brand Strategist

2. Don’t post just to post. Content that you share with your followers should be relevant to your property. Think about the pages you “like” on Facebook, why you like them, and the content you're likely to share and engage with on those pages. Your fans are invested in your page to hear about your special offers and promotions, learn about the area, and hear about other applicable hotel news and events. Just because a certain topic or hashtag is trending doesn’t mean that yoru hotel needs to comment on the subject. If you can’t twist “Justin Bieber’s mug shot” to relate to your brand, it’s pointless chatter (and we’re not sure you’d want to anyways).

~ Stephanie Hilger, Account Manager

FB-Birthday Humanize

3. Humanize your brand. Customer service is often one of the strongest assets of a property, and you can’t give great customer service without an incredible staff. Small features that show your customers how much the hotel management values its staff will go a long way. “Staff picks” for favorite area restaurants or bars, “happy anniversary” posts for team members that have loyally been employed at your hotel for a long period of time, etc. They call this “social” media for a reason. Don’t ever hesitate to put a face to your brand! 

~ Michelle Laing, Account Manager

4. Do your guests know that you are on Facebook? Utilize on-property flyers and place them at the front desk, at your on-site restaurant, on tables in the breakfast area and create key-card packet inserts. Encourage guests to like and review your hotel on Facebook, especially since Facebook reviews are beginning to play an integral part of your Facebook page’s experience!

~ Kelsey Nupnau, Account Manager

5. Take advantage of the Facebook Insights. This useful tool is free for your hotel's business page, and it will help you discover things like the best time to post, the most popular content, and audience demographics. With this added information, you can craft better posts tailored to your specific audience and boost your page’s engagement.

~ Tim Dale, Account Manager

FB-Birthday ShortSweet

6.  Keep it short and sweet. Increasingly, people are accessing Facebook through their mobile devices.  While scrolling through their Newsfeeds waiting at the bus stop or in line at Starbucks, they may not want to take the time to read a wordy paragraph. Writing your hotel's Facebook posts with Twitter’s length (140 characters or less) in mind can help encourage fans to read your posts. 

~ Caroline Scanlon, Associate Account Manager

7. Use your camera! If there is something going on at the hotel - a staff fundraiser, a special event in the bar or just a beautiful day outside, TAKE A PICTURE! Your Facebook fans are following your page because they enjoyed their time at your hotel or are planning to visit your hotel. Give them a snapshot of what’s going on both on property and in the area. Photos that are unique to a hotel tend to outperform generic posts on Facebook pages. A generic post with clip art hearts that says “Happy Valentine’s Day” is not going to give your hotel personality like a photo of your front desk staff smiling with a box of chocolates in hand!

~ Abby Heft, Senior Account Manager

 

8. Stay local. Utilize local-area publications, community-focused websites, CVB’s and more to find the most relevant, local content for your followers. From free yoga classes to the top 10 places to enjoy fried chicken in your town, fans will appreciate these localized tidbits. Guests are often asking your front desk staff  ‘where do the locals go?’ - so take that question and run with it on Facebook! There are lots of great resources at your fingertips to help answer that question.

~ Amanda Diamond, Account Manager

FB-Birthday Fans

9. Treat your fans like the special fans they are! As you grow your network of fans on Facebook, instill loyalty by offering exclusive deals and insider information. Announce special events to fans first, provide a special coupon for fans to redeem on property, or promote a unique fan rate discount only available through your Facebook page. By giving fans exclusive information and deals, you build loyalty and actively engage users who continue to listen to what your hotel has to say. Plus, these Facebook strategies are also a great way for your hotel to bring in incremental revenue and sell rooms for last minute need-dates. 

~ Kim Armour, Director of Client Services

10. Just because Facebook is a great marketing tool, doesn't mean every post should be a commercial for your hotel. Yes, guests want to know when you have an awesome new special or that you just renovated all of your suites, but they don't want to see the same posts about how you have "the best amenities around" over and over. Your page will never see a lot of likes or engagement if you're consistently posting "salesy" content in the hopes of driving bookings. Doing so will most likely have the opposite effect and end up turning fans away.

~ Chris Dean, Account Manager

Cheers, Facebook! Here's to many more years of liking, commenting, and sharing!

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In mid-December, Twitter began rolling out an experimental new feature called "Nearby" that places an emphasis on user location when tweeting. Twitter has been hesitant to divulge much information about Nearby and its future, simply stating that they are constantly testing new features. However, as Twitter continues to roll out Nearby to more users, we are getting a clearer picture of what this new feature is and how hoteliers can use it to their advantage.

What do we know about Nearby?

Nearby is an alternative timeline to Twitter's "Home," "Discover," and "Activity" timelines for viewing tweets. The Home timeline, the most commonly used, is the standard timeline for viewing chronologically sorted tweets of people you follow. The Discover timeline features relevant and trending tweets that Twitter thinks you'll be interested in, even though you may not follow those people yet. The Activity timeline, which can be found within the Discover tab, shows you what actions your followers are performing on Twitter, such as favoriting tweets or following new people. All of the three current timelines present tweets and activities as a list.

Nearby works only with tweets that have been geotagged, meaning users have allowed their location to be tied to their tweets. What makes Nearby so unique in comparison to the other timelines is that rather than using the standard list format, tweets are presented as markers on a map, with the location of the marker being the location of the user when that tweet was sent out. In the screenshots below, you can see the Nearby map. Each tweet can be viewed by tapping on the marker.

twitter-nearby-map                    twitter-nearby-tweet

75 percent of Twitter users are accessing the social media channel via mobile or tablet, which is probably why the Nearby timeline is currently only viewable on the Twitter mobile and tablet apps. That does not mean that the tweets presented on the Nearby map are only from mobile and tablet users. As long as your phone, tablet, or desktop is allowing your tweets to be geotagged, they will appear on the map regardless of the device they were tweeted from. Directions for enabling geotagging on desktop and mobile devices can be found in Twitter's Help Center.

Because Nearby is still in its infancy, being tested, and being introduced to users gradually, there is no guarantee of when it will appear for you or if Twitter will keep the feature permanently. Only users who have enabled geotagging have been given access to Nearby so far, meaning that the sooner you enable it, the better your chances are of getting Nearby and exploring the new feature yourself!

How can hotel marketers use Nearby to benefit their hotel marketing strategy?

  • Nearby is one of the very few ways, besides buying ads and being retweeted, to increase the reach of your tweets to users who do not follow you. The tweets that appear on the Nearby map are not only from the accounts you follow; Rather, any geotagged tweet in your general vicinity will appear on the map. So if you tweet from the hotel's account and the tweet appears on the Nearby map, users who may have never known your hotel existed, let alone had a twitter account, will see your tweet and be exposed to your hotel. This means your hotel has the opportunity to acquire new potential guests and referrers!

 

  • Nearby offers a better way to tap into your hotel's local market than was ever possible with Twitter before. With Nearby, you can see what the locals are tweeting about in your immediate area - what's most popular with users and what's catching their attention. Insight like this is invaluable to your hotel. Knowing what users are interested in and using that knowledge to create great social media content is crucial. The more you know about your users' interests, the easier it will be to tailor your social media content and ensure it's relevant to your audience!

 

  • A very cool opportunity that becomes available with Nearby is the ability to read your guests' tweets regardless of if the tweet mentions your hotel at all. To this point, the only way to know for sure if someone was tweeting about your hotel would be if they mentioned it by name or mentioned your Twitter handle in their tweet. With Nearby, you'll be able to see all of the tweets originating from your hotel's location on the Nearby map. These tweets will undoubtedly be a good source of customer feedback you may not have received otherwise as well as a way to encourage happy customers and defuse unsatisfied ones.

 

  • No announcement has been made regarding paid advertising integrating with Nearby, but we can only assume that it is certainly an avenue that Twitter is exploring. Twitter has struggled to win the favor of small business marketers due in part to the limited options for geographic targeting of ads. Nearby can open up new ways to for paid tweets to target locals that have not been available with Twitter before.

Nearby has some excellent benefits for hotels, but it does have some possible drawbacks.

  • Quite obviously, a hotel's interest in its local market is limited. Local customers are the target for booking events and meetings, but not usually for selling rooms, so investing in paid tweets on Nearby (if and when that option becomes available) may not the best use of your money. However, depending on your hotel's objective, you may be able to find a creative way to make Nearby ads work for you. For example, you might be able to increase foot traffic for the hotel's weekday lunch special at the restaurant.

 

  • Nearby is also limited by the lack of users who geotag tweets. Twitter has not been used as a location-based social media outlet as much as Foursquare or even Facebook, so Twitter will need to build awareness for Nearby and encourage more users to start geotagging. If Twitter cannot achieve this, Nearby may very well be discontinued.

 

  • Nearby is sure to have its fair share of detractors due to users being forced to see Tweets from anyone, not just users they follow, on the Nearby map. Social media users are very averse to unwelcomed messages being pushed in front of them without invitation. That's why it is so crucial to have excellent content that will engage users who may not have originally wanted or expected to see your message. Otherwise, you may just end up turning them off.

The jury is out on Nearby's long-term potential for success, but as long as Nearby is used correctly, it can be one of the many fantastic tools you can utilize as part of a successful Twitter strategy. So, hotelier, be an early adopter and, when given the option, add Nearby to your already formidable arsenal of social media weapons!

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Hoteliers know that the online marketing world is fast-moving and ever-changing. To be successful, one needs to look at where the road has led up to this point and anticipate where we are heading next. 2013 definitely threw some curve balls at us with new Google algorithms, social media sites trying to emulate search engines, and campaign-changing PPC updates. Now it’s time to take what we have learned, catch the wave early, and form our hotel’s online marketing strategy around emerging trends and tools.  In this article, I discuss 3 impending changes that I anticipate happening in the not-so-distant hotel eMarketing forecast for 2014.

 crystal ball 400

Tim’s Prediction #1: In 2014, social media will have a direct impact on SEO and require a few more bucks to be effective across all platforms.

We saw social media grow up in 2013. Initially cast as a beneficial marketing channel for brands to reach their target market on a personal level, social media proved it is destined to be so much more than a brand awareness tool in the coming years.

 

Google+ will actually impact SEO

 

This past September, Google released its completely new Hummingbird algorithm. We can now safely say that if your hotel does not optimize and regularly post on Google+, you are missing out on an SEO juggernaut. We’ve been hearing rumors for months about the implications of Google+ for SEO, but in 2014, I predict that Google will openly declare Google+ a necessary element to your SEO strategy. Posting on Google+ allows Google to index new pages on your website almost immediately. The +1s also give an advantage in personalized search. If someone who has +1ed your hotel’s post or someone who follows someone who has +1ed your hotel’s post performs a Google search for hotels, they will be more likely to see your content. This means that building a strong audience on your hotel’s Google+ page can directly correlate with more visits to your site.  

 

Pay your way into all social media timelines

 

Late last year, Facebook announced that business profiles will begin to notice a sharp decrease in organic reach. It was described as a result of increased competition for limited space in the timeline, but implied that marketers will now have to pay for reach.  Because Facebook is a trend setter in the social media world, I can easily foresee other major channels, such as Twitter, Google+, etc. begin to curb reach in the same manner. Especially since Google+ will be an SEO necessity in 2014, I could see how Google could make a pretty penny with the ad revenue from promoted posts. In 2014, I would recommend allocating some of your marketing budget towards social media spend to give your social media campaigns an extra boost. Otherwise, you will probably realize in the coming months that your social media posts are no longer reaching your intended audience.

 

 Hotels vs OTAs tarot card 400

Tim’s Prediction #2: In 2014, metasearch engines and enhanced ad features will give some power back to the hotels by providing more opportunities for direct bookings.

Hotels have always had mixed feelings towards OTAs. Because OTAs tend to dominate all hotel-related searches, hotels have had no choice but to bear the burden and pay large commissions. However, new search engine tools and advanced ad features are making online marketing look hopeful once again for hotels.

 

TripConnect – The One

 

OTAs are computers, hotels are people, and TripAdvisor’s TripConnect is Neo. Maybe the Matrix analogy is a bit dramatic, but TripAdvisor’s new bidding feature gives hoteliers a way to compete with more powerful entities (read: OTAs) for placement in TripAdvisor’s price comparison search. In the past, only OTAs and large hotel brands could bid for that placement in the pricing search results, but now, independent hotels that are paying for a TripAdvisor Business Listing can also participate in the pay-per-click program. This is much more appealing than expensive Google AdWords campaigns because it gives a better opportunity to the small, independent hotel. Hotels will not have to face the Adword budgets of the major OTAs, and they will not have to pay the CPC + commission per booking on Expedia TravelAds. As TripConnect gains more momentum and pitches the new product on a property-level, independent hotels will begin to move their ad budget away from platforms such as Google Adwords and Expedia TravelAds and designate their money to a more opportunistic TripAdvisor.

 

Metasearch Engines become a more dominant booking channel

 

Though metasearch engines are a relatively recent development in the travel industry, the concept to aggregate results from various sources into a single list has been around for some time. Metasearch allows guests to use additional search parameters to find your hotel and pulls the information from a variety of sources to compile a comprehensive result page.  TripAdvisor is a great example of a metasearch engine where users are able to search for hotels by name, location, price, and chain. Though an OTA provides a similar shopping experience, the difference is in the customer conversion. Metasearch engines send users directly to the hotel’s reservation system for a direct booking, while on OTAs, users book a room within the OTA’s reservation platform, which charges the hotel a booking commission. In 2014, look for metasearch engines such as TripAdvisor and Kayak to take some market share away from OTAs because they will provide users with more relevant information and a better user-experience.  More and more, travelers will begin to use OTAs as research tools and metasearch engines as booking tools.

 

AdWords Image Extensions help hotels compete with OTAs

 

Still in its beta stage, Google’s Adword Image Extension presents a more appealing aesthetic alternative to the plain text PPC ads.  Currently, OTAs have much larger Adword budgets than individual hotels, which diminish the hotel’s power to rank for highly-competitive key words. Since OTAs can’t use property photos in their PPC ads, the hotels will have a new advantage in an otherwise skewed system. In 2014, hotels that take advantage of Google Adword extensions will perform better than the OTAs.

 

 Google PalmReading 400

Tim’s Prediction #3: In 2014, Google will integrate Google Maps with Google Hotel Finder, and hotels will suffer the consequences.

Google’s entrance into the travel industry has been a long, drawn-out process. The past few years, TripAdvisor, Expedia, and Priceline have surprisingly outpaced Google in the travel shopping. The world’s most popular search engine has shown in the past that it can enter into almost any online market it pleases, sometimes to the benefit of the industry, other times not so much.

 

Google Maps + Google Hotel Finder = Google Travel Dominance

 

Google Maps will be the driving force behind Google’s travel related searches. Recently, Google has revealed its new “Hotel View.” According to the Associated Press, Google is photographing hotel interiors in order to enhance its travel content. They are slowly rolling out the content but already have a large number of properties undergoing the process. Currently, Google Maps already shows PPC ads. Is it too much of a stretch to believe that eventually Google will want to integrate the often hidden Google Hotel Finder listings?

Launched way back in 2011, Google Hotel Finder is another metasearch engine that aims to provide users an easy way to find accommodations in various cities.  In recent months, Google Hotel finder has made new updates to improve its functionality including the ability to access it from your mobile phone. Currently, the Google Hotel Finder’s pricing menu is dominated by the OTAs. The more popular Google Hotel Finder gets, the more opportunities OTAs will have to advertise to potential guests and the more commission independent hotels will have to pay to the OTAs.  In 2014, I predict that Google Hotel Finder will integrate with Google Maps which would create another challenge for hotels.

Because of this, hotels need to take full advantage of their direct booking channels in 2014. Optimize your hotel’s TripAdvisor listing, build a user-friendly standalone site, audit and refresh your hotel’s SEO strategy, and outrank the OTAs!

 

 

That’s all for my hotel eMarketing forecast for 2014. Keep taking advantage of all the latest online marketing tips and tools to ensure your hotel’s online presence continues to improve in 2014!  

 

 

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These days, it seems like just about everyone is on Facebook - curious parents, tech-savvy and not-so-tech-savvy grandparents, and kids who probably weren't even walking on their own two feet when Facebook was invented. I even know a couple of dogs and a cat with Facebook profiles, although I'm not convinced that they set up their profiles themselves. Facebook has now reached 1.19 billion monthly active users! Add in the 15 million+ brand pages and you can see why it's easy for your hotel's Facebook posts to get lost in the frenzy of likes, shares, and posts that are endlessly pouring into users' Newsfeeds. So, how do you get Facebook users to notice your hotel's Facebook posts and engage with them? There are a number of ways to make your hotel's Facebook posts stand out amidst the competition. Adding compelling visuals, shortening your posts, and targeting select times of day to publish your posts are some of the simplest ways to encourage your fans to engage with your hotel's page.

1. Use A Powerful Photo


With 1 in 6 people using Facebook exclusively on mobile, it's important to think about what content people will notice as they quickly scroll through their newsfeeds while waiting in line at Starbucks or on their morning commute to the office. Undoubtedly, pictures are more eye-catching than wordy posts. Images typically take up more space on the screen, and the brain also tends to process images more quickly than words. A picture tells a story in a glance and can usually be universally understood, while words require more time to read and process. Plus, understanding lengthy posts can be negatively impacted by language-barriers. As social media becomes more instantaneous with the advent of each new platform (from Twitter to Snapchat, to Vine) people are growing more impatient and less willing to take the time to read. So, it's probably not a surprise to learn that photo posts on Facebook receive 39% more engagement than plain text, videos, or links; however posting just any old picture isn't necessarily going to foster that much of an increase in engagement. A quality, engagement-provoking photo needs to have some sort of substance to it and preferably draw on a human emotion. Looking at Parade Magazine's "10 of the Most Liked Photos From 2012", each photo evokes some type of emotion from happiness to pride to nostalgia. The screenshot below provides guests with interesting information about the hotel's hometown and incorporates a visual of a tasty ice cream cone, which will appeal to nearly everyone.

                                                                        facebook-engagement

 

As a hotelier, you have the opportunity to evoke your fan's emotions with photos taken on property. A number of travel inspiring photo opportunities can be found on your hotel property. For example, a fabulous view from a room or a delicious looking dish from your hotel's restaurant. Photos of your hotel's staff appreciation party or a sales team member of the month can also spark high engagement on Facebook because they allow Facebook fans to see the human side of your hotel and forge an emotional connection. As Meghan Biro says in her Forbes article "5 Warnings for Leaders: Brand Humanization is Not a Social Media Fad", "These stories make your business interesting and compelling to consumers, employees, and investors...If you let people bring their humanity to your brand, they'll also bring your brand into their networks. That's a form of reach money can't buy." This screenshot below tells a beauitful story about the incredible team working at the lodge, which guests may not have been aware of otherwise.

 

                               facebook-staff

2. Keep It Short & Sweet


I've been told that you have six seconds to grab and hold someone's attention on the Internet. On social media, six seconds is probably a generous amount of time. Don't make Facebook users work to figure out what you're posting about - give them all the information they need in one packet of information. As people are scrolling through their Newsfeed, they're only going to stop for something that really interests them. A visual can convey so much without words, which is why using a photo is imperative, but oftentimes photos do need further explanation. Facebook allows page status updates to contain photos with nearly as many words as you like, but there is a positive correlation between shorter posts and high engagement, as demonstrated below.


The chart below, from Belle Beth Cooper's blog post on Buffer, shows the amount of likes and comments per post, depending on post length. it is clear that posts from 0-70 characters are receiving many more likes and a few more comments than every other post length. In a close second are the 70-140 character posts, but beyond that the number of likes a post receives drops off significantly. While the number of comments received may hold steady throughout most of the chart, the large posts (231+ characters) have about half as many.

 

                                    facebook-responsechart

One easy way to cut down on your character count without losing important content is to use a link shortener like goo.gl or bit.ly. These programs take long URLs and shorten them. They are also customizable, so your link can act as a descriptor of the page it will direct to.


For example, here is the link to a Colorado Springs pet-friendly hotel page:

 

 facebook-longurl

 

But when put into bit.ly and customized accordingly, the link can be shortened down to this:

 

 facebook-shorturl

 

The link is still informative, but it is now much shorter, saving you precious characters in your Facebook posts. As an added bonus, these link shortening tools will track how many people actually clicked your link as well as what day and time they clicked it.

 

                                                         facebook-bitly

 

While it is important to keep your hotel's posts short to maximize your engagement, it's also important to make sure that the posts have substance to them. A Facebook page that posts nothing but fluff can end up looking spammy and cause fans to unfollow the page. With your hotel's page, you have the opportunity to provide its Facebook fans with an insider's look at your local area by posting informative content or sharing upcoming events. As many of your hotel's fans are likely from out of town, they probably aren't aware that the restaurant down the street has the best pizza in town, that the annual Pumpkin Festival is happening this weekend, or that the local aquarium is free every Tuesday. Try to think of your hotel's Facebook page as a local guide for hotel guests - sharing valuable knowledge and expertise that will resonate with its fans.

3. Timing Is Everything


It's important to keep in mind that your hotel's fans are probably not using Facebook 24/7. Certain times of day will prompt more engagement than others. It's also important to note that a Facebook post's lifespan is pretty short- 50% of engagement happens in just an hour and a half. Check your hotel's Facebook Page Insights to get an idea of what times of day the majority of your fans are on Facebook. Catering your hotel's content to those times of day will help increase interactions including likes, comments, and shares. Insights can also give you an idea of what day of the week your posts receive the most interaction. This knowledge allows you to schedule your hotel's most important posts for days when its fans are most likely to see it and engage.

 

                                                        facebook-insights

The above screenshot was taken from Facebook Insights and shows what times of day a particular hotel's fans are using Facebook. Obviously, posting between 2 and 6 AM would not be a good choice for this hotel, but posting somewhere from 7 to 11 PM would be smart to ensure the post receives a high reach. There are two notable spikes around 7PM and 10PM that demonstrate the absolute best times to post for this particular hotel. Oftentimes, it takes several minutes for a post to filter its way into someone's Newsfeed, so it may prove beneficial to post slightly (15-20 minutes) before the peak times.

4. Pin It To The Top Of Your Timeline

Facebook's pinning feature is helpful for short-term specials or anything else you want to be sure your hotel's fans see. Instead of having the post get pushed down with every subsequent post, a pinned post remains consistently at the top of your hotel's timeline, giving the post a longer shelf-life. Fans will understand that the content is still relevant, even though it might be a few days old. Say you launch a new special offer on your hotel's standalone website, and you want to start driving traffic to it. You can create a post announcing the promotion and pin it to the top of your hotel's Facebook page. This way, even if someone visits the page days later, the first thing they will see is the post announcing the new special offer, which will bring it to their attention and maybe even encourage them to click for more information.

Pinning is simple -- click the downward pointing arrow in the top right-hand corner of the post and select "Pin to Top," the first option listed in the drop-down menu (see screenshot below). Pinning is especially helpful for special promotions running for a set length of time. Just be sure to remember to unpin the post when you no longer want it at the top, otherwise it will stay there for a full week.

                                                                                    facebook-pinning

How Will These 4 Facebook Tips Benefit Your Hotel?

While it may be a challenge to track your hotel's ROI from Facebook, it is still very important for your hotel's online visibility to have an active and engaging Facebook page. Facebook allows you to promote your hotel and your area to potential guests on a channel where they are already spending their time. Following these four techniques will help extend the reach and improve the engagement on your Facebook posts. With a powerful photo and small amounts of text, you increase the chances that a Facebook user will stop to read (and like, comment, or share) your hotel's post, further building their relationship with your hotel. Facebook posts with high levels of engagement also linger in users' Newsfeeds longer than unpopular posts, thanks to Facebook's story bumping. It is important to post relevant and interesting information because it leads to high engagement, which, in turn, ensures that your hotel is reaching as many of its fans as possible. Facebook is a great tool for hotels to use to maintain their relationships with guests, even when they are not visiting. That strengthened connection will help your hotel to remain top-of-mind, so when your fan does decide to take a trip down the road, they'll remember to stay at your hotel.

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Before we dive into 2014, it's only fitting to take a moment and reflect on this past year at Blue Magnet! 2013 was a year for the books (and we're not just talking Facebook). Our office grew immensely (by both people and square feet), we hit every curve ball thrown our way (Google Hummingbird? Nice try Matt Cutts), and launched several responsive websites! It takes genuine talent to stay on top of the latest eMarketing trends, adapt to three screen marketing, and survive the #hashtag takeover. Blue Magnet proved that a company formed on industry passion, continued education, and work-life balance can tackle any challenges that the constantly evolving Internet throws our way.

January

In January, Blue Magnet welcomed Tim Dale to the team as Blue Magnet's newest Associate Account Manager. Since then, Tim has given the rest of the team (and the rest of the world) a run for their money when it comes to writing creative copy. 

Our very own Andrea Mann visited the Emily Morgan Hotel in San Antonio, Texas to provide live social media coverage of the hotel’s elaborate grand reopening party as they joined the DoubleTree by Hilton family!

BMI January 2013 

February

Patrick McCarthy headed south to the Hampton Inn & Nashville Downtown to learn more about the Nashville market and to work with the hotel team to create synergy between BMI, the hotel's off-site Revenue Manager, and the on-site hotel staff. The trip was declared a rousing success by all.

BMI February 2013

March

Blue Magnet added another Associate Account Manager to the team (enter: Stephanie Hilger). Stephanie’s extensive social media marketing experiences and incredible attention to detail brought a fresh perspective to Blue Magnet’s social strategy.

Brittany Aller and Andrea Mann co-hosted BMI's first webinar with Revinate, "Social Media Campaigns - Strategies & Metrics," to enlighten fellow hoteliers on how to implement and benchmark successful social media campaigns.

April

Maddy Fuller came on board as an Associate Account Manager. From increasing site visits to executing clever promotions, like Marry Me at Doubletree, Maddy quickly proved that she was a perfect fit for the Blue Magnet Team.

As Blue Magnet's veterans, Abby Heft, Andrea Mann, Kathryn Vera, and Patrick McCarthy approached their two-year BMIversary, a welcoming announcement was made that these four BMI All-Stars would take on the new roles of Senior Account Managers, each with a specialized focus.

May

BMI celebrated Cinco de Mayo in true Chicago style: a trip to Big Star. Margaritas, fish tacos, and a beautiful spring day? Sounds like the perfect recipe for Blue Magnet team bonding!

BMI May 2013

June

Blue Magnet lost Senior Account Manager Katharyn Molinaro, but only to gain Katharyn Vera! In June, Katharyn made the trip down the aisle and married the man of her dreams (looking stunning, per usual). Congratulations Mr. and Mrs. Vera!

Abby journeyed west to visit some of her beloved clients, The Oakland Marriott City Center and the Courtyard Marriott Downtown Oakland.

We also made the extremely bold decision to sign up for a recreational beach volleyball league at North Avenue Beach. The "Proxy Servers" had an impressive season, even making the play-offs... but we won't be quitting our day jobs anytime soon. We’ll stick to winning the Internet, not the volleyball net.

BMI June 2013

July

Our hard-working team enjoyed an afternoon away from the computer screens to catch a Cubs game at Wrigleyville Rooftops! Did we win or lose? No one can be sure.

Kim Armour reinvented the wheel in July as she introduced the Blue Magneteer Award to recognize a team member’s excellent achievement each month! Thanks to hard work and "mucho" dedication to a client in the Southwest, Account Manager Brittany Aller was the first to claim the much sought after title!

BMI July 2013

August

Drumroll please... in August Blue Magnet launched the first of many custom responsive sites that seamlessly breaks down to fit the user’s screen size: Crowne Plaza Wilmington North!

In other exciting news, Tim Dale was promoted to Account Manager and we welcomed two more Associate Account Managers to the Blue Magnet family. Happy to have you on board, Jourdan Dunn and Caroline Scanlon!

September

Blue Magnet took Chicago Social Media Week by storm in September. Team members attended a numerous educational sessions that discussed topics such as Google +, Social Media's correlation with SEO, and content marketing.

Amanda Diamond joined the Blue Magnet team to share her marketing expertise!

Yet another exciting responsive site launched: DoubleTree by Hilton Raleigh Brownstone - University

October

Andrea Mann spearheaded our second webinar alongside Revinate, "5 Ways Hoteliers Can Benefit From User-Generated Social Media Content."

We were also excited to welcome Chris Dean as our newest Associate Account Manager!

November

VFM Leonardo featured our very own Katharyn Vera in the "Ask an Expert" section of their 2014 Digital Marketing Strategies eBook. She provided valuable insight on questions such as, "How should hotels deal with '3 Screen' Marketing?" and "What hotel trends surprised you in a good or bad way in 2013?"

Andrea Mann offered Blue Magnet’s tricks of the trade as she spoke on a Social Media 3.0 panel at the North America Hotel Investment Conference hosted at the Hyatt Chicago.

Our project management team continues to launch beautifully designed responsive sites:  DoubleTree by Hilton Chicago - Oak Brook and Jimmy's On First

BMI November 2013 - VFM Ask the Expert

December

Kelsey took a trip to the Pacific Northwest to visit Embassy Suites Seattle - Bellevue and Embassy Suites Portland-Washington Square. This site visit was extra special since it allowed Kelsey to see one of her Facebook giveaways come full circle! Over the summer, Kelsey created, organized, and executed the "Love Wins Pride Package Giveaway" for Embassy Suites Seattle-Bellevue. LGBT couples shared their photos and stories for the chance to win a wedding ceremony! Kelsey was fortune enough to attend the winning couple’s wedding ceremony at the hotel!

BMI December 2013

If 2013 was any indication of what’s to come in 2014… well, then here at Blue Magnet Interactive, we are excited to take on another whirlwind of site launches, team members, and innovative marketing strategies as we enter our 8th year of business in the hotel online marketing world!

Stay connected to the Blue Magnet team on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram!

Here's to a successful 2014!

BMI Holiday gif

 

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As the world’s largest travel site, TripAdvisor is the go-to source for people planning their travel arrangements. With this in mind, it is clear that the glorious moment all independent hoteliers have been hoping for is finally here – the ability to bid against OTAs for placement in TripAdvisor hotel price comparison search through the new TripAdvisor Connect A.K.A. “TripConnect”. Previously, this opportunity was only available to OTAs and large hotel brands. So, is TripConnect worth the investment? And with the constraints of a limited budget, is there any way for independent hotels to actually beat out OTAs which typically have much larger budgets to allocate to paid-advertising initiatives like TripConnect? In this article, I will explain the requirements for participating in TripConnect and weigh the pros and cons for independent hoteliers bidding on placement.

I need a TripAdvisor Business Listing to participate in TripConnect – What is this?

As an independent hotelier interested in TripConnect, your first step is to verify that you currently have a TripAdvisor Business Listing, a prerequisite for participation in the TripConnect self-service bidding platform. TripAdvisor Business Listings launched in 2010 and allow businesses to add key property information to standard listings. With a Business Listing, hotels can optimize their property listing with unique special offers and contact information. With such a monumental shift to mobile in recent years, TripAdvisor has also been encouraging hoteliers to opt into “Business Listings + Mobile”, which allows hoteliers to include a mobile-only special offer on their hotel’s listing.

The pros for independent hoteliers

The features included in Business Listings allow independent properties to standout and compete against branded hotels, most of which have Business Listings. These listings include a link to your hotel website, contact information including phone number, special offers link, a special offers tag, photo slideshow, and an announcement. A link and phone number on your listing may not sound significant, but this is a simple way to drive relevant and interested traffic to your website or reservations center to increase non-commissioned bookings.

The cons for independent hoteliers

Most major hotel brands pay for Business Listings for all of the properties within the brand family as a means to increase traffic and open up new marketing opportunities. (The brands typically return on this investment by charging each hotel a commission for all bookings made on TripAdvisor.) However, TripAdvisor Business Listings can be extremely expensive for independent hotels that are not backed by a brand and are already investing their marketing dollars on other online channels. Pricing is tiered according to the location and number of rooms at the property. I ran a search for similar-sized properties in different markets and received the quotes below. 

TripAdvisor Business Pricing El Paso TripAdvisor Business Pricing Chicago
184 Room Hotel in El Paso, TX Business District 143 Room Hotel in Downtown Chicago Loop

There is a vast difference in cost for a hotel in El Paso, TX and a hotel in downtown Chicago. You can find the price to upgrade your hotel’s profile to a Business Listing online here.

What is TripAdvisor’s TripConnect?

Still in its initial phases, TripConnect rolled out in October 2013 and allows independent hotels to compete for placement in the TripAdvisor price comparison search. In the past, only OTAs and large hotel brands were able to bid for placement in the pricing search results that appear on individual property listings, city hotel search results, and on the mobile app. Now, independent hotels that use a certified internet booking engine and are paying for a TripAdvisor Business Listing can also participate in this pay-per-click program. This bidding model allows the hotel marketer to control the ad spend. There is no additional commission to TripAdvisor, rather you are paying each time the ad is clicked and the annual fee for the Business Listing. This is important to keep in mind as you compare ROI with other paid-search advertising outlets that are both pay-per-click and commission-based, like Expedia TravelAds.

How does the bidding process work?

As an independent hotelier, you are able to completely control bids and budget on the TripConnect platform, including the ability to adjust bids for mobile and desktop searches. You are also able to view a forecasted number of clicks and click-through rates based on the market, position, and other circumstances. Your branded competitors do not have this control on a hotel-level as brands generally bid on behalf of hotels and charge commission for bookings.

Price Comparison Results

Here's what the results look like for an independent hotel bidding for desktop and ranking 2nd for designated date in the TripAdvior price comparison search. 

Because TripConnect is still new, it is difficult to gauge the ROI for independent properties and determine how they will be able to compete against OTAs. I ran some test searches on TripAdvisor to see how independent hotels, branded hotels, and OTAs were ranking comparatively in the hotel price comparison results. First, I chose four markets to run my experiment - Boston, San Francisco, Seattle, and New Orleans. Then, for the top ten hotels in each market, I ran a search for the exact same date to determine which independent and branded hotels had Business Listings, which hotels were bidding on those dates, and how the hotel’s ad placement was ranking compared to those of OTAs. My findings were as follows:

Side Note: TripAdvisor’s Jetsetter (members-only private sale site for hotel bookings) also bids on placement within the search results, but I did not notice any preferential treatment.

It will certainly take some time to assess the value of TripConnect for independent hoteliers and their ability to bid against OTAs. From my casual experiment, it appears that at the time being OTAs are still monopolizing the top 3 results on the booking search results page for desktop and mobile, consistently ranking above branded or independent hotels. It also appears that a majority of independent hoteliers have not opted in to TripConnect and if they have, they do not have someone actively managing their bidding strategies as OTAs and brands do. It is also possible that the brands are adjusting their strategy by running select experiments in various markets rather than for all properties, thus not ranking against OTAs for the cities tested above.

Considering investing in a Business Listing and bidding with TripConnect?

Let’s Recap Pros and Cons

Key factors to consider before investing in TripConnect

  • Take advantage of the special offer space. If you’re an independent hotelier already investing in a Business Listing, you can highlight your lowest prices, or a “discount at hotel website”, in the Special Offers feature of the listing. By taking this route, your best price is featured at the top of the page, encouraging users to book with you rather than looking down the page at OTA prices. This can also eliminate the need to spend time with the PPC campaign. However, you will need to monitor this pricing to make sure it is actually more appealing than the OTAs which may be difficult if you have a dynamic pricing strategy.

         

  • How are people are using the mobile app? If your location is in the city center, you may not be ranking #1 in TripAdvisor, but your listing could appear prominently based on how people are searching within the app. This can mean that investing in a Business Listing is worthwhile even if only to get your phone number at the tips of a nearby searcher’s fingers.

I'm a TripAdvisor user searching for hotels nearby...

Business Listing provides compelling call-to-actions and contact information.

Regular TripAdvisor listing provides very little information or incentive to book.

 

 

 

  • What kind of partner is your booking engine? There are three tiers of TripConnect partnership – Premium, Plus, and Partner. It may not be worth investing in a Business Listing for the purpose of running a TripConnect PPC campaign if you can’t take advantage of the premium features.
    • TripConnect Premium Partners are able to bid for traffic, use automated review collection services, and take advantage of enhanced tracking features. Close to 90% of partners are signed up at the Premium level.
    • TripConnect Plus Partners are able to bid for traffic and take advantage of automated review collection services.
    • TripConnect Partners are only able to bid for search traffic.

See what level of partnership with TripConnect, if any, your reservation system has agreed to here.

Next Steps for Independent Hoteliers

Now that you are more familiar with TripAdvisor Business Listings and the new TripConnect program available to independent hoteliers, I suggest first assessing your ability to make a monetary investment and time commitment to the program. There unfortunately isn’t enough data yet to determine the ability to surpass OTAs’ price listings, but if you’re able to take risks and try something new in your online marketing strategy, it is an interesting new opportunity for independent hoteliers to explore. If you do not yet have a Business Listing, you will want to consider your hotel’s TripAdvisor ranking, your booking engine’s partnership with TripConnect, and the number of OTAs currently bidding on your property. Find more information, check out the TripAdvisor Business Listing website, or reach out to your hotel’s online marketing expert for their insight on your website traffic trends and booking engine details.

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How to Choose a Hotel Name

As you might have guessed from the title of this post, “What is the best name for my hotel?” is one of the most common questions that current and potential clients ask us. On top of that, a past post on this topic by my dearly departed colleague Ashley Boss (she’s not dead, she just doesn’t work for Blue Magnet anymore – the same thing in my book) is one of our most viewed posts. Add up these two facts, and it becomes pretty clear that hotel names are pretty important to hoteliers (hotel names, and ya know, money), and with good reason - a hotel's name greatly affects the way current and potential guests perceive the hotel and can have a huge impact on the hotel's performance. With all of this as well as the many big changes in the online marketing game over the past two years in mind, I figured the world was ready (perhaps even desperate) for an updated guide on how to best name a hotel. Giddy-up!

Rule #1 Do Pick a Name That is Relevant to Your Hotel

The first rule is the simplest and most obvious, but for that reason, often the most difficult to follow. There should be nothing easier than choosing a relevant name for your hotel. Just think about the essence of your hotel and then follow the simple formula: Brand Name/Independent Hotel Name + City + Relevant Descriptor = Hotel Name. Right? Unfortunately, in many cases, it is not so easy.

 It is a simple fact that location plays a huge part in a hotel’s success, both on and off-line; and in the online world, the importance of location often manifests itself in ways that can appear unfair. For instance, you could have two hotels across the street from each other but with postal addresses in two different cities, and because one of them has a bigger city in their name that hotel has the potential to rank better than the other for keywords related to the big city. In a case like this, a matter of 50 feet can seem like a million miles when viewed from a certain perspective, and it is just such a perspective that causes hoteliers to start stretching the truth in hotel name descriptors and ultimately give their hotels irrelevant names.

In the long run, giving your hotel an irrelevant name (e.g. including the word “Downtown” in the name of a hotel that is 20 miles outside of the city center) will produce two results. First, not only will your hotel never rank well for the irrelevant keyword included in the hotel name (see Rule #2 for more details), but also it is likely that your hotel will never rank as well as it should for the keywords that it is relevant for. Second, guests who didn’t check your actual location before booking will feel misled when they arrive at the hotel, leading them to leave negative reviews which will hurt your rankings and online performance even more.

To put it simply, give your hotel a name that accurately describes its location and includes one descriptor that reflects the most important characteristic of your hotel. Possible descriptors include directions, neighborhoods, nearby attractions, etc., just as long as they are relevant.

Rule #1 for appropriately naming your hotel is best applied to hotels before they open, so if your hotel is already open and you find yourself thinking, “If I change my hotel name to include [insert descriptor that is somewhat close to your hotel but that 20 other hotels are much more relevant for], I could probably rank better for X keyword”, then, my friend, Rule #2 is just for you!

Rule #2 Do Not Change Hotel Name Just for SEO Reasons

There are plenty of good reasons for changing a hotel’s name – rebranding your hotel, adapting to changes in the surrounding area, and fixing an irrelevant name are just a few of them; however, changing a hotel’s name just to try to perform better in search engine rankings is not only not a good reason, it is a downright bad reason. Allow me to explain.

A few years ago, changing your name for SEO was not a bad idea at all. Depending on your hotel and your market, changing your name to exactly include a valuable keyword phrase (e.g. “Downtown Chicago hotel”) could give you the competitive edge over similar hotels in your area or help you rank for location based terms that weren’t 100% relevant to your hotel. Over the years, I have seen many hotels benefit from having such phrases in their names. For instance many Embassy Suites hotels have ranked very well for Suites keywords because it is right there in the name. However for a few reasons, this is just not the case anymore.

First, exact keyword phrases are becoming less and less important as search engines (particularly Google) become more adept at understanding that searches for “Chicago hotels” and “hotels Chicago" are pretty much the same thing. In fact, over-use of exact phrases can actually harm your search engine performance.

Second, search engines have become much smarter at understanding where your hotel is located and are much less likely to believe you when you include an irrelevant location-based descriptor in your name. A disconnect between what your site tells search engines about your hotel and what search engines learn about your hotel from other sources can create issues with search engines properly understanding your hotel and site which can harm the trustworthiness of your site.

Third, Local SEO, something that barely existed a few years ago, has become of paramount importance to hotels, and one of the key elements in Local SEO is consistency of Name, Address, and Phone Number (NAP) in citations across the web. And as your embarrassed Auntie Milicent found out during the infamous “Cancun Debacle”, once something is on the internet, it is almost impossible to remove it. So every time a hotel changes its name (or flag – something else to consider), it becomes more and more difficult to maintain consistency in local citations.

So please, do not change your hotel name just for SEO, but if for whatever reason, you are going to change your hotel name, don’t do it without understanding Rule #3

Rule #3 Do Not Choose a Name that is Too Long

Before I go any further, I would like to make one thing clear – Just because I advise against choosing a certain hotel name only for its perceived SEO value does not mean that you should totally disregard SEO considerations when selecting a hotel name. If you have a pre-open hotel and you haven’t precisely figured out your hotel’s niche, looking into which terms internet users are searching for most can help you find the best way to brand your hotel. Or if you decide that you need to rebrand your hotel, it can be very useful to do keyword research to help choose between equally relevant descriptors or to determine the hotel name that will best fit the overall rebranding strategy. As long as you are not changing your hotel name just for SEO, there is nothing wrong with looking into keyword phrase search volumes when deciding on a name, just don’t make search volume the only or final consideration in your name changing process.

Now, you are probably asking, “What does the above paragraph have to do with Rule #3?” Given dispensation to take SEO into consideration when choosing a hotel name, some hoteliers might be tempted to stuff their hotel name with all sorts of relevant descriptors that have high search volume. I completely understand the impulse. “As long as the descriptors are relevant,” misguided, but good-intentioned hoteliers conjecture, “what is the harm in putting a bunch of them in my hotel name?” The harm is that it violates Rule #3 – Do Not Choose a Name that is Too Long. What is wrong with a long name, you ask? Let me count the ways.

First, as mentioned above, NAP consistency is an extremely important factor in Local SEO success, and every additional word in a hotel’s name increases the difficulty of maintaining that consistency. Some local listing sites and data aggregators have character limits for business names, which means that for some of these sites you will not be able to input all of a long name, which will automatically introduce inconsistency into your citations; not to mention that the local search universe is interconnected so a truncated name on one site can spread to other sites like malaria in a jungle. In addition, the longer your hotel name is the more likely it is that the name will be inputted incorrectly somewhere along the line, again adding to inconsistency.

Second, along with getting better at knowing exactly where your hotel is located, search engines are also getting better at knowing where everything else (attractions, businesses, neighborhoods, etc.) is located. Therefore, adding all sorts of descriptors to your name does nothing to help the search engines because they already know that you are close to those things, but it does makes your hotel name appear over-optimized and unnatural. This is what we in the business call the “Double Whammy”. If you want to rank well for all of the descriptors relevant to your hotel, don’t stuff them all in your hotel name. Instead, choose the most important one (1) to include in the hotel name, and then create pages on your hotel site with useful content about the additional descriptors. Search engines already largely know what is relevant to your hotel; your job is to prove to them that you are an authoritative and trustworthy source of information regarding those relevant topics, and stuffing your hotel name full of valuable descriptors is decidedly not the way to prove it.

Blue Magnet Golden Rule: Common Sense

Despite the beliefs of our respected colleague T.W. Adorno, common sense does not always reflect the hegemony of the consumer culture. Sometimes common sense is downright good sense, and in our fight to provide above-board strategies for great hotels, Blue Magnet has found that good old fashioned common sense is the often the best guide for creating successful, long-term strategies. If you look at potential hotel name and there is something awkward or off about it, it is probably violating one of the 3 Rules of Naming a Hotel and is certainly violating the rule of common sense. So remember – when choosing a hotel name, follow your heart and you shall prevail (or follow this handy formula:

Perfect Hotel Name = Brand Name (or Hotel Name for Independents) + City + One Relevant Descriptor

 ).

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Before building a website, you will have two options to discuss with your web developer: creating the site with or without a Content Management System (CMS). If you are not familiar with HTML coding, then I recommend you build your hotel's website with a CMS because it will provide a user-friendly interface that allows you to add or revise content and graphics much more easily than a site built without a CMS. A CMS typically integrates a formatting toolbar (similar to Microsoft Word's editing toolbar) into each page, allowing you to bold or italicize text, add hyperlinks or images, and arrange the page's layout without knowing HTML.

Custom CMS vs Open Source CMS

Once you understand the benefits of building your hotel's website on a CMS, you will need to determine whether you are going to use a custom CMS or an open source CMS. What's the difference? A custom CMS is a unique management system created and programmed in-house by a web development company, usually to simplify content updates for companies with very complex sites. An open source CMS, such as Wordpress, Joomla!, and Drupal, is a free content management system that has been developed and somewhat homogenized by web developers all over the world and is continuously supported and improved by the entire community that uses it. Many website development companies create a custom CMS, add branding to make it their proprietary CMS, and then build all of their clients' sites on it. A proprietary CMS is usually an over-simplified management system that is expected to make the daunting behind-the-scenes labyrinth of the interwebs seem extremely user-friendly, even moreso than an open source CMS. When you hear that a company can quickly deliver a website on their proprietary CMS, providing a foolproof solution for maintaining your site's content without knowing any HTML jargon, it's hard not to pull out your pen and sign on the dotted line. However, while working at Blue Magnet Interactive, I have learned the hard way that a website built on a propriety CMS will usually result in more trouble and accrue more costs in the long term than a website built on an open source CMS.

businessman-handcuffed-to-laptop-102913

Controlling the fate of your hotel's website

It is important to understand that building your hotel's website on an open source CMS allows the hotel to maintain full ownership of its site. Using a proprietary CMS gives the web development company full ownership and control over your hotel's site.

An open source CMS is continuously improved by the community of users, who all have a vested interest in enhancing the CMS framework, fixing bugs, correcting security flaws, and adding new usability or functionality features. A proprietary CMS relies on a single company for updates and improvements, so the fate of your website ultimately lies in the hands of that company.  If the company goes out of business, you will likely lose your website. If the company decides to discontinue their proprietary CMS product because it's no longer profitable, you will likely lose your website. If the company decides they no long want to work with you as a client, you will likely lose your website.

Of course, the client-vendor relationship works both ways. The website development company might build you a beautiful new website on a proprietary CMS, but what if your hotel decides to switch marketing vendors or take its marketing in-house? How will a change in vendors impact your website? Unfortunately, you will most likely be tied to the original agency that created your website on its proprietary CMS.  In some instances, you may be able to simply lease the use of the CMS while your hotel team manages and markets the site. You will essentially just be paying for the vendor to host your site and use their CMS. This scenario, however, comes with its own set of challenges.

For instance, while you will have some access to make basic content updates in the proprietary CMS, your capabilities will be extremely limited. Many proprietary CMSs will allow you to modify body text and some photography, but you are limited to those minimal changes. Considering many vendors design their CMS for simplified website editing, some of the most important features of your website may be hidden from the user's view, requiring you to call the original CMS company and pay a considerable hourly fee to make technical updates on your behalf. If your hotel or marketing team decides to target a new keyword, how can you update the meta-content to tackle this new SEO strategy? Chances are you can't -- at least not without the help of your previous vendor. How can you add tracking code to integrate Google Analytics? What if you want to add event tracking on all call-to-actions (check availability buttons or banner ads) so that your hotel can determine which special offers are performing exceptionally well and which packages may need some additional strategizing? More likely than not, you will have to jump through the same hoops and pay the same fee as I mentioned above. The point is: when your hotel's website is built on a proprietary CMS, you don't have control of your own website, so when you need to make changes, well, more often than not, you can't. At least not without paying the development company with whom you thought you had severed all ties.

Controlling the fate of your hotel's hosting

When building a website, you also need to consider how your site will be hosted. While this may not always be the case, it is likely that if a web company builds a site on a proprietary CMS, the company will also own the hosting for the site. It's possible, and perhaps likely, that you don't know or care where your site is being hosted; as long as your hotel's website is up and running smoothly so that guests can book a hotel room, you are content. However, these same "what if" scenarios that I brought to your attention previously will also apply to hosting. If you leave your current web development company for a new vendor, will the new vendor be able to access the hosting platform to troubleshoot if your website goes down? If you build a new 'things to do" page to replace an old events page, will your new vendor be able to access the correct file on the hosting cpanel to set up the proper redirect so that Google doesn't penalize you for duplicate content or index an outdated paged, both of which will negatively impact your SEO?

If not, your hotel and your new web team will still have to rely on your previous vendor to ensure that the technical SEO is up to Google's strict standards and that your website is properly functioning.

Why Blue Magnet Interactive designs websites on open source CMS platforms

Just last month a former client, who had recently relocated to a new hotel as the General Manager, called me up and said, "I'm firing my current online marketing company. I want Blue Magnet to take over our hotel's website. I need to impress the big guys fast! Can you make our crappy site look really hip and cool?" While I am ecstatic to hear that a former client wants to take his Blue Magnet team to his new hotel and Blue Magnet is excited to welcome new business, I was immediately hesitant to begin making promises until I could figure out the logistics of the previous vendor's proprietary CMS.

Fortunately for us, most marketing vendors that have transitioned hotel clients to Blue Magnet have been fairly cordial in the process, but why should they feel obligated to help transfer their client to a new web developer? In the case of my returning client, both the hotel and I were limited to using the parts of the proprietary CMS that only allowed for very basic changes to the body text and photos on the pages.  Unfortunately, this only gets you so far, particularly when you are responsible for improving the SEO of a site from a technical standpoint. After using my client's login information to peruse the proprietary CMS, I was dismayed to learn that there was very little I could do to improve their site without having access to the full code of the site. I could not make many aesthetic changes. I could not add new plug-ins or modules that might make the site load faster or might add a useful new feature. I could not access the meta-content to implement a fresh SEO strategy. I could not access the cpanel to fix any technical SEO issues or set up redirects.

Needless to say, the best solution I could offer my client was a brand new website built on an open source CMS and hosted on third-party hosting platform. Redesigning the site from scratch was more cost-effective and efficient than stripping out the old proprietary CMS to add an open source one (which would have created a Frankenstein of a site, patched together with duct tape). While the client was unhappy to learn that they would have to scrap their old site and start over, the benefits of having Blue Magnet design and manage a website built on an open source platform outweighed the negatives of remaining with their current marketing vendor.  If the hotel's website had been built on an open source CMS from the get-go, the transition between vendors would have been much more seamless and much less expensive, as it would likely not have required a completely new site build.

Designing and building websites on an open source design platform allows Blue Magnet to maintain transparency when working with our hotel clients. We do not own your hotel's website. Your hotel owns it. You can walk away with your website, and any web geek who knows how to use an open source CMS like Joomla, Drupal, or Wordpress can make content and technical changes to your website. All web designers are familiar, and many are experts, in these popular open source platforms that are regularly improved by the development community. Blue Magnet also does not lock you into hosting or mask hosting fees that leave you wondering what you are really paying for. Rather, we host your site on a third-party hosting company so that you can log-in at your convenience and take it with you, should you choose to. The bottom line? In my experience, a beautifully designed website built on an open source CMS and hosted on a third-party vendor will provide a transferrable website solution at a lower cost and will prove to be a valuable long term investment.

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