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) 

White Button

 

Red Button Variation (B) 

Red Button 

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 Graph

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. Make an educated change to the page
  2. Set up an A/B test
  3. Track how the change impacts visitor behavior
  4. Implement the improved version
  5. Repeat

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:

  1. Go to the Behavior tab in your Google Analytics account
    BehaviorTab
  2. Select "Experiements"
  3. Click "Create New Experiment"
    create new experiment
  4. Follow along with the questions
    a/b experiment questions

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.

  

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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.

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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.

Presentation Deck

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.



Is your hotel on a diet? If you need help determining the best online marketing strategy for your hotel, please contact us. Tweet your questions or comments to @Blue_Magnet.

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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.

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There are countless blogs, articles, and presentations about the importance of mobile channels and mobile optimization for hotels, so I will not repeat that information in this article. Indeed, most hoteliers who I talk to do not need any more convincing that they need a mobile solution; instead, they are much more concerned with making sense of the overwhelming amount of mobile information and products that they encounter and ultimately choosing the right solution for their hotel. In order to assist hoteliers who are drowning in this sea of contradictory and confusing arguments, pitches, and claims; I will attempt to give a simple breakdown of the two essential forms of mobile-optimized websites - Sites that use responsive design and sites that use separate mobile URLs.

The Basics

There are two basic ideas that you need to understand in order to effectively evaluate mobile solutions and products. First, there is no single "correct" way to build a mobile website, and anyone who tells you otherwise will probably coincidentally be selling a product that uses that supposed "correct" way. Second, as with most facets of online marketing, there are countless different terms and variations that companies use to differentiate their products and impress consumers; however when you boil it down there are only two basic forms of mobile websites - responsively designed sites and sites with separate mobile pages. These two forms come in many variations and levels of quality, but, generally, both are equally viable. Here is how to spot each kind of site:

Responsive Design

At its core, responsive design simply refers to websites that, without changing the URL, rearrange or reformat pages based on how users view the site. There are many different ways that responsive design can be accomplished. It can be based on the type of device a user is browsing on (smartphone vs. desktop computer) or on the size of their screen. It can be done by adjusting the formatting of the site with css files or it can be done by sending completely different code for a single URL depending on a user's device. Responsive design can also be called adaptive design, RESS (Responsive Design with Server Side Elements), or a number of other variations. Regardless of what it is called, if your site looks different when viewed on a mobile device than it does when viewed on a desktop computer but the URL does not change, your site uses responsive design. If the URL changes or the site looks the same, you do not have a responsively designed site.
biltmore-mobile-vs-tablet-vs-desktop

Responsively Designed Website


Separate Mobile Pages

Websites with separate mobile pages have two or three different versions of its pages, each with different URLs, and directs users to the appropriate version based on what kind of device they are using (e.g. desktop, tablet, or mobile). If you see a URL that begins with "m." (such as http://m.hilton.com/mt/www3.hilton.com/en/index.html) or contains "/m/" (such as www.hamptonnashvilledowntown.com/m/), you are likely on the mobile version of a site that uses separate mobile pages. Another common feature of this kind of site, is a link somewhere on the page that says something like, "Return to Full Site", which allows you to navigate to the desktop version of the site. Responsively designed sites do not require this function because there is only one version of the site. Because of these two predominant features, it is easy to quickly identify sites that use separate mobile pages, and remember - no matter what anybody tells you, if your site has separate URLs for its mobile pages, it is not responsively designed.
satemdt-mobile-vs-desktop

Separate Mobile Site & Desktop Site


Which Method is Better?

Even if you understand the basic difference between the two methods of building mobile optimized websites, it can be hard to determine which method to use for your site. Many companies and bloggers claim that responsive design is the "correct" or "best" way to build a mobile optimized website, and indeed at Blue Magnet Interactive, we do build most of our sites with responsive design; however, as I mentioned earlier, there is no one proper way to build a mobile optimized website, and the most important thing to determine is which method will work best for your hotel, not which method is "better."

The biggest reason that so many people claim that responsive design is the best method is that Google recommends using it; however, what they neglect to mention is that Google also fully supports sites with separate mobile pages and treats both kinds of sites identically as long as they are configured properly. One of the main reasons that Google recommends responsive design is that it is less complex to configure and manage than separate mobile pages; however sometimes the added flexibility and complexity of separate mobile sites make it a better choice for some hotels, and throughout its guidelines, Google makes it clear that responsive design is probably the right choice for most sites, not all sites.

I could go through all of the strengths and weaknesses of each method one by one, but there are already countless articles that do just that, and despite the semicolons, this article is supposed to be about simplicity. In the end although there are just the two main kinds of mobile optimized websites, the intricacies of each method can be quite complicated, so if you are looking for a mobile solution, ask prospective eCommerce partners what options they provide and what their recommendation is for your particular hotel. If they only have one option and insist that it is the "correct" or "best" method or if they claim their sites are responsive but show you examples of sites with separate mobile URLs (or vice versa), this can indicate that they either do not truly understand the complexities of mobile sites or are trying to sell you a product that might not be right for your hotel and you might want to think twice about signing up with them. Instead, look for a partner that provides clearly delineated options, can easily demonstrate the differences between the options, and can tell you which one they think is best for your hotel and why.

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Wouldn’t it be nice if business was thriving year-round? Unfortunately, with seasonality and market conditions, most businesses witness an inevitable slow period. For hotels, the dreaded slow period is evident when there are many more room vacancies than occupancies. Although the slow period will differ from hotel to hotel and reasons may vary, nearly every hotel is affected by it at some point. If you review your hotel’s forecast for the year and identify times that occupancy is consistently low, you can carve out strategies to boost revenue and increase occupancy throughout that time of the year. In this blog, I will provide several targeted strategies for increasing occupancy during your hotel’s recurring need dates.

Create Targeted Hotel Need Date Strategies in Advance

The first step to success is advanced planning. When you anticipate need dates in advance, there is more time to develop effective strategies to drive room bookings during your need date periods. Whether you have been at the hotel for several years and are familiar with the hotel’s ebbs and flows of occupancy, or you have analyzed your hotel’s annual forecasting reports, you should be familiar with which weeks, weekends or even months your hotel tends to be slow each year. Now, look at some of the obvious need periods that are at least 60-90+ days out and bring your marketing team into the conversation to begin some market research! Below are some questions to consider as you begin researching the local area and market:

  • Are there any local events happening during this need date period? Look on your local CVB’s website for an annual event calendar and search on Google for upcoming music festivals, state fairs, restaurant weeks, and parades. Compile a list of key events that cater to your hotel’s target demographic and determine which of those events fall within your need date period. How can your hotel leverage these events? Perhaps the hotel can offer a special deal specific to event-goers, such as a discounted rate. Simply have guests show their ticket stub or receipt from your chosen local event to receive the discounted rate. Since your guests most likely booked online in advance prior to attending the event, you can offer them a credit on the room upon checkout. Chances are your guests are visiting your city to explore local events, so encourage them to choose your hotel by offering an amazing deal. A local event partnership will not only encourage visitors to choose your hotel over your competitors, but it will also fill need date vacancies.
  • Are there any popular attractions celebrating anniversaries or offering special exhibitions during this need date period? As you are compiling the above list of local events, note any special occasions or happenings that may offer unique marketing opportunities. For example, is the zoo is celebrating their 50th anniversary or is the museum bringing in a special Egyptian exhibit? If so, you can reach out to the attraction and inquire about becoming the “official hotel” of the attraction’s celebration. You will most likely have to pay for this type of sponsorship, but partnering with a popular attraction during a big celebration will get you a link on the attraction’s website as their “preferred hotel” or “official hotel”. As the “official hotel” of the special event, your hotel will also receive additional advertising exposure through collateral used to promote the celebration. While the website link and advertising exposure will be valuable, it is important to take it one step further and create something that will really drive potential guests to your hotel. For example, your hotel could offer free roundtrip transportation to the attraction or discounted tickets available for purchase at the hotel. Be sure to get ahead of the game and research these key anniversaries in advance, before competitors swoop in and grab the “official hotel” title.
  • Do you have a lot of repeat or loyal guests? If so, create a “Refer a Friend” special offer during this need date period. Whether it is due to the excellent customer service and amenities at your hotel or your hotel’s proximity to a local attraction, your guests who visit multiple times are coming back for a reason. Develop a promotion that will encourage guests and their friends to want to stay with your hotel during a specific time period. Create a “Refer a Friend” promotion where previous guests can refer a new guest and receive a discounted rate on their next visit for doing so. The new guest will also receive a discounted rate during the specified period. Make sure to specify that blackout dates may apply, giving your hotel the flexibility to only offer the discounted rate during need periods. Creating a “Refer a Friend” need date strategy will encourage repeat guests and word-of-mouth referrals, which will ultimately fill rooms during your need date period. 

Through first-hand experience, established connections within the area, and market research, your hotel will be able to maximize revenue by taking advantage of special local events, new exhibits, or important anniversaries and celebrations. Keep in mind that it is essential to plan ahead and give your entire team enough time to develop targeted strategies specific to the market and local area.

Effectively Market Your Hotel’s Need Date Strategies

Now that you’ve developed a targeted need date strategy to drive business during your slow period, it’s time to effectively market your hotel’s strategy to your intended audience. It’s important to utilize multiple online marketing channels, including: your hotel’s vanity website, PPC, social media, and email marketing to get as much visibility as possible.

  • Use the real estate on your hotel’s vanity site. While brand sites have the same standard pages for all hotels within that brand family (dining, rooms & suites, amenities, etc.), vanity sites provide more flexibility for hotels to create landing pages with unique content. A landing page offers more opportunity for your hotel to target a niche audience by focusing on a certain topic specific to your hotel or local area. For example, if your hotel is pet-friendly and you receive a lot of questions on the topic, you may find it valuable to create a pet-friendly landing page on your vanity site that hosts all of the pertinent information, including: size restriction, fees, available amenities, and nearby parks. This pet-friendly landing page would ideally target a niche community - guests that bring their pets on vacation and actively search for pet-friendly accommodations. When a guest lands on the niche page that highlights the hotel as a pet-friendly property and serves as a one-stop shop for pet lovers, it will likely have a high-conversion rate. This same logic can be applied to your need date strategy. Create a unique landing page to market the hotel’s attractive offering, whether it’s the official hotel partnership or your new “Refer a Friend” program. Be sure to promote your new landing page on your website with a compelling banner on the homepage to increase visibility and reach more potential guests. The screenshot below shows a hotel using their vanity site’s prime real estate to maximize exposure for the unique gas card promotion. The large banner ad on the homepage points to a page containing more information, drawing the user further into the vanity site.

Need Date Strategy

  • Invest in a targeted pay-per-click (PPC) campaign, which will drive quality traffic to your new landing page, and will ultimately lead to bookings. A PPC campaign allows you to get in front of online shoppers that are searching relevant queries and direct them to any destination on your website. You select the relevant keywords to target, and you can also narrow down the ad’s reach by factors, such as type of device (mobile, tablet, PC) or location (zip code, state, country). Since you only pay for the ads people click on, PPC is a very cost-effective yet targeted way to reach the right audience. It can take time for Google to index your new landing page and rank it high in the SERPs organically, but PPC ads will allow your new landing page to appear in top placement in Google’s results right away. Therefore, it’s highly beneficial to launch a targeted PPC campaign solely focused on the hotel’s new special deal for a need date period to drive quality traffic to the landing page immediately!
  • Promote your need date strategy to your loyal following on social media. By posting on your hotel’s Facebook and Twitter pages you will be able to quickly reach your hotel’s followers, with the potential to reach many more people through likes, comments, and shares. The social media posts can announce your new local partnership or “Refer a Friend” program, or share important information on the specific need date strategy. The screenshot below displays a hotel utilizing social media to market a special package in order to direct interested followers to the hotel’s website to book their stay. Without spending any money to boost the post’s reach, this post organically reached 785 people that may not have known about the package otherwise.
  • Social Media Strategy

If your hotel is looking to reach a larger audience, consider putting money towards boosting a specific post or creating Facebook ads. Facebook ads provide incredible targeting capabilities, allowing you to stretch your hotel’s budget and only reach your hotel’s desired audience. Through Facebook ads you are able to target people who live in a certain area or who have certain interests. So, if your hotel was a sponsor for the city’s Gay Pride festival, you could create Facebook ads proclaiming your hotel’s Pride partnership and target the ad to reach the LGBT community within 25 miles of your hotel. By utilizing Facebook posts, boosted posts, and advertising you will be able to market your need date strategy to a targeted audience that is more likely to convert.

  • Increase exposure within a targeted audience through email marketing campaigns. For example, if your hotel is looking to promote your new “Refer a Friend” program you could create a visually captivating design with thorough copy describing the “Refer a Friend” incentive. Since the point of this need date strategy is to have returning guests refer their friends to stay at your hotel, consider using hotel pictures and guest testimonials to enhance your campagn. After you have created a visually appealing and informational email campaign, send it to your hotel’s email list. Since they have opted-in to your hotel’s emails, they should be eager to learn about deals and discounts. Make sure your email has a clear call-to-action, such as a “book this weekday rate by May 5” or “enter promo code X for 20% discount” so that recipients understand what you want them to do upon reading it. Email campaigns are the perfect way to get your new need date package directly in front of your loyal guests.
  • We know that slow periods are exhausting and often inevitable, but it’s important to look at your new need date period as an opportunity to get creative and explore new possibilities, local partnerships, and marketing strategies. If you are able to provide your hotel’s sales, marketing, and revenue teams with enough advanced notice about looming need periods, you will be able to research, develop, and implement effective and targeted strategies to increase occupancy during slow periods.

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At Blue Magnet Interactive, we're only as good as our moms claim that we are. Luckily for us, our moms all seem to think we're pretty great… but do they have any clue what we actually do at work? When they brag to their friends about their very own "SEO expert," do they think their kid is optimizing sites for search engines or officiating social experiences? On this Mother's Day, we decided to put our lovely moms and grandmas to the test. See how well the moms and grandmas behind Blue Magnet Interactive understand the ins-and-outs of online marketing. 

Inspired by Moz's blog How My Mom Thinks Search Engines Work, we ventured out to see if our moms knew what SEO, PPC, and hashtags are.


If you need a reference before partnering with Blue Magnet Interactive, just call one of our moms. We promise they'll give an unbiased review of how amazing we are at SEO, PPC, and social media. Thank you, Mom! Happy Mother's Day!

See Also: Meet Kelsey's MomMeet Tim's MomMeet Jourdan's Nana

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Digg!Reddit!Facebook!StumbleUpon! Twitter

At Blue Magnet Interactive, we're only as good as our moms claim that we are. Luckily for us, our moms all seem to think we're pretty great… but do they have any clue what we actually do at work? When they brag to their friends about their very own "SEO expert" , do they think their kid is optimizing sites for search engines or officiating social experiences? On this Mother's Day, we decided to put our lovely moms and grandmas to the test. See how well the moms and grandmas behind Blue Magnet Interactive understand the ins-and-outs of online marketing. 

*Questions adapted from Moz's blog: "How My Mom Thinks Search Engines Work"

Jourdan Mothers Day Photo

1. What do you think I do at work all day?

Jourdan's Nana: I really don't know.

2. What does SEO stand for?

Jourdan's Nana: I don't know but I think it has to do with key words.

3. What does PPC stand for?

Jourdan's Nana: I don't know.

4. What is a Hashtag?

Jourdan's Nana: I don't know but in my day we called it pound sign.

5. If you were looking for a mechanic close to you, what would you do?

Jourdan's Nana: Search internet for mechanics in my city where I live or closest to me.

6. If you were looking for advice on how to train a dog to stop barking, what would you search for?

Jourdan's NanaA dog trainer of behavior modification?

7. How far down the page on the search results will you look?

Jourdan's Nana: First or second page.

8. If you don't like the results for those searches, what would you do differently in your second search?

Jourdan's Nana: Be more specific in what type of services I was looking for.

9. How do search engines like Google decide who to put at the top of a search result?

Jourdan's Nana: I don't know for sure, maybe the customer pays to be on top?

10. How do search engines make money?

Jourdan's Nana: I don't know.

11. If you owned a small flower shop, how would you try and get to the front page of Google for when people searched "fresh flowers"?

Jourdan's Nana: Be specific or write a lot about my fresh flowers in the business?

 


If you need a reference before partnering with Blue Magnet Interactive, just call one of our moms. We promise they'll give an unbiased review of how amazing we are at SEO, PPC, and social media. Thank you, Mom! Happy Mother's Day!

See Also: A Mother's Day Tribute (VIDEO)Meet Kelsey's MomMeet Tim's Mom

 

Digg!Reddit!Facebook!StumbleUpon! Twitter

At Blue Magnet Interactive, we're only as good as our moms claim that we are. Luckily for us, our moms all seem to think we're pretty great… but do they have any clue what we actually do at work? When they brag to their friends about their very own "SEO expert" , do they think their kid is optimizing sites for search engines or officiating social experiences? On this Mother's Day, we decided to put our moms to the test. See how well the moms behind Blue Magnet Interactive understand the ins-and-outs of online marketing. 

*Questions adapted from Moz's blog: "How My Mom Thinks Search Engines Work"

Tims Mothers Day Photo

 

1. What do you think I do at work all day?

Tim's Mom: Well, I think you work at your computer! How am I doing so far? Is it something about social media marketing for the hotel industry? That's what I always tell my friends.

2. What does SEO stand for?

Tim's Mom: A stab in the dark: SEO=social executive officer (party planner).

3. What does PPC stand for?

Tim's Mom: PPC= professional personal computer (work computer)

4. How do search engines like Google decide who to put at the top of a search result?

Tim's Mom: Show me the money!

5. How do search engines make money?

Tim's Mom:Counting the number of clicks on their listings?

6. If you owned a small flower shop, how would you try and get to the front page of Google for when people searched "fresh flowers"?

Tim's Mom: Pay someone big bucks !$!$!

 


If you need a reference before partnering with Blue Magnet Interactive, just call one of our moms. We promise they'll give an unbiased review of how amazing we are at SEOPPC, and social media. Thank you, Mom! Happy Mother's Day!

See Also: A Mother's Day Tribute (VIDEO)Meet Kelsey's MomMeet Jourdan's Nana

 

Digg!Reddit!Facebook!StumbleUpon! Twitter

At Blue Magnet Interactive, we're only as good as our moms claim that we are. Luckily for us, our moms all seem to think we're pretty great… but do they have any clue what we actually do at work? When they brag to their friends about their very own "SEO expert", do they think their kid is optimizing sites for search engines or officiating social experiences? On this Mother's Day, we decided to put our moms to the test. See how well the moms behind Blue Magnet Interactive understand the ins-and-outs of online marketing. 

*Questions adapted from Moz's blog: "How My Mom Thinks Search Engines Work"

KelseysMothersDayPhoto

 

1. What do you think I do at work all day?

Kelsey's Mom: I think you do many things at work - I suspect you approach what you do using some of the knowledge and experiences which you have learned in college, some from life, some from your family and a lot because you are an incredibly intuitive, gifted and creative person. I expect you work with great passion and focus…hopefully not too intensely, as you can be a bit intense at times when you are passionate about something - also you're kind of a big deal.

What you actually DO? Well, I think it is in marketing, account management and relatively technical. You work supporting clients who are hoteliers or their management groups in the hospitality industry. You provide advice on having an internet presence, implementation and ongoing use of their websites, you may even design a portion of them and then report back on the analytics received by the website.

I think a big portion of your account management role is in relationship management - specifically when working with the clients to not only understand their business and their needs, but communicating with them regularly and keeping them updated on what's happening in your space and how it can apply to their success - it's all about REVPAR. Yeah, I know that term HA!

2. What does SEO stand for?

Kelsey's Mom: Service Excellence Office - anyway that is what it is where I work. Otherwise, I have no idea.

3. What does PPC stand for?

Kelsey's Mom: I can think of two things - Presales Price Calculator - which I use to price services at work or Project Plan Coordinator - which is also a role of someone at work who oversees status of projects and their documentation. Bet that is not what you are looking for.

4. What is a Hashtag?

Kelsey's Mom: When I was growing up it was something left in the bottom of a bowl you smoked…of course I never did that ;) but that's what I heard. Today is it an overused phrase for the number sign, #, which can be overly annoying when talking to people under 21.

5. If you were looking for a mechanic close to you, what would you do?

Kelsey's Mom: Talk to my close friends on who they use for a mechanic - depending, of course, on how well their cars run. I have one friend whose car is trashed - they LOVE their mechanic - I would never go there.

6. If you were looking for advice on how to train a dog to stop barking, what would you search for?

Kelsey's Mom: My slipper or a rolled newspaper.

7. How far down the page on the search results will you look?

Kelsey's Mom: I read the first three sentences - if you don't have my interest by then you won't.

8. If you don't like the results for those searches, what would you do differently in your second search?

Kelsey's Mom: Flip the words around - so instead of "Mothers Day" I would rerun it as "Day Mothers" - always interesting to see what happens.

9. How do search engines like Google decide who to put at the top of a search result?

Kelsey's Mom: I'm certain it has to do with a combination of who pays for what advertising and analytics on hits for pages that are more popular than others.

10. How do search engines make money?

Kelsey's Mom: I suspect selling space on their pages….or their souls like the rest of corporate America.

11. If you owned a small flower shop, how would you try and get to the front page of Google for when people searched "fresh flowers"?

Kelsey's Mom: Well I would ask Google how much does it cost to get to the front page and then decide if it fit my budget or just take my chances.


If you need a reference before partnering with Blue Magnet Interactive, just call one of our moms. We promise they'll give an unbiased review of how amazing we are at SEOPPC, and social media. Thank you, Mom! Happy Mother's Day!

See Also: A Mother's Day Tribute (VIDEO), Meet Tim's Mom, Meet Jourdan's Nana

 

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