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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A hashtag (#) is a symbol that is being used across social media channels to organize, search, as well as expand the reach of different content. On June 12, 2013, the hashtag invaded Facebook. The pressure to stay relevant and the desire to fit in forced Facebook to succumb to the ever-popular hashtag. Since it originated on Twitter, I am inclined to compare the success of hashtags on Twitter to that of Facebook. Although a valiant effort, Facebook has not had the same success seamlessly integrating hashtags into their content as Twitter has had - at least thus far.

#LikeABoss

Why should you incorporate hashtags into your social media content? On Twitter, users incoroprate hashtags to categorize their tweets, create searchable terms, and form a sense of community around a particular topic. Below are 5 enticing reasons to appreciate the use of hashtags on Twitter:

  1. Organizing Topics- As seen in this screenshot below of the Twitter search result for #WaltDisneyWorld, hashtags make it easy to search for specific keywords or organize conversations surrounding a relevant topic. Grouping these phrases or terms is highly beneficial for brands targeting specific markets because they are able to include relevant hashtags in posts to expand their reach into a specific target market. #WaltDisneyWorld Search
  2. Creating Searchable Content- Since hashtags create clickable words, users are able to easily search for conversations related to a specific keyword or topic, allowing people to engage in online conversations with friends or strangers alike across the world. For example, if a guest was looking to stay at The Emily Morgan Hotel, they could search #EmilyMorganHotel to find out what other guests at the hotel have been saying on Twitter before deciding to book a room.
  3. Fostering a Sense of Community- Due to the fact that conversations are able to flow effortlessly around the globe, a sense of community is formed based on specific hashtags that are created for different events, experiences, or contests. These shared hashtags can include anything from phrases and locations to brands and performers. The example below is a conversation on Twitter that is utilizing #DuPageChat. This hashtag was used to discuss town happenings in DuPage County, upcoming events in the area, and residents’ questions in an effort to bring the community together.            #DuPageChat Twitter Search
  4. Expanding Reach- One of the greatest advantages of social media is its global reach. Using the hashtag effectively can broaden your reach because you are able to converse with people across the world who are discussing similar topics in a matter of seconds! As a hotelier, utilizing hashtags can bring in new business too! By monitoring location based hashtags such as #disneyhotel, hotels are able to reach people who are not brand loyal but know the area in which they are looking to travel. This is the perfect opportunity for a hotel to reach out to someone looking for a #disneyhotel and offer a 140 character sales pitch as to why they should stay at this particular hotel for their Disney vacation.
  5. Providing Customer Service- The hashtag is a great way for hotels to connect with their customers or audience. By monitoring hashtags that include your brand name, hotels are able to provide speedy customer service and respond to any questions or comments guests might have. For instance, if a guest tweets to the hotel asking if he or she will be able to watch a certain TV station in the guest room, the hotel can respond quickly with the information, providing stellar guest services!

#WhatWentWrong?

Ideally, the benefits of using hashtags on Twitter should roll over to Facebook seamlessly, but thus far, I do not think the hashtag has had the same impact on Facebook as it does on Twitter. Although the components of what makes a hashtag so beneficial that I outlined above still play a pivotal role across social channels, Facebook has had a difficult time successfully integrating the hashtag into it's platform. Here are some reasons why I think the hashtag is destined to be doomed on Facebook:

  1. Different Demographics - Twitter and Facebook are not attracting the same audience, as seen below in the infograph from Buffer. Facebook holds 67% of all social media users and has a much larger age range, while Twitter has 16% and holds a steady age range. Although the majority of both social media sites’ users range from ages 18-29, Facebook has notably more users in the 50-64 and 65+ than Twitter. This makes an impact when using a hashtag because the older generation does not typically adapt to technology as quickly as 18-29 year olds do. Terminology like twit instead of tweet, or calling it The Facebook (haven’t they seen The Social Network?! JT nixed the “The”!), doesn't seem to bode well to the future of the hashtag on the social networking mecca.socialmediademographics
  2. Misuse Can Lead to a Spammy Experience - As noted in my first point, it is easy for Facebook users to misuse hashtags. The improper use of the hashtag could lead to excessive hashtags in a post, irrelevant hashtags, or a combination of both. Since Facebook already has complaints of too much spam, the hashtag has the potential to inflate that issue. This will not only get annoying fast, but will also make Facebook look like a spammy mess, and no Facebook user wants that. Take for example this post from Berjaya Hotels & Resorts where 19 hashtags were used!
     Berjaya Hotels Excessive Hashtags In Facebook Posts
  3. Not Mobile-Friendly - When Facebook rolled out the hashtag early June, a couple of important features were missing - hashtags were not clickable in the comment sections (the centerpiece of the Facebook conversation platform) and no hashtags were clickable or searchable on mobile devices. Although they recently rolled out clickable hashtags in the comment section, hashtags are still not clickable or searchable on mobile devices. One of the benefits of a hashtag is that it provides users with relevant, timely information, and with more than 140 million Americans using smart phones to access social media, not having the ability to click and search hashtags on a phone totally negates this benefit for a large percentage of Facebook’s users. Facebook has mentioned that they hope to implement clickable mobile hashtags soon, but as of now, the lack of mobile compatability is still a major drawback for Facebook.*
     W Hotels Facebook Hashtag Search
  4. Privacy Settings Getting in the Way - The final straw in this crumbling attempt to execute hashtags on Facebook is Facebook’s privacy settings. When used on Facebook, hashtags will conform to the privacy settings that a user has set on his or her Facebook account. This means if you compose a status update about an “#AwesomeHotel” and your privacy settings limit your conversations to be viewed by only your friends, then only your friends are going to see that post, regardless of your hashtag usage. This takes away another main attraction of the hashtag, its global presence and ability to foster a community. If only a user’s friends can see their post about an “#AwesomeHotel,” your hotel will never even know that the guest wrote about the #AwesomeHotel on Facebook. Facebook’s complex privacy settings block any chance for the hashtag to have the impact on Facebook that it has on other sites. Although Twitter has similar privacy settings, people are less likely to implement them because of the nature of the social network. Facebook users tend to set strict privacy settings intentionally so they can communicate with family, friends, and acquaintances. It also doesn't help Facebook's case that users have compalined pretty loudly in the past about the lack of privacy on the social networking site. On Twitter, 64% of young adults have public profiles, 24% private, and 12% are unaware which type of profile they have. Twitter’s default setting is a public profile.

#AWorkInProgress

Facebook put forth a gallant effort to stay trendy by implementing the use of the hashtag. Unfortunately, I think that Facebook’s efforts thus far have fallen short on this trending topic. With the great probability of misuse, the lack of presence on mobile devices, and the rigorous privacy settings getting in the way of tracking information freely, the odds are against Facebook. Hashtags just don’t translate as well to the nature of Facebook as they do to the Twitter-verse. Facebook is a network for people to connect with acquaintances and friends, while Twitter is more commonly used for sharing news or conversing online with faceless strangers. However, if Facebook is able to adapt their strategy and integrate the hashtag successfully, meaning it becomes mobile-friendly and the older generation begins to understand the benefit and use of a hashtag, then Facebook may have the potential to allow users to categorize, sort, and filter their posts much more efficiently. That said, it is my opinion that Facebook should stick to what they know works well for the over 1.1 billion users they currently have, and that is not hashtags. It seems other Facebook users may share my sentiments on the hashtag - one user even began a public backlash with the invention of this Facebook page named "This is not Twitter. Hashtag's don't work here".

facebook-hashtag-facebookpage

 

*Update - Facebook has finally added some basic functionality on the mobile platform. Hashtags are now clickable on mobile devices, but users are still not able to proactively search for a particular hashtag. 

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I love Halloween for three reasons: candy, costumes, and television specials. So, with the approaching holiday in mind, I thought it may be timely to follow the Treehouse of Horror motif and explore the spookier aspects of online marketing. After digging deep beneath Google’s multicolored surface, I chose to shed some light on 4 Google tools that may creep out the average Internet surfer but can greatly benefit your hotel’s online marketing strategy.    

Google Adwords Remarketing

Have you ever wondered why Google keeps insisting you’re looking for single Jewish girls in your area? Or why a display ad featuring those Nike running shoes that you put in your online shopping cart and never purchased is repeatedly showing up on every website? You were most likely another target of Google Adword’s remarketing. This Adwords feature helps businesses serve extremely targeted ads to people who have previously visited their sites. The ads pull images or text that is relevant to particular individuals. For example, let’s say you read a review about a Hilton hotel in Chicago while on Expedia. You might then begin to see Expedia ads featuring the exact same Hilton hotel on Google’s search engine results or on various websites that are part of Google’s search network partners.

How To Use It:

First, you need to add remarketing tags to all the pages of your hotel’s website. When people visit that site but don’t complete a specified conversion in a certain time period, they will be added to a list. The lists are just collections of cookies from the people that have visited your site. Though the marketers cannot see what IP address those cookies are from, Google can, and Google uses that information to send remarketing ads.  The users on these remarketing lists will begin to see ads from the previously visited site through Google Display or Google Search networks until they do make a conversion within a given amount of time or exposures. It is important to create a separate ad group just for these remarketed potential customers to show them a specially tailored message.

Why Is It Creepy?

There is a fine line separating persistence from creepiness. Just like the weird guy that keeps insisting that you need to hang out, remarketing a message too many times can cause user aversion.

Google Remarketing Creepy Girlfriend

Why Is It Helpful?

While it can easily be seen as a creepy marketing tool, remarketing can help businesses successfully convert shoppers by pinpointing users who have expressed some kind of interest in a specific product and customizing the message delivered to them. Remarketing can be a great way to drive conversions, build awareness to your brand, and improve your ad campaign’s quality score. But just how effective is remarketing in the hospitality industry? According to Google, when Loews Hotels revamped their adword strategy to include remarketing, they saw an increase of 60% in revenue, a 57% lift in bookings, and a 9% lower cost per conversion.  A common rule of thumb is to assume that people visit 8-10 hotel sites before booking. If potential guests visit your site, don’t convert, but continue to see your hotel in display ads throughout the remainder of their search, they are more likely to be influenced to select your hotel in their final purchase decision.

Google Analytics

The amount of free “behind-the-scenes” data available in Google Analytics is astonishing. If you have Google Analytics installed on your website, you can monitor the most visited pages, traffic filtered down to the type of browser your visitors are using, time spent on every page, percentage of people making a designated conversion, along with many other useful variables and metrics. When you log into Google Analytics, you can even monitor in real time how many people are on your website at any given moment.

Dracula Loves Google Analytics

How To Use It:

Google Analytics is surprisingly easy to set up.  All you need to do is visit analytics.google.com to add your website and retrieve a snippet of code that is specific to your hotel. Then, have your web developer paste the snippet of tracking code in your website’s HTML right before the end of the tag. Google also provides easy instructions for setting up goals and event tracking on all your key performance indicators in your site.

Why Is It Creepy?

People tend to forget that marketers can see loads of information regarding how visitors interact with websites.  So, while I am lazily scrolling through endless Buzzfeed articles, my every movement is being silently observed, and my behavioral data is then interpreted to create new marketing strategies. Very sneaky, Buzzfeed.

Why Is It Helpful?

When a hotel nearly instantaneously receives the raw visitor data from their Google Analytics account, they can analyze the visitor behavior and improve their website to better serve their visitors. Google Analytics helps companies draw conclusions on how to make a better user experience, whether that means redesigning the main navigation to create a more intuitive visitor flow or developing a mobile site that is better optimized for your vastly growing mobile traffic. For example, if you saw a high bounce rate on your holiday specials landing page, it would raise a red flag because it may mean that visitors were not finding what they were looking for. Maybe your landing page did not have robust copy. Maybe it did not have enough relevant information about the amenities included and the package price point. Or, maybe you needed to implement a stronger call-to-action that clearly explained “click this button to book the limited time offer.” Every piece of data tells a story of how a user interacted with your site, so your hotel marketing team should continuously dive into the reports to better enhance your website’s performance.

Dynamic Keyword Insertion

Dynamic Keyword Insertion is another Google Adwords tactic that allows marketers to dynamically generate ad copy including exact words or phrases that the searcher typed into Google. The marketer can tell Google that it should replace the word “sneakers” with “running shoes” or “tennis shoes” in your ad copy if the search query included that exact word.

How To Use It

This pay-per-click advertising tactic works for text-based ads, local ads, and mobile ads across all Google networks. You can add the keyword insertion code with any component of your text ad: headline, description lines, display URL or destination URL. Simply include a snippet of code in your ad that will insert any keyword from your keyword list if it has been searched by someone on Google.

The code looks like this:

 {Keyword: Luxury} San Fran Hotel

Display URL: www.sfhotel.com/LuxuryHotel

Ad Copy Line 1

Ad Copy Line 2

 

The default text, “luxury,” will be used if a searched keyword exceeds your adwords character limit or if no search term triggers a match.

Why Is It Creepy?

The searchers are usually unaware of what is happening, so rather than understanding that Google is serving them a dynamically inserted keyword based on their query, the innocent Google users are seeing ads that seem to address the exact need that began their initial search.  Ads that name specific products or services instead of using broader, generic copy appear more trustworthy, thereby winning more clicks from unsuspecting Google users.

Why Is It Helpful?

Using dynamically inserted keywords will make the matched text in your ad bold, thus helping it stand out from the rest of the page. Because the ad looks more helpful and seems to exactly match the searcher’s query, it will increase your Click through Rate (CTR) and, in turn, raise your Quality Score. Marketers beware, though. If your ad is bringing people searching for “San Francisco hotels” to a landing page about your Oakland property, and those visitors are bouncing off your site, your Quality Score could actually be adversely affected. It’s best to use dynamically-inserted-keyword-tailored ads with a variety of keywords that already convert for your hotel.

Google+

The initially criticized social site has gained significance in the world of SEO recently.  Google has long been secretive about exactly what components contribute to their search algorithm. Though it hasn’t been confirmed, there is an eerie correlation between +1s and SERP ranking. Currently, if the user or somebody in the user’s circle has +1ed a particular hotel, that particular property will appear higher in Google’s search rankings.  

How To Use It:

Now, more than ever, it’s important for hotels to create a Google+ page, make it public, encourage guests to +1 the property, and boost your positive reviews. The Google+ page should also be merged with Google Places. This might happen automatically, or you may need to update to the newest Google Places listing. Merging these two should make it easier to control your hotel’s information and content.   

Why Is It Creepy?

I know what you’re thinking. How could Google+, the lovable loser of social networking sites, take creepiness to the next level? Here’s how. Starting November 11th, Google+ will roll out a new form of advertisements called Shared Endorsements. Shared Endorsements will use names, photos, and snippets of reviews from actual Google+ users in ads for different businesses. To be fair, there will be a way to opt out and Google will follow their privacy guidelines. In reality, the world’s leading social site, Facebook, already does something similar to shared endorsements with their sponsored stories, where brands pay Facebook to prominently display their pages to users whose friends have already like the page. 

Why Is It Useful?

Google+ is optimized for semantic relevance, an initiative of Google’s new algorithm Hummingbird. As time goes on, we can only assume that Google+ will play a larger role in SEO. Optimizing your hotel’s Google+ now will help your hotel stay ahead of the curve. 

Coming Up in Google’s Tales from the Crypt:

Google has a lot of things coming down the pipeline that seem to be ripped out of Larry Page’s science fiction novel. Though not necessarily related to hospitality online marketing, they are entertaining ideas nonetheless. Google Now is already up and running and can step in as your personal assistant instantly. While Google Glasses are still in their infancy, Google has already patented Pay-Per-Gaze, an ad model similar to pay-per-click that will monitor how long an ad is looked at and what sort of emotional response it produces. Finally and best of all, Google’s moon-shot program Calico is venturing into the medical field with the intention of increasing the human life span.

Eerie or Effective?

We are in the age of big-data. The more data available, the more effective marketers can be. With Google’s amazing free resources available to the public, every business should continuously tailor their online marketing strategies to their target audience.

One very important note remains. With great power comes great responsibility. Consumers are not idiots. If I have noticed these tactics, they have too. It’s important to stress transparent marketing, and use these tools to create the best user-experience possible. If you try to trick people, Google will catch you. If you provide great content and answers to real questions, Google will reward you. I’m willing to bet your consumers will reward you too.

Well, I hope you are all now sufficiently creeped out and equally impressed by Google. One thing that you learn very quickly in the world of SEO is that Google is always one step ahead. Unless someone can out “Google” Google, they are going to be a large part of our lives for years to come. The good news is, Google is dedicated to providing the next great products and services to its audience. Though sometimes it might not seem like it at first glance, Google abides by their unofficial motto: Don’t be Evil. 

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This morning I received a marketing email from Hertz car rental. Marketing emails are fine if I like the product and use it often. But in this case, I simply don't rent nearly enough cars to warrant registering in one of their rewards program. Somehow I had gotten on Hertz's email marketing list and I wanted out...now.  But it seemed as though the marketing team at Hertz had other plans for my desired unsubscription. This is where I quickly changed from "Matt the happy Hertz customer" to "Matt the happy Enterprise or Alamo or Dollar or [other car rental company here] customer." 

It all started off so well

I had just taken a two week vacation driving all across Italy, and upon my return it seems that Hertz wanted to reward me for my patronage by offering me 250 of their "bonus points" if I registered for their Gold Plus Rewards program. Typical email marketing stuff. I had had an excellent experience with Hertz over in Italy, despite the fact that the massive American super-sized car that they assigned to us completely dwarfed all the tiny Italian smart cars, Vespas and other toy-sized vehicles that are ubiquitous throughout the country.  Not to mention the fact that American-sized behemoth cars are ill suited for the extremely narrow, winding roads that carve through the cliffs of the Amalfi Coast.

So the car handled well, the Hertz folks were pleasant and helpful during the initial rental, and returning the car at the Marco Polo Airport's Hertz lot was a breeze. I was a happy Hertz customer and would probably rent a car from them again, which is a pretty significant feat for any company, considering I'm brand agnostic when it comes to things like car rentals. I usually select based on price--so the cheapest vehicle with 4 wheels will do.  I don't need to travel in style--I just need to cart myself from point A to point B.

The email follow up

Whether you're a car rental company, a hotel or any other business, email marketing can be a great way to reach your customers.  They can inform customers about special offers, discounts, policy changes, company improvements, new features, helpful tips or other useful information relevant to the business.  In Hertz's case, their email offered me some loyalty points in exchange for registering for their rewards program. 

hertz-rewards-email

But here's where Hertz took a wrong turn with their marketing.

How did I end up on this marketing list?

First of all, I never recall providing my email address to Hertz for the purposes of marketing.  Now, I know that I had to provide them with my email address as part of the rental process, but it seems I must have overlooked the fine print about how they can use my information to market to me. Bad move. I, like many folks, do not like being auto-enrolled in various marketing campaigns. If you want to add me to your distribution list, ask me.  If I write my email address on a rental form, then have a checkbox next to my email address that says "Check this box if you'd like to receive special offers from our company." If I like your company enough and use your products/services frequently then I will check the box.  If I'm not interested then I won't check the box. As a business, it's probably in your best interest to ask first because sending me unsolicited emails is likely a recipe for aggravation anyway.

Ugh. So, I fell into your marketing trap. Now how do I get out of it?

Ok fine. Hertz tricked me into signing up for their email campaign. Shame on me for not reading the unintelligible legalese in 5 point font. While I hate receiving unwanted emails, at least most companies give their customers an easy out: the unsubscribe link.  Ah yes, the unsubscribe link! The last hope a company has in redeeming themselves. You've forced me onto your marketing list, but for the love of all things holy, please let me go without a struggle. In the best scenario, which is fortunately more common these days, unsubscribing can be achieved with one click. The customer clicks the unsubscribe link in their email and it automatically opens a browser window that simply says that you're no longer on their list. Problem solved.

Unfortunately, some email programs make it more difficult to unsubscribe than a single click of the mouse. Sometimes clicking the unsubscribe link takes you to a webpage that requires that you uncheck a subscription box, retype your email address to confirm that it is indeed you who is unsubscribing, or sometimes you may have to log into your online account with the company in order to change your settings. All of these are frustrating for the user who just wants to escape the clutches of your marketing campaign. One click is all it should take to opt-out of unwanted email subscriptions.

Hertz, on the other hand, decided it would rather make it's customers jump through a few hoops before they let them have their freedom.  My first clue to the challenge that lay ahead of me was this friendly little paragraph at the bottom of their marketing email:

To stop receiving any electronic mail message from The Hertz Corporation and its subsidiaries, the primary purpose of which is the commercial advertisement or solicitation of a commercial product or service, please paste this address into your browser: unsubscribe.hertz.com.

That statement was clearly written by a lawyer. It is very formal and cumbersome, and it doesn't get to the point quickly or make it easy for the consumer to unsubscribe. The entire 39-word sentence could have easily been replaced with, "Click here to unsubscribe," and the same goal would have been achieved. 

Compare Hertz's message with the simplified version found on the MailChimp email marketing system:

This email was sent to someguy@anotherrandomdomain.com
why did I get this? | unsubscribe from this list | update subscription preferences

I removed the links from the excerpt above, but if I were to click the 3 underlined items they would take me to various options:  I can find out why I received this email; I can unsubscribe from this list; Or I can update my subscription preferences. 

If I'm ready to be done with this company once and for all, I can click the "unsubscribe from this list" link and this simple message pops up to greet me:

unsubscribe

This is perfect! One click to unsubscribe and it's over. No long, drawn out, painful goodbyes. I've made up my mind to leave and the company has opened the exit door for me. This is the way good email marketing should be done. No hassle. No frustration. No contempt for a company that tries to lock their customers into their email distribution lists. And, if I'm so inclined, I can explain my reason for unsubscribing by completing the optional survey.

Trying to escape

So, after receiving the Hertz loyalty reward email, I have decided to unsubscribe from Hertz emails altogether. I've parsed through the legalese in my Hertz promotional email and I've clicked the unsubscribe link. That's when this eyesore flashes onto my screen:

hertz-unsubscribe-form

It appears that Hertz, in an effort retain their email distribution list, has provided a 5-part unsubscribe form in hopes that customers will simply give up from exhaustion.  Let me break down for you the problems I have with this form:

  1. The title of this form is just awkward: "Control your receipt of email." Why not just call it "Email Preferences" or "Email Subscription"? This is already starting off down the wrong road.
  2. Worse yet, it's an entire form...to unsubscribe! I just want out.  If other companies can unsubscribe me in one click, surely a huge company like Hertz (and apparently its subsidiaries) should be able to do it as well.
  3. There is so much text.  If I'm already so frustrated with your email communication that I want out now, don't make this painful for me by forcing me to read 10 paragraphs of text.  The only words I should have to read are, "You have been successfully unsubscribed."
  4. In part A, why do I have to enter my email address twice? Most people don't go around unsubscribing other people just for the hell of it.
  5. In part B, there are two check boxes. I think I'm supposed to check the first box, but maybe I should check the second box too? But then it asks for my rewards number... If I don't have a rewards number, should I check it or uncheck it? Again, very vague instructions which makes it confusing to successfully unsubscribe.
  6. Part C is only relevant to travel agents, which doesn't pertain to me, so why is it even being displayed. If I unknowingly check this box and click submit I receive an error message. More confusion.
  7. Part D makes a similar statement to Part B. Why do I have to check both boxes to unsubscribe if they seem to have the same purpose? Duplicate effort, and more time wasted.
  8. Finally, the entire form is just not written in a user-friendly, customer tone. As I read this I feel as though I'm signing a contract. I'm no longer a customer. Hertz has made me feel like a threat by trying to cover all their liabilities with their legalese. Customers hate reading this crap. Write to me as though you're writing to another human being. The last paragraph (part E) highlights this confusing legal jargon perfectly. I really had to think about whether or not the information I was about to submit was being done in "good faith for purposes of accomplishing the foregoing."  "Accomplishing the foregoing"?

The consequences of trapping your customers

As a consumer, I should not have had to go through all of these unnecessary hurdles just to avoid being hassled with unwanted emails. If you run a company that uses emails to market to your customers, then remember to keep the consumer's best interests in mind throughout the entire email marketing campaign. Making it as cumbersome as possible for your customers to gracefully exit your marketing messages is not a way to grow customer databases.

We never recommend that our hotel clients purchase email distributions lists for a similar reason: those people didn't sign up to receive emails from your business. They are unqualified. And while purchasing email addresses from marketing companies can certainly inflate the size of your email distribution lists, you are ultimately marketing your company to disinterested people who may not even be familiar with your product. Making it hard for those users to then exit your marketing trap only compounds the damage you're ultimately doing to your brand reputation. And in the world of online social sharing, your reputation can change in a heartbeat.

If you present your customers with the option to join your email distribution list (rather than forcing them onto your email list) and if you give them an easy way to opt out of your marketing campaigns, you will prevent that person from going from a disinterested customer to a frustrated and angry former customer--and one who is now looking to your competitor as the more accommodating option. Trapping your customers is never a good solution. It only pisses them off. As the saying goes: if it's truly love, set it free; and if it returns you'll know it was meant to be. And so it goes with your customers.

So Hertz, thanks for my travels throughout Italy, but this is the last time you'll be taking me for a ride. 

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