Posted in Social Media on April 05, 2013 by Tim Dale
Recently, Mark Zuckerberg and his crew released their third pillar to the ever-changing Facebook platform with Graph Search. Joining the Newsfeed and Timeline, Graph Search was born into a lot of hype, questions, and concerns about its impact on online searches, marketing, and privacy.
Good people of the Hotel Industry, let me guide you through what this means for your business.
Graph Search Overview
First, let’s get acquainted with Graph Search. If there is one thing the Zucklehead wants you to know, it’s that Graph Search is not a search engine. However, Graph search does represent Facebook’s larger efforts to move from just communication sharing to information sharing. With Graph Search, searching for a term will generate relevant results from friends, places, and pages that already exist. For example: you can search something like “friends who like British Airways” or “people that like Florida and live in Chicago” and people that fit that query will appear. The thing that truly makes Graph Search interesting and important to marketers is that the searches being conducted on Facebook are chock-full of intent. The searches are basically polling their friends for suggestions on what to buy, watch, do, etc. This presents huge opportunities to advertisers that can now target audiences at incredible new levels. For example: Joe’s Bed and Breakfast could now advertise to current customers’ friends who are in the market to go on a vacation.
Why It’s Important to Hotels
If I didn’t hook you there, listen up because it gets better. Why should you care? Because Facebook cares. Facebook views travel as inherently social, and they plan on playing a larger role in years to come. They have already taken their first step by hiring the first Head of Travel, Lee McCabe.
Now, we’ve all seen The Social Network so we know Zuckerberg is a smart guy. He’s proving it here again by going after the travel industry with the Graph Search. Where the Graph Search fails with some industries, it fits perfectly with hotels. Google search is probably better suited for inquires about things like doctors or dentists, but hotels are a different beast all together. Graph Search works because people love to share pictures from vacations and talk about their stays. Therefore, finding a hotel based on your friends’ preferences comes naturally.
Here’s where Facebook gets a little creepy. Marketers can also use Graph Search to learn the likes and dislikes of their audience as well as their competitor’s audience. You can search what books they like, what kind of music they enjoy, where they have traveled recently, etc. Once that data is collected, you can base a whole social media strategy off it. Another thing Graph Search enables hotels to do is the see the “check-in’s” and photos tagged at the hotel. These used to be invisible to us as marketers, but by the mighty hand of Zuck, we can now see what kind of information is being shared about our hotel.
Finally, searching has become social. With Graph Search, a higher potential reach can be achieved through user searches. If you are still doubtful that people will actually use Facebook to plan their vacation, I’ve got news for you. It’s already the third most popular use for the Graph Search behind searching for friends and photos. So why is the Graph Search important to hotels? Because people are using it to find hotels. Facebook is right, travel is social, and travelers trust their friends’ opinions. The Graph Search can show them “likes” where search engines like Google can only show them links.
Now that we have established Graph Search as a legitimate contributor to online hotel marketing, you may be asking yourself what your hotel should do. The main thing that you need to do is to make sure your page is categorized as “hotels.” It seems simple because it is, but without the correct category, your business won’t be showing up in searches for hotels.
Besides that, things haven’t changed too much in the Facebook game. You still need to optimize your page with cover photos, regular posts, and interaction, and you still need to create an active and engaged audience. Though, the Graph Search does give extra motivation to boost your page’s “likes.” To Facebook, the number of “likes” a page has is an indication of the business’s credibility. Think of it as the wisdom of the masses. Similar to a yelp listing with many positive reviews, pages with more “likes” will be given preference in the search results.
Wrap It Up
In conclusion, no, Facebook will not replace Google. Graph Search is Facebook’s long-term project aimed at bringing a social experience to online searches. Things aren’t very different yet, but that will change. Graph Search has given us a glimpse into the future and a new understanding of what direction the industry is heading. It seems inevitable that the social search will stick around, and just as many methods of online searching before it, it will evolve and take on more importance. As the online travel sector grows increasingly competitive, the more you know and prepare now to optimize your Graph Search visibility, the more successful you will be in the future.
Posted in SEO on February 11, 2013 by Matt Bitzer
It's been so long since we last contributed to the ever-expanding knowledge base that is the web that you probably assumed Blue Magnet had been the victim of a very localized 2012 Mayan apocalypse. Not so, my fellow digital denizens. Fortunately, 2013 has jump-started us into another great year. So much so, in fact, that we've had to put the blog on hold while we manage the growth of our company--a welcome change, indeed, but I'm sorry to say it has come at the expense of our own blog contributions. In other words, we're preachin' but not practicin'.
Nevertheless, we're back and ready to dive right in with a topic almost as legendary and mysterious as the Maya themselves: SEO. Specifically, I'd like to explore the core areas compose a given business's search engine optimization efforts.
Those outside of the search industry typically associate SEO with keywords...and only keywords. Their understanding of SEO is somewhere along the lines of optimization circa 1997, where simply stuffing your content with keywords alone may have bought you top rankings in Altavista or Hotbot. But in our brave new online world, keywords alone do not an effective SEO campaign make. The way I see it, there are 3 keys to setting your website up for SEO success: building great site usability, creating relevant content and establishing your site as a trusted authority.
The Search Engine Raison d'Être
In order to understand the core components of SEO, you have to first understand the purpose of a search engine. Like any major business, the end goal of the major search engines is to make money through a sustainable business model. As you've probably figured by now, the model of choice for the search engines is advertising. Just like the newspaper biz, search engines thrive on advertising revenue. And the way you sell more advertising is by having a large, targeted audience viewing your product. Google has just that. The more users Google gets to adopt its products (like Google Search, YouTube, Google+, Google Maps and all their other products), the more consumer eyes are on Google.com--the perfect place to present targeted Google Adwords PPC campaigns.
How Do Search Engines Build An Audience?
This isn't the Field of Dreams, so building it does not necessarily mean they will come. Search engines create an audience by providing a valuable service to consumers: delivering relevant websites based on a search query. If search engines provided crappy results users would simply turn to other channels to find information on the web (see: social media). That's why it's in the search engines' best interest to provide customers with the most relevant information from the most trusted authorities on that subject. Search Engine Optimization is really just about making sure your website is providing the search engines (and ultimately the searching public) with the most relevant and trusted website content.
We Have The Same Goals!
This is great news! Our goal of providing relevant, trusted information to our visitors is the same goal that the search engines have. In the end it's all about helping the customer find the information they need. When Google sees businesses providing this information on their websites, it rewards them by ranking them higher in the search results. It's so elegant in its simplicity, and best of all, everybody wins! And it makes sense. Why would Google or Bing promote a site that uses spammy keyword techniques, has little relevant information to your search and is part of a sketchy link network? Promoting a site like that is a good way to drive users to other search engines--one which would hopefully offer better results.
The 3 Pillars of SEO
Once you understand the search engine's goals, it becomes clear that SEO is more than just keyword and link building; instead, it's about improving the usabilty of your site, the relevance of its textual content to the searcher, and the level of authority your site has within its industry. Ultimately, both you and the search engines want to create a better user experience (which means more conversions). And, although there are MANY, MANY ever-changing factors that determine how search engines like Google and Bing rank your website for given keywords, for the most part those individual criteria all tend to fit nicely into these 3 high level categories:
I'll break it down even more so you can get a better understanding of what I mean for each category. In addition, we'll explore a few good examples of the SEO work done for each.
Site Architecture (for Usability)
Site architecture, as the name suggests, is the foundation of your SEO--it's about creating a user-friendly website. Any good SEO professional will tell you that before you even dive into writing optimized content or building links, you need to ensure that your actual website is built in a user-friendly way. After all, what good is it sending thousands of visitors to your site if the site's webpages offer such poor usability that those same visitors leave your site in frustration? Overall, site architecture is about designing and coding your website in a way that benefits your visitors. The easier it is for your customers to find, access and navigate your site, the better you'll rank in the search engines.
Site architecture is one of the more technical aspects of SEO and includes things like:
This list is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to optimizing your website's architecture, but it's crucial to understand that not all optimization is in plain view. Some of the magic takes place behind the curtain. And while it's not nearly as visible or glamorous or understood by all clients, it's imperative to the success of your SEO campaign nonetheless.
Content Optimization (for Relevance)
This is what most people think of when they think SEO. Whereas site architecture focuses on the usability of your site, content optimization deals with the relevance of your site to the searcher. How relevant is your page content to the keyword query of your visitor?
While keyword optimization can be an important part of site architecture (ie, for naming files and organization), much of your keyword research will take shape in the content optimization section of SEO. It's the meat of the campaign and comprises the (mostly) visible content on the page. Making your site more relevant to searchers through Content Optimization can be done in the following ways:
Relationship Building (for Trust)
It's great if your site is user friendly and the on-page content is optimized to the gills, but if those were the only factors that determined search rankings, there would be a tremendous amount of unscrupulous nogoodniks that could easily game the system. This is because the site owner has complete control over the site architecture and the content on the site. However, the one thing that the site owner doesn't control is the public's trust in their site.
The search engines needed a way to establish trust online. Which sites should be considered an authority in their industry? And how do search engines assign a value on authority? Enter link building and social media. Google and Bing decided that the best way to determine the trustworthiness of your site is by evaluating it based on the company you keep. Which sites link to yours? Who shares your links on social media? These social cues are indicators to the search engines that your content is a trusted source of information. It's also why search engine optimization can take so long to impact your site. Trust isn't something you earn overnight; you become an authority through consistent leadership over time within a given field.
With that in mind, here are some ways that the search engines establish trust:
Making The Web A Better Place To Search
The good news is that you and the search engines are both working towards the same goal! So build your site with usability, relevance and trust in mind and watch your site climb the search rankings. These lists are by no means exhaustive, but they should give you an idea of why SEO is such a time-intensive undertaking any why the search engines promote sites that benefit their users. By improving your site content and how your users find information on your web pages, not only will you see an increase in traffic to your site, but you'll also see an increase in those visitors converting to paying customers!
Posted in Online Marketing on December 05, 2012 by Matt Bitzer
We've recently heard many stories of hotels that feel stuck with their current emarketing provider. Sometimes hoteliers are immobilized by ironclad contracts that give all website rights to the emarketing vendor. Other times a hotel is locked in a perpetual relationship with an emarketing provider due to proprietary technologies and accounts. Of course, these types of lock-ins are never a problem when the customer is happy, but when things go south that's when the swords come out and the legal dogs are let loose.
Nobody likes to be locked in a partnership, particularly with a business that has let them down. Maybe the product you purchased didn't live up to the marketing hype. It could be that the customer service just stinks. Or perhaps the quality of the service provided is the pits.
Regardless the reason, you're disappointed. You paid the big bucks and you've got nothing to show for it but frustration. In the best case scenario, you complain directly to the company via social media or navigate the dreaded automated phone maze in order to reach a live human being, only to get platitudes about "quality" and that company's commitment to "service." Most of the time though, you make a mental note of the offending brand and vow never to support their evil empire of shoddiness again! Unfortunately, in some instances you're met with a dead end: you've purchased a product or service that locks you into some sort of agreement that you are unable to break without some sort of severe psychological or financial cost.
How To Trap A Client
Here are just a few examples that we've seen of hotel clients who have been locked into unhealthy relationships with other vendors. The hotel names have been removed to protect the innocent.
It's clear why these companies choose to do businesses this way. They assume that trapping customers with contracts, proprietary formats and locked data is a way to ensure continued revenue streams. Let's face it, new business acquisition is challenging and comes at a significant cost to any business (time and money). It's tempting to lock someone into your services. But forcing customers to stay with your company against their will is a shortsighted solution. Once that barrier is removed, that customer is going to bolt, spewing obscenities about your company in their wake. Putting up false obstacles is never good for customer satisfaction either. Blue Magnet was founded on the idea that customers would want to stay with our agency because we've become a valuable part of their team, not because they've been trapped by a proprietary product or slick contract that grants us rights to all their website content.
How To Protect Yourself
There are a lot of sketchy characters out there, and not all of them conspicuously don the Snidely Whiplash mustache with matching "bad-guy" cape. In fact, many vendors appear to be acting in your best interest, and for the most part they are. You just have to make sure you read the fine print on the agreement. The best defense against getting trapped with an unscrupulous emarketing vendor is the same in any industry: do your homework! In addition, these simple tips will help keep you free from the shackles of an unhealthy business relationship.
Most client/vendor problems can be avoided by simply understanding what you're buying into as the client. Admittedly, emarketing can be a confusing industry; there are a lot of technologies, intellectual property rights and participating parties involved in website development and marketing the site online. Keeping it all straight can be exhausting. Just be sure to use these tips as a guideline so you can understand what your hotel will walk away with after the relationship has ended. Contracts in themselves aren't inherently evil, and in many cases should serve to protect both parties; However, as identified above, when put into the wrong hands they can certainly be used for nefarious purposes. The more you understand before signing the contract, the less pain you'll experience when you and your vendor decide to part ways. Fortunately, most reputable emarketing vendors won't need to rely on underhanded contracts to secure their business model. Vendors that rely on the strength of their performance and the quality of their support will never need to rely on fine print agreements to lock in their clients. Quite the contrary--those clients will never want to leave!
Posted in Social Media on November 01, 2012 by Brittany Aller
LinkedIn is often overlooked as a great online sales and networking opportunity for hoteliers. In a recent blog post, I outlined how to begin using LinkedIn as a sales tool. Now that you are aware of several lead generation techniques afforded by this social network, it’s essential to build engagement and enforce your new strategy. But how? For your convenience, I have created a checklist in the form of an infographic that will help hotel professionals effectively utilize LinkedIn and engaging target audiences. Make sure to save this on your desktop, email it to your sales staff or post it on the cork board in your office. Some of these overarching tactics will also be of value to your hotel’s other social media strategies. Now get out a pen, start checking...and selling!
Posted in SEO on October 24, 2012 by Patrick McCarthy
Most people who work with hotels for any substantial period time inexorably come to understand two major things – First, the hospitality industry is not like other industries. It presents a set of challenges (such as running a 24/7/365 business, dealing with OTAs, managing a dynamic pricing system, and more) that, when combined, demand unique strategies and solutions. Second, when it comes to technology and e-commerce, hotels are definitely on the later end of the diffusion curve. Certainly, there are some exemplary hotels that have been pioneers in the realm of online marketing and technological innovation, but taken as a whole, hotels and major hotel brands have largely been cautious in their embrace of the internet and still lag behind other businesses in the extent and effectiveness of their e-commerce efforts. As a result, hotels that are willing to put some time and resources towards e-commerce are, for the most part, going to be able to dominate their competition; however, the question remains: How?
In my humble estimation, the answer is search engine optimization (SEO); however, it has been my experience that many hoteliers are somewhat daunted and confused by SEO. This is understandable because while there is an overabundance of information and articles about SEO in general, there is a paucity of content specifically dealing with SEO for hotels and the hospitality industry. As a result, hoteliers who try to learn about SEO have difficulty separating the big, important strategies and general themes from the very specialized, nitty-gritty strategies that are only necessary for businesses in industries with more advanced and competitive e-commerce fields. Therefore, they either become so bogged down by info that they give up or become fixated on unnecessary advanced strategies while neglecting the essentials.
To rectify this situation, I want to clearly lay out the SEO strategies that hotels really need to know. As I mentioned above, the hospitality industry is unique; it has many opportunities and challenges that other industries do not have, and if hoteliers do not use the same offline business models as tech companies, why should they use the same SEO strategies? In many ways, SEO is just a new form of the sales and marketing techniques that hoteliers have been using for years to sell their hotels, and the simple fact is that hotels in general do not have highly developed SEO campaigns; therefore, by implementing the following basic but essential SEO strategies, many hotels will see drastic improvements in search rankings and site visits. Forget about what non-hospitality focused SEO experts have told you, these are the SEO strategies that hotels really need to know.
SEO is not a trick
The first and most important thing that hotels need to realize is that despite what they may have heard, SEO is not about “tricking” search engines. Rather, it is a series of practices by which websites tell the search engines who they are, what they do, and why they are relevant to searchers. If hotels implement these practices, the search engines will rank them well in search results. That’s it. The hard part of SEO is knowing what those practices are and resisting the urge to lie to the search engines in order to try to get them to rank you for keywords that are not very relevant to your hotel. If you want to appear for non-relevant keywords, you can pay the search engines for ads, but don’t lie to them. Even though you can pay your way to the top of the PPC game, irrelevant keywords can negatively affect your PPC campaigns too. As for knowing what practices to implement, just read on!
What language does Mrs. Bing speak?
The first step in telling search engines what your hotel is all about is to make sure you are speaking their language. If the search engines can’t understand your website, they can’t judge its relevance and quality. To make sure the search engines can easily crawl and parse your website, you need to ensure that your site has a search engine friendly structure and is properly marked up. Unfortunately, this is such a basic element that many designers and developers overlook it in their pursuit to design and build fancy websites.
Now, I don’t expect hoteliers to go out and start learning how to build websites, but if you are looking to update your hotel’s website or build a new one, make sure that whoever is developing your website understands SEO and search engine friendly site structure. No matter how great the rest of your SEO efforts are, if your site structure is not search engine friendly, it will never rank as high as it should. This is very important for independent hotels and branded hotels with standalone sites. If you are a branded hotel, your brand site is probably decently structured, and there is nothing that you can do to improve it, so that is one thing, at least, that don’t have to worry about.
Dear R. Google, My name is Hotel Blue Magnet
Now that you are speaking the search engines’ language, you have to introduce your hotel. How do you do that? It’s simple - Take a second and think of the three best ways to describe your hotel Good, those are your main keywords. Keywords are simply the phrases that best describe your hotel. Some keyword variations are better than others and some keywords are more competitive than others, but there is no real deep secret to choosing keywords. Once you have your phrases, go to Google’s Keyword Tool, type them in, and then Google will tell you what variations of those phrases have the most search volume. There is all manner of research you can do for keywords, but for many hotels, it will do wonders just to choose keywords that are relevant and that people are actually searching for. Once you have your keywords, you need to write your Meta Title Tags. To do so, use this simple formula:
Main Keyword | Hotel Name | Secondary Keyword (Optional)
Meta Title Tags should be under 70 characters, so if adding in the secondary keyword makes it too long, save that keyword for another page. You’ll want to write one Meta Title for each one of your pages and include your main keywords on your most important pages and relevant pages (Home, Accommodations, etc.). For your less important or more specialized pages, you can do more keyword research to find relevant keywords that have search volume, but simply including a descriptive phrase that reflects the content on the page will be better than a generic page name. Once you have these written, give them to your website developer or brand contact, and they will be able to add them to your website code.
What’s your line, Master Yahoo?
Now that your Meta Title Tags are in place and you have introduced your hotel to the search engines, the next step is to tell them what your hotel does. This is probably the least technical part of SEO, but it is massively important and will become even more important in the future. To tell the search engines what your hotel does, you need to write great descriptive content for your web pages. This is really as simple as it sounds. As search engines get more sophisticated, it will become harder and harder to trick them, and the quality of your content will become more and more integral to your SEO. If you simply write great content now and keep it updated, you will not have to worry about the changes to search engine algorithms that are always causing SEO professionals to freak out; instead, you will have consistent and predictable search rankings.
So what is good content? Good content is not awkwardly stuffed with exact iterations of your keywords and lots of spammy looking links. Good content is well-written, natural sounding copy that clearly and concisely details the topic of the page. Your content should reflect the keywords in your Meta Title Tags, but it does not need to slavishly adhere to the exact phrasing of those keywords at the expense of readability This stress on the importance of content over keywords may sound a little strange coming from an SEO professional, but I strongly believe that at this point, especially for hotels, keyword heavy content will never get you better rankings than more natural content, and in fact, it could hurt your rankings, which is just what happened to a number of over-optimized websites after Google's recent Panda algorithm update. If the person who does your SEO says otherwise, you may want to rethink your partnership with that company. They are likely out of touch with SEO trends and could end up getting your site penalized with their unsavory tactics. When writing content or reviewing content that has been written for you, always remember, search engines will never penalize great content.
So the search engines know who your hotel is and what it does. All that remains is to tell them why your hotel is more relevant than competing hotels. Among websites in different industries, the why of SEO can vary hugely. The basic tactics are the same, but the relative of importance of those tactics changes depending on the nature of the business and the goals of the SEO campaign. Through my experience performing SEO for hotels, I have been able to discover what I think are the most important tactics for convincing search engines that a hotel‘s website should be ranked at the top of searches – Optimized local listings and unique, relevant links. That is not to say that other tactics do not work or are not important, but it is my opinion that these two are the most important and effective.
The great thing about this kind of link building is that it can be done by owners, GMs, and DOSs with little to no technical skill. This is all about relationships between businesses and how well your hotel works with other businesses. For specific tips, I suggest that you check out these two blog posts from my colleagues Diana Friess and Kim Leveque, but what I really want to convey about this kind of link building is that it’s more of an attitude than a tactic. Too often, hoteliers think of the online and offline portions of their business as separate entities, and I’m suggesting that you start thinking of your website in the same way you think about your hotel.
On the internet, your website is your hotel. Just as you would want local businesses, colleges, convention centers, museums to recommend your hotel if someone asked in person where they should stay while visiting; you also want those same businesses to recommend your hotel online; and in the online world, that kind of recommending is done through linking to your site. Keep this in mind as you go about your daily on-site and offline tasks and you will start finding more and more opportunities to ask for and receive links to your site. Just remember to always offer a link back in return if possible and make sure to always give out the same exact URL when someone agrees to link to your site.
SEO is just good business
One of the biggest points that I wanted to get across with this post is that at its core SEO is nearly identical to offline business and sales strategies. Too often people not in the SEO industry (and even many in the industry) think of SEO as collection of arcane, technical tricks and tactics that are only tech gurus can understand and implement. SEO can be different depending on your industry, but within each industry, it’s just a new way to do the same things that have always made businesses in those industries successful. If you know how to market your hotel offline, you already know how to perform SEO for your hotel – You just didn’t know that you knew. Hopefully, you do now.
Posted in Link Building on October 22, 2012 by Ashley Stevens
You already understand the importance of link building for search engine optimization purposes, so it’s time to take your link building to the next level. Obtaining links from quality websites can help raise your hotel’s organic search rankings. In addition, by creatively utilizing some of your current sales strategies you can obtain links on sites that encourage extended stays, which in return can help you increase your hotel's average length of stay (LOS).
Start by talking with your sales team and asking a few questions: Who are they already reaching out to for sales leads? You may find that just by having this simple discussion you can already come up with a list of new sites to target for link building. Your sales team is probably already in various discussions with a variety of companies attempting to negotiate group rates for upcoming conferences or meetings near or at your hotel. Work with your sales team to build each group a specific booking code to place on their company site to make it easier for attendees to book their stay at your property. Link building can be as simple as that!
Then, build upon the list they provide to you. Consider this: Why would someone want to stay at a hotel for longer than a few nights? In what situations would be a potential guest need week-long or month-long accommodations? Below are a few suggestions to help you brainstorm:
Even if you’re not technically an "extended stay hotel," partnering with local organizations that could help you attract guests with longer length stays. Depending on your property and market, some of the suggestions above may not work for your hotel. However, if you do end up with a guest with a 30+ night stay as a result, you’ll be happy you took the time to acquire these links.
Posted in Design on October 10, 2012 by Ashley Stevens
As hoteliers, budget season is upon us so now is the perfect time to ensure you have the resources in place to create and optimize that ROI-producing mobile-friendly site everyone is raving about. With the increased importance of SoLoMo (social local and mobile opportunities, for the uninitiated) in 2012 and 2013, if you don’t have a mobile site you’re already behind the eight ball, but there’s still time to get back ahead of the competition. Creating a site using responsive web design may be the most efficient and budget-friendly option for your hotel to ensure your presence is optimized for all booking devices.
What is responsive web design?
Simply put, responsive web design is a development technique that optimizes your site for any sized screen, based on size of the device that is viewing the content. For example, if someone views your site from their desktop computer, the website's code will detect the larger sized screen and appropriately adjust the site's layout and design for that larger monitor. Things such as the main navigation, body content and image size will be optimized for people browsing at a desktop computer, in order to provide the best layout for usability on that device.
On the other hand, the same user will likely interact with the site very differently on a tablet or smartphone than they would sitting at a computer with a mouse or a laptop touchpad. When searching on a tablet or mobile phone, users have to tap directly on the link in order to get the information they want, instead of hovering over the information with a tiny pointer. In order to provide the best user experience for someone on a mobile phone, buttons have to be bigger so people can easily tab where they want, phone number should be clickable (and trackable!), and information should be concise and easy to find. Fat fingers and small smartphone screens are a bad combo.
What does responsive web design look like?
Let’s use the beautiful but imaginary Blue Magnet Hotel as an example. Say you’re searching for the Blue Magnet Hotel on your desktop computer during your lunch break at work. You will see the full site like this:
Then, on your way home from work, you decide that you liked what that hotel had to say and you want to check out rates on your phone. The site would look like this.
Why does my hotel need a responsive website?
Below are 4 reasons you should consider building your hotels site in responsive web design:
With the importance of SoLoMo increasing in 2013 and beyond, building a responsive website may be a modest budget hotel's best solution. Your content will be more shareable, Google will give you the thumbs up, and your website's usability will be better than ever before on any device. Having a flashy desktop version of your site is simply not enough to guarantee conversions anymore; responsive web design will help you convert guests no matter what device they use!
Posted in Social Media on October 09, 2012 by Kim Armour
Is your hotel’s Facebook page struggling to grow fans? Do you feel like you are communicating into an empty void on this supposedly social network? But you’re doing everything you can to achieve the exact opposite results, right? Sometimes it takes a little more than on-page optimization, creative content and eye-catching photos to get the response and growth you’re looking for.
While there are many ways to remedy these issues, the quickest solution isn’t a new trick or a new Facebook feature; it’s the old hat trick of Facebook ads. Before you say “I have no idea what Facebook ads are, let alone know how to set them up” or “We don’t have the budget for ads,” hear me out! Setting up Facebook ads is actually quite simple, and as for cost, you need to try it before you dismiss it, because a little bit of money can go a very long way towards growing your Facebook network.
Facebook ads can be set up under one of two different advertising models: the pay-per-click ad model (a la Google Adwords) or pay-per-impression ad model. Choose whichever model best suits your goals. The ads appear as Sponsored Ads on the right-hand side of the desktop version of a Facebook page. From the ad a user can click to visit the business page or simply "like" the page without even clicking through to view the business page. The ads include information on how many people like the page, or if a friend in the user’s network likes the page as well. This is actually valuable information that helps increase conversions and actions. Seeing that a friend already likes the page assures the user that this is a recommended page worth liking and clicking on. Now that we’ve reviewed the placement of the ads and what all is included on the ad, let’s dive into the process of setting them up.
Step-By-Step Facebook Ad Set-up
Hang in there, only a few more quick steps till your ads are complete and ready to run!
Congratulations, you’ve just set up Facebook Ads to promote your hotel to thousands of Facebook users! Keep reading for additional tips to effectively use the ads to benefit your social media strategies and goals.
Improving the Performance of Facebook Ads
Start by optimizing the ad itself. The ad copy is your first impression and chance to summon the interest of a multitude of Facebook users. You only have 90 characters to do this so be savvy in writing catchy copy that lets people know what makes your hotel unique with a call-to-action to click on the ad or like the hotel’s Facebook page. The image on the ad is very small so use this space intelligently as well. Load an image that is of high quality and easy to see in such a small format.
Use the ads to target valuable fans. In a successful social media campaign the account has a large and constantly growing fan base with a genuine curiosity in the business. By targeting individuals that already have a shared interest in the hotel you’ll be more likely to gain fans that are truly interested in your business with a desire to interact with the hotel on Facebook. Select precise interests such as the hotel brand, travel, vacation, local area and other relevant topics to the hotel. Honing in on people with shared interests will have a positive effect on the hotel’s Facebook page in the long run due to increased engagement, to being the top of mind hotel in area, and growing dedicated fans that will not unlike the page weeks later.
Use the ads as a vehicle to promote more than just your hotel’s Facebook page. Facebook ads can and should be used for more reasons than to just build awareness of your hotel and grow fans. Use the ads for other objectives such as promoting special events happening at the hotel. Keep Facebook ads in your “distressed inventory strategy” toolbox to promote special offers for dates the hotel needs to drive occupancy. Create additional hype about the hotel on Facebook by running a contest and use the Facebook ads to reach a large audience for maximum exposure. Facebook ads will become an essential tool to expand your hotel’s reach, cultivate fans, inspire response and realize successful campaigns.
Don't forget about your non-paid Facebook posts. As powerful as Facebook ads can be for growing fans and increasing interactions, the ads are not to be used as the single voice and activity on the site. After driving all these new fans to your Facebook page it is crucial to maintain Facebook management best practices to keep the new fans and inspire the desired interactions. Continue to post frequently about relevant and interesting topics, share photos, and offer great deals to foster long-lasting relationships with your fans.
Monitor your results. As with most pay-per-click campaigns, the ads are not to be set and forgotten about. Keep a constant eye on your budget and monitor results. Within the campaign you can run multiple ads to test different copy and images to determine which ad yields the best results. Increase or decrease bids accordingly to make the most of your budget. Set goals for your ads such as attaining 50 new fans a month. Once you reach the goal turn off the ads to save money and restart ads the following month. By closely monitoring your campaigns you’ll quickly see that you can easily control spend.
There are plenty of benefits to running Facebook ads. Obviously the ads will bring in a quick and steady pace of new fans. More fans means more people will see what the hotel is saying. More eyes on the content increases the potential for even more interactions. More interactions and engagement with users will increase your organic reach and help the page to grow fans through unpaid efforts at a greater pace than before. And in the end the hotel can decrease dependency on the ads to acquire new fans, but have the knowledge to use the ads for other objectives when needed.
Posted in SEO on October 02, 2012 by Diana Friess
Travelers are increasingly booking via the internet, with greater transparency and options more prevalent than ever. In a Google study conducted in 2011, 37% of leisure travelers report that the internet prompted them to book, up from 28% two years ago. Over 70% of travelers conduct research online before booking a hotel room. Specifically, search engines are some of the primary tools in the arsenal of the travel researcher.
But how can a guest learn about your hotel or make a reservation online if they can't find your hotel's website?
That's where search engine optimization, commonly known as SEO, comes to the rescue! Utilizing the right SEO strategy will get your website in front of your targeted online audience, attract potential guests and ultimately increase your online reservations and revenue.
What is Search Engine Optimization (SEO)?
SEO is the process of building and maintaining various components of a website in order to increase the number of visitors to that site from search engines. The effectiveness of SEO is ultimately measured by the position of a website on a search engine results page (SERP) when searching for a certain keyword. In general, the higher your website is ranked on the search results page, the more visitors it will receive from the search engine's users.
A common misconception about SEO is that it is strictly about targeting the right keywords to reach your audience. The truth is that SEO is an ongoing process that involves multiple facets - from the words or "copy" on each page of your website to the way other sites link to you on the web. SEO even includes building your website's architecture so that it is structured in a way that search engines can "crawl" it and understand your content. In a good SEO strategy, your hotel's website isn't just optimized for search engines: it's also about making your web site better for guests too!
Why Does my Hotel's Website Need SEO?
Google and Bing are two major search engines that likely drive the majority of online traffic to your hotel's website. There are other online avenues that generate visits to your website, such as social media, online travel agencies (OTAs), or travel blogs, but search engines are the preferred method of navigation for most Internet users and travelers. Search engines offer a unique online opportunity - they provide targeted visitors - people who are looking for exactly what you offer. As it relates to Google's 5 Stages of Travel, SEO helps hotels capture guests in stages 2 and 3 - planning and booking! Travelers who are researching their travel to a "Chicago hotel" or "hotel in Chicago" should be able to find your hotel's website right away if those keywords match your hotel's description and you are utilizing the right SEO strategy. If your hotel's website cannot be found by search engines, then you are missing out on valuable guests, occupancy, and revenue.
Specific Factors that Contribute to your Hotel Websites' Ranking Success:
At Blue Magnet, we can effectively summarize search engine optimization as the integration of the following three components to your hotel website:
The first key component of search engine optimization has to do with the overall structure of your site and its technical coding. SEO seeks to pair the website address (domain name), the internal code of the website and the content of your site with the keywords that users search for in Google. This is called building relevancy. Architectural website components such as your choice of domain name (website address), the directory structure of your web pages, the simplicity of your webpage code, effective use of sitemaps, and lack of broken links or missing pages can all contribute to your hotel website's visibility (or lack thereof) in major search engines. Remember that a webpage is viewed differently from the crawlers of a search engine vs. the eyes of a human being. The key is to mesh the structural components so that both search engines and human visitors can find and read your website.
When people hear the term "search engine optimization," most people think that this is the sole component of an SEO strategy. The fact is this is only one piece of the entire SEO puzzle. Optimizing content refers to conducting keyword research in order to determine which search queries people are typing into the search engines to find your hotel. Remember, it's not always about getting any ol' visitors to your site, but about getting the right, qualified kind of visitors.
Through the detective work of researching and analyzing your hotel's keyword demand, you not only learn which terms and phrases to target with SEO, but also learn more about your potential guests as a whole. Some of the most popular keywords for hotels are "hotel in CITY," "CITY hotel," or "hotel near ATTRACTION." Once these keywords for your specific hotel and location have been selected, they can be properly integrated in the visible text of your website. Search engines have become savvier in that they can decipher between well written content for human consumption versus content written specifically to achieve higher search engine rankings. It is up to a balanced SEO strategy to integrate your hotel's chosen keywords and phrases in a natural way throughout your site that will help search engines and users alike understand exactly what your website can offer.
Keywords must be effectively integrated into many different areas of the site, including body text, meta tags, image alt tags, captions, PDFs and more. For a great example of this, check out a great blog post from SEOmoz that provides a great overview using a reference to chocolate donuts. In addition, even though they are considered part of the back-end code of the site, it's also important to integrate important keywords into the meta tags of your site. Meta tags are a great way for webmasters to provide search engines with information about their sites which aids in higher search engine rankings. Two of most important meta tags are the title tag and the meta description tag. The title tag is intended to be a concise description of a page's content built from keywords. It is a key component to both search engine optimization and a user's experience. The meta description is a short description of the page's content that is displayed as the snippet of text beneath a search engine result listing. Although these days the description meta tag has no impact on your search engine rankings, the copy you write for this tag will impact the clickthrough rate for the listing since it will often be displayed in the search results. A well-written description tag could mean the difference between a potential guest clicking on your listing and clicking on your competitor's listing. To produce the greatest amount of traffic to your website at the highest conversion rate for your hotel, incorporate a solid keyword strategy, relevant and fresh content, and targeted meta tags.
Your website's reputation is one of the more complex and possibly the most difficult component of successful search engine optimization campaigns. Search engines view your hotel's online reputation as a combination of numerous factors, including inbound links to your hotel's website, the age of your domain, the level of proficiency expressed within the content of your site, and your social media profiles. When outlining your link strategy, you want to focus on high quality inbound links to your website. These can be found in the form of relevant industry sites, travel bloggers, niche market sites, event and attraction websites, and Convention Visitors Bureau (CVB) websites. A solid link building strategy is imperative to the success of your SEO strategy because major search engines consider each inbound link to your site as a "vote" for your reputation. Search engines with give you a better reputation with the more high-quality votes your site gets from other relevant websites. Hotels can optimize their websites for keywords till they turn blue in the face, but unless they get the link support from other reputable sites they will never outrank the competition.
Another crucial factor in a website's search engine rankings is valuable content. This point ties into the content section we discussed earlier, but the value and importance of your content is a another influencing factor in your reputation in the search engines. If you have strong, compelling web content, you are more likely to draw in new visitors to your site and attract high quality links. So ultimately, by creating interesting content, you are increasing the number of quality inbound links, thus boosting your site's overall reputation, and finally increasing your website's search engine ranking!
Lastly, one aspect of SEO that is often forgotten is the impact of social media on search engine rankings and your online reputation. Search engines such as Google and Bing are now taking social cues into consideration in ranking your site. The connections you have within your network and the sites that are favored within that network will likely appear more prominently in your own personal searches. Most hotels make a big mistake by ignoring social media as part of their online marketing strategy. Provided you have the resources to maintain such communication, we recommend establishing a profile and constantly engaging with your community on the following sites, in order to aid your online marketing strategy and manage your online reputation:
Here are some tips to best integrate SEO into your social media profiles:
Invest in your social media profiles and they'll reward you with enhanced visibility within search engine results.
Can search engines still find my hotel's website without SEO?
Each year, Google changes its search algorithm anywhere from 500-600 times! And those are just the updates us SEO folks know about! Most of these changes are very minor, but every few months Google rolls out a "major" algorithm change that heavily impacts search results (you may have heard of the Google "Panda Update" or the "Penguin Update"). The major search engines are always working towards improving their algorithm and technology to crawl the internet more thoroughly and return better results to users. However, search engines are not perfect and there is a limit to how they can operate. Just as using the right SEO tactics can grant you thousands of visitors and bookings, the wrong SEO tactics can hide your site deep in the search results where visibility is minimal. How many search results pages are guests going to go through to find your hotel? One? Two? Three? The majority of internet users never venture past the first or second page of search results. Since the Internet is becoming increasingly competitive, those hotels that utilize a solid SEO strategy will continue to rank on the first page of search engines and will have a greater advantage in reaching new travelers.
All these areas of SEO can seem a bit daunting--from discovery of the terms and phrases (keywords) that generate traffic, to building a site that is search engine friendly, to acquiring the links and marketing the unique value of your hotel and your hotel's website. But remember, if guests cannot find your hotel online, they won't be able to learn about your property or make a reservation.
Posted in Hotel Online Marketing on September 26, 2012 by Jennifer Dewey
*This article was co-authored by Jennifer Dewey and Ashley Stevens.
Number crunching, headaches, owner approval, Brand approval, and furious calculations… It sounds like budgeting season is here! We know how tedious it is to go through last year’s budget to determine where you can cut costs or where more money should be spent. Not to mention, it’s difficult to keep up with the ever-evolving online market, let alone to know how much money to set aside for new initiatives that may arise. That’s why Blue Magnet has put together this list of online marketing budget advice for hotels that will help you plan for a lucrative 2013.
Although it can be an exhausting process, we know that once a hotel has a set budget, it becomes nearly impossible to reallocate these funds. Budgeting season is our opportunity to ensure hotels know how to allocate the appropriate funds for internet marketing costs in order to see the ROI they expect.
Planning for Hotel Budget Season
The first step in budgeting effectively is to understand upcoming trends and opportunities in general, both for your market and for hotels. In 2013, social, local and mobile (SoLoMo) will continue its steady rise, while investment in traditional media will continue to dive. Google reports that 50% of travelers reserve hotel stays online, so doesn’t it make sense to allocate at least 50% of your overall marketing budget to digital marketing? Even though SoLoMo will take precedence, Blue Magnet Interactive recommends guaranteeing your entire online presence is up to par by allocating funds to all of the online marketing strategies below in order to see the best ROI on your campaign. Without further ado, here are Blue Magnet Interactive’s recommendations for how to spend your online marketing budget in 2013, staring with SoLoMo.
Social Media (The “So”)
While it’s certainly possible that Facebook may someday go the way of MySpace, social media as a movement is here to stay. Reputation management and engaging via social channels will continue to be a crucial piece of your online marketing campaign.
Engaging in social media can even help your organic search rankings. As engagement increases in your social media campaigns, research suggests that you may gain higher search engine rankings in correlation to your social media usage. Bing, for example, now has a very prominent social search bar on the right side of your screen, encouraging people to see what search listings their friends like and recommend. Google, too, is starting to boost rankings to hotels that have been +1ed by your inner circle. Hotels with little or no social media presence will start to slowly drop in rankings, unless they decide to jump on the social media train and engage.
In order to increase your engagement and your number of followers on social channels, hotels should create a social media marketing plan that strategically incorporates paid ads as well. Facebook Ads are very inexpensive, simple, and they are a great way to target people with interest in your hotel or property.
Blue Magnet social media budget recommendation: ~15%
Local Search (The “Lo”)
Why is local search important? Consider how you search. Typically, when searching for a hotel or restaurant you have a rough idea of the area you’re searching. For example, say you are heading to Nashville on business and you need to find a hotel. You’ll probably type something like “hotel in Nashville” into your favorite search engine. Or, if you’ve just landed in Nashville you will probably do a search on Google Maps or Yelp on your smartphone for hotels nearby. Both of these are considered local searches.
In order to make sure you are showing up in these local searches you need to optimize your presence for local searches as well as organic searches. There are very specific ongoing strategies for increasing your visibility through local search. Blue Magnet Interactive has seen success by utilizing Whitespark’s Local Search Citation finder to ensure we are covering all of our bases with local search. Please keep in mind that this, too, is a strategy that is ever-evolving and needs consistent attention throughout 2013 and beyond. Blue Magnet Interactive recommends having an SEO expert handle all of your search marketing.
Blue Magnet local search budget recommendation: ~10%
Hotel Website & Mobile Site (The “Mo")
Your online budgeting goals should all boil down to one objective: Drive direct online reservations through your hotel website (brand website, standalone website or both!). In addition, with the increase in the number of searches though mobile channels in 2013 it will be essential to encourage mobile bookings by creating a mobile friendly website.
Take a look at your competitor’s websites. Now look at their mobile sites. Go back and objectively look at your own brand and mobile sites. If your site is over 3-5 years old, there’s a great chance that your competitors are stealing your bookings just by having a more aesthetically pleasing site, even if your product is better. If your website is cluttered, poorly designed, difficult to navigate, lacking compelling imagery, or outdated, it may be time for a complete redesign. It’s often a potential guest's first impression of your hotel — better make it a good one!
Hotel websites with the highest conversion rates are based heavily on hotel photography and they are easy to navigate. If you’re building a site from scratch, it will be extremely important to consult an SEO team to ensure your site is built to be search engine friendly. SEO has changed drastically in the last 3-5 years, so if your site is older, there’s a good chance your hotel websites structure and content are hurting your rankings just by its outdated construction.
In addition, mobile site usage is quickly increasing. Experts predict mobile hotel bookings will surpass desktop bookings very soon, if they haven’t already by the time you found this article. Mobile sites can be simple and inexpensive, plus they tend to convert well and produce an excellent ROI. What's more, new technology, such as Responsive Web Design, allows you to create a website that is both mobile optimized as well as desktop and tablet optimized. Responsive web design can be an extremely affordable solution for your hotel, as it essentially allows your site to dynamically adapt to the screen size of any viewing device, whether it’s a smartphone, desktop computer or tablet.
Blue Magnet website and mobile site budget recommendation: ~20%
Budgeting Beyond SoLoMo
The same rule applies to new photography as it does to your hotel website’s lifespan: If your hotel photos are more than 3-5 years old, now is the time to budget for a new photo shoot. Likewise, if your hotel has been renovated since your last photo shoot and your website does not reflect your new photos, you’re missing out on a huge opportunity to showcase your newly renovated accommodations. While costly, photos are crucial to selling your site, particularly online. Moreover, photo gallery pages tend to be one of the most viewed pages or your site. Photos turn lookers into bookers. Our analytics show that beyond the homepage, the Photo Gallery consistently receives the most visits on hotel websites.
Blue Magnet Interactive recently recommended a photo shoot to one of our clients with outdated photography. After one month of having the photos live, their conversion rate increased 5% YOY to an almost 12% conversion rate! If you’re driving traffic to your site but the conversion rate is consistently low, updating your photos may be the key to securing more bookings.
Blue Magnet photography budget recommendation: ~15%
In 2013, hotel should continue to allocate a fair chunk of the budget towards paid search in Google and OTA sites. Paid ads are still one of the quickest ways to gain exposure for targeted keywords and one of the most measurable sources of online ROI.
Google’s PPC program is one of most commonly used methods of paid advertising and it works well for many different advertisers. Specifically in the hospitality industry, we have seen the most success with Expedia Travel Ads, Intent Media Sponsored Ads (Orbitz & Travelocity), and Facebook Ads. These programs tend to be very successful because they are so customizable and give hotels the ability to target specific need dates.
Blue Magnet paid search budget recommendation: ~10%
Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
In the past, we’ve heard clients say “Our site is already SEOed, we don’t need ongoing management.” Just because your site was initially built to be SEO-friendly with keyword optimized content and meta tags, that does not mean your rankings will withstand the test of time. In 2011, Google changed their algorithm over 500 times. As a result, Google’s search results are becoming more relevant and valuable. If your hotel isn’t keeping up with website updates and adjusting the SEO strategy accordingly, your hotel - that previously ranked on the first page of Google’s search engine ranking position (SERP) - could drop drastically in a matter of weeks or months. Allocating funds monthly to an SEO specialist is absolutely essential for maintaining and gaining exposure in various search engines.
Blue Magnet SEO budget recommendation: ~20%
Funding reputation management is always a budget must-have. No matter how well your website looks and functions, your guests will have positive and negative reviews on various internet channels. According to RateTiger, 33% of bookers change their choice of hotel based on reviews alone. Unattended negative reviews can be the difference between a guest choosing your hotel or choosing your competitor’s product. However, simply having someone manage your reputation and respond to any review in a helpful, concerned manner will be dramatically beneficial to you reputation. Consider SoLoMo again; Google+ Local now shows Zagat reviews on their listings, clearly displayed for users once they click on your listing. A reputation manager can manage all review sites, respond to these reviews, report fraudulent reviews entries, and even perform other tasks that will encourage new, more positive reviews to push any negative reviews further down on the list and thus out of sight. Dedicating some of your budget to reputation management is a definite must for 2013.
Blue Magnet reputation management budget recommendation: ~5%
Maintenance and Miscellaneous
It’s a well-known fact that the internet is constantly evolving at a rapid pace, which means your newly-constructed website or your perfectly-tweaked social media profiles can’t just be left by the wayside. Someone needs to constantly update your website’s content for freshness and usability. Your social media profiles should be updated regularly with valuable content that engages your community and encourages online conversations. As you can imagine, maintaining a website’s freshness and posting regularly on social media requires time, dedication, and knowledge. What’s more, as the internet evolves, there may be new initiatives that arise throughout the year that will require additional budget. For example, in 2011 Google launched their social media platform, Google+, and just recently, they combined Google+ with their Local Search listings to create a one-stop shop for online users. This affected the hospitality industry since hotels must now have a Google+ Brand profile in order to optimize their Local Listing. New initiatives (i.e. the introduction of Apple Maps) that require time and knowledge will continue to crop up as the year continues and as the internet continues to grow. Be sure to allot enough money in your budget to handle these maintenance and miscellaneous expenses.
Blue Magnet miscellaneous budget recommendation: ~5%
2013 Online Marketing Budget Breakdown
Tying It All Together
While headaches, number crunching, approvals and many scratch-outs may still be a part of your 2013 budget meeting, planning ahead for your online marketing budget will save you the hassle of reallocating funds. These tips should provide you with clear insight as to what is important to budget for 2013, so that you don’t get caught empty-handed when that new travel website launches or when Google releases a new update.
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