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.


Finally, when you get home, you announce to your spouse that you found the perfect hotel and want to get their final approval before you book your room using your iPad.


The same content is presented and the changes are very slight, but the site dynamically adjusts to make the site more usable based on the viewing screen of the device being used.

Why does my hotel need a responsive website?

Below are 4 reasons you should consider building your hotels site in responsive web design:

  1. Usability and user experience: Think of how annoying it is when you are searching for something on your phone and you land on the site’s desktop version, with microscopic links and too much information. What do you do? Most likely you'll try to pinch and zoom on the screen until you can make out the information you’re looking for or bounce off immediately and go to a site that’s easier to use. Either way, this makes for a bad user experience and a potentially lost guest.  With responsive web design, the right version of your site will always be served to your user on the first try which makes for a better user experience.
  2. Cost and return: Your initial investment in the site may be slightly higher, it may take a bit longer to develop, and you may have to research to find a developer with the proper skills to effectively create your site in responsive web design. However, since potential guests will be served the information they want on the first try they’ll be more likely to stay on your site and book if they like what they see. Also, if your hotel is easily bookable through all mediums guests will be more likely to book with you.  Another thing to consider is that instead of paying someone to manage the content on three different websites (desktop, mobile and tablet), with a responsive website you're only paying someone to update content on a single website.
  3. Three websites in one: As mentioned above, content management is simple for all three sites, because you're really only updating a single website instead of three separate ones. Most responsive websites will have a simple content management system. The Blue Magnet Hotel example above was built in Wordpress. Since this is all technically one site, we only have to make the change once and the mobile site, tablet version and desktop version will all reflect the updates. This is great for maintaining consistency of information across all of your sites.
  4. Google will love you: In June of 2012, Google explained the best practices for building a mobile site and responsive web design was mentioned as the "recommended configuration" for targeting smartphones. Responsive websites, whether viewed on a mobile device, tablet or desktop computer, all use the same HTML, which make it easier for Google to index.  Rather than indexing 3 different, independent versions of your accommodations page, Google prefers to only index a single page--a responsive one that adapts to various screen sizes. This doesn't necessarily give you any SEO bonus for using responsive web design, but it helps avoid duplicate content issues that arise from having a copy of each of your webpages in each of the various viewing formats.  Google doesn't need 3 different copies of your homepage.  It's redundant and Google will likely drop one from its index if it identifies it as such.  It's best to have a single page at a single URL that works across all devices.

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!

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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.

Facebook Ads for Hotels

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

  1. Begin with logging into the Facebook account that has administrator access to the hotel’s page.
  2. On the left-hand side click “Ads Manager,” which will take you to your campaign page to set up a new ad.  At the top right corner click on the green button "Create an Ad."
  3. On this page it will ask you to select the Facebook destination; meaning which page are you wanting to promote.  Your hotel page should appear below since the account has administrator access.
  4. Next you will select what you want to promote, the hotel or a specific post.  In most cases you will select the hotel.  However if you have a particular message you want to get across or to guarantee a certain amount of people see the particular post you would select the latter option.
  5. Then choose new ad about the hotel in the “People will see” section.
  6. In the next step you set up the actual ad.  The headline is predetermined by the title of your hotel’s Facebook page.  Fill in the ad copy within 90 characters and load an image to be sized at 100 pixels by 72 pixels.
  7. The last question in this section asks “Where will people be taken to when ad is clicked?” You can choose the hotel’s timeline or if you have different applications like a welcome page or booking page you could choose those as well.
  8. Facebook Ad Set UpAfter setting up the ad you need to determine the audience the ads will target.  Target your audience by location (country, state, city, zip), age, gender, precise interests, connections (people already connected to page, people not connected to your page, or opt for advance setting to target people connected to specific pages).  As you fill in these requirements, on the right hand side you’ll see your audience reach update which shows you how many people your target settings will qualify to see the ad.

Hang in there, only a few more quick steps till your ads are complete and ready to run!

  1. Now you need to define the objective of your ads.  Do you want to reach people who are most likely to click on your ad and visit your Facebook page, or do you just want maximum exposure to those people who will simply like your page?  Select “click on my ad” to set up the ad on a cost-per-click model since your objective is to have people click on your ad.  The other option, “show ad to people most likely to like my page” will set the ad up on a pay-per-impressions model.  I recommend the cost-per-click model since the goal for most advertisers will likely be to reach fans with a true interest in the page. These are the people that are likely to visit the page for more information and interact with hotel.  Plus, it is easy to control your budget and spend in cost-per-click structure.
  2. Finally set a campaign name, budget (cost/day or lifetime budget), schedule (continuously or defined date range), and your bid.  Facebook offers a suggested bid range, however I advise starting on the low end and after a bit if you are not seeing the results you want, you can increase bid later.
  3. The very last step to complete the set-up is to click the place order button and add billing information to the account.

Facebook Ad Campaign for Hotels

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.

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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?

SEO can help your guests find your website online

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.

Hotel Website Google Search Engine Results Page

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?

Top Search Engines - Google - BingGoogle 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:

  1. Architecture
  2. Content
  3. Reputation

 

Architecture

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.

SEO Strategy Components - Website Architecture

 

Content

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.

 

Reputation

Search Engines view Links as Votes!

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:

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Foursquare
  • YouTube
  • Pinterest

Here are some tips to best integrate SEO into your social media profiles:

  1. Name your profiles correctly and fill out the entire profile completely - Use the full name of your hotel across all social media channels.  All areas of the profile should be completed: photos, bio, videos, links, topics, tags - whatever the channel offers, take full advantage of it.
  2. Leverage your social media active contacts - friend/follow/connect with them on each of the platforms and interact with these contacts on a regular basis.
  3. Link to legitimate accounts - Remember relevance is important and if the social media profile of a group or user looks unnatural or keyword-stuffed, your reputation is at risk

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.

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*This article was co-authored by Jennifer Dewey and Ashley Stevens.

Budget Season

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.

Bing Social Sidebar

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

New Photography

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%

 

Paid Search

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%

 

Reputation Management

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 your Budget Together

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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Many hoteliers are missing out on the opportunity to find valuable sales leads and connections through the social network that some refer to as the "professional version of Facebook." Often an overlooked social media opportunity, LinkedIn can be an extremely valuable networking tool for hotels. As the world’s largest professional social network, LinkedIn is an effective source for connecting with 175 million users, including those with similar educational backgrounds, past and present coworkers, old and new clients, influential industry leaders and potential new business connections. If you don't quite know how to use LinkedIn to your advantage, keep reading to see how your connections can lead to potential business opportunities.

What is a LinkedIn Company Page?

LinkedIn Company Pages provide a single page within the LinkedIn community to represent your business or organization. Businesses are then able to effectively differentiate from the competition by displaying offerings through multiple informational tabs, including: overview, products & services, careers (this is a paid feature) and analytics. In addition, LinkedIn recently announced updates to LinkedIn Company Pages that have made them available on the LinkedIn mobile app, so now professionals can connect with your business on the go!

To get started, here’s a quick breakdown of each tab on the LinkedIn Company page:

  • Overview – Use this section to showcase your brand and optimize for keywords (see “Incorporate SEO techniques” section below). With the new page design, the business summary will be displayed at the bottom and a large image will appear at the top. Make sure this image truly represents your brand and makes an impact.
  • Products & Services – Showcase your hotel’s special offerings and gather recommendations from clients or business partners on this page. Update with images, video links, links to PDFs, contact information and more.
  • Careers – This paid service allows you to share job openings. Other online job boards like Monster or CareerBuilder can result in an excess of unqualified applicants.  LinkedIn allows companies to post job openings for social savvy job hunters and recruit more qualified talent, ideally from within your professional circles.
  • Analytics – View graphs of impressions and engagement with your page based on monthly data. The Analytics tab allows you to learn who has visited the page and which areas are of interest to these visitors. Then, turn these viewers into customers or business partners and produce the most effective content in the future.

LinkedIn is a valuable tool for hoteliers. You've likely heard similar praises time and time again about using LinkedIn as a sales tool; therefore, we have developed some guidelines for optimizing your LinkedIn efforts.  In fact, according to a HubSpot study, "LinkedIn is 277% more effective at lead generation than Facebook & Twitter. In a study of businesses using social media, LinkedIn traffic to the businesses’ website resulted in a 2.47% conversion rate rather than the .98% conversion rate of other social media channels."  With that in mind, here are some strategies to consider in using LinkedIn:

LinkedIn Lead Generation Techniques

  • Incorporate SEO techniques into your LinkedIn Company Page. Make sure that you are including keywords throughout the profile that relate to your target audience (i.e. “meeting professionals” or “event planning”). By optimizing your page with important keywords and joining associated LinkedIn groups, your hotel is more likely to appear in related search results on LinkedIn. Also, make sure to include links to your company website in order to build authority in the eyes of search engines.
  • Join LinkedIn groups in the hospitality industry. LinkedIn groups not only allow your hotel to be identified with target keywords, they also allow your event and sales team to become better connected to other industry professionals. There are currently over 4600 "hotel," 8500 "meeting" and 640 "event planning" related LinkedIn groups. Designate a staff member to participate in various group discussions in order to voice your hotel’s expertise and join in the industry conversation. This is a great space to seek out new partnerships, clientele and referrals. Similarly, join in the conversation on LinkedIn’s answers page where you can connect with business-minded peers, respond to questions, give advice and ultimately gain a following for the business.


  • Notice that searching for LinkedIn groups bolds your keyword query.  
    In this instance, "event planning" stands out for this particular search.

  • Create your own LinkedIn group if you are an industry expert. If your hotel or business is leading the area’s meeting and event space industry, this is the perfect opportunity to showcase your expertise. This would also be a great avenue to feed out blog content and other updates to your followers. By demonstrating your expertise in the field and delivering original content, your target audience will become increasingly engaged. However, this is only effective if your company is creating unique content on a consistent basis and actively managing the account.
  • Fill out your Products & Services page. This is a great way to showcase your hotel’s room types, special packages, special events, meeting space, catering options, etc. Make sure that these pages are consistently updated along with all of your other online channels as good measure for lead generation. LinkedIn’s new company pages that will make it easier for LinkedIn users to see who recommends your various services. Also, include contact information for your DOS or catering manager so that meeting planners and hosts can easily connect with your hotel. This easy step could eventually be beneficial for generating large group business.
  • Use LinkedIn as the networking medium it was intended to be. Encourage sales and event managers to reach out to convention or trade show attendees before and after their live dates. We suggest that hoteliers in this position use LinkedIn to share business connections, answer industry related questions, provide others with marketing or sales collateral and recommend vendors to new contacts. This is a simple way to stay in touch with others in the industry.
  • Try out LinkedIn ads. These paid ads are extremely targetable and allow you to pinpoint a specific job title. In contrast, only about 1 of 6 people associate a job title with their Facebook profile, making LinkedIn the more desirable way to connect with professionals. LinkedIn ads are a self-service option that can produce a good ROI due to the targeting options (gender, workplace, location, job title, groups, interests, etc.).
    • Text ads include 2 lines of 75 characters and a 50x50 pixel image
    • Beneficial to call out a specific group in the ad (i.e. “Hey event planners! Join us at our hotel for your next area event.”)
    • Choose between cost-per-click or cost-per-impression (similar to Facebook) with a minimum bid of $2


Once you have effectively completed a LinkedIn Company Page and are developing techniques for gaining leads, it’s critical to stay engaged on the site. Stay tuned for my next blog post, which will include tips for staying engaged with your network on LinkedIn. Remember, LinkedIn isn't only for connecting with coworkers or employees; it is a valuable B2B tool. Nominate someone to keep your hotel’s Company Page informative and engaging. These guidelines will allow you to effectively keep an eye on the competition, connect with business partners and find great new business opportunities. Now that you know how LinkedIn can help generate new leads for your hotel, get started today!

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This Fall, Apple is kicking Google Maps to the curb and replacing it with the new Apple Maps. Currently, Apple mobile products (iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch) use Google Maps, but with limited functionality (no turn-by-turn directions!). Google Maps has always worked best on Android devices, so Apple has decided to develop their own maps program to take full advantage of their mobile devices. So take that Google!

Apple Maps will be launched on its mobile devices later this Fall with the next iOS 6 software update and your hotel needs to be prepared! The map will soon be integrated into every Apple mobile device and if your hotel listing doesn't show up in local searches, you'll be missing out on a large segment of potential guests. Considering iPads and iPhones are the top devices for mobile browsing in 2012, according to NetApplications, this mobile search platform cannot be ignored for local businesses.

According to Apple, the new maps and local search includes information for over 100 million businesses with info cards that offer Yelp ratings, reviews, available deals and photos. With that in mind, not only should we be paying attention to our Yelp listings in preparation of this launch, but there are a few other places to check as well.

Here is how to optimize your business listing on Apple Maps

Time to pay attention to Yelp

Yelp has been a major player with Apple since the launch of Siri. For example, when an iPhone user asks Siri to find a sushi restaurant nearby, Siri typically shows results based on number of reviews and star rating on Yelp. This will still be the case with Siri, but these ratings and reviews will also be integrated into searches on Apple Maps. Your Yelp ratings and information will populate your business listing on these maps, so be sure your hotel looks great! Make sure your business name, address and phone number are correct and be sure to respond to any recent negative reviews. Business information and business owner responses can be updated through Yelp for Business Owners.

Check your business listing on Acxiom

Apple Maps will be pulling business listing information from Acxiom as well. You can check your listing on Acxiom for free, but there is currently a fee to make any updates. To check your listing on Acxiom, go to mybusinesslistingmanager.com, click through Learn More, click Get Started and search for your hotel by the phone number.

This will bring up your business listing information:

Update Acxiom Listings

If your business listing is correct, you're done! If your business name, address or phone number is incorrect, you can claim your listing and make updates through the Acxiom Business Listings service.

 

Check your Business Listing on Localeze

Localeze supplies business information to a wide range of local search sites, including Yahoo!, Bing, MapQuest and soon...Apple Maps. Updating a business listing in Localeze is similar to Acxiom. You can search for your Localeze listing by business name of phone number here.

Update your business on Localeze

From here, you can View Listing and you will have the option to claim your business listing to make any necessary updates

Updating businesses on Localeze

 

In Summary

To ensure your hotel is optimized on Apple Maps and for local search across the web, your NAP (Name, Address, Phone Number) needs to be identical across all online channels.  These three items should be identical down to the letter.  For example, if you have "Street" spelled out in your address in half your listings, don't have it abbreviated as "St" in the remaining half. This will not only prepare your business for Apple Maps, but will ultimately benefit your hotel's overall online marketing campaign.

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Recently, there has been some discussion in the SEO community regarding traditional link-building methods in the face of the new updates from Google.  With link building coming into full-focus again, it is important to refresh your link-building strategy and realign it with the overall goals of your online marketing campaign.  We have already given you a link-building 101 refresh with ideas on how to earn links with partners in other industries, so I'm here to tell you another non-traditional way to get quality links and positive publicity.

Hotels can take advantage of link building with business relationships that are already established through your sales, catering, and events teams. While these teams play an integral role in hotel business, they are often overlooked because of the "heads in beds" focus in the industry.  However, the business brought in by the sales, events and catering team offers low hanging fruits of link building opportunities that are ripe for the picking! I'm here to give you a few non-traditional link building tips that can easily help you leverage your efforts by strengthening existing business relationships.

Every time you host an event at your hotel, you could be missing out on a number of link building opportunities.  It doesn't matter whether you are a small boutique hotel or a convention property, or whether you are hosting an annual convention, company retreat, sales presentation, theme party or formal affair.  Regardless, these tips will help make sure you are getting the most online marketing value from your existing business relationships and the events that you host on property.

  1. Websites for groups and events - During the sales and event planning process, make sure that your sales managers inquire about the online status of events or groups that will be coming in-house.  Ask if the group has a webpage and if they have a separate landing page for the event that you are hosting at the hotel.  If they do, ensure that your hotel name, address, phone number and website address are listed on the event/group webpage.  You can also provide a link to the custom group webpage on your hotel's website or a booking widget for that group, which allows attendees looking to easily make a reservation.
  2. Social media channels for groups and events - In the same conversation about the status of the group's website, ask if the group is active on social media.  If they are, make sure to give them permission and encourage them to link to your social media channels.  In promoting the event on Facebook, encourage the client to link to the hotel's profile page, post on the hotel's wall, and tag any pictures of the event with the hotel's location.  In promoting the event on Twitter, encourage the client to use the hotel's handle (@username), create a hashtag (#sample) for the event that both the client and you as the hotel can follow, and tell the event attendees to do the same. Now, when we talk about link building strategies we usually talk about inbound links (links on other channels pointing to our website) more so than outbound links (links from the hotel pointing to other websites).  Social media is one platform that can benefit from using outbound links.  In order to gain more social media exposure, a good practice is to promote events, groups, meetings, and weddings through our social media channels, with the permission of the client.  Outbound links to the client's social media profiles allow you to promote the event to attendees, engage with them while they are on property and ask for feedback or offer assistance during the event. This is just another avenue to get the word out about your social media presence and extend your online presence.  With sales and event managers often preoccupied with managing the group on property, it is easy to forget that the attendees are engaging with the hotel in online areas while they are on property.  By working together with the event planners to create a hashtag for the event and promoting that for attendee use, you can easily track what the attendees are saying about the event and their experience at the hotel.  Monitor your hotel's Foursquare account to see who is "checking-in" at the event and engage with those guests to ensure they are having a good time and offer assistance if needed.
  3. Vendors associated with the in-house group - In getting to know a client--whether it be a couple that is hosting their wedding ceremony and reception at your hotel, a family hosting a bar or bat mitzvah, or charity hosting a banquet or silent auction--most hotels allow outside vendors to contribute to the production of an event.  These vendors include florists, photographers, bakeries, dance lesson companies, or caterers who most likely have web pages and are active on social media.  By learning about the different vendors with which you will be working and co-coordinating, you can easily cross-promote services, build links, and increase engagement.  Another important factor in linking with vendors is the ability to share and link firsthand imagery and photography on both your social media outlets and on your webpage.  Get permission from the event hosts to take pictures of the event and post them on your website and social media channels. You can also ask them to tag their own photos at your hotel along with the other vendors that they have used.

These outreach tips are much easier to implement than other traditional linking methods and are a great way to cross-promote groups, meetings, and events at your property. All of these interactions provide valuable publicity and strength in your online marketing campaign, particularly within a given in-house group. There's also a good chance that your competitors aren't doing this type of link building, so it's an excellent way to set yourself apart from the crowd.

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Depending on your strategy and needs, using OTAs is an easy yet effective marketing tool that can really boost your online presence and occupancy. While OTAs are not the best approach for building ADR, having complete, up-to-date listings across OTAs is crucial for taking advantage of the "Billboard Effect" and for having a holistic hotel online marketing strategy. That said, here are five simple steps that you can follow to further increase your hotel’s presence on these important channels.

1. Update Content Regularly

Make sure that your listing contains content that is up-to-date, complete, and compelling. Your most recent hotel information, photos, room amenities, and policies should be accurately displayed on each of your listings. This will not only help visitors make informed decisions about your hotel, but it will also ensure that you show up in the proper search results when visitors use filters. For example, if a hotel that previously charged $10 for parking per day, now offers it for free and does not update this information across OTAs, the hotel will not be listed when the Free Parking filter is used to refine search results. These updates and changes may seem minor but can make a big difference to ensure that your hotel can be found easily in an OTA depending on the visitor’s needs and search behaviors.





To increase visibility in the search results, work with your market manager to add a tag to highlight a hotel special and draw visitors’ eyes to your listing. Depending on the OTA, market managers will allow you to submit the tag copy to emphasize your hotel’s recent renovation, a weekday discount, or simply your advance purchase rate.




2. Open Up Availability and Ensure Rate Parity

While larger hotel brands rely on brand agreements for availability and parity, smaller properties should keep an eye on rates and inventory. By having open availability and all rates within parity, you will inherently achieve a higher user experience for travelers looking to book, and market managers will be more willing to strategize and work with you to achieve your goals. Having infrequent parity issues is rewarded by increased ranking as well, so by ensuring that your hotel listing is in parity with your brand reservations and other OTAs, you will help increase your listing visibility organically too. In addition, to maximize exposure and take advantage of the different booking opportunities on OTAs, hotels should load vacation package rates to display for visitors looking to book air + hotel or hotel + car. Participating in opaque channels is another opportunity that hoteliers can utilize. Having a presence in an OTA’s variety of booking options will maximize your exposure and give you a fuller OTA strategy.

3. Evaluate Distressed Inventory

OTAs are often associated with distressed inventory, but having a strong strategy to tackle your occupancy issues will help your online campaign beyond your need dates in addition to increasing your exposure. If you are trying to target sales over the next 24-hours, use channels and mobile app sites that specialize in this type of booking and travel window, such as HotelTonight. Hoteliers can also increase exposure by opting into 24-hour sales. The short booking window drives a strong call to action, and you can still target a longer travel window, depending on the sale and OTA.
OTAs will also promote particular markets, so if your region is being highlighted in the next Last Minute Sale, make sure you are listed in the email blast if you need the extra exposure. There is a good chance that some of your competitors will be listed here as well, so opting into Last Minute Deals will not only increase your exposure from having just the organic listing, but it will also ensure that you are taking advantage of all the OTA opportunities that will put you on par with your competitors’ presence.

4. Use Targeted Ads

Bidding for ad space in OTA search results is a very straightforward way to increase exposure in these channels. Specifically, it is a very effective strategy for targeting precise booking and travel windows. Ads such as Expedia TravelAds or Sponsored Search on Travelocity and Orbitz are very effective for hotels, regardless of whether your hotel's organic ranking in the OTA search results is high or low. On the one end, if you rank poorly for your market, ads will give you the opportunity to be listed higher than your organic listing in that OTA. On the other end, if you already rank high on the page, running ads will double your real estate on the search results page, increasing the chance of a user clicking on your ad or listing over a competitor listing.

5. Communication with Your Market Managers

Lastly, one of your greatest resources for maximizing your presence and strategy in OTA channels is your market managers. Make sure to keep open lines of communication with your market managers since they are going to be consistently aware of booking patterns and trends within your market. Communicate and verbalize any need dates and your desired goals, and allow them to help you strategize accordingly. While market managers often come into play to let you know that your rates are outside parity, they sometimes will have effective strategies and opportunities for you that would be worthwhile to look into. They can be quite a help in navigating all the different OTA opportunities, and in finding which strategies will work best for your campaign.

While OTA strategies cannot stand alone as your online marketing strategy, they can be exceedingly helpful in creating a wide-ranging, full-scale online campaign. A Cornell study showed that a hotel that receives 10% of its overall contribution from OTAs also received another 10% in direct web bookings through their official brand website by being promoted on the OTAs. Having a full, complete presence across OTAs will not only result in an increase in OTA bookings, but it will also result in an increase in direct, brand.com bookings due to the increase in awareness of your hotel.

Need help with OTAs for your hotel?

Give us a call at 877-361-1177 x202 or send us a note if you are interested in finding out more about independent websites or how Blue Magnet can help you achieve your hotel's ecommerce goals.

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Google knows how to generate buzz for their new products from the get-go, even if that particular endeavor isn't being rolled out to the public until much later. So, while it may seem like all that hype about Google+ back in June 2011 was anticlimactic, Google had a master plan brewing. With Google's strategic approach to put Google+ on the map (both literally and figuratively), it's time to make your hotel's Google+ presence shine above that of your competitors.

The Merge

In recent months we have slowly but surely witnessed the subtle integration of some Google+ suggestions into organic search results. Soon after, Google announced a big change to local search: business listings on Google Places (the standard business listings that appear on a Google Map search) were automatically merging with Google+ Local listings.

This transition reorganized the layout of the photos, content and reviews to align more closely with other Google+ initiatives. It also established a unique plus.google.com URL for each local listing, which allowed for business owners to provide a link directly to the listing. Additionally, it abolished anonymous reviews by requiring that customers log into a Gmail account before leaving a review, adding an element of authority.

Google then proceeded to announce that any local businesses that had joined Google's social network by creating a Google+ Page could finally merge their Google+ Page with their Google+ Local listing. Combining all of these various Google platforms allows businesses to have one standard listing that unifies content and photos across all Google search results, map listings and social channels. Business owners will no longer need to visit multiple local and social pages to monitor their reviews, edit content, upload photos or post announcements. Customers will benefit from businesses establishing one all-encompassing listing because they are more likely to receive accurate information that comes directly from the business itself.

We hope you followed our advice several months ago when we recommended that your hotel jump on the Google+ bandwagon because, now that Google's social media platform is gaining momentum, it's time to ensure that your hotel's Google+ Page is standing out among the pages of your competitors. Follow our suggestions to ensure that you are effectively marketing your hotel on Google+.

Create a Google+ Page for your hotel

 

  1. Before creating a Google+ Brand Page, you will need to create a personal Google+ Profile. Similar to how Facebook brand pages work, the owner of the page must have a personal profile in order to create a Page. Your Google+ profile must be a realistic name rather than a brand name.
  2. In the left hand navigation tab, select "Pages " and "Create New Page."
  3. When it prompts you to select a category, choose "Local Business or Place." Only Google+ pages set up as a local business are able to merge their page and Google Places listing thus far.
  4. Enter your hotel's phone number to locate it on the map. Select the correct listing and confirm your initial information before creating the page.

 

 

Merge your hotel's Google+ Page with your hotel's Google+ Local Listing

  1. When you view your Google+ Page, Google will boldly publicize that it is unverified and it will prompt you, as an owner of the page, to "Verify your business to be found across Google, including Search and Maps."



  2. Google will then require that you verify via postcard which may take up to 1-2 weeks. Enter the name of the person at the business who will be responsible for retrieving the postcard.
  3. The postcard will contain a PIN that will need to be entered on the Google+ Page to verify that you are indeed the owner and finalize the merge of your Google+ Local and Google+ Page.

Ensure your hotel stands out from the crowd

Just by merging your listings this early in the game you will automatically be ahead of most of your competitors, but don't sit around waiting for the rest of the not-so-tech-savvy world to catch up. Make sure you optimize your listing with relevant information and incorporate creativity to highlight your hotel's unique personality.

Optimize the content

Begin optimizing your hotel's Google+ page by filling in the fields under the about tab such as: Introduction, Hours, Website, Contact Info and Address. In comparison to many other social networks, Google+ provides the business with a liberal amount of creative control when describing the hotel in the Introduction section. For starters, you will probably be relieved to find that there is no character limitation forcing you to pick and choose what information guests may need to know. You can keep your Introduction short and to the point or you can add flowery language and innate details.

As you're inserting the text, take advantage of the basic formatting tools that Google+ provides, such as bolding or italics, to call attention to key phrases, organize your content or insert hyperlinks. In the example below, the hotel uses a bullet point list to make the amenities easily readable and incorporates two direct links throughout the copy to send potential guests to their brand.com home page and the hotel's restaurant page.

 

In addition to providing a link to the hotel's website, brands can create a list of other URLs they want to link to on their Google+ page, including social media pages. Hotels can use these additional links to grow their social media followers on Facebook or Twitter, to showcase their hotel's photography on Flickr or to captivate guests with video tours on YouTube. If the hotel's restaurant publishes its menu online or takes reservations via opentable, publicize it here! Since this Google+ page is now acting as the Google+ Local page as well, the listing is ideal for capturing customers that search for hotels or restaurants by location on their mobile devices.

Showcase your hotel's personality

Now that you've got the content in there, it's time to get creative! Similar to Facebook pages, Google+ uses a standard thumbnail image (250 x 250) accompanied by a rectangular cover photo (940w x 180h). If you haven't yet opted in to the cover photo, you may still be privy to the 5 square thumbnails in a horizontal row. (It's important to note, once your curiosity gets the best of you and you switch over to the single horizontal cover photo, you will not be able to revert back to the 5 horizontal images.)

 

As both an hotelier and as a guest, you are probably well aware that hotel photography can be a powerful "make-it-or-break-it" factor when deciding between 2 or more comparably priced hotels. So, take advantage of these first-impression photos on Google+ and provide alluring images that show guests why your hotel should be added to their Google+ circles.  To get your creative wheels spinning, think about what sets your hotel apart from others. What do guests repeatedly comment on or why do guests keep coming back? Does your hotel have a distinct personality due to the location (i.e. Nashville's country music scene)?  Do your rooms offer spectacular views of the city, the lake or the mountains? Do guests choose your hotel for a particular amenity? Does your hotel pride itself on being pet-friendly? Does your hotel mostly cater to business and meeting guests? Are you known for being an amazing wedding or reception venue in the area? Determine what your hotel's strengths are and highlight them at the forefront of your Google+ Page. Think about your cover photo as a billboard.

For example, the hotel below, which is widely recognized as a landmark in San Antonio and is nicknamed the "Official Hotel of the Alamo," thrives on the city's rich history and culture. Due to its unique architecture and proximity to the Alamo, the hotel captures a big leisure and tourist audience, so the Google+ Page draws on Texan authenticity and must-see nearby tourist attractions.

 

 

While the polaroid-inspired montage above may take some extra creative skills  that require time, effort and even possibly outsourcing, it very clearly sets the hotel apart from the typical Google+ page -even a hotel that has great, high-res photography. If you use a design program, you can even add text on top of the photos for additional branding opportunities, as in the example below.

 

 

Respond to your reviews

Reviews, which were previously found on your hotel's Google Places listing, are now hosted on your Google+ page. In an attempt to weed out false reviews or spammers, Google requires reviewers to be logged into a Gmail account. As an hotelier, you already know how important it is to respond to most of your reviews, whether good, bad or mediocre. Reviews on Google+ are no exception. Crafting a well-written response and putting a positive-spin on any negative feedback will show the reviewer as well as any other potential guests on Google+ that the hotel has a caring management team and appreciates guest comments.

Google+ makes it easy page admins to respond. When you are logged into your Google+ Page, select the About tab and scroll down to see the reviews. Make sure they are sorted by "Latest" so you are responding to the most relevant reviews. Hit "Respond" and enter a quick, personal note of gratitude for their positive feedback or mention the steps the hotel is taking to improve upon whatever the complaint may be.

 

What's next for Google+?

In related news, Google+ is now allowing page owners to invite up to 50 additional admins to co-manage the Google+ page. This lets multiple people monitor and edit Google+ pages without having to share confidential login information. Although only one person can be the actual owner of the page, ownership can be easily transferred to another person.

In typical Google fashion, Google+ has finally announced that it is rolling out vanity URLs to select brands, celebrities or public personalities that are in a large amount of peoples' circles. While most of the Google+ world will have to wait it out, some fortunate folks are now able to select a unique URL where the brand name replaces the long string of numbers in the standard plus.google.com URL. For example, if the Emily Morgan Hotel wanted to promote their Google+ page on printed marketing collateral, they would provide the following link: https://plus.google.com/b/118259268316760754340/118259268316760754340/posts, instead of something more concise such as: plus.google.com/emilymorganhotel. Having key phrases, like your brand name, in the URL will be beneficial for both SEO efforts and for marketing your Google+ Page.

Don't say we didn't warn you! Google is determined to make Google+ a powerful force in the search, social and local world. Setting up, merging and managing a bold and well-optimized Google+ Page will ensure that your hotel is one step closer to dominating the search engine results!

 

Want more information?

Give us a call at 877-361-1177 x202 or send us a note if you are interested in finding out more about independent websites or how Blue Magnet can help you achieve your hotel's ecommerce goals.

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Beach on the Poconos IslandsIf you've never been to the beautiful Poconos Islands in the tropical turquoise waters of the Caribbean you should definitely add it to your list of top places in the world to visit. A tiny, undeveloped archipelago floating lazily off the northeastern coast of the Dominican Republic (see map below), The Poconos Islands are what most people envision when they dream of the quintessential beachfront paradise.

Yes, surely add it to your list of exotic, must-see destinations.  In fact, you can add it right up there with El Dorado, Shangri-La, Platform 9 3/4, the lost city of Atlantis, and any other mythical destination you had your heart set on.

Sadly, there are no Poconos Islands. But that photo above sure made you think twice, didn't it?

For hoteliers, the message should be clear: the imagery on your hotel website serves as an incredibly persuasive tool for converting visitors into paying guests. When paired with a description of your property or a claim about your features and amenities, an image can actually enhance the perception of truth about that particular statement.

Dead or alive?

recent study mentioned in Arstechnica highlights this very impact and image can have on "truthiness:"

The authors, based in New Zealand and Canada, performed an "alive or dead" test, showing the names of minor celebrities and asking undergraduates whether the person was still alive. In half the cases, they also showed a photo of the person. When the photo was present, people were more likely to answer that the statement was true.

The obvious explanation for this is that none of the photos were of a corpse, and seeing a person alive would almost certainly bias the participants toward thinking the person was alive. So, they switched the questions, asking another group whether they thought the person was dead. As it turned out, the photo also caused people to evaluate the statement as true, and answer that the person was no longer alive.

To make sure this didn't only work with people, the authors switched to true/false trivia questions, like the macadamia example mentioned above. Again, photos (in this case, images of the subject of the question) caused people to answer "true" more often than they did in a control quiz. And it wasn't just images. They could get a similar effect by reading a short description of the person in question.

Picture vs. common sense

The Poconos Islands in the CaribbeanImagery is incredibly persuasive.  In instances where even the most common of sense should prevail, imagery can cast doubt on your firmly held notions.  Take the introduction of the Poconos Islands above, for instance.  It's pretty convincing when you see a legitimate-looking beach photo labeled "The Poconos Islands" or a map of the Caribbean featuring the mysterious island chain.  Still, you're pretty sure you were always taught that the Poconos were a popular ski destination in mountainous eastern Pennsylvania.  ...on the other hand, maybe there really are Poconos Islands somewhere out there.

While there really are no Poconos Islands, many years ago I created them.  Some coworkers were talking about their recent vacation in the Poconos and how great the skiing had been.  Having never been to the Poconos nor having known much about the destination, the name always sounded Caribbean to me, which seemed an unlikely place to go skiing.  It could be that I was simply confusing the Beach Boys' island ballad "Kokomo" with the similarly sounding Pennsylvanian Mountain range.  Regardless, my followup question about skiing on some snow-capped Caribbean isle was met with a hearty round of laughter.  In retrospect, it really didn't make sense to me either, but in my mind "The Poconos" could only exist as a name for an island.

The power of the picture

To save face I insisted that such an island did exist and that I was sure I could locate it on Google Maps.  So I went back to my desk, opened the Caribbean map in Photoshop, created a new island by cloning Cuba, and labeled it "The Poconos Islands."  I emailed the altered map to my coworkers and then made my rounds to each office to witness their confusion firsthand. It turns out I received some head shakes of disbelief, an apology, and some exclaimations of frustration from those who simply couldn't locate the fabricated islands on their own computer.  But even though my coworkers remained fairly skeptical, they had trouble refuting the altered map and eventually accepted the lie.  All because of an image.

These coworkers knew better, but the fact that they now had an image to support my erroneous claim caused them to abandon what they new for sure to be true (the Poconos of PA) for the uncertainty of a newly proposed fact (the Poconos of the Caribbean).

What hotels can learn from The Poconos Islands

I'm not suggesting that hoteliers should lie to customers about features of their hotel.  Instead, the Poconos Islands--while an extreme example--should remind us of the power of imagery to persuade.  Here are a few items for hoteliers to consider in managing their online presence:

  1. Use photos to strengthen the perception of your claims - If your selling feature is your proximity to the downtown area, show a photo of downtown.  If your hotel's spa has the best Swedish massages in town, show a photo of the spa service.  If your hotel is just minutes from the airport, show a photo of the closest airport.  Each image can have an impact on how truthful your customers perceive each of those statements to be. After all, it's much easier to make a judgement about a single photo of a guest room than 10 paragraphs of text about how great it is.
  2. Budget for professional photography - According to the study, just having any relevant photo is enough to convince people of a statement's truth.  But that doesn't mean you should skimp on good photography. It's been said before, but due to its importance in every online marketing channel, it bears repeating: good photography is crucial to selling your hotel.  Don't cut corners by using your iPhone to capture killer shots.  Hire a professional who understands good composition and can sell your hotel through interesting framing rather than relying on Photoshopping in features you don't have.
  3. Don't lie or exaggerate through your photos - You may fool customers into booking at your hotel, but once they arrive they'll be sure to correct your mistake with photos of their own--photos which will quickly be shared on TripAdvisor, Facebook and any other network of which they are a member. Not only will be losing that customer in the future, but all potential customers with which that person shared their experience. Don't Photoshop ocean views into your suite photos if you're a mile inland.  In the age of internet transparency, many travel sites already do a great job of exposing the deception of over-doctored hotel photography.

In addition to images' ability to enhance content's truthiness, we've seen that photo gallery pages are consistently one of the top viewed pages on hotel websites.  We see the same engagement on social media channels, where imagery posted on our clients' social networks always gets greater interaction than plain text status updates. When done right, professional photography can be an expensive investment but one that's well worth it, especially considering how ubiquitous imagery is in the online travel world. Those photos can be used on your hotel website, OTAs, social media, menus, brochures, blogs, TripAdvisor and other third party sites, to further support your claims about your property.

So whether your hotel is in Aruba or Jamaica, Bermuda or Bahama, or anywhere else around the globe, when it comes to the the power of your hotel's photography, just remember a little place called Poconos.

Key Largo, Montego, baby why don't we go
Down to Poconos
We'll get there fast
And then we'll take it slow
That's where we wanna go
Way down to
Poconos.

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