Abby Heft

Armed with an expensively framed B.A. in Public Relations from Webster University – St. Louis, Abby packed her bags, dressed her dog in a traveling outfit and moved to Chicago in 2007. Prior to her move, Abby was working in marketing at a popular St. Louis magazine and thought to herself, “Wow, I really love this job. I should probably move to Chicago and see if I can work for Oprah!” Things don’t necessarily turn out as planned when you move to a new city without knowing Oprah. Abby’s career train in Chicago has made stops at a direct mail advertising agency and a marketing department at a local not-for-profit agency. Abby joined Blue Magnet Interactive in the Fall of 2011 as an Associate Marketing Manager and is planning to grow old at this agency, but without the wrinkles. With her love of hotels (and using the less-popular sitting areas - ever wonder who uses the chairs at the end of the hall on the 5th floor? Abby does.), her marketing background and her magnificent strategizing, Abby is taking the internet by storm. Abby’s goals for the upcoming year are to use her Pinterest addiction to uncover a whole new online marketing strategy and follow all of the Chicago food trucks in real life, not just Twitter.

In a previous blog post, my colleague drew a unique parallel between SEO and mowing the lawn, now I'd like to present to you why maintaining a Google+ Business Listing is like babysitting a toddler in a glass menagerie. Google is the toddler and your data are the adorable figurines that are on a low, easily accessible shelf and are twinkling in the sunlight. You tell the toddler not to touch them. You double check the locks on the display cases, and you keep a watchful eye as you try to distract the toddler with other games and tricks. And still, when you turn your back for a split second, the toddler has managed to open the case, remove the figurines, and wreak havoc! (Disclaimer: I love kids. This is not a commentary on tiny humans being the worst).

Let's step back for a minute and answer the question "What is a Google+ Business Listing?"

Your hotel's Google+ local listing, now called "Google My Business," is a one-stop shop to get your business information on Google Search, Google Maps, and Google+. It is of the utmost importance that businesses ensure their listing is active and up to date so your guests and customers are presented with correct information.

This is what Google My Business looks like in action:

callaway-google-lettered

A. Google+ Page is connected to your website in organic search results
B. Google Map pin is connected to your website in organic search, presenting searches with a quick view of your address and phone number
C. Your business displays in the Google Knowledge Graph

This information above also populates business listings in the new Google 3-Pack Display and through Google Map results.

How Does Incorrect Information Get to a Google My Business Listing?

Google’s mission is essentially to give searchers the most accurate data at any time. They created Google My Business so business owners have the option to input their correct business information and control how their business displays when users are searching for them on Google.

You may be thinking, “I updated my Google+ Local business listing last year, so Google already has all of my correct information. I guess this article isn’t for me after all.” WRONG. There are a number of reasons your business data could be incorrect on Google, without you even knowing it.

A quick peek at the Local Search Ecosystem from Moz shows that Google is being inundated with data from many outlets.

moz-local-search-ecosystem

Google sifts through all of this data (specifically looking at: Business Name, Address, Phone Number, and URL) and ultimately displays what it sees as the "official" business information. If a hotel has incorrect or differing information across any of these sites, this information could eventually make its way to Google. Not only does an incorrect phone number or address create a confusing and frustrating customer experience, but it also negatively affects your local SEO.

There was also a change behind the scenes at Google recently that could have affected your hotel listing on Google. They recently finished transferring the final group of listings from Google Local to the new Google My Business platform. This transfer caused some issues of old data rising from the dead, pages being marked as duplicates, or pages that were once verified and updated becoming unverified.

Hotel brands can sometimes throw a kink into this local search ecosystem as well, making the information confusing or inconsistent. For example, a brand could push out the brand 800-number instead of a hotel's local number. If that new phone number reaches Google, it would likely update that information on your hotel's Google+ listing. Like we mentioned before, this could lead to a negative customer experience if the guest is just looking to speak to your front desk and not the call center, but it also negatively affects SEO to have an inconsistent business name, address, phone number, or URL on the web.

Although it can be frustrating to have to continually check your Google+ Business listing, it is important to do so regularly so you can proactively take steps to update any incorrect information or fix any issues.

If you haven't checked your listing recently, go ahead and check it now….I'll wait….. If your Google+ Business listing displays incorrect information, read on.

Here are four tips to fix incorrect business information on your Google My Business Hotel Listing

Tip #1 - Check Your Verified Account Listing

If you have incorrect information displaying on your listing, login to your Google+ Business Manager account and check your business information. If something is incorrect, edit it and save. It could take a couple of days for the information to go live on your public listing, so set a reminder to check again in a few days.

Is the information correct in your account, but still displaying incorrectly on your public Google+ Business listing? Jump to Tip #2.

Is there a message about your listing being de-activated or marked as a duplicate? Jump to Tip #3.

Tip #2 - Update Your Business Information in Google Map Maker

Google Map Maker is a wonderful and under-utilized tool for businesses and marketers. It allows users to add and update geographic or business information, which is then reviewed by Google Listings Editors. It's important that you use the same Google account for all of your Map Maker edits as your credibility grows the more your edits are approved.

If your hotel has incorrect information on your live Google+ Business page but correct data in your verified account, check your Map Maker data. Follow the steps below to make edits:

  • Search for your hotel at google.com/mapmaker
  • Click "Edit" below your business listing
  • Select "Edit this place" from the drop-down menu
  • Submit changes to your business information

google-mapmaker-edit

Is your business information correct in Map Maker or are your edits being denied? I invite you to join me at Tip #3.

Tip #3 - Contact Google Local Help

Google has actually ramped up their help team over the past year. Gone are the days of help tickets going unanswered for months or being ignored altogether. You can either email or call Google Support, and they're actually very helpful! This is the best option if your listing has magically become unverified or if there is data that you can't seem to get updated.

Did you work with Google Local Support and are still having issues with bad data on your listings? My friend, you have one option left…..on to Tip #4!

Tip #4 - Do a Major Local Listing Audit

Typically bad data shows up on a listing because that data exists somewhere out there on the internet. When a hotel partners with Blue Magnet Interactive for SEO services, we begin by performing a full local listing audit. This ensures that all the major data aggregators (anywhere from Acxiom to Yelp) are claimed, updated, and consistent. This grueling, often mundane task is crucial to the success of your hotel. As seen in the local search ecosystem matrix above, it is very easy for incorrect information on one local listing to spread through the tangled web of listings like wildfire. Soon enough, your hotel will have incorrect information listed everywhere.

If you regularly have issues with your Google+ Business Page, complete a major local listing audit and make any necessary updates across the web. Check all listings for accuracy and consistency on things like:

  • Name
  • Address
  • Phone
  • Website
  • Categories
  • Descriptions
  • Photography

If your information is correct and consistent across the web, chances are it will stay correct on Google. If there is one rogue YellowPages.com listing with an incorrect phone number - Google could once again prove to be the metaphorical toddler in the glass menagerie and overwrite your correct Google My Business information.

In Summary

Hopefully, these four tips will help you navigate any Google+ Business issue you run into. If you've never done a full local listing audit, you're in for a real treat. But we promise, the payout is well worth the effort. Guests will be able to find correct information about your hotel and easily book a room.

If you're still continuing to have issues after following the four steps above, then I'd like to chat. At Blue Magnet, we love Google. We (well, I'll speak for myself) love cleaning up bad data through local listings, and I'd love to get your Google+ Business listing in tip top shape.

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OTAs (Online Travel Agencies) – hoteliers love to hate them. Unfortunately, they’re an important part of your hotel’s eMarketing strategy. Joe Schmo down the road doesn’t know anything about rate parity or the exorbitant margins your hotel has to pay when guests book a room on an OTA; however Joe Schmo does know that the Travelocity gnome is adorable and that those William Shatner Priceline commercials are hilarious. So, when he’s looking for a hotel in city X, Joe turns to his favorite OTA to begin shopping.

Although many hotels typically offer a best price guarantee to counter OTAs and encourage guests to book directly with the hotel, it’s seemingly difficult to get their message out to everyone. So if they have rooms to fill, it’s often best practice for hotels to just play along and fight the OTA battle.

Expedia is the giant in the OTA landscape. If your hotel is playing nice with OTAs and you need to sell rooms quickly or have specific need dates, then Expedia’s TravelAd solution is a great advertising opportunity. Many hotels enroll in the Expedia Travel Ads program at some point or another– but are they using the ads strategically to get the most bang for their buck? Probably not.

Here are 5 tips for hotels to increase their ROI from Expedia TravelAds:

1. Be sure your your hotel’s Expedia listing is optimized. The first thing to check is your hotel’s thumbnail photo – is it the best representation of your property? If you don’t have a great exterior shot of the hotel, it doesn’t hurt to use a pool image or a beautiful room or lobby photo. This is your hotel’s first interaction with a potential guest – showcase your hotel’s best assets! You can also add up to 4 photos for each room type. Make sure each room type has at least has 1 photo, but try adding 4 if possible so you can create a visual experience for your shoppers. This can be the view from the room, an amenity photo, a bathroom photo – anything that will help sell your room. Lastly, check your descriptions and available amenities. Are you highlighting everything a guest will love about your hotel? Is all of the information completely accurate? Guests will not appreciate false promises – and you can be sure incorrect information will come back to bite you in the reviews later on.

2. Read a few of your hotel’s best Expedia reviews to determine what to highlight in ad copy. Maybe all of your guests are raving about an outdoor fire pit during winter – might be worthwhile to try out an ad highlighting that inviting amenity in your copy. This is actually a good place to get ideas not only for TravelAd copy, but also for hotel descriptions and your website copy. Keep in mind, TravelAds don’t need to be written for SEO – your goal is to grab users’ attention so they click for more information. Write compelling travel ad copy that will resonate with your potential guests!

3. Don’t set Search/Booking dates if your hotel has ads targeting Travel Dates within the next couple of months. For example, if you have an ad targeting travel dates during the first week of March, it’s pretty likely that folks are booking right now in early February. You don’t want to miss out on those potential guests traveling in March if you have your ad scheduled to appear only for guests searching towards the end of February. The Travel Dates are important – Search/Booking dates, not so much.

ROI-travelads

 

4. Be sure you cap your hotel’s spend by setting a daily/weekly/monthly budget. Otherwise, you could spend your entire ad balance in the blink of an eye. If you are continuously maxing out your budget early in the day, either look at possibly increasing the budget or set a reminder for yourself to turn your ads on in the afternoon and have them paused at the beginning of the day. Manually turning your ads on later in the day will ensure that your ad only appears for a shopper searching in the afternoon and evening, and it is likely that your competitors have already run out of their budget by then and are not showing at all.

5. Make friends with your hotel’s Expedia Market Manager and Travel Ads Account Manager. These guys can be a wealth of information and can be really helpful in planning your Expedia TravelAd strategy. If you notice that all of a sudden your hotel is not getting any bookings or if the “recent market price” for your TravelAds skyrockets, a quick phone call with your Market Manager can usually provide you with insight and new strategies. Also, Expedia’s Market Managers are generally cool folks! At Blue Magnet, we look forward to chatting with our Expedia Market Manager contacts any chance we get… that’s how we’ve uncovered some of these fantastic strategies for our own clients’ ads!

By following the 5 tips above, hoteliers can start working towards improving their Expedia TravelAds ROI and increasing occupancy during need periods. With so much competition on OTAs, it’s tricky for hotels to get in front of potential guests and convert them into actual guests. Expedia TravelAds can help maximize your hotel’s exposure to a plethora of innocent shoppers, but it’s the hotelier’s job to make sure that first impressions turn into sales!

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Times are changing - the pound sign is now a hashtag, tweets aren't just for birds, and brands want things shared more than a kindergarten teacher. This past week, the Blue Magnet Interactive team set off to explore several educational seminars hosted by Chicago's Social Media Week to stay on the forefront of the everchanging online social landscape. Our online marketing team is eager to share how their key takeaways from these sessions can translate into successful hotel social media marketing campaigns.

What Social Media Week Chicago 2013 session did you attend?

Abby stopped by Google’s Chicago office for their Google MapMaker Workshop.

At this session…

The Google MapMaker team explained the importance of Google Maps for small business owners. Not many folks know that they are able to edit information on Google Maps, whether it's updating an address, marking a business as closed or updating a street name. It's important for business owners especially to be aware of how their information is displayed on Google Maps. This is the information that leads potential clients, customers and guests straight to your doors. This session went step-by-step through the Google MapMaker interface and showed how to update business information on Google Maps.

One of the most interesting things I learned at this session is…

The more accurate you are with your MapMaker edits and the more often you make quality edits, the more trusted you become in the Google Maps community. Each edit is reviewed by the MapMaker team and if your MapMaker account has a good history of edits, your future suggestions will be taken at a higher priority and your edits are more likely to be approved.

So, why should a hotel use MapMaker?

It's not only vitally important to have the correct information for your individual hotel on Google Maps, but it's important that guests are getting a good idea of what they will find in the surrounding area. As a hotel owner, you can claim your own hotel on Google Maps and have control over your information. As a member of your community, you can make updates to surrounding businesses, parks and attractions. Did a new winery open up just a block away from your hotel? Check to see if it's on Google Maps! Did a popular bakery next door close it's doors? Make sure to report it as closed so guests don't find themselves in front of an empty building. Remember to always make sure your business information is correct on Google Maps. If your hotel looks great online, go ahead and take a peek at your neighbors and make sure your community looks great!

Read more BMI highlights from other Social Media Week Chicago 2013 sessions.

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MapQuest recently announced a new partnership with Priceline, which will give users the ability to book hotels directly from MapQuest search results. Per their April press release, this update includes "the ability to search, compare and book published-price hotel rooms at thousands of quality chain and independent hotels around the world. MapQuest travelers will also have access to Priceline’s database of hotel specials, including instant discounts, free breakfast, free Internet access and more".

If you never thought MapQuest was a channel to pay attention to for your hotel, now is the time to change your tune.

MapQuest: Playing Favorites

It seems as though MapQuest has partnered with a number of hotel brands to specifically highlight as a user searches for hotels.

MapQuest Hotels

 

When you choose a specific brand above, it shows you the nearest hotels to your current location:

Holiday Inn Mapquest

 

At this point, a user can get directions to the hotel, go directly to the hotel's website or book a room. These sponsored listings are pretty straight forward and take the user to the brand website to book.

What About the Other Hotel Brands on MapQuest?

If a guest is looking for a hotel outside of those sponsored brands, there is an option to search for all of the area hotels. This is more of a lion's den - and where the Priceline partnership and the optimization of your hotel's listing come into play.

Using Priceline's inventory, MapQuest shows price comparisons in search results for all area hotels:

Mapquest prices

 

A user can dive even deeper into a specific hotel by clicking on the hotel name to view its full MapQuest profile, which has photos, a description, Check-In/Check-Out information and more:

Mapquest hotel listing

 

There are 2 ways to book from here - through the hotel website by clicking "Website" or through the Priceline network by clicking "Book Now".

hotel listing mapquest

 

In a perfect world, if a user was looking to book a hotel room from MapQuest, they would find their way to your hotel website and book directly with no cut of the revenue going to an OTA. However, the Book Now button is so much prettier! And it's telling me exactly what to do! By clicking the Book Now button, a user will be taken to the Priceline/Mapquest network at bookings.mapquest.com. The hotel information found on this network pulls directly from a hotel's listing on Priceline and Booking.com (a Priceline affiliate).

So, How Do I Make My Hotel Stand Out?

Great question! In order to be fully optimized on MapQuest, hoteliers need to do 3 things.

1. Claim & update your hotel listing on MapQuest

Search for your hotel on MapQuest. If it hasn't been claimed already, you'll have the option to Claim this Business:

claim hotel on mapquest

Once you've gone through the steps to claim your business, be sure all of your hotel information is correct and up to date. Take this opportunity to add a hotel description, photos and a YouTube video from your perfectly optimized YouTube channel.

2. Update your hotel information on Priceline

If you need to remove outdated photos, add new amenities or update any of your hotel information on Priceline, just drop them a line. There is no extranet to manage your Priceline listings, but the content team can make any neccessary updates. Shoot an email with your updated hotel details to merchantupdates@priceline.com,  and you'll be that much closer to full optimization!

3. Update your hotel information on Booking.com

Login to the Booking.com Extranet to update your hotel information. From here, you can submit new photos or remove outdated photos, add hotel amenities, update room descriptions and details or request updates to your hotel description. The description that displays on your hotel's bookings.mapquest.com listing pulls directly from Booking.com, so be sure all of the information is correct.

Now you're set! Your hotel is going to look great on MapQuest, and hopefully you'll get a boost on your Priceline and Booking.com listings as well. The more complete and up to date your hotel listings are across the web, the more appealing your hotel will be to potential guests during their online research and booking phases. The OTA and Local Search landscape is always changing, so hoteliers need to be aware of how their hotel looks on the different channels and keep its information up to date. No one wants to lose business to a competitor across the street for something as simple as an out-of-date MapQuest listing!

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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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Have you ever tried to quickly update your official hotel website with time-sensitive information, but were told it would take weeks for the brand to make the change? Do you want to include links to your hotel’s social media accounts on your official website but the brand says you can’t? Has your brand ever prevented you from adding a link to a website you thought might be valuable for your visitors? Or maybe the brand has placed restrictions on the landing pages you are allowed to create within your site.

As you probably know by now, there are many additions, enhancements and optimization techniques that simply can't be made to your hotel’s official brand website. If this sounds familiar to you then your hotel’s online presence is being limited by your official brand website.

But don’t worry, you’re not alone! Many individual hotels flying big brand flags face these same challenges. Fortunately, an independent hotel website can be a boon to your overall online marketing efforts by effectively bypassing these brand limitations altogether!

Why major brands use constrictive website templates

Hotels may dislike these restrictions and limitations on what they can do with their own sites, but for the most part it's understandable why the brand maintains this control. After all, major hotel brands have massive amounts of content to manage across ALL their sites for ALL their hotels. As such, these brands often need to create strict standards and limited customizable content in order to effectively manage all the web content for their massive portfolio of properties. Imagine trying to manage online content for 2,000 different hotel websites with 2,000 different designs for 2,000 different Directors of Sales? Coordinating that process at the brand level would be a nightmare, hence, the necessity for an easy-to-manage website template with content limitations.

Your website should reflect your hotel's unique personality and destination

While the aforementioned template strategy is great for the corporate brand managers, who strive for uniform brand messaging across all properties, it fails to truly differentiate hotels in the same brand from one another.  In the end, the unique personality and visual appeal of each individual hotel gets homogenized by the templated nature of the sites.

For example, consider the official hotel website for an Embassy Suites in Waikiki, Hawaii.  Notice how it presents visitors with the same aesthetic appeal as the official website for an Embassy Suites in Piscataway, New Jersey. These are two hotels in very different markets: one a lush, tropical paradise known for luaus, leis and lava rock; and the other a small town in the Garden State settled in 1666 by Quakers and Baptists. It's difficult to make that distinction based solely on the screenshots of their homepages below. Online consumers are visual creatures--as evidenced by the fact that photo galleries are often one of the most visited pages of a hotel's website (after the homepage)--so it would be in each hotel's best interest to customize their site design to reflect their unique destinations.

Can you spot the difference between Hawaii and New Jersey?  No?  Me neither.

It is difficult to showcase the defining characteristics of your hotel and the destination in which it resides when the brand fits each hotel with the same school uniform. As a GM, DOS or hotel owner, you know your hotel stands apart from your competitors, but your official brand website is preventing you from creating this distinction in the eyes of your customers! A unique, custom, independent hotel website is often the only way to truly differentiate your hotel from others in your market. Remember, you’re not only competing with other brands in your market, in some cases you’re even competing with hotels in your same brand!

With that in mind, here are the top 7 ways an independent website can benefit your hotel:

1. Offer helpful links and additional content for SEO

With an independent website, your hotel has the authority to add any outbound links to other relevant sites. Links on landing pages and area attractions pages provide a great resource for SEO and link-building campaigns. If your hotel has a page dedicated to the wineries in the area with links to the winery websites, the wineries might be more likely to list a link to your hotel on their website. In addition, interlinking the pages of your independent site can help boost rankings for landing pages targeting niche keywords, like those for area attractions and events.  Efforts like this are simple to implement with an independent hotel website, and can help rank your site for more niche keywords in search engines.

2. Cover more ground in search engine results

With both your official brand site and an independent site, your hotel is able to be fully optimized to rank for many more keywords. There are a limited number of pages of brand websites that can be optimized, targeting just a few keywords. Creating landing pages about upcoming area events, updating meta tags to target important keywords and keeping fresh, keyword optimized content on the site are just a few ways your independent hotel website will stand out in search engines for the keywords that tend to convert better.

In addition, independent websites give your hotel complete control over common SEO strategies that aren't always available on brand websites, including optimizing H1, Title tags, alt tags on photos and creating a search engine and user-friendly site structure.

3. Present a unique design and improved user experience

An independent website showcases your hotel property and can be customizable to your unique surroundings. Is your hotel on the beach? A winery? In a city center? Your unique, independent website can be customized to your hotel property type, giving you an edge over the template brand websites.  Why would you want your hotel, which sits at the heart of a bustling metropolis, to have a website that looks the same as a hotel in the middle of rural America? Whether you like it or not, people do judge books by their covers, and your customers are no different.  Potential guests are making snap decisions about the quality of your hotel by the way it presents itself online.  If you have a poorly designed site, don't expect customers to be lining up at your reservation desk.

For a good example of this, Embassy Suites Temecula is located in the heart of Temecula wine country in the beautiful rolling hills of southern California, which is reflected by the unique background on their independent hotel website. Because of the template of their brand website, the hotel isn't visually showcased as such a great destination. As you can see, the background, photos and unique design on their independent website give visitors a snapshot of the beautiful location and everything the hotel has to offer.

Independent Hotel Website (visit site)


Brand Hotel
Website (visit site)

Along with the website design, the pages of the independent hotel website are customizable as well. If your hotel wants to promote pet-friendly rooms, on-site weddings or green accommodations, a unique landing page can easily be created to capture search traffic for those terms.

4. Make website updates more quickly

With an independent website, the hotel has complete control over the content. If your hotel recently created a special brunch menu, or took new photos of the lobby, those can be displayed on the independent hotel website within hours or even minutes. Not only do brand websites typically have a lengthy approval process, but there is not always a dedicated spot on your brand site to display important content, making it more difficult for visitors to take action on those items. Even loading simple content on some hotel brand sites can sometimes take two weeks or more--a long time to wait if you're trying to promote a last-minute special offer!

5. Showcase on-site hotel outlets

Hotels frequently ask Blue Magnet for help promoting their on-site outlets, including spas, restaurants, gift shops, fitness centers and golf courses. Although there are great strategies for promoting hotel restaurants and other on-site amenities, a branded website only allows for so much customization.

For instance, Hilton La Jolla Torrey Pines wanted to be sure they highlighted their popular on-site amenities as you can see below. They specifically wanted to be sure they were actively promoting their on-site restaurant, which is frequently updated with special menus and even includes a special Meet Our Chef page.

With the freedom a hotel has with their independent website, outlet pages can include important things such as a widget for visitors to make restaurant reservations, descriptions and photos of your on-site spa services, special event flyers or the ability to view and book tee times. These can be fully optimized for local dining or local attraction keywords and can capture searches not only for guests staying at the hotel, but for non-hotel guests looking for area amenities as well.

6. Better social media integration

Hotels now realize the importance of social media in their industry and have hopefully created hotel profiles across the major social media channels. Now, how do you let your guests know that you have a Facebook page or Twitter account?

Unfortunately, many hotel brand websites don’t allow for on-site integration, thus limiting the promotion of such channels. When equipped with only a hotel brand website, visitors will likely only find your social media profiles when specifically searching for them. Independent hotel websites allow you to integrate and prominently showcase each one of your social media profiles, making it easy for visitors to follow, like and interact with your hotel.

The Hilton Bellevue Hotel has a link to their Facebook, Twitter and TripAdvisor listing on each page of their website, as you can see in the screenshot above. Visitors to this hotel website can easily follow the hotel on Twitter, like them on Facebook, or leave a review on TripAdvisor following their stay. The easier it is to find your social media profiles, the quicker a hotel will grow their fan base.

7. Detailed website tracking and analytics

This may be the most important benefit to having a unique, independent hotel website. With website analytics, the hotel can track how users are finding the website and can monitor visitor activity and behavior once they arrive. This invaluable information for hotels includes everything from number of visitors viewing the site on mobile devices, search terms visitors are using to find the site and popular room types or specials. New analytics tracking even allows us to see social media influences on conversions and how multiple channels (PPC, SEO, social media, etc) are working together to influence each booking. This information can only be accessed through independent websites, as many hotel brands don't provide such detailed analytics tracking to their hotels.

This hotel, for example, can see that a majority of visitors to their website are going straight to the reservation widget to book a room or check rate. They can also see that their breakfast and dinner menu on the dining page are the 2nd and 3rd most viewed events on the website, followed by the Double Queen and Standard King room types. With this insight, the hotel knows that their dining page should be fully optimized, as many people are viewing the menus. They can also see that maybe they should take another look at their lunch menu, as maybe it is not as enticing as the Breakfast and Dinner. There are many opportunities to find when you have insight such as this.

Another helpful analytics report shows what country website visits are coming from. As you can see below, this hotel has quite a few Canadian visitors. This is great insight, as the hotel can focus on making sure they are optimized online for both Canada and the United States, including updating their listings on popular Canadian travel websites or creating special offers for Canadian travelers.

Many major hotel brands provide very limited reporting to their individual hotels, making it difficult (if not impossible) for them to track and analyze user behavior as highlighted above. In the end, having access to these kinds of web reports and being able to analyze the behavior of your users can help you modify your site’s content to increase overall conversion rates.

A necessary ingredient of the online optimization pie

An independent hotel website allows for many opportunities to stand out online, above and beyond the 7 reasons above. With all the benefits and flexibility it provides, for many hotels an independent website is a necessary ingredient of their online marketing mix. With the ability to track website clicks, gain detailed keyword insight and really showcase your unique property, independent websites are a popular alternative to hotel brand websites.

That's not to say that you should ignore your official brand site!  Far from it.  After all, all reservations must still be directed through the official brand booking engine.  But as an individual hotel you should use the Brand-provided website as a base platform--a starting point.  It will allow hotels with smaller budgets and fewer resources to participate in the online marketing game, and will elevate those hotels to the same level playing field as bigger hotels flying your flag.  But it won't set you apart.  An independent site allows you to create your own, flexible digital marketing hub.  It gives you the power to elevate your property above the brand's base efforts and experiment with exciting, new online revenue generators in which the brand may not be interested in participating.

Overall, an independent website is simply a more efficient, sexier vehicle in which to move a guest through the 5 stages of travel--from the research, to the booking, to sharing. In the end, it's hard to resist a hotel with a well-designed, unique, custom website, complete with all of the information visitors are looking for. Create one and your conversion rates will thank you for it.

Need 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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Google Alerts is a free tool that every hotel should be using to manage their online reputation and monitor the web presence of competitors at the most basic level. Essentially, Google Alerts notifies you via email any time Google discovers your hotel's name (or any search query you specify) within any webpages it crawls. We at Blue Magnet know the importance of managing a hotel's online reputation and Google Alerts is just one of the many tools we use.

When you set up a Google Alert, you are automatically notified when Google crawls new web content that matches a search term you select. For example, I have created a Google Alert for "Blue Magnet Interactive," which means that I receive an email notification every time Google finds a new mention of that search phrase ("Blue Magnet Interactive") anywhere on the web. This can include content from news, blogs, videos and discussion groups, letting me quickly monitor discussions or posts about Blue Magnet Interactive. This is a quick and easy way for hotels and other businesses to monitor the online gossip about their particular company.

How to Set Up a Google Alert in 3 Easy Steps

  1. Google Alerts - Go to www.google.com/alerts
  2. Search Query - Add the business name or search term you would like to track in the Search Query field. It's a good idea to set up an alert for any variance of your business or hotel name. For example, the Hilton Chicago should add alerts for "Hilton Hotel Chicago," "Hilton Chicago" and "Chicago Hilton." You can do the same for the names of your direct competitors.
    Google Alerts for Hotels
  3. Add result type - Results type allows you to choose what type of alerts you would like. You can choose from news, blogs, videos, discussions and books. It's best to choose "everything" so you receive alerts for any mention of your hotel name across the web.
  4. Add notification frequency - You can choose how often you receive alerts: "As it happens," "Once a Day" or "Once a Week." "Once a Day" is the option I choose, as it gathers all of your alerts for the day and sends them in a single email.
  5. Designate the number of results - You have the option to receive "Only the Best Results" or "All Results."
  6. Add your email - Simply specify the email address to which you would like your notifications sent.
  7. Create alert - Clicking "Create Alert" will send a verification email to your designated address. Once you verify your email address, the alert is created! You will soon receive emails, like the one below, for each search term you added.

Google Alerts

How Google Alerts Work for Hotels

There is no limit to the number of alerts you can set up. This free tool not only allows hotels to regularly monitor their own online reputation, but also helps keep hotels updated on their competitor's online presence. With competitor alerts, you can stay informed about new hotel specials in the area, competing hotel events or a wide range of guest reviews--and it all comes straight to your inbox!

Online reputation management for hotels is important and requires a strategic approach. Google Alerts isn't the only ingredient in our recipe for online success, but it's definitely a great jumping off point for hotels looking for simple (and free!) reputation management solutions!

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If you're anything like me, you've jumped on to the Pinterest bandwagon and have never looked back. Actually, I have a true-to-life re-enactment of the first day I discovered Pinterest:

If you're not yet pinning all the things, here is a quick overview of Pinterest.

Users can create virtual bulletin boards to "pin" images from around the web. It's basically a bookmarking site for everything from the delicious bacon recipes you want to save, secluded beaches you want to visit, IKEA furniture you want to buy, etc. When a user pins a photo to one of their boards, the image links back to the original website where it lives. Pinterest is a more visually appealing way to save all of those links you would like to refer back to in the future.

At its core, Pinterest is incredibly social. You can follow other users, re-pin their pinned images, comment on pins and "like" pins. When you pin an image, it is not only shared with everyone who follows you, but is pushed out to the general Pinterest community. Once you pin an image, the re-pins, comments and likes come rolling in!

What Does This Mean For Hotels?

Pinterest offers a unique opportunity for hotels, especially destination hotels and hotels with a strong gallery of beautiful photography. Not only does Pinterest get your hotel images (and website link!) in front of potential guests, but pinning is a great way to engage others.  Although links from pinned content are designated as no-follow links (meaning your website doesn't get any SEO boost from millions of users pinning your content), the benefit comes from the organic social spread of your photos across the Pinterest community.

According to Google, the 5 stages of travel start with a dream. Most of the users on Pinterest are sharing images of future plans, or where they hope to visit. This is the perfect time for hotels to interact with Pinterest users and make it onto their travel boards!

The most successful hotels on Pinterest have a wide range of pins - everything from local attractions to cute animal photos. An example of a hotel using Pinterest is the Four Seasons Hotel in Austin. This is a great example of how to get successfully involved in Pinterest - post a variety of images that users are likely to re-pin, not necessarily focusing all of your pins on hotel-specific images.  Users don't spend time on Pinterest sharing photos of ADA approved bathrooms.

5 Pinterest Board Ideas for Hotels

  1. Room and Hotel Photos. Although this shouldn't be the focus of your Pinterest, it is important to showcase your hotel. Pinning images from your hotel website provides users with a direct link to your site, potentially providing a small boost to your web traffic!
  2. Local Area Sites & Attractions. Along with creating a Pinterest board for your room photos and amenities, a board with local attractions will really give users a feel for your hotel area.
  3. Wedding Trends & Locations. Wedding planning ideas and tips are extremely popular on Pinterest. I know a handful of soon-to-be brides (and maybe a few single ladies) that are virtually planning their weddings. If your hotel has a beautiful wedding location, pin it! Or, if you've seen some creative wedding crafts, share them!
  4. Favorite Travel Items. Having a travel-themed board is important in your hotel's Pinterest strategy. This could include some great travel gadgets or travel games for children--things your guests (or those looking specifically for travel images on Pinterest) would be interested in.
  5. Vintage Hotel Photos/Local Historic Photos/Vintage Travel Photos. Basically, any vintage photographs and images of times of yore are pretty popular on Pinterest. This would be a great board if your hotel is housed in an historic building, or has a rich history. Vintage images from your local area would also be great for engagement, as you would capture the attention of those familiar with your city and capture the imagination of others in the Pinterest community.

Pinterest users are looking to be inspired! With a bit of planning and some time spent browsing, your hotel can create quite the presence on this popular social media site. Before you go pinning all the things, however, just be sure you are clear on your Pinterest goal. Although your hotel images on Pinterest could lead to a boost in traffic to your website, the ultimate benefit of Pinterest is engagement. Happy pinning!

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We know that YouTube is one of the world's largest search engines, but before you broadcast your channel to the world take a few minutes to make sure it looks fabulous! Video is a powerful tool for the hospitality industry. A video tour of your hotel, an interview with your staff or a quick cooking demo from your hotel chef can really engage a potential guest and give them a taste of the great experience they’ll have at your hotel.  You can even integrate YouTube's must-have app into your hotel's Facebook page for even greater exposure.

Your job isn't over once you've set-up your YouTube channel, that's the easy part. You must have content! When you set-up your account, be sure to have at least two videos to upload...and more in the works. These 6 YouTube optimization tips won't work for an empty channel.

Now, it’s time to optimize! Below are 6 hotel marketing tips to engage potential hotel guests on YouTube.

  1. Post videos worth sharing. Your hotel videos should be interesting, informative or entertaining. It's great if you've created your YouTube account, but like they say, content is king! Great content is important in your hotel YouTube videos--even more important than high production value. Videos such as virtual tours are great to showcase your hotel, but it's not likely to be shared. Are you hosting a singing group who just did an impromptu performance in the lobby? Take a quick video and share! The more you diversify your content, the more likely your videos will appear in relevant searches and be shared.
  2. Keep it short. Most shared YouTube videos are under 5 minutes. If you have a long video tour, think about dividing it into multiple videos. Shorter videos are more likely to be watched and shared by users.
  3. Link with your website and other social media accounts. A link to your YouTube channel should be included everywhere you have a “Like Us on Facebook” button or “Follow Us on Twitter” link.  When you post a new YouTube video, share it! Embedding the video on your website and posting about it on Facebook and Twitter are great ways to extend your reach.
  4. Optimize tags and compelling video descriptions. Optimizing your tags (similar to keywords) and video descriptions ensures that you will show up in relevant searches, not only on YouTube, but Google as well.  Tags can be specific, such as your city and hotel name, or more general, such as “hotel tour” or “chef tips”. The more relevant your video is to a user’s search, the more likely they will watch and share!
  5. Monitor and respond to your comments. YouTube is social! Users are able to interact with, share and comment on videos, which can be great insight into what potential guests like about your hotel or what they want to see more of. Answering questions, removing spam or offensive comments and keeping up with user feedback are just a few reasons to regularly review your video comments.
  6. Create a snapshot of your city. Your hotel’s YouTube channel is not only an outlet to post your videos, but it’s a chance to build a community. Similar to other social media sites, you have the ability to add “friends” and create a list of your favorite videos. This is a great opportunity to connect with local businesses, visitor bureaus and restaurants, or find other videos relating to your city. This city snapshot is a great resource for both current and future guests.

With these 6 tips, your hotel will be a YouTube star! It might take awhile for your videos to reach the 91 million views of my favorite dog video, but with a little optimization, users will be sure to find your hotel on YouTube.

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By now, most hotels have come to understand the importance of social media, but many are missing out on a rapidly growing social media opportunity...Foursquare. Foursquare is a location-based service, which can be linked to a user's Facebook and Twitter account, and allows visitors to check-in to a place to accumulate points, earn badges and unlock special deals.

For the uninitiated, here is how Foursquare works from the user's point of view:

  1. Download: Users start by downloading the Foursquare app to their smartphone or other mobile device.
  2. Open the App: When a user visits a particular location (store, library, train station, airport, park or other point of interest), they open the app on their mobile device to "check in" on Foursquare.
  3. Let Your GPS Do the Work: In order to "check in," the Foursquare app relies on the mobile device's GPS location to determine points of interest in the vicinity that the user might want to check in to.
  4. Select Your Location: The user scrolls through the list of nearby places and selects the coffee shop they just entered.
  5. Check In and Leave a Tip: The app asks if the user would like to check in to the selected coffee shop.  In addition, it asks if you'd like to share this "check in" with other friends in your network, which might include other friends on Foursquare, Twitter or Facebook.  Users can also write tips for those who may consider checking in to the business in the future.
  6. Get a Discount: Some business offer discounts and freebies to encourage users to "check in" on Foursquare.
  7. User Benefit: The benefit to the user is that it's a fun game that awards points for achieving various check-ins.  For instance, if you check into 5 coffee shops in one week you might earn the "Coffee Achiever Award," worth 5 points on Foursquare.  While the points themselves don't necessarily mean much, they do foster a healthy competition among friends.
  8. Business Benefit: The benefit to the business is the viral sharing of a user's check-in.  Other friends in a Foursquare user's network will see where the user checked in, as well as any tips or recommendations on that business or point of interest.  For such little effort on behalf of the business, the organic spread of the business name can work wonders for your hotel's social reputation.

How To Get Your Hotel Started On Foursquare

Whether you realize it or not, your hotel is most likely already listed on Foursquare. Whether the business wants to participate or not, users can create their own check in locations, so it's best to claim your business so you can use it to your advantage.  Hotels and other businesses are slowly noticing their presence on Foursquare and are leveraging themselves to engage more customers and guests. Here are a few steps to optimize your hotel's presence on Foursquare to connect with your guests and grow customer loyalty.

Customize Your Foursquare Page

Foursquare recently allowed for businesses to create pages for free. Hotels can now add customized banner images, create hotel descriptions, add a link to their website and more. Customizing your page will set you apart from other nearby businesses and will provide guests with an access point to your website.

Create Hotel "Check-In" Promotions

Hotels can get creative with their promotions on Foursquare, offering everything from free wi-fi to a complimentary dessert in their restaurant. When a guest checks-in to your hotel through Foursquare, their check-in is shared not only with all of their Foursquare friends, but also to everyone connected to them through Facebook and Twitter. Offering an incentive to your hotel guests is a quick way to get your hotel name across to hundreds of people at the click of a button!

Create a List of Nearby Restaurants and Attractions through Foursquare

A list of nearby attractions to your hotel is an added value to your Foursquare page. This is a great way to engage your guests and give them a reason to return to your Foursquare page while they're staying with you.

Let Guests Know That Your Hotel Is On Foursquare

Remind guests to check in when they enter your hotel by including a "We're on Foursquare" decal or flyer at your front desk.  Most heavy Foursquare users will check anyway, but it helps to have the reminder to encourage participation.

If you follow these tips to optimize your hotel on Foursquare, you'll have your guests checking in while they're checking in at your front desk in no time!

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Home Blog Authors Abby Heft