As the world’s largest travel site, TripAdvisor is the go-to source for people planning their travel arrangements. With this in mind, it is clear that the glorious moment all independent hoteliers have been hoping for is finally here – the ability to bid against OTAs for placement in TripAdvisor hotel price comparison search through the new TripAdvisor Connect A.K.A. “TripConnect”. Previously, this opportunity was only available to OTAs and large hotel brands. So, is TripConnect worth the investment? And with the constraints of a limited budget, is there any way for independent hotels to actually beat out OTAs which typically have much larger budgets to allocate to paid-advertising initiatives like TripConnect? In this article, I will explain the requirements for participating in TripConnect and weigh the pros and cons for independent hoteliers bidding on placement.

I need a TripAdvisor Business Listing to participate in TripConnect – What is this?

As an independent hotelier interested in TripConnect, your first step is to verify that you currently have a TripAdvisor Business Listing, a prerequisite for participation in the TripConnect self-service bidding platform. TripAdvisor Business Listings launched in 2010 and allow businesses to add key property information to standard listings. With a Business Listing, hotels can optimize their property listing with unique special offers and contact information. With such a monumental shift to mobile in recent years, TripAdvisor has also been encouraging hoteliers to opt into “Business Listings + Mobile”, which allows hoteliers to include a mobile-only special offer on their hotel’s listing.

The pros for independent hoteliers

The features included in Business Listings allow independent properties to standout and compete against branded hotels, most of which have Business Listings. These listings include a link to your hotel website, contact information including phone number, special offers link, a special offers tag, photo slideshow, and an announcement. A link and phone number on your listing may not sound significant, but this is a simple way to drive relevant and interested traffic to your website or reservations center to increase non-commissioned bookings.

The cons for independent hoteliers

Most major hotel brands pay for Business Listings for all of the properties within the brand family as a means to increase traffic and open up new marketing opportunities. (The brands typically return on this investment by charging each hotel a commission for all bookings made on TripAdvisor.) However, TripAdvisor Business Listings can be extremely expensive for independent hotels that are not backed by a brand and are already investing their marketing dollars on other online channels. Pricing is tiered according to the location and number of rooms at the property. I ran a search for similar-sized properties in different markets and received the quotes below. 

TripAdvisor Business Pricing El Paso TripAdvisor Business Pricing Chicago
184 Room Hotel in El Paso, TX Business District 143 Room Hotel in Downtown Chicago Loop

There is a vast difference in cost for a hotel in El Paso, TX and a hotel in downtown Chicago. You can find the price to upgrade your hotel’s profile to a Business Listing online here.

What is TripAdvisor’s TripConnect?

Still in its initial phases, TripConnect rolled out in October 2013 and allows independent hotels to compete for placement in the TripAdvisor price comparison search. In the past, only OTAs and large hotel brands were able to bid for placement in the pricing search results that appear on individual property listings, city hotel search results, and on the mobile app. Now, independent hotels that use a certified internet booking engine and are paying for a TripAdvisor Business Listing can also participate in this pay-per-click program. This bidding model allows the hotel marketer to control the ad spend. There is no additional commission to TripAdvisor, rather you are paying each time the ad is clicked and the annual fee for the Business Listing. This is important to keep in mind as you compare ROI with other paid-search advertising outlets that are both pay-per-click and commission-based, like Expedia TravelAds.

How does the bidding process work?

As an independent hotelier, you are able to completely control bids and budget on the TripConnect platform, including the ability to adjust bids for mobile and desktop searches. You are also able to view a forecasted number of clicks and click-through rates based on the market, position, and other circumstances. Your branded competitors do not have this control on a hotel-level as brands generally bid on behalf of hotels and charge commission for bookings.

Price Comparison Results

Here's what the results look like for an independent hotel bidding for desktop and ranking 2nd for designated date in the TripAdvior price comparison search. 

Because TripConnect is still new, it is difficult to gauge the ROI for independent properties and determine how they will be able to compete against OTAs. I ran some test searches on TripAdvisor to see how independent hotels, branded hotels, and OTAs were ranking comparatively in the hotel price comparison results. First, I chose four markets to run my experiment - Boston, San Francisco, Seattle, and New Orleans. Then, for the top ten hotels in each market, I ran a search for the exact same date to determine which independent and branded hotels had Business Listings, which hotels were bidding on those dates, and how the hotel’s ad placement was ranking compared to those of OTAs. My findings were as follows:

Side Note: TripAdvisor’s Jetsetter (members-only private sale site for hotel bookings) also bids on placement within the search results, but I did not notice any preferential treatment.

It will certainly take some time to assess the value of TripConnect for independent hoteliers and their ability to bid against OTAs. From my casual experiment, it appears that at the time being OTAs are still monopolizing the top 3 results on the booking search results page for desktop and mobile, consistently ranking above branded or independent hotels. It also appears that a majority of independent hoteliers have not opted in to TripConnect and if they have, they do not have someone actively managing their bidding strategies as OTAs and brands do. It is also possible that the brands are adjusting their strategy by running select experiments in various markets rather than for all properties, thus not ranking against OTAs for the cities tested above.

Considering investing in a Business Listing and bidding with TripConnect?

Let’s Recap Pros and Cons

Key factors to consider before investing in TripConnect

  • Take advantage of the special offer space. If you’re an independent hotelier already investing in a Business Listing, you can highlight your lowest prices, or a “discount at hotel website”, in the Special Offers feature of the listing. By taking this route, your best price is featured at the top of the page, encouraging users to book with you rather than looking down the page at OTA prices. This can also eliminate the need to spend time with the PPC campaign. However, you will need to monitor this pricing to make sure it is actually more appealing than the OTAs which may be difficult if you have a dynamic pricing strategy.

         

  • How are people are using the mobile app? If your location is in the city center, you may not be ranking #1 in TripAdvisor, but your listing could appear prominently based on how people are searching within the app. This can mean that investing in a Business Listing is worthwhile even if only to get your phone number at the tips of a nearby searcher’s fingers.

I'm a TripAdvisor user searching for hotels nearby...

Business Listing provides compelling call-to-actions and contact information.

Regular TripAdvisor listing provides very little information or incentive to book.

 

 

 

  • What kind of partner is your booking engine? There are three tiers of TripConnect partnership – Premium, Plus, and Partner. It may not be worth investing in a Business Listing for the purpose of running a TripConnect PPC campaign if you can’t take advantage of the premium features.
    • TripConnect Premium Partners are able to bid for traffic, use automated review collection services, and take advantage of enhanced tracking features. Close to 90% of partners are signed up at the Premium level.
    • TripConnect Plus Partners are able to bid for traffic and take advantage of automated review collection services.
    • TripConnect Partners are only able to bid for search traffic.

See what level of partnership with TripConnect, if any, your reservation system has agreed to here.

Next Steps for Independent Hoteliers

Now that you are more familiar with TripAdvisor Business Listings and the new TripConnect program available to independent hoteliers, I suggest first assessing your ability to make a monetary investment and time commitment to the program. There unfortunately isn’t enough data yet to determine the ability to surpass OTAs’ price listings, but if you’re able to take risks and try something new in your online marketing strategy, it is an interesting new opportunity for independent hoteliers to explore. If you do not yet have a Business Listing, you will want to consider your hotel’s TripAdvisor ranking, your booking engine’s partnership with TripConnect, and the number of OTAs currently bidding on your property. Find more information, check out the TripAdvisor Business Listing website, or reach out to your hotel’s online marketing expert for their insight on your website traffic trends and booking engine details.

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Before building a website, you will have two options to discuss with your web developer: creating the site with or without a Content Management System (CMS). If you are not familiar with HTML coding, then I recommend you build your hotel's website with a CMS because it will provide a user-friendly interface that allows you to add or revise content and graphics much more easily than a site built without a CMS. A CMS typically integrates a formatting toolbar (similar to Microsoft Word's editing toolbar) into each page, allowing you to bold or italicize text, add hyperlinks or images, and arrange the page's layout without knowing HTML.

Custom CMS vs Open Source CMS

Once you understand the benefits of building your hotel's website on a CMS, you will need to determine whether you are going to use a custom CMS or an open source CMS. What's the difference? A custom CMS is a unique management system created and programmed in-house by a web development company, usually to simplify content updates for companies with very complex sites. An open source CMS, such as Wordpress, Joomla!, and Drupal, is a free content management system that has been developed and somewhat homogenized by web developers all over the world and is continuously supported and improved by the entire community that uses it. Many website development companies create a custom CMS, add branding to make it their proprietary CMS, and then build all of their clients' sites on it. A proprietary CMS is usually an over-simplified management system that is expected to make the daunting behind-the-scenes labyrinth of the interwebs seem extremely user-friendly, even moreso than an open source CMS. When you hear that a company can quickly deliver a website on their proprietary CMS, providing a foolproof solution for maintaining your site's content without knowing any HTML jargon, it's hard not to pull out your pen and sign on the dotted line. However, while working at Blue Magnet Interactive, I have learned the hard way that a website built on a propriety CMS will usually result in more trouble and accrue more costs in the long term than a website built on an open source CMS.

businessman-handcuffed-to-laptop-102913

Controlling the fate of your hotel's website

It is important to understand that building your hotel's website on an open source CMS allows the hotel to maintain full ownership of its site. Using a proprietary CMS gives the web development company full ownership and control over your hotel's site.

An open source CMS is continuously improved by the community of users, who all have a vested interest in enhancing the CMS framework, fixing bugs, correcting security flaws, and adding new usability or functionality features. A proprietary CMS relies on a single company for updates and improvements, so the fate of your website ultimately lies in the hands of that company.  If the company goes out of business, you will likely lose your website. If the company decides to discontinue their proprietary CMS product because it's no longer profitable, you will likely lose your website. If the company decides they no long want to work with you as a client, you will likely lose your website.

Of course, the client-vendor relationship works both ways. The website development company might build you a beautiful new website on a proprietary CMS, but what if your hotel decides to switch marketing vendors or take its marketing in-house? How will a change in vendors impact your website? Unfortunately, you will most likely be tied to the original agency that created your website on its proprietary CMS.  In some instances, you may be able to simply lease the use of the CMS while your hotel team manages and markets the site. You will essentially just be paying for the vendor to host your site and use their CMS. This scenario, however, comes with its own set of challenges.

For instance, while you will have some access to make basic content updates in the proprietary CMS, your capabilities will be extremely limited. Many proprietary CMSs will allow you to modify body text and some photography, but you are limited to those minimal changes. Considering many vendors design their CMS for simplified website editing, some of the most important features of your website may be hidden from the user's view, requiring you to call the original CMS company and pay a considerable hourly fee to make technical updates on your behalf. If your hotel or marketing team decides to target a new keyword, how can you update the meta-content to tackle this new SEO strategy? Chances are you can't -- at least not without the help of your previous vendor. How can you add tracking code to integrate Google Analytics? What if you want to add event tracking on all call-to-actions (check availability buttons or banner ads) so that your hotel can determine which special offers are performing exceptionally well and which packages may need some additional strategizing? More likely than not, you will have to jump through the same hoops and pay the same fee as I mentioned above. The point is: when your hotel's website is built on a proprietary CMS, you don't have control of your own website, so when you need to make changes, well, more often than not, you can't. At least not without paying the development company with whom you thought you had severed all ties.

Controlling the fate of your hotel's hosting

When building a website, you also need to consider how your site will be hosted. While this may not always be the case, it is likely that if a web company builds a site on a proprietary CMS, the company will also own the hosting for the site. It's possible, and perhaps likely, that you don't know or care where your site is being hosted; as long as your hotel's website is up and running smoothly so that guests can book a hotel room, you are content. However, these same "what if" scenarios that I brought to your attention previously will also apply to hosting. If you leave your current web development company for a new vendor, will the new vendor be able to access the hosting platform to troubleshoot if your website goes down? If you build a new 'things to do" page to replace an old events page, will your new vendor be able to access the correct file on the hosting cpanel to set up the proper redirect so that Google doesn't penalize you for duplicate content or index an outdated paged, both of which will negatively impact your SEO?

If not, your hotel and your new web team will still have to rely on your previous vendor to ensure that the technical SEO is up to Google's strict standards and that your website is properly functioning.

Why Blue Magnet Interactive designs websites on open source CMS platforms

Just last month a former client, who had recently relocated to a new hotel as the General Manager, called me up and said, "I'm firing my current online marketing company. I want Blue Magnet to take over our hotel's website. I need to impress the big guys fast! Can you make our crappy site look really hip and cool?" While I am ecstatic to hear that a former client wants to take his Blue Magnet team to his new hotel and Blue Magnet is excited to welcome new business, I was immediately hesitant to begin making promises until I could figure out the logistics of the previous vendor's proprietary CMS.

Fortunately for us, most marketing vendors that have transitioned hotel clients to Blue Magnet have been fairly cordial in the process, but why should they feel obligated to help transfer their client to a new web developer? In the case of my returning client, both the hotel and I were limited to using the parts of the proprietary CMS that only allowed for very basic changes to the body text and photos on the pages.  Unfortunately, this only gets you so far, particularly when you are responsible for improving the SEO of a site from a technical standpoint. After using my client's login information to peruse the proprietary CMS, I was dismayed to learn that there was very little I could do to improve their site without having access to the full code of the site. I could not make many aesthetic changes. I could not add new plug-ins or modules that might make the site load faster or might add a useful new feature. I could not access the meta-content to implement a fresh SEO strategy. I could not access the cpanel to fix any technical SEO issues or set up redirects.

Needless to say, the best solution I could offer my client was a brand new website built on an open source CMS and hosted on third-party hosting platform. Redesigning the site from scratch was more cost-effective and efficient than stripping out the old proprietary CMS to add an open source one (which would have created a Frankenstein of a site, patched together with duct tape). While the client was unhappy to learn that they would have to scrap their old site and start over, the benefits of having Blue Magnet design and manage a website built on an open source platform outweighed the negatives of remaining with their current marketing vendor.  If the hotel's website had been built on an open source CMS from the get-go, the transition between vendors would have been much more seamless and much less expensive, as it would likely not have required a completely new site build.

Designing and building websites on an open source design platform allows Blue Magnet to maintain transparency when working with our hotel clients. We do not own your hotel's website. Your hotel owns it. You can walk away with your website, and any web geek who knows how to use an open source CMS like Joomla, Drupal, or Wordpress can make content and technical changes to your website. All web designers are familiar, and many are experts, in these popular open source platforms that are regularly improved by the development community. Blue Magnet also does not lock you into hosting or mask hosting fees that leave you wondering what you are really paying for. Rather, we host your site on a third-party hosting company so that you can log-in at your convenience and take it with you, should you choose to. The bottom line? In my experience, a beautifully designed website built on an open source CMS and hosted on a third-party vendor will provide a transferrable website solution at a lower cost and will prove to be a valuable long term investment.

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

#LikeABoss

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

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

#WhatWentWrong?

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

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

#AWorkInProgress

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

facebook-hashtag-facebookpage

 

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

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

Google Adwords Remarketing

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

How To Use It:

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

Why Is It Creepy?

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

Google Remarketing Creepy Girlfriend

Why Is It Helpful?

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

Google Analytics

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

Dracula Loves Google Analytics

How To Use It:

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

Why Is It Creepy?

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

Why Is It Helpful?

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

Dynamic Keyword Insertion

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

How To Use It

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

The code looks like this:

 {Keyword: Luxury} San Fran Hotel

Display URL: www.sfhotel.com/LuxuryHotel

Ad Copy Line 1

Ad Copy Line 2

 

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

Why Is It Creepy?

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

Why Is It Helpful?

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

Google+

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

How To Use It:

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

Why Is It Creepy?

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

Why Is It Useful?

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

Coming Up in Google’s Tales from the Crypt:

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

Eerie or Effective?

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

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

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

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By now, you've probably heard the latest buzz from Google and it all involves a 'little' animal we call the Hummingbird. Personally, I think Google should have named their newest algorithm after a much larger animal, considering how big of a change this is for searchers everywhere. However, it’s been rumored that Google chose the name to reflect how "precise" and "fast" their new Hummingbird algorithm is.

So, what the heck is Google Hummingbird?

It is a completely new search algorithm, not just an update (Google says that it affects 90% of all searches). Hummingbird looks at a searcher's intent such as the question they ask or the problem they are trying to solve (i.e. Where is the closest hotel to Soldier Field in Chicago?) and tries to provide them the best response in the shortest amount of time. Rather than focusing on individual keywords as Google’s old algorithm did, the Hummingbird search algorithm now focuses on the entire query that a person types (or says!). This is what Google calls conversational search.

What was Google’s intent by introducing Hummingbird?

Unlike the Google Panda and Google Penguin updates, Google does not intend for Hummingbird to penalize sites. While Panda and Penguin were SPAM related algorithm updates meant to filter out black hat SEO (keyword stuffing and spammy inbound links, anyone?), Hummingbird is a brand new algorithm that takes these previous updates into consideration and creates a whole new search experience around searcher intent. Basically, Google wants to get the searcher the best information to solve their query based on their intent. Take note hotels: is the searcher looking for a hotel in your city from their phone because they are there right now or are they planning a future trip to your area from their desktop? Each of these queries has a different intent and Hummingbird will therefore display different results accordingly.

What are Hummingbird's implications on SEO and how does this change my hotel's strategy?

Now, just because Hummingbird doesn't focus on a single keyword combination that you worked so hard to research and rank for does NOT mean you should stop doing SEO. Hummingbird understands meaning - not individual words - and is looking to websites to provide meaningful content to pull from when tailoring results to a searcher's query. As a hotel, you do not need to panic! Embrace Google's brand new search engine algorithm and fine-tune your SEO tactics. Below is a list of important search engine optimization initiatives, an overview of how the Hummingbird algorithm affects each of them and suggestions on how hotels can adjust their SEO strategies to improve their rankings:

Link Building

Implications for SEO: If Google sees that relevant, related websites are linking to your hotel's site, they will see you as an authority on that particular content, thus helping them collect the best information to formulate an answer (search result) for the searcher. Google will also be looking at the type of value those links provide; for instance when people click through to your site from a referring website do they stay on the site, showing Google that it sent the visitor where they intended to go, or do they jump off of your site quickly, causing your site's bounce rate to increase? High bounce rates from numerous inbound links to your website can send signals to Google that you have a poor quality site. Hummingbird does not affect link building - it has Google Panda to take care of low quality links. So, continue to include link building as a part of your SEO efforts by focusing on relevant, quality inbound links.

Hotel SEO Strategy: Hopefully, you know not to trust SEO companies that claim they can improve your hotel's search engine ranking by obtaining a ton of links to your site in a short amount of time. What you need to do is focus on which websites would be best at driving revenue to your website. If you have an excellent water park package and you're working with the local water park to promote it, it would make sense to have a direct link on the water park's website guiding visitors to that special offer residing on your hotel’s website as it will most likely lead to bookings. Overall, focus your link building efforts on building quality links to your website and spend less time and money worrying about spammy inbound links; Google's Panda update already works hard on finding these low quality sites and often penalizes these sites by knocking them down. If, however, you do have a lot of low quality links pointing to you, here is how you can get rid of them.

Keyword Research

hummingbird-meaningImplications for SEO: Exploring the search volume and competition for your target keywords is the first step to creating relevant, quality content and cannot be ignored. If Google's Hummingbird algorithm sees a lot of traffic around a particular group of keywords, it can associate those with a particular intent based on the searcher's query. Keyword research is the starting point of building meaningful content. You need to first make sure there is actually search volume for keywords you want to be found for before developing a page around them. Continue to research the keywords that you want to rank well for, but put less emphasis on how well you rank for that one keyword. Instead, develop informative content that incorporates a tight keyword theme to show Google that your site is a relevant resource.

Hotel SEO Strategy: As a hotel, you still need to figure out what people are searching for before you create any landing pages on your hotel's site (don't blindly choose keywords). Hummingbird challenges hotel marketers to think outside the box when it comes to your hotel’s SEO strategy. Consider looking into keywords beyond the typical 'hotels in [city].' If you're writing a page that targets business travelers, ask yourself, "If I was a business traveler and needed a hotel, what type of things would I be looking for?" This might inspire you to look for a variety of keywords like 'hotels in [city] with free Wi-Fi access' or 'hotels near [insert corporate business]'. Combining these long-tail keywords specific to business travelers could really help someone intending to search for a hotel that offers free Wi-Fi and is located near McDonald's headquarters. It's important to note here that Google continues to take away our keyword data in Analytics; not only does this tell us that keywords aren’t all the rage anymore but it also forces us to focus on developing higher quality content. So, keyword themes that are naturally integrated within your well-written page copy will be more beneficial for SEO.

Local Listings

Implications for SEO: If your business information is not consistent across the web, you will confuse Google's Hummingbird algorithm. The more sources that give the same location information, the more likely your hotel will be found. Google Hummingbird works to collect enough information from various listings across the web to give the searcher the best response. Searcher intent is the key element of Hummingbird, so if someone is performing a local search it will be crucial that you have updated local listings Hummingbird can pull from. Hummingbird shouldn't affect how you optimize your hotel for local search, you just need to make sure that you still include local listing updates as part of your SEO strategy.

Hotel SEO Strategy: While it's important to check all of your local listings, I cannot stress how important it is that you verify your Google+ Page. If anything, this is the most important local listing you need. Considering Google pulls information it has from its own database (i.e. verified Google+ pages) and utilizes it in local search results through the new Google Carousel (the bar at the top of search results), you need to make sure your Google+ page is verified and updated as much as possible.

It is also important to point out here that when you click on a hotel in the carousel, Google's search results change to pull in specific pages from that hotel's website. This is important for your hotel because the person searching now sees more details about your hotel and links to the various landing pages within your website, increasing the likelihood that they will click through and book a reservation on your website. Likewise, the online travel agencies (OTAs) that may have been organically ranking above a hotel before are now pushed further down the results while the hotel's landing pages, like maps & directions or dining, fly to the top of the results.

Additionally, the knowledge graph card from the hotel's verified Google+ page pops up on the right hand side of results, providing the searcher with easy-to-read information. An example of Google’s search result page before clicking on a hotel in the carousel and after clicking on one of the hotels in the carousel is below:

Before:
carousel-before-local-listing-click
After:
carousel-after-local-listing-click

Content Writing

Implications for SEO: Use keyword research as a starting point for the topic your new content will cover. Next, build relevant, original and high quality content by taking your keyword research and constantly asking yourself: "How does this page provide answers to someone running a search for [this topic]?" Danny Sullivan from Search Engine Land says it best, "Pages matching the meaning do better, rather than pages matching just a few words." Hummingbird affects websites who have irrelevant content; If your page is simply full of keywords you want to rank for and doesn't offer helpful information to the visitor (resulting in a high bounce rate) then Hummingbird will have a hard time considering it a quality resource. While you should have already been writing great content, you now have more of a reason to do so. Focus on building each page on your website with this in mind: How is this page a great resource for someone looking for answers on [insert page topic]?

content-its-kind-of-a-big-dealHotel SEO Strategy: Remember, you need to constantly ask yourself how the landing page you are writing will provide the best answers to someone conducting a search on the topic you are covering. Let’s say you are writing an attractions page and you want people to know how close your hotel is to a particular sports arena. Rather than just writing "Our hotel is close to PNC Arena", provide the searcher with more information about how guests can get to the arena from your hotel, how visitors can purchase tickets to the game or concert, what types of packages your hotel may offer those attending an upcoming game, etc. Review your page’s content and think about what a user's intention may be for clicking your site. For example, what hotels near the [insert sports arena] have special offers and how close are they to the [sports arena]. Does the hotel offer a complimentary shuttle service?

Assuming your hotel has followed all SEO best practices and not gone down the black-hat road, Google Hummingbird should not negatively impact your hotel. It has always been extremely important for your hotel's website to have outstanding, relevant, and helpful content that answers potential guests' most common questions - not just about your hotel but also about the area and experience they would get by staying with you. Now, it is essential.

What if I have no control over the content I can provide potential guests?

If your hotel has limited control over your brand site content and SEO, Hummingbird can still help improve your standalone website traffic as long as you are following SEO best practices. By having more control over the type of information you are sharing with potential guests online (i.e. through additional landing pages with related area information), your hotel will have a better chance of being found and booked. Learn more here by understanding how your standalone website can benefit your hotel from an SEO standpoint.

I invite all of your Google Hummingbird questions, concerns, or comments, so please connect with the Blue Magnet team on Twitter at @Blue_Magnet or with me at @KNupMktg

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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?

Kelsey, Matt, and Andrea attended Improving Social Media with SEO to glean insight from other marketing professionals on how to integrate SEO tactics into their social media strategy.

At this session…

Carolyn Shelby gave insider tips on how to optimize your online strategy by using SEO to effectively improve the reach of your social media campaigns. One of the key things Carolyn wanted to emphasize was to constantly use the words for which you want to be found. Whether you're posting a blog, a Facebook post, or even describing a Pinterest 'pin', you must consistently use the same primary keywords in all of your online marketing efforts. 

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

Kelsey Nupnau: Google+, Facebook and Pinterest are the top three social media channels that signal cues to the various search engines.

Andrea Mann: When posting social media content on Facebook, Twitter, and even Pinterest, do not use ambiguous copy! Be descriptive and use the full search term with which you want to be associated. You should be able to take each important keyword out of context and still understand the premise. All social networks have search functionality built in, so by including your full keywords within the copy or description, you are increasing your brand's exposure for relevant searches on that social channel.

So, how can the hotel industry benefit from improving their social media strategy with SEO?

Kelsey Nupnau: If your hotel is allowed to use vanity email addresses based on your vanity (standalone) domain, use them rather than using a gmail or yahoo account. The more exposure you can give to your website's domain name, the better! Also, if your hotel has outstanding photography, get it on Pinterest and be sure to describe each picture well, use the word hotel, and link to a relevant page of your website in case someone wants to click-through to learn more information.

Andrea Mann: Hotels should reinforce their messaging online and offline to be consistent with how they want to be found by shoppers. A hotel marketing team should decide whether they want to brand themselves as the "hotel overlooking Navy Pier" versus the "hotel within walking distance to Navy Pier" and then remain uniform in all marketing efforts. If a hotel coordinates every message sent to shoppers through all of the various online channels, they will create a longer lasting impression and they can eventually impact the way people search for the hotel.

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

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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.

SocialMediaKeyboard

Read BMI's highlights from our Social Media Week adventures below:

 

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At Blue Magnet Interactive, we are passionate about hotel online marketing and we care tremendously about the success of our clients' online marketing campaigns. As one of the founders of Blue Magnet, my primary focus is company growth and new business development. While it's easy to get labeled as "that sales guy," I am not in the practice of throwing out a bunch of BS to get the sale; rather, I try to express Blue Magnet's true goal of positively impacting the hotel's bottom line by being honest and transparent about what they will need to be successful. Blue Magnet is not the type of marketing company that will sell you excessive full-scope packages that are unnecessary for your hotel, nor will we nickel and dime you every time you request an update to your hotel's website. That's never in your best interest, and, consequently, it's not in ours either. Because we know that hotel online marketing is rarely a one-size-fits all approach, we analyze your needs and then create a custom online marketing plan that maximizes your success AND fits within your hotel's budget. 

As many hoteliers have learned through past negative experiences working with the wrong online marketing companies, hotels need to exercise caution in selecting an online marketing partner. Every online marketing vendor operates differently, but being able to spot the warning signs of a bad partnership before you sign on the dotted line can save you a lot of headaches in the end.

When did you last speak to your hotel online marketing vendor?

Here are 7 warning signs that your hotel may be working with the wrong marketing agency:

  1. Lack of Transparency – Avoid vendors who fail to disclose how much time they commit to your account each month and don't provide details regarding the actual tasks they are performing. We're in the service industry, and we are providing our time and that must be budgeted each month. I can't tell you how many times I've spoken with a potential client who is comparing us to a competitor and they say, "Well they're providing the same services, but their cost is $200 per month." The response that is immediately triggered in my mind is: "Really!?! Hmmm. Something doesn't add up. How it is possible that my competitor is providing the exact same services each month yet can execute the services in a fourth of the time Blue Magnet is budgeting?" I've been in the marketing business a long time and I will tell you that for $200/month, they are not putting in the hours necessary for your hotel to be successful in any one online marketing channel (SEO, social, website management, etc), let alone a campaign that focuses on all channels. The bottom line is that this stuff takes time and there is NO automated system that completes all these tasks at a push of a button. 
  2. Spread Too Thin – Avoid vendors that assign you to an account manager who services 15+ other hotels. Unless the account manager is providing an extremely focused level of services for 15+ hotels (i.e. just link building), there is no way your campaign is going to receive the level of dedication needed for success. My advice is to ask your potential vendor if you will have a dedicated account manager and how many accounts each manager handles at any given time.
  3. Proprietary Content Management Systems – Avoid vendors that box you into a proprietary content management system. Most likely you will need a scalable and transferable solution. Over time, the needs of your organization will change, and potentially so could your online marketing vendor. If your website is powered by a proprietary CMS, should you need to transition to a new vendor or bring website management in-house, you will likely have to rebuild your entire website since you will be extremely limited in the content, aesthetic, and SEO updates that you can make on the proprietary CMS. Stick with open source CMS solutions like Joomla, Drupal, or Wordpress instead--they're flexible and can be migrated anywhere you decide to move your business.
  4. Expensive Website Hosting Fees – Be careful with vendors that charge you $200+ for their in-house hosting solution. Instead, ask your marketing agency to consider using a 3rd party hosting provider which could cost as little as $10-$50/month depending on your needs. In most cases your hotel website will only require basic hosting services. For $10-$50/month, this cost includes all the server maintenance, account login, and customer service support that you need. More demanding sites will certainly require more powerful hosting needs, but many basic hotel websites can succeed with some of the more inexpensive options.
  5. Unrealistic Guarantees – Avoid vendors that guarantee first place organic rankings in the major search engines. There are no guarantees in SEO and any company that offers them is likely using spammy/black-hat SEO tactics that will hurt your site's search engine ranking in the long run. While Blue Magnet has years of experience understanding how a hotel website can gain high rankings on search engines, no vendor has ultimate control of how Google displays and ranks hotel websites. That will continue to be in the hands of Google. A reputable vendor will be upfront about the personalization of search and the constant changes that the search engines institute which will affect your rank. For this reason, your SEO strategy should not be a "set it and forget it" strategy. Success comes from consistent and continual focus on all aspects of SEO.
  6. Automation Only – It is true that there are many wonderful tools that hotel internet marketers use as a means to maximize the potential of our internet marketing campaigns and in some instances streamline/automate our efforts. This, however, in no way means that these tools remove the necessity of the human element in implementing successful hotel internet marketing campaigns. As I stated above, there are no tools that will successfully automate your entire online marketing campaign.
  7. Level of Service/Response Time – This doesn't take a lot of explanation. If it is taking your vendor 7+ days to respond to you, I wouldn't consider that a true partnership. Blue Magnet account managers typically respond same day or at least within 24 hours. More importantly, it is not all about your vendor waiting for you to contact them. I think it is important for a vendor to be proactive in their account management, which means that in more cases than not, the vendor is reaching out to you even when you have not made a request. Blue Magnet always ensures that our team is proactive in its management of your account, consistent in our communication with your hotel, and innovative in the way we test new marketing channels and strategies. 

Above all, a successful online marketing partnership should be mutually beneficial for both the hotel and the vendor. It is crucial that you choose a vendor that will become a long-term partner for you and your online marketing crusades. Turning over vendors frequently will only stall your success, as you look to build your campaign back up from where the old vendor left off. Looking for the right online marketing vendor is much like looking for the right life partner--you want someone who is honest and transparent, someone who makes time for you, and someone who always sticks to their word. When those conditions are met, the revenue will be sure to follow...and, of course, the love.

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It's time to kick the old Frommer's guides and outdated maps to the curb and start using your hotel standalone website as a one-stop shop for guests seeking area info. They already skimmed through your website while searching for hotels in the area and then booked a room online. Now, start positioning the site as a helpful tool for the guest to reference while staying at the hotel.

Hoteliers may look at a standalone site as a booking engine, where a YOY increase in revenue is the only good news to come from an online marketer's mouth. However, I challenge you to exceed guest expectations by using your standalone site as a tool for guest satisfaction during their stay. From identifying points of interest within the hotel to explaining local transportation and highlighting nearby events, you can transform your hotel's website into an experience engine that guests can use throughout their stay.

How To Rethink Your Website Content

Beyond making tweaks and updates to the site that are valuable from an SEO standpoint, begin thinking about the kind of content that your guests will find useful and actually want to read. Valuable information to feature on your standalone site includes:

  • Area Attractions & Local Events: I always highly suggest building out a comprehensive Things to Do page on hotel websites. From a marketing standpoint, not only will your keyword strategy benefit from these area guide pages, but a Things to Do page will also allow your property to better connect with local partners and guests. From area attractions to shopping and entertainment, there is always something nearby that can pique guests' interests before and during their stay. Perhaps you have crafted a detailed landing page about the best Honky-Tonk bars nearby with your expert insider tips. Transform what was perhaps initially intended only for search engine performance into something valuable for guests by leaving the page up on an iPad at the front desk.

honky tonks a honky tonks b

Do your guests need a BART route map while in the San Francisco Bay area? They can easily find a public transit map on your standalone site that also marks your hotel's location. If your site's layout is mobile optimized, they will have an easy-to-use map at their fingertips throughout their stay.

bart example a bart example b

Your guests will appreciate your team's insider knowledge. Make sure the front desk staff and concierge are aware of what is available on the website so that they can point out the information available to a guest on-the-go versus sifting through a pile of flyers and maps.

  • Local Partnerships: Are you closely aligned with local organizations and attractions that guests may be interested in during their travels? Your guests will find it useful to be able to book tickets to these partnering attractions right on your hotel's site. As a hotelier, you likely receive discounts or complimentary tickets to some area sites that you can offer to guests exclusively on your website. I suggest crafting a page--possibly an expansion of the Things to Do page--on your standalone site that asks guest to inquire directly on your site about these local activities. Direct guests to contact your sales staff or concierge desk when booking a limo for a bachelorette party, a day trip to a nearby vineyard, or spa services. This content is not only helpful as guests book their stay, but also during their stay as they make last minute local arrangements.

online ticket purchase

  • Blog: As a content marketer, I love to encourage hoteliers to effectively use blogs as part of their website. Not only can an active blog improve your search engine rankings, but it can also provide great resources and insider secrets for guests. Did you recently write a blog post highlighting your hotel's green initiatives? Why not direct your guests to this blog article during their stay rather than printing out an extra piece of paper to include this information. A window vinyl with a QR code, green emblem, and "We've gone green!" statement could be a great way to direct guests to this fresh, unique information on the site.
  • Social Media: Are your social media icons and feeds easily visible on your site? Effectively displaying these social channels on the site will encourage guests to connect with the hotel online before and during their visit. Your tweets and daily Facebook posts now have another channel by which to reach your guests. Set the homepage on your business center computers to default to the page on the standalone site where guests can find the Twitter feed running. Broadcasting your social feeds on-site is a simple way to get the information noticed and will motivate guests to check-in or post about the hotel on their own social media channels.

standalone social feed

  • Full-Service Amenities: Standalone hotel websites allow hoteliers to highlight full-service amenities more than a standard brand site ever could. Properly reviewing all of the hotel's amenities is an important facet of your guest's journey as they book online, but these dedicated website components can also come in handy during their stay. Eliminate the need for random flyers highlighting special deals and events, and add all relevant information to your standalone site. This way, guests are led to one spot online as they search for dining deals or determine what spa services they want to book. Keep guests and locals coming back to your property by frequently posting special dishes, events, and exclusive deals.
  • Newsletter: Someone on your staff may already be combining local events, discounts, and employee highlights into a newsletter on a monthly basis. Make sure this newsletter is refreshed on the website each month. Then, post your newsletter in the lobby or elevator to provide guests with reading material. Include a QR code on the page so that they may continue reading and revisit the page later on during their stay.

Challenge Accepted!

I hope you have accepted my challenge to think of your standalone site as more than a booking engine. At Blue Magnet, we always tell hoteliers that a user-friendly and informative website can maximize the hotel's online presence and help the hotel act as a "local concierge" for guests. With the aforementioned ideas for content and on-property website promotion in mind, it is time to squeeze all of the value out of your hotel's standalone website! 

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Superstar Blue Magnet Senior Account Manager Katharyn Molinaro recently partnered with VFM Leonardo to share her experiences managing a successful online marketing campaign for the Hilton San Diego Bayfront hotel. Check out her video below: 

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