If you're anything like me, you may occasionally find yourself Googling acronyms you overhear colleagues, clients, friends, or even your little nephew say in order to decode their seemingly cryptic code. In the fast paced digital world we're all living in, shortened phrases can save us time… when we know what they mean. Unfortunately, we don't always know what they mean and oftentimes they vary across industries and professions. In the hotel marketing world, it's not uncommon to overhear some conversation along the lines of: "Will you log out of the CMS then check the CTRs of our latest PPC campaign and update the KPI report by EOD? Please, and thanks!" You stand there for a second, puzzled. She wants her to do what?!

In this post, we'll uncover the mystery behind some of the most commonly used digital marketing acronyms to help hoteliers make sense of our hotel online marketing jargon.

Website Terms

CMS: Content Management System
Hotel Marketer Context: "Can you provide us with the login to your hotel website's CMS?"

Content Management Systems are web-based tools that allow you, as a website administrator, to easily update your site's content without needing to be intimately familiar with HTML coding. A CMS helps you arrange how your website will look, determine what it will say, and point to where your links will lead. The beauty of a CMS is that it takes care of much of the "behind the scenes" work that non-technical website admins might otherwise spend hours attempting to figure out. At Blue Magnet Interactive, we build our clients' websites on open source CMSs like Joomla or Wordpress, which provide user-friendly interfaces and allow clients to have more control over their hotel's website in the long run.

UX: User Experience
Hotel Marketer Context: "We're designing your hotel's new standalone site to have a cleaner layout and overall improved UX."

Remember the last time you visited a website that took so long to load that you gave up on your search? Or when you landed on a homepage that was so cluttered with text and flashing images that your eyes didn't know where to look first? Or, my favorite, when the website's text is in such a searingly bright color that you can barely make out the words on the page? These are all examples of poor user experience. Since websites are meant to be marketing tools that help generate sales, your hotel's website should be designed in the most user friendly way possible.

Wondering what makes a website user friendly? In two simple words: site architecture. A site with a good UX usually has a fast page load time, logical link structure, clean layout, and no 404 errors. To put it bluntly, if your guests aren't thinking about how impossible it is to book a room on your website, your site is probably providing a good user experience!

Advertising Terms

CTR: Click-Through Rate
Hotel Marketer Context: "Your hotel's latest e-newsletter had a 14% CTR when we featured the holiday package. That's the highest rate we've seen so far!"

ctr meme

In layman's terms: CTR = total people who clicked your content / total people who saw your content

In advertising terms: CTR = total clicks / total reach

Example: 750 people clicked your Facebook ad / 25,000 people saw your Facebook ad = 3% CTR

Click-through rates ultimately indicate how compelling your content is. Was it compelling enough to get a visitor to click the button, link, or ad? As a hotelier, you may have heard your marketing specialist refer to CTR when reviewing your hotel's email marketing campaign (what was the CTR of the link to your website?), assessing your hotel's Expedia TravelAd reports (what was the CTR of shoppers actually clicking the ad they were exposed to?), or when reporting how well your hotel's Facebook ad performed (what was the CTR of Facebook users who saw the ad and actually clicked the link to "like" your page?). The more relevant and interesting your content is to your audience, the higher the click-through rate will be.

Strategic marketers have gotten very creative with ways to increase their campaigns' CTRs. In reference to website links, one of the smartest marketers I know once said, "Where there's traffic, there's hope." The higher the CTR, the more website traffic, the better and the chances you'll sell your hotel rooms! See where I'm going with this?

PPC: Pay Per Click
Hotel Marketer Context: "If April is a high need period for your hotel, we can set up a PPC campaign targeting mobile searches to bring in more website traffic."

Pay Per Click is an advertising model that we talk about mainly when referring to online ads. These types of ads show up as "sponsored" results on search engine result pages. We use PPC advertising to capture the attention of customers who would likely otherwise click on the first organic search result they see. The beauty of PPC is that advertisers only pay for desired actions taken by their audience rather than paying for an advertisement's total exposure.

*BONUS acronym* "CPC" stands for "cost per click" and is an advertising metric often referenced in conjunction with PPC campaigns. For example, while running a PPC ad campaign, you may find that your average CPC is $0.35. In other words, you are paying $0.35 each time someone clicks your ad. PPC advertisements should be highly targeted using keywords and demographic metrics. More on PPC tips for your hotel here.

Search Engines Terms

SEM: Search Engine Marketing
Hotel Marketer Context: "This month we're focusing on our SEM efforts by identifying more link building opportunities for your property."

Here's a topic all of us at BMI could go on and on (and on and on) about, but instead, I'll kindly give you the short summary. Search Engine Marketing refers to a whole slew of online tactics we use to improve a website's overall ranking in search results. Specifically with hotel marketing, our SEM efforts combine search engine optimization (and all that SEO entails), local listings, social media, link building, and PPC advertising (aren't you glad you already understand that acronym?!).

SERP: Search Engine Results Page
Hotel Marketer Context: "After updating the meta content for your hotel's website, the site is now ranking 3 positions higher on Google's SERP!"

(Pronounced like "Slurp" but without the "L". Try it. It's kind of fun to say.) I'm willing to bet that you already know more about SERPs than you think. Any time you enter a search term or phrase into Google, Bing, Yahoo, or any other search engine, the information and links to related websites that the search engine returns on your screen make up SERPs. Some of the key components you'll see on SERPs include organic search results, sponsored search results, social search results, rich snippets of information that Google thinks you'll be interested in, and Google's "carousel" of location based results.

Local Search Terms

NAP: Name, Address, Phone
Hotel Marketer Context: "We're auditing all of your hotel's local listings to make sure your hotel's NAP is consistent throughout the internet."

NAP (also sometimes called NAP-W or NAP-U ["W" stands for "Website", or "U" for "URL"]) refers to your hotel's online identity. In the messy, unpredictable world of local listings, the more consistently your hotel's NAP appears across listings, the more trusted your hotel will be in the eyes of search engines (and guests). So, for example, you don't want use your hotel's 1-800 number in one listing while using its local number in another. Also, be careful not to abbreviate addresses in some listings (St. vs. Street) while fully spelling them out in others. While Google is pretty darn smart, it can be easily confused by conflicting NAPs. Bottom line: to ensure your hotel avoids an identity crisis and establishes authority in search results, NAP consistency is key!

Social Media Terms

RT: Re-tweet
Hotel Marketer Context: "Last month your hotel's Twitter account had 15 RTs which led to an overall increase in website referral traffic from Twitter."

Re-tweets are one of the most important Twitter metrics for measuring successful patterns of audience engagement. RTs are essentially social re-shares of your message to a new audience that was otherwise out of your reach. For example, let's say your hotel wants to drive room sales so you tweet a special discount code. Your followers will see your discount code, and, if the deal is juicy enough, one of your followers may RT your message to his network of followers. This ripple effect will allow your message to be seen by not only your followers, but also by the followers of anyone who RT-ed your message. The more RTs your tweets get, the wider the reach and exposure your message will receive. Ensure your tweets are informative, compelling, or humorous to increase your chances of getting a RT.

AWDLY: Are We Done Learning Yet?

There are hundreds of other digital marketing related acronyms out there, but by understanding some of these more commonly used terms, you'll be able to better understand your hotel marketer's reports and recommendations.

If you're ever unsure of what a digital marketing acronym stands for, tweet us at @blue_magnet and we'll do our best to explain it to you in 140 characters or less!

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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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As social media becomes a larger and more powerful marketing tool for hotels, consumers are getting more particular about which brand and business pages they communicate with. Online communities interacting with your hotel are becoming more focused and detail-oriented, so hotels must provide relevant and community-oriented posts to keep their audience engaged. Managing an active social media presence is not easy. Time is precious, and staying in-the-loop with community events and happenings can become overwhelming. Luckily, there are many informative resources available to all social media managers to ease the stress of managing a social media presence for your hotel. Whether you are managing your hotel's social media in-house or you are providing social media marketing services from off-property, you can ensure that you're always establishing the hotel as a local expert on social media with the tips below.

Pro Tip #1: The best local resources can be easily found...locally!

The lobby of your hotel can sometimes seem like its own community, but it's important to stay abreast of local events happening in your neighborhood, town, and city. Bookmark local news sites and sign up for area newsletters to filter nearby events and happenings directly to your inbox. Not only will this save you time scouring the web for relevant content, but it will also save your guests time! By spoon-feeding useful and relevant local event resources to your guests on social media, you are eliminating their need to proactively search for nearby activities which ultimately enhances their hotel experience. The following resources will provide you with great information about local community events, news and happenings, which you can then share on your hotel's social networks.

Neighborhood Patch website

Many neighborhoods or communities are covered by an online Neighborhood Patch. These hyper-local online resources are backed by AOL, and they focus on news, events, local businesses and more. They are often managed by a single editor who is also very active on social media. As you scan see in the screenshot below, I used the the Walnut Creek Patch to alert the hotel's Facebook fans to free yoga sessions nearby!

diamondblog patch

Convention and Visitors Bureau newsletters

Your local CVB is often an ideal resource for community events, dining guides, and attractions. Their job is to promote various goings-on in your area, which in turn makes it much easier for you to learn about local events and attractions. They are also great resources for more unique local attractions, such as outdoor hiking trails! In the example below, I found unique content on the local Asheville CVB's website to promote the town as a "Hunger Games" fan tourist destination on the hotel's Facebook page.

diamondblog cvb

Local magazines and publications

Have you ever walked by a newspaper stand featuring free local newspapers? Be sure to pick one up and take a look, you may be surprised at what you can find! Local publications are often ideal resources for learning more about your local dining, music, sports and entertainment options. From 'best of' dining lists to weekend previews, be sure to check out your local online or published newspapers or magazines for some great social media content. Plus, many national publications such as 'Eater' & 'Serious Eats' manage their national accounts alongside local-focused sites. These lists are very helpful resources for visitors and locals alike so don't be shy about sharing this content from your hotel's social media sites. I like utilizing community-based publications, such as 'Diablo Magazine', to share 'Top 10' type lists on Facebook or Twitter that our guests can explore during their next visit.

diamondblog localpublications

Atlas Obscura and Roadside America

Would you like to provide your social media fans and guests with something to do in the area that is a little different than the typical tourist attraction? Then look no further than Atlas Obscura and Roadside America, two websites that will guide you to the most unique and offbeat locations in your area. From haunted bars to wacky museums, you'll find it all on these unusual sites. By promoting unique attractions on your hotel's Facebook page, you showcase a distinct personality that sets your hotel apart from its competitors. Below, Embassy Suites San Luis Obispo thinks outside of the box by highlighting a hidden gem in the area with the hotel's Facebook fans, courtesy of Atlas Obscura.

 diamondblog atlasobscura

Pro Tip #2: Actively monitor to avoid actively searching.

You may not consider Twitter and Facebook to be search engines, but the search functionality on these resources can actually prove to be a more efficient use of time for a social media manager than searching for content on Google or Bing. In addition, Google offers a great resource through its Google Alerts that allows users to save time and energy by eliminating the need to dig through pages of search engine results.

Monitoring mentions and keywords on Twitter/Facebook

The simplest way to stay in the loop online is by monitoring hashtags about your city! Both Twitter and Facebook organize topics by hashtags, enabling you to easily monitor community-related topics, events, and news. In the screenshot below, I am searching for tweets that contain #asheville to see what is currently going on in the city. The snowy weather seemed to be a common theme in #asheville on this particular day, so I used that information to guide the hotel's tweets for the day.

diamondblog keywordmonitoring

It's also beneficial to use a social media monitoring tool to help you easily filter through Twitter conversations and engage in valuable interactions. At Blue Magnet, we prefer to use Sprout Social to help monitor conversations on various social channels. Their 'Smart Search' feature lets us follow hashtags and key phrases so they appear in our inbox, whether the person included our Twitter handle in their message or not. For example, in the screenshot below you can see how this hotel's social media manager utilized 'Smart Search' to monitor tweets containing keywords "hotel in San Diego" and proactively extended an invitation to a potential new guest!

diamondblog sproutmonitoring

Filtering articles to your inbox through Google Alerts

Google Alerts allows you to save time actively searching for content to share on social media by filtering recently published articles right to your inbox. You can easily customize the types of results you want to see and how often you receive them. You can filter your results by news, blogs, and even video. For example, if you are managing social media for a hotel in Chicago, you may want to set up a Google alert focusing on "events in downtown Chicago". This way, you will be the first to know when an event reaches news-worthy status as it will arrive straight to your inbox! Your social media followers will appreciate the time-sensitive information and events so they can join in on the festivities.

diamondblog googlealert

Pro Tip #3: Always check the facts because, truth be told, it's not always sunny in Philadelphia.

If your hotel utilizes off-property social media management, it's very important that they stay well aware of details about the local area. This may seem trivial and, yes, it should be common sense, but you don't want to learn the hard way by posting about the beautiful sunshine in your hotel's town when, unbeknownst to you, it's actually pouring rain! Use these simple resources below to ensure that your social media team is on its A-game at all times.

Weather.com - for all your Polar Vortex alerts!

The weather is often a hot topic of conversation, especially during something as crazy as the recent 'Polar Vortex'! Staying on top of temperatures and weather is an important way to connect with the local community. While I am personally guilty of using the weather as an ice-breaker on conference calls, I also know that crazy weather provides plenty of great social media fodder. It is a common subject that can evoke emotion in just about everyone! From safe driving tips in snowy temps to sharing icicle pictures at your hotel, there are plenty of ways to stay involved during weather phenomena. Remember, if you do utilize off-property management, it's important that they are well aware of localized weather so as to avoid any sunshine-focused posts in the middle of a snowstorm! In the screenshots below, you can see good examples of hotels enlightening guests with weather-related updates.

diamondblog weather

CNN.com or a similar breaking news source

When managing your hotel's social media campaign, it is very important to stay aware of both breaking local and national news to avoid any uncomfortable situations. It is never okay to take advantage of a national tragedy to market your own interests, a la Epicurious.com's Boston Marathon debacle. It is also important to always monitor any pre-scheduled posts or tweets. You want to avoid offending others by unintentionally posting during a difficult event. For example, Seamless had scheduled a post on Sept 16, 2013 proclaiming that 'Today is national GUACAMOLE day. Nothing else matters'. Later that day, a gunman fatally shot 12 soldiers at the Washington Navy Yard. This 'harmless' pre-scheduled post turned into a PR nightmare, as it was seen as extremely insensitive in light of current events. Seamless has since deleted and apologized for the post, but it's a big lesson in staying aware of breaking news and keeping track of your scheduled posts. Be especially mindful if you have multiple social media mangers sharing responsibilities on one account, as you should always be in-the-know on what posts are on deck to prevent miscommunications!

diamondblog seamless

Our friends at Sprout Social are well aware of this possibility. During the aftermath of the Boston Marathon crises, they actually posted a warning on their website encouraging social media managers to check their pre-scheduled posts and tweets for anything offensive. Thanks for looking out for us, Sprout Social!

'Hey Google! What time is it in...?"

It is pertinent to stay aware of time differences when posting on behalf of your hotel. While this applies to all social media managers, it is particularly important for those managing social media off-property, Your Facebook post about your hotel's weekend brunch buffet would be perfect to post on Saturday at a 9AM, but if you neglect to factor in the time change and schedule it for 1PM then the effect is greatly diminished. Also, be sure to double-check your AM vs PM scheduled posts. You want to avoid waking up to find that your lunchtime special was posted at midnight! Google is your friend - simply type into Google 'What time is it in..." to verify your time zones before scheduling a time-sensitive post!

diamondblog timezone

Pro Tip #4: Locals know best - and by locals we mean your staff!

Have you ever been asked by a guest, 'where do the locals go?' An often overlooked resource in the social media game for hotels is the staff and guests themselves! Staff members have a unique view of both the local communities' favorite spots, as well as opinions of visiting guests. For guests looking for the BEST french fries in town, or a unique romantic date spot, your staff can often provide personalized, authentic recommendations! Its special touches like these that keep guests returning again and again.

Staff scavenger hunt

Your hotel staff is a fantastic resource for local happenings and providing an insider view of the hotel happenings. I recommend creating a social media scavenger hunt that lists out various locations and amenities of the hotel and having the team partake in a friendly competition to capture as many items as possible with a camera. Smart phone pictures will suffice, so no excuses! Have the staff submit photos of seasonal decorations or a delicious breakfast spread and use them on social media to show your fans what's happening "behind-the-scenes" at the hotel. Behind-the-scenes photos at the hotel tend to receive high engagement with your social media fans because your guests enjoy seeing the great team that makes their hotel experience so fantastic!

Here are some ideas to get your hotel's photo scavenger hunt started:

    • Staff recognition and awards
    • Involvement in community: hotel events, brand events, community service
    • Team spotlights or bios: Chef, GM, Front Desk Manager, Housekeeping Manager, etc. 
    • Seasonal decorations around the hotel
    • Chef specials at the restaurant or bar
    • Action photos of F&B team preparing dinner, staff setting dining table
    • Centerpieces for wedding or special event

Staff and Guest Picks

The staff and loyal guests can also provide great recommendations of their favorite local restaurants and entertainment options. Create a brief questionnaire to compile some of the teams or guests favorite spots in the city so that you can feature their recommendations on social media. For example, when guests check out, ask if they would be willing to provide future guests with some recommendations for exploring the surrounding area. If they say yes, hand them a card and ask them to fill-in-the-blank: "Don't leave San Francisco without…." Then feature these authentic spots that the locals love on social media so your guests can check them out when staying at your hotel! Plus, it will save your social media manager time when they are hunting for the best chicken wings in town. I recommend keeping the guest questionnaire short, sweet, and somewhat vague. You never know what kind of gems your guests may discover during their stay!

Key Takeaways for Providing a Kick-Ass Social Media Strategy

Whether you are personally managing a social media page or utilizing outside assistance, it is important to provide the best information possible for your guests. Keep in mind:

  1. Great local information can be found at your fingertips.
  2. Actively monitor keywords to save time digging through search engine clutter.
  3. Fact checking is key, especially concerning breaking news and local weather.
  4. On-site staff and satisfied guests can be great resources for authentic local recommendations and social media content.
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We are now just over a month into 2014, which means it’s time to sit down, get inspired, and reaffirm that you made the right New Year’s Resolutions for 2014. If you’re anything like me, you’ll likely edit the resolutions that you wrote last year and vow to really take them seriously this year. Yes, this is the year that you are going to eat healthy! In 2014, I challenge you to think outside of the box and make some promises that are going to better your hotel’s internet visibility! So, raise your right hand and read the Internet Marketing Resolutions for 2014 out loud.

  1. I promise to ensure that my annual marketing plan is customized to fit the unique goals of my hotel. There is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all internet marketing strategy.
  2. I vow to evaluate my internet partner by answering the questions below, because internet marketing partners are not created equal.
    1. Are the services apples-to-apples when I’m evaluating two different potential partners?
    2. Do they build websites on a proprietary content management system or an open-source CMS?
    3. How is account management structured? Are there different levels of support for my hotel?
    4. Is your hotel’s go-to account manager just the face of the account or do they also execute your marketing initiatives such as SEO, rather than passing the work off to a separate SEO team?
  3. I promise that I will decrease my traditional marketing budget because traditional marketing is dying. I will increase my internet marketing budget from .05% to at least 3-20% of my internet revenue.
  4. I promise to adhere to a holistic, multi-channel internet marketing strategy rather than a single channel approach (i.e. just SEO) because multiple channels produce more effective results when working in tandem with one another.
  5. I vow to be patient with my internet marketing results. True high-performing multi-channel strategies cannot be executed at a push of a button by an automated system; rather they require attention-to-detail and continual maintenance.
  6. I vow that if I choose to seek outside assistance for my internet marketing needs, I will ensure that my internet partner functions as an extension of my hotel team in order to achieve the best results. It will be a true partnership, where both the hotel and internet marketing partner are active participants in the success of their campaign.
  7. I promise to commit to on-going hotel internet marketing efforts in order to be successful; my campaign will be regularly maintained due to the changing nature of internet marketing channels and competitors hungry for top visibility.
  8. I promise to make user experience the primary focus when building my new hotel website and ensure that booking a room is an easy and intuitive process. Bells and whistles can come later.
  9. I promise not to give up my internet marketing efforts if I recently invested in internet marketing services and feel I didn’t see a return. I will remind myself that this doesn’t mean that successful internet marketing partners don’t exist; it just means that I haven’t found the right one yet. .
  10. I promise to invest in a user-friendly, functional mobile-site which may be a hefty investment today, but will undoubtedly be a valuable long term solution for increasing bookings.

I hope these hotel marketing resolutions empower you to set forth in 2014 with a fresh perspective and ultimately lead to increased internet performance for your hotel!

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Facebook Tenth Birthday

At Blue Magnet Interactive, we love Facebook. Without the social giant and its enormous marketing potential, we might be out of a job! Okay, maybe not - but we felt it was only appropriate to commemorate Facebook on its 10th birthday with a classic Top 10 list.

Our talented Account Manager’s compiled their top 10 tips for hotels to effectively utilize Facebook’s prowess and stand out from their competitors!

1. Respond to all wall posts and comments, whether they are positive or negative. Hoteliers should have a similar response system in place on Facebook as they do on TripAdvisor. When a fan leaves positive feedback on your Facebook wall, “like” the post or leave a sincere comment on behalf of the hotel to acknowledge that it was received. When a fan leaves a nasty comment, respond publicly so that your other fans know that the hotel takes these issues seriously and try to take the conversation offline as seamlessly as possible.

~ Andrea Mann, Senior Brand Strategist

2. Don’t post just to post. Content that you share with your followers should be relevant to your property. Think about the pages you “like” on Facebook, why you like them, and the content you're likely to share and engage with on those pages. Your fans are invested in your page to hear about your special offers and promotions, learn about the area, and hear about other applicable hotel news and events. Just because a certain topic or hashtag is trending doesn’t mean that yoru hotel needs to comment on the subject. If you can’t twist “Justin Bieber’s mug shot” to relate to your brand, it’s pointless chatter (and we’re not sure you’d want to anyways).

~ Stephanie Hilger, Account Manager

FB-Birthday Humanize

3. Humanize your brand. Customer service is often one of the strongest assets of a property, and you can’t give great customer service without an incredible staff. Small features that show your customers how much the hotel management values its staff will go a long way. “Staff picks” for favorite area restaurants or bars, “happy anniversary” posts for team members that have loyally been employed at your hotel for a long period of time, etc. They call this “social” media for a reason. Don’t ever hesitate to put a face to your brand! 

~ Michelle Laing, Account Manager

4. Do your guests know that you are on Facebook? Utilize on-property flyers and place them at the front desk, at your on-site restaurant, on tables in the breakfast area and create key-card packet inserts. Encourage guests to like and review your hotel on Facebook, especially since Facebook reviews are beginning to play an integral part of your Facebook page’s experience!

~ Kelsey Nupnau, Account Manager

5. Take advantage of the Facebook Insights. This useful tool is free for your hotel's business page, and it will help you discover things like the best time to post, the most popular content, and audience demographics. With this added information, you can craft better posts tailored to your specific audience and boost your page’s engagement.

~ Tim Dale, Account Manager

FB-Birthday ShortSweet

6.  Keep it short and sweet. Increasingly, people are accessing Facebook through their mobile devices.  While scrolling through their Newsfeeds waiting at the bus stop or in line at Starbucks, they may not want to take the time to read a wordy paragraph. Writing your hotel's Facebook posts with Twitter’s length (140 characters or less) in mind can help encourage fans to read your posts. 

~ Caroline Scanlon, Associate Account Manager

7. Use your camera! If there is something going on at the hotel - a staff fundraiser, a special event in the bar or just a beautiful day outside, TAKE A PICTURE! Your Facebook fans are following your page because they enjoyed their time at your hotel or are planning to visit your hotel. Give them a snapshot of what’s going on both on property and in the area. Photos that are unique to a hotel tend to outperform generic posts on Facebook pages. A generic post with clip art hearts that says “Happy Valentine’s Day” is not going to give your hotel personality like a photo of your front desk staff smiling with a box of chocolates in hand!

~ Abby Heft, Senior Account Manager

 

8. Stay local. Utilize local-area publications, community-focused websites, CVB’s and more to find the most relevant, local content for your followers. From free yoga classes to the top 10 places to enjoy fried chicken in your town, fans will appreciate these localized tidbits. Guests are often asking your front desk staff  ‘where do the locals go?’ - so take that question and run with it on Facebook! There are lots of great resources at your fingertips to help answer that question.

~ Amanda Diamond, Account Manager

FB-Birthday Fans

9. Treat your fans like the special fans they are! As you grow your network of fans on Facebook, instill loyalty by offering exclusive deals and insider information. Announce special events to fans first, provide a special coupon for fans to redeem on property, or promote a unique fan rate discount only available through your Facebook page. By giving fans exclusive information and deals, you build loyalty and actively engage users who continue to listen to what your hotel has to say. Plus, these Facebook strategies are also a great way for your hotel to bring in incremental revenue and sell rooms for last minute need-dates. 

~ Kim Armour, Director of Client Services

10. Just because Facebook is a great marketing tool, doesn't mean every post should be a commercial for your hotel. Yes, guests want to know when you have an awesome new special or that you just renovated all of your suites, but they don't want to see the same posts about how you have "the best amenities around" over and over. Your page will never see a lot of likes or engagement if you're consistently posting "salesy" content in the hopes of driving bookings. Doing so will most likely have the opposite effect and end up turning fans away.

~ Chris Dean, Account Manager

Cheers, Facebook! Here's to many more years of liking, commenting, and sharing!

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In mid-December, Twitter began rolling out an experimental new feature called "Nearby" that places an emphasis on user location when tweeting. Twitter has been hesitant to divulge much information about Nearby and its future, simply stating that they are constantly testing new features. However, as Twitter continues to roll out Nearby to more users, we are getting a clearer picture of what this new feature is and how hoteliers can use it to their advantage.

What do we know about Nearby?

Nearby is an alternative timeline to Twitter's "Home," "Discover," and "Activity" timelines for viewing tweets. The Home timeline, the most commonly used, is the standard timeline for viewing chronologically sorted tweets of people you follow. The Discover timeline features relevant and trending tweets that Twitter thinks you'll be interested in, even though you may not follow those people yet. The Activity timeline, which can be found within the Discover tab, shows you what actions your followers are performing on Twitter, such as favoriting tweets or following new people. All of the three current timelines present tweets and activities as a list.

Nearby works only with tweets that have been geotagged, meaning users have allowed their location to be tied to their tweets. What makes Nearby so unique in comparison to the other timelines is that rather than using the standard list format, tweets are presented as markers on a map, with the location of the marker being the location of the user when that tweet was sent out. In the screenshots below, you can see the Nearby map. Each tweet can be viewed by tapping on the marker.

twitter-nearby-map                    twitter-nearby-tweet

75 percent of Twitter users are accessing the social media channel via mobile or tablet, which is probably why the Nearby timeline is currently only viewable on the Twitter mobile and tablet apps. That does not mean that the tweets presented on the Nearby map are only from mobile and tablet users. As long as your phone, tablet, or desktop is allowing your tweets to be geotagged, they will appear on the map regardless of the device they were tweeted from. Directions for enabling geotagging on desktop and mobile devices can be found in Twitter's Help Center.

Because Nearby is still in its infancy, being tested, and being introduced to users gradually, there is no guarantee of when it will appear for you or if Twitter will keep the feature permanently. Only users who have enabled geotagging have been given access to Nearby so far, meaning that the sooner you enable it, the better your chances are of getting Nearby and exploring the new feature yourself!

How can hotel marketers use Nearby to benefit their hotel marketing strategy?

  • Nearby is one of the very few ways, besides buying ads and being retweeted, to increase the reach of your tweets to users who do not follow you. The tweets that appear on the Nearby map are not only from the accounts you follow; Rather, any geotagged tweet in your general vicinity will appear on the map. So if you tweet from the hotel's account and the tweet appears on the Nearby map, users who may have never known your hotel existed, let alone had a twitter account, will see your tweet and be exposed to your hotel. This means your hotel has the opportunity to acquire new potential guests and referrers!

 

  • Nearby offers a better way to tap into your hotel's local market than was ever possible with Twitter before. With Nearby, you can see what the locals are tweeting about in your immediate area - what's most popular with users and what's catching their attention. Insight like this is invaluable to your hotel. Knowing what users are interested in and using that knowledge to create great social media content is crucial. The more you know about your users' interests, the easier it will be to tailor your social media content and ensure it's relevant to your audience!

 

  • A very cool opportunity that becomes available with Nearby is the ability to read your guests' tweets regardless of if the tweet mentions your hotel at all. To this point, the only way to know for sure if someone was tweeting about your hotel would be if they mentioned it by name or mentioned your Twitter handle in their tweet. With Nearby, you'll be able to see all of the tweets originating from your hotel's location on the Nearby map. These tweets will undoubtedly be a good source of customer feedback you may not have received otherwise as well as a way to encourage happy customers and defuse unsatisfied ones.

 

  • No announcement has been made regarding paid advertising integrating with Nearby, but we can only assume that it is certainly an avenue that Twitter is exploring. Twitter has struggled to win the favor of small business marketers due in part to the limited options for geographic targeting of ads. Nearby can open up new ways to for paid tweets to target locals that have not been available with Twitter before.

Nearby has some excellent benefits for hotels, but it does have some possible drawbacks.

  • Quite obviously, a hotel's interest in its local market is limited. Local customers are the target for booking events and meetings, but not usually for selling rooms, so investing in paid tweets on Nearby (if and when that option becomes available) may not the best use of your money. However, depending on your hotel's objective, you may be able to find a creative way to make Nearby ads work for you. For example, you might be able to increase foot traffic for the hotel's weekday lunch special at the restaurant.

 

  • Nearby is also limited by the lack of users who geotag tweets. Twitter has not been used as a location-based social media outlet as much as Foursquare or even Facebook, so Twitter will need to build awareness for Nearby and encourage more users to start geotagging. If Twitter cannot achieve this, Nearby may very well be discontinued.

 

  • Nearby is sure to have its fair share of detractors due to users being forced to see Tweets from anyone, not just users they follow, on the Nearby map. Social media users are very averse to unwelcomed messages being pushed in front of them without invitation. That's why it is so crucial to have excellent content that will engage users who may not have originally wanted or expected to see your message. Otherwise, you may just end up turning them off.

The jury is out on Nearby's long-term potential for success, but as long as Nearby is used correctly, it can be one of the many fantastic tools you can utilize as part of a successful Twitter strategy. So, hotelier, be an early adopter and, when given the option, add Nearby to your already formidable arsenal of social media weapons!

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Hoteliers know that the online marketing world is fast-moving and ever-changing. To be successful, one needs to look at where the road has led up to this point and anticipate where we are heading next. 2013 definitely threw some curve balls at us with new Google algorithms, social media sites trying to emulate search engines, and campaign-changing PPC updates. Now it’s time to take what we have learned, catch the wave early, and form our hotel’s online marketing strategy around emerging trends and tools.  In this article, I discuss 3 impending changes that I anticipate happening in the not-so-distant hotel eMarketing forecast for 2014.

 crystal ball 400

Tim’s Prediction #1: In 2014, social media will have a direct impact on SEO and require a few more bucks to be effective across all platforms.

We saw social media grow up in 2013. Initially cast as a beneficial marketing channel for brands to reach their target market on a personal level, social media proved it is destined to be so much more than a brand awareness tool in the coming years.

 

Google+ will actually impact SEO

 

This past September, Google released its completely new Hummingbird algorithm. We can now safely say that if your hotel does not optimize and regularly post on Google+, you are missing out on an SEO juggernaut. We’ve been hearing rumors for months about the implications of Google+ for SEO, but in 2014, I predict that Google will openly declare Google+ a necessary element to your SEO strategy. Posting on Google+ allows Google to index new pages on your website almost immediately. The +1s also give an advantage in personalized search. If someone who has +1ed your hotel’s post or someone who follows someone who has +1ed your hotel’s post performs a Google search for hotels, they will be more likely to see your content. This means that building a strong audience on your hotel’s Google+ page can directly correlate with more visits to your site.  

 

Pay your way into all social media timelines

 

Late last year, Facebook announced that business profiles will begin to notice a sharp decrease in organic reach. It was described as a result of increased competition for limited space in the timeline, but implied that marketers will now have to pay for reach.  Because Facebook is a trend setter in the social media world, I can easily foresee other major channels, such as Twitter, Google+, etc. begin to curb reach in the same manner. Especially since Google+ will be an SEO necessity in 2014, I could see how Google could make a pretty penny with the ad revenue from promoted posts. In 2014, I would recommend allocating some of your marketing budget towards social media spend to give your social media campaigns an extra boost. Otherwise, you will probably realize in the coming months that your social media posts are no longer reaching your intended audience.

 

 Hotels vs OTAs tarot card 400

Tim’s Prediction #2: In 2014, metasearch engines and enhanced ad features will give some power back to the hotels by providing more opportunities for direct bookings.

Hotels have always had mixed feelings towards OTAs. Because OTAs tend to dominate all hotel-related searches, hotels have had no choice but to bear the burden and pay large commissions. However, new search engine tools and advanced ad features are making online marketing look hopeful once again for hotels.

 

TripConnect – The One

 

OTAs are computers, hotels are people, and TripAdvisor’s TripConnect is Neo. Maybe the Matrix analogy is a bit dramatic, but TripAdvisor’s new bidding feature gives hoteliers a way to compete with more powerful entities (read: OTAs) for placement in TripAdvisor’s price comparison search. In the past, only OTAs and large hotel brands could bid for that placement in the pricing search results, but now, independent hotels that are paying for a TripAdvisor Business Listing can also participate in the pay-per-click program. This is much more appealing than expensive Google AdWords campaigns because it gives a better opportunity to the small, independent hotel. Hotels will not have to face the Adword budgets of the major OTAs, and they will not have to pay the CPC + commission per booking on Expedia TravelAds. As TripConnect gains more momentum and pitches the new product on a property-level, independent hotels will begin to move their ad budget away from platforms such as Google Adwords and Expedia TravelAds and designate their money to a more opportunistic TripAdvisor.

 

Metasearch Engines become a more dominant booking channel

 

Though metasearch engines are a relatively recent development in the travel industry, the concept to aggregate results from various sources into a single list has been around for some time. Metasearch allows guests to use additional search parameters to find your hotel and pulls the information from a variety of sources to compile a comprehensive result page.  TripAdvisor is a great example of a metasearch engine where users are able to search for hotels by name, location, price, and chain. Though an OTA provides a similar shopping experience, the difference is in the customer conversion. Metasearch engines send users directly to the hotel’s reservation system for a direct booking, while on OTAs, users book a room within the OTA’s reservation platform, which charges the hotel a booking commission. In 2014, look for metasearch engines such as TripAdvisor and Kayak to take some market share away from OTAs because they will provide users with more relevant information and a better user-experience.  More and more, travelers will begin to use OTAs as research tools and metasearch engines as booking tools.

 

AdWords Image Extensions help hotels compete with OTAs

 

Still in its beta stage, Google’s Adword Image Extension presents a more appealing aesthetic alternative to the plain text PPC ads.  Currently, OTAs have much larger Adword budgets than individual hotels, which diminish the hotel’s power to rank for highly-competitive key words. Since OTAs can’t use property photos in their PPC ads, the hotels will have a new advantage in an otherwise skewed system. In 2014, hotels that take advantage of Google Adword extensions will perform better than the OTAs.

 

 Google PalmReading 400

Tim’s Prediction #3: In 2014, Google will integrate Google Maps with Google Hotel Finder, and hotels will suffer the consequences.

Google’s entrance into the travel industry has been a long, drawn-out process. The past few years, TripAdvisor, Expedia, and Priceline have surprisingly outpaced Google in the travel shopping. The world’s most popular search engine has shown in the past that it can enter into almost any online market it pleases, sometimes to the benefit of the industry, other times not so much.

 

Google Maps + Google Hotel Finder = Google Travel Dominance

 

Google Maps will be the driving force behind Google’s travel related searches. Recently, Google has revealed its new “Hotel View.” According to the Associated Press, Google is photographing hotel interiors in order to enhance its travel content. They are slowly rolling out the content but already have a large number of properties undergoing the process. Currently, Google Maps already shows PPC ads. Is it too much of a stretch to believe that eventually Google will want to integrate the often hidden Google Hotel Finder listings?

Launched way back in 2011, Google Hotel Finder is another metasearch engine that aims to provide users an easy way to find accommodations in various cities.  In recent months, Google Hotel finder has made new updates to improve its functionality including the ability to access it from your mobile phone. Currently, the Google Hotel Finder’s pricing menu is dominated by the OTAs. The more popular Google Hotel Finder gets, the more opportunities OTAs will have to advertise to potential guests and the more commission independent hotels will have to pay to the OTAs.  In 2014, I predict that Google Hotel Finder will integrate with Google Maps which would create another challenge for hotels.

Because of this, hotels need to take full advantage of their direct booking channels in 2014. Optimize your hotel’s TripAdvisor listing, build a user-friendly standalone site, audit and refresh your hotel’s SEO strategy, and outrank the OTAs!

 

 

That’s all for my hotel eMarketing forecast for 2014. Keep taking advantage of all the latest online marketing tips and tools to ensure your hotel’s online presence continues to improve in 2014!  

 

 

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Before we dive into 2014, it's only fitting to take a moment and reflect on this past year at Blue Magnet! 2013 was a year for the books (and we're not just talking Facebook). Our office grew immensely (by both people and square feet), we hit every curve ball thrown our way (Google Hummingbird? Nice try Matt Cutts), and launched several responsive websites! It takes genuine talent to stay on top of the latest eMarketing trends, adapt to three screen marketing, and survive the #hashtag takeover. Blue Magnet proved that a company formed on industry passion, continued education, and work-life balance can tackle any challenges that the constantly evolving Internet throws our way.

January

In January, Blue Magnet welcomed Tim Dale to the team as Blue Magnet's newest Associate Account Manager. Since then, Tim has given the rest of the team (and the rest of the world) a run for their money when it comes to writing creative copy. 

Our very own Andrea Mann visited the Emily Morgan Hotel in San Antonio, Texas to provide live social media coverage of the hotel’s elaborate grand reopening party as they joined the DoubleTree by Hilton family!

BMI January 2013 

February

Patrick McCarthy headed south to the Hampton Inn & Nashville Downtown to learn more about the Nashville market and to work with the hotel team to create synergy between BMI, the hotel's off-site Revenue Manager, and the on-site hotel staff. The trip was declared a rousing success by all.

BMI February 2013

March

Blue Magnet added another Associate Account Manager to the team (enter: Stephanie Hilger). Stephanie’s extensive social media marketing experiences and incredible attention to detail brought a fresh perspective to Blue Magnet’s social strategy.

Brittany Aller and Andrea Mann co-hosted BMI's first webinar with Revinate, "Social Media Campaigns - Strategies & Metrics," to enlighten fellow hoteliers on how to implement and benchmark successful social media campaigns.

April

Maddy Fuller came on board as an Associate Account Manager. From increasing site visits to executing clever promotions, like Marry Me at Doubletree, Maddy quickly proved that she was a perfect fit for the Blue Magnet Team.

As Blue Magnet's veterans, Abby Heft, Andrea Mann, Kathryn Vera, and Patrick McCarthy approached their two-year BMIversary, a welcoming announcement was made that these four BMI All-Stars would take on the new roles of Senior Account Managers, each with a specialized focus.

May

BMI celebrated Cinco de Mayo in true Chicago style: a trip to Big Star. Margaritas, fish tacos, and a beautiful spring day? Sounds like the perfect recipe for Blue Magnet team bonding!

BMI May 2013

June

Blue Magnet lost Senior Account Manager Katharyn Molinaro, but only to gain Katharyn Vera! In June, Katharyn made the trip down the aisle and married the man of her dreams (looking stunning, per usual). Congratulations Mr. and Mrs. Vera!

Abby journeyed west to visit some of her beloved clients, The Oakland Marriott City Center and the Courtyard Marriott Downtown Oakland.

We also made the extremely bold decision to sign up for a recreational beach volleyball league at North Avenue Beach. The "Proxy Servers" had an impressive season, even making the play-offs... but we won't be quitting our day jobs anytime soon. We’ll stick to winning the Internet, not the volleyball net.

BMI June 2013

July

Our hard-working team enjoyed an afternoon away from the computer screens to catch a Cubs game at Wrigleyville Rooftops! Did we win or lose? No one can be sure.

Kim Armour reinvented the wheel in July as she introduced the Blue Magneteer Award to recognize a team member’s excellent achievement each month! Thanks to hard work and "mucho" dedication to a client in the Southwest, Account Manager Brittany Aller was the first to claim the much sought after title!

BMI July 2013

August

Drumroll please... in August Blue Magnet launched the first of many custom responsive sites that seamlessly breaks down to fit the user’s screen size: Crowne Plaza Wilmington North!

In other exciting news, Tim Dale was promoted to Account Manager and we welcomed two more Associate Account Managers to the Blue Magnet family. Happy to have you on board, Jourdan Dunn and Caroline Scanlon!

September

Blue Magnet took Chicago Social Media Week by storm in September. Team members attended a numerous educational sessions that discussed topics such as Google +, Social Media's correlation with SEO, and content marketing.

Amanda Diamond joined the Blue Magnet team to share her marketing expertise!

Yet another exciting responsive site launched: DoubleTree by Hilton Raleigh Brownstone - University

October

Andrea Mann spearheaded our second webinar alongside Revinate, "5 Ways Hoteliers Can Benefit From User-Generated Social Media Content."

We were also excited to welcome Chris Dean as our newest Associate Account Manager!

November

VFM Leonardo featured our very own Katharyn Vera in the "Ask an Expert" section of their 2014 Digital Marketing Strategies eBook. She provided valuable insight on questions such as, "How should hotels deal with '3 Screen' Marketing?" and "What hotel trends surprised you in a good or bad way in 2013?"

Andrea Mann offered Blue Magnet’s tricks of the trade as she spoke on a Social Media 3.0 panel at the North America Hotel Investment Conference hosted at the Hyatt Chicago.

Our project management team continues to launch beautifully designed responsive sites:  DoubleTree by Hilton Chicago - Oak Brook and Jimmy's On First

BMI November 2013 - VFM Ask the Expert

December

Kelsey took a trip to the Pacific Northwest to visit Embassy Suites Seattle - Bellevue and Embassy Suites Portland-Washington Square. This site visit was extra special since it allowed Kelsey to see one of her Facebook giveaways come full circle! Over the summer, Kelsey created, organized, and executed the "Love Wins Pride Package Giveaway" for Embassy Suites Seattle-Bellevue. LGBT couples shared their photos and stories for the chance to win a wedding ceremony! Kelsey was fortune enough to attend the winning couple’s wedding ceremony at the hotel!

BMI December 2013

If 2013 was any indication of what’s to come in 2014… well, then here at Blue Magnet Interactive, we are excited to take on another whirlwind of site launches, team members, and innovative marketing strategies as we enter our 8th year of business in the hotel online marketing world!

Stay connected to the Blue Magnet team on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram!

Here's to a successful 2014!

BMI Holiday gif

 

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

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

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

The pros for independent hoteliers

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

The cons for independent hoteliers

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

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

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

What is TripAdvisor’s TripConnect?

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

How does the bidding process work?

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

Price Comparison Results

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

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

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

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

Considering investing in a Business Listing and bidding with TripConnect?

Let’s Recap Pros and Cons

Key factors to consider before investing in TripConnect

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

         

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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

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

Next Steps for Independent Hoteliers

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

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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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