TripAdvisor’s newest feature, Questions & Answers, is a trip-planning tool that offers an easy way for your hotel to interact with potential guests. When browsing a hotel on TripAdvisor, travelers can scroll down to the bottom of the page and enter a question in the designated box.

 
TripAdvisor's Questions & Answers Box 
 

A representative of your hotel, past reviewers, and other members of the TripAdvisor community can then provide timely answers and feedback. This gives your hotel the opportunity to set travelers’ expectations by giving them all the information they need to choose your property for their next trip. The tool basically offers a more personalized version of the already popular TripAdvisor forum. Travelers can ask questions specific to your hotel like, “What time is breakfast served on weekdays?” or “We are planning to visit in December, will the renovations be complete by then?”

How Your Hotel Can Get Involved

When a new question comes in, your property’s registered TripAdvisor email will receive a notification. Login to your hotel’s TripAdvisor page to address the traveler’s inquiry as directly and concisely as possible. Responses must be family-friendly, original, and cannot include links or contact information. As a property representative, your response will automatically go to the top of the responses, giving it priority and authority over the comments from the rest of the TripAdvisor community. TripAdvisor community comments are sorted based on upward and downward votes by the rest of the users. As a hotel representative, you can answer the same question multiple times if something has changed at your property over time.

Other hoteliers in the same market will not be able to answer traveler questions for your hotel.  Additionally, competing hotels in the area cannot ask questions about your hotel. These rules have been implemented by TripAdvisor to combat spam on the site.

5 Ways TripAdvisor Questions & Answers Benefits Hoteliers

  1. Hoteliers can engage with potential guests before the purchasing stage
  2. Hoteliers have the ability to answer questions more than once, keeping the information as correct and up-to-date as possible. This is particularly useful because OTAs and local listings are not always updated every time there is a change on property, which can confuse shoppers. This platform allows travelers to get clarification on necessary information and eliminate confusion.
  3. Hoteliers can help humanize the hotel brand by showing guests that the hotel cares about their questions and concerns and takes the time to respond. Guests appreciate personal interaction!
  4. Hoteliers can improve their overall image by being honest and proactive. Not only does the person who asked the question appreciate the response, but other hotel shoppers will respect the hotel for responding as well. 
  5. Hoteliers can essentially audit their communication. What messages are clear across their channels and which messages need to be reworked?
 

In the first example below, the Marriott Oakland City Center effectively uses the Questions & Answers tool to communicate with potential guests. The hotel representative provides a brief but detailed answer to the traveler’s question in a timely manner. Now that the guest is well-informed, she can book an accessible room at the hotel with confidence.

 
TripAdvisor's Questions & Answers Positive Example
 

In the example below, the hotel has the opportunity to reassure a guest so he does not cancel a block of rooms. However, no one from the property has responded to the guest, who asked the question 7 days ago. The hotel’s failure to respond is detrimental to the hotel, since they will likely lose this reservation.  Plus, as you can see in the screenshot below, another TripAdvisor community member responded with her own warning to avoid the hotel, so the hotel’s silence will likely negatively impact the hotel’s reputation.

 
TripAdvisor's Questions & Answers Negative Example
 

5 Things to Keep in Mind before Getting Started

  1. Make sure your property is registered and that you have a designated staff member to answer questions in a timely manner. If travelers are inquiring about your property, they are probably ready to book. Don’t miss out on the opportunity to convert shoppers into guests!
  2. Balance your answers with brevity and helpfulness. Readers don’t want to sift through a lengthy response to find the answer to their question.
  3. Emphasize the positive. If the answer to a traveler’s question is “no”, supplement it with a positive remark. For example, if a guest asks whether you have a spa on-site and the answer is no, let them know that you have two top-rated spas less than 5 minutes from the hotel and that your concierge is more than happy to assist with scheduling and directions.
  4. If you are seeing travelers ask the same question time and time again, think about how you can display the information more clearly on your website, OTAs, and social media. 
  5. Although you want to respond to questions quickly, make sure you also evaluate your answers carefully before posting them. Answers can receive positive and negative votes from the community, so think about rephrasing your answers to ensure they are viewed as helpful and the votes are positive. 

TripAdvisor’s new Questions & Answers feature is a valuable tool for your hotel and potential guests since it opens up a direct line of communication. Don’t miss out on an opportunity to engage with travelers, improve your property’s online reputation, and convert shoppers into hotel guests.

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What if there were simple changes to your website that could increase online revenue dramatically? You would make those changes, right? Well a site is never complete, and there is always room for improvement. All you need to do is follow a process that helps determine what changes will improve your site’s performance. By implementing A/B testing, marketers can experiment with various changes to a site and measure the impact of each change.

A/B Testing Success Story

One of Blue Magnet’s clients, a hotel in Florida, was experiencing a period of low occupancy. As their Internet marketing manager, I was tasked with the challenge of increasing reservations during the hotel’s need period. To begin, I took a step back and examined the hotel’s website as a consumer, rather than a marketer. Working with a website day in and day out can sometimes make marketers overlook issues obvious to visitors. Since the hotel’s challenge dealt with online reservations, I decided that a closer look at the hotel website’s booking widget was probably a valid starting point.

The original reservation widget contained a white and green call-to-action button reading “Check Availability.” Since the entire site’s color scheme is white and green, it seemed like the button was getting lost in the background. As a visitor to this website, I would expect the most important button on the site to command much more attention. As a marketer for this site, I wanted to see if a different color button might prove more compelling.

After some initial research, I chose red for the alternate version of the button. From what I gathered and inferred, red is a highly visible color. That’s why stop signs, fire trucks, and other things that need to be noticed quickly are painted that color. Contrasted with the green background, a red “Check Availability” button seemed like it would pop off the page, catch the eye of visitors quickly, and draw more clicks, but I needed to be sure before I made such a significant change to the site. Enter A/B testing.

Original White Button (A) 

White Button

 

Red Button Variation (B) 

Red Button 

I set up an A/B test to show the original button to some users and the alternate red button to others, and let me tell you, the results were exciting. After just a few weeks, the new red button was reveiving 13% more clicks than the white button. After reaching the 95% confidence threshold, I switched the button over to the red version permanently and monitored the next month’s performance. In 30 days, the total number of people clicking the button to check rate for this particular hotel improved 38% YOY which translated into 65% increase in booked revenue YOY.

Percentage Graph

Percentage of visitors that checked rate on variation A vs. variation B during the experiment.

This simple color change contributed to thousands of dollars of revenue for the hotel. If you want to make some quality changes to your own website, read on, and I’ll teach you how to implement A/B tests to improve your site’s performance.

What is A/B Testing?

A/B testing is a randomized experiment that takes two (or more) variants of a web page (A and B), presents them both to different members of the audience, and then tracks the differences in performance.

How to Implement A/B Testing

Before you decide what feature to change on a specific page, you need to determine how you want the site to improve. Think about the goal of that particular page. What purpose does it serve to your website as a whole, and what metrics indicate how the page is performing? For example, if you are trying to generate more revenue from a specific special offer, you may look at how many clicks that particular offer has compared to other offers in the same time period. If the offer has fewer clicks than you’d expect, start thinking about different page elements that could be affecting its results. Is the copy compelling? Can users clearly see where to click? Is the page layout confusing or cluttered, making it difficult to find the offer? Once you have determined what aspect of the page you want to improve, follow this simple 5 step A/B Testing process to produce a higher converting site:

  1. Make an educated change to the page
  2. Set up an A/B test
  3. Track how the change impacts visitor behavior
  4. Implement the improved version
  5. Repeat

1. Making an Educated Change to the Page

Once you determine what the goal of your page is, decide what the “B” in the A/B test will entail. This decision requires some thought. Don’t make a rash judgment, but don’t let this step bog you down either. Spend some time considering what changes on the page will fuel changes in site performance. Try to view your website from a visitor’s perspective. How does this page look to you if you landed on it for a specific search query? Is the information you’re searching for easy to find? If you were directed to this particular page from another page in the site, what would you expect to see? As a visitor, is there an action that you can take to accomplish your goals (e.g. contact for more information, click a button to check out, etc)? If this exercise does not help you discover an element to change, it may be useful to get a fresh set of eyes on the page and hear from an outside perspective. Ask a friend, family member, or some of your top customers for their valuable feedback.

As a fellow marketer, I know your time is valuable. I wouldn’t want you to read this article and then set up A/B tests that make little to no improvement to your site’s performance. Do your initial research and use your best judgment to determine your “B.” Whatever you decide to change, it doesn’t always have to be huge, but it should be purposeful.

2. Setting Up an A/B Test

Google Analytics makes setting up A/B tests simple. First, you need to create a duplicate page to test against the original. This duplicate page should contain your variation(s). While your duplicate page is still being tested, I would recommend that you set it up with a meta noindex, nofollow tag so it doesn’t appear in search results.

Once you have the duplicate page ready:

  1. Go to the Behavior tab in your Google Analytics account
    BehaviorTab
  2. Select "Experiements"
  3. Click "Create New Experiment"
    create new experiment
  4. Follow along with the questions
    a/b experiment questions

The objective you select to measure for the experiment should be a metric that indicates the page’s strength. Google Analytics allows you to pick from your present goals, some site usage statistics such as bounces, pageviews, and session duration, or you can create a new goal for the experiment (e.g. contact form completions, check availability clicks, wedding form RFP submissions, etc.).

There are a few other options to determine how your experiment will be run and measured. You can choose the percentage of traffic you want to participate in the experiment, and you can also choose how the two pages will be distributed to your site’s traffic. Google’s default will show the page that is performing better more often, but if you wish, you can choose to show the two pages evenly. Finally, select the confidence threshold you want to reach before the experiment is stopped. The higher the threshold, the more confident you can be that the changes you are making will produce improved results.

Next, paste the URL of the original page and the URL of the test page into the provided boxes. I suggest naming them something that reflects the variation of that page, such as White Button vs. Red Button.

Finally, Google will provide you with a snippet of code that you need to paste into the header of your original page. This code will redirect certain visitors to page B, your test page. You may need to have some technical knowledge or work with your developer to implement these changes into your Content Management System, such as Joomla or Wordpress.

Once you have set up your A/B test, you can sit back and analyze the visitor behavior!

3. Tracking How the Site Change Impacts Visitor Behavior

Google does a great job of clearly laying out the experiment statistics. The data will include the number of sessions (visits) for each page version, the number of conversions, the conversion rate, the difference in conversion rate compared to the original page, and the probability of outperforming the original page (that’s your confidence threshold). It’s fun and useful to monitor this fairly frequently. If your test page is not producing improved results, you may want to end the experiment earlier than you had intended and try implementing a different change instead of holding out hope for months on end. If you changed the color of a “Check Availability” button and didn’t see an increase in number of click in two weeks, maybe you want to keep the original button color and try different verbiage, such as “Book Now."

4. Implementing the Improved Version

This is a no brainer. Once the A/B experiment is finished, pick the version that performed better (depending on what your goals are) and make that the default page. Voila! You have just made your site better and will soon have the measurable results to prove it!

5. Repeating the Process

It is awesome that your site is performing better, but the job of an online marketer is never done. Now that your page is producing improved results, set up another test to beat the new version or take what you have learned from this experiment and apply it to a similar A/B test for another page. Winston Churchill said it best: “To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often. “

Have you tried A/B testing on your website? Tweet us at @Blue_Magnet and tell us about your experiments.

  

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At Blue Magnet Interactive, we try to stay up-to-date in the SEO, social media, and online marketing world by attending educational industry seminars and events. From networking receptions to conferences to happy hours and more, we enjoy meeting other marketers with innovative ideas and varying perspectives. So the Blue Magnet team was excited at the opportunity to attend a cocktail hour and networking reception sponsored by Bing and Inc. at the Wit Hotel for some Search + Social education.

The panel for the event's Q+A session included Maisha Walker from Message Medium, Bruce Clay from Bruce Clay INC., Marty Weintraub from aimClear, and Duane Forrester from Bing. The lively group of panelists welcomed questions from the audience, all of whom were concerned about one thing: the future of their business online. The attendees' knowledge level concerning SEO and social was quite varied which made for some great questions. The panelists shared a ton of valuable information and insights at the Bing event, so instead of hitting every talking point, I will give you 5 key takeaways on how to best market your business online.

1. The Importance of Usability

There are billions of websites. So what will set your website apart from that of your competitors? Why would a customer/guest/user stay on your site (and convert) instead of turning to another site? Well, there's no one absolute, but if you want to increase the likelihood of users staying and converting on your website, you need to ensure that your site is easy to use. Usability is a crucial element of your site's performance and it is important to think like a customer when designing or redesigning your website. The panelists suggest performing usability tests at several stages throughout the development of your website. You want to catch and correct user experience and usability issues while your site is still in development to save time and money. The panelists recommend asking a group of users in your target demographic to participate in these usability tests. You then supply the "test" user a list of tasks to complete on the website so they can give you feedback on their experience. Once you know what kind of issues users are having you can fix accordingly and watch your conversion rate skyrocket!

2. Target "Shopping" Keywords

As many SEOs and content marketers know, it's easy to get wrapped up in Google's Keyword Planner tool, searching for as many relevant keywords to insert into site content. At the end of the day though, users typing queries into a search engine are just people like you and me. One of the panelists gave a solid example to drive this point home. Let's say you are brain surgeon. What service do you perform? Brain surgery. So, as a brain surgeon looking to drive more traffic to your website, you may immediately think to target consumers searching for 'brain surgery' as a primary keyword. But, someone searching for a trusted doctor to perform this very serious surgery, is probably not simply typing 'brain surgery' into Bing or Google. A high school student doing a research paper on the topic might type this query, but a patient shopping for the best surgeon is probably not going to search this way. So what "shopping" keyword should you target in this instance? Ask yourself, 'What is the prospective patient actually looking for? 'A brain surgeon! Targeting 'brain surgeons in [your city or state] is a much more relevant search query for your target audience and will prove to be a much more effective keyword for your website.

The brain surgery keyword concept applies to the hotel industry as well. While it is likely that a prospective guest would type in 'San Francisco Hotels' to begin their search, it is also likely that they hone in on a specific area within San Francisco when they are closer to booking. Target their "shopping" queries by focusing on keywords like 'Hotels near the Golden Gate Bridge' or 'Hotels close to Fisherman's Wharf' to increase conversions.

3. Content is King

Once you have determined your "shopping" keywords, it's important to include them in your content. But instead of stuffing keywords in your page like you have been taught to do in the past, focus on writing compelling content that naturally incorporates variations of your "shopping" keywords. When you keyword stuff, your visitors are going to be frustrated that your page has nothing to do with what they searched, and your page will eventually be penalized by search engines for blackhat SEO techniques. Keep in mind the quality of your content at a high level as well; check for typos, grammatical errors, and accuracy. Make the content useful and informative from a consumer stand-point and update it frequently. As the panelists reiterated, having outdated information on your site will confuse users and eventually turn them away.

4. Relationship Building > Link Building

As most SEOs are well aware, link building is an effective way to prove the authority of your site to search engines. Trusted sites typically link to other trusted sites, so finding relevant link opportunities for your site can lead to better exposure in search results. Acquiring trustworthy links is easier said than done, and, as the panelists advised, it is best to think of this crucial SEO initiative as relationship building rather than link building. Find a way to make it mutually beneficial to both parties involved, rather than simply asking that the site add a link to the desired page. For example, check for broken links on their site and include that information in your email to the webmaster when requesting a link for a bit of give and take. Also make sure to explain why adding your link is in their best interest. Does your hotel offer a free shuttle to that destination? Can you offer a lower rate for customers of that business or service? Fostering a relationship and offering something of value in return makes your link building request more appealing.

5. Paid Search Can Be Pointless

Allow me to clarify, paid search is NOT pointless, in fact it can often be very lucrative for your business. However, as panelist Bruce Clay stated, "If you don't understand reporting of paid search, it's of no use to you." Invest in an online marketing partner that manages your website and can actually interpret the data from your paid search campaign and refine the strategy. Typically, the first phase of a paid search campaign is defining your goals and budget. Your paid search team will then perform extensive research to determine what keywords and ad groups will be most beneficial for your campaign using Google Keyword Planner and design attractive and relevant ads. When your campaign is active, it is crucial to analyze your data to ensure you are achieving your goals and that it is as worthwhile investment of your money and time. You can run ads all year long, but if you do not continuously analyze the performance to optimize your ads and refine your strategy, your campaign becomes pointless. Use the reporting Bing and Google AdWords provides, paying attention to ad impressions, clicks, and conversions. Optimize your target keywords and ad strategy accordingly. The panelists suggest staying up-to-date with the latest changes in reporting through industry blogs and learning more about interpreting the data through free webinars and courses. Taking the time and energy to understand your paid search campaign will result in the most bang for your buck.

There are countless ways to increase the exposure, credibility, and conversion rate of your business through online marketing. By understanding some of these key takeaways shared by the panel of industry experts and implementing them in your business's online marketing strategy, you'll be taking the reins and controlling your online presence with more knowledge and confidence.

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If you have thought about going on a diet before, you have probably done some initial research to determine the right diet plan for you. And, like most people who finally decide to pull the trigger on a diet, you were probably hoping to find something that promises to deliver fast results … as in, yesterday. While you were investigating these self-proclaimed miracle diet products or meal plans, you probably noticed how easy the ads always make it look. They all claim “Just eat or drink [this] twice-a-day and never diet again” or “ban [this] from your diet forever and drop 10 pounds”. Just like these popular dieting fads, there are always new buzz words, trends, or social media sites emerging in online marketing that immediately catch hoteliers’ eyes and seem to be the “answer” that they have been searching for. They get laser-focused on that one new “it” thing. They pour all of their resources into that one marketing channel, whether it is SEO, Pinterest, or something else they have read about, and they expect a quick-fix. They expect, or at least hope, that their hotel will immediately begin ranking #1 on Google for hundreds of keywords, and their hotel will be at 100% occupancy every night. But of course, that’s not realistic, and deep down they know it.

Why doesn’t a fad diet/marketing strategy produce ideal results in the long run? Because these strategies are not focusing on the big picture and long term investment. My mom has always preached “everything is okay in moderation” and “haste makes waste”, and I think she is on to something here. (Yes, mom, you were right.) I have tried several short-lived diets, and I have even succumbed to a torturous juice cleanse in the past, and I always lose the weight only to gain it back as soon as I start eating a normal diet again. I have witnessed similar mishaps in the online marketing world. Everyone starts talking about the importance of linkbuilding. And then an SEO gets the bright idea to try to produce a miracle by cheating the system. They begin implementing some spammy linkbuilding tactics to speed up the results – what marketers refer to as “black hat SEO”. They go out and solicit any site and every site for free links back to the hotel’s website, most of which are completely irrelevant to the hotel. While the hotel may reap some benefits and rank well in Google for a few days or weeks, it won’t be long before Google catches wind of the gimmick and penalizes the hotel for failing to adhere to standard guidelines. What happens when Google slaps you on the wrist? The blackhat SEO plan backfires, the hotel drops several pages in Google’s rankings, guests can’t find the hotel’s website organically, and online bookings plunge rapidly. At Blue Magnet Interactive, we strive to create a holistic, multi-channel online marketing strategy for every hotel that we partner with because all of the various marketing components are always much more effective and produce much better results when working in tandem. Our team always follows best practices, even though that often requires more time and resources, because doing online marketing correctly the first time is a much better long term investment for the hotel.

Creating a diet/multi-channel marketing strategy that works for your hotel

It all boils down to finding the healthiest marketing mix for your particular hotel – a marketing mix that will help your hotel achieve its specific goals. When it comes to dieting, everyone has their own goals, whether it is losing weight, getting toned, or running a marathon. Everyone also has their own dietary requirements depending on their health, lifestyle, and fitness regimen. If you run 10 miles a day, you might aim for a larger carbohydrate intake than the person sitting next to you. While it is important for every hotel to have a strategy in place for its website content, SEO, social media, paid advertising, and email marketing; the actual strategy and investment in each strategy should differ from hotel to hotel. In order to determine what multi-channel marketing strategy is going to be most effective for your hotel, your hotel team needs to assess its current marketing strategy, establish realistic goals, and determine areas of improvement that are of utmost priority. If your hotel does not have a beautiful wedding space and scenic room views, you may find that you can cut Pinterest out of your marketing budget. If you realize that your hotel has been spending $1000 on a paid search campaign but your hotel doesn’t have a user-friendly website with informative content, you may realize that it’s best to halt your paid media spend and invest in a website redesign and content refresh before paying for more traffic. Once you have determined your marketing goals and needs, you can work with your hotel marketing team to put a multi-channel strategy in place for the next several months – knowing that it is going to take some time before your hotel is sold out every night. But if you continue to follow best practices and invest in a healthy strategy, you’ll get there in due time! You have to crawl before you can walk and walk before you can run – no one expects you to be running a marathon tomorrow. As with dieting, you will continue to “weigh-in” regularly and refine your hotel’s online marketing strategy.

Presentation Deck

We were honored to be invited to attend and present at a hotel management company’s leadership conference in Annapolis, Maryland this past week. Our presentation deck below uses this dieting/marketing analogy to visually depict how Blue Magnet Interactive approaches a multi-channel marketing strategy to maximize your hotel’s online visibility and drive online revenue.

When creating your hotel’s marketing plan, it’s important to examine the journey a consumer takes when traveling, because, at a high level, it is very similar for all consumers. They begin dreaming about taking a trip. They start doing their research and planning. Eventually they book their hotel, flight, rental car, etc. They travel to their destination and have an experience. Whether it’s a good experience or a bad experience, they will likely share their vacation stories and photos with friends, family, and anonymous strangers, which will then inspire the next person to begin dreaming about a much-needed vacation. For a hotel to successfully master a multi-channel strategy, they need to optimize all of the various channels that consumers interact with during any of these stages of travel. The deck below gives multiple examples that show how a hotel can diversify their channel marketing and optimize each channel with consistent, informative, and unique content in order to deliver the best possible experience, both online and offline.



Is your hotel on a diet? If you need help determining the best online marketing strategy for your hotel, please contact us. Tweet your questions or comments to @Blue_Magnet.

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Yesterday, Matt Cutts announced that Google was introducing a new algorithm update called Panda 4.0. As indicated by the name, this is not the first Panda update that Google has implemented (in fact, Search Engine Land has confirmed 24 previous Panda updates), so although we do not yet know the specifics of Panda 4.0, we can make some informed predictions based on past updates.

What is Panda?

Panda is an update to Google’s search algorithm that first launched in 2011 and targets low-quality sites and sites with “thin” content. Before Panda, it was possible for sites to rank high in the SERPs for specific keywords by creating pages with keyword heavy but valueless content. Panda was designed to push these kinds of sites and pages out of the top rankings and reward high-quality sites by moving them up in the rankings.

What is Panda 4.0?

As with past Panda releases, Panda 4.0 is a refinement of the Panda algorithm, designed to continue the process of improving the quality of Google’s search results. It is likely intended to identify and penalize low-quality sites that previous updates missed. There is also some evidence that the update may boost the visibility of high-quality sites (although this could be the result of low-quality competitor sites losing visibility rather than Google directly rewarding high-quality sites).

Should my hotel be worried about Panda 4.0?

Search Engine Land has indicated that approximately 7.5% of English language queries will be affected by this update, which makes it a relatively major update (the majority of the 24 updates mentioned above affected around 1% of English queries) and means that it could potentially affect sites in your market; however, if you have been following the SEO content best practices that we have outlined on this blog though the years and have a hotel website full of high-quality, valuable content, you not only do not need to worry but you might have reason to celebrate. At Blue Magnet Interactive, we took a random sampling of the websites that we work with and found that none of them have seen any drops in traffic or visibility from Panda 4.0. In fact, all but one of the sites we sampled actually saw a significant increase in organic traffic starting on May 19th, when MozCast first registered large changes in rankings likely due to Panda 4.0.

On the other hand, if you have a hotel website that is full of pages that were created only for SEO and contain little to no unique content or keyword-stuffed content, your site is likely at risk of being negatively affected by Panda 4.0; and even if you do not see immediate declines from this update, you will almost certainly be affected by a future Panda update and should take this as a spur to start updating your website, rewriting your current content, and creating new unique content.

Check back for the latest news or follow us on Twitter for Panda 4.0 updates.

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Wouldn’t it be nice if business was thriving year-round? Unfortunately, with seasonality and market conditions, most businesses witness an inevitable slow period. For hotels, the dreaded slow period is evident when there are many more room vacancies than occupancies. Although the slow period will differ from hotel to hotel and reasons may vary, nearly every hotel is affected by it at some point. If you review your hotel’s forecast for the year and identify times that occupancy is consistently low, you can carve out strategies to boost revenue and increase occupancy throughout that time of the year. In this blog, I will provide several targeted strategies for increasing occupancy during your hotel’s recurring need dates.

Create Targeted Hotel Need Date Strategies in Advance

The first step to success is advanced planning. When you anticipate need dates in advance, there is more time to develop effective strategies to drive room bookings during your need date periods. Whether you have been at the hotel for several years and are familiar with the hotel’s ebbs and flows of occupancy, or you have analyzed your hotel’s annual forecasting reports, you should be familiar with which weeks, weekends or even months your hotel tends to be slow each year. Now, look at some of the obvious need periods that are at least 60-90+ days out and bring your marketing team into the conversation to begin some market research! Below are some questions to consider as you begin researching the local area and market:

  • Are there any local events happening during this need date period? Look on your local CVB’s website for an annual event calendar and search on Google for upcoming music festivals, state fairs, restaurant weeks, and parades. Compile a list of key events that cater to your hotel’s target demographic and determine which of those events fall within your need date period. How can your hotel leverage these events? Perhaps the hotel can offer a special deal specific to event-goers, such as a discounted rate. Simply have guests show their ticket stub or receipt from your chosen local event to receive the discounted rate. Since your guests most likely booked online in advance prior to attending the event, you can offer them a credit on the room upon checkout. Chances are your guests are visiting your city to explore local events, so encourage them to choose your hotel by offering an amazing deal. A local event partnership will not only encourage visitors to choose your hotel over your competitors, but it will also fill need date vacancies.
  • Are there any popular attractions celebrating anniversaries or offering special exhibitions during this need date period? As you are compiling the above list of local events, note any special occasions or happenings that may offer unique marketing opportunities. For example, is the zoo is celebrating their 50th anniversary or is the museum bringing in a special Egyptian exhibit? If so, you can reach out to the attraction and inquire about becoming the “official hotel” of the attraction’s celebration. You will most likely have to pay for this type of sponsorship, but partnering with a popular attraction during a big celebration will get you a link on the attraction’s website as their “preferred hotel” or “official hotel”. As the “official hotel” of the special event, your hotel will also receive additional advertising exposure through collateral used to promote the celebration. While the website link and advertising exposure will be valuable, it is important to take it one step further and create something that will really drive potential guests to your hotel. For example, your hotel could offer free roundtrip transportation to the attraction or discounted tickets available for purchase at the hotel. Be sure to get ahead of the game and research these key anniversaries in advance, before competitors swoop in and grab the “official hotel” title.
  • Do you have a lot of repeat or loyal guests? If so, create a “Refer a Friend” special offer during this need date period. Whether it is due to the excellent customer service and amenities at your hotel or your hotel’s proximity to a local attraction, your guests who visit multiple times are coming back for a reason. Develop a promotion that will encourage guests and their friends to want to stay with your hotel during a specific time period. Create a “Refer a Friend” promotion where previous guests can refer a new guest and receive a discounted rate on their next visit for doing so. The new guest will also receive a discounted rate during the specified period. Make sure to specify that blackout dates may apply, giving your hotel the flexibility to only offer the discounted rate during need periods. Creating a “Refer a Friend” need date strategy will encourage repeat guests and word-of-mouth referrals, which will ultimately fill rooms during your need date period. 

Through first-hand experience, established connections within the area, and market research, your hotel will be able to maximize revenue by taking advantage of special local events, new exhibits, or important anniversaries and celebrations. Keep in mind that it is essential to plan ahead and give your entire team enough time to develop targeted strategies specific to the market and local area.

Effectively Market Your Hotel’s Need Date Strategies

Now that you’ve developed a targeted need date strategy to drive business during your slow period, it’s time to effectively market your hotel’s strategy to your intended audience. It’s important to utilize multiple online marketing channels, including: your hotel’s vanity website, PPC, social media, and email marketing to get as much visibility as possible.

  • Use the real estate on your hotel’s vanity site. While brand sites have the same standard pages for all hotels within that brand family (dining, rooms & suites, amenities, etc.), vanity sites provide more flexibility for hotels to create landing pages with unique content. A landing page offers more opportunity for your hotel to target a niche audience by focusing on a certain topic specific to your hotel or local area. For example, if your hotel is pet-friendly and you receive a lot of questions on the topic, you may find it valuable to create a pet-friendly landing page on your vanity site that hosts all of the pertinent information, including: size restriction, fees, available amenities, and nearby parks. This pet-friendly landing page would ideally target a niche community - guests that bring their pets on vacation and actively search for pet-friendly accommodations. When a guest lands on the niche page that highlights the hotel as a pet-friendly property and serves as a one-stop shop for pet lovers, it will likely have a high-conversion rate. This same logic can be applied to your need date strategy. Create a unique landing page to market the hotel’s attractive offering, whether it’s the official hotel partnership or your new “Refer a Friend” program. Be sure to promote your new landing page on your website with a compelling banner on the homepage to increase visibility and reach more potential guests. The screenshot below shows a hotel using their vanity site’s prime real estate to maximize exposure for the unique gas card promotion. The large banner ad on the homepage points to a page containing more information, drawing the user further into the vanity site.

Need Date Strategy

  • Invest in a targeted pay-per-click (PPC) campaign, which will drive quality traffic to your new landing page, and will ultimately lead to bookings. A PPC campaign allows you to get in front of online shoppers that are searching relevant queries and direct them to any destination on your website. You select the relevant keywords to target, and you can also narrow down the ad’s reach by factors, such as type of device (mobile, tablet, PC) or location (zip code, state, country). Since you only pay for the ads people click on, PPC is a very cost-effective yet targeted way to reach the right audience. It can take time for Google to index your new landing page and rank it high in the SERPs organically, but PPC ads will allow your new landing page to appear in top placement in Google’s results right away. Therefore, it’s highly beneficial to launch a targeted PPC campaign solely focused on the hotel’s new special deal for a need date period to drive quality traffic to the landing page immediately!
  • Promote your need date strategy to your loyal following on social media. By posting on your hotel’s Facebook and Twitter pages you will be able to quickly reach your hotel’s followers, with the potential to reach many more people through likes, comments, and shares. The social media posts can announce your new local partnership or “Refer a Friend” program, or share important information on the specific need date strategy. The screenshot below displays a hotel utilizing social media to market a special package in order to direct interested followers to the hotel’s website to book their stay. Without spending any money to boost the post’s reach, this post organically reached 785 people that may not have known about the package otherwise.
  • Social Media Strategy

If your hotel is looking to reach a larger audience, consider putting money towards boosting a specific post or creating Facebook ads. Facebook ads provide incredible targeting capabilities, allowing you to stretch your hotel’s budget and only reach your hotel’s desired audience. Through Facebook ads you are able to target people who live in a certain area or who have certain interests. So, if your hotel was a sponsor for the city’s Gay Pride festival, you could create Facebook ads proclaiming your hotel’s Pride partnership and target the ad to reach the LGBT community within 25 miles of your hotel. By utilizing Facebook posts, boosted posts, and advertising you will be able to market your need date strategy to a targeted audience that is more likely to convert.

  • Increase exposure within a targeted audience through email marketing campaigns. For example, if your hotel is looking to promote your new “Refer a Friend” program you could create a visually captivating design with thorough copy describing the “Refer a Friend” incentive. Since the point of this need date strategy is to have returning guests refer their friends to stay at your hotel, consider using hotel pictures and guest testimonials to enhance your campagn. After you have created a visually appealing and informational email campaign, send it to your hotel’s email list. Since they have opted-in to your hotel’s emails, they should be eager to learn about deals and discounts. Make sure your email has a clear call-to-action, such as a “book this weekday rate by May 5” or “enter promo code X for 20% discount” so that recipients understand what you want them to do upon reading it. Email campaigns are the perfect way to get your new need date package directly in front of your loyal guests.
  • We know that slow periods are exhausting and often inevitable, but it’s important to look at your new need date period as an opportunity to get creative and explore new possibilities, local partnerships, and marketing strategies. If you are able to provide your hotel’s sales, marketing, and revenue teams with enough advanced notice about looming need periods, you will be able to research, develop, and implement effective and targeted strategies to increase occupancy during slow periods.

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In case you missed our hotel mobile strategy workshop at the Online Revealed Canada Conference this year, we're sharing our deck so you can ensure your hotel is properly optimized on mobile!

ORC2014 Mobile Strategy Session Description:

With so many people using their smartphones and tablets on-the-go, it’s vital for hoteliers to be targeting a mobile audience in each stage of travel – from planning to booking to experiencing. Does your hotel have a mobile-friendly website and is it providing an optimal user-experience? Is your hotel effectively capturing nearby searchers looking for a last minute room? Is your hotel team proactively encouraging your guests to share their positive experiences on Facebook? If your hotel does not have a mobile-strategy in place, than you may be losing potential guests to your mobile-savvy competitors. In this session, Blue Magnet Interactive will walk you through the necessary mobile channels that your hotel needs to be optimizing to increase bookings and drive more revenue in 2014!

 

 

Want to Get Started?

Be sure to download Blue Magnet Intearctive's Mobile Strategy Checklist to kickstart your hotel's mobile strategy!

If you have any questions (and can ask it in 140 characters or less), tweet us at @Blue_Magnet. For those of you that struggle with the art of brevity, you can contact us here.

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You have been hearing about the benefits of a vanity site for your branded hotel for years, and this year you have finally allocated some of your hotel’s marketing budget to this important initiative! Now that your new hotel vanity site is live, you are excited and anxiously anticipating improved results and online revenue increases. But what type of results should you be expecting in the first year? This is a question that clients from branded hotels often ask us at Blue Magnet when we are launching a new hotel website, and although it may be easier said than done, we always encourage hoteliers to set realistic expectations and measurable goals for all online marketing initiatives on day one!

Why Should Your Hotel Invest in a Vanity Website?

The benefits of a vanity website are undeniable. While you need to budget appropriately for a new website (and may have sticker shock at first), it is important to remember that a vanity website is a long term investment for your hotel. Blue Magnet often recommends new vanity websites to our clients for reasons including:

  • Ability to differentiate your hotel from the brand by showcasing its unique personality
  • Better visuals and opportunity to display hotel photography and video
  • More flexibility for content development
  • Ability to target niche keywords and expand presence in search engines
  • Improved user experience designed for improved conversion rate
  • Social media integration
  • Efficient website updates with quick turnaround time
  • Enhanced reporting

As the screenshots below depict, a Crowne Plaza hotel found it challenging to accurately portray the unique charm of their property on the brand site (left). So, Blue Magnet designed and developed a custom vanity site for the hotel to highlight its features and set it apart from the standard Crowne Plaza hotel (right). The hotel took advantage of all benefits listed above in designing and launching the vanity website that clearly captures visitors visually with strong photography and better user experience.

Crowne Plaza Brand SiteVS   Crowne Plaza Vanity Site

Defining Expectations for Vanity Website Performance

Assuming your hotel already has a vanity site, then many, if not ALL of the reasons listed above, must have convinced you to take your hotel’s online marketing to the next level. From Blue Magnet’s extensive experience and expertise in vanity site management, we have proven that all of these benefits work together to produce impressive results. While each hotel website has its own rate of improvement and unique goals, there are common trends with each site that can be used to best set your expectations for the performance in the first year of the site going live. It is also important to note several different factors that can influence each hotel’s online performance, including:

  • Property – the size of hotel, service level, target market (business, leisure, group), and other property-specific assets all play a role in varying results.
  • Market – where the property is located, from a leisure destination to a large city center or small suburb influences results.
  • Photographystrong photography can have a positive impact on website performance, and likewise, poor photography can hinder user experience and negatively impact conversions.
  • Seasonality – annual hotel forecast and local or on-property events can affect results.

In the first year that your hotel’s site is live, you should expect an upward trend in visits and revenue referred from the vanity site when managed effectively. At Blue Magnet, we have seen a wide range in positive ROI for all vanity websites. In most cases, it is important to note that year one’s ROI takes into account the up-front cost of development of the site. Moving forward, in year two, year three, and so forth, as the site establishes its credibility in search engines and without the one-time cost of the site build, ROIs trend upward YOY. But we are getting ahead of ourselves. Before we can calculate ROI, we need to ensure your hotel’s new vanity site gains visibility in search engines.

Ranking in Search Engine Results Pages

What to Expect?

Comprehensive SEO strategies take timeWhen will my site start to appear in the search engines? When will it rank #1 on Google? When can we expect it to rank organically at the top of the SERPs for a specific keyword, like San Diego hotel? Will it show up on Google’s carousel immediately? These are the types of questions we frequently get from clients with new vanity websites. We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: a comprehensive and effective SEO strategy takes time. While some vanity sites immediately appear in search engines, others take a couple months’ time to get indexed and begin ranking high for competitive search terms, and it will take even more time to improve rankings for ALL websites. At Blue Magnet, we never promise exact placement in search engines, and we will not promise it now. Never trust an online marketing company that promises you first page or first place ranking on Google. There are no guarantees in SEO. But if your hotel invests in SEO before the site even goes live (and ensures the hotel’s SEO strategy is following all best practices), then your hotel’s site has a better chance for ranking high in the SERPs for relevant key themes quickly.

What Needs to Be Done?
Your hotel’s marketing manager’s first task for the new site will be conducting keyword research to optimize all meta content and on-page copy. It is also very important to submit your sitemap to Google so the search engine can efficiently crawl and index the pages on your site. After you have completed all on-page optimizations, it is just as important to optimize off-site elements. Consistent local listings and third party citations play a critical role in helping your site rank better in SERPs. Previously, your listings most likely all connected and pointed to the brand site, or a variation of the brand URL, or did not list a URL at all. A thorough audit and update of 100+ local listing sites is in order to ensure these are factually correct and pointing to the vanity site URL. You will also need to place an emphasis on link building for your hotel’s new site. You do not want just any old link to point to your new site though, so your SEO specialist will create an aggressive link building strategy to obtain links from relevant websites with respectable domain authorities. All of these organic SEO initiatives are imperative in order for Google and Bing to recognize your hotel’s new site and begin placing it on search engine results pages. And all of these efforts are on-going; some might say SEO is like mowing the lawn, in that it requires continual maintenance to be effective. So can you realistically expect your hotel’s website to rank #1 for your desired keyword immediately? No, but with proper SEO strategies in place (and patience), the chances will greatly improve.

Visitor Traffic

What to Expect?
How many people will visit my site each month? Is 5,000 visits a good amount of traffic for a new site? Is 77% unique visitors in line with what other hotels see? We often hear these types of questions from our clients immediately following a site launch. There is no single answer to satisfy each hotelier’s curiosity – so I have to refer back to the qualifications mentioned earlier and reiterate that every hotel and market is different. What I can say is: Blue Magnet implements Google Analytics tracking on all of our hotel’s vanity sites to ensure that we are constantly monitoring site traffic and striving to improve the numbers over time. You should expect an upward trend in traffic month over month in the first year, with exceptions due to seasonality or special promotions that may skew MOM reports. For example, if your hotel aggressively promotes its New Year’s Eve “Take the Elevator Home” party and room package, you should not be disheartened to see a dip in MOM site traffic towards the end of the month in February’s reporting.

Reporting from Google Analytics can provide excellent insights to the website’s performance. In the screenshot below, you can see at a glance the site’s performance in growing traffic after first launching the site and improving MOM with occasional drops that may be due to seasonality.  Again, it's important to note, that although there are occasional dips in traffic, the overall trend is positive over the life of the campaign.
New vanity site traffic growth

What Needs to Be Done?
The same SEO tactics that we reviewed in the previous section, which are necessary to implement for your site to rank well in search engines, will directly impact your hotel’s growth in site visits. Your marketing manager will also focus on growing your referral traffic by acquiring new links to point to the new vanity website. Using the former URL (probably brand site URL), you can pull a link profile to identify sites already referring traffic to your hotel. From this list you can reach out to sites to update the link to direct traffic to the vanity website. This not only impacts the new site’s link juice to rank better in SERPs, it also directs traffic to the new site that has been better optimized for a great user experience and higher conversion rate. Your marketing manager should be continuously analyzing the data in Google Analytics to determine quality visitors – visitors who are most likely to convert. Keep in mind that quality is not the same thing as quantity. It is more important to have a quality visitor that is interested in your hotel’s content than a lot of visits from irrelevant or low-quality users. How can you determine a high-quality visitor? By implementing goal tracking in your Google Analytics, you will be able to segment your traffic and clearly benchmark behavior – look for visitors that click through to multiple pages, submit RFPs, fill out the contact us form, click for more information on your packages, or check availability using your hotel’s booking widget. Your online strategies should be focused on driving relevant high-quality traffic to the site, so that these visitors are more likely to convert to a guest at your hotel.

Site Revenue and ROI

What to Expect?
I know, your ultimate question is: how much revenue is the hotel’s vanity site going to produce in a month, a quarter, a year? Is this incremental revenue that the hotel would not have booked if it did not have a vanity site? As I have consistently explained with previous answers; there is a wide range of revenue we have seen sites produce in the first year. Each property and market will have different factors contributing to differences in expected and actual revenue. The trend is certainly upward MOM in the first year with Vanity site revenue growth YOYvariances due to seasonality and availability. As the site performs better in the search engines and drives considerable high-quality traffic, you can expect revenue to grow as well.


An interesting finding we have identified is that average daily rate is often higher when booked through the vanity site than on other online channels. On the vanity site, you are able to attract more leisure travelers who book without brand loyalty discounts and are more interested in value-add packages which help drive room rate. Your marketing manager should continually optimize the website with fresh content and offers to improve conversions and drive revenue through the site. As for ROI expectations in year one, expect a positive return; we have seen ranges vary between 16:1 to 60:1 in the first year, and continue to grow in year two and beyond. As seen in the graph, with time, strategy, and continued site improvement, revenue grows dramatically year over year resulting in brag-worthy ROIs.

What Needs to Be Done?
Your eMarketing strategy is never complete. There are always opportunities to improve the site by refreshing SEO or updating your content marketing strategy based on findings in Analytics. As it is difficult to track conversions for hotels that must funnel reservations through brand sites, it is a best practice to set up a ‘Thank You’ page to track visitors that click an offer or use the booking widget to check availability. This page is only visible after a user checks availability to make a reservation. If your site is performing well, meaning it does a good job of prompting curious visitors to check rate, the ‘Thank You’ page should be among your pages with the highest page views. As this is the main goal of the site, we read into Analytics to determine pages that need updating and what rooms, packages, or events your guests seem to be most interested in. We ask questions such as: Are visitors finding what they are looking for? Are they bouncing off certain pages? Are they staying on the site long enough? Are they clicking through to other pages? Which room types are people most interested in? What special offer garners the most attention and clicks for more information? By finding answers to these questions we can identify which pages need copy refresh for better user experience and what primary selling points should be more visible on the site to improve the conversion rate.

Beyond the Numbers

With any vanity site, hoteliers should always look for more marketing opportunities with the site. Although it’s difficult, I advise you to not to get too caught up in the numbers when your site launches; rather, think about the core components of the site that can ultimately help your hotel achieve new traffic and revenue records. With your vanity website you now have a new marketing channel with enhanced capabilities apart from the brand site, and listed below are important site elements that you should utilize to help your hotel reach its goals!

  • Landing Pages – expand the site’s content with unique landing pages geared towards topics with search volume and that contain valuable information for your site guests.
  • Hotel Marketing – get creative with opportunities on your website to market special offers, events, amenities, and more with updated masthead images, banner ads, announcements, and prime placement of calls-to-action.
  • Analytics – dig into Google Analytics to identify more ways to improve your site; from updating pages with high bounce rates to switching out banner ads to produce more clicks, there’s always more opportunity to produce better results.
  • Mobile Optimization – Is the site mobile friendly? Is it responsive? To convert last minute searchers into guests at your hotel, ensure mobile users are able to quickly and easily find the information they are looking for.

Best of luck with your new vanity website! Set your expectations before the launch of the new vanity site and outline a multi-faceted marketing strategy to help you achieve your hotel’s goals. By understanding the critical areas to optimize your vanity website, you can expect to see all performance metrics rise throughout the year and continue to improve year over year. While vanity sites should be designed to provide the best user experience from the get-go and SEO’d before launch, active site management and strategizing are necessary for the site to continuously perform up to or better than your expectations.

Related Articles:

  • Hotel Website FAQ# 1: Should our hotel website be built on a proprietary CMS or an open source CMS?
  • Hotel Website FAQ# 3: What is the Difference Between Responsively Designed Websites and Separate Mobile Sites?
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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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