Gaining attention in the competitive marketplace of Google’s search results pages can be an arduous task. However, with some insight into the challenges of e-commerce, a knowledge of consumer behavior, and the assimilation of digital marketing tactics into your website, a hotel can stand out among not only direct competitors, but all those within the region as well. Let me paint you a picture of how all of these concepts combine to determine your overall online presence.
If you can recall your formative years, most likely in the classroom, you probably remember hearing or singing along to the song How Much Is That Doggie In The Window. If not, you may have grown up well before the record’s release in 1965 or the education system has changed vastly in the past few decades with respect to updating its music curriculum. Whatever the case, you are probably asking yourself what, if anything, does this have to do with clutter? If I may, I would like to point out some of the first lines in the Patti Page hit:
How much is that doggie in the window?
The one with the waggly tail
How much is that doggie in the window?
I do hope that doggie’s for sale
Standing Out From the Masses
Something special, in this case a waggly tail, set a particular pooch apart from all of the other dogs in the window. Looking at this realization from a marketing standpoint, we can determine that when your brand, product, or service stands out from the crowd – be it from a design, function, or awareness perspective – consumers are more likely to gravitate towards it.
Taking it a step further and looking at the lyrics from a digital marketing aspect, it can be ascertained that the doggie is your website and the window is Search Engine Results Pages (SERP). But why is it important to be a head above the rest when it comes to standing out online?
For one, the easier you are to find in organic search, the more likely a user is to see your site and inevitably book a room or submit an RFP. When you climb to the top of the search results, you not only provide SEO value to your website but also to consumers because you will emerge on the top of their minds.
For example, if a buyer is only considering the first page of their search results, and your website appears on that page for a specific keyword search, there is less apprehension from the user’s perspective which will diminish the likelihood that they will contemplate other possibilities.
By emerging as one of the top search results for a specific query, your website lends credibility to itself as a foremost authority on a particular subject prompting searchers as well as search engines to associate more trust to your page. Another reason you want to differentiate yourself online is because competition grows on a daily basis, especially in the hotel industry.
Major brands in the industry already have the upper hand on independent or privately owned properties in terms of Domain Authority, which lends to their ability to rank highly for specific queries. Emulating these sites or trying to become an exact carbon copy will only get you so far. From an SEO perspective, building epic, actionable content for your target audience will help you to grow your impressions in search for specific queries.
With this increased visibility, you can better direct qualified traffic/leads to your website. From a general sales process perspective, building this actionable content also helps to bring previous visitors back to actually make their transactions.
Perhaps the underlying question then would be how, as a hotelier, do I stand out online and gain more business for my property or management group? By understanding the challenges associated with online booking, grasping the Customer Buying Process, and mastering that art of transforming spectators to spender you will be able effectively to cut through the clutter and drive revenue for your hotel’s website.
Challenges of Online Hotel Booking
Every hotel sees its fair share of difficulties on a daily basis. Be it from a broad scope like a competitive marketplace or a more finite confine like undergoing a lobby renovation, those within the industry are similar to any other business as they aren’t privy to any reduced hardships. On that note, one of the more complex and burdensome areas that seems to bother most hotels is their online marketing. Whether it has to do with a strict budget or limited staff resources, both branded and independent hotels have faced issues with their performance in the digital sphere. But why?
In order to place your hotel and its website in a position of online dominance, it is important to note some of the foremost trials and tribulations hotels face when relying on online bookings.
Customer loyalty is arguably one of the most significant factors in business, yet simultaneously one of the hardest for hotels to achieve on a consistent basis. With a bevy of choices available, such as online travel agencies (OTAs) and Airbnb, consumers are less apt to select or return to a property that does not make them feel appreciated. Earning loyalty commences with understanding the relationship between customers and a hotel. Once that understanding is achieved, not only will repeat business occur, but it will also translate to more opportunities via social media and word of mouth.
Sync Issues with Third Party Sites
Synchronization between OTAs and hotels poses a very interesting set of circumstances. We know hotels prefer limit their reliance upon third party sites, as these vendors often take a sizable commission and do not always place your property in an optimal position to succeed. This being said, OTAs continue to provide one of the first opportunities your hotel will have at getting in front of the customer. When your listings on these various sites (Expedia, Hotels.com, Travelocity, etc.) are not in line with what you present on your brand.com or independent website, confusion arises during purchasing process if particular amenities or services are not listed, incorrectly placed, or out of date.
For example, a Florida hotel undergoing a renovation to one of their key amenities, their outdoor pool, forgets to make mention of this on their listings. Not only is one of the primary features of the hotel incapacitated, but construction is on-going during a guest’s visit. It may seem trivial, but minor mishaps like this could do a great deal of damage to your online presence in the form of reviews and social media posts.
Operating a non-optimized website is like driving your car without getting an oil change. Sure, you may see some direct bookings here and there, but just like a vehicle’s engine, your website’s success will seize when it is not tuned-up regularly to match what your customers are searching for. Optimizing your website is critical to the success of your hotel’s online presence, considering the playing field has gotten much tougher with emerging technologies and steeper competition.
Dismissing Online Reputation
In this day and age, it is almost impossible to deny the prodigious influence of social media and online reviews. With so many avenues available, it’s a full-time job tracking what guests are saying about your property and how they equate you to the local opposition. However, when you blatantly disregard these opportunities to interact with your consumer, you are tarnishing the reputation of the hotel itself. Not speaking to an issue, be it complaint on Facebook or praise on TripAdvisor, makes it seem as if you do not care. When you allow that to happen, you are also sacrificing your fate in the online community as one poor review without discernable action can be the difference between booked revenue and a lost sale.
Understanding the Customer Buying Process
The Customer Buying Process has been around for over 100 years, and, even though intellectuals have made their own various reinterpretations in that span, the one constant is that the blueprint outlines the path a consumer will go through before actually making a final purchase decision. Comprehension of this method is not only essential for your overall sales model, but it will also support the configuration of your online digital strategy.
- Problem/Need Recognition: Often recognized as the most vital step in the Customer Buying Process, the Problem/Need Recognition phase is when an individual identifies a need they wish to appease or a problem that requires resolving. A buyer’s need can be calculated or impulsive in nature, as well as prompted by either internal or external provocations.
- Information Search: After a problem or need is established, consumers will move on to the next point in the progression, Information Search. In an effort to establish which product or service is best for a particular situation, purchasers begin to look at choices and familiarize themselves with available options to settle a desideratum.
- Evaluation of Alternatives: In the Evaluation of Alternatives segment of the process, a shopper will assess notable substitutes that have the capacity to supply advantages sought by the buyer. Factors like involvement and attitude play key roles during this stage. As a customer becomes more invested and positive in his or her decision, that customer becomes exponentially more likely to consider multiple products or services.Ways to counteract this decision making characteristic will be discussed later in this post.
- Purchase Decision: As long a customer does not encounter damaging criticism (customer reviews) of a good or service or experience any unanticipated scenarios (job loss), a product or service is selected and a purchase is made during the Purchase Decision period.
- Post-Purchase Evaluation: The purchase does not conclude the Customer Buying Process as some may think. During the Post-Purchase Evaluation stage, customers will test their product or service and compare it with their prior expectations. The resulting breakdown will lead to the customer either being content or disappointed. At all costs, providers of products and services would like to avoid buyer’s remorse. When a purchaser regrets a purchasing decision, it can have an adverse effect on a brand’s overall reputation as the customer can vent his or her frustrations in the form of negative comments on the company’s website and social media networks or through general word of mouth. If a product or service does not meet the needs of a certain consumer, the owner or operator can take action to improve the user experience based on their feedback. Engaging with consumers and creating positive post-purchase communication will not only make the process more efficient, but also lead to brand loyalty.
Looking to apply the Customer Buying Process directly to your hotel? Take a look at how it coincides with the 5 Stages of Travel to gain valuable accuity to improve/optimize your ecommerce strategy.
Getting Consumers to Buy The Doggie
By now, you have discovered some of the snags hoteliers encounter when functioning as a source for e-commerce. The depth of the Customer Buying Process has been discussed in an effort to appreciate the complexities consumers face when deciding which hotel may be the best bet for their buck. With this valuable information in tow, you can implement strategies to circumvent these issues, establish your hotel as a top choice in the digital marketplace, and drive ecommerce revenue for your business. Let’s examine four crucial steps that will put your hotel on the digital map.
A recent Traveler Attribution Study conducted by Expedia Media Solutions found that consumers are visiting, on average, 38 websites before making their final travel decisions. The ordinary guest will visit some combination of hotel websites, OTAs, and review websites during the purchase process. The important takeaway to note is that travelers will be utilizing a mixed bag of channels to research a specific location and its possible accommodations. With that in mind, it is critical that hoteliers diversify their online initiatives to have a definitive presence on as many applicable channels as possible, both with respect to fiscal and on-property (staff) limitations. For example, if you operate a destination property and are considering creating an Instagram account to showcase the location of your resort and its proximity to local beaches, you are heeding the advice relayed above. Where you would be making a mistake is if you create the account, put up a few posts initially, and then expect its performance to still thrive a year later. Utilize channels that are pertinent to the success of your property and be sure that you have the resources to actively maintain these initiatives.
Elevating your website performance using on-page, off-page, and technical optimization techniques takes a high degree of understanding and patience. First and foremost, know that Search Engine Optimization (SEO) doesn’t happen overnight. On-page content, local listings, and htaccess files are just pieces of the techniques listed above, but require constant upkeep to establish trust within search engines. The more trustworthy Google considers your site, the more likely you will be to attract visitors and convert them to guests. Be sure to refer back to my last post to get an all-inclusive elucidation on the tools and techniques you can utilize to evaluate your online performance and hinder any errors from causing problems to your overall SEO strategy.
Put a Face to Your Online Identity
Pertinent to any online business model, be it hotel or hot dog stand, is having a consistent voice across your website, social media, and review sites to inject your business’s unique personality to your various channels. By monitoring and responding to comments and reviews, an online manager opens up a two-way street with a guest. This not only gives the property the opening to be personal with valued guests but also to utilize their treasured feedback to make improvements to their services and build a community of brand evangelists. According to a 2016 Travel Trends study performed by Fuel the following was found with regard to researching and booking a hotel:
34.7% of travelers visit a hotel’s Facebook Page before booking (a number which has grown 57% YOY).
83.4% of travelers will not book without reading reviews, but 95% trust reviews published on the hotel’s own website.
Based on this study alone, it is obvious to see that users rely on various outlets when making a purchase decision, especially when it concerns traveling. You, as a hotelier, are doing your property a disservice by ignoring these opportunities to interact with your consumer. There is so much value in responding to a TripAdvisor review, positive or negative, because your everyday consumer may not be aware of a particular policy or mishap.
That prospective guest may be more interested in the Happy Hour at your on-site bar or the discounted rate you promised a disgruntled customer that you refer to in your response to show you value their business. Choosing to not respond may be leaving the door open to more potential criticism, which can further hinder the overall goals of selling room nights and providing an unforgettable experience to a patron. How you choose to deal with and handle yourself online goes along way with people and more importantly potential guests.
Spend a Little to Make a Lot
One of the more cost effective and customizable options to set yourself apart is the implementation of a customized website. In designing a hotel website specific to your property, a hotelier is in the pole position for highlighting the unique features present at their hotel. Here at Blue Magnet Interactive, our talented Design & Development Team can turn the dullest of websites into complete showstoppers. With the ability to create landing pages targeted to both niche and non-branded keywords, our independent websites provide the chance to gain an even greater following in the digital space.
To supplement SEO efforts and bring in highly qualified users who will check rate on a website, hotel employees can also employ pay-per-click advertising into their online marketing fold. Not only will this addition bring an increase in visibility on SERPs, its campaigns can be targeted to improve exposure for specific keyword phrases, bring customers back to your website via retargeted ads, and target explicit localities and periods with time-sensitive ads. Incorporating PPC/pay per click advertising into your digital marketing arsenal will not only help your property reap a viable advantage over competitors, but also land supreme positioning above organic listings.
Hoteliers will most likely find it impossible to overcome certain issues associated with online booking. They may also never be able to come up with the perfect method for attracting and maintaining potential guests throughout the 5 stages of the Customer Buying Process. But you know what? That’s totally fine, because no brand or industry has a flawless formula for dealing with online users.
By diversifying your channels, enhancing your content for on-page and off-page remunerations, adding a personal and attentive touch in the digital space, and exploring avenues outside of your brand, your hotel will reap the financial benefits of increased visibility in the competitive marketplace. By pursuing these essential digital market strategies, employees of both big name and independently owned properties can better serve themselves as well as the online community as they will break away from obscurity and into the limelight.
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