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 hotel 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.
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.
- Photography – strong 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?
When 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.
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.
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
variances 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.