Hotels Have Access to Quality Digital Marketing Resources
Digital marketing is not new to the hospitality industry. Brands continue to build out corporate sites to promote their brand and hotels. Independent hotels build extensive websites. Hotel booking engine software is available from multiple vendors. New best practice guides for marketing hotels in social media, paid search and other channels are made available all the time. Hotels even have access to a significant number of marketing agencies that specialize in hotels.
So with all these resources available, why do so many digital marketing efforts for hotels fall short?
The truth is complicated, but worth exploring so that hotels can move beyond the tactics that just don’t work and develop a truly successful strategy. Having worked with hundreds of hospitality clients over the past ten years, Valet Interactive has identified eleven categories of challenges that often contribute to digital marketing disappointments. In part one of this topic, we will discuss the first six of these truths.
1. You Have Technical Issues with your Website, APP or other Digital Assets
When we first assess a potential client’s digital assets, we always find technical issues. Sometimes they are minor and don’t have a major impact, but sometimes (and sadly, much too frequently) the issues have led to disastrous consequences. This is an area where the vendor or in-house developers simply must improve their skills. When there are too many problems, they will prevent any other digital marketing efforts, even great ones, from working. Just some of the errors we’ve seen include, but are not limited to:
- Incorrect or missing canonicals
- Sites blocked by robot files
- Poorly thought out domain, subdomain and URL structures
- A lack of language targeting
- None, too little or incorrect schema implementation
- Excruciatingly slow load times
- Completely un-optimized meta data, images, content, navigation, etc.
- Broken links and other interactive features
- Incorrect mobile configuration
- Duplicated content due to technical errors: www vs non-www, http vs https, redundant pages spun by a Content Management System (CMS).
Clean code along with properly structured and optimized online assets are the first and most critical milestone in a vanity site’s success. Getting this part right ensures that search engines can crawl and index these assets, users can access and navigate them and marketing teams can track and improve them. Get this wrong, and sometimes nothing else you do will matter.
2. Your Hotel Brand is Working Against You
If your branded hotel has a vanity site, let’s be honest. The brand isn’t likely to be happy about it for a number of reasons. Without a doubt, having a brand can be a great benefit to hotels, but it can also add layers of protocol, approvals, standards, and other considerations that often work against the success of a hotel vanity site. This challenge in the hotel-brand relationship is especially true for brands with robust in-house digital marketing teams.
Hotels often find themselves in the middle of a tug-of-war over their local listings, like their Google Business listing, and the information submitted to various local and hotel-related directories. Many brands and hotel marketing agencies use APIs and other tools to push this information to these third parties. Which information prevails, vanity site or corporate site, often comes down to who owned the listing first and which, if either party, is willing to relinquish control of it. Unfortunately, these local optimizations are often critical to the success of the vanity site.
3. You’re Setting Unrealistic Expectations or Have Poorly Defined Goals
Everyone wants to set and achieve high goals, and of course no one believes that any business ever reaches a point where it can no longer improve, but far too often goals are set without consideration for the true competitive climate of the organization. Digital marketing is no exception. In fact, the ever-evolving nature and maturing of this marketing channel has led to a great deal of confusion and idealistic thinking. The days of “build it and they will come” are long gone for online strategies. Businesses must now vigorously jockey for position, jump through hoops and even pay for prominence in Google search results, TripAdvisor, OTA listings, map tools, etc. Even if you win, these channels will forever be fluid ecosystems that simply won’t continue providing the desired results with a “set it and forget it” mentality.
Businesses must also understand that their goals, and the goals of online information providers like Google, Bing, TripAdvisor, Apple, etc. are often in direct conflict. For example, search engines want to provide the best search results to people searching, not to the business with the best SEO strategy. No matter how good your digital marketing is, your one hotel site may never rank #1 for top keywords like “city+hotel”. Anyone who tells you it can is either uninformed or taking risks that are likely to hurt your online presence down the road. Besides, ranking #1 for top keywords isn’t as beneficial as it once was. Just take a look at this search result for “Austin hotels”:
You have to scroll down just to see the website in the #1 organic spot, and when you do, you will find the top 10 spots filled with only OTA sites, a few corporate brand sites and one local city site. Not a single independent or branded hotel vanity site can be found. This is a fairly common search result for hotel keywords searched on Google.
Mobile results, which now account for more traffic than desktop, are even more competitive. The same search brought up only two paid ads from two top OTAs.
Because the digital landscape has become so crowded and even more so pay-to-play for many verticals like the travel industry, make sure your vanity site strategy aligns with this reality:
- Your first decision needs to be whether your hotel is even a good fit for a vanity site. Read more about that in our article “Making the Case for Independent Hotel Websites.”
- The next step is deciding what success look like. Identifying KPIs that are meaningful (i.e. actual bookings and revenue) has a much better chance of working as a long term strategy than focusing on metrics like traffic and clicks. Certainly those numbers do matter, as more traffic, at least in theory, should lead to more bookings, but that isn’t always the case. For example, one tactic that we have found to be a more effective, albeit limited, for getting actual bookings is to optimize for high-converting long-tail keywords on at least part of a vanity website. This approach typically reduces traffic numbers for the page, but should result in better conversion rates. Just remember that since no two hotels are the same, their digital strategy and results won’t be the same either.
- Timelines are also important. SEO efforts can take anywhere from 3-18 months to be fully realized. Paid advertising is obviously much quicker, but it still takes time to optimize paid ads to what works best for that particular market and business’s unique selling propositions. Social can have an even longer impact timeline which unfortunately leads to businesses abandoning the channel before its impact is felt.
- For hotels that are a good fit for vanity sites, owners need to allocate an adequate budget to fully market their hotel. Hamstringing an agency with a low-cost service scope is likely to just leave everyone frustrated. Specifically:
- You most likely will need to market your site across multiple channels such as paid search, social media, and email. SEO alone won’t get the results you want since all these channels now work in a symbiotic way.
- It’s important to not only look at the ROI of each channel, but to examine the results as a whole. Many channels like social have a much bigger impact in assisted conversions than is obvious in standard reports. If you need more great reasons to think beyond short-term ROI, read this article “Stop Being a Greedy Marketer” from Website Magazine.
- Setting a realistic budget is also important during site/app development. See Truth #1 if you have any doubt about this. We also talk with hotel owners who want to save costs by combining hotels into one big site. Unfortunately, these “cluster” sites are complex to implement properly, so they aren’t really cheaper to build, and they lead to more inaccurate tracking and reporting for assessing each hotel’s performance. To be completely blunt, search engines just generally don’t know what to make of them either, so they will hinder the site’s long-term performance.
4. You Focused on the Pretty and Shiny
So many times in the early stages of building a website for hotels, clients work from the premise that text content doesn’t matter as much as the images. Let’s clear this up now. No! Text content is still absolutely critical for website pages to rank in search engines, to convey accurate and detailed information to potential guests and to identify your websites as the original source of that information. Sure imagery, video, and other forms of media are important and should be both appealing and prominent, but as of today at least, nothing can be crawled and searched as cleanly as text, especially text with schema.
Additionally, clients need to protect this content as a valuable asset. If the site content is scraped and spread across the Internet on OTA, review and other marketing or informational sites, the vanity site’s value for unique information decreases quickly. One of the most important benefits of a hotel vanity site is a chance to market the hotel with original, in-depth, and very specific content. Furthermore, detailed text content can absolutely be presented in aesthetically pleasing ways, so don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Don’t waste this competitive advantage following design trends or gut instincts that don’t factor in functionality, SEO and user conversions.
5. You’re Using the Wrong Booking Engine
Imagine for a moment that you own a wonderful hotel. Service is top-notch. The décor is fresh and appealing. The location is ideal for people traveling to your market. You hire a talented and professional digital marketing agency, and they build a beautiful vanity site that brilliantly promotes the benefits of your hotel. They market the website with creative campaigns, and the traffic to the vanity site starts pouring in. They send you a sparkling report at the end of the month showing great traffic numbers and a high percentage of people clicking through to the booking engine.
But despite all that perfection, your hotel still isn’t meeting its revenue goals. Why?
Take a hard look at your booking engine. A booking engine is a sophisticated piece of software that can have a huge impact on a hotel’s bottom line. If it runs slow, has a confusing interface, reroutes visitors to other nearby hotels, or interrupts their checkout experience with pop-ups, it could be part of the problem. This software is not a place to save money. Make sure the booking engine can accommodate your visitors regardless of language spoken, device used or level of experience in booking hotels.
Before picking a booking engine, make sure it will work with you for tracking purposes too. The data collected is the best way to determine where improvements can be made. Sometime even simple configuration changes can make a big difference. We’ve seen lower prices crossed off, and a higher rate being listed as the “best deal.” We’ve seen special package deals named “gng15offer” with the potential guest having to search to find that offer even after clicking through on the vanity site. We’ve seen a hotel’s entire inventory mistakenly classified as occupied for weeks. Yikes!
Many times the digital marketing agency will have limited or no ability to make changes to the booking engine experience, so no matter how good the marketing efforts are, the results can still be disappointing. While it may feel like the marketing isn’t working, the problem may actually lie in the booking software.
6. You are Paying for Links or Don’t Have Enough of Them
Links. Can’t live with them, can’t live without them. Right? A more accurate statement would be that links are essential for digital marketing, but they must be pursued correctly. Think of your hotel site’s link profile as a big part of its reputation. People build reputations based not only what they say about themselves, but what others say about them as well. Websites work in very much the same way.
How much does what someone say about you matter when they’ve been paid to say it, or don’t really know you and what you are about? Or worse, what about those that have a bad reputation themselves? Of course it’s safe if no one says anything about you, but then no one will probably care (hence, no traffic.) Getting links from completely irrelevant or disreputable sites isn’t going to build a strong reputation for your business in the eyes of potential guests or the search engines. Paying for links can be fine if done strategically, but be sure the site marks them as no-follow, so the search engines know they are paid. The time and labor-intensive work required to fix the penalties that can come from this practice just aren’t worth the risk.
So that completes the first 6 truths in our 2-part series. Part II will cover additional reasons your digital marketing may not be working including such issues as focusing only on SEO, using bad data/bad tracking, changing strategies too often, ignoring guest reviews, and hiring the wrong agency.
Want to avoid these potential pitfalls? Work with an agency that specializes in hotels. Contact Valet Interactive today for a free quote. We are a full-service digital marketing agency that provides services from website design to SEO, including web analytics solutions like event tracking.