7 Online Hotel Marketing Strategies & Mistakes

I’ve had the opportunity to work with several different hotels on their online marketing programs in the past 5 years. Having worked with Corporate Marketing Directors, Marketing Managers and Coordinators and the General Managers I’ve seen a lot of opportunities where hotels can improve their online marketing strategies. Below are 7 common online hotel marketing mistakes and steps to turn these mistakes into strategies for your hotel marketing program.

Mistake #1 – Having too many web assets.
I’m not talking about having hundreds of photos or videos (which is actually a good thing), but I’m taking about the situation that I see some hotels get into where they have 1 main website, and 2-3 other smaller websites that may be for group sales, weddings, or other marketing efforts. In a world where SEO is so complex and a marketing department’s time is so stretched, it really doesn’t make much sense to be so fragmented. In fact, if you have several different sites that you’re using for different initiatives, likely it will take a lot more time to have successful SEO program for each. Also, managing these sites can be a headache, most likely they have been built at different times, and on different Content Management Systems (CMS), which means you have different places to update. Finally, I’ll take this concept a step further and note that I see a lot of hotels dabbling in social media marketing as a way to drive more brand exposure and potentially bring in new business. Having too many social media accounts and not enough new content that can be frequently updated is a big problem, and a rather embarrassing problem if weeks or months go by without any meaningful updates.

Fix this by…
Take an inventory of your web assets and social media profiles. Then determine which ones are main hubs of activity and consider folding-in or getting rid of the outliers. This is one of the key Hotel Marketing Strategies.

Mistake #2 – Not paying attention to Local.
Google Places recently rebranded to Google+ Local. This update shows how much Google is investing into their Google+ brand but it also underscores a bigger problem for hotel management companies and hotel chains. IF you don’t have a good handle on your local profile presence online, you’re way behind the competition. Google+ Local in search results is taking over the traditional search results and cannibalizing paid search to some extent. Google’s mission is to provide searchers with the information that they are intending to find, and Google’s local offering brings those results to the forefront. The importance of owning your local optimization strategy is even more important for mobile searches. In 2010, only 22% of mobile searches had local intent, that grew to 50% in July 2011, and I can only see this number continuing to grow into the 60-70% range.

Fix this by…
Search in Google for your hotel name, if you have not claimed your hotel Local page, do that first. Then optimize the elements of the local page including description, categories, photos, videos, etc. Don’t forget to note the reviews and pass those along!

Mistake #3 – Unbranded Booking Jump experiences.
How many hotel websites have you visited that have a beautiful website with all the bells and whistles, but then you went to the reservations page and it simply did not even come close to matching that experience. This is not a search marketing issue – it’s a conversion and branding issue. I’ve worked with hotel clients in the past 12 years that have a conversion problem when they send visitors to 3rd party sites, like booking engines. When fixed and that experience is seamless, conversion rates can go up 40-60%. If you’re working with one of the larger booking engines, they tend to do a good job of giving you the tools for a branded booking experience, so you should take full advantage. If you’re working with a one-off booking solution that doesn’t offer these tools, it might be time switch.

Fix this by…
Perform your own usability test by using Google Website Optimizer, Morea, or Neil Patel’s Crazy Egg. Also, ask your booking engine if they can help you brand the booking page to better match your site. Typically this can be done with a header image and matching CSS code.

Mistake #4 – Not understanding/caring about Google Analytics.
Google Analytics is free. It’s simple to install and simple to use. You can even set up dashboards that pull all of the complex metrics together into one spot for ease of use. Not using Google Analytics or another analytics program to understand how visitors are reaching your website is a big mistake. In most cases Hotels receive 80-90% of their ‘new visitors’ from search engines. That means that you should know exactly which keywords are being searched when customers arrive to your website. Furthermore, you should know which pages they arrive to and, you should also know if visitors are spending time on the site or bouncing off. These are all important factors because they can help you understand if your site is optimized for the right keywords and, more importantly, if the content and experience meets their needs as customers.

Fix this by…
Spend a few days reading through Avinash Kaushik’s website, he is Google’s Analytics evangelist. He has excellent posts about basic analytics, but also includes some pretty technical tricks to get the right data that you’re looking for out of Google Analytics. Once you’ve done that and have a good understanding of the type of metrics that you can get in Google Analytics – back out your priorities. If you care about the amount of money being generated through non-branded organic traffic, you can create a custom report in Google Analytics to show you this information on a monthly or weekly basis.

Mistake #5 – Not using Paid Search to capture Branded Traffic.
This concept is sure to spur debate among anyone that is savvy – but its worth discussing. Often times hotels feel that they have such a strong brand that they do not need to bid on their own brand keywords in Google AdWords or other paid search markets. I agree that in some cases a brand may be so strong or so small that a branded paid search campaign is not needed. However, consider this: If a 3rd party site, such as an OTA is making 10% on a $300 booking, is it worth spending $.15 to potentially capture that visitor and not have to pay commissions? In many cases, the answer is yes, and in fact, the Return on Ad Spend for many branded hotel campaigns can be in the hundreds if not thousands of a percent. You don’t have to spend a lot to earn a lot, and the potential payout to 3rd party sites is the opportunity cost of not running a branded paid search campaign. Another positive feature is that you can control the booking and conversion experience and send visitors directly to a page that fits their needs.

Fix this by…
Starting a branded campaign. Send visitors as far along the booking funnel as possible. They searching for your hotel by name, so likely they’re further along the booking process. You can test running and not running a campaign and see if your organic search gets an up-tick, but there’s proven statistics that an organic and a paid listing equates to higher combined click through rates. This means consumers are not going to 3rd party OTA sites, which means higher margins on booked rooms for you.

Mistake #6 – Not getting hotel staff involved.
I talk about this a lot when I’m speaking at conferences and I really believe it’s one of the biggest things that someone in a hotel marketing role can do. As a marketing manager or director it’s your job to find the right customers for your hotel by showing them how they will enjoy the hotel, get a great deal, etc. To do this, you may not be the right person to tell the story to the consumer. This is where the hotel staff comes into the picture. Imagine if you brought together the Catering Manager, the Wedding Planner, the Restaurant Head Chef, the Housekeeping Director, and the Concierge and you asked them to provide you with an update, a story, or an interesting fact every 2 weeks. Not only would this give you content for your website/blog/social media presence, but it’s an authentic story from the people that are experts in that aspect of the hotel. I’d much rather read about the head chef’s wine and seafood pairing than some drab article about the food that a hotel’s restaurant offers. In fact, I may build up such an interest in that chef’s bi-monthly articles that I might share them with a friend that has never been to the hotel. That’s authentic marketing.

Fix this by…
Get everyone in a room together and ask them to tell their story. Give them the freedom to speak their mind and show you their passion for their job. Then build a process to get that information and distribute online. Not ever employee will have the best writing skills, but that doesn’t matter, you just need the authentic story, which could come in form of written content, photos, videos, etc. Employ a part-time local writer to help out, have them sit-in on the group discussion and write up the content.

Mistake #7 – Not paying attention to Reviews.
First hand accounts of a stay at a hotel are gold. They can tell consumers exactly what they can expect if they were to stay at your hotel. Now, that’s if they’re good reviews. Bad reviews can have a huge negative effect, especially if they’re in popular review website locations such as TripAdvisor and Google. My final mistake is last for a reason – its probably the last thing that people want to think about or deal with. Who wants to deal with a bad review? Especially, when there’s really not much that you CAN do to deal with it online… Well, there is something that you can do. Each review is like a personalized note to each employee at the hotel telling them about the things that they’re doing well, or not doing so well. Online hotel reviews should be made visible to hotel employees and not hidden or ignored. They’re a great opportunity to share positive stories and to discover areas of improvement. Not to mention that better reviews DO affect search engine and website rankings, and I see this continuing for the foreseeable future, especially with local and mobile search becoming even more prevalent.

Fix this by…
Making reviews part of your everyone’s business. Reviews are such an essential part of business in today’s hotel marketing arena that they need to be brought to the forefront. Monthly meetings should include highlights and lowlights with written and online reviews. Make reviews so essential that people are held accountable for reviews.

I’m sure there’s at least one item that you can pull from this list to help improve the visibility of your hotel brand. It doesn’t take a mountain of new rules or lots of money to make these changes, but rather the understanding of the importance and how these impact your online visibility.

I can be reached on Facebook if you have questions or would like to discuss further.

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