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Top 10 Questions to Ask Your Internet Marketing Partner

If the first half of 2009 is any indication, it’s going to be a tough year for the hospitality industry.  The economy is at the top of everyone’s mind right now.  Even in these tough times, we’ve seen hotels sustain and even grow their internet channel.  To help make sure you are doing everything possible to gain market share on your competitors we’ve put together a list of the top ten questions you should ask of your internet marketing partner.

  1. How did you develop the strategy for my website? Research and strategy are probably the most important aspects of building a website.  If you don’t know what your targets are and what consumers are looking for, how do you know if you are driving the right people to your site or if you’ve missed the mark completely?  Look for your partner to be able to communicate past buzz words like “keywords, meta tags, etc.” and generalities like “rank high on search engines” and really focus on the comprehensive strategy including usability and conversion.   There are often multiple strategies and options to market a website.  A good provider can explain the benefits and disadvantages of each one and help you to determine the right strategy for your site.
  2. What other fees are there? Two hotels may both offer a $99 special.  However, Hotel A offers a hot breakfast, free parking and free wifi, while Hotel B has no food options, charges $10 for internet and has a $15 resort fee.  Internet marketing companies can behave the same way Additional fees are okay if you are aware of them ahead of time, but make sure you have a good feel for what those are up front so you don’t get blindsided six months down the road. Understand if you have the ability to update the content on your site at no cost, or if you will be charged for all future changes.
  3. How do you review and monitor results? If the only metric your provider looks at is traffic to your website or how well you rank for hotels near the butter factory in Kansas then you have a problem.  While it is important to see your site traffic increase, it’s equally if not more important that the traffic to your site be relevant.  If you have a lot of visitors to your site, but the average page views are under 2, then your site is not sticky.  You want relevant traffic to your site, people who stand a chance at making a reservation, not those that run off before they get to page two.Your provider should definitely be looking at the number and percentage of visitors who click through to your booking engine.  This should be a key metric of your marketing partner.Remember though, your marketing partner is just that, a marketing partner, not a revenue manager.  They don’t control your inventory or rates (nor should they), but they do play a vital role in getting people to that booking engine.  If your partner is delivering 100 people to your booking engine, but no one is booking, then you either have a booking engine usability issue or a revenue management concern.Your provider should definitely be looking at the number and percentage of visitors who click through to your booking engine. This should be a key metric of your marketing partner.  (Best Kept SEO Secrets, KPI for SEO Agencies, and New Years Resolutions for Small Businesses).   Remember though, your marketing partner is just that, a marketing partner, not a revenue manager. They don’t control your inventory or rates (nor should they), but they do play a vital role in getting people to that booking engine. If your partner is delivering 100 people to your booking engine, but no one is booking, then you either have a booking engine usability issue or a revenue management concern.
  4. How do you communicate with your clients? What happened once your site was built?  Did your partner disappear?  Do they just e-mail you a monthly report that you don’t understand?  In these times it is important to work with a company that keeps an ongoing dialogue with you and works with you to understand where you are and what you can do to continue to improve your performance.
  5. Where do you get your numbers? Does your provider take the time to explain their data and analytical tools to you?  It is important to understand exactly what you are looking at and that any estimated numbers are clearly marked with explanations of how the estimation is made.
  6. What experience do you have with hotels? There are a lot of companies out there who can build a pretty website for a hotel.  It’s crucial that whoever you work with understands what drives that guest to make a reservation and knows how to translate that into features on a site that will turn the lookers into bookers.  If you are looking for a vendor, be sure to ask your potential partner for examples of websites and results that will function similar to yours.
  7. What are you doing for me? This question is often overlooked.  The website goes live and it is very pretty, but now what?  The monthly hosting bill?  Hopefully you are working with a company that is doing more for you than just hosting the website.  So what exactly are they doing?  Paid strategies, search engine enrollments, directory listings all have a place, but what works for one hotel may not work for another.
  8. What is a realistic timeline for visibility?
    You’ll want to run from the company that guarantees first page placement (it can be done using Paid search but there are no guarantees on organic).   Unfortunately, the answer to the question of visibility isn’t always straight forward.  A lot depends on your former strategies and presence.  It can easily take 3-6 months to see great results, especially if you’ve never had a website before.  A good partner will take the time to look at your situation and help you set realistic expectations.
  9. What else can I do? If your partner isn’t already providing this, ask for strategies to help improve your marketing efforts.  What new services, products and features are out there to drive more traffic?  What are things that you can do at a property level?
  10. For Branded properties – How do you make sure you aren’t competing with my brand strategies?  Branded properties want to be very careful that the strategies they are using don’t compete with the brand’s efforts.  For example, a Holiday Inn Express in Santa Clara should not be doing pay-per-click on the terms Holiday Inn Express Santa Clara as your brand is most likely doing that.  This will just drive up bid pricing and lead to duplication of efforts.  That’s not to say you should never see someone searching for you by brand on your independent site, because it will happen.  It just shouldn’t be your core or only strategy.

At the end of the day, it is important to have a great partnership with your internet marketing vendor.  By understanding how they put your strategy together, how they are measuring results and what you can do to help, you will maximize your revenue.

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Contributed by: Tammie Carlisle, Milestone Internet Marketing

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