For the lodging industry, 2010 was a year of recovery as the US economy showed signs of relief. As 2011 kicks off, we find that internet marketing is an even more important part of the overall marketing portfolio of our hotels. One major shift in 2010 was the significant gain in popularity of social media channels, and we find that social media has firmly positioned itself in the tool chest for ecommerce managers and internet marketers. The smart hotelier needs to keep laser sharp focus on the fundamental shift in ways customers are seeking information and channels that drive maximum Return on Investment (ROI).
Here are Milestone’s top ten eCommerce promotion ideas, channels, and strategies that we recommend to hoteliers in 2011. These tips and insights are based on carefully analyzing trends in the search engines and channels that are driving maximum returns for Milestone’s clients and partners.
1. Search friendly website design has new meaning – fast and integrated. Google confirmed last year that site download speed is one of the most important ranking factors in organic search. People are using several different tools such as mobile phones, iPads, and tablets to consume information. Search engines want users to have a good experience. A good experience translates into a site that has relevant and compelling content, is quick to download, can be found easily, and is compatible across all browsers. Heavy graphics, animation, and flash demos cause your site to perform slowly. Sites that are built keeping these guidelines in mind will deliver better user experiences, will perform better on search engines, and ultimately drive higher ROI.
As consumption of information on diverse platforms continues to increase, an integrated approach to providing consistent messages across all channels is crucial. It is important to think about your target audience, which channels they are utilizing, and develop integrated promotion plans across all channels. For example, your online offers and your social profiles should be promoted on your website and offline marketing initiatives.
2. Improve Conversion and Usability – With an increasing volume of information that hoteliers are trying to provide travelers, it is key for hotels to focus on usability and conversion, even more so than they have done in previous years. As marketers, we tend to keep adding promotions, banners to promote offers, specials, and USPs for a property. We forget that the human brain can only consume limited information. It is important to take a holistic approach and prioritize information. Good website architecture and organized content improves site usability and crawlability for search engines. Conversion optimization includes eye tracking studies, analyzing SEO and SEM strategy and finding out top queries, top site pages and top sites producing traffic. All these data points help in developing a step-by-step strategy to improve conversion and usability. Developing a strong architecture helps keep your site organized.
3. Local Search – prioritize local markets across all marketing initiatives such as SEO, PPC, and Social – Search is becoming more local in nature. Small businesses and hoteliers have an opportunity to compete with giants and OTAs by focusing efforts in local markets. Google recently merged local search results with organic search results. Local results still show at the top of the results page for any search query. Focusing on local markets includes content localization, optimizing all SEO elements for local search, geo-targeting through paid search, socialization on hyperlocal channels, connecting with local businesses in social networking sites, etc.
4. Paid Search – expand paid search beyond traditional channel such as Google – Running paid search campaigns on Google is a ‘must do’ for all businesses. It is the best method to instantly drive targeted, qualified traffic to your website and increase conversions. In addition to Google, there are other channels that are now available to hoteliers which are not only effective but sometimes can be more affordable on a cost-per-click basis. It is highly recommended for hotels to evaluate alternative channels such as mobile, display, Bing/Yahoo, Facebook, etc. Locally targeted paid search campaigns are great option as well. Most of the search queries related to hotels include location as a modifier (for example: San Francisco hotels). Hoteliers will see higher conversions by identifying top feeder markets and targeting their campaigns specifically to those markets and by launching a locally targeted mobile campaign. It is also important to optimize all aspects of your campaign to maximize conversion. Here are some tips:
- Ad Copy – make sure your ad has a call to action and offers value to customers
- Ad Groups – make sure your ad groups are made up of tightly knit keyword themes, and that those keywords are reflected in your ad copy
- Landing Pages – ensure your landing pages clearly reflect the offer which is promoted in the ad copy and includes clear calls to action and conversion factors
5. Real Time Search – Natural Ranking (SEO) becomes more real, local and social – Building strong sites with compelling fresh content, and quality incoming links will always be essential for any site. With search engines launching real time indexing, it has become crucial for hoteliers to treat their site as an information platform for fresh content. Adding real time search functionality to your site, capability to generate user reviews, launching contests, blogging about the local area, events, and happenings helps build buzz, fresh content, and quality links. Crawlable maps, photo galleries, videos, and press releases are creative ways to distribute content on different channels.
6. Image and Video Search -Image and Video search is an effective way to capitalize on different search traffic. Sites such as Flickr and Facebook are enabling image search in a significant manner. There is a lot of consumption of images on different search engines. All the search engines have launched image search and sitemap feeds for indexing images. Hoteliers can leverage image search by adding searchable photo galleries, adding images for things to do on your site, participating in image sharing sites such as Flickr and Picasa, and adding images on social channels such as Facebook.
Online Video – People are spending more time watching online videos. According to recent studies by Nielson (August 2010), approximately 70% of global online consumers watch online videos. (http://blog.nielsen.com/nielsenwire/global/report-how-we-watch-the-global-state-of-video-consumption/) In June of 2010, more than 10 billion videos were streamed in the US alone. YouTube continues to be one of the main players in the market along with Google Video and several others. Videos draw more visitors to your site and gain greater visibility as search engines move towards displaying universal search results. Video search is still less competitive in nature and can be super effective.
Hoteliers do not need to invest in producing professional videos. Videos can be done in-house by using a flip camera on any relevant topics, such as top ten things to do in the area, local events, famous recipes, interviews of the head housekeeping staff, or best practices deployed at your hotel. Videos can be produced on any subject as long as it is engaging and offers value to the customer. The idea is to come up with one or two short compelling videos every quarter. Once videos are produced, it is important to optimize and promote them in video search engines.
7. Mobile – As things stand now, mobile queries represent about 10% of all queries made on Google. Mobile search continues to be local in nature. Kelsey group has reported that mobile local advertising in 2011 will reach $692 million and climb steadily to over $2 billion by 2014. People are using mobile devices to conduct searches, as well as share content, connect with friends and browse the web. Anytime, I take a road trip my mobile is my compass!
Google has recently announced that the mobile market is their priority. We are seeing a steady growth in traffic coming to our client sites from mobile phones and smart phones. Hoteliers can leverage the mobile market by optimizing their site for mobile phones, improving the download speed of their site by avoiding heavy graphics and flash, making sure their site is mobile compatible, and promoting mobile sites across all platforms including paid, social, and local. Location based services such as Foursquare and Facebook Places are also helping marketers to reach sets of customers who are active on these channels in their local community. Offering mobile specific coupons and specials help hoteliers connect with a different set of customers who are active in the mobile space.
8. Embracing Social Media – it’s here to stay! 93% of social media users expect companies to have a social presence. 85% of social media users want companies to interact with them on social sites. A well-planned social initiative can turn fans into brand evangelists. Google (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ofhwPC-5Ub4&feature=player_embedded) and Bing have confirmed that social sharing directly impacts organic rankings.
Limited budgets (both time and money) require tough decision-making. We recommend these main channels based on the number of influential users and the impact of the channel on search engine organic rankings in this order:
- Corporate Blog
- Niche social media sites/forums where your customers are active
- Listen – Before you start a conversation, always know what is being said about you. Tools range from simple (Google.com/RealTime) to advanced (eBuzzConnect.com) and allow you to monitor your brand on many channels at once.
- Connect – Market your social channels in the offline world. Use links in email newsletters, links from your website, and include “Connect with us” icons on all print marketing.
- Integrate – Connect your social channels in a way that maximizes your resources and minimizes your time. Claim your brand name on all well known social networks to ensure you control your message.
- Manage – It is important to listen and respond to users. Review sites are driving more organic traffic, so be positive and encourage reviews. Thank fans and reach out to customers with any concerns.
- Track – Define your ROI goals before starting your campaign. Know what you hope to accomplish so you can measure the success, whether it’s increasing fans, driving web traffic, increasing organic rankings, or anything you can define and measure. Having measurable goals is the key to a successful social media campaign.
9. Hyperlocal and Social – Hyperlocal is really an extension of your local social search marketing. Hyperlocal content is typically intended for residents of a particular community, region, city, town, village, or neighborhood. Hyperlocal includes sites such as Foursquare, Facebook Places, Gowalla and many others. Social Media provides an ideal platform to build a Hyperlocal presence and reward users for connecting and engaging with you. As search is becoming more local in nature, we are seeing much more consumption on these channels. More and more businesses are incentivizing customers on hyperlocal sites. As a first step, hotelier needs to claim their listings on these channels. Once listings are claimed, cleaned, and enhanced, channels can be used to offer special incentives such as coupons, hot deals, etc.
10. Utilizing Blogs to connect and promote time sensitive information – Search engines are giving more value to real-time fresh content. Blogs offer a RSS (rapid syndication) capability, where search engines can discover anything posted on a blog in an instant. Blogs are similar to interactive online journals and help in elevating ranking with search engines. In our opinion, a blog is the perfect first step a business should take towards establishing their social media presence. By integrating blogs with various social channels, businesses can ensure that they are communicating consistent messages across all channels without duplicating their efforts. Hotels should think of developing a blog to connect with customers, posting time sensitive information such as events and weekly specials.
As a hotelier, it is important to decide where to focus your energies given the increasing opportunities and channels where you can market your hotels. It is key to evaluate ROI across all traditional online and offline channels and to capitalize on the immense advantages that new emerging media offers. These tips can help you market smarter and help you embrace innovative tools and technologies to stay ahead of the game and improve your returns! We wish all the readers the very best with their eCommerce strategies in 2011.
Contributed by: , Founder and President, Milestone Internet Marketing