Hotel Online  Special Report
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Hotel Website Mythbusters:  Search Engine Marketing
is the Bait; Content Makes the Sale
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by Shane Ettestad, President & CEO of Blue Square Studios
May, 2006

For the novice e-marketer, decisions about website design can be scary. For the hotel marketer, who knows that more than 70 percent of all travel choices are being made online, those decisions are even scarier. And for a newly-independent hotelier, just weaned off the flow of a franchise web reservations network, the prospect of 'getting it wrong' is terrifying. What if we build the new website and nobody comes? Such thoughts keep independent hoteliers awake and sweating all night.

It's good to have a buddy system in place at such moments, so someone else is sweating the details, too. The best buddy you can have is one who knows the intricacies of e-commerce inside out, but who knows how hotels work, too. All too many web marketing experts are good at the consumer interface and translating a sales brochure into cyberspace. Very few speak hotel-speak or understand how a hotel sales office works; and that's where trouble breeds.

It's not the fault of the technology when a website is built solely with flash and there’s no ROI reporting available. It's a problem caused by not understanding your goals, your customer's needs and how to put the whole package together in a manner that is flexible, nimble and dead-on. 

What follows is a tip sheet for those who want to get it right. In destroying some of the myths of online marketing, keep in mind Rule Number One: Keep your eyes on the prize. You're in the business of selling hotel services, and every page of your site should be maximizing those opportunities and results.

1. Search Engine Optimization is not a scam. For a guest to book your room online, he or she has to find you first. SEO is the sign on the highway. The Internet is a little like a bazaar. As your prospective guest walks through cyberspace, proclaiming an interest in booking a hotel room, thousands of sites reach out to grab his sleeve. Properly implemented SEO techniques put you first in that crowd. By doing the competitive and search habit research, putting just the right keywords in the right places on each page, you can focus your message to match what the guest is looking for. Keeping up the bazaar analogy for a minute, it's as if the guest is looking for oranges. By putting oranges at the front of your stand, you draw that guest to your offering. But the search doesn't end there. There is more to organic SEO than just keywords, there are linking strategies, targeted landing page tactics and more. Organic SEO can be a hefty initial and ongoing investment for a small hotelier – but one that needs to be budgeted for so you’re not paying the high fees of 3rd party booking sites or increasing your Pay Per Click budget forever.

2. Build it, optimize it and they won't necessarily come. Gone are the days when simply being online was enough. Just having a presence on your corner isn't enough, either. You have to market yourself online with as much energy and fervency as ever. Competition is becoming stiffer and stiffer and top eMarketing companies in our industry are closely battling for the better “mouse trap” to gain you a better position than the next hard-working team. Because there are no guarantees with “organic” SEO and successful eMarketing takes constant “massaging” of content, tactics and relationship building, an effective online presence can be costly. For hotels that cannot afford to put forth the on-going effort, and those who want to see an immediate increase in direct online monthly revenue from $100k to $200k, Pay Per Click is a quick, guaranteed answer. But as with the online wholesalers who gobble that 30%, this tactic is an expensive choice – you will always be paying for your leads, no matter whether the lead books or not, and cost per click will continue to increase, thanks to its popularity in the hotel industry.

3. Use Flash to Sizzle! Ok, it's true that we've all had bad experiences with flash -- with thinking we've found a site we were looking for then having to wait for some animated graphic to load before we can get to any content. Properly-developed flash isn't like that. Properly implemented flash enhances your site with the message that you are a sophisticated player in e-marketing and, by extension, that your hotel is current, savvy and a little sexy, too. It's the sizzle for the steak. You can safely assume that today's online travel bookers are a sophisticated crowd and if your site's design works (big if!) it will distinguish itself above the static, cookie-cutter sites that don't try to sell the sizzle. In today's society, design has become an indicator of quality. Going back to that fruit stand -- what a difference a few sliced, juicy oranges on the top of the mound would make in your guest's decision to buy! Now, having read this, don’t make the HUGE mistake of having too much content or your entire site developed in flash. While this is the “in” thing for hip, European hotel sites, the problem is that flash and search engines are like oil and water – they don’t mix. Since search engines can't read flash, you won’t be found. 

4. Use Content to Sell – Make Sure They Can Buy. If you get nothing else out of these tips – keep in mind “Content is King”. Well written and presented content that is. The more the better. Search engines love it and your potential guests love it too. Give them as many room shots, activity schedules, and menus as possible to help sway them to book your property – and allow them to book more. 360 virtual tours are, across the board, one of the most used features, above anything else. And what better way to upsell from the standard King room to your Jacuzzi suite? Still, what you want is mouse clicks on your reservations page. The greatest potential in website marketing is being able to capture your guest's interest in as many ways as you have products and services. Room preference? Dinner reservations? Tee-times? Spa appointments? Move in and close the sale? Not too long ago, it was easy to find hotel websites that didn't allow you to book the room. You had to call. Today, advanced technology can allow your guests to build packages that fit their interests, use online gift shops to purchase products and your hotel room bedding or even check for availability of a specific masseuse on a given day. Think of your website as a virtual exact copy of your hotel and you'll recognize dozens of new ways, both front and back of the house to harness its energy and improve your bottomline. 

5. The Beauty of ROI. The beauty of the superhighway in cyberspace is that you can instantly track results and make changes on the fly. The key here is that Search Engine Keywords, email campaigns and other e-marketing initiatives don't need to wait for the printer to catch up. You don't need to guess how much revenue you made from the mailer. You can make educated choices for your various emarketing campaigns, test your message and then tinker with the offer until you get the results you want. Constantly help you create the better “mouse trap” and increase your revenues. You should be seeing daily revenue and where it came from – in detail. How much did you book from that email campaign or from that specific keyword in Google during the last week? If you can’t get those detailed results in real time – you better catch up.

A good eMarketing partner is your coach in cyberspace and you should take the time to find a partner you will listen to after the contract is signed. Find yourself a coach with up-to-date knowledge of both e-commerce and hospitality, with good equipment (software tools and resources designed so that even a novice user can quickly learn to apply new skills) and enthusiasm for helping you improve your game, and you'll reap the rewards.

Seize the opportunity to be a leader in using your website and emarketing tactics  to increase productivity, raise profits and give yourself the 'big picture' overview to manage effectively, and you will treasure the day you chose the partner that lets you accomplish all that.



Shane Ettestad is President & CEO of Blue Square Studios (www.bluesqstudios.com), a leading provider of web presence management solutions for the hospitality industry. Blue Square Studios' Hospitality ToolkitTM has won HSMAI Golden Click and Web Marketing Association “Outstanding Website WebAward” in the Hotel and Lodging category for its clients, large and small. 
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Contact:

Stephanie Seacord
Leading Edge
135 Piscassic Road (Box 960)
Newfields NH 03856
T: 603-772-1835
F: 603-772-7066
sseacord@lemd.com 

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Also See: Nine Tips to Create a Dominant Hotel Web Site / Neil Salerno / May 2006
Basic Components of a Hotel Website: Current Weather, Flash Animation, and Virtual Tours?? Plain Talk About Internet Sales / Neil Salerno / February 2004
Case Studies Prove Hotel Search Engine Optimisation Delivers Results / February 2006

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