Though many hotels feel they are making a great leap by beginning to
market their websites, they are largely unaware of the pitfalls that await
them. After working with many hotels and private equity groups, we know
where you are most likely to stumble. We hope this list will be a helpful
reference for those of you looking to begin, or improve, an online marketing
1. Don’t start a marketing campaign without setting goals.
ADR = average daily rate; SEO = search engine optimization; ROI = return
You may be tempted to jump into internet marketing because “everyone
else is doing it.” But everyone is doing it to achieve their own specific
goals. For example, they may want to increase the online component of their
total revenue; improve their ADR; increase their market share; or build
their brand. There are many ways to set up an internet marketing program.
If you are not sure where to start, bring in specialists to help you figure
it out. They should ask you lots of questions about your business and what
you want to accomplish. They should also have a good understanding of what
markets and promotions should be targeted, based on your specific needs
2. Don’t use a one-stop shop for search marketing services.
The hospitality industry is flooded with “vendors” that provide a website,
internet marketing, a booking engine, and more. They will do everything
for you short of washing your car and walking your dog! The fact is that
one company cannot be the best at providing everything a hotel needs to
succeed online. With almost every hotel website I come across, I can tell
at a glance who made it, thanks to the predictability of these one-stop
shops. They use design templates, unoriginal copy, incorrect grammar and
spelling—in the name of SEO, and then run the same packages and promotions
for every one of their clients. Hoteliers can learn this truism from retailers:
you need to bring the best experts and resources together to achieve optimal
3. Don’t forget to build your brand.
Positive brand building has a very strong impact on offline conversion
and helps to secure repeat business. If the sole focus of your online campaign
is ROI, you are not reaping the benefits of a balanced program. Your online
marketing campaign should find a balance between ROI, which is always a
short-term priority, and brand building, which is the long-term strategy
4. Optimize the copy on your website.
Good copy is the most crucial element of your website. Guests will
eventually book with you based on what information you have provided them
about your location, property and services. If travelers do not feel informed
and secure about where they will be staying, they will not book online.
Relevant content is also essential to improving your natural rankings on
Google, Yahoo and other search engines. Excellent conversion rates can
only be achieved with well-written, up-to-date content.
5. Focus on your website’s usability.
Hotels put enormous emphasis on design: creating the best “look and
feel” for the website. However, the most important factor, and one of the
most overlooked, is usability. It’s a shame to see high-end, costly websites
on which the reservations button is almost impossible to find! Always provide
easy access to meetings- and weddings-related information. Access to the
booking engine should be ubiquitous; prominently displayed promotions,
specials and packages should also lead directly to booking. In other words,
make it easy for travelers to find what they’re looking for and then book
it. Studies show that you now have four seconds to engage a website visitor:
use those four seconds wisely.
6. Integrate your online and offline marketing strategies.
Ads placed by your traditional, offline ad agency will have a huge
effect on online traffic. Likewise, what you write on your website will
affect the front desk staff at your hotel. Make sure you coordinate all
efforts to avoid confusion and make the most of your marketing dollars.
For example, if your hotel is running a summer promotion offline, then
you should be advertising the same summer promotion online with a dedicated
landing page and paid search marketing campaign. Your Sales, Operations
and Revenue Management departments also must be well aligned, so that company-wide
strategies can be implemented effectively in both online and offline venues.
7. Don’t lose customers at the point of purchase.
Convincing a traveler to stay at your hotel is only half the battle.
The final goal is a completed reservation. Don’t let a complicated booking
engine cost you conversions. When your visitor decides to search for availability,
your booking engine may either confound him or take him quickly through
the booking process. Of course, there are many alternatives for the traveler
who finds your checkout process frustrating: third party sites, calls to
your front desk, or a host of competing hotel websites. There are many
booking engines on the market, so choose carefully. Make sure your booking
engine is the most convenient way for a traveler to reserve a room.
8. Make sure you have adequate tracking capabilities.
Creating a good tracking mechanism is an important first step in any
internet marketing project. A search engine marketing program that is not
being tracked can never reach its full potential. It is shocking how many
excuses vendors give to hotels regarding the inability of their products
to provide 100% tracking: from clicks, to pageviews, to conversions. If
your booking engine does not support tracking, get one that does.
Then have your search engine marketing company configure it, so they can
show you exactly what results you are getting and make continual improvements.
There are some great tools out there. Put them to use.
9. Participate with OTAs.
Participation with third party websites such as Expedia, Travelocity
and Orbitz is crucial. These travel websites draw millions of visitors
and are a great platform on which to showcase your hotel. OTAs are also
a top source of qualified traffic, as they bring in travelers searching
for your hotel by brand name. Working closely with OTAs can make or break
your online conversion for brand-related terms. It’s time to start thinking
of OTAs almost like search engines, where placement on page 1 has a huge
impact on hotel website conversions and revenue.
10. Understand the connection between hotel operations and online
You can quote me when I say, ”the best laid internet marketing plans
die at the front desk.” Hotels need to make sure that customers receive
what they were promised online. Bad experiences travel quickly in the form
of “guest reviews” on a myriad of websites. Negative reviews will definitely
dissuade travelers from booking with you, decreasing your online conversions.
Thus, making your guests happy is still a good idea. Don’t forget to take
appropriate action when things go wrong: the customers you win back are
the most loyal of all.