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By: William Bellis III, Senior Corporate Marketing Manager at Vizergy®, with contributions from Joe Hyman, President & CEO, and Paul Fraser, Director of Product Management

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Part one of this series helped you get confidently set up for your 2014 digital marketing budget planning.  It shed light on key issues that you must consider.  Part two now delves into hot topics (aka online channels/tools) that you should heavily focus on, while part three will recommend dollar percentage allocations for said channels/tools and give you a plan of action.  Altogether, this series will provide your property's team a valuable roadmap for planning an exceptional budget.

Note - In addition to dollar percentage allocations, part three will provide you a digital marketing budget template to use in your 2014 planning, so stay tuned!

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Part Two - Shifting Share to Your Most Profitable Channels

Now that you've read part one (if you missed that article, you should read it first), where we discussed various issues you must take into consideration when budgeting, let's get more channel and tool specific. Where should you invest to gain online visibility?  Where are business and leisure travel shoppers booking?  How do you maximize ROI?  Time to find out which channels and tools you should focus on to boost return, shift revenue share from online travel agencies (OTAs) and take market share from your comp set…

Referring back to a section from part one of this series, Vizergy's proprietary data, which is aggregated from thousands of independent and branded hotels, shows the following digital marketing channels deliver the most traffic and bookings on property direct websites:

1. Natural Search (SEO)

2. Paid search (PPC)

3. Referrer (traffic from links on other sites)

4. Direct (direct traffic to website, mobile site and tablet site)

5. Ad Campaign (email marketing, meta search, display remarketing, paid links, etc.)

6. Social (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Google+, etc.)

Furthermore, here's some additional data from Google.  From research to booking, this chart from "The Hotel Traveler's Road to Decision" shows "sources" used by both leisure and business travelers.

And when you consider the fact that travelers visit approximately 22 different sites every time they plan a trip (Google), it makes sense that there are so many channels that hotels must prioritize.

We work in a complex industry where travelers have an inordinate amount of options to choose from in researching and booking, and where purchase paths and travel experience lifecycles are long and ongoing. Savvy hotel marketers are well served to be visible with consistent, relevant, integrated messaging in every channel and at every point along the way, making proper budgeting critical.

1) Your website(s) and content management system (CMS) are the core foundation of a meaningful hotel digital marketing strategy.

When was the last time you updated your independent or vanity website?  Whether you're a branded or independent property, it should be refreshed every 2-3 years.  Design and functionality best practices, along with user behavior, evolve fairly quickly, and your ability to keep up can make or break your success.  We're not supposed to "judge a book by its cover," but most travel shoppers judge a hotel by its website.  And even if a traveler has decided on your hotel, your website must be engaging and user-friendly, to the point where the traveler feels compelled to book on it, versus an OTA.

And as far as the "website(s)" detail… how is your mobile or tablet presence?  Do you have a separate mobile website that delivers seamless shopping and booking experiences for travelers on the go?  Is your traditional site responsive?  The dominant days of PCs and laptops are long gone, and it's to your property's competitive advantage to have just as strong of a presence across all screens.

On to your CMS - how robust is it?  Can you manage your traditional site and mobile site on the platform?  Is it easy to train staff members to update content?  Your CMS should receive regular updates, to ensure you have all the features you need.  And it should require little technical knowledge and no HTML skills to implement most changes.

That leads us to our last main point here - content is still king after 15 years of Internet marketing!  A CMS is the resource you need to create new search engine indexed content on a regular basis.

More on why your website and CMS are so important:

  • High ROI, with relatively low ongoing costs and no OTA commission fees on bookings.

  • You maintain full control of branding and messaging.
  • You get better ability to upsell before and during the booking process.
  • Share shifting - around 1/3 of all travelers are prompted to book on hotel websites, with 1/4 on OTAs. (Google - The Hotel Traveler's Road to Decision).
  • 40% of digital travelers research trips on tablets and smartphones in 2013 (eMarketer).
  • 39% have booked travel on tablets, 27% on smartphones (eMarketer).
  • Your CMS enables your team to quickly update website content, saving time and money.  This especially applies to high traffic pages and placements that are critical in the click-to-conversion funnel (i.e. special and packages, CTA banners and buttons, promo tiles)
  • High quality video, photography, e-calendar, and other rich media content helps you tell your property's story and share events.

A quick snapshot of our portfolio data shows mobile visits account for up to 20% of total traffic, while relevancy (% of visitors that navigate to booking engines) exceeds 25%.  How is your site tracking?

Mountain View Grand Resort & Spa recently set aside budget for a new custom website that exemplifies modern design best practices - large imagery, clean navigation, social media/review engagement, and multiple CTAs that target different travel shopper segments.  And when a shopper visits their site on a mobile device, it automatically redirects to and displays their condensed mobile version.

2) Search engine marketing - natural (SEO) and paid search (PPC) - puts you in the spotlight on Google and Bing and helps redirect potential OTA traffic to your site.

Your website is essentially useless if it can't be found in the search engines.  That's where SEO and PPC enter the picture.  Without professional white hat SEO practices maintained on a routine basis, your site will rarely be found.  And without PPC, especially on Google, you'll likely be a step behind your comp set.

But it's not as simple as that.  Search engines, namely Google, are constantly evolving and making changes that can positively or negatively affect your property's website.  For example, Google has rolled out algorithmic updates like Penguin 2.0, and is always tweaking the first search engine results page (SERP) with features like the Knowledge Graph Carousel, Google+ Local and Google Hotel Finder.  Regarding PPC, Google just revamped AdWords with Enhanced Campaigns.  These changes are intended to make it easier, although potentially more convoluted, for consumers to shop for lodging, and present opportunities for hotel marketers to better target, engage and convert them.  Point is, search engine marketing is constantly evolving, complex, time consuming, and requires expertise.  How is your property navigating these changes; are you sinking or swimming?  Maybe it's time to allocate more of your budget to SEO and PPC efforts.

More on why search engine marketing is so important:

  • It's often the primary way that travelers reach your property direct website.  Nearly 50% of all travelers use search engines to research and shop for hotel rooms (Google - The Hotel Traveler's Road to Decision).
  • Like websites, you have full control of branding and messaging.

  • You can get multiple pieces of real-estate on one SERP - natural listing, PPC ad, local listing, meta search.
  • 1/5 of hotel queries come from mobile devices (Google via Tnooz).
  • PPC allows you to target travel shoppers by keyword (brand vs. generic/destination) and convert them with relevant, compelling ad copy and landing pages.
  • You can have effective PPC campaigns on limited budgets, and adjust budgets, keyword targeting and messaging on the fly.

 
          
Mountain View Grand also has a strong presence on Google - first page search results for many keyword phrases, a sufficient, yet seasonal PPC budget, and a strong Places page, which are all avenues that can take travel shoppers directly to your vanity websites.

Use natural search data in your budget deployment.  If natural search is a large traffic driver relative to ads, social media and other tactics, then you may want to increase your investment.

3) Display remarketing reinforces your property to previously engaged shoppers.

Display remarketing is by no means a brand new channel for hotels and resorts, but one that was not often included in last year's digital marketing budgets.  It's a pretty amazing tool when you think about it.  When an interested travel shopper visits your site, takes a variety of click paths, and leaves without booking, you can then drop a cookie that follows them around a select network of websites (such as the Google Display Network) with custom ad messaging and offers relevant to the content of their specific page views.  This not only reinforces your brand and keeps your hotel top of mind for future travels, but also facilitates post-impression (view-through) conversion on other digital marketing channels.

More on why display remarketing is so important:

  • You reach highly interested travel shoppers immediately after abandoning your site.

  • You drive qualified and relevant travelers to your booking engine.
  • You only pay per click and can utilize display remarketing on a wide range of budgets.
  • The ads produce many "assists," like PPC ads, meaning a shopper may not book their first website visit after clicking an ad (direct attribute), but return and book later (assisted attribute).

4) Meta search sites are changing and growing fast.  Where is your property participating?

Another tool that may not have been in your previous year's budget but has recently gained steam is meta search.  Meta search is a travel specific search aggregator functionality that sites like TripAdvisor, Kayak, Google Hotel Finder and Trivago offer.  Consumers input their location and dates of stay, and the sites display results - results with names, images, rates, links to various OTAs like Expedia and Travelocity, and sometimes links to direct websites.  This offers convenience for travel shoppers to be able to research, compare rates, and book in one spot, while offering independent hotels and resorts another way to compete with financially backed branded properties.

There are constant display modifications being made to meta search platforms, making it difficult to manage and optimize campaigns.  There are also many variables that come into play in specific ways, variables such as cost per click bid (which are heavily impacted by OTAs), rate parity, review and popularity rankings, local market competition, etc.  These variables play a significant role in your meta search site exposure.

More on why meta search is so important:

  • It's highly competitive with both brands and independents, including your competition.
  • Meta search sites (especially TripAdvisor because of their SEO footprint and review foundation) carry a great reputation amongst travel shoppers.

  • It drives highly qualified deep links to your booking engine, prepopulated with customer specific booking parameters.
  • Shift revenue share to your property direct site by going head to head with OTAs in a channel they have dominated so far.
  • Allows your hotel to compete directly with OTAs at a lower distribution cost.  It's another cost per click (NOT a 20+% OTA like booking commission) channel that can accommodate almost any budget.

    

TripAdvisor has evolved from a review site to a leading review and meta search site.  The left image shows how basic search (Raleigh, North Carolina) results are displayed.  The right image shows how shoppers can drill down and find rates across OTAs and property websites.

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Read more at Travolution: Google remarketing and metasearch are Travolution board’s hot tips for 2014

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5) Whether it's a booking channel or engagement channel, social media is still a necessity.

Why is it a necessity?  Simple - travelers are active on social media sites, and they often prefer it over other realms.  From Facebook, to Twitter, to Google+, to Instagram, to Pinterest, travel shoppers aren't just using social media to post photos or "like" their friends' statuses.  They're using it to research areas and hotels, get recommendations from friends, share their vacation stories, and communicate with properties.

Who is managing your social media presence?  Is having a Twitter account beneficial to your property type?  Do you have a means for shoppers to book rooms via Facebook?  The list of questions goes on and on, just like consumer social activity goes on and on.  There are some outlets appropriate for virtually any property type (Facebook for example), while others apply only to a niche property type (Instagram for a beachfront resort, but not for a select service interstate hotel).  Regardless, you must devote some time and money to your social media presence to ensure you're putting a personality behind your property.

More on why social media is so important:

  • Consumers have more control in social media, so you have to be there to address their comments and questions.

  • It's easier to foster loyalty in a social channel, which is often more personal feeling than corporate marketing initiatives.
  • Some social sites, namely Facebook, have the potential to become booking channels, especially as they provide more targeted advertising options.
  • Social sites can be an excellent way to generate incremental revenue by upselling amenities and extras.
  • Social is a means of engaging and building your online community via customer email database opt in incentives, sweepstakes and contests, guest loyalty programs and exclusive offers to followers.
  • Social sites create SEO valuable referral links to your website.
  • It helps turn guests into invaluable brand advocates that spread the word about your hotel!

Travelers connect with properties via social media for a variety of reasons, with getting discounts number one.

6) Analytics - yes, you need to invest in your data.

Do you know which channels are providing the best return and which are underperforming?  Are you basing strategic plans and tactical decisions on analytics?  We hope so.  In fact, many of the recommendations in this very paper are based on our analytics that tell us industry projections, where travel shoppers shop, and which channels are producing the highest ROI for our clients.

You should have cloud based software like Vizergy's Hotel Web Management Platform that acts as a portal to your entire online marketing performance.  It helps you recognize opportunities, know how to attribute revenue to digital marketing efforts (marketing attribution), and form intelligent plans to drive profits at your hotel.

More on why analytics is so important:

  • It's quantitative performance data that cannot be questioned.

  • It tells the complete story of your property's digital marketing strengths, weaknesses and opportunities from which to optimize against in the future.
  • It provides empirical data justification for all the Internet marketing decisions you make.
  • Investing in the proper, consolidated platform prevents you from logging in to countless interfaces and increases effectiveness by providing complete marketing revenue attribution by channel and campaign to better optimize future plans.

Vizergy's Hotel Web Management Platform is a digital marketing center that provides hoteliers with all the analytics they need across all channels.  Strengths, weaknesses and opportunities are constantly assessed here.

What's left?

In short, quite a bit - email marketing, reputation monitoring and review responses, video, brand protection in PPC and OTA agreements/commissions and more… which are all components of an integrated, multichannel digital marketing plan.  Don't get the sense that these are leftover channels and strategies; they're not at all.  However, based on data, some of these items could be considered secondary in 2014.  For many properties, they'll still be included in digital marketing budgets and demand your attention, but might not be at the forefront of a holistic digital marketing plan.

Part Three - Your Plan of Action

We hope you've found parts one and two beneficial and use these articles as resources when budgeting.  At this point, you now have data backed proof of which channels you need to focus on in 2014.  We're confident that part three will wrap up all that we've covered, and provide you even more insight.  We'll discuss recommended dollar percentage allocations, ROI and ROAS, and leave you equipped with the knowledge you need to execute the perfect (OK, maybe not perfect) budget.  Remember to look for part three on our blog!

In the meantime before part three, check out our popular whitepaper "Top 12 Hotel Internet Marketing Questions Answered."  You're bound to find terrific information related to budgeting and strategies from the expert panel that contributed.

About Vizergy®

Vizergy is an award-winning hotel internet marketing company that empowers hoteliers to know more, do more and achieve more - with the ultimate goal of delivering maximum online revenue. The company uses data driven decisions to provide strategic guidance in the evolving world of online marketing. Online marketing services include search engine optimization, pay-per-click and display advertising, local marketing, website and mobile website design and development, reservation software and advanced analytics. Since 1998, Vizergy has propelled thousands of branded and independent hotels, resorts and hotel management companies to success.

For more information on Vizergy and its services, please visit vizergy.com, call William Bellis at 904.389.1130 Ext. 171 or email william.b@vizergy.com. Join us on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

About William Bellis, III

William graduated from the University of Louisville Business School, and has since worked in marketing in both B2C and B2B environments. After spending two years in marketing and PR in the video editing industry, William transitioned to the travel industry. He has been with Vizergy in hotel Internet marketing for five years, and currently holds the position of Senior Corporate Marketing Manager. Get in touch with William on LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/in/williambellis3

Contact: William Bellis

william.b@vizergy.com / 904.389.1130 Ext. 171

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