Category Archives: Google Analytics

Google Outpaces Social Media in Priceline Conversions

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Social media channels play an important role for every company’s online reputation, but are they providing the best ROI when it comes to digital ad-spend? According to Priceline’s CEO Darren Huston, ads for his company on Facebook and Twitter have failed to deliver results.

“For Facebook and Twitter, we have endless amounts of money,” Huston said April 14 in an interview at Bloomberg’s New York headquarters. “But we haven’t found anything there.” Continue reading

Optimizing Your Hotel Distribution Strategy

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2013 was a year full of tremendous growth within online distribution in the travel industry with meta-search engines, mobile bookings and social media all taking significant steps forward.  However, hoteliers expecting similarly massive changes in 2014 may be in for a surprise.

While new technology and platforms of distribution may emerge suddenly, the overall distribution strategies should still be based on the channels that offer measurable ROI.  Understanding the intricacies of each of the following channels is essential in developing a strategy that will be unique to your hotel.

Mobile and Same-Day Bookings

In the multi-channel travel space, mobile has become a major player.  Mobile bookings doubled from 2012 ($6 billion) to 2013 ($12.3 billion), and that trend is expected to continue in 2014 with experts at PhoCusWright forecasting $24.3 billion in bookings made from these devices.  In all, about $1 out of every $12 in travel bookings will be generated via mobile.

A rise in mobile users appears to be influencing business strategy and changing customer behavior.  A recent Hotel Business Review infographic showed that 65% of travelers choose their mobile phone for same day hotel bookings.

Mobile applications will allow you to engage a greater number of potential customers and may allow you to increase your same day booking potential without falling pretty to heavy discounting in an attempt to garner these “spur of the moment” travelers.

OTAs

Whether you hate them, or love them, Online Travel Agencies appear to be here to stay.  These oversized companies have seemingly limitless resources that make them effective in reaching out to customers, often times in markets that hoteliers may find difficult to penetrate.  Along with these positives, third party channels and other travel intermediaries are quick to adopt emerging opportunities to stay ahead of the market.

Although these channels may be among your least profitable thanks to outrageous commission fees (market averages range from 15 to 25%), they offer visibility and exposure like no other platform.  The key in using OTAs is maximizing your revenue potential with room rates (i.e. selling lower rates to OTAs with lower commission rates, thus making these rooms more desirable).

Meta-Search Engines

On the surface, meta-search engines appear to be the perfect channel for distribution of your available rooms.  The concept is simple – meta-search sites neutrally compare various travel sites and other sources to give travelers the best overview results of their requested search.

However, meta-search engines add an additional level of complexity to the system with a keyword bidding system.  Essentially, these sites control the ranking of OTA and hotel websites within the hotel search results based on the value of bids each website has paid for the search keywords.

Larger OTAs have an advantage in this particular arena thanks to larger marketing budgets that allow them to outbid independent hotels and other properties.  If you want to go the meta-search path, it will be important to invest time and resources in understanding the bid management process, or finding an intermediary that can do the keyword bidding for you.

Because of this modified pay-per-click model, you must evaluate the strength of meta-search sites as a traffic source and monitor the click-to-book ratio generated from it.  If not used properly, these meta-search engines could be more costly than helpful to your site.

Direct Online Booking

In a perfect world, you would be generating all of your bookings and filling all of your availability through your brand.com website.  Flashing back to reality, there is only one way to increase bookings on your own site: driving traffic to (YourBrandHere).com.

How do you drive traffic to your website?  Try the following techniques.

1) Make sure your site layout is simple and user-friendly with logical navigation that allows guests to make bookings in just a few clicks.

2) Visual content is always a plus.  Highlight your unique accommodations and use images to share a story of what a traveler can experience when they stay with you.

3) SEO management is a key to showing up on results pages for major search engines like Google, Yahoo and Bing!  A picture may be worth a thousand words, but keyword-heavy content is king when gaining customers on the internet.

4) Using Google Analytics, or other analytics software, allows you to see where your site traffic is coming from.  This will help you to develop customized marketing plans to attract these guests.

By effectively using some combination of these distribution channels, or all four of them if your property can afford it, you can optimize your online distribution strategy and fill your availability in 2014.

The Rise of Mainstream Mobile Analytics

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Google Analytics are a great resource for finding out how consumers are using your website.  The next step in the analytics field is attempting to unearth some valuable information regarding a user’s mobile interaction with an application or a mobile website.

EyeForTravel’s Ritesh Gupta conducted an interview with Seshadri Krishnan, co-found of Trip38, a location aware mobile app, about the role mobile analytics plays in an emerging, yet critical, business area.

Krishnan explains that 2014 is the right time for mobile analytics to take off because of major technology players starting to offer this as part of their overall analytics value proposition.  Because of all the recent front-end growth of the mobile platform, it makes sense that it would take time for backend aspects to gain traction and scale.

Areas that continue to gain traction or tools that are not quite on par with traditional web analytics tools include:

1. Conversion – mobile conversion is still lower than the web conversion models.

2. Tracking Mechanisms – these are still rudimentary given the limitations on the app footprint and limited fallback options unlike on the web where cookies and other behavior targeting aspects have been perfected over the years.

3. Brand Names – bigger players focused on mobile analytics are set to emerge as leaders in this space.

Google Analytics in the Mobile Channel

The same Google Analytics that are used in the traditional web model are still valid in the mobile platform including statistics such as app usage time, time spent per session, time spent on various paces and user activity.  Trip38 is able to track these analytics because they have built a tracking code into their app that allows greater insight into user behavior.

Despite how far the market has come in the past few years, there are still strides to be made in this arena.  Aspects like a single dashboard across all devices, enterprise-wide access for analytics in the corporate setting and lightweight built-in mobile analytics are a few of the innovations Krishnan expects to see going forward.

Key Criteria for User Engagement

Trip38 currently measures user engagement in terms of time spent on the mobile app, features they use such as reviews, ratings, or social likes that they do using the platform.  Krishnan emphasizes the importance of the social and search aspects of the app in creating a network effect to get more users.

The read the complete EyeForTravel interview, and to learn more about mobile analytics, click here.

Using YouTube to Generate Bookings

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Content may be king of the marketing world, but the modern consumer is less interested in text-based advertisements and more interested in video.

The video content site YouTube claims to host more than one billion unique user visits to its website each month.  These one billion viewers spend more than six billion hours watching videos.  These numbers may seem astounding and nearly incomprehensible, but it follows the trend of a tech-savvy population looking for the quickest and easiest way to digest information.

Nielsen, a company known for producing television ratings, has noted that YouTube reaches more U.S. adults ages 18-34 than any cable network.  Seeing that this age group, commonly referred to as Generation Y or Millennials, will become the core customer within the hospitality and travel industries over the next five to 10 years, it is important to understand the best way to reach them.

If these numbers are accurate and video marketing is the key to attracting attention of hospitality’s largest audience going forward, why is video so underutilized today?

According to DJ Vallauri, Founder and President of Lodging Interactive, hoteliers simply “need guidance as to how to create videos for search engine marketing and guest engagement.”

Marketers must continue the evolution from keyword proficiency, to content-driven marketing that helped maximize search results for websites.  Now similar practices will be required to optimize video.

Valluri believes that the best way of turning lookers into bookers is found in delivering creative, yet relevant, content that informs and entertains travelers and prospective guests, and there is no better vehicle to do that than video.

Why is Video Effective?

“Authentic, compelling and informative video content will entice travelers and convey a hotel’s unique experiences to online visitors,” said Valluri.  “A video embedded on the homepage of a hotel’s website and also uploaded to YouTube and the other leading social media channels can be what sets your property apart from other destinations.  Video conveys visual and emotional touch points which are present in almost every travel offering, and that is what drives bookings.”

Facts and Stats About Video

-Bookings are 67% more likely to happen when a video tour of your property is available.

-Internet shoppers who view your video are 89% more likely to book.

-Google purchased YouTube in 2006 for $1.65 billion when the video site was only a year old.

-Both Google and YouTube offer tools such as “Google Trends” and “YouTube Videos Keyword Tool” to help hoteliers identify keywords to use in video titles.

- When it comes to engagement, Comscore says online video is 5.33 times more effective than text, and, site visitors who view video stay two minutes longer on average and are 64% closer to purchase.

Three Keys for Effective Video Marketing in the Hospitality Industry

1) Increase Awareness

2) Generate Buzz

3) Boost Bookings

To read more about the role of video marketing going forward, click here.

Mobile Travel Market Set to Double in 2014

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Regular readers of the ResortsandLodges.com Business Blog have probably noticed that we dedicate a fair portion of content to emerging technologies and maximizing the tools available to the modern traveler.  Your website’s visibility depends heavily upon receiving views from a wide variety of sources, including smartphones and tablets.

How important are mobile devices for the future of the travel and hospitality industries?  Recent projections by PhoCusWright predict that U.S. mobile bookings will almost double in 2014 to $24.3 billion, up from $12.3 billion in 2013.  This means that mobile bookings – which include both smartphone and tablet bookings, but not reservations made under a “click-to-call” function – will account for 18% of the online travel market, and that $1 of every $12 spent on travel bookings will be generated via mobile.

With these numbers in mind, ResortsandLodges.com released a newly enhanced version of its mobile website at the beginning of the year, and has instantly seen positive results.  Nearly 30% of website visitors through the first three weeks of 2014 accessed ResortsandLodges.com through a mobile device.  Just over half of this demographic (15.9%) accessed the site on a tablet, while 14% of customers hopped on from a smartphone.

“I’m excited that our website now has an outstanding platform that caters to mobile users,” said Bryan Vargas, Director of IT.  “It is always important to deliver a first-rate experience to such a significant portion of our traffic.”

More Key Facts and Figures

-Despite having a similar visit duration time (2 minutes 48 seconds) as desktop (2:56) and tablet users (3:26), smartphone visitors at ResortsandLodges.com view more than three times as many pages (9.38) as those using a desktop (2.58) or tablet (2.77).

-Travelers from New York, Chicago and Minneapolis have been the most frequent users of the mobile site from smartphones.  The top three cities from which tablet users originate are New York, Houston and Chicago.

-Apple products dominate the landscape for mobile visitors at ResortsandLodges.com, with the iPhone (44.4%) and iPad (27.3%) making up 71.8% of the mobile viewing audience.

Marketing E-mails Going Mobile

Having mobile capabilities is not just important for a company’s website.  It is also important for marketing purposes.  According to a report from Movable Ink, an e-mail marketing provider, 65% of marketing e-mails were opened on mobile devices during the last quarter of 2013, up from 61% during the third quarter.  These percentages skewed heavily in favor of e-mails opened on smartphones (48%) over tablets (16%).  To see more data from the Movable Ink report, click here.

The Declining Value of Social Marketing

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Is social media a marketer’s dream, or a dreadful nightmare that just does not seem to go away?  Is everybody using it, or are people just hopping on board right as the calendar changes to 2014?  NextStage surveyed 1,700 U.S. and Canada-based companies about their own social media use, and the results may surprise you.

It is first important to get some context on exactly what social marketing entails.  Social marketing means creating a social presence and using that social presence to drive conversions.  Conversions cover everything from loyalty to acquisition to retention, and even customer service.

All interviewees were director level and above, knowledgeable social managers with two or more years’ experience in social, with more years in marketing in general.  Companies ranged from mom and pop shops to Fortune 100 corporations.  Wide varieties of tools were used to glean information about social campaigns including Expion, Google Anayltics, HootSuite and ReviewAnalyst among others.

So what did these businesses think?  Would they do it all over again?

Marketers who said they are new to social media: 6%

It almost seems like a cardinal sin for a marketing manager to have at least two years of experience on the job and still claim to be new to social media.

That being said, with so many social media platforms out there, it stands to reason that some marketing managers may be new to outlets like Pinterest, Instagram or Reddit.  Part of people’s newness claims did amount to an inability to keep up.  One respondent even said, “We’re not sure the platform we need is out there yet.”

That “which platform” question will be a considerable challenge for marketers in 2014 and beyond.

Marketer who said they were happy with social media: 7.75%

This low a percentage should not be a real surprise to marketers.  All successful efforts came down to four essential details.  The top two spots in this regard were knowing and respecting their audience.  Those who claimed success talked about knowing their audience and showing it respect.

Respect came in several forms including shared interests, shared social causes and shared social beliefs.  Letting an audience have a say and digital transparency that was seconded on non-digital channels were also highly ranked.

The third basic element for success was the old “location, location, location” slogan.   You want to go where your audience is, while not trying to push them in a direction where they do not wish to go.

The final element was deciding what to measure and then finding or making the tool that could accurately measure it.  A marketing manager’s office is a revolving door of vendors with lots of solid products, but they have to be the correct product for what you are attempting to measure.

Marketer who said they are going to “do something else”:  10.5%

This can include everything from revamping social marketing campaigns to completely rebuilding social teams to everything in-between.  Although these people are unhappy with their results, they are not unhappy enough to abandon social media altogether.  However, they are just unhappy enough to consider alternative spends.

Did these companies consider this social spending a waste of money?  Definitely not.  All of them considered their social campaigns learning experiences, and most believed that the campaigns simply did not succeed as well as they would have liked.

To find out what percentage of companies were dissatisfied with social, and where the rest of respondents fell on the survey, click here.

Online Content and Readability: They Both Matter

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With recent updates to Google’s infamous search algorithm, creating high-quality content is of the utmost importance.

Blog posts, articles and other forms of written content should be both highly relevant to your audience and tailored to them.  This is especially important in the language you are using.

Before you begin writing, it is important to understand your audience.  If you are writing for travelers in a particular area, it can be helpful to use less formal language, and perhaps throw in some of the local jargon.  Make sure the language you are using, and the readability factor, match for the audience you are trying to reach.

Some Best-Practices for Writing for the Web

Writing online content uses skills, language and design elements which are different from those used in standard print.  Here is some basic information to keep in mind when creating text for the Web:

  • Do not be afraid to use white space.  Keep paragraphs shorts (no more than six lines) and ensure there is clear white space between each.
  • Use shorter words and sentences, depending on your audience.
  • Use language that is known to the target audience.  Some jargon may be necessary, for example, when writing for technology or corporate markets.

Flesch-Kincaid Readability Scoring

The Flesch-Kincaid Readability Test was created by Austrian-born Rudolf Flesch, one of the earliest proponents of writing in plain English.  This formula works because it is based on some very complicated facts of human psychology, and is based on the way the human mind works.

Boiled down to the basics, the longer the word, sentence or paragraph, the longer the brain has to suspend comprehending ideas until it can reach a point where all of the words make sense together.

Because they require more mental work by the reader, longer words and sentences are harder to read and comprehend.

Flesch based his readability formula on three key variables:  total words, number of syllables in these words and sentence length.  On a score of 0 to 100, 0 is measure as the most difficult and 100 is the easiest.  To view the readability chart, click here.

Basic English is considered to have a Flesch-Kincaid score around 60, and if a text’s readability score is between 60 and 70, 13-15-year-old students should easily understand it.  You may think you are insulting your readers by sticking to a score of around 60, but you are not; you’re just writing in plain understandable English.

Here are some examples of average scores for various types of content:

  • Comics – 92
  • Consumer Advertisements – 82
  • Reader’s Digest – 65
  • Time Magazine – 52
  • Harvard Business Review – 43
  • Standard insurance policy – 10

It is obvious that scores differ according to the target audience.  Harvard Business Review assumes a readership with a certain level of education.  Most insurance policies will include a lot of industry-relevant language, causing their readability scores to be quite low.

Microsoft Office users can check readability statistics when reviewing a document, and can edit their work accordingly if it does not meet your content standards.

Troubleshooting

Let’s say that you have finished your blog post, and your readability score is 25.  Some editing options to consider would be breaking up long sentences into one or more smaller sentences and cutting out words of three syllables or more.

One of Flesch’s overriding principles is that there are no complex, legalistic words that cannot be translated into plain English.  Use the thesaurus to help you find alternatives that will make your content more readable.  It can also be a good idea to use contractions, such as don’t and they’re, to help keep your content flowing.

To sum it all up, the key to writing good content is to use language that won’t detract from your message.  Just because you, the expert, understands dictionary terms doesn’t mean your readers will as well.  Keep it simple, use plenty of white space and let the Flesch-Kincaid formula help you craft plenty of solid content!

How Much Should You Be Spending on SEO?

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Nearly every business today must make a decision about how much to spend on search engine optimization (SEO).  This is no longer an “if” question for businesses as a robust online marketing strategy is imperative for survival in a web-driven world.

“How much will we spend on SEO?” is the question that every business professional must ask themselves in 2014.  One of Search Engine Watch’s 10 most popular stories of the 2013, written by Jayson DeMars, took deeper look at SEO spending.  Here are a few helpful tips from DeMars, and hopefully all the information you will need to help make a decision about hiring an SEO agency and forging a crucial partnership with an online marketing firm.

SEO Payment Models

To get a better understanding of the dollars and cents you will be spending on services, it is important to understand the payment models used by agencies.  Typically these agencies offer four main forms of services and payment:

  • Monthly Retainer:  Clients in this model will pay a set fee each month in exchange for an agreed-upon array of services.  This is the most common payment model because it provides the greatest return on investment (ROI).  These arrangements commonly include regular analytics reports, on-site content improvements, keyword research and optimization.  (Average Range of Rates: $750-5,000 per month) 
  • Contract Services at Fixed Prices:  Typically before a client is ready to engage in a monthly retainer, they will select contract services they wish to have completed.   SEO agencies will commonly list their services on their site, along with a price.  An example of one of these services could be an SEO website audit, which will help determine your current strengths and weaknesses as well as keywords with the highest ROI potential.  (Variable Prices dependent on services)
  • Project-Based Pricing:  Project fees are similar to contract services, but they are customized specifically for the client.  Pricing will vary according to the project.  A local business may want an agency to help with local online marketing by establishing social media accounts.  Together the business owner and the SEO agency will decide on the scope and cost of the project.  (Variable prices typically between $1,000 and $30,000)
  • Hourly Consulting:  This familiar consulting model is an hourly fee in exchange for services or information.  (Average Range of Rates: $100-300/hr.)

Things You Should Be Suspicious of

With the amount of money you will be spending on SEO, it is important to heed a few warnings to ensure that you are getting the best service available.  Be suspicious of the following promises:

  • Guarantees – SEO firms generally cannot provide guarantees due to the constantly changing nature of the industry.
  • Instant Results – It is true that using some SEO tactics will garner “instant results” by gaming the system, but these can hurt you in the long run.  Instant results often involve SEO practices that are against the webmaster guidelines put out by search engines.  Major search engines like Google seek out these techniques and penalize them, resulting in a loss in rankings that could take months to make up.
  • #1 Spot on Google – It always sounds great when a company makes a promise like this, and hopefully you will be able to get it.  However, this is not something a firm can promise to hand over to you.
  • Costs Lower than $750/Month – When it comes to SEO, it is always great to find a bargain, but you really are not shopping for the lowest price.  What you should be looking for in your SEO agency is the best level of service.  Be wary of rock bottom prices or “unbelievable deals.”
  • Shady Link Building Services – Link building is an incredibly important part of SEO.  It is impossible to have a highly-ranked site without inbound links.  As with most things, there is a dark side of link building.  Link trust is gaining importance to appear high in the rankings.  Make sure your agency’s link building services are ethical, white label services.  You may even want to ask them where they may be able to gain links for a business in the hospitality industry.

Things to Keep in Mind

  • SEO Takes Time.  A Monthly Retainer is Best. You must think of SEO as a long-term investment.  Aggressive campaigns and major pushes have their place, but the best and most enduring SEO results come from a long-term relationship.  The best agencies do not just wave a magic wand and get instant results.  Instead, they perform extensive operations that will produce results months down the road.
  • SEO Changes, and Your Rankings Will Change, Too.  There are plenty of competitors out there for your company to battle, and rankings will rise and fall with the changing of algorithms along with the entrance of new competitors.  It takes constant monitoring to keep your website ranking high on results pages and performing at top-notch levels.  Stay away from the one-and-done SEO tricks that simply do not work!
  • Not All SEO Services are Created Equal.  You have to keep in mind that SEO is not about shopping around for the lowest prices.  You should be focusing on finding the finest agency you can.  An SEO agency that defines its scope of services and takes the time to educate you is what every company should be looking for.
  • SEO is Important.  Do it.  The point of having a website is to increase and/or improve your business.  Unless people are finding your website, it is not even worth having one.  Do the smart thing and pay what it takes to keep your site findable by the people who are looking!
  • Hiring an SEO Agency is Best.  Do not fall into the mindset that you will be able to manage your SEO on your own.  A tiny percentage of business owners or professionals have the skill and savvy to do their own SEO.  On top of this, comprehensive SEO takes much more time than most business owners can afford.  Save yourself the stress because more than likely you will never get the same level of ROI that you would with a competent SEO agency.

For many modern businesses, SEO is the highest ROI marketing effort.  Direct mailing, broadcast advertising, online ads and other forms of advertisement do not provide the value SEO can.  It is no longer a question of whether businesses will spend, but how much to spend. As long as a quality SEO agency is the choice, the decision has the potential to lead to incredible amounts of revenue.