Category Archives: Website Analytics

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.

Death of the Cookie: 2014 Edition

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When someone says the word cookie, inevitably everyone thinks about chocolate chips, macadamia nuts and maybe even Christmas.  However, in this case we are talking about the online tracking device that may be on its way out.  Nearly a year ago, we wrote a blog post detailing how cookies affect your individual business listing and call tracking ability.  This time around, we’ll discuss why consumers are against the tracking code and who stands to benefit from their diminishing existence.

What is a Cookie?

Cookies are small pieces of code that websites drop onto your browser as you surf the web.  They record what sites you have looked at.  Online advertising companies use this information to customize your online experience with ads generated off your browsing history.

There are two different types of cookies online:  first-party and third-party.  Almost every website serves a cookie, especially if you have to log into it.  Take online banking as an example.  The cookie reminds the bank’s website that you are logged in correctly.  If it were not there, the site would forget that you logged in and lock you out of your account.  Essentially, the web does not work with these first-party cookies.

The third-party cookies are currently under threat of extinction.  These cookies are served by other companies through the webpage you are looking at.  Going back to the banking example, the bank’s website might allow dozens of third parties to drop cookies onto your browser.  When you go to another site after the bank’s, those cookies will signal to other advertisers that a person with a recent history of checking their bank account has arrived.

Who is Attempting to do What to Stop Third-Party Cookies?

Apple, Microsoft and Mozilla (makers of the Firefox browser) are all planning to launch browsers with default “Do Not Track” settings.  These settings will be rigged to reject cookies or to signal the user does not wish to be tracked.

Paul Cimino, VP/GM of Brilig Digital Data Solutions at Merkle, said that his company found the number of machines you can see on the internet versus the number that you can cookie has been decreasing over the past three years to around 50%.

Much of this has to do with the fact that mobile devices (smartphones, tablets, etc.) cannot be cookied, and these have become a preferred way to “surf the net”.

Why are Cookies such a Taboo Subject?

In their simplest form, cookies are a breach of privacy for internet users.  Although they technically do not give away any personally identifying information about you, they do give advertisers an idea of what your interests are including what you are shopping for, where you live and into what demographics you fit.

The more web users who look at the internet with third-party cookies turned off, the fewer users there are for advertisers to target.

Privacy advocates hate cookies because they carry information about what you search for on the web.  Organizations like the Electronic Privacy Information Center and Abine have anti-cookie stances because, as EPIC puts it, “a cookie is a mechanism that allows a website to record your comings and goings, usually without your knowledge or consent.”

Who Stands to Benefit from a Cookie-less Internet?

James Lamberti, vice president of the device recognition firm AdTruth, says the upshot here is that the data companies get from first-party cookies will be of much higher value as the third-party cookie becomes obsolete, and members of the online advertising ecosystem who do not have the first-party data could be left out in the cold.  This becomes a “rich get richer” proposition in the grand scheme of things.

“This could create a situation where you could have a couple of players, namely Google and Facebook, just take over and have so much power where it’s not good for the industry,” said Lamberti.

How Does This All Apply to ResortsandLodges.com?

When shopping for a unique travel experience, leisure travelers typically visit a website multiple times.  If these consumers are accessing sites from different channels like a smartphone or tablet, there are no cookies to track where they have already been.  Ultimately, this decreases the perceived lead conversion rate for a given property.

Another effect seen at ResortsandLodges.com, which is referenced in last year’s “Death of the Cookie” post, has to do with Phonalytics, our state-of-the-art call tracking system.  Cookies enable us to direct a tracking number to a property’s website when they reach the site through ResortsandLodges.com.

If travelers are making multiple visits to a site, they may bypass our site and head directly to a property website.  Without these cookies, we are unable to re-direct the user back to the proxy site (your site with the tracking in place), and the transaction occurs without being attributed to a specific advertisement that generated the booking.

Based on the data, an argument could be made that nearly 42% of calls being generated by ResortsandLodges.com to our partner properties are not able to be tracked or reported on.

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.

A To-Do List for Hotels in 2014

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Kelly McGuire of the SAS Institute created a to-do list for analytic hospitality executives in 2014.  This list includes higher-level items that will help to build a strong strategic analytic culture.  There are also tactical items that will help you stay on top of trends McGuire thinks will have a major impact on the industry in the near future.

1) Think More Strategically – This is a common goal for every company at the beginning of a new year, but it is easy to be bogged down by the day-to-day analyses or job tasks.  Keep asking the important questions like where you and your team are, and where you want to go.  Do you understand your organization’s business strategy?  Do your goals line up with this strategy?

2) Encourage Cross-Departmental Decision Making – With digital marketing coming into the forefront, and the recognized value of review and ratings data across multiple departments, cross-departmental thinking will be even more of a focus in 2014.

It is important to establish regular communication with counterparts in other departments (marketing, operations, finance and revenue management).  Bringing your best information to the table and making decisions as a team will strengthen your group as a whole, as well as the individual members.

3) Develop a Common Business Language – A number of companies have started data visualization projects to pull together data from across the organization and provide “single version of the truth” reporting for executives and managers.  Without first establishing a cross-functional team to come to agreement on definitions of key metrics, kata access and data acquisition rules, these projects will fail.  McGuire believes there will be much more of a focus on data management in 2014 as these initiatives get underway.

4) Carefully Evaluate New Data Sources – With plenty of new data sources available to you on a daily basis, it can be tempting to gravitate towards all that is new and shiny.  However, you need to realize that adding new data sources can be time-consuming and resource intensive.  You need to fully understand what the data is and how it can contribute to your decision making process.

Make sure you can develop clear answers to the following questions:

Can the data enhance or augment existing analyses or business insights?

Do you have resources available that can understand the data and be able to use it in analyses?

What actions could you take with insights gained from that data source?

5) Tell a Story With Your Data – Getting your point across to a wide range of personas within your organization requires careful thought about how you use data in your presentation material.  Rows upon rows of numbers, mathematical formulas or complex graphs will not grab the attention of any but the most advanced audiences.  Instead, use a couple of “pictures” that make your point with the most impact.

To read the rest of McGuire’s to-do list for the new year, click here.

Five Ways Hotels can use Facebook’s Insights Platform

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Analytics software has moved to the social media platform as Facebook has released Facebook Insights, a new platform for all business listings.  With Insights, you have access to more data that shows just how likeable your brand is.  Here are five tips to keep in mind that will help you to better connect with your audience:

1. Follow Your Page’s Weekly Trends

The Overview section of the platform provides you with a quick look at Likes, Reach and Engagement over the past week.  You will also find a log of your five most recent posts.  Viewing this information on a weekly basis allow your to see trends and capitalize on the elements that are creating engagement in your campaign.  You will also have the opportunity to troubleshoot negative performance trends before they become an ongoing problem.

2. Figure out Your Optimal Posting Time

Marketers have put a substantial amount of research into discovering what the best times are to post on Facebook.  The Insights platform takes this a step further by tailoring this information specifically to your audience.  This is a great tool for helping you to organize your posting schedule during the days of the weeks, and hours of the day, when your audience is most reachable.

3. Customize Your Content for Your Audience

It is not enough to know only who is reading your posts, and when they are reading it.  The Post Types tab of Facebook Insights will show you what type of content your audience is responding to, as well as a post-by-post breakdown of recent posts.  It is still important to diversify your content, but focusing on post types that generate the most reach and engagement will certainly help your cause.

4. Make Sure You Are Not Alienating Your Audience

As with all forms of social media, your Facebook Page can never be all things to all people, but you do want to make sure your content is generating more positive reactions than negative ones.  The Reach Tab on Facebook Insight helps you determine when you are reaching people and how they are reacting.  Here, you will be able to see Hide, Report as Spam and Unlikes in a graph right below Likes, Comments and Shares.  These will all be a direct reaction to your posts, so if the negative reactions surpass the positive, you should look up that day’s content and avoid similar items in the future.

5. Get to Know Your Fans

You will be able to find a demographic breakdown for a wide variety of categories including those people checking into your property, those who are seeing or engaging with your content, or just your overall fan base.  This information will be helpful in tailoring your content to your audience, or planning future fan acquisition campaigns.

If, for example, you are seeing a demographic that is particularly engaged with your content or a demographic that is lacking on Facebook but is typically a strong market for your property, you can plan future campaigns to reach those users.

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.

Debunking Online Hotel Distribution Myths

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Erik Munoz, Siteminder’s head of strategic sales and global partnerships, shed some light on the truth behind many common myths in online hotel distribution.  Let’s take a look at some of this information focusing on online distribution channels.

Myth: Hotels Should Reduce Their Reliance on Online Travel Agency Bookings.

Munoz explains that there are many hoteliers who feel strongly about avoiding OTAs unless absolutely necessary.  Most of this stems from high commissions that these sites charge.  Although commissions can be high, many of these OTAs have larger marketing budgets which will help drive traffic and conversions more effectively than an independent hotel could to their own website.

For those markets that are geographically out of reach to the average independent hotel or regional chain, OTAs can be especially useful.  Emerging, local OTAs can be more effective channels to secure booking from outbound travelers in some markets.  If your hotel is not using these OTAs to market your property, you are missing out on bookings and revenues from these potentially lucrative source markets.

Munoz offers three keys when planning your distribution strategy:

1.  Make sure to select the right mix of OTAs on which to list your property.  The key here is not putting all of your “eggs” into one basket.  Try implementing a broad, far-reaching online distribution strategy.

2. Technology is an important part of leveraging the OTA channel most effectively.  Make sure you are not increasing your costs when choosing multiple, varied OTA sites.

3. Ensure you integrate your online distribution channels for maximum reach and minimal risk of inconsistent pricing or overbooking.

Myth: Metasearch is Most Useful for the Marketing Department, not the Online Distribution Team.

Historically, marketing and online distribution departments in many hotels have worked autonomously.  However, since metasearch providers started to connect directly to the hotel booking engine or CRS (Central Reservation System), the two teams now will need to work together in ensuring the best possible results from all channels.

A solid marketing team must be in charge of managing the pay-per-click and keyword bidding, while online distribution teams manage the live rates, availability and deep links from metasearch partners back to the hotel booking website.

Myth: All Channel Managers are the Same.

As online distribution becomes more complex, technology is being created that allows hoteliers to effectively manage online distribution channels.  Key components to look for when identifying the best channel managers include dynamic pooled inventory, two-way SML connectivity and self-mapping tools for faster speed to market with new offers.

Applying these core features from market-leading channel manager products will quickly make you realize that not all channel managers are the same.

Myth: The Global Distribution System is an Overly Expensive Channel that is Only Beneficial for Big Chains or Regional Hotel Groups.

The GDS is not only for big chains or multi-property hotels groups.  Regardless of your size, if you are a hotel in key corporate destination, the GDS channel can be an extremely lucrative booking source.  In addition, GDS bookings have a longer average length of stay and a higher average daily rate than bookings originating for other channels, as has been the case historically.

The perception of high costs from “middle men” that do business between the hotel and GDS booker, and the varying price models that exist from CRS and connectivity providers create a cloud that can be cleared up by doing some research before signing up with a provider.

Low Time On Page? No Sweat…

If you have been checking your Google Analytics lately, and noticed an odd trend of seemingly low time spent on your pages, don’t panic just yet. The problem may in fact not have to do with the content of your pages. After all, people want to read what you have to say, right? The issue is actually the system in place for tracking average time on page of your website. Here is how it works –

1. Timestamps – Google calculates the time spent on each page of a site with what they call a timestamp – a sort of stopwatch, clocking the time from initial page load, until entry into another page, at which time a new stamp is created.

2. The Formula – Say you load page “A” – at which time Google stamps a time of 00:00. The content you are reading on page “A” is fascinating enough to leave you gazing and reading for 30 seconds. Now, you see a link to page “B” that you think looks even more interesting. When you click the link to that page, Google starts a new timestamp, at a starting time of 30 seconds – the time you spent on page “A.”

3. The Disconnect – Here is where Google leaves us wondering – and leaves you frustrated at low page times. Let’s say you remain on page “A” for 25 minutes, gazing and reading that amazing content you love so much. But now, instead of linking to page “B,” you exit the site. Google has no timestamp for this fairly common occurrence. It has no way of knowing how long you spent viewing page “A.” Remember, the timestamp on page “A” begins at 00:00 and the time spent on that page is the starting point for the timestamp on page “B.” If there is no page “B”…there is no timestamp available.

How Google Does It

Google does attempt to account for pages that have no secondary timestamp. The calculation Google applies subtracts the number of page exits. So, what you are left with to calculate average time on page is this – Average Time on Page = Total Time on Page ÷ (Pageviews – Exits)

Even accounting for exits does not completely resolve the issue. Sites that yield a high number of bounces (someone enters the site, reads something, and immediately leaves) still are missing a large piece of time on page statistics.

For help and answers all things Google Analytics, click here.