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How to diagnose traffic drops on your hotel website – part one

A drop in traffic to your hotel’s website can be perfectly normal. It might be due to a seasonal flux, a technical anomaly in your analytics report, or you might be comparing with a previous period that had an unexpected surge in traffic that can’t be sustained.

Yes, it can be worrisome to see a reduction in visits to your website — especially if you’re comparing year-over-year data when you’re sure that the data is highly accurate. But the reason for a decline in web traffic is often completely out of your control.

In this first post of our two-part series, we’ll look at some of the most common reasons for a decline in website visitors, and explain what your process should be if or when that happens.

The steps outlined below are based upon our own internal SEO and tracking protocols here at Travel Tripper. While we refer heavily to the Google Analytics tracking platform, the advice should still be relevant for any other web-based tracking tools.

Step 1 – Pinpoint the drop

First and foremost, be absolutely clear about where you saw the drop in traffic. If you can isolate the drop to a specific month or week, make sure you check how the traffic levels compare against the same period in the previous year.

It’s crucial that you have good baseline data to reference, otherwise your comparisons will always be out.

To pinpoint the drop, open the year-on-year data in Google Analytics and you’ll see if it’s up, on-par, or if there was a significant drop.

GA date comparison
Selecting dates and the comparison option within Google Analytics

A note about seasonality

Remember, hotel traffic is often highly seasonal. For example, a beach resort will usually get a huge spike during summer, while a ski resort will get its spike in winter. A lot of hotels may have more nuanced seasonal reservation trends, but across the board, there’s usually a clear correlation: high web traffic volume usually corresponds with high occupancy rates, and the reverse is also usually true.

Just keep in mind that if you make a comparison with one of your busier periods, it’s normal to see a dip in visits to the website, and probably a dip in online reservations too. Whenever possible, compare like-for-like periods to get an accurate picture of trends over time.

Step 2 – Isolate the channel(s) where the drop occurred

Instead of looking at the traffic drop across all channels on your website, aim to isolate the drop to a specific channel. This granular approach will probably provide the biggest insight into where and perhaps why the drop occurred.

Your organic channel will likely be the one that’s most representative of overall online performance, so use this channel first during your analysis. The organic channel is also the one that frequently brings in the most traffic, so if this channel shows a big drop, it’ll probably be reflected over your other channels.

Other channel drop
Isolate the particular channel where the drop was heaviest before further analysis

To take this point further, imagine you notice a drop in visits from your Paid Search channels. The reason for this drop will likely be self-explanatory when this channel is reviewed in isolation.

For instance, you might realize there were fewer visits because the budget for that month was restricted. Or perhaps the average cost-per-click of the ads increased, so the budget didn’t stretch as far.

Also, consider the possibility that the search demand was simply no longer there — especially if you’re just bidding on your hotel’s branded keywords.

Internal WiFi traffic
In this particular case, last year the hotel was getting lots of traffic from it’s internal WiFi network. In 2018, we had filtered this traffic out – hence the big drop in sessions.

Finally, if you notice a drop across all channels, there might be a more serious or complicated issue to resolve. Read on to find out what that issue might be.

Step 3 – Eliminate other possibilities for the drop

After your initial analysis, you should be able to summarize your findings in a short statement, such as: “In April 2018, the number of organic sessions decreased on my website by 40% year-over-year”. Of course, you might find you have multiple summaries like this if other channels have also dropped (which is usually the case).

Once you’ve determined what happened to your web traffic, it’s time to understand why it happened.

Accurately diagnose the data

To save yourself time further down the line, be sure to first eliminate any other possibilities for the drop. To begin this process, you’ll need to carefully review the previous state of the analytics data. Does it look accurate enough to use as a baseline for your data analysis? Are you confident enough to use the data to inform future business decisions?

A lot of agencies and marketers might assume that when they inherit an account, the data is accurate. Our advice — always double check. You could waste a lot of time on further analysis when the underlying data was bad to begin with.

Numerous variables can come into play when it comes to data accuracy, from someone setting up the Analytics Property and View incorrectly, to a bad implementation of the tracking code on the hotel website.

If you or your agency didn’t initially create and set-up the tracking account, auditing the analytics data is always an important extra step.

How to diagnose ‘bad data’ in Google Analytics

There are a seemingly endless number of ways that Google Analytics data can be inaccurate. While we can’t address them all here, the following examples are tell-tale signs that the data in your report isn’t up to scratch:

1. Very low bounce rates     

When you look at the average bounce rates for a channel like organic, alarm bells should start ringing if the percentage is very low (for example, less than 20%). Very low bounce rates indicate a badly installed code, such as when particular tags are firing twice on the page.

2. Elevated conversion rates

Typically, a hotel’s conversion rate will range between 2-3%. If your Google Analytics shows an average conversion rate of 10% or higher from a channel like organic, be suspicious. In this kind of example, a new session will have been created along the booking path.

Organic traffic naturally collects a lot of non-booking traffic (e.g., from people looking for jobs at the hotel, seeking contact info, conducting business enquiries). For this reason, conversion rates (and even bounce rates) can be easily skewed. While these reasons in themselves clearly aren’t an issue, it’s good to be aware of them during your analysis.

3. Traffic is high from countries that represent non-typical guests

You might also see abnormal amounts of traffic from specific geographic regions that don’t represent your hotel’s typical clientele. So for instance, if you see a huge percentage of visits coming from Russia when your hotel rarely has any guests from this country, something about your analytics might be wrong.

geo location traffic
This US-based hotel received a big percentage of traffic from Brazil, but a very low number of bookings. Further digging saw spam/bot traffic originating from this country, which we could filter out.

Spam traffic

Looking at the Network/Hostname report is another good place to check for rogue traffic or fake visits. Within this report, you should only see visits to “yourhotel.com” or “booking.yourhotel.com”, depending on how your booking engine is setup. If you notice your traffic is coming from a different source, your analytics tracking code will typically have been spammed, inflating your sessions.

hostname spam traffic
Review the Hostname report. This often shows when you have spam/bot traffic. In the above case, we added a filter to only include data arriving on the hotel hostname and booking engine.

Check your tracking

Check that your website is tracking data correctly at the current moment. Perhaps there was a change made on the site, or some code was lost or altered. These issues could mean it’s not tracking in the same way as before.

Real time tracking test
Accessing the site and running the Real-Time report to check my location is displayed on the graphic. This can also be used to check the attribution of organic, paid, and other channels.

You can conduct a very basic check by using the “Real-Time” analytics report and tracking yourself whilst you access the page. Alternatively, use a tool like Screaming Frog. Their custom filters check can analyze all the pages of the site for your tracking code.

custom filter screaming frog
Using Screaming Frog software to scan a website for its tracking code – handy for finding pages missing the code.

The cause of drops in traffic are often due to the issues listed above, so it’s worth ruling them all out before proceeding to our next step.

Find out why your channels might have dropped

By this point, you’ve attributed the traffic drops on your website to specific dates and channels, and you’re fairly confident that you’re comparing against reliable baseline data. Next, it’s time to dive deeper into the data. This is where you need to scrutinize each channel individually to try and spot trends that reveal the reasons for the decline.

In the next post of this two-part series, we’ll guide you through this process.

You’ll learn how to conduct a series of checks that address the top reasons why your channels might have dropped, including traffic drops in organic, referrals, and social networks.

Nancy Huang

Nancy Huang

Nancy is the Senior Marketing Director at Pegasus and expert in strategic communication, brand development, and content marketing. She is an admitted travel junkie and loves finding amazing hotel deals when booking direct. Contact her at nancy.huang@pegs.com.

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