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

Last month, we launched a post to help hotels diagnose traffic drops on their websites. We looked at how to pinpoint a drop in a traffic, isolate the channel(s) where the drop occurred, eliminate other possibilities for the drop, and diagnose ‘bad data’ in Google Analytics.

In the second of this two-post series, we’ll be showing you how to determine why your channels might have dropped in four key areas: organic traffic, paid search traffic, referral traffic, and social traffic.

While it isn’t an exhaustive list, the following guide can be used as an invaluable initial resource.

1. Organic traffic drops

From the organic channel, open the landing pages report to see exactly where the decline happened. Ensure you’ve chosen the year-over-year (YOY) data comparison and selected the relevant period of the drop.

This analysis will show which page received the biggest drop in traffic. Perhaps there was a specific blog post that received a huge amount of traffic last year, causing the drop in YOY visits. In this case, it shouldn’t be a big concern unless it was impacting bookings or other business metrics.

Landing page report
Homepage often received the biggest drop in organic traffic as it’s closely impacted by the volume of brand keyword search.

Often, a drop in organic landing page visits will be to your homepage. The reason for this is harder to pinpoint, but 90% of the time, the decrease in traffic to the homepage is due to a dip in searches for your hotel’s brand name. This is often symptomatic of a larger, underlying marketing or positioning issue.

A note on declines in branded searches for your hotel

Branded searches might drop because of a previous major event or marketing push. This may have led to an abnormal surge in people searching for your hotel name.

From Google Trends data, we can see that branded search volume for The Lowry Hotel rose to an unprecedented level in December of last year. In actual fact, the hotel was featured heavily in the news, as former Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho had been living in the hotel – and left his position at the football club. Future analytics data will likely always be down (at least in the visits/sessions metrics) when being comparing to this abnormal period.

Alternatively, it might be that an OTA or your own hotel started running paid search ads, bidding heavily on branded search terms and cannibalizing some of your organic traffic (which isn’t a bad thing — PPC ads are still essential for brand protection).

The most likely reason for a decline in branded searches is that a hotel’s position on an OTA such as Expedia, Booking.com, or even TripAdvisor has dropped.

2. Google Search Console

If you want to confirm where the drop occurred based on the keywords you’re using, your best tool is Google Search Console. Once you’ve opened up Google Search Console, navigate to the Property setup for your website and open the specific date range as required.

With the latest version of this tool, you have access to 16 months of historic data — a huge improvement on the previous 90-day limit. Now, you can conduct a YOY review within Search Console.

Google Search Console 16 months
Latest version of Google Search Console which allows access to the previous 16 months data

Within Search Console, you can filter down to the page level. In this case, you’ll likely be filtering to only include the homepage. Selecting this will then let you see the Queries pertaining to that page.

Organic search queries
Queries from Google Search Console, compared YOY, highlighting the drop in branded search traffic.

This will probably show you that there was a drop in searches for your hotel (as shown above). If instead you see a drop in non-branded searches for your hotel, you’ll want to find out which terms have dropped, which should be clear from the Queries report.

3. UTM tags

At Travel Tripper, we use UTM tags within the Google Business Listing for our hotels to analyze the keywords that people use to find the hotel’s GMB listing. In some cases, this makes up for over 50% of a hotel’s organic traffic.

Tagging the URL with a relevant UTM tag not only allows you to segment the data easily within Google Analytics, it also enables you to see the exact Query data within Search Console. Just select the tagged URL from the Queries report to filter to that page.

UTM filter GSC
Filtering to the UTM tagged page will allow you to open the Queries

It’s important to monitor your hotel’s position within Google’s own hotel finder tool, which is easier to do when using UTM tags as mentioned above.

Google Hotels Search UI
The latest version of Google’s Hotel Search interface

4. Drop in transactions or sessions?

One vital final check is to see whether there’s decline in the number of transactions your hotel received, or whether there was just a drop in organic sessions.

A drop in organic sessions might simply be affecting vanity traffic (fewer lookers, not bookers). The details of this will ultimately depend on the type of attribution model you’re using in Google. Remember, a non-booker may return to the site more than once at a later date, possibly through different channels, such as from a retargeting campaign on Google.

If the data shows the organic traffic dropped and transactions and revenue declined too, then it’s clearly a high priority issue that warrants further investigation. Potentially, other channels may reflect a similar drop.

Also, be sure to use the Google Analytics Annotation feature to highlight important events within your chosen Analytics View. This serves as a reminder to yourself and other team members using the same GA View about what happened and when.

Annotations in GA
Using the Annotations feature in Google Analytics can be a lifesaver when it comes to quickly understanding changes in data. It’s especially important when impactful events took place.

Paid Search traffic drops

1. Track performance: Internal reporting and dashboards within Google Ads, Bing Ads, or whichever other paid channels you’re using should be checked to track performance. Be sure to discuss your findings with any of the specialists managing those channels — they’ll be best placed to inform you about any performance issues.

Google Analytics, if linked correctly, does pull in most of the relevant information already. But if not then the first port of call would be with the specialist managing your account.

2. Compare cost-per-click: Check what the current cost-per-click (CPC) is for your top keywords and compared that with the CPC of last year’s campaign. It’s very likely that the CPC has increased, diminishing the ROI of your marketing budget and reaching fewer people this time around.

cpc history ga
It can be an interesting exercise to see how your hotel’s branded keywords cost-per-click value changes over time. Here we can see the peak cost was $2.03 in September.

There are various reasons why your CPC might increase, but the two most common scenarios happen when new advertisers start bidding on your keywords and enter the ads auction, or when your quality score isn’t great.

3. Compare the average ad position of your ads last year vs this year: If the YOY ad position dropped a lot, that might explain a lack of traffic (usually, just the top three positions or those above the fold generate the end click). You might need to increase your quality score or bid higher to get those more prominent positions.

The inverse might also be true: your ads might have been higher this year than last year, so you’ve gained more clicks but didn’t have the budget to sustain the increased level of traffic. Maybe you had great visibility for the start of the month, but then the budget was all used by mid-month. Better ad management can resolve issues like this, adjusting keyword bids where necessary.

4. Check the search volumes for your chosen keywords: A drop here might be explained by the fact that you’re seeing a decline in searches and can be validated by an investigation into the impression/click data from Google. This will usually apply to your brand, but less so for non-brand keywords.

Google Ads Search Volumes
Using Google Ads Keyword Planner tool allows you to see historic keyword search volumes plus future estimates.

You can also use a tool like Google Trends to get keyword data if you’re unable to get it from Google Ads.

Referral traffic drops

This is usually a simple channel to diagnose if you follow this two-step process:

1. Open the referral channel report within GA and compare data to see which websites are no longer referring traffic to your own site. This should be quite clear-cut. For example, maybe a blog generated lots of traffic last year but less so this year.

2. Check to make sure that the referral channel attribution is still the same YOY. While a channel like TripAdvisor might appear here for a certain period, it could potentially be recategorized by Google Analytics to another channel such as Social at a later time.

This might happen when someone starts adding custom UTM tags to certain platforms, interrupting the “default” attribution that Analytics would’ve used. Your tracking team should be able to assist and determine if this is the cause of the new channel attribution.

organic channel switch

In the example above, what appeared to be quite a big organic traffic drop turned out to be a false alarm. In reality, the traffic shifted to the (Other) channel and Google couldn’t detect its actual source. This was because someone applied a custom UTM tag to the hotel’s Google Business Listing, thus breaking the attribution model. Editing the UTM tag to a correctly reference the organic medium resolved this.

One useful exercise is to create your own custom channel grouping definitions within GA, enabling you to determine where and how you want each channel tracked — creating custom channels for relevant groups.

Channel grouping in GA
Screenshot showing the Custom Channel Grouping option within Google Analytics.

Social network drop

1. Check the social network report in Analytics: This will let you see what your traffic levels are like per network, so you can focus your investigation accordingly. For instance, a drop in Facebook traffic might signal you need to delve deeper into Facebook’s own data platform to find the reasons.

Facebook and other social networks have their own in-built algorithms and make changes heavily, a bit like Google does. What worked one time might not work this time around, so some research is always required to uncover reasons behind any social drops.

2. Look at your hotel’s social strategy: Have there been changes in the actual social strategy of your hotel? For instance, if you had someone promoting your hotel on Instagram last year but not this year, then clearly the traffic and interaction from that network is going to dry up.

3. Check the value of your social traffic: Monitor whether the traffic generated from your social channels is really engaging with your website and providing meaningful benefits. You need a clear strategy with measurable KPIs for each social platform.

While a hotel with minimal social fans might want to grow the number of fans or subscribers, it might be better to increase the number of social shares, actual booked rooms, email subscribers/email captures, or some other measurable goal.

Additional reasons for a drop in website traffic

There are numerous other factors that can affect your hotel’s website traffic, but the areas outlined above should provide a solid starting point for your initial analysis.

Remember, it’s critical to make sure the data in your day-to-day reporting is accurate and regularly maintained. When you consider hotel websites have an array of internal tracking scripts, and third-party widgets also have their own tracking scripts, conflicts can and will occur. Tracking codes can also easily be lost during site migrations or updates.

In summary, you need a process to monitor traffic/conversion drops and ensure pixels/scripts are all firing and active, all of which needs to be done on a daily basis.

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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