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Takeaways from our webinar, “Online Bookings Research”

Just recently, Travel Tripper hosted a webinar that addressed how hotels can use online booking research to understand traveler behavior in order to enhance their digital marketing efforts.

Industry experts from TrustYou, Fuel Travel, and Travel Tripper shared a number of fascinating insights from their own travel research studies, conducted earlier this year. Topics included the importance of Google and how to influence your hotel’s rankings, search marketing tactics, PPC vs SEO, and how to beat direct competitors and OTAs.

Click below to listen to a full recording of the webinar and read on to see a list of the top takeaways from our discussion.

Understanding the guest journey

Before a guest walks into your hotel, they’ve often taken a long and non-linear online journey involving a lot of research, comparison, and planning—all leading up to their final booking.

To analyze this journey in greater depth, TrustYou surveyed over 900 U.S. travelers and looked at three discrete stages of the search and booking process: 1) the initial search, 2) the choice evaluation, and 3) the booking decision.  The key points from the survey are outlined below:

1) Initial search
When travelers look for a hotel, 91% said they turned to a search engine—and 81% of these travelers prefer to use Google. This huge reliance shows just how essential it is for hotels to be present during a Google search to influence early decision-making.

Trust You traveler research study

In terms of keywords that travelers use to find accommodation, 57% said they searched for a hotel, 49% looked for a specific location, and 31% used a combination of both, for instance “hotel name + San Diego.” To ensure optimum visibility, it’s essential that your hotel name and location are implemented as part of your PPC and SEO strategy.

2) Choice evaluation
Once users enter a search term, Google’s algorithm serves up relevant results alongside an area map. But which areas receive most attention? To find out, TrustYou used a heat map to see where people interacted on a sample hotel listing.

While the location map was clicked by 32% of users, 60% clicked on the hotel listing, presumably to find information such as room rates and amenities. This reinforces the need for hotels to include relevant details to help them make decisions.

When travelers search for hotels, they’re also consistently concerned with five profile attributes: nightly rate, review score, hotel class, hotel image, and brand. When asked to rank these in order of importance, nightly rates and review scores came out first and second respectively.

Overall, people were prepared to pay more for a hotel with better reviews, while a huge 88% said they filtered out hotels with poor reviews. As such, hotels should look to encourage positive feedback wherever possible to ensure they’re seen by the most potential guests.

3) Booking decision

While Google dominates research, most people book with an OTA. In fact, Google was shown to lag way behind in the top five most popular booking channels:

  • Expedia: 42%
  • Hotels.com: 42%
  • Travelocity: 32%
  • TripAdvisor: 30%
  • Google: 28%

In terms of device, 66% said they booked on desktop. So while having a mobile-friendly site is extremely important, a strong presence on desktop also remains vital.

Using search marketing to your hotel’s benefit

The Google search page is a massively competitive space. And as you might expect, the further down the page your hotel is, the less attention it receives. That’s why investing in paid ads is vital. If you’re not bidding on your brand terms, OTAs almost certainly will be—and that means they’re stealing traffic from you.

Organic listings also need careful attention. In order to show Google your hotel should rank number one on your brand terms (and any other keywords you’re trying to rank for), you need a strong SEO policy.

But beyond PPC and organic listings, there are two other areas worthy of investment that many hotels neglect.

Google My Business Listing and the metasearch tool
The Google My Business section sits on the right side of the main search results. A listing is free to register, easy to update, and crucially, it ensures your hotel shows up during a local search. Without one, you could be missing a lot of business.

Just below this section, you’ll see a series of paid links in the Google metasearch tool. A lot of hotels assume a paid link here is a luxury they can’t afford. But often the reverse is true. OTAs will likely bid on this channel if you don’t. Often, paying for an ad could lead to a better ROI rather than paying OTA commission fees instead.

But just how much attention does the Google My Business section and metasearch tool actually receive? A huge amount, according to the results from an eye-tracking survey recently commissioned by Travel Tripper.

The survey compared how these two areas had changed online behavior by looking at two previous eye-tracking studies. Both studies showed distinct shapes of user interaction: a “golden triangle” of attention in a 2005 study, and an “F-shape” area of attention in 2014. But Travel Tripper’s study found an entirely new pattern.

Paid ads still received the most attention (seen by nearly 100% of users), but the Google Business Listing was seen by around 92% of users, and 86% saw the metasearch ads. This indicates how critical these two areas are and highlights the new way people interact during a Google search.

Key survey highlights
Along with showing how differently Google is being used from just a few years ago, the eye-tracking study provided a series of other key takeaways.

Travel Tripper test results

For instance, the average user spends 10 seconds on SERP. This means hotels need a prominent position on Google with engaging messages, visually bold ads, and strong organic titles.

Also, despite having a clear “ad” symbol next to them, 28% of users were NOT aware that the first listings are paid ads. This implies a high percentage mistakenly visit an OTA when they intend to visit the hotel website, adding further importance to having a paid listing.

Although consumer trust in ads is slowly growing, 44% of users are less likely to click an ad when they know it’s a paid ad. A strong organic presence is therefore vital to ensure your hotel is visible to those seeking a link to your website.

Website behavior study

Last year, Fuel Travel and Flip.to conducted a study of over 2,300 North American leisure travelers to explore their behavior and demands when planning and booking a hotel. Below, you can see a snapshot of the main results with tips on how hotels can use this information to enhance the effectiveness of their own website.

Travelers aren’t shopping around as much as you think
It’s commonly asserted that people visit over 30 travel-related websites leading up to a trip. But this figure was found to be much lower.

In 2016, travelers only visited an average of 4.6 hotel websites, and this year’s survey saw that figure drop to 4.4. The implication is that people are becoming more discerning, and that they’re also better informed when they visit a hotel website, having already done research on metasearch sites and search engines.

Travelers take their time
Another popular assumption is that online attention spans are limited to around 5-6 seconds. But again, this idea was contradicted in the study. The average time spent forming an opinion about a hotel was 15.9 seconds.

Users said they revisit a hotel website around 3-4 times, spend an average of 29.8 seconds on the website before booking, and conduct research over an average 26-day period. Based on how long travelers spend weighing up their options, hotels should aim to offer relevant and personalized information to influence decision-making.

The power of reviews
Survey respondents said they look for three key pieces of information on a hotel website. A huge 95% look for property and room details, and 70% seek out area information. But arguably the most revealing statistic was related to reviews.

In total, 85% said they wouldn’t book a hotel room without reading a review. That means a hotel website without reviews is potentially waving goodbye to a lot of business. When users seek reviews, they’ll likely visit TripAdvisor or an OTA—exposing them to other channels, and other hotels.

Ultimately, reviews on your own hotel website reassure guests they’re making a sound decision, which increases the chances of them booking direct.

The hotel website has the biggest influence on decision-making
In a list of the top five sources that influence bookings, the hotel website came out number one. And particular forms of content were found to be especially influential.

Fuel Travel website study

Overall, 87% of people said that photos influenced their decisions, 77% said video, and 70% reported that user-generated content (such as reviews, testimonials and photos by other guests) were the most persuasive factor.

Collectively, this highlights how investing in a quality, content-rich website is the most important thing a hotel can do to influence travelers to book.

Key steps to smarter marketing

Smarter marketing all comes down to having a better understanding of traveler behavior. Bear in mind the following key points:

Be present on Google: Google is where the majority of travelers start their research. For maximum visibility, aim to combine PPC ads, strong SEO principles, an updated Google Business Listing, and metasearch ads.

Nurture reviews: Good reviews on your website will instill confidence and encourage direct bookings.

Bid on your brand name and location: OTAs will almost certainly bid on your brand name and search terms if you don’t. Don’t let them steal direct bookings from you.

Create a great online experience: A great website with relevant and engaging content is the number one way you can influence the decisions of potential guests.

By applying just some of the principles from this webinar, your hotel can boost its online visibility and the impact of its digital marketing—helping to drive more traffic to your website and increase those all-important direct bookings.

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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