Last month, we hosted a webinar that addressed how hotels can use smart digital marketing to optimize their booking funnel and boost direct bookings.
We spoke with four industry experts from Travel Tripper, Google, Voyat, and Highgate Hotels, covering a range of topics ranging from search marketing tips and personalized advertising to website conversion tactics. View the recording below, or read on to see a list of the top takeaways from our discussion.
Insights into the hotel booking funnel and omni-channel traveler
Consumers are now spending less time watching TV and far more time online. Between 2011-2016, average time spent watching TV shrunk by 11%, while time spent online increased by 61%. A huge chunk of this online time was spent watching video content.
During the initial “dreaming” phase of a trip, travelers turn to family, friends and colleagues for recommendations, and rely heavily on the internet as a primary source of inspiration (such as watching YouTube videos or browsing images of local attractions). Digital marketing gives you presence and influence at the start of this online journey.
Once a person has picked a destination, the majority (60%) will use a search engine to plan. During this phase, travelers typically use broader keywords often related to a hotel and specific location, for example “hotels in New York City.” This is where you can make the first impression with a potential guest.
When consumers book a hotel, 4 out of 5 book online. At this point, search terms become highly specific and commonly involve the brand name of a hotel and destination. However, the top four search spots are frequently dominated by OTA PPC ads; being outside of these top spots is a problem.
Studies by Google have found that if your hotel occupies the fifth search spot, around 50% of clicks will go to an OTA. So to gain a premium position and maximize direct bookings, you need to bid on your own brand name.
Search and conversion rates have also surged on mobile devices. Along with delivering a better user experience to a growing number of consumers, having a mobile-friendly website should be considered a priority as Google now considers it a key ranking factor.
Search marketing and key digital strategies to drive traffic
The average person only spends a few seconds looking at a search results page. So your hotel needs its digital marketing strategy firing on all channels to capture fleeting attention spans.
In a competitive marketplace, a Google AdWords campaign will help in this fight for attention. Remember, if you’re not bidding on your brand terms, OTAs will be — and that means they’ll be stealing direct traffic from you.
A strong SEO policy is also a necessity to ensure Google places you high up the organic listings. However, there are two other areas that are often neglected but definitely merit investment.
The first area is the Google My Business section, which appears on the right side of the main search results. A Google My Business listing is free, easy to register, and ensures your hotel shows up during a local search. Consider it vital.
Just below this section, you’ll see a series of paid links in the Google metasearch tool. Again, if you don’t bid on this channel, OTAs will. So as long as you get a better ROI than you would paying OTA commission fees, paying for an ad here is money well spent.
Adding weight to the importance of these two areas, a recent eye-tracking survey commissioned by Travel Tripper found the Google Business Listing was seen by around 92% of users and 86% saw the metasearch ads.
As for getting people to click your ad, here are three tips to help tip the balance in your favor:
Tell people what makes you unique
Shout about your award-winning restaurant, family-friendly vibe, or unbeatable in-town location. Assume visitors know nothing about you, as many will be finding you for the first time.
Include prices and promotions in your ad to boost click-through rates
At Travel Tripper, we helped a high volume hotel increase ROI on ad spend by 74% when they included the price.
Tell customers they’re getting the best rates (using everyday language)
OTA ads often use the phrase “best rate guarantee,” but people don’t always understand what this means. For clarity, use more obvious, everyday language like “lowest price promise.”
How to optimize your hotel website for conversions
You may have nailed your acquisition strategy, but a low conversion rate on your website will hurt your ROI. So when a user lands on your website, you need to make use of specific tools designed to influence decision-making.
Voyat is a personalization and conversion platform created to drive conversions for hotels. Using machine learning, it delivers tailored messages based on gaining an intimate understanding of an individual’s online behavior.
First, a wealth of static data points are tracked, including location, the device a person is using, and the channel that led them to the hotel website. In the case of the latter, a person who clicked a Google Ad would receive a different message to someone who came via TripAdvisor, accounting for the different stage in their travel planning.
Voyat also tracks thousands of data points related to activity on the hotel website. Things such as dwell time, mouse velocity, and visit frequency are all considered, and each can prove highly revealing.
For instance, if a person visited the hotel website multiple times but didn’t convert, it would suggest they’re comparison shopping. This behavior would then trigger an on-site incentive that gave them a compelling reason to book direct.
Voyat’s deep analysis of consumer activity reflects a wider trend taking place across an increasingly hyper-personalized web. Today, brands are influencing consumer buying decisions at a granular level by knowing them inside out and delivering them with the most relevant content.
Measuring for success, and balancing short and long-term marketing
Digital marketing fails for a variety of reasons, but the lack of a clear strategy often plays a major part. A confused approach not only weakens a campaign, it makes it impossible to measure whether it was a success.
Isolated departments also need to work together. The onus is on the revenue management team to start a conversation with digital marketing regarding areas that require attention, such as occupancy levels and need dates. Together, both teams need to assess the data and use this to decide on a clear primary campaign objective.
This objective will then dictate the type of marketing strategy deployed. For instance, if you wanted to announce an exciting change to your hotel (like a new F&B concept) you could use email, blogs, and social channels to generate awareness. If your campaign was focused on driving traffic, you might want to use PPC, banner ads, and SEO.
But for all the money hotels spend getting consumers to their website, not nearly enough is spent getting them to book. So, what tactics can help drive conversions?
Highlighting rate parity is a big one. Nobody will want to book on your website if your rates are better on other channels. Relevant information also needs to be simple to find, while a prominent “Book Now” button should feature throughout your site so users are only ever a click away from being able to reserve a room.
Personalization in marketing
A surge in cross-device behavior has made it hard for brands to consistently deliver relevant messages. Is a person browsing or ready to book? It’s not always clear. To produce more intelligent marketing, brands will come to rely on products that help them better understand consumers and their place in the buying funnel.
Right now, one of the big developments in personalization relates to real-time pricing. At Travel Tripper, our RezTrip booking engine can promote a hotel’s latest rates on their own website. This feature will soon extend to PPC ads, including retargeting banner ads, which will feature the specific information and price a person recently viewed on the hotel website.
But arguably, the ultimate quest in personalization will involve an attempt to form social connections with guests that lead to stronger relationships and enhanced service levels.
Using Voyat, a number of hotels are forming these connections by enabling guests to sign onto their Wifi and website with an email or social account. Once assigned to a social identity, a guest can be greeted by name and offered relevant offers and services during future stays, all based on the social data they share.
The art of optimization
Optimizing your hotel booking funnel requires a consideration of the entire digital ecosystem. As people switch between multiple devices and consult countless resources on their travel journey, you need to be present at every stage to drive direct bookings.
But being present requires a thoughtful approach and a marketing mix that encompasses targeted advertising, strong SEO principles, and personalized marketing. Of course, nothing stands still for long in digital marketing. So alongside knowing the basics, having your finger on the pulse will remain imperative to maintain a competitive edge.
Looking for the slides for our presentation? View them here.
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