Hotel marketing has changed and is more complex than ever before. There are more channels to pay attention to, constant changes in major search engines and increased competition from sites like Airbnb who promote unique alternative accommodations. For hoteliers, it is no longer enough to simply put your website online and count on search engine optimization, you must have an integrated marketing strategy to ensure you can compete for bookings.
We at TravelNet Solutions have been marketing hotels, vacation rentals and everything in between for the last 16 years or so, and as much as things change, somethings, stay the same. Here are 10 strategies you can implement in 2019 that are guaranteed to increase traffic to your website and bookings to your hotel.
1. Google and Bing Pay Per Click
Google Pay-Per-Click is still the gold standard for direct hotel marketing, and it may be more important than ever before. Bing doesn’t have as much search volume as Google, however, in some cases, it has an even higher return on investment and can be less competitive than Google. Recently, at the HSMAI digital marketing conference, Google reported that 50% of all hotel search is now done on mobile. This is huge because, on mobile devices, a higher amount of clicks by % are happening in paid search results vs clicks in paid search by % on desktop. Unlike in the past, there isn’t as much free organic traffic as there used to be. Hotel pay-per-click marketing is now even surpassing organic search in traffic for many hotels in our portfolio.
Here is a look at the click ratio on ads in mobile paid search vs desktop for one of our clients. You can see the impressions, clicks, and the cost is heavily skewed towards mobile devices. This makes it incredibly important to have a fast, mobile-optimized website with an incredibly good mobile booking engine. Without these two complementary strategies in place, it almost doesn’t even make sense to buy search traffic, it likely won’t convert.
Both Google and Bing have the ability to drive bookings for your hotel. Here is a screenshot of one of our customers and the direct bookings they were able to generate as a result of paid search strategies implemented by our dedicated hotel paid search specialists. As you can see – of all traffic to this clients website, paid search from Google and Bing make-up about 48% of total traffic and 30% of bookings. Those numbers do not include attributable bookings further down the path.
If you are going to be doing Pay-Per-Click marketing, however, you need to make sure you are watching how it is being managed. Here are just a few of the issues we see that lead to wasted spend and less than optimal performance by other agencies.
- Too much focus on branded keywords: This means you will not reach enough new visitors to generate growth. This is a common strategy by agencies that want to hide the true results of their campaigns, they can show big ROI by bidding on the brand and not disclosing it to the hotel. Of course, conversion rates and ROI are going to be high when someone is searching for your brand!
- Not enough attention to bid management: We see many hotels come to us that have $2, $3, $4 or higher cost per click. This is ok if you are in a market where it’s the going rate, however, there are many markets where with proper bid management, you can still buy traffic for less than $1. Across our Millions in management in 2018, we average $0.87 per click and in many markets, we were well below this. If you are at $2 per click, simply reducing your avg. CPC to $1 could double your traffic with the exact same budget.
- Too many campaigns and keywords: Many agencies create unique campaigns for every facet of the hotel, then they bid on the exact same keywords in each campaign, only switching up the ads. This is a problem because Google will not be able to understand which campaigns to optimize if you are doing duplicate keyword bidding. This will make your ads less effective. You really only want to have 10-15 keywords per ad-group for maximum performance.
- All Ads point to your homepage: We see this a lot when we take over for other agencies. We go into their ad groups and see that all of their ads were pointing to the home page. This is a problem because it creates a less cohesive experience for the consumer. Let’s say you’re a hotel and you do weddings. If you have a wedding campaign in Google, the ads should be linking directly to a corresponding wedding page on your website. This will increase the user’s experience, improve the quality of the landing page and thus improve the quality of the ad experience, driving up your CTR (click through rate), Average ranking and decrease your cost per click.
A well run Google and Bing Pay-Per-Click strategy should be core to your overall marketing in 2019. We recommend budgeting between .5% to 1.5% of your gross bookings to this channel or roughly 15% – 20% of your total direct marketing budget. If you do this, you’ll see big increases in traffic to your website and, provided you have the rest of your technology in place, a solid website and booking engine, good reviews and a good revenue management strategy, direct bookings should follow.
Metasearch has officially arrived and is a must-have for all serious hotel marketers now and in the future. Google Hotel Ads (formerly hotel finder) has emerged as the #1 channel for metasearch. You can read more about metasearch here. Metasearch is simply a tool that allows a consumer to see prices for a property from around the web. It the primary business model for sites like TripAdvisor and Trivago, Kayak and Skyscanner to a lesser extent. Metasearch drives high ROI and is getting more click share than ever before. Have you ever seen this?
That’s Google Hotel Ads, Google’s version of metasearch. It takes up prominent real estate within Google search results, and to get on the map, you have to participate in Google Hotel Ads. Hotel Ads are different then pay-per-click ads, but there are indications that hotel ads and PPC ads will be merging, with Hotel Ads potentially even moving above paid search ads as the standard user experience.
The primary way to participate in Metasearch is through your CRS provider or a 3rd party solution. TNS offers this service to our customers through 2 channels, our all-in-one hotel booking engine, CRS and metasearch platform, or through connecting an existing booking engine up to our metasearch connector and managing it that way. If you need help, let us know and we’ll get you set up. OtherwiseGooglele provides a guide here. Google Hotel Ads here
We’ve seen reports that show returns as high as 30:1 with averages around 16:1. Its safe to say, if you are not planning on participating in metasearch, you are in for a big decrease in direct bookings in the future.
3. Facebook Ads
Facebook is a good channel to market your hotel, provided you are maximizing search and metasearch channels first. However, much like Google, the days of massive free traffic from Facebook and Instagram (to a lesser extent) have come and gone. Facebook is primarily a paid channel now and that is not going to change. Simply posting a message on facebook is not enough. Because of Facebook’s edgerank algorithm, your posts will likely only reach around 7%-10% of your total followers. Bummer, I know. However, there are affordable ways to market your property and reach targeted travelers without breaking the bank. We break it into 2 categories.
- Push Marketing (boosted posts, audience targeting)
- Remarketing (display ads after someone leaves your site, dynamic hotel ads)
In general, Facebook is more of a “Push” medium, meaning, people do not go to facebook to book a hotel. However, if you target the right audience, with the right message or offer, much like other push marketing mediums, you will be able to generate demand for your product and with good remarketing and conversion strategies, you will see bookings. With Facebook Audience targeting, you are able to narrow down exactly who you want to target, create dynamic ads, video ads and carousel ads, then display them across Facebook and Instagram seamlessly. We like that Facebook ads can have a low cost per click compared to Google, however, conversion rates also tend to be lower. Our recommendation is to maximize your presence in Metasearch and paid search, then Facebook and Instagram.
Another way to effectively use Facebook is for Remarketing. Remarketing is serving ads up to people that have already been to your website. Here are some examples of remarketing ads we created for one of our clients.
We like Facebook remarketing ads for a number of reasons:
- They are cheap. We typically are able to buy traffic for $0.20 – $0.60 a click. This is a lot of bang for your buck. $1,000 can buy anywhere from 1,500 to 5,000 visitors back to our clients’ websites.
- They keep our customers’ brands relevant if someone happens to come to their website but is not ready to book yet.
- We can target based on a segment of their business
There are some challenges with properly tagging Facebook remarketing ads in Google Analytics, especially when it is coming from the Facebook or Instagram mobile app, however, if you work with the right agency, this shouldn’t be an issue.
It might seem old fashion and antiquated, however, blogging is still one of the best ways to stay relevant in organic search results. But didn’t we say the organic search was less relevant then it used to be? Yes, we did say that, however, it’s not dead. Our own site ResortsandLodges.com still gets millions of total visits annually from organic search. One of our primary strategies? Blogging.
So what can you blog about? Here are some ideas:
- Local Events (time sensitive)
- Annual recurring events
- Top things to do in the area
- Top places to eat in the area
- On a beach? Post a camera of the beach
- Have a great airline that flies direct to your area? Write about that.
Want more ideas? A great tool to use to see what people are searching for is Google Trends. With Google Trends, you can type in keywords and see what the search volume is over time. Find the best keywords and blog about those. The key to blogging with the way today’s SEO works is to write for the consumer, not for the search engine bots. If you try and keyword stuff, you will not get any search engine juice. Focus on creating really good content that is relevant and you will have much more success. In addition to blogging to show up under more relevant keyword searches, you can also use blog content to become a defacto “guide” for your area. You can put the content in emails, share it on social media and use it to help your customers find exciting things to do when they stay at your hotel.
Here is an example of a blog we wrote for a client. After we wrote this blog, for the next few months, their website ranked at the top of Google Organic search results for the keyword “Beach Activities” which has over 4,400 searches on a monthly basis. For the next few months after we wrote the blog, we saw a big spike in traffic to their website, an increase in email subscribers and we even saw a few online bookings we could attribute to it. All total, we wrote over 1,500 blog posts for our customers in 2018 and will likely double this number in 2019.
5. Drip Email Marketing
Email marketing is still one of the most effective marketing mediums. It delivers a consistently high return on investment at a low cost. If you’re not doing Email Marketing, you should really start. Most hotels have some sort of email marketing strategy, usually a bi-weekly or monthly e-blast that goes out to their database. However, there is a different type of email marketing that can be an effective tool to battle OTA’s for mindshare with new customers.
Drip Email Marketing is the process of capturing an email subscriber and sending them sequenced emails over a period of time. We started experimenting with this strategy for our customers back in 2016. It quickly became a highly effective means to build an email database and drive direct bookings of new people that were not quite ready to book on the website on the first visit. We call this practice conversion optimization, but really, it is drip email marketing.
The first thing you want to do when setting up a drip campaign is to implement a way to capture email subscribers on your website. We recommend using a tool like Opt-in monster. Once you have set up your pop-up to capture email subscribers, you will want to connect it to an email service provider. It has to be a service provider that allows you to sequence emails. We typically create 5 emails and send them over a 30 period of time for our customers. We like to change up the messaging to be relevant to seasonal changes, changes in strategy at the property level and via other outside factors. Here is an example of one of our 5 email sequences that proved very effective for one of our customers (notice the content is not all deal related)
We deleted some information for obvious reasons, but you can see here, the first email has a 55% open rate with a 25%+ click-through rate. 20 days after the first email, we delivered the 5th email in the sequence and generated a 27% open rate with a 5.25% click-through rate. You can also see unsubscribes are very low.
It is a good practice to change emails and messaging throughout the year so that you are staying relevant for the new email subscribers. Once that email sequence is complete, you can add the new subscribers to your primary email database.
Drip email marketing is low cost and drives a really good ROI. Here is a screenshot below of the results of a drip email campaign for one of our clients.
We hope you find these strategies useful and helpful! As hotel marketers, it’s important that we pick the right strategies, it’s not always the best idea to try and do everything or to jump on every flashy new trend. There are certain things that are tried and true and generate bookings consistently, year in and year out, and then there are new channels that come along and make an immediate impact, then fizzle out. Our recommendation is to test things, dip your toe in the water, see what works for you, then maximize that channel for all its worth, or until you hit a diminishing return.
Most of the time, it comes down to execution, who do you have to execute your marketing strategies? Do you have the right in-house team or the right agency partner? Do you have the right technology helping convert the travelers once they get to your website? Do you have a reservation team that is really good at converting calls and doing outbound follow up and lead management? If so, then market away and watch the revenue roll in. But if you don’t have your technology, website, sales and revenue management in order, our recommendation is to start there. No sense in wasting good marketing dollars if they don’t turn into heads in beds.