Digital Marketing for Hotels - a Workable Approach
Hotels are a unique industry when it comes to digital marketing. Seldom would a guest arrive at their location and simply stumble upon a hotel and decide to stay. Planning a hotel stay requires research, online research; making digital marketing the most important piece of your hotel's overall marketing strategy.
In fact, research shows that the average period between when a customer begins to consider booking their travel, until they book, is between an average of 40-60 days.
The customer experience when looking for your hotel online is also somewhat unique too. Hotels are expected to have a sleek website that makes their property look amazing and makes it easy for customers to book. They are also expected to be found on online travel agency (OTA) sites; Agoda, Booking.com, hotels.com or any one of the myriad others, where users can compare a range of hotels in an area. And they are expected to be found on review sites, such as TripAdvisor, where customers can see what other guests have had to say about their experience.
In fact, during that period of 6-9 weeks mentioned above, the customer will experience several micro-moments with your hotel brand including;
Become familiar with your hotel for the first time
Compare prices with competitor hotels, and with different booking websites
Read reviews from your previous guests
Check for discounts online
Search your hotel name on Google
Visit your Facebook fan page
Explore photos your guests posted on Instagram
During this journey, your potential guests will be using mobile as well as desktop devices to communicate with your hotel brand. Each micro-moment can bring your prospect closer to booking directly through your hotel’s website, or make them turn away and book elsewhere. Your goal is to map these moments and make sure that the experience of the prospect with your brand will motivate them to come closer (get deeper down the funnel) until they book direct.
Digital marketing in the hotel sector requires a holistic approach. A great website but no visibility on OTAs will cost your hotel a lot of potential searchers. Presence on the OTAs but no reviews from previous guests will cause customers to take their money elsewhere.
Hotels need to be easily identified and verified to stand out online, and bookings need to be made simple.
Hotel Digital Marketing - Where to Start
While many customers may head straight to OTAs to search for options, your hotel website will still receive a high volume of traffic from search engines. What's more, OTAs simply list hotels based on consumer search criteria. You may be able to pay for promotion, but relying solely on OTAs means giving away power when there is, in fact, a great deal that can be done online, outside of OTAs, to sway customers your way.
The hotel website should be the most important online asset. It should function as one would expect a hotel website to function; showing off the property, the room options, images of the rooms and other areas, descriptions of experiences to be had, as well as a booking feature on every page and the benefits of booking direct.
Google My Business
Every hotel needs a Google My Business listing. Being here is how hotels get into Google local searches, including the Local 3-Pack, which suggests businesses most relevant to the search criteria right at the top.
Optimise for Mobile
Every business should know this by now, but mobile is taking over and search engines favour mobile-friendly content. Check how the website looks on all devices to ensure you're not losing customers due to a poor mobile experience.
Know Your Audience
Understanding your audience is critical to creating a successful hotel digital marketing strategy. Research the customer demographic that your hotel attracts, see what it is they are attracted to and then craft your messaging to focus on these key points, and use keywords that include these points.
Set Up Tracking
Every interaction customers have with your hotel online, should be tracked. Tracking helps you to analyse information later and identify insights about what is working and what can be improved.
Hotel Digital Marketing - Mastering SEO
Once you have the basics in place, there are numerous strategies that hotels can employ to drive traffic and boost sales. SEO should be core to all of it. Here's how to master SEO in your digital marketing:
Craft Content Around Search Trends
When you know what your customers are attracted to, you can use tools like Google Trends to see what people are searching for related to this topic. That can give you an indication of what content customers want to see and what keywords are highly searched.
Spend time on the URL
The URL is a crucial component of SEO, and algorithms will judge whether the URL matches the content of the page. URLs need to be simple -- not too long -- while giving a decent indication of what will be found on the page. If the URL doesn't appear to match the page content, the page will be ranked down.
Do Your Keyword Research
Every page of your website, blog, social media, OTA listing, and Google My Business listing should be optimised with keywords. Keywords are the number one tool that search engines use to determine which content is relevant to serve up to users. Getting the keywords right is critical to ranking highly. Irrelevant keywords or overuse of keywords will rank you down. Tools like Google AdWords Keyword Planner can help.
Local SEO is all about attracting those close by, or those searching in a specific area (e.g. anyone looking for “hotels in Dubai”). Hotels will want to think of local SEO tactics for their website and on their Google My Business listing. Longtail geotargeted keywords should be used, such as "hotels in Dubai Marina”, "hotels near (name of famous attraction near the property)”, or "event venues in Dubai", etc. Consistency is key with local SEO. All contact and description information should be the same from the website, to the Google My Business listing, through to TripAdvisor, review sites and other directories.
For businesses looking to boost more traffic and sales immediately, PPC is a fantastic tactic to add on top of your organic (SEO) efforts. PPC not only drives sales quickly, but it can also help SEO, too. By directing more people to the website, PPC campaigns help to make the site more favourable with search algorithms that control SEO.
Hotel Digital Marketing - Content Marketing
Content marketing really touches on every bit of content that is produced online; website pages, blogs, local SEO, OTAs, review sites, etc. Well crafted content gets more traffic, acquires more leads, improves SEO, and incrementally works to increase site visitors, brand reputation and sales.
While most hotels today are aware that they need to post content, and most do so regularly, it is still typical to hear that there is actually no content strategy in place. Considering it is such a valuable tool to drive traffic and sales, content marketing should be at the top of every hotel's list of marketing priorities from here on out.
What is Content Marketing?
The difference between content marketing and advertising is that content marketing is about informing, rather than selling. Selling is a byproduct of an informed customer determining that your hotel is best for them. The content helps them to come to this conclusion, rather than pushing them to book.
Track and Analyse
Everything these days is tracked, there is information aplenty that can be utilised to figure out what your customers want to see. Look on Google Trends, check out what your competitors are doing and always keep your customers and an end goal in mind when doing content marketing.
Set a Strategy
Once you have an idea of what people want to see, set a content strategy. Include a content calendar and ensure that you are regularly creating and posting content in a way that looks organised and methodical. Establishing a strategy will help to give a better view of what content should go out (such as a blog). What other content may support it (like a social media post). And when it should be scheduled to get the most engagement.
Start a Blog
If your hotel doesn't already have a blog, now is the time to start one. Blogging is a great way to build a loyal following of potential customers who lust over your content when they're dreaming of their next hotel visit. Blog topics should match what your customers want to see and don't have to be limited to hotel features. Four Seasons, for example, have designed an incredible luxury blog that mimics a luxury travel magazine touching on a diverse range of topics that appeal to high-end travel customers.
Social media should be a vital component of the content marketing strategy. Posting regular images, blogs, stories, user-generated content, promotions and events will excite your audience, encourage them to follow you, and help you to build a relationship where you can work to secure their booking down the track. Get up to speed with links, hashtags, and other tactics to ensure you get the cut-through needed in this space.
Hotel Digital Marketing - Why Reviews Are So Important
Review sites are a part of the research process for consumers looking to book a hotel. They influence whether or not a customer is going to select your hotel, with customers understandably opting to favour hotels with better reviews. They also play a part in SEO, with reviews on Google My Business helping to boost well-rated hotels higher in the search results. It's fair to say, then, that reviews are critical to online success.
How do you get reviews?
There are several ways to encourage reviews from customers. Hotels should train staff to ask them for a review on their ideal review site when they check out. Follow-up emails should be sent post-checkout, asking for a rating. The hotel could even program the wifi login to go straight to TripAdvisor to encourage customers to review them once online.
Once you're generating a lot of reviews, it is natural that an occasional negative review will come through. How this is dealt with will determine whether or not it has any impact on the minds of future customers. Negative reviews can easily be turned into a positive. Reply to all negative reviews demonstrating that you hear what they are saying, and you are sorry to hear they had a bad experience and you would love the opportunity to rectify it. At best, you can win this customer back, at worst you have demonstrated to future customers that you take feedback seriously and will work to try and fix any negative experiences.
Digital marketing options for hotels are limitless. Once you have mastered the basics and must-haves above, consider looking at what the big hotel chains are doing to drive digital marketing success. Above all, though, keep customers first, track what works and what doesn't, and have fun with it. Oh, and if you prefer to outsource this stuff to professionals, get in touch 😁
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