The online travel marketplace is cluttered and can be a confusing place for travelers. From online travel agencies to search engine result pages changing to big brands saying, “book direct and save more,” how is a traveler to know where to make their purchase when looking for a hotel? The simple answer is… they do not know.
NB: This is an article from Blue Magnet
As much as hoteliers want to push guests to book directly on their website, a consumer is going to reserve their stay through the channel that they feel most comfortable and familiar with. For some hotels, OTAs can take up a large portion of revenue share because consumers are more familiar with an OTA than the brand or the actual hotel.
As hospitality marketers, we are going to look at how to target the customer from every direction. You will walk away feeling confident with a ready-to-go digital marketing strategy.
Determine Your Hotel’s Unique Value Proposition
Before we dive into the ins and outs of marketing to a traveler, you must first determine your hotel’s unique value proposition. What makes your hotel better than the hotel down the street? Is it because of the convenient amenities offered, Instagram worthy views, or the staff that goes the extra mile in customer service? It is important to evaluate why a guest should choose to stay at your hotel in order for you to know how to speak to those potential guests. Once you have outlined your top-selling points, you will then be able to tailor your message and strategy to drive direct bookings.
Build a Foundation With an Independent Website
Encouraging direct bookings begins with your hotel’s website. If your brand allows, build an independent website to showcase your hotel’s unique value proposition through content and imagery. As you are developing an independent website, create content that is optimized for search engines, user experience, and mobile devices. High-quality content and an optimized website will serve you best in the long run.From the search engine perspective, when you strategically write out detailed and meaningfully pages, you are signaling that your content is relevant and providing value to searchers.
Search engines, like Google, want to showcase websites that are relevant, reliable, and valuable. Check out this blog post for a refresher on Google’s E-A-T rollout and the importance in demonstrating expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness throughout your independent website. Remember you want to tell a potential guest why they should stay at your hotel versus the hotel down the street… This high-quality content will persuade them too. When the website is also mobile optimized, it will benefit you from both the search engine and user perspectives.
In July of 2019, Google began using the mobile version of websites for all its indexing, a process which began in 2016. This means that you have to have a mobile-responsive website in order to be in seen in search results. A mobile optimized website will also remove any pain points from a guest’s booking journey. You would not want to lose a potential guest because they were unable to click through to your booking engine or left the site because they were unable to read the content on a mobile device.
In addition to improving organic traffic by implementing your SEO and keyword strategy into the content, take the next step and write copy for the guest – not you. Tell a potential guest everything that they would need to know to the point that the traveler will visualize the experience that they are going to have at your hotel. By building out high-quality content, you are not only hitting the search bot’s needs but also website visitor’s needs.
A “healthy and happy” website is the foundation of your success in increasing direct bookings because, without SEO, content marketing, and website maintenance strategies, your website will not be impactful and will not be seen. Once the base has been set, you can then build up more layers to your digital marketing strategy and target travelers throughout the customer journey.
If your brand does not support independent websites, content opportunities are limited. Most brands have fields to update title tags, meta descriptions, and copy sections. These fields may have character limitations and typically do not go as in-depth as an independent website can allow for SEO opportunities. However, it is valuable to still cover these bases and be mindful of the brand site’s capabilities as you add onto your digital marketing layers.
Cover the Search Engine Results Page
Your organic strategy will come through and be noticed in time. While the organic efforts will help cover part of the search engine results page (SERP), Google’s search results page has been evolving each year and now incorporates multiple elements of organic SEO, local SEO, and paid advertising. As we have discussed, consumers may not notice how they have entered a website. They most likely clicked through whatever was the easiest or most convenient for them. This means for hoteliers that you then want to be visible at every possible opportunity.
Paid search will boost your website’s visibility in a matter of moments. You can cover the top section of the SERP through a branded keyword campaign and/or a general hotel keyword campaign, depending on the keyword phrase searched. Keep in mind that your competition for the top of SERP is OTAs and other hotels. When wanting to increase direct bookings to your hotel, you have to play on every level that your competition is playing on. Bidding on your own brand name will help you control your message and grab the customers that are looking for your hotel. General hotel campaigns will help you grab consumers that know they want to stay in the area but are not sure of where to stay and typically are not brand or OTA loyal yet.
Metasearch has grown a lot of visual dominance in Google’s search result pages throughout 2019. Google Hotels is pulling in both your hotel’s rates and OTA rates in one easy place for guests to book. For a hotelier like you, this means that you could be losing your direct bookings to an OTA commission. In order to “level the playing field,” this is another area that would be beneficial to use paid advertising funds towards.
Local search combines a lot of different elements from Google reviews to Google maps to beyond. To really get into how to improve your hotel’s local seo strategy, you should dive into this blog post.
Most importantly what to take away from this section is to know there are different factors and opportunities in SERPs for you to increase your chances for direct booking. The fantastic benefit to partnering with Blue Magnet Interactive is we will break this down for you and help you cover as much visibility in SERPs as possible through our variety of services.
Create a Social Media Presence
Another step in aiding direct online bookings is to create and maintain a social media presence. So far we have covered the ground work and search process, but social media also plays a large role in the dreaming stage of the five stages of travel. From reading Facebook reviews to scanning your hotel’s geotag on Instagram, travelers are checking it all. Be active on social media channels that make most sense to your hotel’s identity and voice.
Creating organic posts on Facebook or sharing an Instagram Story is an excellent way to showcase your hotel’s unique value proposition. Similar to the tale of the changing Google search results page, social media channels also change their algorithms and mix in paid and organic content. We discussed wanting to target a consumer from every angle in their booking journey and having a paid social strategy in addition to an organic strategy is a part of that. With paid social ads, you can either direct traffic to your independent website for travelers to then book a stay at your hotel or increase brand awareness through engagement goals. There are options to help support your goal of increasing direct bookings. You can learn more about how to integrate your organic and paid strategies and maximize your social media ROI in this blog post.
Follow Up through Email Marketing
Email marketing is one of the most effective digital marketing efforts because it can be sent to both past hotel guests and potential guests that have actively signed up for your email marketing list. These travelers have shown some form of interest in staying at or returning to your hotel. You could promote a discounted rate or highlight your hotel’s value proposition throughout the copy. One Blue Magnet partner hotel saw a 322% increase in booked revenue YOY because of an email marketing campaign. Email marketing is one more tool to utilize to help get your hotel’s name seen more by consumers.
Ready, Set, Go
One of our favorite sayings is, “Teamwork makes the dream work.” Similar to our philosophy, the same goes for a successful digital marketing strategy. When you pour more into your digital marketing efforts and have an integrated strategy, the more you will see from it. Your hotel will be seen more in the digital landscape, compete more with OTAs and nearby hotels, and in the end see more direct bookings.