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Why Your Big Brand Hotel Will Benefit From A Custom, Independent Website
By Abby Heft
Have you ever tried to quickly update your official hotel website with time-sensitive information, but were told it would take weeks for the brand to make the change? Do you want to include links to your hotel’s social media accounts on your official website but the brand says you can’t? Has your brand ever prevented you from adding a link to a website you thought might be valuable for your visitors? Or maybe the brand has placed restrictions on the landing pages you are allowed to create within your site.
As you probably know by now, there are many additions, enhancements and optimization techniques that simply can't be made to your hotel’s official brand website. If this sounds familiar to you then your hotel’s online presence is being limited by your official brand website.
But don’t worry, you’re not alone! Many individual hotels flying big brand flags face these same challenges. Fortunately, an independent hotel website can be a boon to your overall online marketing efforts by effectively bypassing these brand limitations altogether!
Why major brands use constrictive website templates
Hotels may dislike these restrictions and limitations on what they can do with their own sites, but for the most part it's understandable why the brand maintains this control. After all, major hotel brands have massive amounts of content to manage across ALL their sites for ALL their hotels. As such, these brands often need to create strict standards and limited customizable content in order to effectively manage all the web content for their massive portfolio of properties. Imagine trying to manage online content for 2,000 different hotel websites with 2,000 different designs for 2,000 different Directors of Sales? Coordinating that process at the brand level would be a nightmare, hence, the necessity for an easy-to-manage website template with content limitations.
Your website should reflect your hotel's unique personality and destination
While the aforementioned template strategy is great for the corporate brand managers, who strive for uniform brand messaging across all properties, it fails to truly differentiate hotels in the same brand from one another. In the end, the unique personality and visual appeal of each individual hotel gets homogenized by the templated nature of the sites.
For example, consider the official hotel website for an Embassy Suites in Waikiki, Hawaii. Notice how it presents visitors with the same aesthetic appeal as the official website for an Embassy Suites in Piscataway, New Jersey. These are two hotels in very different markets: one a lush, tropical paradise known for luaus, leis and lava rock; and the other a small town in the Garden State settled in 1666 by Quakers and Baptists. It's difficult to make that distinction based solely on the screenshots of their homepages below. Online consumers are visual creatures--as evidenced by the fact that photo galleries are often one of the most visited pages of a hotel's website (after the homepage)--so it would be in each hotel's best interest to customize their site design to reflect their unique destinations.
Can you spot the difference between Hawaii and New Jersey? No? Me neither.
It is difficult to showcase the defining characteristics of your hotel and the destination in which it resides when the brand fits each hotel with the same school uniform. As a GM, DOS or hotel owner, you know your hotel stands apart from your competitors, but your official brand website is preventing you from creating this distinction in the eyes of your customers! A unique, custom, independent hotel website is often the only way to truly differentiate your hotel from others in your market. Remember, you’re not only competing with other brands in your market, in some cases you’re even competing with hotels in your same brand!
With that in mind, here are the top 7 ways an independent website can benefit your hotel:
1. Offer helpful links and additional content for SEO
With an independent website, your hotel has the authority to add any outbound links to other relevant sites. Links on landing pages and area attractions pages provide a great resource for SEO and link-building campaigns. If your hotel has a page dedicated to the wineries in the area with links to the winery websites, the wineries might be more likely to list a link to your hotel on their website. In addition, interlinking the pages of your independent site can help boost rankings for landing pages targeting niche keywords, like those for area attractions and events. Efforts like this are simple to implement with an independent hotel website, and can help rank your site for more niche keywords in search engines.
2. Cover more ground in search engine results
With both your official brand site and an independent site, your hotel is able to be fully optimized to rank for many more keywords. There are a limited number of pages of brand websites that can be optimized, targeting just a few keywords. Creating landing pages about upcoming area events, updating meta tags to target important keywords and keeping fresh, keyword optimized content on the site are just a few ways your independent hotel website will stand out in search engines for the keywords that tend to convert better.
In addition, independent websites give your hotel complete control over common SEO strategies that aren't always available on brand websites, including optimizing H1, Title tags, alt tags on photos and creating a search engine and user-friendly site structure.
3. Present a unique design and improved user experience
An independent website showcases your hotel property and can be customizable to your unique surroundings. Is your hotel on the beach? A winery? In a city center? Your unique, independent website can be customized to your hotel property type, giving you an edge over the template brand websites. Why would you want your hotel, which sits at the heart of a bustling metropolis, to have a website that looks the same as a hotel in the middle of rural America? Whether you like it or not, people do judge books by their covers, and your customers are no different. Potential guests are making snap decisions about the quality of your hotel by the way it presents itself online. If you have a poorly designed site, don't expect customers to be lining up at your reservation desk.
For a good example of this, Embassy Suites Temecula is located in the heart of Temecula wine country in the beautiful rolling hills of southern California, which is reflected by the unique background on their independent hotel website. Because of the template of their brand website, the hotel isn't visually showcased as such a great destination. As you can see, the background, photos and unique design on their independent website give visitors a snapshot of the beautiful location and everything the hotel has to offer.
Independent Hotel Website (visit site)
Brand Hotel Website (visit site)
Along with the website design, the pages of the independent hotel website are customizable as well. If your hotel wants to promote pet-friendly rooms, on-site weddings or green accommodations, a unique landing page can easily be created to capture search traffic for those terms.
4. Make website updates more quickly
With an independent website, the hotel has complete control over the content. If your hotel recently created a special brunch menu, or took new photos of the lobby, those can be displayed on the independent hotel website within hours or even minutes. Not only do brand websites typically have a lengthy approval process, but there is not always a dedicated spot on your brand site to display important content, making it more difficult for visitors to take action on those items. Even loading simple content on some hotel brand sites can sometimes take two weeks or more--a long time to wait if you're trying to promote a last-minute special offer!
5. Showcase on-site hotel outlets
Hotels frequently ask Blue Magnet for help promoting their on-site outlets, including spas, restaurants, gift shops, fitness centers and golf courses. Although there are great strategies for promoting hotel restaurants and other on-site amenities, a branded website only allows for so much customization.
For instance, Hilton La Jolla Torrey Pines wanted to be sure they highlighted their popular on-site amenities as you can see below. They specifically wanted to be sure they were actively promoting their on-site restaurant, which is frequently updated with special menus and even includes a special Meet Our Chef page.
With the freedom a hotel has with their independent website, outlet pages can include important things such as a widget for visitors to make restaurant reservations, descriptions and photos of your on-site spa services, special event flyers or the ability to view and book tee times. These can be fully optimized for local dining or local attraction keywords and can capture searches not only for guests staying at the hotel, but for non-hotel guests looking for area amenities as well.
6. Better social media integration
Hotels now realize the importance of social media in their industry and have hopefully created hotel profiles across the major social media channels. Now, how do you let your guests know that you have a Facebook page or Twitter account?
Unfortunately, many hotel brand websites don’t allow for on-site integration, thus limiting the promotion of such channels. When equipped with only a hotel brand website, visitors will likely only find your social media profiles when specifically searching for them. Independent hotel websites allow you to integrate and prominently showcase each one of your social media profiles, making it easy for visitors to follow, like and interact with your hotel.
The Hilton Bellevue Hotel has a link to their Facebook, Twitter and TripAdvisor listing on each page of their website, as you can see in the screenshot above. Visitors to this hotel website can easily follow the hotel on Twitter, like them on Facebook, or leave a review on TripAdvisor following their stay. The easier it is to find your social media profiles, the quicker a hotel will grow their fan base.
7. Detailed website tracking and analytics
This may be the most important benefit to having a unique, independent hotel website. With website analytics, the hotel can track how users are finding the website and can monitor visitor activity and behavior once they arrive. This invaluable information for hotels includes everything from number of visitors viewing the site on mobile devices, search terms visitors are using to find the site and popular room types or specials. New analytics tracking even allows us to see social media influences on conversions and how multiple channels (PPC, SEO, social media, etc) are working together to influence each booking. This information can only be accessed through independent websites, as many hotel brands don't provide such detailed analytics tracking to their hotels.
This hotel, for example, can see that a majority of visitors to their website are going straight to the reservation widget to book a room or check rate. They can also see that their breakfast and dinner menu on the dining page are the 2nd and 3rd most viewed events on the website, followed by the Double Queen and Standard King room types. With this insight, the hotel knows that their dining page should be fully optimized, as many people are viewing the menus. They can also see that maybe they should take another look at their lunch menu, as maybe it is not as enticing as the Breakfast and Dinner. There are many opportunities to find when you have insight such as this.
Another helpful analytics report shows what country website visits are coming from. As you can see below, this hotel has quite a few Canadian visitors. This is great insight, as the hotel can focus on making sure they are optimized online for both Canada and the United States, including updating their listings on popular Canadian travel websites or creating special offers for Canadian travelers.
Many major hotel brands provide very limited reporting to their individual hotels, making it difficult (if not impossible) for them to track and analyze user behavior as highlighted above. In the end, having access to these kinds of web reports and being able to analyze the behavior of your users can help you modify your site’s content to increase overall conversion rates.
A necessary ingredient of the online optimization pie
An independent hotel website allows for many opportunities to stand out online, above and beyond the 7 reasons above. With all the benefits and flexibility it provides, for many hotels an independent website is a necessary ingredient of their online marketing mix. With the ability to track website clicks, gain detailed keyword insight and really showcase your unique property, independent websites are a popular alternative to hotel brand websites.
That's not to say that you should ignore your official brand site! Far from it. After all, all reservations must still be directed through the official brand booking engine. But as an individual hotel you should use the Brand-provided website as a base platform--a starting point. It will allow hotels with smaller budgets and fewer resources to participate in the online marketing game, and will elevate those hotels to the same level playing field as bigger hotels flying your flag. But it won't set you apart. An independent site allows you to create your own, flexible digital marketing hub. It gives you the power to elevate your property above the brand's base efforts and experiment with exciting, new online revenue generators in which the brand may not be interested in participating.
Overall, an independent website is simply a more efficient, sexier vehicle in which to move a guest through the 5 stages of travel—from the research, to the booking, to sharing. In the end, it's hard to resist a hotel with a well-designed, unique, custom website, complete with all of the information visitors are looking for. Create one and your conversion rates will thank you for it.
Abby Heft — Blue Magnet Interactive
A native of Kansas City, Missouri, Abby studied at Webster University in St. Louis and graduated with a B.A. in Public Relations. Abby has worked in marketing and public relations in both St. Louis and Chicago, beginning her career at a popular St. Louis magazine and most recently working in the marketing department at a Chicago not-for-profit agency. Joining Blue Magnet Interactive in the Fall of 2011, Abby has worked with General Managers and Directors of Sales to increase their hotel’s online optimization, leading to increased revenue and higher ADR. Abby prides herself on implementing unique marketing strategies for each of her hotel clients, to match the different needs and markets of each hotel. Whether it’s building standalone hotel websites, implementing a new keyword strategy or creating a plan to quickly move distressed inventory, Abby’s marketing experience moves beyond SEO and provides hotels with an integrated approach for online success. Abby currently lives in Chicago with her miniature schnauzer, Annie, and frequently travels back to Kansas City for Oklahoma Joe’s famous BBQ ribs.
Abby can be reached at: email@example.com
Toll free: 1-877-361-1177 x203
More info: www.bluemagnetinteractive.com
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