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Is Your Hotel's Web Site the Ultimate Distribution Machine?
Does your hotel's web site rely upon your franchise's brand name to attract potential customers to your web site? That's fine, but less than 25% of Internet travelers search for hotels by brand name. More than 70% search for hotels by a query like "Hotels in Seattle" or variations thereupon. In most cases these searches produce results filled with consolidators, travel agencies, and the like. Your hotel's goal however should be to show up in relevant search results. Your main site should be showing up top 10 for a relevant query and you should not have third parties who are selling your properties ranking ahead of you in search results.
The Internet is the "Ultimate Distribution Machine." It provides a hotel with a long term competitive advantage by creating an interactive location for you and your customers to meet, while lowering dependence on third parties to increase bookings. It is therefore logical that in the Internet age, any meaningful, sustainable and defensible marketing strategy, must start with the hotel's main web site.
Your hotel's web site is the lowest-cost, highest ROI generating distribution channel you have. The biggest challenge hotels face is getting the right tools and technology in place to build the correct web site, to match the property's needs.
To meet this challenge, and be successful, the web site will require features which properly convey the experience the hotel is offering to travelers, while enticing them to navigate through the site, and immediately book rooms. Meeting this challenge requires development and mastery of the following elements, none of which needs to be a major expense. Your hotel's Internet marketing strategy must include the following:
If you have not already done so, you need to create an overall Internet marketing strategy. Remember, it's your vision of how your hotel should present itself to the world. Your hotel's web site reflects everything about your hotel; Its location, target market, luxury vs. discount, short stay, long-term, business or pleasure or both, etc., etc.
Keep a list of all the questions people regularly ask you and write out detailed answers. Remember, all this information will help you convey the appropriate messages to your web designer, so that they can put the appropriate elements together to 'sell' your hotel to consumers online. The home page should be a summary of the entire hotel experience. Each page thereafter should tell a complete story about one aspect of the hotel. Each customer will have specific questions and desires. By presenting information succinctly and completely, each customer gets the information they want quickly and efficiently. The easier for them to get to your information will result in happier visitors and more likely increased sales.
If your web designer is not experienced in the hotel business, but builds beautiful sites, this may work, but consult a web site marketer with industry experience for advice on hotel site layout and design.
Also ask a graphics designer for input with regards to colors and the like. You need to put yourself in your customer's shoes. Ensure your web site reflects your customer's tastes, not your own. What you like is irrelevant.
You've already started this process. You already have information in brochures, training manuals and now hopefully, you've been jotting down frequently asked questions and answers. Now read it all again and look for what else you should mention. Did you discuss what attractions are nearby? If not, add them. Now start editing. Put your key messages across in a way that each page can be easily read in less than two minutes. You might need help here, don't be afraid to ask for it. Content is the single most important element of any web site. You might want to consider a search engine specialist for this job. Content editing is a core part of this skill set. The specialist won't change what you say, but merely how it is being said. Search engines have rules about the number of times a term can be used, how they should be used and where they should be within documents. You also need to ensure the search engines can get through to all your relevant content.
This includes graphics, digital photography, webmercials and other forms of streaming audio or video. Do you have a 10 year old picture of your property on the site, take a new one. It is likely things have changed in 10 years. Your guests will appreciate the fact that, "It's just what they expected!"
Also, remember to use lower density pictures, 72 dpi, (dots per inch) instead of 300+ used for regular photography. They look the same on a computer screen, but load much more quickly. Graphics include things like your logo. Unless you have a digitized version already, you may need it redrawn for the Internet. Scanned in logos usually don't look nearly as nice. Create it for the medium.
I'm not thrilled with the virtual tours used by some hotels where you can get 360 degree views of rooms. They usually are very slow to load, clumsy, blurry, and they only show one aspect of a hotel at a time. In a word, they are unsatisfactory. I have however found webmercials which advertise the entire hotel to be much more effective and esthetically pleasing. These tools also integrate seamlessly into many other areas of your supportive marketing campaigns. Use them to email guests who want more information, burn them onto a CD for giveaways or mail them to tour operators.
Interactive Reservations Tool
While most hotel web sites today have a means to make a reservation online, many still do not. Many of the reservation tools currently in use are lacking features and functionality. Your guests want to do more than just book a room between two dates. They may want to place special requests. Many hotels reservations systems do not offer a message feature.
Independent hotels are competing with the chains, Here's an easy way to do so and it will cost you next to nothing to set it up. Should I need a cot for my son, with most hotels, I have to phone in that request. There's a hole in the system! If your hotel is multistoried, your system should ask your guests if they prefer higher or lower floors? Feather or foam pillow? Special dietary requirements? These are all things which your guests would love to arrange ahead of time and which go a long way to completing the buying experience.
Lastly, make sure your reservations tool is quick. People want and expect to know right now, if their room is available. Should your reservations tool be merely suited to collecting requests for your staff to call the client back, it's probably not doing your web site or your online marketing any favors. You need -real time- reservation availability. People want to book the room now, if they can't do so, most will browse to another hotel site in a matter of seconds.
Interactive Frequent Guests Club
Your hotel should have a rewards program, or a frequent visitors club. It's also a wise idea to have your reservations system tied into it, giving your members ushering and passwords so that they can enter priority sections within your reservations site. Give them special offers or members only benefits which will keep them coming back.
Your guests will be coming back more often if they enjoy their stay, and if they believe there is some benefit to return visits. Even a single property hotel can have such a program and make it worthwhile. Just make sure you tie it into your web site. First time visitors should be able to log in and have all their information, likes, dislikes, etc. stored and quickly accessible the next time they come to your site. It makes it quicker for them to book a return visit and develops customer loyalty which in turn translates to increased repeat business.
A Distribution Strategy
Here's the next big part of your planning and the aspect that all too often gets ignored. How to let everyone know you have this wonderful online resource for them to use. How do you get the web site working for you?
There are 2 key areas I would like to touch upon here, search engine optimization (SEO) and online advertising. Some people may try to tell you that SEO and advertising are the same thing, or one includes the other. They are wrong and if they are trying to do this work for you, RUN! I have yet to find a single firm that is good at both skills.
Advertising includes the following:
Search Engine Optimization includes:
This is not a comprehensive list by any means. Advertising often includes writing content for the ads or putting together artwork. Optimization will sometimes include things like a competitive market analysis to ensure you are properly positioning your web site, vis a vis, your competition. It will sometimes also include a linking strategy for your site. Linking is key. Links from other web sites means your web site is connected to a larger segment of the web and thus may improve your hotel's branding and exposure on the Internet. When you were building content for your web site, did you mention what tourism sites and activities are nearby? Why not contact these places and ask for a reciprocal link? After all, you have identified your hotel's proximity to these places is a selling feature. They will likely realize that the same holds true for them. Their visitors will want to stay somewhere close by. Linking helps both of you and it's free advertising to boot.
Both optimization and advertising fall under the umbrella of your online marketing strategy, which will also include other assorted projects such as webmercials, email campaigns, online coupons, special advertising features, articles in magazines, and the like. Beware trying to outsource or assign all tasks to one individual or organization. Management of the various activities must fall to one individual within your organization, but for them to be effective they must have the ability to source each activity to different organizations to ensure maximum success. It's akin to going to an orthopedic surgeon for your knees and a dermatologist for your skin. Both are highly qualified for what they do, but you want different ones to work on different problems.
In this article, I have only listed the basic requirements for building the right strategy for your site. There are many additional elements which may or may not suit your individual property's needs.
If you want your hotel's web site to produce a better ROI for your business, get some professional online marketing help and advice. Whatever help you get, the advice should focus on improving the clarity of your content, good on-site navigation, good reservation tools, ease of data management, and improving the way that your hotel's experience is conveyed to your customers. Done properly, all will combine to improve your ROI by helping promote your brand online, in search engine results, and in good word of mouth. Any one of these can help turn your hotel's web site into a more effective tool for capturing a larger share of the online market.
Get your hotel's web site properly tuned. Give it the tune-up it needs, then watch the 'Ultimate Distribution Machine' perform for your business.
Richard Zwicky, CEO
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