Times are tough for independent hotels. Online travel agents steal a heap of the online traffic and it seems impossible to create a strategy to compete with heavyweight budgets.
But you can!
Like any marketing activity, it’s critical to identify a specific niche audience and tailor your offer specifically to that audience. That makes your bed and breakfast or hotel different, unique and attractive.
How Guests Choose and Book a Hotel
For hotel marketing to work effectively, it is critical to understand and optimise the whole marketing funnel – there are potential leaks throughout that will cost you bookings and profit.
Let’s start at the end with our goal and work backwards; bookings.
The world is mobile. Right now, and I mean immediately, you need to think mobile first. It’s challenging to get away from the desktop habit and start there, but you absolutely must – more Google Searches are made on mobile devices than on desktop.
Check your hosting plan. It’s tempting to save a few pounds each month or year on cheap hosting, but a faster-loading site could double your conversion rate and bookings – cheap hosting is simply a false economy.
Studies show that on mobile devices, a 1 second improvement in load time can increase conversion rates by 7%.
Compress images. Your hotel is stunning and you want to show that off, but images that have not been resized for the Internet take precious seconds longer to load. Resize images and compress the file size. It’s not much effort, but will significantly improve page load time and bookings.
Your Call to Action
Be loud and clear with the purpose of the website visit; book now!
Wherever a user is on your site, there needs to be a prominent, clear call to action. Either use a large contrasting button
to lead the user to your booking page, or embed a small, simple form that works anywhere.
Keep the Booking Process Simple
Any confusion or doubt will cause your guests to abandon the booking process.
Avoid confusing checkout times on different days of the week
Avoid too many options; with breakfast, without breakfast, which morning paper. You’re likely to make more sales with and single price which covers all of those things.
Be clear on your cancellation policy.
Think about every phone call you’ve had querying something before a guest books – for every phone enquiry, there are likely to be at least four guests with the same query who didn’t call and didn’t book.
Address those queries through the content on your site and especially through the booking process.
The worst mistake bed and breakfast and hotels make is trying to be different. Guests are familiar with how the Web works from just a few sites on the Internet. In the travel space, examples of those are Trip Advisor, Expedia, Hotels.com and others – whilst you should differentiate your marketing and sales proposition, the journey through your site and especially the booking process will be more effective if it works like theirs.
Optimise the User Experience and booking process through your site. Without this, money spent elsewhere on earning traffic will simply be wasted.
An investment in Conversion Rate Optimisation could easily double bookings from your existing traffic.
Never. Stop. Testing.
Convert More Guests
Guests want convenience and simplicity. Make it easy for them and you’ll increase bookings;
Keep contact forms short and simple. Every extra field you add will reduce the conversion rate.
Use online chat. Guests expect to be able to ask a quick question and get help online right there and then. Many of the online chat services have a mobile app too and have multiple seats for more users across your team, helping to make sure that you don’t miss that valuable enquiry.
Make the phone number clear and prominent. Sometimes guests just want to talk to someone before they book, or perhaps something isn’t clear and they need to be sure.
Your Hotel Is Amazing. Make Sure They Know It
Reviews are where the action is and are proven to have a considerable uplift in conversion rates over sites which don’t have them.
Your Google My Business (or Google Maps) listing should be a local business page, be optimised for search and most of all, you should beg, borrow and steal every great review you can lay your hands on.
Yes, reviews are a significant factor in local business rankings.
If you prefer to use Trip Advisor, Trustpilot, Facebook or services like Feefo to gather reviews and feedback, that’s cool too. Google aggregates many of those sources into its own data and your listing – it’s all about those little gold stars!
Using Google Analytics, AdWords Conversion Tracking, Facebook Conversion Tracking, Twitter or Pinterest Conversion Tracking – whichever methods you’re using to generate traffic to your site, track it, measure it, analyse it and optimise it.
What gets measured, gets managed.
Track bookings and their value.
You’ll be able to measure the ROAS (Return On Ad Spend) for each of your channels. Not just how many conversions you got, but how much revenue.
Track enquiry forms.
This may not be your ultimate goal, but tracking enquiries indicate the success (or failure) of every traffic source.
Track phone calls.
This is a little trickier, but we’ll worth the investment. In a mobile world, it’s critical that your phone number is tap able – mobile users can simply tap the number and call you. That event can be tracked really easily.
Track phone calls (2).
Use a call tracking service. There are a number of commercial offerings that will track calls and push the conversion data back into your Google Analytics account and even the value of the call or booking, helping you to understand where your marketing budget is working and where it’s wasted.
So that’s the end of the funnel. Track everything, make your site fast and simple to use and be available to answer queries.
But how do we get traffic?
Search. The Middle of the Funnel
Online Travel Agents are dominating search. But your hotel can compete in niche areas that they are too big to notice or care about. You have local knowledge that they’ll never be aware of. Exploit that.
SEO or Paid Search?
This question is asked almost daily and there is no single answer.
Paid Search using Google AdWords or Bing Ads is a quick win. A well-optimised account will deliver high intent traffic straight to your website right when the user is ready to book. With Paid Search, that should happen immediately.
Search Engine Optimisation takes time. Think of it as a long term investment – where AdWords is more like renting, SEO is more like saving and buying a house for cash. The Return on Investment is typically much greater, but it’ll take a while to get there.
The truth is that running both together actually produce far greater results. We call this the 2+2=6 rule. Simply, your presence in the ad section improves clicks on your organic result and your organic result increases clicks on your ad – Google is telling your guest TWICE that your site is exactly what they’re looking for.
Keyword Research for Hotels
How your guests search will vary significantly from guest to guest. They’ll need a bed and breakfast for a multitude of different reasons – a wedding, a holiday, a business trip, a concert or sporting event, visiting friends or relatives.
You must tap into each of these niche search markets with relevant ads and relevant content that will convert.
You’re near a sports stadium – target that; hotels near wembley stadium, hotels near man utd
You’re near a tourist attraction – target that; hotels near alton towers, b&b near salisbury cathedral
You’re near a motorway – target that; hotel near m6 j12
You’re near an airport – target that; bed and breakfast near gatwick, b and b near bournemouth airport
You’re near events – target that; hotels near glastonbury, b&b great south run
You’re near stuff – target that; hotels near the belfry, hotel near nec birmingham, b&b brighton seafront
Guests have different needs;
disabled access b and b
pet friendly hotels
dog friendly b&b
hotels with a spa
hotels with a golf course
hotels with a pool
hotels with a view
all inclusive hotel
room only hotel
half board hotel
hotel with room service
b and b for groups
Coupled with those locations, we’re deep in to niche markets and delivering against its needs.
Specific queries convert at a much higher rate than more general queries, but only if your landing pages address those queries.
Added together, there are more niche queries than there are general search queries.
Start With Google AdWords Before Investing in SEO
Organic traffic is free, but it can take months to optimise your site and to earn top ranking for your chosen keywords – what a disaster it would be to invest that time effort and money only to discover that the keyword and your site didn’t convert in to enquiries or bookings.
Starting with AdWords, you can quickly test and measure the value of those keywords and get some bookings too! You’ll get a heap of data about how your audience searches, behaves and understand what converts and what doesn’t and you’ll be able to create and optimise your content to improve performance.
That’s half the SEO project. Creating Content which meets the need of the search query is the very foundation of an SEO project.
Once you know which terms convert into bookings, you can confidently invest money, time and effort into an SEO project, knowing that the results won’t just be rankings, won’t just be traffic, but with confidence, you’ll know that it will be bookings.
Keyword Research Tools and Tips
Your starting point should be the AdWords Keyword Planner. You’ll need an AdWords account (but don’t need to spend any money).
Dive in a add some terms you think users search for. The Keyword Planner will present the average search volume and suggest similar terms.
The Keyword Planner lies.
Consider the data the keyword planner provides as indicative rather than absolute. It is interested in volume keywords, whereas we are interested in niche terms – just because the data says there’s no search volume, does not mean that there is no volume, it often means, “not enough for AdWords to care”.
Use Google Predictive Search
Head to Google and start typing. The autocomplete suggestions that are presented are real search queries. Those are an indication that there is search traffic on those specific terms – we don’t know the volume of traffic, but we know there’s a niche market for it.
Check AdWords Data
If you’re already running a Google AdWords campaign, there’s already a heap of invaluable data in your account detailing which search queries matched your keywords. Analyse and harvest that data – it’s way more valuable than the Keyword Planner.
Check Webmaster Tools for Keywords
In your Google Webmaster Tools (Search Console) account, Google will also reveal search terms for which your site has been among the search results.
So, you’ve now got a website that converts like crazy, has awesome content, is faster than Usain Bolt. We’ve got great organic rankings and a Paid Search campaign that return £5 for every £1 spent. We’re awesome.
But there’s more.
The Top of The Funnel
Brand plays a critical part in the decision-making process when booking a stay in a hotel. It’s why Premier Inn has Lenny Henry in TV ads. Neither of those are cheap.
The Top of The Funnel is all about creating awareness, interest and Desire in your brand and most importantly, TRUST.
We buy from people we trust, which is why brand is so important.
If you can’t afford TV and Lenny Henry, there are dozens of low cost, highly targeted opportunities to create awareness, interest and trust.
Facebook Ads are a perfect way to get your brand in front of an audience interested in or attending an event near your hotel, playing golf nearby, or visiting a tourist attraction
Twitter Ads can be targeted at conversations about an event.
Visitors to the area your bed and breakfast serves search for information about the area, things to do, things to see, places to meet, eat or drink.
You’re better placed than online travel agents to know more about your local area, it’s hidden secrets and locations then them. Create some great blog posts answering those common questions – you’ll attract more free traffic to your site and boost the organic rankings for your sales pages too.
If your skills run to video content, absolutely do that too.
Social Media presents a wonderful opportunity for you to net with other local businesses – those that organise the events, for example.
Connections and trust you create with those businesses could easily lead to a number of things;
Inbound links from their site to yours. Great for ranking and great for referring traffic directly to your site too.
Recommendations for places to stay, when they’re asked.
Inclusion in the event guide, if you ask really nicely.
Start with a regular Twitter Chat Hour. Almost every county and every city has a weekly Twitter chat. There’s a huge list of over 500 Twitter Chats to choose from here.
Remember, you’re there to connect and build relationships, not to pitch and make sales.
The equity you build in your brand will pay dividends through the entire funnel;
Guests will search for your hotel rather than, “hotels in someplace”, skipping any interaction with your competitors.
Those who do search for “hotel someplace” are more likely to click your ad, increasing traffic.
Guest who land on your site, already knowing your brand, are more likely to book – they trust you already.
You’ve seen those ads that seem to follow you around the Internet after you browsed an eCommerce store? Those are remarketing (or Retargeting ads).
Their purpose is to build trust in your brand through frequency and to get users back to your site whilst they’re still deciding on where to stay.
For a while now, eCommerce store’s have enjoyed dynamic remarketing. The ads the follow you feature specific products that you’ve browsed on their site.
Wouldn’t it be great if your website visitors could see the details of rooms they considered and the price, ready and waiting to book?
It’s coming. Soon.
Meanwhile, you can already create remarketing campaigns across the Google Display Network (banner ads), YouTube using some awesome video, Facebook and Instagram (with images, video and/or text), Twitter and Pinterest.
Pound for pound, remarketing packs one of the greatest marketing punches and is well worth your time to investigate and implement.
Mark Tillison is founder and Managing Director of Tillison Consulting, an established figure in the Digital Marketing arena. With years of experience in the industry, he is an enthusiastic and learned writer who can invigorate and inspire businesses of all shapes and sizes to maximise their digital marketing potential. Learn more about how Mark’s articles can grow your business on his Tillison Consulting Blog.