I promised a post addressing the latest “Top 10 Ecommerce Initiatives for Hotel Marketers in 2011” article that came out on hotelmarketing.com and then we got busy launching our new site, so I apologize for the delay!
While the list itself is not bad, there is some benefit to starting at the bottom of it in terms of implementation and cost. The list below was provided by Milestone Internet Marketing after apparently analyzing trends in search engines and channels – and that is the basis for all these recommendations – search engine rankings and results:
1. Search friendly website design has new meaning – fast and integrated
2. Improve Conversion and Usability
3. Local Search – prioritize local markets across all marketing initiatives such as SEO, PPC, and Social
4. Paid Search
5. Real Time Search – Natural Ranking (SEO) becomes more real, local and social
6. Image and Video Search
8. Embracing Social Media – it’s here to stay!
9. Hyperlocal and Social
10. Utilizing Blogs to connect and promote time sensitive information
So what is wrong with the order of this list? To begin with, social media and blogging is at the very bottom, and though it may not APPEAR to have as much value as raising your search engine rankings, it is definitely less expensive and also less time-consuming. We have clients who pay anywhere from $1500-$5000 a month for SEO work that is ongoing (meaning, 3-12 months) – and our SEO partner I’m sure sees much more cost than that from people who need SEO work plus paid searches. That doesn’t even include field studies, heat map studies, usability reviews and testing, A/B split testing on different designs and copy, etc. Add all of that in, and you have significant time to spend (if you’re even capable of doing this in-house) or cost if you outsource all of this, as many companies do.
But… look at the bottom of this list. Social media and blogging don’t take zero time, but focusing some energy there daily, which IS potentially not as costly if you do that in-house, does not take the investment that the other things on this list do, important though they are. And they provide more than just “marketing fodder found by a search engine” – having a foundation of consistent branding on multiple channels and engaging people in public where anyone searching for your products or services can see for themselves what kind of company or person you are – that’s pure credibility. And familiarity – something all the search engine crafted keyword messages in the world cannot provide.
So when I look at this list, I almost want to invert it totally. Let’s see what happens if you do that to the first few…
1. Begin blogging or invest more time in your blog. Why? It brings in business. It can be found in search engines with relevant, timely dates, very quickly after being posted. It gives people something to directly talk to you about on your site. It gives people something to share, if they like what the blog post says. It helps you hone in on what is important to your customers and prospects. It helps you define your messaging. It forces you to put an opinion out there, and show some personality, and that is what draws people to your site and ultimately to your offering. Blog posts also give you something to share on social channels, without just sounding like you are hawking your wares all day long. It can be subliminal promotion without ever stating what you’re selling.
2. Hyperlocal and social- explore tools like Gowalla & Foursquare and dig into their use by your customers. These are playful tools – if someone becomes the Mayor of your hotel, roll out the red carpet and give them the royal treatment. This makes an indelible memory, something every hotel is intimately acquainted with as experience is a key element in creating return visitors. Nurturing the review sites is a must for anyone in the hospitality business – claim your listing at all these sites and pay attention to the feedback and the foot traffic of checkins.
3. Embrace social media on the channels where you personally like to play, or where you have a large body of customers already gathering. I personally love to tweet, our CEO Lisa loves Linked In, and none of us really shine on Facebook page except with friends and family, something we are going to work on in 2011. We have a client however, that has hundreds of groups and fan pages dedicated to their company and product – I can assure you if we had that kind of momentum already going on Facebook, I’d be there all the time. But we are not a large brand, and we do have limited time, so we have to spend it where we shine. Search engine results be damned, I guess! LOL! To participate somewhere half-heartedly would not benefit us as much as engaging where we like to play, whole-heartedly. Be available where people need you, but find the channels that suit your company’s personality and leverage those the most.
4. Mobile is critical to us all. It’s just not always top of mind. People not only use their phones to find you, so make sure that your listing has correct address and phone and all pertinent details (especially hours of operation!!) but I myself often search using Foursquare. The other day I put in “barbecue” in my GPS to find a place to pick up lunch for the office and took the risk of going someplace new for it that was nearby – but ratings or reviews or a website would have been ideal. Finding your company on a smartphone OR dumbphone (harder but possible) is very important to you. So it’s a bit lower on the list above than it should be, we feel.
Do you see where I’m going with this? By laying down the foundation of your brand on multiple channels, you will be building more search engine-finding opportunities. And if your budget for SEO is more limited, these efforts will enhance what you can do. If your budget for SEO is plentiful, great… but what do you want people to find when they discover you? A website closed off to other channels? Some canned-sounding testimonials with no pictures, no way to talk to the people who left them? Or a site that has embraced Yelp and Twitter and Facebook and answers questions on Linked In about corporate or conference rates, etc.?
Think about it and let us know what you feel is most important for hotels to embrace in 2011 and why.