Simplifying Digital Marketing For Hotels

Published on Forbes.com Jun 1, 2017
Standard Hotel, Downtown Los Angeles

Standard Hotel, Downtown Los Angeles

Marketing hotels is like selling chocolate in a busy shopping mall: Every customer has different tastes. We see too many hoteliers getting caught up in the latest trends or buzz words like "big data" or "content marketing" instead of simply executing guest preferences and blogging.  This often causes hoteliers to overthink their marketing budget and engage in complex strategies while they still have an automated attendant answering their phone or a call center in Canada pretending to be the front desk. It's time to get back to the basics and focus on what’s important – your guests.

Guest Booking Experience

I once heard a brilliant statement about business: “The most important aspect of business is sales, everything else is just noise.” This is not a literal statement, but the point is genuine and can be applied to hospitality.

The booking experience is the most important aspect of selling a hotel room. Statistic Brain reports that 57% of hotel bookings occur online. That is an overwhelming number. Imagine if you owned a bakery and over half of your revenue came from catering; you would certainly want to make sure your catering processes were on point.

A major piece of the online booking experience is your website's homepage. Surprisingly, so many homepages are confusing and cause the guest to work too hard to book a room. Hotels need to get with the program on web design; people do not want to click on "accommodations," "amenities" or "location" and wait for a page to load. It’s not just millennials who want to easily scroll to see this information – it's all 2.3 billion smartphone users. Scrolling clearly translates well to mobile devices and provides a much simpler navigation.

An effective hotel homepage will have sections that you can scroll to find the critical information you need to book a room. Visitors want to see the exterior, the rooms, qualifying data like testimonials or ratings, as well as the reservation box. This has not changed in the past decade; it's just now that it should all be on the homepage so it can be better formatted for mobile device traffic.

Hotels must also be careful about placing social media content in the form of a widget on their homepage. The last thing you want to do is interrupt the booking process by driving customers to Facebook. Once they go to your hotel Facebook page, they see their own notifications and then they are off to the races and forgot what they were doing – booking a room on your site.

Placing a social media widget on your homepage is not good practice as I see it. However, it is important to show your social media icons, as many visitors will want to visit your social media pages to get a better sense of your brand.

The Dirty Truth About SEO

Hotels were some of the early adopters of SEO practices around 2003. Back then, you could simply place keywords in a non-visible tag on your homepage and Google would index your hotel for those keywords in a couple of months. But everything is different now, and the Google algorithm indexes changes to your site within days. Google uses its artificial intelligence RankBrain to determine search results with unbelievable predictive accuracy. Businesses now have much less control over their search rankings as on-page SEO tactics carry less weight. The good part is that SEO is much less work and hotel executives should be shifting their SEO budget to other digital marketing strategies, like social media.

Social Media And Hospitality

Social media is another area where hoteliers get caught up in trends, like Snapchat being the fastest-growing social media network. That statement might hold true, but Snapchat is not even in the top 10 social networking sites by market share of visits. Facebook is by far the leader, with about 40% market share. Instead of getting caught up in trends, cast your net in the pond with the most fish.

The experts also tell hoteliers they must spend thousands of dollars creating videos, because 66% of travelers watched travel-related videos before booking their trip and videos give people a better sense of authenticity. Of course, people are watching videos about their destinations, but can we really apply that same logic to a video of a general manager walking through a hotel lobby? We might be able to, but the point is to stay in your lane and become proficient with the basics first. Video marketing is complex; for instance, did you know that 85% of Facebook videos are viewed without sound?

Where hotels can improve their social media game:

  • Embrace Facebook and Instagram. You don’t have to be on every social media platform, but you should be on both of these. New guests look at these pages to see if they are active. If they are not, they might wonder what else is being neglected at the hotel.
  • Increase your follower count. Many hotels don't even notice their number of followers. If you only have a few hundred followers, then your efforts are moot.
  • Assign dedicated resources to social media. Social media is too important for hotels to assign to a sales coordinator who has other duties. You must have someone with a sense of style, humor and branding coupled with some graphic design and photography skills. This is the highest form of branding. Somebody smart needs to be at the helm; otherwise, outsource.
  • Create a social media-friendly environment. Hotels need to create places that are social media-friendly to capture that “Instagram moment.” A cool mural, water fountain or large photo of the Hollywood sign – something that will excite people to take a photo and post, saying “Hey everyone, look where I am.” If you can accomplish this, then you have an army of guests promoting your hotel for free.

These are exciting times for hospitality with cool marketing channels and opportunities, but also the time of some real threats in the form of Airbnb and VRBO. Now more than ever, hotels need to be transparent and genuine, removing all barriers in the booking process and getting cozy with their guests – after all, they are expecting it.