LONG READ - Hotel Marketing: A Beginners Guide

Very long but interesting hotel marketing guide (in two parts) by Patrick Landman , founder and CEO of Xotels.
I do not agree with all of it, but it's a great read for hoteliers interested in understanding the "big picture" when it comes to hotel marketing.
Enjoy!
Read full and original story here and here

WEBSITE AND BOOKING ENGINE

Your hotel website is not only your source of pride and your ‘business card’ but also the most important tool to generate direct bookings.
Your website needs to have a nice and original design, a style matching the character and DNA of your hotel, and include a user-friendly booking engine, and be well optimized to attract natural search engine results.
Unfortunately many hotel websites are developed without even the basic concern for SEO. This can have negative repercussions on the number of visitors and at the same time on the bookings made via the website.
Step one: have an amazing website and
step two: make sure travelers can find your website.

Design should be impressive, clean, functional and easy to navigate.
Implement a streamlined hotel booking engine with a simplified reservation process.
Today potential guests are typically on-the-go and more and more people book via the mobile phone. You should develop and optimize the mobile version of your hotel website and especially your booking engine. It is crucial that your website will load quickly on both the desktop and mobile devices. 
Hotels should not be shy with investment in websites: getting something cheap can turn out quite expensive as you are missing on uncaptured business, needing more indirect bookings and paying more commission to OTAs.
I highly recommend working with a company that has experience in the travel e-commerce industry and has made several successful hotel websites.


SEO

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The most important thing to keep in mind when thinking about SEO is that change is constant.
Major search engines (such as Google) are changing their algorithms more than 500 times a year while introducing new features and functionality. All the changes impact how search results appear on SERPs.
What you want is that potential customers spend longer times on your pages and that they visit more pages of your website. So you will need uniquely engaging content, to achieve this. Also you want to minimize the bounce rate. Those metrics send positive signals to the search engines, which utilize the information in determining where a page ranks on the SERP.
You need to recognize that your mobile website interface is more important than ever. Google has recognized this and penalizes search rankings for sites that have weak mobile capabilities. Make sure your content is mobile friendly.
Regular reporting, data-gathering and action steps on ongoing optimization endeavors are the keys. Be proactive.
Control your website and identify high-performing pages, search visibility opportunities, recent successes, top engagement and traffic sources as well as performance analysis against a comp-set.
You need a uniform, streamlined and optimized local search presence. Search engines place greater trust in uniform listings across well-established portals and as a result they are more likely to prominently position your hotel on the SERP. Therefore: Reduce duplicate listings within directories, include quick verification and routine maintenance of local profiles across a variety of listing platforms (such as Google My Business, Yelp, Bing, CitySearch, Superpages, Yellow Pages, etc).
Use links to build credibility! One of the most important factors in ranking in the SERPs is the way in which links interact with your website.
Basically speaking, search engines learn about websites and/or specific pages by analyzing links from other sites that lead to them (that domain). Links from trustworthy and high-value sources signal to the search engine that the linked page/site is also trustworthy and therefore worth of a prominent placing in search results.
You should monitor and regularly audit all inbound link activities and opportunities to gain credibility from links and avoid punishment for bad (spammy) links. 
Don’t exclude other digital marketing possibilities, such as paid search, banner advertising, email marketing, reservation retargeting etc, and turn you hotel website in a high revenue generator.

Now, let’s go a bit into details on various SEO elements.

Title tags is a very important element, as the title appear in the clickable portion of your listing in the organic search engine results.

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Titles should be clear and in line with the page’s actual content.
Every title tag should include those three elements to properly represent your pages and help with rankings:
title of the page
appropriate accompanying keywords
name of your hotel / brand
Use Google Keyword Planner to identify the relevant keywords for your hotel and target markets. You should look beyond the obvious short-tail keywords, and also include landing pages with more fragmented mid- and long-tail keyword search combinations to penetrate the more low hanging fruit of online traffic. This will help your overall SEO strategy gain more power.
Meta descriptions – They provide a short summary of the page inviting to visit your link. They are direct ranking factors and can influence other aspects like the click-through rate (how many users your page gets) and the average time the user spends on the site (both of which are direct ranking factors).

Meta tag descriptions in the SERP’s can give valuable information and influence undecided users. Whenever a guest reaches for a keyword you include in your meta description, those terms will be in bold in the test results displayed to him.

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Headers
Create and tag headers and sub-headers in the content of your page. This is a very important on-page element for targeting keywords! Many leisure travelers use their smartphones to get travel inspiration in spare moments. The headers (caption titles) you create can capture the attention of the users and make your pages easy to navigate.
Using these kind of caption titles makes it simple to understand what your page is about. 

Content
Google search algorithms are very sophisticated, which means you need amazing content. The most important factors for your content are: quality (engaging stories), readability (free of spelling and grammar errors, easy to navigate and scannable (short paragraphs and bullet points), freshness (updated information, correct pricing), usability (functional links, easy to navigate with a quick possibility to find what the user is looking for, easy to book directly).

Rich Snippets

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They provide an instant information about your hotel through reviews and ratings (a star rating displayed below your Title Tag, a review written by a customer which replaces the meta description, specific business information such as address or opening hours). Rich Snippets can instantly boost the click ratings. A very useful SEO tactic in your arsenal.
To display a rating/review Rich Snippet you will need a developer to ‘mark up’ the corresponding text on your website using the standards found on Schema.org. You could also use any other type of Rich Snippets such as Events and Product/Price Markup. The information about an upcoming event can be displayed just below the Title Tag and Meta Description. Hotels can take advantage of concerts, happenings, special theme nights, festivals etc. by listing them as a Rich Snippet. 
Rich Snippets don’t affect directly your search rankings but they have an influence on the rate of users clicking on your listings in the search results, as well as on the bounce rate and the average session duration. These snippets not only draw the eyes of users to your listings but also give them instant information and an additional reason to click through your website.

Protect What is Yours
The most basic and simple step is to claim what is rightfully yours. And that is your name, your trademark is yours. 
Many hotels don’t, and therefor basically allow OTAs to bid on their trademark in search engines, and steal their direct business. You can easily control your distribution cost and direct production by implementing brand protection as part of your online marketing strategy. 
So what is the solution? How do you protect your hotel brand?
You need to have your brand officially registered. You can register your brand locally or on a European level. The European level registration is of course much more effective. An online application costs around €850 for a trademark.
Once you have your trademark registered you have to submit it to Google.
Once this is accepted you’ll have to do a follow up with Google to make sure all advertisers adhere to the policy. Remember, you will not be able to remove all advertising on your hotel brand name, just those showing your hotel brand name in the ad text (the URL is excluded).
 

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Another method that can be used and is very effective is pay per click (PPC) advertising in search engines, also known as search engine marketing, or SEM or SEA.
As most of you will undoubtedly know, you can bid on keywords searches in Google, Yahoo, Bing and other search engines. Ads appear above the natural search results in the search engine result pages (SERPs), as well as below.
The positions at the top and the bottom of the search engine pages get premium visibility, hence you can bid on them via a PPC model.
Bidding on your own brand name is considered a very effective form of brand protection, and generates the highest levels of return on investment.
Brand protection by denouncing trademark offences works in continental Europe, but unfortunately the trade protection laws in the UK, US, and the rest of the world leave a lot to be desired.  So as a part of your agreement you need to ensure that the OTAs are not allowed to bid on your trademarks (or any deviation from it).
 
Target generally spoken languages instead of territories
Target as many languages as possible, each of them with a dedicated ad in that particular language. It doesn’t matter if your website is not translated in that language, just redirect users to the English version of the website. Having ads in specific languages will help the click through ratio (CTR).
When defining the keywords, use the keyword modifiers.
Broad match is sometimes too broad and will pick up generic keywords for the destination that usually do not convert well. With broad match modifier, ads may show on searches that contain the modified term (or close variations, but not synonyms), in any order.
Monitor the keywords that are being picked up and add negative keywords if you don’t want your ad to appear for a particular word.
Include a call to action in all your ads such as ‘book now’.

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Add sitelink extensions to your ads as well as location extensions and a phone extension in order to fit as much space as possible on the page.

Remarketing 

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Remarketing allows hotels to bring people who have not booked yet back to their website. Your ads are placed on news or community websites, as a friendly reminder about your hotel as travelers continue their research process.

Here some easy to implement action steps:
Create segments into Google Analytics, according to users that did visit your first step of the booking engine but didn’t convert. Segments could be language oriented, or based on particular promotional or package pages which visitors to your website viewed.
In Google Analytics go to admin – audience definition – audiences – new audience – import segments and select the segment you just created. When you create a Remarketing Audience in Analytics, it is then available in the Google Adwords account you selected.
Now go to Google Adwords and create a new Display Network only campaign, Choose how to target your ads – for interests and remarketing, select a category: for remarketing lists, pick your audience.

Metasearch Advertising

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Unfortunately, it seems costs are steadily increasing and the advantages that metasearch brought us in the beginning are slowly eroding. Their cost is creeping up to the same levels as OTA commissions — not the most attractive outlook.
That said, for some hotels metasearch still pays off tremendously well (and this is really on a case-by-case basis).
With the coming of the mega price comparison websites, hovering above the OTA, it has become important for hotels to get a solid control over their wholesale rates.
Unfortunately, too many FIT rates (destined for packages) are being marked up and offered online on proxy-OTA or via affiliate models. This can seriously damage the public (BAR) pricing strategy of your hotel.
So don’t give FIT too much of a discount. Or do as we do, which is mark them up an extra 10% to 15% in our channel manager, so that these proxy-OTA can’t undercut your BAR rates. 
The percentage cost of these channels is steadily increasing. And if it continues like this we would soon consider them to be just another OTA channel rather than as an alternative way to attract direct sales for hotels.

Membership
You could offer membership discounts. OTAs are doing this actively, and so should you. As long as it is presented as a membership rate, there is nothing the OTA can say. They are doing exactly the same.
Besides a membership discount, you could also advertise a discount via remarketing to people who have visited your site but not yet booked. 
One tip: when juggling with discounts, try to avoid using a ‘subscribe’ field. Today’s travelers are looking for instant value. When booking they don’t really care about future discounts. They seek answers NOW. Therefore, it’s better you send them straight to a hidden page with current offers.
Prepare a link that sends the visitor to the booking engine with the discount code already incorporated. That way your rates are not public and searchable, and you can outmaneuver the rate parity restrictions.
If discounts are instant, this can really work well for your hotel.

Trigger guests to push up conversion
Keep in mind that guests sometimes need a little ‘push’ to book. There is nothing wrong in sending them little signals to catch their attention and to remind them about your amazing property. You can use different tools to convince your visitors to book directly on your hotel website.
Message Pop-ups are a very useful and powerful tool. OTAs are using them frequently on their website — use their example as best practice, learn from them and use them on your website, too.
Include clever notifications which pop-up in the ‘right moment’ based on the algorithm of visitors’ behavior. Send a relevant notification, which will appear on the screen.
Basket Recovery is also a popular technique. It means basically that you follow up with all the guests who started the booking process but didn’t finish it (for whatever reason). You send them a reminder to go back to your website and finish the booking, maybe incentivize them with a discount or an upgrade.


To sum it up, on the subject of distribution costs — evaluating and analyzing the financial aspects and the KPIs is about more than just revPAR
NRevPAR is similar to revPAR, but it goes one step further and subtracts the distribution costs (transaction fees, travel agency commissions, marketing spending, etc) which is absolutely necessary for effective measurement of a property’s revenue management strategies.
ProfPAR, on the other hand, indicates the profit earned from each room available in the hotel. It accounts for movements in both revenues and expenses. It allows hoteliers to uncover economic phenomena that revPAR won’t.  
Therefore, it is absolutely significant to compare RevPAR against these other two KPIs to see the impact of the OTA commissions and direct marketing spending on our overall profit.