Is Your Hotel's Web Site the Ultimate
© Richard Zwicky, August 2004
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
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
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:
- Thoughtful site design
- An interactive reservations tool
- Interactive tools for club members
- A distribution strategy, which includes:
- Online Marketing
- Search Engine Optimization
- Supportive Advertising
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
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
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
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:
- Banner ads (yes they still exist)
- Google Adwords, Overture Pay Per Click or sponsored listings or any other engine's
- Display ads other than banners
- Paid links Search
Engine Optimization includes:
- Reviewing and correcting issues within your existing web site to ensure that search
engines can read and understand the entire web site. It also involves ensuring all parts
of your web site are properly connected in a manner that favors search engine visits.
- Content adjustments: A SEO firm won't rewrite your content (usually) but they will
often make very credible suggestions for subtle changes, which will affect how well the
content is understood by the search engines.
- Search engine submissions: Beware of the firm that does submission only, and little or
nothing else. Submission without prior optimization is like having a car with no engine.
It may look good on the outside but it isn't going anywhere.
- Reporting: Good SEO firms will provide web site activity reports which contain
meaningful data about the activity on your web site, not just how your site ranks in the
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:
- 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
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.
About the Author:
Richard Zwicky is CEO of Metament, an
Application Service Provider (ASP), which delivers the world's leading Search Engine
Optimization software service .
Search Engine Optimization Resources:
The SEO Book: (by
Aaron Wall) Author Aaron Wall takes you from A to Z on a journey to understand
the basics of Search Engine Optimization. No hype, just honest and effective advice.
This eBook comes with free updates for life. Highly recommended.
Search Engine Yearbook 2004:
(by André le Roux) If you love all things about search engines, SEO, SEM
and whatever other acronyms are cropping up, you'll want a copy of this reference
ebook. A single search engine resource that really covers it all.
The Nitty Gritty of Search
Engine Optimization (by Jill Whalen) This special report in ebook form is
probably the most thorough guide on how to write for the search engines. Making sure
that your main keywords are well represented in your page copy without sacrificing
readibility is not always easy, but this special report shows you how to do it.
Google AdWords: 21 Pay-Per-Click
Campaign Secrets Your Competition Doesn't Know (by Andrew Goodman) This
insightful analysis of how the Google Adwords system works will help you find the best
bargains and achieve the highest click-through rates. If you are ready to get
serious about pay per click, this ebook will save you time and will pay for itself many
Engine Visibility (by Shari Thurow) Most web developers/designers build a
site first and worry about "searchability" later, which is a costly mistake.
This book will teach you how to design a site primarily for your visitors, while
making it easy to find in the search engines. Forworded by Danny Sullivan, from
Search Engine Watch.
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