- By Neil Salerno
You’ve read many articles extolling the unlimited potential of the Internet. I sincerely hope that the numbers of skeptics are slowly disappearing as more hoteliers discover that the electronic media can be a viable source of business. More hoteliers are publishing their hotels on the Internet. This is good, but it’s not enough to simply publish a Web Site, even if it’s well designed.
Publishing a Web Site is only the beginning of the eMarketing process. It is amazing how many hotel web sites are published and left untouched for months, or in some cases, years. Generally, it is these hotels, which remain disappointed with the results they have been achieving. They obviously don’t understand that a Web Site should be a work in progress.
In the “good ole days’ before the Internet, smart advertisers worked hard to measure the results of print and broadcast advertising so they could adjust and polish their ads to maximize results. The popular phrase was “50% of all advertising is a total waste of money, the problem is we don’t know which 50% it is”. Fortunately, this is not true for the electronic Internet medium. Thanks to many brilliant people, the Internet is a data users dream for it is completely measurable. There are several excellent and very affordable tracking engines, which enable us to analyze how people use a web site and provide us with an exact measurement of the results.
No matter how attractively designed, it is the actual web site visitor who will shape and determine the effectiveness of a web site. The very first time I read a Web Trends Report, one of the best tracking engines available, I couldn’t believe my eyes. This optimization engine measures every detail needed to optimize your Web Site. Among the abundant data it collects, you can measure the number of pages viewed; amount of time spent on each page; number of unique users; number of repeat visitors; referral web sites and search engines; sequence of pages viewed; and much more data, which should be used to target needed refinements to your site. Web Trends can even give you your site’s exact conversion ratio.
Of course, as with all data, it has to be reviewed and utilized to be effective. I have several clients who receive these reports but don’t have any one on staff who has the time to review them. If that’s the case, find someone to do it on an outsource basis. Timely reaction to these reports can multiply your on-line reservations. The true measure of your web site is what and how visitors use it and react to it. The functionality of a Web Site will determine the booking results. It is simply not enough to just measure reservations made. You can improve the results.
Set goals for your Web Site. The Internet is and should be a separate feeder-market segment. I would love to hear from those progressive marketers who will actually include the Internet as a separate income line item. If you identify and set a budget goal for the Internet, you will be forced to develop and implement plans to reach those goals.
Now that you have a Web site, a means for gathering data so you may make monthly adjustments to improve it, it’s time to make it easier for people to find it. The most obvious first step to market your Web Site is to make certain that your URL address is printed on every item that could possibly be viewed by consumers; letterhead, business cards, billboards, etc. Many hotels even include it on their invoices and bank checks.
If you have unique nearby restaurants, try exchanging hypertext links so you are on their web site and they are on yours. This same exchange sometimes works well with local attractions like museums and parks too.
The battle for search engine optimization is underway, but most markets still present many areas of opportunity for someone to take control. The masters of optimization, at this point, are certainly the many third-party wholesalers on the net. They dominate most sponsored search engines. Try searching “city, state hotel” in almost any primary or secondary market. You will probably find that the first four or five results will be third-party wholesalers.
In most markets, pay-per-click search engine submission is still a very cost-effective tool. Companies like Overture do an excellent job of providing primary search results on a pay-as-you-go basis. If used properly, it will produce excellent search results.
Key word submission is still very effective, if done well and often. There are applications available for self-users and several good companies, which will provide key word submission to the 1000 plus search engines for a small monthly fee.
Develop your Web Site’s full potential by reviewing and adjusting it often. Now that you are most likely preparing budgets, it’s the ideal time to develop your Internet strategy for 2004.