IN-DEPTH: In such a fast changing environment that is online marketing and travel; it is critical for travel marketers to be flexible and creative. Google is the biggest source of traffic for most travel companies and considering the way Google’s offerings are evolving, marketers need to adapt on an ongoing basis.
By Ritesh Gupta
Savvy travel marketers acknowledge challenges emanating from the evolving search landscape, with algorithms, interfaces and social-driven personalisation keeping online marketers busy.
Hotels need to periodically evaluate the efficacy of search engine marketing campaigns with their current marketing objectives.
The release of Google + was a big indicator of Google’s desire to take social signals into account. Marketers are thinking of this more in terms of greater levels of personalisation that Google can offer users based upon their social networks and activity. Businesses have long had the option to take advantage of social networking and SEO to increase their online visibility and indeed many have been doing this for years; what Google+ has done has made this relationship so obvious that SEO and social media marketers must now ensure social networks are a driving factor in their activities.
Considering the changes in the marketplace, EyeforTravel’s Ritesh Gupta spoke to James Harrower(twitter.com/jharrower), search marketing manager, International at Hilton Worldwide about the major developments pertaining to search marketing.
(Harrower is scheduled to speak at the forthcoming Travel Distribution Summit Europe 2012, to be held in London (April 17-18) this year).
What do you think were the major developments for SEO and PPC in 2011? What should the hotel industry watch out for when it comes to search marketing in 2012?
Updates with a sizeable SEO impact in 2011 include the Google Panda update and the increasing integration of social within search results. The introduction of Google Plus was interesting, not only due to the on-going and increasing influence that social networking has, but to see which strategies Google would put behind a product that they’ve launched knowing they are chasing the field as opposed to leading it.
Specific to the hotel industry in 2012, it’s about the continued integration of social search results and the expansion of mobile audiences via improved devices.
Hospitality is an extremely social industry and with TripAdvisor becoming less leaned on as the ‘source of truth’ for hotel reviews, it opens the door for other participants in the review space. As new participants emerge it is critical brands are nimble enough to listen, respond and participate appropriately.
Regarding mobile, capabilities around mapping technology continue to expand because of improved devices and internet coverage. As these improvements continue, it is imperative that brands like Hilton with a 3,800 hotel footprint continue to innovate and integrate to be present when users are exploring destinations.
What do you think are the major challenges for travel marketers at this stage when it comes to SEO and PPC?
New competition will forever play a large part in the online marketplace year after year, particularly now when it’s not just other brands that we are competing against. The introduction of new third party aggregators means brands must continue to innovate how they take their hotels online.
Hilton is responding to the increased competition by extending our online expertise to the individual hotel level. This enables Hilton to capture the things that make each of our hotels unique and extend that into the online marketplace.
The factors that impact search results have changed drastically. The best search results are not just the ones which have the right content and meta-tags and relevant links pointing back to them. One also need to focus on several ranking factors such as the ones that are related to your website, content, relevance of business in online world, social circle and online reviews, search categories saturation etc. How should one approach the same as of today?
You can easily be out of the SEO market for six months, come back and need to attend endless seminars and conferences just to get up to speed. The industry moves extremely fast and whether it’s Microsoft, Google, the continued growth of Baidu, Naver, etc., or integration of social in the search environment, it takes dedicated specialists to keep up with it.
The need for improved relevance is never ending and not limited to SEO. More and more users expect a unique, relevant experience. Business intelligence, social integration, and online reviews can all be used in a dynamic content environment to produce a one to one user experience.
Google clearly has the potential to alter the dynamics of how people shop for hotel rooms. Being on the supplier side of the industry, how do you think hotels need to be in the sync in the manner in which customers are shopping, and how to market to attract those customers directly to brand websites, which is what Google Hotel Finder can do?
Search engines may change the options available for marketers however, the aspects that are important to travellers will maintain. A quality product and good guest experience will always be the determining factor regardless of who the search and social leaders may be. When advertising partners deploy tactical changes, hotel companies like Hilton Worldwide with a quality product will have an easier time keeping up. Changes with advertising partners, like Google Hotel Finder, may lead to more price led marketing. In these instances Hilton will integrate where the opportunity makes sense.
Regarding how to attract customers to brand websites; OTA’s, resellers, voucher sites, and cash back sites, may come and go, however, the best user experience, the most information, reservation flexibility and benefits like loyalty points will be available at the suppliers brand site and are not through these third parties. By focusing on the customer, suppliers look beyond prices and dates by referencing what matters to the user in both the creative execution and on-site capabilities. By doing this, individuals will continue to favour booking with a supplier directly.
Data is promising to be a real differentiator for new travel intermediaries. The meta-search site is one category that is trying to become more meaningful on the basis of data sources. As a new entrant, Routehappy believes its data is not only the key to consumer loyalty, but improved conversions too. EyeforTravel’s Ritesh Gupta talks to the site’s founder and chief executive, Robert Albert.
There are two useful strategies that can boost sales and build the brand namely promotions and specifically targeted sales’ growth. These approaches should be familiar to all self-respecting parts of a hotel business and if successful can become an annual affair in the marketing calendar.
Gone are the days when one could talk about how challenging it is to view multi-channel digital data in one place. Today acting on available data and working out dynamic, real-time strategies that push a closer to making a decision must happen in the moment. EyeforTravel’s Ritesh Gupta investigates