How to Drive More Direct Bookings to Your Hotel (while customer privacy is being increased online)
Not only are we battling the long-term effects of the pandemic, we are also faced with global tech quarrels that threaten to eliminate the use of Facebook and Instagram in Europe.
Though this did make the headlines this week, the likelihood of Meta pulling their channels from Europe are minimal, not least because of the major dent to the pocket that the company would suffer.
However, there is no hiding from the reason why Meta’s statement has made it into the news. It is all to do with regulation around data transfers between Europe and the US. Basically, that means that unless the EU grants the US permission to use the data collected in the EU, there will be a stalemate.
Over the last few months, giants such as Apple, Google, and Facebook have been placing increased emphasis on customer privacy. There is no doubt that other channels and providers will follow.
This has created obstacles for marketers in their quest to follow the online booking journey of a customer.
It has become clear that relying on 3rd party cookies is not a sustainable strategy.
To clarify, 3rd party cookies are those created by domains other than the one the user is visiting at the time. They are mainly used for tracking and online-advertising purposes. These cookies are the ones that serve you photos of dreamy Baja California sunsets after you browsed a few hotel websites in the area.
So, while this kind of tracking still works (at least for now), how can you begin to build a marketing strategy that does not rely on them?
The first part of this answer is to focus on existing internal data and tracking 1st party cookies to understand, monitor, and build better connections with your guests.
1st party cookies are those that you collect on your site when someone visits. They are created by you, the host domain. These types of cookies are generally considered to be good as they provide a better user experience. 1st party cookies fall into the category of 1st party data collection, which also includes the information you save in your CRM system and emails you collect from prospective customers, along with personal data from other customer service interactions.
The second part is to optimise your metasearch presence. Did you know that two out of three independent hotels receive direct bookings from metasearch engines? Not only that, but 75% of travellers are believed to use metasearch engines in their search process.
Why is this important?
Metasearch will get even bigger as cookie tracking continues to be eliminated as we move forward. The big secret here is that metasearch does not rely on 3rd party cookies.
So, now is the right moment to get clued up on what metasearch actually means, what you should be doing to get your hotel as present as possible on metasearch, and how to measure your actions so you can focus on consistent improvement.
Your ultimate goal, by getting in on the metasearch game, links us tidily back up to part one of this answer.
The challenge is clear.
Driving potential customers to your website where they can book direct, so you own the exchange of personal information that ensues, has never been more important.
Not only do direct bookings reduce your breakeven point because they eliminate intermediary commissions that eat into profits, but they also allow for healthier local development because those extra commission dollars that would have been paid to a distant OTA, now enter the local economy as your purchasing power is stimulated, and that, in turn, means that more local people get a little piece of the pie.
Now, pause, and breathe for a moment.
I am not actually suggesting you do anything that is crazy radical.
The desire to drive traffic and convert direct bookings is by far a new concept. My point here is that, while it has been ok to have “increase direct bookings” on your to-do list for quite some time, this Meta news just reinforces the fact that we cannot, and should not, rely on third party sites to fill our beds.
Now is the time to take action so we begin to build that resilient business that can withstand any volatility and changes on channels that are outside of our control.
The next question is therefore… what is the best strategy to drive and convert direct bookings?
The starting point is that you get serious about taking action. The second point is that you access the right information that will get you clued up as fast as possible.
Optimising your website for search engines is the only way to get ranked higher on search engines, and by this, I mean Google. With 92% market share of search engine visits, Google ranks as the most visited website on the planet. This giant cannot be ignored and does in fact provide the perfect canvas on which to paint the best possible picture of your business to showcase to the world.
By working towards improving your visibility online, and taking steps to increase your ranking on Google, you exponentially increase your chances of encouraging more potential customers to land on your website. Taking the time to optimise your site increases your chances that that site visitor will click around, be engaged by what they see, and will be more likely to go on to click that Confirm Reservation button.
I say, the Confirm Reservation, because it is no longer a choice NOT to have a seamless online booking system with an immediate payment and reservation confirmation option.
That coveted Book Now button is still one whole step before payment via the Confirm Reservation click, and that means that there is still a chance that the user abandons cart so to say.
So, I talked about taking action to get on top of the Google Hotel search game.
You want to know how to get Google to do their happy dance when it finds your site, loves what is there, and rewards you for your efforts?
You need clear steps to be able to do this. Here are some ideas:
Understand how Google ranks your webpage so you can focus your optimisation efforts
Get to work on your metasearch distribution strategy so you can compete online with the OTAs
Offer the best customer experience possible by creating the kind of content that engages and inspires action
Learn more about how what sort of keywords help Google to understand what you offer and what you are all about
Make sure your website is technically robust so Google can index you in the easiest way possible
Understand which set of metrics are the most useful to measure where you are at now and how your actions improve your visibility over time
These are useful suggestions, and you could Google them all to see what you can find.
But... whatever Google pulls up will likely not be specific to your position as a hotel owner and marketer. While each might tackle a certain piece of the puzzle, for sure it won’t present you with the whole big picture.
You want actionable, no-cost, low-tech strategies that give you a sense of control and ownership over your online presence.
Like you, I am super busy, and while testing these tips on my own website, I improved my page ranking on Google by 8 places in 12 weeks. Now, that might not seem like a huge amount, but without a few thousand to spare to pour into ads every month, the journey will always be steady. The good thing about this kind of organic increase in ranking, is that it is sustainable over time.
I am all for making things digestible and bite-sized, and the teacher in me just loves making the complex seem, well, not so complex! I also ran my own backpacker’s hostel, managed a luxury lakeside lodge, and consult for many other independent properties.
I know what it is like to manage a property alone, running from check ins to changing beds, to dealing with staff and fractious customers. I know there is little time left for the Google stuff, but I also know how absolutely critical it is to just get started. I found out for myself how great it feels to have taken that step and to start to feel in control, and that it really is not that complex after all.
This is why I created the Google Made Easy eBook – A Toolkit for Hotels.
It is written for you, an independent hotel, lodge, b&b, or hostel owner, and it provides you with that relevant information that gets right to the point and that can actually make a difference.
Inside you will find 14 steps covering everything from getting clued up on Google basics and how to get more visibility online with Google Hotels Free Bookings Listings, to a fresh perspective on Google-friendly research and that unavoidable techy bit that is broken down into 10 clear action tasks.
Whatsmore, as a bonus, and for a limited time only, I am including two free measuring metrics downloads that detail the three essential “health checks” for both Google Analytics and Google Search Console – and if you haven’t heard of Google Search Console, it is my secret weapon, and you really do need to get in on that game.
The eBook is available to all clients of my hotel marketing coaching programmes. To find out if you resonate with the way I see and do things, the best place to start is with this top 5 consumer travel trends video. It's super short but super informative and will give you an insight into how I teach my coaching programme. Click the image below for more info.
You have probably already heard this quote from Mark Twain: “The secret of getting ahead is getting started”, but do you know what he said after that?
“The secret of getting started is breaking your complex, overwhelming tasks into small, manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one”.
So, if this sounds like exactly what you need right now, click this link to get hold of that video here.
I wish you a productive week!