As a hotelier, have you ever tried to update your official hotel website with time-sensitive information but were told it would take weeks for the brand to make the change? Do you want to include links to your hotel’s social-media accounts on your official website but the brand says you can’t? Has your brand ever prevented you from adding a link you thought might be valuable for your visitors? Or maybe the brand has placed restrictions on the landing pages you are allowed to create within your site?
If this sounds familiar, then your hotel’s online presence is being limited by your official brand website.
Fortunately, an independent hotel website can be a boon to overall online marketing efforts by effectively bypassing these brand limitations altogether.
Using website templates
Hoteliers might dislike these restrictions and limitations on what they can do with their own sites, but for the most part, it's understandable why brands maintain this control. After all, major hotel brands have massive amounts of content to manage across all its sites for all its hotels. These brands often need to create strict standards and limited customizable content to manage all the Web content for the massive portfolio of properties. Imagine trying to manage online content for 2,000 different hotel websites with 2,000 different designs for 2,000 different directors of sales. Coordinating that process at the brand level would be a nightmare, hence the necessity for an easy-to-manage website template with content limitations.
Reflecting a hotel's personality and destination
While the template strategy is great for corporate brand managers whom strive for uniform brand messaging across all properties, it fails to differentiate hotels in the same brand from one another. In the end, the unique personality and visual appeal of each individual property gets homogenized by the templated nature of the sites.
For example, consider the official hotel website for an Embassy Suites in Waikiki, Hawaii. Notice how it presents visitors with the same aesthetic appeal as the official website for an Embassy Suites in Piscataway, New Jersey. These are two hotels in very different markets: one a lush, tropical paradise known for luaus, leis and lava rock and the other a small town in the Garden State settled in 1666 by Quakers and Baptists. Online consumers are visual creatures, so it’s in each hotel’s best interest to feature customized site designs to reflect the unique destinations.
Can you spot the difference between Hawaii and New Jersey? No? Me neither.
It is difficult to showcase the defining characteristics of the hotel and its destination when the brand fits each hotel with the same school uniform. GMs, directors of sales or hotel owners know their properties stands apart from their competitors, but the official brand website is preventing them from creating this distinction in the eyes of the customers. A unique, custom, independent hotel website often is the only way to truly differentiate the hotel from others in the market. Remember, the hotel is not only competing with other brands in the same market, but also it is competing with hotels in the same brand.
With that in mind, here are the top seven ways an independent website can benefit any hotel:
1. Offer helpful links and additional content for SEO
With an independent website, the hotel has the authority to add any outbound links to other relevant sites. Links on landing pages and area attractions pages provide a great resource for search-engine optimization and link-building campaigns. If the hotel has a page dedicated to the wineries in the area with links to the winery websites, the wineries might be more likely to list a link to the hotel on its website, as well. In addition, interlinking the pages of the independent site can help boost rankings for landing pages targeting niche keywords, like those for area attractions and events. Efforts like this are simple to implement with an independent hotel website and can help rank the site for more niche keywords in search engines.
2. Cover more ground in search-engine results
With both the official brand site and an independent site, the hotel is able to be fully optimized to rank for many more keywords. There are a limited number of pages of brand websites that can be optimized, targeting just a few keywords. Creating landing pages about upcoming area events, updating meta tags to target important keywords and keeping fresh, keyword-optimized content on the site are a few ways an independent hotel website will stand out in search engines.
In addition, independent websites give the hotel complete control over common SEO strategies that aren't always available on brand websites, including optimizing H1 heading tags, title tags, alt tags on photos and creating a search-engine and user-friendly site structure.
3. Present a unique design and improved user experience
An independent website showcases the hotel property and can be customizable to the hotel’s unique surroundings, giving an edge to the hotel’s website over the template-designed brand websites. Why would hoteliers want a hotel, which sits at the heart of a bustling metropolis, to have a website that looks the same as a hotel in the middle of rural America? Potential guests are making snap decisions about the quality of the hotel based on the way it’s presented online. If a hotel has a poorly designed site, don't expect customers to be lining up at the reservation desk.
For example, Embassy Suites Temecula is located in the heart of Temecula wine country in the beautiful rolling hills of Southern California, which is reflected by the unique background, photos and design on its independent hotel website. The same property’s brand website, however, does not showcase the hotel as well.
Independent hotel website
Brand hotel website
Along with the website design, the pages of the independent hotel website are customizable as well. If a hotel wants to promote pet-friendly rooms, on-site weddings or green accommodations, a unique landing page easily can be created to capture search traffic for those terms.
4. Make website updates more quickly
With an independent website, hoteliers have complete control over content. If they recently created a special brunch menu or took new photos of the lobby, those can be displayed on the independent hotel website within hours or even minutes. Not only do brand websites typically have a lengthy approval process, but also there isn’t always a dedicated spot on the brand site to display important content, making it more difficult for visitors to take action on those items. Even loading simple content on some hotel brand sites sometimes can take two weeks or more, which is a long time to wait if a hotelier is trying to promote a last-minute special offer.
5. Showcase on-site hotel outlets
Although there are great strategies for promoting hotel restaurants and other on-site amenities, a brand website only allows for so much customization. Independent websites, on the other hand, provide a great platform for cross-promotion.
For instance, hoteliers at Hilton La Jolla Torrey Pines in San Diego wanted to be sure they highlighted the property’s popular on-site amenities, with particular emphasis on the restaurant. The hotel’s independent website features a “Dining” landing page, which is frequently updated with special menus, as well as a “Meet Our Chef” page.
Independent websites allow hoteliers to include important things such as widgets for visitors to make restaurant reservations, descriptions and photos of the on-site spa services, special event flyers or the ability to view and book tee times. These can be fully optimized for local dining or local attraction keywords and can capture searches not only for guests that are staying at the hotel but also for non-hotel guests looking for area amenities.
6. Better social-media integration
Hoteliers now realize the importance of social media in their industry and have created hotel profiles across the major social-media channels.
Yet many hotel brand websites don’t allow for on-site integration, limiting the promotion of such channels. When equipped with only a hotel brand website, visitors likely will find only the hotel’s social-media profiles when specifically searching for them on the Internet. Independent hotel websites allow hoteliers to integrate and showcase each social-media profile, making it easy for visitors to follow, “like” and interact with the hotel.
The Hilton Bellevue Hotel in Bellevue, Washington, makes it easy for guests to follow the hotel on Twitter, “like” it on Facebook or leave a review on TripAdvisor following their stay with links on each page of the website. The easier it is to find a hotel’s social-media profiles, the quicker a hotel will grow its fan base.
7. Detailed website tracking and analytics
This might be the most important benefit to having a unique, independent hotel website. With website analytics, hoteliers can track how users are finding their websites and using them once they arrive. This invaluable information includes everything from number of visitors viewing the site on mobile devices, search terms visitors are using to find the site and popular room types or specials. New analytics tracking even shows social-media influences on conversions and how multiple channels (pay per click, SEO, social media, etc.) are working together to influence each booking.
Hoteliers at this unnamed hotel, for example, can see that a majority of visitors to its website are going straight to the reservation widget to book a room or check rates. Hoteliers also can see that their breakfast and dinner menu on the dining page are the second and third most viewed events on the website, followed by the double queen and standard king room types. With this insight, they know that their dining page should be fully optimized. There are many opportunities to enhance the guest experience when hoteliers have insight like this.
Another helpful analytics report shows from which country website visits are coming. As you can see below, this hotel has quite a few visitors from Canada. This is great insight, as the hotel can focus on making sure they are optimized online for both Canada and the U.S., including updating its listings on popular Canadian travel websites or creating special offers for Canadian travelers.
Many major hotel brands provide very limited reporting to their individual hotels, making it difficult (if not impossible) for them to track and analyze user behavior as highlighted above. In the end, having access to these kinds of Web reports and being able to analyze the behavior of users can help hoteliers modify their sites’ content to increase overall conversion rates.
A necessary ingredient of the online optimization pie
An independent hotel website allows for many opportunities to stand out online, above and beyond the seven reasons above. With all the benefits and flexibility it provides, for many hoteliers an independent website is a necessary ingredient of its online-marketing mix. With the ability to track website clicks, gain detailed keyword insight and showcase the unique property, independent websites are a popular alternative to hotel brand websites. And don't worry; all reservations still can be directed through the official brand booking engine, which can be seamlessly integrated with the independent website.
Overall, this alternative website is simply a more efficient, sexier vehicle in which to move a guest through the five stages of travel—from the research, to the booking, to sharing. In the end, it's hard to resist a hotel with a well-designed, unique, independent website, complete with all of the information visitors are looking for. Create one and your conversion rates will thank you for it.
To read more from the Blue Magnet team, visit their blog.
A native of Kansas City, Missouri, Abby studied at Webster University in St. Louis and graduated with a B.A. in Public Relations. Joining Blue Magnet Interactive in the fall of 2011, Abby has worked with GMs and directors of sales to increase their hotel’s online optimization. Abby prides herself on implementing unique marketing strategies for each of her hotel clients, to match the different needs and markets of each hotel. Whether it’s building standalone hotel websites, implementing a new keyword strategy or creating a plan to quickly move distressed inventory, Abby provides hotels with an integrated approach for online success. firstname.lastname@example.org More info: www.bluemagnetinteractive.com
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