Google Strikes Back
written by Bill Mitchell, Co-founder and Chief Operating Officer, RezStream, Denver, Colorado
It is common knowledge that social media websites are all the rage these days. And even though Google still dominates the market when it comes to generating revenue for hospitality businesses, it doesn’t mean that Google is resting easy. Google and Facebook are currently in an epic battle to see which platform will emerge as the leading search engine and social media stage. In the past 12 months, Google has been modifying its algorithm to provide the most relevant results, while still ensuring the user experience is interactive and engaging. Integrating features such as Google Places and Google +1, Google continues to produce the most pertinent results, while trying to steal some of Facebook’s thunder as a social media juggernaut.
It is more important than ever for smaller inns and hospitality businesses to stay on top of what enhanced services Google has to offer. The impact of not adjusting to the changes recently made by Google could cost your business valuable traffic and decrease revenue to your site. By staying on top of what’s happening at Google, you will outperform your competitors. The old adage that “Google never sleeps” is truer than ever before. Let’s now examine some of the major changes at Google this past year and how they impact your ongoing marketing strategies.
Last October 2010, Google updated its Google Places (previously known as Google Local/Maps) feature. In this update, Google began showcasing a blend of localized and traditional organic results. This forever changed the strategy behind how marketers optimize websites and organic rankings are displayed. Businesses that have focused on developing a solid Google Places listing, coupled with traditional search engine optimization strategies, have benefitted from higher search rankings and website traffic. When we use Google best practices to optimize Google Places listings for RezStream clients, our statistics validate that traffic into our clients’ websites doubled from utilizing this resource. In July 2011, Google revised their Google Places listings again, which visibly affects what kinds of reviews are showcased on their engine. Instead of pulling in reviews directly from third party review sites such as Yelp, TripAdvisor, and Facebook, Google only displays the reviews written in Google. However, Google continues to link to these resources from the Google Places listing.
RezStream Tip: Make sure the information on your website is consistent with your Google Places listing, review sites and directories. Take advantage of the new changes that allow you to add extra information about your business: categories, photos, videos, etc. You can go to Google.com and search for “Google Places Help” for information on how to set up a correct Google Local account.
Google also does many minor algorithm and several major algorithm updates each year. In February 2011, Google released the important Panda Update, which rewards sites with original content and high visitor engagement. Conversely, the update penalizes sites that duplicate other websites’ content and have a low user experience. Large websites that are scraping information from other websites to gain an advantage in the search engines are the target of this update. These larger sites, which were copying content from others, dropped dramatically in Google’s rankings. From what RezStream has seen documented, this Google change has not impacted most small hospitality businesses. Even with that knowledge, it is still wise to follow Google’s best practices in all your online marketing strategies.
RezStream Tip: Make sure your website content is original. Limit content on web pages to 200 words or less. If you have a blog, make sure to write about relevant topics and link to your website pages from your blog. Create unique activities pages that focus on popular local activities. Do not copy activities information from other resources such as your Chamber of Commerce website. The bottom line is that the content on your website must be your own!
On another note, the Panda Update also considers the type of user experience while on the website. Old, out-dated sites, which don’t engage the visitor and consequently have high bounce rates, may be pushed down in the organic search results. Google’s goal is to provide the most relevant information with sites that also offer the best user experience.
Many small hospitality businesses make a key mistake of not having a professionally created and managed pay per click (PPC) account. It is true that anyone can set up a PPC account. However, by having a professional set up and run the PPC campaign, the end result is not only more traffic, but also at a decreased cost, with higher conversions. Google has recently made some revisions to its Google Adwords Program to attract the mobile and tablet user. These changes include allowing businesses to create mobile ads and accurately track its marketing results. Employing a mobile marketing strategy has proven to be a viable trend with each passing year. Google is also testing a new Mobile Offer Ads (currently in beta) that allows businesses to showcase a coupon, along with their business location, and phone number. If you live in a highly populated area like California, that has more mobile users; it is wise to consider taking advantage of these new Adwords features.
Google just released its new Google +1 feature, which was created to compete with Facebook’s “Like” feature. Since Google drives the majority of traffic to all websites, they have a built-in advantage in adding a feature that allows consumers to instantly provide positive feedback about a business in the search engine rankings. RezStream recommends activating the Google +1 widget to your website and then tracking any generated results in the Google Webmaster tools dashboard. Google +1 has become part of Google’s algorithm that determines how sites are ranked. Presently, it remains unclear how much impact Google +1 will have on the organic rankings. However, as with Google Places, your hospitality business should be utilizing Google +1 in its marketing strategies.
A final change at Google that is critical to your overall marketing plan is the emergence of Google’s new asynchronous tracking feature. Almost all small inns have some kind of tracking script on their website, which allows them to track total site visits, time on site, new versus returning guests, and so forth. However, the Google Asynchronous Tracking feature takes tracking to a whole new level. When set up correctly (in a Google Analytics account), and combined with an online booking engine that supports the new Google specification, you can now track revenue all the way to the source! This is vital to understanding where your online revenue is generated and how future marketing dollars should be delegated. Tracked data also provides valuable insight as to which keywords produced revenue and which ones did not. Furthermore, you can examine results for both organic and PPC campaigns. You can also to track revenue from popular websites such as bedandbreakfast.com. Having a complete picture of why, when, where, and how your site is performing allows you to make a better-educated decision on how to spend your future marketing dollars.
The new RezStream Booking Engine is one of the only booking engines in the bed and breakfast industry that FULLY supports the new Google Asynchronous Tracking feature. Be sure to check with your current booking engine provider to see if they have recently added this valuable tracking feature.
Conclusion: There is no doubt that Google is aware of the threat that Facebook and other social media sites present to endanger Google’s dominance. Facebook gets its share of user traffic. However, when it comes to making money for your inn, Google is still the king of the search engine world. RezStream’s expert advice is to spend 80-90% of your efforts on Google marketing and your business will be rewarded with increased website traffic and improved online revenue. Make sure you keep up on the latest Google changes. Don’t be outsmarted by your competitors by not keeping current on Google services that can help your business. Finally, do not start and stop your marketing efforts, as a steady course of action is always best in the online arena, where change takes place at a rapid-fire rate, and the big boys battle it out for supremacy.
About the Author: Bill Mitchell is Co-founder and Chief Operating Officer for RezStream, located in Denver, Colorado. RezStream sells reservation software, online reservation booking engine services, Global Distribution System services, custom website designs, and flexible Internet marketing plans to businesses of all sizes in the hospitality industry.