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Posted by on May 23, 2017 in All Matters SEO

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It’s been a busy month in digital. As per usual, lots of changes and updates have kept our jobs interesting. Check out the below to see what the MDS team has been reading!

What have you been reading lately? Share your favorite articles below!

Computer_Notepad_Coffee

(Image source: Pexels)

Amazon Enters the Calling and Texting Battlefield

Posted by on May 16, 2017 in Digital Industry News

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On May 10th 2017, Amazon announced that they were rolling out a new feature for their digital personal assistant, Alexa – free calls and texts between users of Amazon Echo devices.

While it is not the first time that Amazon is trying to penetrate a new market, or create one, this is a complicated one to enter. They have tried to join the travel industry, but did not succeed. They have also been pioneers in drone delivery, and I would not be surprised to see it become the norm in a few years. Amazon was also part of the firsts to join the digital personal assistant race with their Alexa product, which they keep improving at a very fast pace.

What is Alexa?

Alexa is the name Amazon gave to its voice-commanded digital personal assistant, which people interact with through the Amazon Echo, Echo Dot, Echo Tap or Echo view devices.

You may have read my post about Chatbots; Alexa is a very powerful and sophisticated Chatbot. While commands are still a little strict (not yet a fluid conversation), you can have fun: if you tell her “Alexa, see you later, alligator” she WILL reply, “in a while crocodile!”

Amazon Echo Dot

Amazon Echo Dot (Image Source: Amazon)

Alexa can do a wide variety of tasks, from setting up a timer, to playing your favorite song, reading the news, telling you a joke, turning on the lights, playing games or even ordering from your Amazon account the latest item you need. All of this by simply talking to the device.

Amazon allows developers to build Alexa capabilities in a similar way to how they would develop apps for iPhone or Android; allowing the world to create capabilities for their devices, providing scale instantly.

And now, they even allow you to call and text through Alexa!

So why does it matter that they offer calling + texting functionalities?

With approximately 65 million Amazon Prime users (paid subscription to get free deliveries, access to music and films plus more) and an overall estimated 300 million users in total, Amazon is a gigantic ecosystem of its own. When rolling out new features, Amazon instantly touchs hundreds of millions of people; similar to Facebook or Google rolling out a new feature.

The battlefield for calling and texting is crowded however, with very large players already heavily in it such as Facebook with both WhatsApp and Messenger, Apple with iMessage, Microsoft with Skype, the Japanese platform Line and many others.

With approximately 4.9 billion mobile users across the world (WeAreSocial + Hootsuite 2017 report) the opportunity to attract and retain users – and then monetize the relationship one way or another – is gigantic.

By offering this new service, Amazon is trying to take a piece of this pot, getting deeper in day-to-day lives, gathering more data and knowledge about their user’s habits which they can then aggregate into insights for the advertisers on their platform allowing for more personalized experiences and recommendations.

The more actions you can do in one ecosystem, the fewer things you have to get into another ecosystem to get done. When Amazon allows you to seamlessly make lists, order items online and listen to the news, that’s a wide array of other third party apps and systems they have now rendered useless.

By allowing users to call and text, they are – to some extent – replacing your need for a smartphone.

How is this applicable to the hotel industry?

Marriott International is a pioneer in the technology actually, always looking into creative ways to integrate technology in their hotel rooms. Currently Marriott is testing multiple variations in a few hotels, enabling guests to request services, manage their room (lights, tv, etc.), and learn about the local area through voice commands, talking with Alexa.

Wynn Hotels also jumped into it, and already offer it across all their rooms in Las Vegas.

Thinking about the future, I wouldn’t be surprised if brands and marketers start leveraging voice-command digital personal assistants more heavily to answer customer needs and enabling faster/more efficient service for all of a guest’s little requests. True luxury will always require a human touch in my mind, but where applicable, technology will take a larger part in the coming years.

As voice-commanded digital assistants become the norm in households, a guest’s expectation will be to experience this in his/her hotel room. Now whether it’s an Amazon Alexa, Google Home, Siri-enabled iPad or another player yet to come, only time will tell.

Live in 3..2..1!

Posted by on May 9, 2017 in Social Media

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Streaming live videos through social feeds has been a popular, fast rising trend which has developed in a short period of time. The trend initially began with Snapchat, a platform where short videos are shared with specific friends privately, or on your story. With 158 million people using Snapchat daily and live video popularity rapidly increasing, other social platforms caught on and started instilling live capabilities of their own.

Live Streaming

(Image Source: Facebook Live)

Live videos are a fun and engaging way to reach existing and new followers in real time. Live videos show followers an authentic and real perspective, which enables engaging conversations, the capability to answer questions and hear users’ thoughts. It allows users to be a part of the occasion, without physically attending. You can also add a creative twist to videos with unique filters and stickers.

Below, we discuss how hotels can utilize live streaming for each specific platform.

Facebook Live: a capability that allows up to four hours of live broadcasting to existing followers, as well as new ones. Facebook Live is available on all pages and profiles on Facebook. After the live broadcast is done, the video will be published on the page or profile so that fans and friends who missed the video can watch it later on. The video can be deleted at any time, just like any other post. Users can utilize Live Reactions to gauge how the broadcast is going. Facebook has a dedicated place to watch live videos, and with this capability, current fans can experience the video, while gaining and reaching new followers too.

Facebook Live

(Image Source: Facebook Live)

Facebook Live Video

(Image Source: Facebook Live)

How to go live:

  • Tap “What’s on Your Mind” at the top of News Feed
  • Select “Live Video” from the drop down menu
  • Add a description to let your audience know what’s happening before hitting “Go Live”
  • A 3-second countdown will appear and the broadcast will begin

Instagram Live: Instagram stories allows users to create media that appears at the top of your followers’ news feed for 24 hours. Because of Instagram news feed algorithms, keeping an IG story fresh can help your account stay at the top of your audiences Instagram app.  

On Instagram, users can get creative and stand out by adding various stickers to stories. Stickers can depict a user’s current location, time, weather and specific themed stickers (holiday, seasonal, particular to the day, fun stickers and emojis). Adding a location sticker is essentially the same as tagging the location, like in regular Instagram posts.

Instagram Live

(Image Source: The Verge)

Additionally, @mention of other accounts can be included, which these accounts will be notified when tagged. All of these options are capable of being saved on a phone, but will not continue to live on Instagram.

Instagram Live Video

(Image Source: Pocket-lint)

How to go live:

Tap on the “Your Story” profile photo (with the + sign next to it) at the top of the news feed. This takes you to your Instagram stories, where you can choose from 4 options:

  • Live – Once a live video has ended, it is no longer visible on Instagram
  • Normal – A photo or video disappearing in 24 hours
  • Boomerang – Time-lapse, back and forth like short video
  • Hands-free – Start a video with just a tap, versus the rest of the videos where have to hold down to record

Snapchat videos: Send photos and live videos that are that are only available for up to 10 seconds at a time. These videos can live on “your story” or be sent to friends. Your story is available for 24 hours, and photos/videos sent to friends are only available for the time that’s set when sent. After that, all media disappears. These photos and videos can be saved by pressing the square with an arrow in it, at the bottom right. Utilize Snapchat’s features of: lenses, geofilters, stickers, emojis and text if appropriate.

Snapchat Video

(Image Source: Wired)

Snapchat Video

(Image Source: Wired)

How to go live:

  • Press down circle button at the bottom middle for the entirety of video
  • Tap blue arrow button on the bottom right
  • Select if you want it to be displayed as “My Story” (displays the photo/video to all of your followers), “My Memories”(saves the photo/video), or specific friends

Twitter Live:  Create and tweet live video from the Twitter app, which is powered by Periscope.

When live, anyone on Twitter and Periscope can watch. The video can be discovered from Home timeline, notifications, search, and trending topics. A live video on Twitter goes anywhere a Tweet can go. It is searchable, and can be embedded on other websites. It also exists and is searchable on Periscope. If Tweets are protected, there is no option to go live.

Twitter Live(Image Source: Twitter)

How to go live:

  • Compose a tweet, then tap “LIVE” which takes users to the pre-broadcast screen where the shot can be framed
  • When ready, press “Go Live” to start broadcasting

Tips for live streaming:

  1. Get creative to stand out and be more engaging – use filters, stickers, texts, and emojis when appropriate
  2. Be engaging with users during the video
  3. Prepare beforehand
  4. Save the videos for future usage
  5. Have the latest version of the app to have access to the latest features

Ideas on when to use live streaming:

  1. Hotel special events, whether it’s a fashion show hosted at the hotel or a themed dinner an outlet is hosting.
  2. Share a unique feature of the hotel, explaining the usage and availability.
  3. Give a tour of a renovated aspect of the hotel.

In conclusion, live videos are a great way to engage existing and new followers. Without physically attending, it lets viewers be virtually involved in what’s happening. Between Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat – there are plenty of opportunities to create engaging and interactive content with live video capabilities. Do you have any questions about live videos? Comment your questions below!

2017 Skift Forum Europe Recap

Posted by on May 2, 2017 in Conference Recaps

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The “TED of travel” is what media, speakers and participants have been calling Skift Forum. Held usually in New York, this year the for the first time, the European forum was held in London, UK. On April 4th, 2017, two of our European team members had the pleasure of attending this one day conference focused on top marketers, strategists and technologists in travel. Deepa Arthur and Kasia Rudnik share their thoughts from a full day spent with travel professionals being grilled by Skift journalists about the hottest travel trends and the future of travel. There is no doubt that the first European forum sent a very clear message of what is important: customer’s trust, loyalty, uniqueness and understanding the fragmented European market. Have a look at what were their top 3 picks.

SKIFT_April2017

To read more about the forum and subjects discussed in London, head to the official page of the event: https://skift.com/sfe2017/.

2017 Moz Local Search Ranking Factors and What It Means For Your Hotel

Posted by on Apr 25, 2017 in Local Search Updates

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This year’s 2017 survey on Local Search Ranking Factors is here! For those of you who aren’t familiar with the yearly study, it is produced by Moz and is the go-to resource for the digital marketing industry on what drives organic local results and looks to answer the age old question of “what factors influence local ranking?” The full study can be found here and as there is a ton of information I encourage everyone to review. Below you will find the key findings that Digital Services identified from the study along with our interpretation of what this means for the hospitality industry.

1.) Google My Business Signals

With 19%, Google My Business Signals continue to take the lead for factors influencing the Local Pack. This is down slightly from the 2015 study where Google My Business signals accounted for 21% of the Local Pack ranking factors. This is in large part due to the extra emphasis that was placed on Link Signals’ impact on Local Pack ranking factors.

What this means for the Hospitality Industry: Google My Business is not going away anytime soon. While GMB has transitioned away from being considered a “social channel” in the last few years, there is no better opportunity than GMB to directly feed Google information about our hotels as GMB directly influences what Google takes into consideration for My Business Signals.

2.) Link Signals

Link Signals took the lead for the most influential organic listing ranking factor with 29% as well as the second most influential factor for the Local Pack. Link Signals have shifted significantly and have become even more of a priority from the results of the last Local Search Ranking Factors survey in 2015.

What this means for the Hospitality Industry: Continue link building efforts. When looking for new link opportunity for your hotel website consider the following things:

  • Domain Authority: Can be easily pulled using Moz tool bar and higher the domain authority the better.
  • Anchor Text: Make sure the Anchor text (the text that appears highlighted in a hypertext link) is listed as the hotel’s name. Hotel names contain location keywords that can have a direct influence on link signals.
  • Linking Domain Quantity: The higher the number of linking domains for a site, the better; when focusing on your link building, look to get links from diversified domains.

3.) On-Page Signals

On-page signals such as content and meta data optimization remained relatively consistent compared to the 2015 study and remain a steady force of influence in the SEO world.

What this means for the Hospitality Industry: Continue thinking about on-site content optimization and if it’s been a while since you’ve touched your on-site content, consider refreshing with new and fresh content for the search engines to crawl.

4.) Citation Signals

Similar to on-page, Citation signals hold steady at the middle of the list for both Local Pack and Organic Result ranking and is certainly not something to be ignored.

What this means for the Hospitality Industry: Ensure that your hotel has a high the volume of citations across the web and that the information is correct and being presented correctly. For an extremely efficient approach in doing so, consider a business citation management platform such as Yext.

5.) Review Signals

One of the biggest growth in influence since the last survey, Review Signals, accounts for 13% of the factors influencing the Local Pack and 7% for the factors influencing organic ranking.

What this means for the Hospitality Industry: Encourage your guests to leave reviews by actively responding and engaging with the reviews. There are many different review sites out there (Google My Business, TripAdvisor, Yelp, etc.) and it is important to make your presence known on them.

David Mihm, who ran this survey from its inception in 2008 up until 2015, summarizes the survey the best with the following quote, “It’s a very difficult concept to survey about, but the overriding ranking factor in local — across both pack and organic results — is entity authority. Ask yourself, If I were Google, how would I define a local entity, and once I did, how would I rank it relative to others?”

Moz 2017 Local Search Ranking Factors

(Image Source: Moz)

Local Pack/Finder Ranking is defined as the regular local 3-pack that appears for most local search terms. Localized Organic Ranking is defined as the organic classic results that typically appear under the local 3-pack for local search terms.

How Social Media Algorithms Impact Your Digital Presence

Posted by on Apr 18, 2017 in Social Media

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When you unlock your cell phone and scroll through your favorite social media apps, you are likely to notice those social media apps are starting to look a little … similar.

As social media mega companies like Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat have evolved, they’ve started to borrow product ideas from each other in the hope of building an all-in-one experience. Although these apps are beginning to show great similarity, the algorithm behind each platform is truly unique.

What is a platform algorithm, why are they here?

Algorithms are certainly becoming gatekeepers that consumers have grown to love, while brands have found them to be a pain. Prior to social media algorithms, posts on social platforms were created equally and the only factor to seeing a post was when it was posted. Every post had the same chance of getting in front of followers regardless of company size.

However, as the number of accounts on each platform began to grow, what once seemed like a few vehicles on a popular digital content expressway turned into rush hour on a congested two-lane highway. To help traffic flow, social platforms began implementing strategic formulas of code to utilize information dedicated to pages and content you have interacted with. Through these formulas (algorithm), users are now fed content that the social platforms have deemed “relevant” to your lifestyle.

Why does each platform have a unique algorithm?

On social media, users tend to over share personal content that holds little relevance to the general population. Each algorithm uses unique engagement factors (Facebook Reactions, Twitter RTs, Instagram’s saved feature, etc.) to leverage their unique forms of engagement to help lift meaningful content above less relevant content.

How do algorithms help consumers?

If each algorithm works to its potential, consumers are fed content tailored specifically to them. Based upon on how they have reacted to past content, each platform is able to evangelize which content is most meaningful to its audience.

How do algorithms work?

When a piece of content is published on a social platform, it is shown to a small group of your followers. From there, the platform in which you posted will try to mathematically analyze the engagement the content is receiving, and will receive in the future.

When Facebook first released the reaction button feature, many were left curious to know how this would affect the algorithm. Would certain buttons carry more clout than others, if it all? And was the introduction of reactions a way to further decide which content should be shared with an individual?

Facebook Reactions + Labels

(Image Source: Facebook Brand Resource Center)

Tips to leverage and understand algorithms:

1.) Understand that high quality content can be seen at any time

Since all popular social platforms have algorithms built into their content distribution, thinking you need to post at a certain time everyday isn’t as critical. The timing of responding to comments and engagement is important in the essence that higher response times can help nurture relationships and show platforms that you are an active contributor. Each social platform is finding ways to show tailored content when you return to the app.

For example: When scrolling through the Twitter app, your scrolling will cross the “in case you missed it” section of tweets where the accounts you engage with most will appear.

Instagram stories also shows a similar dynamic by showing content from engaging accounts first, instead of timing.

2.) Keep an eye on the destination URLs you are linking to

Platforms have started to track which URLs you are linking to in your call to action. To avoid any potential algorithm hazards for repetition, be sure to direct links to different pages on your site.

3.) Take advantage of new platform features

The purpose of social media posting is to take advantage of engagements with followers. As new features are introduced, higher quality of content production and guest experience soon follow. It is crucial to experiment with new features within social platforms. In the past, utilizing features can result in boosted placement within the algorithm. When Instagram rolled out the ability to share a carousel of content, brands were given the ability to share more content and further enhance potential experience in a streamlined fashion.

For example: Properties looking to expand the awareness of their onsite dining restaurants were previously forced to create multiple posts which often resulted in an inconsistent post. Thanks to the carousel feature, properties can create a post highlighting their outlets while sharing multiple images within one post. Users who view the post are being served more content in less posting.

4.) Create content that consumers will react to

Not too long ago, Facebook introduced the reaction tool bar. What seemed like a clever way to show your reaction to a piece of content has become a new factor within the algorithm. Facebook has been secretly tracking user reactions to content and tailoring each newsfeed to accommodate content that will further enhance your experience. Have you noticed that pieces of content you react to negatively don’t seem to enter your newsfeed? That’s because Facebook wants to bring more positive engagement.

Please note: If you react negatively to a piece of content, and comment, Facebook is likely to share similar topics. This strategy is not to make your experience less positive, but instead encourage further engagement on the platform.

Meaning: Reactions alone can affect your newsfeed. Reactions + Comments will be given a boost in awareness and likely will appear more frequently.

5.) Do not ask for engagement

We have all seen contests that ask you to share a piece of content and comment on the page. Facebook and Twitter have acquired AI startups to target accounts that ask users to share or comment. Every algorithm has been built with a series of punishing consequences for soliciting engagement. If you would like to encourage follower engagement, be sure to create copy that asks a meaningful question and does not clearly note a sweepstakes or contest.

Digital Services is dedicated to better understanding social algorithms as platforms evolve. We are excited to learn more about how each platform leverages your favorite pieces of content, and are excited to share these lessons with you in the future.