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Posted by on Jun 20, 2017 in All Matters SEO

Russia – A Country of Opportunity and Growth

My first visit to Russia was in December 2010 (yes, Russia in DECEMBER!) when it was minus 13 degrees Fahrenheit. At the time, I wouldn’t have described the ground as snow covered – it was more like blocks of ice. Since then, I’ve been lucky enough to go back four more times, visiting both Moscow and St. Petersburg. Amazing and interesting, Russia is filled with many surprises.

Russia is the world’s largest nation. Bordered by both Europe and Asia, it has everything from a beach, to forests, to mountains, to major cities. This diverse country has over 144 million people, which is two times the size of the U.K.’s population and about 50% less than the U.S.

To drive across Russia (about 10,500 km) from the most western city of Kaliningrad to the most eastern city of Vladivostok, it takes around 6.5 days. By train, it takes seven days with over 80 stops. And to fly, it takes 11 hours. To put into context the immensity of the country, you could fly or drive from New York to San Francisco and back again more quickly.

Visiting Russia is not easy, but it’s not impossible. A visa is needed by most nationals, but there are some exceptions. For example, a U.K. national can easily get a Russian tourist visa from the processing center in London; it involves completing a long form and answering a few questions, but it’s attainable.

There is an incredible amount to see and explore when in Russia. Moscow is, of course, the largest city – just standing in the middle of Red Square leaves you amazed. This iconic, historical site is one that every student learns about at school.

Chris Robinson_Russia Trip

(Image Source: Chris Robinson)

In St. Petersburg, you cannot fail just to walk the canals, explore the architecture and watch the trams run up and down the streets. The Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood, which took the years between 1883 and 1907 to build, is simply a stunning building.

The Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood

(Image Source: Chris Robinson)

Russia has seven major airports open to passenger travel, with three located in Moscow and others in St. Petersburg, Simferopol, Koltsovo and Sochi (home of the 2014 Winter Olympics and the annual Russian Formula One race). There is also a major train service to several European countries, such as Austria, Germany and Hungary.

Next year, Russia will host the 2018 soccer FIFA World Cup across 11 cities which presents a massive opportunity for Russia to “sell” itself to the world, plus there is a major opportunity for residents to experience the country.

Outbound travel from Russia in 2016 was tough, as the FX rate between the ruble and the U.S. dollar (USD) dramatically changed. In January 2014, 3 rubles bought just over $1 USD, now it takes around 5.5 rubles to get $1 USD, but in early 2016, it was as high as 10 rubles to the dollar. This made overseas Russian travel expensive and unaffordable. The good news is, the foreign-exchange rate has improved and continues to ensure that Russian nationals can travel the world.

In a recent study by Russian Tourism, it identified, like any national market, there are, of course, different types of consumers in Russia. There are those who visit places like Thailand and Southern Europe to see the sun and relax. Then there are those in the travel market who visit such destinations as UAE, France and Germany – all popular with the Russian consumer.

The internet in Russia is a little different than most countries, with Yandex being the largest search engine. For more information on that, check out this blog from Petra Baer on the differences between Google and Yandex at

According to Live Internet Stats, since 2015, the number of Russian internet users has grown by over 30% to 102 million, which is just around 71% of the population. The U.S. is currently at 88% internet usage, so room to grow for sure!

While Yandex is Russia’s largest search engine, it has many other services, including:

  •, an auction-based, text-based ad-placement platform
  • Yandex Maps
  •, which is like PayPal
  •, a similar service to Uber

The key with this is, the internet in Russia is growing and the digital community/consumer base is growing. Though the market is complicated, especially because of the language difference, nothing is impossible. If you understand and get it right, the opportunity to attract a new market is clear.

Marriott International recently launched a new Russian website, Now Russian-speaking travelers can book hotels around the world in their native language.

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Posted by on May 23, 2017 in All Matters SEO

Links MDS Loves

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!


(Image source: Pexels)

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Posted by on Apr 11, 2017 in All Matters SEO, Social Media

Everything WeChat

Ever wonder what Chinese consumers use as their social media platform? Well, it is not Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.

As of January 2017, there are over 846 million active WeChat users, making WeChat the 4th most popular mobile app in the world and 2nd most popular in China.

So what exactly is WeChat? WeChat is a free instant messaging application that provides text messaging, hold-to-talk voice messaging, sharing of photographs and videos, as well as location sharing.

WeChat Features

  • Moments, a blend of Facebook and Twitter, is WeChat’s main social media feature. It allows you to maintain a user profile where you can post photos and status updates. One of the main selling points of WeChat is that it offers users an enhanced privacy experience where you can control which of your friends can see what you like and comment without having to block the user.
  • Heat map allows the Chinese government to track irregular assemblies of people to determine if more security is needed. Users can also use this map to determine when they should visit a certain location based on the crowd and how busy it is.
  • WeChat wallet is a convenient, secure and efficient  tool that allows users to pay via their phone. Over half of WeChat’s users have linked multiple bank cards to the app. This is a huge win because China is known for fraud and cyber security issues. Like Venmo and Facebook Messenger, WeChat allows you to pay your friends while texting.
  • WeChat also allows you to generate your own personalized QR code. This feature allows you to transfer money to people you are not friends with by simply scanning the code off your phone.
  • Shake is another feature that WeChat offers that allows you to meet new people. You can simply shake your phone and if someone is in the same area shaking their phone, their profile will pop up and you can send him or her a greeting.
  • In China, a red envelope or red packet is known as a symbolic monetary gift which is given during holidays or special occasions. The color red symbolizes good luck and is a symbol to ward off evil spirits. During the Chinese New Year of 2016, 8 billion payments occurred via WeChat.

Types of WeChat Official Accounts

There are three different types of official WeChat accounts:

  1. Subscription Accounts are commonly used for daily news and broadcasts. They allow businesses to send one message per day to their followers. However, users can only access the content by accessing a subscription subfolder.
  2. Compared to a subscription account, Service Accounts will offer advanced features and focus on providing services instead of message broadcasts. Followers will receive push notifications from the businesses once a week and businesses can build their own applications within a Service Account.
  3. Enterprise Accounts, also known as Corporate Accounts, are an enhanced version of how Western businesses use platforms like Slack. Companies can set up private group chats, share memos, and project management systems within the account.

International vs. Mainland China

Due to China’s business requirements, WeChat has differentiated the benefits of WeChat accounts between mainland China and the rest of the globe. If a business has a Chinese phone number, the business qualifies for a Mainland China WeChat Official Account. This allows users all around the world to access the business’s official account. On the other hand, if the business is outside of mainland China and owns an international account, then only non-China users can access the international account.

Currently, only mainland China registered businesses can have their WeChat accounts verified. There are no differences between an unverified and a verified subscription account. The main disadvantage of an unverified service account is that the business does not have access advanced features.

Mini Programs

In the next few years, WeChat’s main focus will be on mini programs. Essentially, this feature follows a “one app rule them all” concept where users can use an app just by scanning the QR codes or searching on WeChat. Even though there are no official WeChat app stores, mini programs are directly competing against the Apple Store and Google Play App Store.

WeChat Mini Program

(Image Source: Chozan)

There are a couple main benefits to mini programs:

  • Using an app within WeChat allows a user to skip the registration process because his/her personal and payment information is already available on WeChat. Tencent, WeChat’s parent company, will support WeChat to protect the customer’s information. With a secured wallet, users are more willing to purchase via mobile app, therefore will increase the mobile spend in the future.
  • Only light apps, simplified applications, are allowed on mini programs. Therefore, the apps will be fast and easy to use. On top of that, users are more willing to try new apps as the apps take up less space on a smartphone.

As WeChat continues to grow in China, companies around the world are incorporating this app as part of their marketing campaigns. The future of WeChat remains as a leader in mobile apps and technology.

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Posted by on Apr 4, 2017 in All Matters SEO

Top 5 SEO Tools You Might Not Know Exist

In 2015, I wrote a Decoded post entitled “Google Tools You May Not Know Exist,” outlining some of Google’s hidden gems for digital marketing. I now want to continue this theme with some examples of free SEO tools that you may not know exist:

1.) Moz Tool Bar

This is a must-have for digital marketers. Moz Tool Bar is a web browser extension that provides valuable SEO data for any website including on-page metrics (title tag, meta description, H1 Tag, etc.), Link Metrics and Technical SEO metrics.

Moz Tool Bar

(Image Source: Morgan Merron)

2.) Moz Open Site Explorer

Moz Open Site explorer allows users to pull a comprehensive report on all backlinks for a given site. Whether you are pulling this information for your own site or a competitor there is always great action items that arise out of knowing information about backlinks. A few searches a day is completely free but anything beyond that, you will need to enroll in Moz Pro.

Moz Open Site Explorer

(Image Source: Morgan Merron)

3.) Search Engine Net Market Share

Ever wonder which search engines have the most market share? Reference this data rich website to pull information on market share for search engines.

Search Engine Net Market Share

(Image Source: Morgan Merron)

4.) Buzzsumo

What’s SEO without user-friendly content? Buzzsumo allows users to input a given topic and get analytics on what content is performing best. A few searches a day are completely free of charge.


(Image Source: Morgan Merron)

5.) The Beginners Guide to SEO

While this extensive guide on all things SEO isn’t necessarily a tool, Digital Services considers knowledge to be a tool in and of itself! Reference this 10 chapter guide to gain base level knowledge (and beyond) on all things SEO.

The Beginners Guide to SEO

(Image Source: Morgan Merron)

Do you have an SEO tool that you love not covered here? Share what it is and what you use it for in the comments section below and let’s get this conversation started!

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Posted by on Mar 28, 2017 in All Matters SEO

Digital Marketing Glossary

With the digital marketing and search landscapes constantly changing, even the most digital savvy of us can get lost in the shuffle. Google is constantly updating algorithms and releasing new features, so it can start to feel like a full-time job to keep up. Luckily, that IS our full-time job at Digital Services by Marriott. We’ve compiled a list of our top search and digital marketing terms to get you up to speed. No promises that this entire list won’t change in the next couple of months though!

SERP– Search engine results page (SERP). This is the page that search engines show in response to a query by a searcher. This page will look different depending on the search engine (Google, Yahoo, Bing, etc.) but the main component is the list of websites or blue links that provide answers to the query.

SEO– Search engine optimization (SEO) is the process of getting traffic from the free, organic or natural search results on search engines. Primary search results are listed on the search engine results page based on what the search engine considers most relevant to users.

Keyword– A word or phrase that describes the contents of a web page. Keywords help search engines match a page with an appropriate search query.

Local Search– A search to find something within a specific geographic area, such as “downtown hotel DC.” Local search results can appear in many different places on a SERP, but are typically accompanied by map pins. These results show the address and phone number of the company with a link to directions, if appropriate. Sometimes these listings are grouped into a “local pack.”

Local 3-pack– The top three results Google determines most geographically relevant to a local search. These three results will show at the top of the SERP in a special list accompanied by a map. Search terms that contain a geographic reference (“near me”) or services typically fulfilled by a local business like a hotel or bakery.Google SERP

(Image Source: Sang Froid Web)

Local Citation– Anywhere online that a business is mentioned by name. Business directories like Yell, Foursquare or Yelp are made of local citations. Being listed correctly on these sites is an important ranking factor for local search. They provide search engines with credible information about your business so the search engine understands the business exists, is legitimate and what you say about your business is true and accurate.

Incognito search– a setting that prevents the user’s browsing history and web cache from being used during a search. Since search engines take a user’s location and browsing history into account to deliver results, incognito search is a good way to search from a “blank slate.”

Incognito Search

(Image Source: Mary Cline)

Knowledge graph/panel– A system that Google launched to understand facts about people, places and things and how these entities are all connected. A knowledge graph displays on the SERP and is intended to provide answers, not just links to search queries so that users do not have to navigate to other sites to gather the information.

Knowledge graph

(Image Source, Mary Cline)

Google+– An interest-based social network that is owned and operated by Google. The platform was redesigned in November 2015, and currently focuses on Communities and Collections. Marriott owns all hotel Google+ listings under a bulk feed, and grants management access to stakeholders as needed. Please reach out to your MDS Client Services Manager for questions about your hotel’s Google+ listing.

Google My Business– a free tool for businesses and organizations to manage their online presence across Google, including Search and Maps. By verifying and editing business information, the owner can help customers find their business or any relevant information about it.

UNAPURL (address of a world-wide web page), name of hotel, address and phone number (UNAP). This is an important ranking factor for search engine optimization.

OTA– Online travel agency (OTA) that allows users to book hotel rooms, flights, train tickets, etc. These sites may be focused on travel reviews, trip fares or both. Examples include Expedia and

API– Application program interface (API). A set of routines, protocols and tolls for building software applications. APIs specify how software components should interact.

CTA– A call to action (CTA) is a type of online content that drives the user to click-through to engage with a brand. This can be an image, button, link, etc. that encourages someone to book, download, register, call or act in any way.

PPC– Pay-per-click (PPC) is a model of internet marketing where advertisers pay a fee each time one of their ads is clicked. Search engine advertising is one of the most common forms of PPC. Advertisers bid for ad placement in a search engine’s sponsored links when a user searches a keyword related to the business offering.

HTML– Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) is a computer language that is used to create websites. HyperText is the method by which you move around on the web by clicking on special text called hyperlinks which take the user to the next page. Hyper means it is not linear, so it is possible to go to any place on the internet and there is no set order. HTML is a language with a set of code-words and syntax just like other languages.

Alt Tag– An alt tag describes what is in an image on a website and its function on the page. Screen readers for the blind and visually impaired read out this text to make an image accessible. Alt tags and title tags strengthen the message towards search engine spiders to improve the visibility of the site within search engines. The alt and title attributes of an images are commonly referred to as alt tag or alt text and title tag.

UX– User Experience (UX), or a customer’s experience when interacting with a product (i.e. website). User experience design is the process of enhancing user satisfaction and loyalty by improving the ease of use and pleasure provided in the interaction between the customer and the product. The concept most commonly applies to digital fields today.

Rich snippets– Describes structured data markup that operators can add to existing HTML so that search engines can better understand the information that is contained on each web page. Major search engines use this markup to present richer search results, allowing users to more easily find the information they are looking for. In the example blow, the search result shows a star rating, the number of votes, the price and the platform supported because Rich snippets were employed.

Rich snippets

(Image Source: Positionly)

Title Tag– A title tag is an HTML element that specifies the title of a web page and concisely describes the page’s content. Title tags are displayed as the clickable headlines on the search engine results page and are important for usability, SEO and social sharing. In addition to the SERP, they also appear in web browsers and social networks.

Title Tag

(Image Source: Mary Cline)

Description Tag– A piece of HTML code that provides a short description of a web page and is included in the code, but is not visible on the page itself. If a web page has a description tag, Google shows it if there is semantic similarity between the description tag and the content of the web page, and there is similarity between the user’s search query and the content of the description tag. If a page does not have a description tag, Google typically shows sentence fragments on the page that contain the search query.

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Posted by on Mar 21, 2017 in All Matters SEO

If Your Hotel Went Through a Renovation, Start Fresh on TripAdvisor

For hotels that renovate their properties, don’t forget to let TripAdvisor know that you went through a renovation. Once you prove your hotel went through a major renovation, your old reviews will be deleted.

All that’s required is to provide building permits, materials invoices or press releases to prove that the renovations were indeed structural and completed.

Upon its approval, TripAdvisor will wipe the slate clean so your hotel’s page won’t be bogged down by negative reviews relating to bathrooms, guest rooms, carpet, smells, etc.

You’ve probably heard this from your Account Manager over and over again, but reviews are increasingly more important to rank in Google so be sure to make sure your reviews are cleaned up!

For more information, check out TripAdvisor’s Help Center or the screenshot below.

TripAdvisor Help Center_Renovation Information

(Image Source: TripAdvisor Help Center)

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