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The Evolution of the Content You Click On

Posted by on Mar 7, 2017 in Social Media

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Prior to social media, getting a variety of opinions on a topic required multiple trips to various websites. For example, when Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone first premiered, getting film reviews was no easy task. I remember having to jump to the New York Times, Washington Post and a few other sites just to get an opinion on whether or not to see the movie.

Prior to popular social sharing platforms, experience online was what I refer to as “fueled by boredom.” Previously, there wasn’t an effective way to share content. At work when a coworker would find an entertaining video, they would call over colleagues to share it in the moment. There was not yet a way to quickly share content with a large group of friends while simultaneously communicating much like today’s social media feed.

Covering a Wall with Bumper Stickers

Thanks to a multitude of social media channels, consumers have become evangelists for the brands and topics they share on social media. What was once an avenue to share what you ate for dinner on Twitter, has now become an endorsement for the latest hashtag, with each post becoming a modern day bumper sticker of endorsement.

Personalities Over Personalized Websites

In 2016, nearly every social platform found its way to Moz top 500 domains further proving that brands need to pay attention to how they are positioned on each social platform. In many cases, I prefer to use Facebook to find information rather than the brand’s official website. But what tempts me to click the like or follow button to continuously receive content? Personality.

Personality can be shown in a few different ways. On Twitter, brands who continuously respond to playful tweets (Cinnabon, Dominos, Taco Bell) are notorious for having an engaging audience. Much of this can be attributed to the content being more than just a quick response for an inquiry. But what if your brand wants to create content that redefines the laws of virility with every post?

In late 2015, I experienced a perfect example of Buzzfeed using personality to build their audience on social media while never needing to visit their website. Buzzfeed has been a long time powerhouse for content that drove traffic to their physical website. That was until they introduced the world to freshman personality, Matt Bellassai, through a weekly segment called Wine About It. Through this weekly segment, Matt would spend time talking about his issues with a certain topic, while casually enjoying a bottle of wine. In most cases his issues were highly relatable, enticing users to share with friends (who had not yet been introduced to Buzzfeed). Through the sharing, Buzzfeed was able to create communication within their Facebook while increasing exposure.

Growing a Personality as a Brand and the Rise of the Fan Group

Not long after generating a proven track record of success with Wine About It on Buzzfeed’s social channels, Matt Bellassai left his Buzzfeed video success to start his own brand. For many this came as a huge surprise as Buzzfeed boasts the right amount of exposure not only on Facebook (number 1 ranking domain on the Internet) but also the physical Buzzfeed website presence (234th ranking domain on the Internet). Many were also left asking, will this momentum continue with a smaller audience?

What made Matt’s transition possible is a fraction of Buzzfeed’s followers being what I consider to be a “fan group.” These small, passionate fan groups are often smaller subsets which have built a reputation of not only sharing content on their social platforms, but also specifically target sharing relatable content. For example, if you were to see a piece of content that triggers a relatable moment, you are likely to share the moment by tagging a friend/follower on a platform. In addition to displaying the share on a social network, this occurrence is also creating a targeted notification to users the content has been shared with. Meaning, fan groups are now helping brands/personalities extend relatable moments.

The Rise of the Fan Group Model

A variety of digital brands have already started to action on creating content for a “fan group” under a paid model. Popular anime streaming community, Crunchyroll, has implemented a paid subscription based model (roughly $7/month). It is designed for dedicated fans of anime and manga storytelling by leveraging a vertical approach. Crunchyroll has utilized fan groups to dive deep into a specific niche audience to generate revenue. From there, slowly expand its following by providing extras like news, forums, e-commerce, live events and manga, all on a very niche website with a large percentage of subscribers under the age of 35.

Popular subscription based sites like Netflix, Hulu and Crunchyroll have seen great success with charging a small fee for subscriptions. Does this mean that subscriptions for niche audiences for nearly $40 a month aren’t possible? Tech news site The Information has been making a strong case for higher priced subscriptions with a goal of appealing to business professionals. Through a subscription to The Information, subscribers are given deep analytic reports and written articles for tech professionals, while still reaching a broader pool of entrepreneurs or people who don’t pay for content today, but may be willing to do so. Again, the target of tech professionals willing to spend money for news could be barren. However, The Information has shown multiple cases for subscriptions as a business experience to for businesses that allow for subscription based budgets.

 Relating to your Fan Group

Developing a fan group can be difficult at times. However, the beauty of passionate fan groups is that through effective messaging, brands that make content for a specific group will often find the greatest engagement. In many cases, brands initially believe that in order to gain any traction, all content must appeal to the masses. But actually, starting small (with fan groups) and through a snowball effect, could generate the greatest reward. If you were to make a piece of content, instead of trying to attract an entire country, try making it for a smaller area (like a city or state).

If you were to create a piece of content about a specific area, you are likely to appeal to a fan group of some kind. For example, if a hotel in Chicago was to create a “Top Ten Local Pizza Pies,” the odds of finding a fan group for local pizza is highly likely. Local pizza experts are likely to read the article, and share a memory with their network friends for nostalgia purposes. In most cases, within the share, will be a direct tag of fellow friends.

Crafting for the Click     

When creating content, please be advised that your content can fall into two content categories: tempting to click and tempting to share.

Users’ experience with tempting to click content is often in the form of advertisements for clothing sales or content described as “click bait.” Content of this category rarely generates much publicity from consumers, due to lack of interest in sharing with others. I have found a great way to test if content falls into this category, is by applying Betteridge’s Law. This law states that all headlines with questions can be answered “no.” To try for yourself, read an article that asks a question in the headline, if after reading the article, the answer is no, you have likely digested tempting to click content.

Tempting to share content is often shared and endorsed across social accounts are a noteworthy article. By sharing these articles, your post becomes a modern day bumper sticker showing that you endorse the given viewpoint on a topic.

Personal vs. Social Clicks on Content

When creating content, it is important to be aware of whether your content will generate a personal click, social click or both (depending on the topic). To illustrate types of clicks, you can apply the diagram below.

Two Types of Clicks

(Image Source: Ryan Sanecki)

Content that appeals to your guilty pleasures will often generate a personal click. These clicks tend to remain private with consumers and are not shared with their followers. Certain shopping experiences can also fall into this category, depending on the item. Someone who recently bought a new appliance might not feel the need to share their new purchase with the world. With the addition of Facebook’s Recommendation feature, shopping can often position itself into a social click which will generate engagement.

Social clicks tend to be the driving force for fan group content. Brands that appeal to specific cultural experiences can often generate a personal click, which can transition into a social click. Using the pizza pie example from before, a reader might utilize a personal click to check nutritional information and leverage a social click for a pizza buying rewards program. Nostalgia has been a long time catalyst for consumers and continues to show growth. Causes often create an emotional appeal and generate sharable clicks on a much greater level than nostalgia in that emotional connections are highly relatable where as nostalgic experiences are more exclusive.

The Next Step

It is important to understand that fan groups are not built overnight. When creating content on social media, create content that can resonate with others and can be related to specific cultural experiences.

PR! PR! Read All About It!

Posted by on Feb 28, 2017 in All Matters SEO

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2017 perpetuates the age of information overload. Read the latest celebrity gossip, look up stats on your favorite sports team or learn a new recipe in just seconds with a simple search query.

Although the ever-growing library of online content is convenient when searching for something, it has become increasingly difficult to create content that stands out from the clutter. As a result, marketers continue to fight for the coveted top spot on search engine results pages.

When planning your SEO strategy, odds are that writing a press release isn’t at the top of your priorities list. Press releases are often overlooked because they don’t immediately contribute to significant jumps in search engine results. However, when done correctly, they can have a positive impact on your hotel’s visibility and website traffic.

Press Releases & SEO

Press releases don’t have the most impressive SEO reputation because they actually have very little SEO value. We can’t stuff them with high search volume phrases and expect great results. Press releases are most beneficial when written with the intention of creating buzz-worthy content that others want to share.

Not to be confused with link spam (a method which Google penalizes), press releases can positively impact search engine results placement by encouraging organic links back to your hotel website. The goal of every press release should be to inspire others to write their own unique content about your topic, share your release on social media or garner the attention of the press – earning natural links back to your hotel website.

Quality Over Quantity

It’s easier said than done. How are you supposed to take a topic about your hotel and influence others to share it or link to it? It all comes down to the topic.

You want to select a topic that creates a buzz or sparks interest about the hotel. Although we may find extended-stay packages and spacious guest rooms to be interesting, generic hotel details aren’t considered news-worthy and sharable.

Syndicating another piece about how beautiful your meeting rooms are won’t be beneficial to your SEO strategy if nobody reads it, so add real value by creating a press release about a topic that is unique to only your hotel. What sets you apart from competitors? Is this something your audience will care enough about to share?

If you’re a Washington, D.C. hotel playing with the idea of writing a press release for the Fourth of July – writing a PR about how great your location is won’t help you stand out from every other Washington, D.C. hotel press release around the holiday. But writing a PR about how you host a rooftop party with an incredible view of the national fireworks display gives you a unique angle to help boost the post’s visibility.

The Brainstorming Phase

Think of your next press release as a time to brag; show some personality and let the audience know exactly what makes your hotel unique. When in doubt:

  • Did the hotel/staff win an award recently?
  • Are accommodations undergoing extensive renovations?
  • Is there an upcoming event taking place in or near your hotel?
  • Do you have organizational announcements to share?
  • Are you sponsoring a local group?
  • Can you add a new spin on a holiday promotion?

Let’s do our part to put an end to the constant flow of superfluous content – starting with our press releases. Produce only valuable content that adds a unique, news-worthy perspective. Both your readers and marketing strategy will thank you.

Strategy Image

(Image Source: Pexels)

How to Maximize Your Hotel Special Offers

Posted by on Feb 14, 2017 in All Matters SEO, Digital Industry News

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Special offers are a key component in driving traffic and direct bookings back to your hotel website. But with so many different brands and hotels offering similar deals and packages, how do you make yours stand out amongst the bunch and ultimately get your customer to convert?

Sell an experience

When searching for hotel deals and offers, customers are usually more focused on their travel experience as opposed to just the room itself. So what exactly are travel shoppers looking for? Besides wanting to save money, online shoppers are looking for an offer they can’t refuse. So give them exactly that and make it only available by booking direct. And with packages that aren’t tied to a percentage offer, try and focus on the human element around the offer experience and how it will enhance the buyer’s time on property, rather than just the savings. Keeping your hotel story in mind when creating a special offer is essential in order to create an authentic connection with your consumer. When it comes to design and copy, don’t forget the basics like great images and photography, catchy but concise headlines, descriptions with important keywords, terms and conditions, and a clear and prominent call-to-action. Does your hotel have a renowned restaurant or amazing spa? Determine your hotel’s unique features and use these as a selling point within your offer. These can really lend themselves to certain guest segments who are looking for particular offer experiences around spa, golf and more.

Marriott Offer Example

(Image Source: Delta Hotels Edmonton South Conference Centre)

Using visual story telling within your merchandising

It’s important to not only ensure that your homepage is visually rich, but that your special offers are, too. Take a page out of retailer’s books; 41% of retailers said site merchandising was a leading priority for their digital business in 2016. In order to do this, try to use descriptive storytelling text to add context to your website and promotions that include details about your rooms, offer amenities and unique features. Additionally, over 90% of consumers say enticing visuals are the most important factor in their purchasing decision. So when possible, try and convey your offer story visually through your property images rather than just generic stock photography. And last but not least, make your special offers easy to find on your hotel website by utilizing homepage messages and other onsite merchandising tactics.

Mobile matters

Ensuring your special offer landing page is easy to navigate and optimized for every device is crucial getting the end user to convert. Here are some quick stats to prove this point:

  • If your landing page isn’t optimized for mobile, it will be abandoned by 40% of mobile visitors who will look for another result
  • 66% of e-commerce time is being spent on smartphones
  • 6% of consumers will delete emails if they don’t look good on mobile
  • 45% of consumers have unsubscribed from promotional emails because the emails or website didn’t work well on their smartphone
  • In 2017, almost 60% of traveling bookings in the US will be done on a mobile device

Having a mobile responsive website, as well as mobile optimized special offers pages, are essential for a seamless experience across all devices.

Email and third party merchandising

Contrary to popular belief, email is not dead. In terms of ROI, email typically outperforms social media and paid search. And because it is generally one of the most cost effective choices compared to other digital marketing tactics, it’s a great tool in pushing out your special offers while driving direct bookings. With email marketing, try and plan your deals content two months out from launch during peak seasons. If you’re participating in a paid business account with third parties such as Trip Advisor, Yelp, Trivago, etc., make sure you are taking advantage of their special offer placements and refreshing them on a regular basis to avoid offer fatigue and to cater different offers around seasonality. Paid social campaigns are also a relatively inexpensive option for promoting special offers. And effective promotions stand out on social media by incorporating a hotel’s story rather than just around a generic discount. Creating a sense of urgency and exclusiveness, beautiful imagery and a strong call to action will set you up for success in this channel as well as across your hotel website.

So there you have it! Keep these best practices and strategies in mind and your special offers will be set up for conversion success. And check out some of these additional resources:

What To Look For In An SEO Agency

Posted by on Feb 7, 2017 in All Matters SEO

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SEO is extremely important to a website’s success. So even if you’re not enrolled with Digital Services, we still feel that it’s important for you to know what makes a good SEO agency partner. Rand Fishkin of Moz recently released a great Whiteboard Friday video about this very topic – “How to Choose a Good SEO Company for Your Business or Website.” In the video, Rand discusses what factors make a great agency and what factors are red flags. Check it out!

Moz Whiteboard Friday_How to Choose a Good SEO Company for Your Business or Website

(Image Source: Moz)

The Rise of Chatbots: Will They Replace Humans?

Posted by on Jan 31, 2017 in All Matters SEO

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Unless you have been avoiding social media or technology news these days, you will likely have heard of the current enthusiasm around Bots, in particular Chatbots.

While this is not new technology – the first ever Chatbot, Eliza, was created in 1966, Chatbots have been gaining momentum lately, especially in the travel industry. They are given names by their creators – Taylor, Lola, Alisson, Ana, Julie, or Sofia – but don’t be fooled, you are not talking to an actual human, you are talking to something powered by Artificial Intelligence (A.I.) that was only coded by a human.

Let’s have a (human) conversation about this new breed of personal assistants and travel agents.

Chatbots

(Image Source: Christos)

Chatbots? What are you even talking about!?

“Artificial intelligence platforms that use instant messaging as an application interface” …users can “add these bots to friends lists and send messages to bots just like they’d message one of their friends. But with bots, consumers are talking to a database or program and not actually communicating with a human.” -Skift

But Bots are not reserved for the most tech savvy customers; Bots are actually destined to be more user-friendly than any other system. Think of it: they allow you to have a conversation about your research, not to think about how to ask a search engine about what you are looking for.

Most major digital behemoths are investing in Bots. Personal assistants Alexa (Amazon), Siri (Apple), Google’s Allo or Cortana (Microsoft) are commonly known and vastly used nowadays. Instant messaging systems such as Microsoft’s Skype, Facebook’s Messenger and WhatsApp apps, and Kik are part of our day-to-day lives and the backbone of Chatbots’ development.

The latest Chatbots scrape the web for the information you are asking them, and return it to you in a chat-like interface. Most Bots use A.I. and databases to become smarter and evolve over time so that they can respond quicker (rather than searching each query for the first time each time), potentially anticipate your questions, and learn about your preferences. Earlier Bots were designed to answer only specific questions in a specific way, and if the user was not using the right command the Bot would not understand. But these days are (mostly) over as Bot technology has advanced.

Wait a second, actual brands and humans use bots? Get out of here!

 Yes, and many larger brands in the travel industry have jumped on the train:

  • Kayak: Has a Bot for Slack (a team communication tool which has gained major momentum with many companies and teams, including Digital Services)
  • Expedia, Skyscanner and CheapFlights: Each have a Bot for Facebook Messenger
  • Hipmunk: Launched Hello, available on both Slack and Facebook Messenger
  • United, KLM and TAP Airlines: Launched some form of Bot assistant for instant messaging

Other industries are also creating Bots to help you buy stuff, such as: Tacobot from Taco Bell, allowing you to order your favorite Taco from Slack, H&M’s Chatbot on Kik providing you complete outfit recommendations, or StubHub allowing you to discuss your dinner order with a machine. Before many others, in 2005, Ikea launched their Bot Anna to help you find that one piece of furniture you are missing. For the more galactic readers, check out SPOCK which allows you to converse with the Starship Enterprise.

Even globally? That must be a nightmare to localize!

You said it! When figuring out how to teach the Bot to answer “natural language” queries (typing in what you want, not a command) in English is already extremely complicated, imagine doing this for every language and variation of each.

Add this to the different ways of searching (tapping on a prompted option, using voice search, typing the query), some slang or variation of words, formal and informal ways of addressing people and you have a highly complex problem to solve.

It is not impossible though. KLM delivers information in various languages through their Facebook Messenger Chatbot (including flight details, boarding passes, and other straight forward or relatively easy queries). WeChat emerges as the platform to develop such things in Chinese, offering organizations similar options as Skype, Messenger and Kik, to develop Chatbots for their ecosystem. They most recently launched mini-programs – their version of apps which don’t require download on your smartphone, beating Google at the game of instant apps, and opening a world of possibilities for developers.

OK, now, are these things a good or a bad thing?

From a marketer and brand standpoint, Chatbots are a great tool to automate parts of customer service and customer acquisition. There are for now some limitations, such as the lack of empathy when consumers are experiencing issues or the true understanding of potential consumers’ needs. Chatbots allow you to talk to potential clients in apps they use anyway, rather than trying to take them somewhere else. With the current trend of downloading fewer apps, and spending less time in them, it is particularly important for brands to integrate seamlessly into the lives of their consumers.

On the downside, Chatbots owned by metasearch and OTA sites (or simply companies starting out as a Chatbot,) pose the risk of hospitality and travel brands losing a true connection with customers. This is worrisome for established travel brands, as we see an emergence of Chatbots in the travel industry The Bots also put a lot of strain on travel websites as they constantly  retailers sites to answer user queries (looking up for information on hundreds of sites at once and providing a digestible answer to the user of the Chatbot); some say traffic generated by bots scraping retailers websites can represent up to 30% of total traffic to a website. It is also worrisome to note that some bloggers and influencers confirm they would not interact with an app or a website in future, but use a bot (see article by John Brandon at VentureBeat ).

From a user perspective, Chatbots allow you to search faster (save time) for the best option (save money), and have a fun playing with them (at least I do.) While the response time of a Chatbot is slightly slower than a Google search (a few seconds vs. milliseconds), they save you the effort of clicking through many sites to compare options.

Chatbots are not perfect though and the technology is not yet there to have truly perfect, human-like conversational exchanges. The personalization is still relatively limited and sometimes it is still just better to confirm with a human to make sure everything is in order.

I want in! I want in! What’s coming?

Customers are getting groomed to use Chatbots by the largest brands they use every day (Amazon, Google, Apple, and more.)

KLM has human-aided bots on Messenger as said above, so does Booking.com, Uber and Lyft. These brands are all reportedly looking into developing Chatbots powered by A.I. I would not be surprised to see Snapchat figure out a way to allow for Chatbots to be developed specifically for their platform, or even on Line (Japan’s leading social platform with a heavy footprint in South East Asia.)

As related by VentureBeat, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said that Chatbots will “fundamentally revolutionize how computing is experienced by everybody.” Nadella explained that for now, bots will augment apps, but in time, human language will be taught to all computers and become “the new interface.”

Based on my research, I believe that while Chatbots are not yet a make or break decision, given the right technological advancement they are highly likely to become the norm for researching and purchasing (travel or other) from mobile in the future.

That said, I strongly believe nothing can replace the human touch and related emotions. We see younger generations wanting to get back to local, genuine experiences and connecting with other humans in the world. The research and purchase phases might happen with the Bots, but ultimately humans will still take you through the experience.

I would like to leave you with this quote from an important person in this industry:

“In the long run bots won’t only answer questions they will anticipate them” – Erwin van Lun, Chatbots.org’s CEO and founder (source)

Further Resources

  • Medium: Read the extensive review of the most important travel Bots. You’ll also find a recap of just over 20 Chatbots in this article.
  • Chatbot Magazine: Subscribe to Chatbotmagazine.com’s newsletter. To get more technical on Bots, review their Complete Beginner’s Guide to Chatbots.
  • VentureBeat: To learn more about globalizing Bots, read about some of the biggest international hurdles in this research.