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Seasonal SEO – Let’s Talk

Posted by on Feb 20, 2018 in All Matters SEO

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Marketers and advertisers are constantly thinking about their overall digital strategy for the year, but what happens when the seasons change? Should the seasons and the weather influence your current SEO strategy? Should you optimize your website to focus on perfect beach weather during a shoulder season? Should you shift SEO strategy when the ski season ends?

Seasonal SEO

The traditional nature of hospitality marketing is to capitalize on seasonal deals and offerings. Properties in destination cities are looking to capitalize from peak seasons and change up their current marketing and advertising plans, so why shouldn’t we on the SEO front? It is a question that comes up often for all hotels when we are considering SEO for a hotel website.

Natural search engine optimization can take several months for a keyword strategy to start showing success in the results; therefore, we recommend utilizing a long-term keyword strategy, as the process needs to start a few months in advance. By the time a hotel begins to rank for a nearby waterpark, it will be winter or fall and that attraction will not interest guests visiting the area. We recommend having evergreen content on your website year-round to keep it relevant while also utilizing basic, yet important, SEO ranking factors and a la carte options to boost your digital strategy.

Girl on Beach with Phone(Image Source: Pexels)

Hotel SEO

Your SEO strategy should always be specific to your hotel’s location and brand. When we begin looking at SEO for a property, we ask a few basic questions such as are we looking to target business or leisure travelers and what are the top local area demand drivers? If your hotel is in sunny California where snow is unheard of, then beach and pool attractions will naturally be the focus for your digital strategy. However, while hot weather-related activities are your focus, it is also important to consider all types of travelers who are looking to stay at your hotel during non-peak seasons. Once you consider where your hotel is located, where most of your business comes from, and which type of travelers you are accommodating most frequently, you can create a unique strategy that fits your property specifically. This is one of the many benefits and flexible options within SEO and digital marketing. We always aim to create a customized strategy that fits your hotel.

Recommendations

There are several approaches to consider when including seasonal-specific content on your website, and they can vary based on the type of hotel. For full-service properties that have additional amenities and specific seasonal attractions on-site, we recommend utilizing seasonal-specific modules and landing pages. These options allow properties to add seasonal elements to their digital strategy while keeping an evergreen keyword strategy on their main website content year-round. One perfect example can be seen in the digital strategy for the Gaylord Texan Resort & Convention Center and the use of modules that include winter themes and on-site attractions that remain on the website year-round.

Below are some SEO recommendations to follow during peak seasons to help increase website rankings and visibility in major search engines:

  • Clean up local citations and listings
  • Obtain backlinks that point to your hotel website
  • Review and update your hotel website photography
  • Add seasonal deals and packages to your website
  • Utilize seasonal-specific modules
  • Create, optimize and distribute seasonal press releases during peak seasons
  • Publish seasonal-specific landing pages on your website
  • Create unique social media posts during peak seasons and include links to your seasonal deals to provide calls-to-action on your website

Rest Assured

It never hurts to bring up questions related to seasonal SEO, but rest assured that your SEO strategy is applicable year-round. The topic of seasonality will always be relevant and something to investigate and discuss. However, for SEO and digital marketers, the answer is to not change keywords based on the seasons. Your SEO strategy should continue to remain relevant to a year-round traveler as opposed to only focusing on those few weeks of ski or beach weather.

Digital Services Hosts Its First Techy Tea Party!

Posted by on Feb 13, 2018 in Announcements

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On January 22nd, the Europe Digital Services team hosted its first “Techy Tea Party” to help a group of 10 older Londoners improve their digital skills and have a good chat whilst enjoying a very British tea party at the iconic St. Pancras Renaissance Hotel London. These kind of sessions can really make a difference to older people’s confidence in using the internet and technology that many of us take for granted.

The event was run in partnership with Marriott Digital Services and St. Pancras Renaissance Hotel London, and was held in conjunction with:

  • Age UK London – the UK’s largest charity working with older people
  • Time Bank – a UK based national volunteering charity which runs volunteer mentoring projects to tackle complex social issues

Once the attendees arrived and were settled in, the hotel’s Marketing Manager, Gaston Bernard, treated the group to a tour of the prestigious hotel. During the tour, the group saw the hotel’s famous Grand Staircase (below), which featured in the Spice Girls ‘Wannabe’ music video and Harry Potter films, and they even got to enjoy an impromptu piano repertoire from Fernando Carvalho from the Europe team too.

The Grand Staircase_St. Pancras Renaissance Hotel(Image Source: St. Pancras Renaissance Hotel)

Below, the group enjoying a tour of the Hansom Lounge at St. Pancras Renaissance London.

Marriott Digital Services Europe Techy Tea Party(Image Source: Claire Bell)

After the tour, the group (who were from seven boroughs across London) were paired up with members of the Digital Services team (and Gaston) to start work! The team provided the attendees with advice to help solve a range of their digital questions. These varied from support with email, to how best to use Fitbits, getting set up on Snapchat and much more.

5.7 million people in later life have never used the internet, and many more find it difficult to stay up to date with the pace of new technology. Not only are they missing out on all the great services technology can provide, research shows that being online can reduce depression for older people so it’s vital that we help older people to get online and make the most of new technology. Timebank, UK

Once the session was finished, all of the attendees enjoyed a sumptuous afternoon tea party kindly provided by the hotel. This included traditional scones with jam and lashings of clotted cream which were enjoyed by all!

The attendees shared how useful they found the experience; the attendees and Europe team made some new friends for life!

The Europe team is looking into carrying out more Techy Tea Parties in the future, so stay tuned. For any questions, or if your hotel would like to host a future event please contact Claire Bell, Senior Manager – Europe.

Techy Tea Party(Image Source: Claire Bell)

Keep Up with the WeChat Mini Program

Posted by on Feb 6, 2018 in Digital Industry News, Social Media, Travel Industry News

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For a lot of people, WeChat is no longer a new term. Since launching in 2011, WeChat has quickly become the most popular application in China, with close to 1000 million monthly active users. Because of its large number of monthly active users, high opening frequency and average time people spend on it, more and more business owners are adopting WeChat as part of their digital strategy. For these reasons, it’s not surprising that WeChat Mini Program gained a lot of attention even before it officially launched.

So what exactly is WeChat Mini Program?

Mini Program, which was announced in 2017, is a new concept that links users with services. The update now allows WeChat users to access “Mini Programs,” which are similar to native apps, within the WeChat app. Zhang Xiaolong, the “Father of WeChat,” described 4 features of Mini Program, which are “No need to install,” ‘’Handy,” “Free to leave after use” and ‘’No need to delete.”

One of the advantages Mini Program has over native apps is that there is “no need to install,” so users won’t need to download a lot of different apps to fit various needs. This is a critical difference from the way Apple’s app store functions, and is important for businesses who have a hard time getting consumers to download their apps, and with app retention. In fact, Localytics found that 1 in 4 apps downloaded are abandoned after just one session. So, can the ease of Mini Programs take the place of the native app completely? To answer this question, we need to know first what can be done with Mini Program.

Below are functions announced when Mini Program just launched on January 2017:

  • Enable sharing of Mini Program Page: in case of Mini Programs with multiple pages, users can share the current page they viewed and receivers can be directed to this specific page.
  •  Shareable: users can share Mini Program to their conversations with one friend or to WeChat groups.
  • Searchable: Mini Program can be searched within WeChat.
  • Link with official account: account holders can link Mini Program with official account.
  •  Offline QR code: users can enter Mini Program via scanning QR code.
  • Switchable: users can put Mini Program in the back end when they want to use other apps and quickly call back to the previous state when they need to use Mini Program again.
  • Message notifications: business owners can send messages to users who accepted its services before and users can contact customer service within Mini Program.
  • History list: used Mini programs will be placed into history list for next time use.

Since April 2017, WeChat started to develop more functions within Mini Program and opened more flexibility to third party platforms.

WeChat Mini Program(Image Source: Fiona Qi)

The screenshots above are message pushes from WeChat Public Platform official account, most of the notifications are about new functions of Mini Program. Some major functions opened include:

  • Mini Programs can add “forward” button on the page which users can share with friends more conveniently.
  • Official accounts can set text link or image link in articles they pushed to users and direct users to Mini Program.
  • Developers can set keywords in the back end to better reach users when they search for Mini Programs.
  • Mini Programs linked with the same official account can jump to each other.
  • Mini program now supports games.

We can see from the above trend that WeChat is obviously trying to develop Mini Program to a more and more native-app-like service and use this to build a closed WeChat ecosystem.

Why should we care about Mini Program?

Does Mini Program have anything to do with hotels or travel? The best answer might be the actions of industry players.

WeChat Mini Program Hotel Search(Image Source: Fiona Qi)

Mini Program search results page with the keyword “Hotel:”

  • Ctrip
  • HUAZHU group
  • Tongcheng
  • Qunar
  • eLong
  • Meituan Hotel
  • GreenTree Inn
  • Vienna Hotels Group
  • Plateno Trip
  • BTG HOMEINNS Hotels Group

For hoteliers, the above names explain a lot. Not only OTAs like Ctrip and eLong, but also hotel groups such as HUAZHU all launched their own Mini Programs and started to explore this new way of doing business.

HUAZHU Mini Program(Image Source: Fiona Qi)

From above screenshots of HUAZHU Mini Program, it’s not hard to notice that the homepage concept is very similar with its own app’s homepage, but is simplified and only keeps the most important features, the “Book” and “My Account” page. Through this Mini Program, users can select destination, check-in and check-out dates and view all hotels that are available.

HUAZHU Mini Program(Image Source: Fiona Qi)

After choosing a specific hotel, a rate-check page will show up with a basic hotel description and hotel images. And if you want to share this hotel with friends, this can be achieved easily by forwarding the page; your friend will be able to click and directly go to this hotel’s rate-check page rather than HUAZHU’s Mini Program homepage. This is the so called “enable sharing of Mini Program Page” concept mentioned earlier.

Enable Sharing of Mini Program Page(Image Source: Fiona Qi)

This whole process goes smoothly within WeChat system and more functions are under development. Although there are still drawbacks and challenges, Mini Program is worth trying or at least keeping close attention so no business opportunities would be missed.

Digital 101 – Are You Covering the Basics for the New Year to Come? (Part 2)

Posted by on Jan 30, 2018 in Digital Industry News

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In the first part of my Digital 101 guide, we discussed the fundamental principles of content marketing, and next up we are looking at the world of Search, Social and Paid Marketing.

Search

First up is arguably the most important part of digital marketing… search. On average, Google is handing 2 trillion searches per year. Whenever a consumer uses a search engine they’re sending out signals of intent, and it’s imperative to make sure that we are being ‘found.’ Every time a user conducts a search, the search engine returns a mixture of paid and organic links, which are relevant to the search term. First up let’s look at Organic or Natural search:

Organic results appear as a result of complex algorithms indexing billions of websites and then presenting the user with the most relevant search results. Brands do not pay for their organic links to appear against a search query. An important aspect of SEO (or search engine optimisation) is making your website easy for both users and search engine robots to understand. SEO helps the engines figure out what each page is about, and how it may be useful for users. Be sure to read more about our past SEO-focused blog posts.

The main SEO areas for you to consider are:

  • Website – A well-structured, fast, mobile-friendly website is essential in order for the search engines to look at you favourably
  • Content – Content should help demonstrate why a customer should choose you
  • On-page – Basic optimization is still an important SEO ranking factor, so think page titles and meta descriptions
  • Local SEO – Local businesses need to consider local SEO best practices, and this is especially relevant for hotels
  • Authority buildingLinks are still incredibly important to ensure strong search engine results, so I recommend you reaching out to local business partners asking them to feature your website on theirs. Check this Marriott Digital Services’ blog on link building best practices
  • Credibility – User reviews and testimonials will inevitably help with converting your website visitors

Paid Search

Paid adverts appear when brands bid on keywords that are relevant to their products or services, and you will be able to identify these with the word Ad showing next to the different search results.

Paid Search Ad

Although there are many players in this area, the most popular paid search platform is Google AdWords, followed by Bing Ads. There are different ways in which you can leverage various paid media platforms, and for this I recommend contacting your DCSM who can help provide more information.

Social Engagement 

Great social presence and campaigns enable and provide a platform for consumers to amplify their advocacy for a brand, by communicating these values with other people who may have similar interests or beliefs, so this is another area you need to be investing in. But how do you create success on social? How do you measure it?

At Marriott International we are leveraging a platform called MLive, enabling us to analyse our audience and surprise and delight our guests. This platform is built on 3 basic actions that I recommend you take even with limited resources – Listen, React and Interact:

  • Learn about what guests say about your hotel and use this feedback in your advantage
  • Keep having personal interactions with your guests as this will reassure them and keep your hotel top of their minds
  • Be on top of trending topics and have a crisis plan in place. These are key actions that will not take many resources, and will guarantee you have a strong, basic presence

There are many different social media platforms so it is normal if you are not sure where to start with. Start building your presence with channels such as Facebook and Instagram and making sure you have a solid social media content calendar that is in line with your hotel’s business objectives – if your main goal is to drive the Leisure segment, why not creating compelling content about your Local Area? If your main goal is driving corporate, why not promoting your delegate packages alongside beautiful images of your conference rooms on those key dates? Opportunities are endless and it is important to have active channels so your guests engage with your channels.

Have a look at this blog and see some of the ways Marriott is driving social engagement and success for our guests.

 Attribution  

The variables that lead to a customer interacting with your product are many – by interacting with a series of online and offline experiences and advertisements (Paid Search, Video Advertising, etc.), customers will ultimately decide if they want to buy your product or not. It is important to understand which of those exposures and interactions had the biggest impact on the consumer’s purchasing decision, so you know how to manage your budget in the future. That is what attribution can do for your marketing campaigns and their budgets.

There are plenty of different attribution tools available and each attribution tool uses a complex algorithm to identify how each marketing channel has performed. If you have multiple digital and offline marketing channels as well as cross-device campaigns and purchase paths, it’s not about choosing one capability over the other; it’s about both working together.

Data and Privacy – Do the right thing

As marketers, collecting data allows us to offer new and innovative customer experiences, and ultimately gives us great power, as well as responsibility. So, just because we have analytics and have access to personal data – doesn’t necessarily mean we can market to a consumer without permission. If you are not sure about a specific action, promotional content, if you should or not address a specific audience with a specific offer, etc., always reach out to the legal department. In the end, it’s all about doing the right thing.

The digital space is ever-evolving, complicated and fiercely competitive, but by following some guiding principles we can ensure we are pursuing excellence. A few key takeaways are:

  1. Search – Between Organic and Paid, leverage all available tools
  2. Social – A strong and consistent social presence can take you a long way to drive business and engage with guests. Keep a close eye on all your channels
  3. Attribution – Try and understand which channel is impacting the most your guests decision to buy, to allocate funds strategically
  4. Data and Privacy – Do the right thing

The Digital Services team is here to support you with your digital strategy and to make sure you are leveraging all your tools to make the most out of all your online channels. I also recommend signing up to:

  • Exclusive MDS COE Webinars – The Digital Services team is comprised of several Centers of Excellence (COEs), including Paid Media, Client Services, SEO, Social Media, Global Strategy, Content and Merchandising. These dedicated teams are responsible for staying on the forefront of trends and developing services that help you to achieve your hotel’s goals. As a way of sharing their subject matter expertise with you, each month one COE will host a webinar that is exclusive to only MDS hotels.
  • The Digital eCommerce Field Webinar – This monthly webinar series is open to all Marriott-wide hotels, but is hosted by the Digital Services team. Each month features different speakers from Marriott Headquarters. Past presenters have included the mLive team, the Hotel Website Photography team, the Marriott Rewards team, the Corporate SEO team, etc. Presentations will include need-to-know information and updates that may directly impact your hotel.
  • The Digital Services Blog, Decodedsign-up for our blog’s distribution list and get our posts delivered right to your inbox each week.
  • The MDS Newsletter – Every month, our team works hard to create a newsletter that is full of need-to-know updates, industry articles and reminders. We also love to include team interviews, group pictures and give you a sneak peek into what takes place in our office.

Do not hesitate to get in touch with your DCSM to get access to all these great tools.

Digital 101 – Are You Covering the Basics for the New Year to Come? (Part 1)

Posted by on Jan 23, 2018 in Digital Industry News

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Digital Success for 2018

In the digital age, the way companies communicate with consumers changed radically. Here at Marriott International, we are continually seeing our guests move from talking to us and booking our hotels on the phone like in the old days, to moving to a truly digital experience via the website and app at an exponential rate. Our customers are interacting with our brands and hotels using an array of different online channels, showing different intents as well. In my two-part blog series, I will cover the fundamentals of digital for 2018 with tangible actions to ensure digital success.

Importance of Content

The first step towards a successful and optimized online presence is making sure you are creating relevant, consistent, and most importantly – valuable content. This is key to attract and generate leads, expand your customer base, generate and increase online sales, increase brand awareness and engage with your online community. When producing content, consider the Content Marketing Matrix which represents the four main purposes of content:

  1. Entertain – Hotel videos, images and stories
  2. Inspire – Reviews, images
  3. Educate –Infographics, press releases
  4. Convince – Events, hotel features and price lists

Have a look at a few suggestions as to how best maximise creative content outreach from the Digital Services team.

See – Think – Do – Care

Producing content is important, but where should you start? What should you be considering? The consumer journey has changed and is becoming less straightforward. The See-Think-Do-Care (STDC) strategy can be a great first step at defining your content strategy. The foundational elements of the framework are:

  • The consideration stages (i.e. what consideration state might someone be in?)
  • The audience at each stage (i.e. what unifying view defines the audience at that stage?)

Let’s take a further look at our customers and how this applies for our organisation:

See-Thing-Do-Care

Using the See-Think-Do-Care framework for content, there are then two forms of KPIs which you can use to measure performance and outcome. These are:

  • Output KPIs – The most important KPIs- they are the end result you are looking for. For example, ‘Your Hotel Searches.’
  • In-process KPIs – These are the means to an end that you will have set up.

See-Thing-Do-Care KPIsHero – Help – Hub

The Hero, Help and Hub model recommends a new approach to brand storytelling that goes beyond traditional campaign-based marketing.

  • Hero content – Designed to inspire, entertain and attract new or loyal customers
  • Help content – Aims to answer questions from all customers and can also be educational
  • Hub content – Takes the form of regular content that loyal customers or brand fans can expect

Similarly to See-Think-Do-Care framework, customers will not move through from Hero to Hub to Help, but they could just as well watch your ‘how to’ (Help content) before seeing your Hero video. By using the ‘three Hs’ model, you can plan your content strategy so that you are communicating to a wide audience.

Here are a few examples that I recommend you use in line with your brand guidelines –

  • Hero Content – A beautiful destination video that will attract customers to book your hotel
  • Hub Content – Regular scheduled content about your hotel F&B offerings, events and day-to-day activities, which will help your costumers engage with your hotel
  • Help Content – Informative content about your local area that will help guests with their plans

Mobile Apps vs. Sites

A solid mobile strategy is extremely important, especially given that Google actively penalizes websites that are not responsive and easy to browse on mobile devices.

A mobile/responsive website and a native app are not automatically mutually exclusive. Like Marriott International, many companies have both a mobile-friendly website for their general web presence, and a downloadable app to accommodate more specific requirements. The key fact for you to keep in mind is to make sure your online presence is showing all relevant information about your hotel, and this will bring a user friendly experience across different platforms:

  • Hotel contact information
  • Up-to-date imagery
  • Deals
  • Dining menus
  • Meetings brochures and menus
  • Hotel brochure/fact sheet

So it seems content continues to be ‘king,’ and by following a few simple frameworks and principles, we can create powerful digital content marketing strategies. A few takeaways from part one of my blog post are:

  1. Create relevant, consistent, valuable content
  2. Follow the See-Think-Do-Care framework when creating content, to address the different stages of the purchase journey
  3. Consider the Hero, Help and Hub model to make sure you are communicating to a wide audience
  4. Make sure your online presence is showing all relevant information about your hotel

In my next blog post, we’ll cover the fundamentals of Search and Social, as well as Paid Marketing so stay tuned.

The Big Three: Content Marketing, SEO and Localization

Posted by on Jan 16, 2018 in Digital Industry News

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At its core, content marketing is about your audience. Its goal is to serve relevant information to a qualified audience and make them want to engage with your brand on an ongoing basis. You’re building a trusted audience who knows your brand and will want to purchase your products or services. As Michele Linn at CMI writes, “Your content is only as valuable as its ability to attract audience members and compel them to engage with your business on an ongoing basis.”

To build an effective content marketing strategy, step one of course is to build strong, engaging content. But having great content isn’t enough. You may have a vast library of content, but if you’re not distributing or marketing it properly, you won’t reach your audience.

In fact, according to a recent study conducted by BrightEdge, 71% of marketers say that less than half of their content is being consumed, and fewer than 9% of marketers report three-quarters or more of the content they produce is engaged with.

So, how do you bridge that gap and serve your content to the right audience? First, marketers must optimize their content for search engines. And in a world dominated by mobile, that optimization must take location-based search into account.

The Marriage of Content Marketing and SEO

In today’s landscape, combining your content marketing strategy with SEO best practices is crucial to reaching an engaged audience and cannot be overlooked. According to this BrightEdge study, 97% of marketers agree SEO and content marketing are converging or have already converged.

Optimization ensures that consumers can discover your content via organic search, which drives 51% of all website traffic, according to the below graphic. With organic search accounting for the majority of all traffic to a website, your SEO strategy is key to getting your content out there and to the right audience.

BrightEdge graphic(Image source: BrightEdge)

According to a recent article published by the Content Marketing Institute, it is essential to “invest in SEO before (not after) launching content: Better integration from the beginning will lead to better results.” In short, these two disciplines should never be siloed but should support each other. By focusing on your SEO strategy, your content will have better exposure to the majority of users.

Localization of Content and SEO

When it comes to broadening your engagement and traffic, it’s equally important that you are localizing your content. As users are increasingly shifting to mobile, hyperlocal searches are becoming more and more prevalent. In fact, BrightEdge found that mobile search accounts for an average of 57% of all site traffic, and Google estimates that 30% of mobile searches are related to a location. Think about it—if you’re looking for a local restaurant, what do you do? You pull up your phone and do a quick search.

For hotels, this is particularly important for outlets like restaurants or spas that appeal to locals and guests alike. With almost one third of mobile users turning to search engines for location-specific searches, it’s crucial to capture that audience by localizing your content and SEO strategy.