Tag Archives: SEO

Foreign gemütlichkeit in the UK

Looking at the primary findings of a recent hotel online market research we conducted, it became somewhat obvious that multilingual international travellers are not “chased” by hoteliers. Unlike the occasionally surprising proficiency one can find in a hotelier’s online strategy when it comes to same-language markets, international source markets are – to put it mildly – mostly ignored. This suggests a significant opportunity for hotels, in the form of what is – in every way that counts – a “new” marketplace; one in which linguistic barriers have so far kept the competition away!

If you are a hotelier, think of your PPC and SEO efforts… do you think you are selling to the Japanese in the same way that you are selling to the Brits? I am afraid that unless you KNOW the answer to be “yes”… you aren’t.

Although this changes dramatically from market to market, the rule of thumb for the top city destinations around the world seems to be that a disproportionally low number of hotels chase international business.

For such markets (think London, New York, Chicago, Miami, Paris, Munich etc.) this imbalance is presenting us with an interesting dynamic of supply and demand. On the one hand we have some finite and proportionately small – and (in most western countries) fairly accurately measured – demand for local accommodation from international markets. On the other hand, we have a very low number of hotels that appear to be interested in, and actively trying to reach, international markets. There also seems to be a very clear divide between large international chains and independent hotels – irrespectively of the standing or reputation of the properties in question.

It would be somewhat impolite for me to point to any specific properties here. But, to get an idea of the point that I am trying to make without naming any names, think of the 5  independent quality hotels in London that spring to your mind. Find them in Google and see if you can find any languages there… Now, I know they have their reasons for this – maybe they really don’t need any more business directly to their website – at least not at an additional cost. However, the conclusion (which will be visited again further down in this entry) is clear. If you want to stay in one of those hotels, and you happen to come from Japan, you pretty much have to find and book this hotel via an agency.

Now, it is personally important to me to mention here that the more I study, the more suspicious I grow of statistics and evidence. However, I have to agree that the figures available to us suggest a staggering opportunity for independent hoteliers, in the international/multilingual markets as a whole. In the case of certain cities with strong international demand, only those hotels that can speak the customer’s language (literally) have the chance to attract international traffic directly to their own website. The rest, don’t.

You Are Not Alone

Figures for international inbound travel to the UK are readily available for anyone with an interest in accessing them. One of my favourite sources is www.visitbritain.org who frequently update their figures and implicitly remind us of the magnitude of the opportunity in the international traveller. A good summary of the latest update on international tourism facts can be found straight on their website here (http://www.visitbritain.org/insightsandstatistics/inboundtourismfacts/index.aspx).

Some of the quoted figures are truly staggering. Almost 30 million visitors in 2010 have generated almost 16.9 billion pounds in revenue to the country, and certain key performance indicators have pretty much stayed the same over the last four years – despite the rare turmoil in the international and domestic markets since 2008. More than half of those visitors (52%) were visiting London.

The Language Mosaic

There is no escaping that we live in a multicultural, multilingual world. The consequential complexities and inconsistent (and even incompatible) patterns of consumer behaviour between the various international markets make marketing to such an international audience a seriously complex affair. The very simple fact that a hotel is ideally trying to sell the same room to anyone in the world who potentially wants to come to the area, makes it all more tricky than we would ideally like it to be.

However, and as it often happens with similar populations, there are some demand patterns that can make our lives a little easier…

The – almost – 80/20 rule

It turns out that almost 70% of all international visits in 2010 happened from the top 10 source countries (only 10% of the countries that have direct flights to Britain). The top ten in terms of market volume and spent can be seen in the table below:

Source: VisitBritain.org 2011

We also know that not all visitors behave the same way. The reasons behind travelling (e.g. VFR vs. Business Travel), the age of the visitor, as well as the source country itself can make a great difference in the suitability of a traveller for any particular hotel.
Furthermore, from a linguistic point of view (and despite that with the exception of two English-speaking countries (USA and Australia) all other top 10 source countries (by volume) are within Europe) the complexity that we are faced with isn’t too scary…

The Big Four

Looking at the table above, and making the assumption that all the Dutch visitors speak English (I have yet to come across a Dutch person that doesn’t speak English better than I do) leaves us with four major foreign language “powered” contributors to inbound international travel in the UK. France, Germany, Spain and Italy. These four countries alone represent exactly one third of all the international visitors that came to the UK in 2010!

Lost in Translation?

According to eye4travel (2008) some 70% of all internet users don’t speak English at all, or are uncomfortable using it for transactions… this is obviously a figure that refers to everyone with a computer and an internet connection, and we would be dishonest with ourselves if we didn’t assume that international travellers are more likely to speak English than the average user. Yet, the significance of language barriers is pretty evident from that figure – 70% is a high number in any language, and so is 60% or even 50%.

In any case, I believe that there are only two significant questions to be asked by any hotelier trying to increase its direct traffic.

1. “Do I think that international travellers understand my site when they visit it?

Before anyone raises their hand to talk about Google Translations and risk giving me an aneurysm (however brilliant and useful their translations tools are) I would like to ask you the even more pertinent and logically preceding question:

2. Do you think that travellers from abroad are actually able to find you online, in order to have the opportunity to try and understand what you are selling to them?”

…..

Even if it were only a minority of international inbound travellers that didn’t speak English (and it isn’t), them being unable to find your website in the first place is – I am sure you would agree – a major issue!

If you are a hotelier and you’re are reading this, the chances are that you are already doing some SEO and PPC for your website. Also, the chances are that you are NOT doing SEO or PPC for your German, French, Japanese etc. potential customers. Hilton is, Marriot is, and crucially Expedia, LastMinute and Bookings do (have a look at the Google screen captures below).

At eHotelworks, when we were thinking of offering the BABEL Multilingual product, we run multiple search tests from several countries for multiple types of hotels, using a variety of languages and IP locations (in other words we were pretending we were searching for UK hotels from abroad).

The results were really fascinating. From certain countries (most clearly show in Holland than anywhere else) the evident problem of being found appeared to be little. In Dutch searches, hotels without international languages on their sites produced mixed results (and much better than we expected).

It seems that the Dutch’s ability to speak perfect English has permeated Google’s results. A lot of hotels – especially in what we call “narrow” searches (e.g. “hotel name” and “location” were used as search terms) – did come up in the first pages, no problem.

On the other extreme, in countries and languages where English is not a prominent language or the language has a significantly different alphabet (Japanese, Arabic, etc.) no searches gave us any independent hotel results at all. Even when we were looking for hotels by their exact name and location, only agencies came back with results. Fascinatingly, Bookings.com – presumably through their very popular xml feed based service – seemed to power the staggering majority of results in the more obscure source markets (such as Greece in the example below).

Have a look at the example of two searches (used the keywords “hotel in London”) here:

First, from England, in English

Search Results for "Hotels in London" in Egnlish, and for England

Even for the traditionally expensive keywords "hotel in London" there is a multitude of hotels having their direct links seen. Especially in the Local Results section.

Then from Greece, in Greek

Results for a search on Hotels in London in Greek

You don't have to speak Greek to notice that there are NO results, either organic or paid for, which belong to a hotel. The OTAs have the opportunity to rule the first pages of Google. Even the mighty Marriott and Hilton of this world have to give those bookings away to OTAs.

The inability of hotelier to market to the many – and obscure – international languages is arguably – and at least in part – justified. As those that do engage in the “get the international traveller” game would testify, the law of diminishing returns applies with unforgiving realism.  After the first few “top-tier” languages have been put together and offered to consumers, adding more languages is not necessarily a good idea. Going after certain countries that represent only a very small proportion of the overall inbound UK market is simply too expensive for the returns this market will generate, and therefore a good commercial decision to leave them out.

It is most likely for that reason that you don’t get to see Expedia, Hotels.com, LastMinute etc. featuring in the Greek search results of Google above… It is too expensive to build Expedia in Greek and their commercial model is nowhere near as attractive to local wannabe OTAs as that of Bookings who seem to thrive over there not only through XML feeds to smaller operators, but also directly, on their own two feet.

So what is one to do?

Some markets are – I would argue – no-brainers! With a third of all international travel to London coming from France, Germany, Spain and Italy, and (statistically speaking) with only a fraction of the hotels in your competitive set offering rooms to these countries through their own websites, there is a huge internationalisation opportunity that should generate some real results.

Whatever your country, do talk to us. BABEL Multilingual is of the risk-free variety and I certainly believe in it. The nature of building and maintaining international presence against the OTAs doesn’t have to be alienating or difficult. We think it is completely worth it.

Thank you for reading – as always we are completely open, interested and grateful for any feedback you may have.

Yannis Anastasakis
Director

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Filed under Cultural Optimisation, eCommerce, International, Marketing, Multilingual, Pay Per Click, Return On Investment, Sales Strategies, Search Engine Optimisation

An SEO guide to blind dating

I was reading a really amusing article the other day, which was explaining the similarities of link-building with picking up girls in a bar! Beyond the obvious entertainment value – and the obviously interesting advice on picking up girls – the article interested me because it spoke volumes about a typical webmaster’s approach to SEO efforts – and consequently the approach of organisations. It firmly reminded me that there is no business like hotel business, and this is particularly obvious when it comes to hotel website search engine optimisation.

Getting off-line relationships to online benefits

Getting off line relationships into online benefits is actually easy if you are a hotelier

I know you can easily look for the term on Wikipedia, but I thought I should do the polite thing and give you a very quick definition – which should save you reading through multiple paragraphs.

Link building is the process of getting as many in-bound links to your website as possible.

Why people bother with it? Because this is one of the most efficient ways of having your website coming up higher in search engines when someone is looking for somewhere to stay in your area. (I hope you are not missing the irony here. The more it is easy for your website to be found without the use of search engines – because it has links to it from many websites out there – the more search engines will make sure you are easily found through their own listings).

There are obviously many ways to build links. You can buy them (either in the form of advertising or simply as a listing), you can agree to place reciprocal links with a partner company (so you get one from their website and in return they get one from yours), or you can do something clever, like publish a really amusing blog that will be copied by many companies and individuals on their website (the internet world can be remarkably polite like that). My favourite, and the most elusive way to build inbound links is to achieve a PR feat (e.g. get someone famous to do something noteworthy in you hotel) which means that a lot of people will write about you, and hopefully will provide links to your website as well.

So, campaigning to get reciprocal links was the subject of the article in question, and the advice was focused on what you and I would call fist-impression sales tips; all about making the right moves and sending the right signals. And it was generally good advice…mostly.

Don’t overdress or under-dress, don’t use corny lines (equivalent of “did it hurt when you fell from heaven” is – apparently – completely out of the question, but then again can you imagine someone saying anything equivalent on a cold-call and not being arrested?) and even “play it disinterested” (it is completely beyond me how you can go and speak to a girl in a bar and then pretending to not be interested in her – but then again I am by far no expert on the subject).

The very interesting detail? This was an article written by a webmaster and addressed

to other webmasters. And that is where it all gets a little worrying.

Beyond the innocent, and well timed tongue-in-cheek approach, the article confirmed the inevitability of lost opportunity from applying general SEO principles to our industry. Because even the sharpest webmaster out there will miss the bigger, better picture of “doing it right”. A hotel company with its staff working in synch, taking advantages of the existing skill-set and focusing at becoming efficient in getting business to grow from all channels should not have IT people doing sales calls (because that is exactly what link-building calls are).

This is an important area for growth, and it should be treated as such by allocating the most skilled people to work on it. And I am probably stating the obvious but there is no better person than a sales person to do a cold call. Even if your webmaster is exceptional in his interpersonal and social skills, in this world you can’t buy experience. Just like you don’t want your accountant to take reservations however quickly they learn (which, incidentally, is the equivalent of letting your PMS company power your web booking engine), you also don’t want your IT manager to do your sales. Not because t

hey wouldn’t be able to deliver, but because they are going to miss opportunities and because they are going to create opportunity costs (quite frankly they should definitely have better things to do).

When your sales representative is visiting a local company to discuss a contract, or if they are on a maintenance sales call, they could easily suggest a firming up of the relationships by establishing a reciprocal link. They will be coming back with positive answers at least as much as they will do with negative ones, and as far as links go, you could do much worse on the quality front. Links with corporate accounts’ websites will be there for a long time (at the very least for the duration of your rate agreement). And this is a link from a company that will most likely have a high-value website (as companies with travel policies tend to be larger an better recognised names, with decent presence on the web).

In conclusion, please don’t rely on your webmaster’s charm to build links – however elegant personality they may have. They might be fabulous at picking up girls from a pub but they are very unlikely to be your best producers in terms of effort vs. results.*

Yannis Anastasakis

eHotelworks

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Filed under eCommerce, Hotels, Link Building, Sales Strategies, Search Engine Optimisation

ppc looks so much better than seo… and yet, it doesn’t

It isn't always easy to be seen

SEO - especially in the context of multilingual markets - is by far the most efficient way to achieve online presence for a hotel. You just need to take the long-term view.

SEO actually always bothered me. And from what I have seen so far, the chances are that it bothers you too! The reason? Its nice looking, clean-cut, always on time, reliable sister: Pay Per Click.

A few years ago I was selling electronic media advertising. Back then, GDS advertising was by far the largest contributor of revenue to the company (and my sales figures) but internet advertising was also just starting to take off. Even in those days, for those clients that ventured off to what was then uncharted fields of internet campaigning, there was a very clear gravitational pull between a Director of Sales and PPC.

You see, once the PPC campaign was turned on, the customer was practically hooked in this neat little machine where we would put a pound coin in one side and anything between a 10 and a 20 pound note would come out on the other. This meant that sales would grow for everyone, and that kept everyone happy. So happy in fact that it was very, very hard to convince a hotelier to consider investing their money on anything else on the web. In a very obvious way, SEO was the victim of PPC. Of course this was not the case because it was ever given a fair chance, but because it never had a chance.

And in a way, back then that was OK. These were the days that PPC was the newest buzz-word and the most complex presentation you could do was to explain what PPC was, talk about click-throughs and tracking..! Customers buying into PPC were practically on the cutting edge and their ROI was almost guaranteed to beat 15 to 1. Who could ever argue with the figures? Not that I wanted to argue anyway as (as I have already mentioned) I wasn’t that comfortable with SEO.

Although I had a fairly good idea of what it could do, there were a few things about it that didn’t like. Without going in to detail on this, I thought SEO was always too vague, lacking saleability in the specifics department.

The inescapable fact – and what makes search engine portals such profitable business for their owners – is that Pay Per Click, when done in a half-decent way, works. When it is done properly, it is sensational.

For the untrained eye, a comparison between the two was almost unfair! PPC is tangible, responsive and an accountable investment. SEO was (and still is) largely seen as non-accountable, intangible and (by comparison to PPC) takes a long time to kick in. Additionally, SEO was more difficult to grasp all round. Apart from providing me with difficulties when I was asked “what will you do for me exactly?” (try to explain why Alt Text or Headings are important to a non enthusiast and you will see what I mean), it was also difficult after all the work was done since results take time. With hoteliers only knowing about PPC, the delay was frustrating for them.

Pay Per Click was always clean cut and (very much in line with Caesar’s famous request to his wife) isn’t just truly honest; it also appears to be honest. When it came to first impressions, PPC always had a firm hand-shake and came to the job interview with impressive, tangible and provable success stories. SEO was the person that turns up late, looks shifty, you don’t know what she has been up to, and you know that most of your competitors wouldn’t employ her. It all practically makes you want to shake a finger in front of her face and ask in a fed-up voice why she can’t be a little more like PPC.

For better or for worse, and as it is always the case with emerging technologies, things have now changes a lot.

One thing that has changed for sure, is the hoteliers themselves. I can tell you with a great level of certainty that one in every two clients I meet, would give any uncertain e-marketing salesperson a life-changing scare. Today it is easier to talk about concurrent website monitoring than it was to even mention organic vs. paid-for listings some ten years ago. More savvy hoteliers means that the more difficult concepts can now be explained and sold where appropriate.

Another thing that is changing, is that the entire marketplace of on-line advertising. The battle for the right keywords is now a science. A good friend of mine is starting this month his PhD in UCL on applied mathematics and algorithmic trending – which will basically train him to write programmes that calculate the mood of the surfers, practically identifying not just the current SEO trends and customer wants, but also to predict future ones. And some heavy-weight player will employ him to do SEO work, whilst a lot of hoteliers out there aren’t even looking at SEO yet. Unlike PPC, SEO gives early entrants massive advantages – which means that those that go early will remain ahead of the pack for a long time.  In PPC, when a keyword becomes expensive for you, it is equally expensive for everyone (and richer players have more room to push you out). In SEO early entrants have the advantages and it will take the richer players a significant amount of disproportionate effort to push you out of the way.

Finally, I have definitely changed – especially since SEO and I were properly introduced. And this is one acquaintance that I can’t recommend enough.

Today, I find myself arguing that SEO is exactly where hoteliers needs to go. The varying degrees of understanding it, and its much weaker image behind PPC are indications that much fewer people in the industry are trying it out. And those that do? Given that there isn’t a small number of companies that would charge peanuts to undertake it (and deliver work of equivalent value), one must assume that on average the work that is done, isn’t done as well as one would hope.

All these challenges mean one thing. This is virgin territory – an arena that draws from tangible no-black-hat sciences like consumer psychology, mathematics, economics and principles of demand and supply – where if you are making any effort, you are already ahead of the game. This is the market to be in – every time.

Yannis Anastasakis

eHotelworks

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Filed under eCommerce, Hotels, Marketing, Pay Per Click, Search Engine Optimisation