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Benchmarking Web Trends Part 3.
By Patricia Brusha and Alicia Whalen ~ A Couple of Chicks e-Distribution Marketing
Tuesday, 10th October 2006
 
The first article in our series "Benchmarking Web trends" started to aggregate and draw some conclusions about how active the hospitality industry is in using the internet as an advertising medium for tourism.

Part Two in the series addressed managing and leveraging content for optimal search engine saturation through techniques such as RSS feeds and optimized Press Releases, and concluded with some recommendations for line items to be added to a 2007 online marketing budget.

Part Three of our series which we now refer to as our "Yellow paper" - loosely based on the "White Paper" (we knew that we couldn't do it wrong if we re-named it!) addresses the importance of Web Analytics and Campaign measurement, and also looks at the "consumer usability" of a website and why this is as important as driving traffic.

A Couple of Chicks e-Marketing distributed a survey to over 250 Hospitality professionals who rated their participation in online marketing and distribution techniques through various online marketing strategies including; Search Engine Optimization (SEO), Search Engine Marketing (SEM), use of Web Analytics, Pay-per-click advertising (PPC), RSS feeds, Blogs and other online marketing opportunities.

The results of the survey have provided us with a cross section of the industry's thoughts on tourism web marketing trends for 2007, and have provided us with a platform to make some recommendations about how to add Online Marketing to your budget.

Web Analytics – Campaign Measurement

Web Analytics applications are used to measure visitor traffic or customer searching process details for your website. The term Web Analytics is becoming overused, or misused as there are a number of these tools available, yet it is difficult to evaluate them with an apples-to-apples comparison.

Let's start with the basics, if nothing else your web hosting provider should be giving you some type of traffic/trend reports. Almost 40% of our survey participants claim they still do not receive any type of web report. Of the 60% who do receive them only slightly over half analyze the data on a regular basis.

Popular analytics tools our respondents use range from Webtrends (20%), to Google Analytics, (17.6%) to Click Tracks at (9.8%). The majority of respondents at 51% are not using a "name brand" Analytics tool - just the web-stat report that is provided for them. A proper Analytics tool and/or a "campaign tracker" is required to measure the success of your online marketing efforts.

Even though 46% of our survey respondents do not transact online at all, there are many portals or Destination marketing sites that their main goal is to drive traffic to their membership. Without revenue goals to measure, a proper analytics tool is a necessity to measure traffic goals for those that are paying for their listing or micro-site within a portal, for those who are buying into Banner Ad programs, pay-per-click advertising campaigns and those spending dollars in search engine optimization and new web designs. 

Without proper measurement – how do marketers determine where to place marketing dollars?  Start by looking at your monthly web stat reports at your referring traffic, keyword reports, and unique visitor statistics if nothing else.  Web Analytics provides intelligence well beyond this, but even a look into reports that are already available to anyone with a website is a great start!

How would you Rate your website?

Everyone has their own thoughts about their website. Numerous times when first working with a client I will ask them for their web address, and the immediate response is "Oh don't look at my website it needs to be redone" or "we are in the process of updating the website."

Similar comments were expressed by some of the survey participants; some of the comments included:

"Basically my website is an online brochure."

"Our website has much content but needs to be organized better to make navigation better for the user. Also much of the content needs to be re- written for web purposes"

"Our website works, but it needs to evolve to the next stage of being more in line with the Web 2.0 evolution."

So are you happy with your website? According to our survey 29% are, yet 45% claim they are "somewhat" happy with it. Almost 20% feel it is outdated and 8% are just down right embarrassed of their website!

Overall the majority (80%) do feel they have current information, that their website is easy to navigate and has a clear purpose.   35% of respondents reported that improvements such as adding current photography and making their site more compelling for visitors to return often were required.

Yesterday's Websites looked far different from the ones we see today, and tomorrow's Web will look different still. As website design techniques have changed, so have the consumers who use them.  Consumers have adapted a new search behavior, a new way to navigate through the World Wide Web. No longer do users rely only on the navigation bar to find information – now they look for relevant links within the content to guide them. Surfers don't read web pages--they scan them. Searchers don't sit and analyze how things are supposed to work on a site (as some of us marketers wish they would!)--they muddle through content foraging ahead to reach a goal that brought them there in the first place. A Website that offers the best, easiest, most intuitive experience - to assist users in accomplishing these goals are the ones people will repeatedly visit and transact with.

Like an old Motel that has added addition after addition, numerous websites today are a clutter of information making a new visitor confused by unorganized pieced together information.  What makes a website successful is good integrated design that fills a need for both consumers and search engines, one that's carefully thought out and has been independently tested.

Online Marketing Recommendations – Benchmarking Webtrends for 2007

What should be added as line items to your 2007 marketing budget?

1.      If you have not already invested in professional Search Engine Optimization, and considered some kind of online advertising channel (PPC campaign, Banner Advertising etc.) – that is a must do for 2007.  More than 80% of website visits begin in a directory or search engine, if your website can't be found – you will loose a huge part of your customer base.

2.      Add an Analytics Tool to your website to start assessing what online channels work for your business.  The internet is the most measurable advertising medium.  Take time over the coming year to look at your website consumer user behavior and identify the campaigns (referral websites) and keywords that drive the most traffic.  You can't truly know your customer or what it will take to convert your customer until you have an understanding of how they interact with your site.

3.      Consider Website Consumer Usability when making changes or re-designing your website.  You can drive all of the traffic in the world to your website – but if the customer gets there and does not find what they are looking for – they are gone.  Be careful about the bells and whistles you add to your site – be sure to cover your basis first with a site architecture that is conducive to online consumer search behavior.

4.      Participate or at least be aware of the new online "social media" where your customers are talking about your product in Blogs and online forums.  This is the new "word of mouth."

5.      Add an E-newsletter or RSS feed to further interact with your customer.

Summary

The survey brought into focus many of the truths and trends we had suspected. Websites are important to everyone yet there is an ongoing struggle about how to be found, how to market online, and the best way to keep improving websites in the face of a rapidly changing medium and consumer.

There has been much hype around Search Engine Optimization over the past few years, yet many of our respondents reported that they are still not "optimized" properly, or achieving the results they were looking for. The struggle to be found on the first page of a search engine continues to be the "nut to crack" for our survey respondents.

The soaring popularity of Pay per Click has intrigued us, but the reality is that many tourism operators don't have the proper budget, or resources to play in this game. For those who are, or trying, results are dismal and somewhat disappointing. Perhaps the major winners in this "sport" are the Search Engines themselves?

We all want to communicate with our customers and e-newsletters have offered us a means of keeping in contact on a regular basis. However as the consumer public has been inundated with e-newsletters the "wow" factor has worn off. If we want to maintain a dialogue with our customers, we need to also embrace the new "social media" with pipelines such as RSS feeds and Blogs.

I encourage you to re-examine your existing Marketing budget before you finalize your 2007 plans. Make sure you are not just pouring dollars into areas just because that is the way you always did it. Having a good web analytics tool will help you measure the success of the online campaigns you are involved in, guiding you where to most effectively us the online dollars you have.

Finally, take a fresh look at your website. Remember having a website is not unique anymore and most people spend more time on other sites than yours. What can you do to make your site more compelling, interactive, and still maintain a search engine friendly design?  Are your online Marketing efforts measuring up?

About A Couple of Chicks:

Patricia Brusha and Alicia Whalen are the co-founders of "A Couple of Chicks," a non-intimidating approach to Internet Marketing, e-Distribution & Revenue/Campaign Measurement. The "Chicks" specialize in using Creative, Distribution and Technology together to bring clarity to marketing on-line.  Visit www.acoupleofchicks.com for articles and information about Search Engine Optimization and Online Marketing
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