A Hoteliers How-To Guide to Online Advertising and Media Buying.
TIG Global
Wednesday, 29th October 2008
With over 50% of all travel bookings taking place online this year (PhoCusWright 2008), it is increasingly imperative to properly position your hotel online to capture your customers' attention. 

Online media buying is one of the most effective methods for driving highly qualified traffic directly to your website.  This form of advertising serves to secure the most Internet real estate, while reaching out to potential guests at nearly every level of the consumer purchase cycle.

Executed correctly, online advertising can be your most efficient means of increasing website traffic, conversion rates, and ultimately, improving your overall ROI. With a small budget and a little know-how, any hotelier or travel professional can plan and execute their own strategic linking campaign.

The following online advertising guidelines are designed to help you capture market share and stay ahead in today's competitive online travel market. 

1. Establish your Goals
When it comes to online marketing, preparation and research are two of the most important elements to ensure a campaign is successful.

The first few things to identify in the planning process are your hotel's need times, or instances where you may require additional marketing support and available budget.  Your unique need times may focus on such goals as guaranteeing 100% occupancy and higher ADRs during peak season, improving business during the off-season, or increasing overall brand awareness throughout the year. 

Determining how much of your budget to allot towards online media purchasing will help you decide where to start looking for media partners.  As a general rule, your budget for online media buying should be a significant portion of your pay-per-click marketing budget, which in turn should be at least a quarter of your total marketing budget. 

Another important item needed to formulate your online media plan is a list of your marketing objectives.  The most critical question to answer is whether you will you seek overall brand awareness or a direct response from the audience. We all want direct results, but it is usually a fine balance of brand recognition and direct selling that achieves long term results.

2. Identify your Unique Selling Point and Target Audience(s)
It is crucial to have a firm understanding of your hotel's strengths and weaknesses in order to pinpoint its individual marketing proposition, or unique selling point (USP).

The USP is a single feature or benefit that sets your hotel apart from its competitors in the industry. It could be a distinct sense of luxury, a central location, spa offerings, a famed golf course, wedding expertise, discounted rates, or a kid-friendly atmosphere, among others. Narrowing down all the benefits of your property and selecting a few single points can be a frustrating task, but it will ultimately make it easier for you to hone in on the appropriate media partners that will leverage your point of differentiation.

Taking what you have learned from outlining your USP, you should next identify your hotel's online target market, defined as the specific audience you seek to reach with your online advertisements. Your target market description should be as detailed as possible and denote a niche group.  Vague definitions, such as "travelers to my destination," will do little to focus your online advertising efforts. Whether you choose to target leisure travelers, business travelers, affluent DINKS (Double Income No Kids), religious retreat groups, honeymooners, or various other types of travelers, you will want to focus your media buying to be certain you are in front of the right viewers and attract the most pre-qualified traffic to your website.

The more specific you are in defining the demographic and psychographic attributes of your target market, the more focused your media purchases can be, and the higher ROI you are likely to receive.  You will also be less apt to waste precious marketing dollars on the wrong audience.

3. Research and Categorize Potential Media Partners
As you are probably aware, there are thousands of travel-specific online media partners/websites to choose from and more are launched each week. The process of identifying potential partners can quickly become an overwhelming task.

One way to begin identifying potential partnerships is to examine which websites your successful competitors are linked with.  Utilize link popularity sites like Marketleap and Yahoo! Site Explorer to automatically generate reports of the inbound links directed to your competitors' websites. Make a list of these partner sites for future research.
Conduct searches on the major search engines, Google, Yahoo!, etc., for keyword terms related to your hotel, destination, and your USP.  For example, if your hotel offered an exquisite wedding site in Cocoa Beach, you might search for the terms "Florida wedding reception" or "Cocoa Beach wedding venue." The top- ranked results will indicate the websites that are most beneficial for you to spend your time and effort researching. They are the sites that are already optimized for your target audience and will usually make the best partners.

There are various types of travel websites from which you can purchase advertising. The main categories are defined here:

In addition to the travel websites listed above, you may want to consider advertising with a Content Network or Ad Network.

With the networks, you have the ability to place your ads on hundreds of different websites and expand your reach based on related content or audiences.

You will have less control over your exact ad placement, but the costs for a brand awareness campaign can be significantly less.

Once you have created a list of possible media partners, you will need to conduct further research to compare factors such as total traffic, unique visitors, click-through rates, audience demographics and psychographics, cost, and terms of partnership. 

Use web analytics tools, such as Domaintools.com and Compete.com to assist in gathering this information. 

These sites allow you to obtain demographic visitor information for your potential media partners, as well as SEO rankings, unique monthly visitors, and additional information that will help you narrow your partners down to the most relevant list possible.
Organization is a key step in this part of the online media buying process.  As you research possible partners, keep a spreadsheet containing pertinent data such as contact information, media kits, pricing, special offers, and so on.  This database will prove invaluable when it comes time to make a final decision.

4. Select Partners and Agree to Terms
After organizing your research on potential media partners, it is time to evaluate your findings and make an informed decision. Remember to consider your marketing objectives, budget, target audience, and USP to help you narrow down your selection.

As mentioned earlier, it is important to balance your dual marketing objectives of obtaining overall brand awareness and immediate, increased bookings. Thus, you will most likely seek to purchase a mixture of Cost-Per-Impression (CPM) and Cost-Per-Click (CPC) media agreements. CPM agreements require that you pay for a set amount of visitors that view your advertisement. CPC agreements require that you pay for a set amount of click-throughs to your website or landing page. Additionally, graphical display ads are typically used to generate brand awareness, whereas text listings usually drive more direct traffic.

If you are limited by budgetary constraints, you will most likely want to start by advertising on websites that are destination specific, namely the local travel guides and travel directories. These sites deliver a more focused audience that is usually further along in its purchase decision process.

As a general rule, when negotiating agreements with new media partners, you should seek to obtain partnerships that terminate at around 90 to 120 days out.  This will allow you to collect enough performance data to determine how successful each partnership has been, and terminate those that are not returning a positive ROI.

5. Create a Successful Advertisement
When it comes to online advertisements, you only have a few seconds to grab the attention of site visitors and convince them to click on your ad.  Simplicity is the key.  You want to be as clear and concise as possible, while still getting the appropriate message across, in keeping with your unique selling point. 

The message your ad conveys will depend on a number of factors.  Since each travel website attracts different visitors, be sure to tailor your ad to the various unique audiences. For example, if you are advertising your hotel on a family travel site, be sure to mention your family activities. If you are unclear of your partner website's target audience, utilize the web analytics tools mentioned previously to determine the audience's demographic information.

Since the ultimate goal of your advertisement is to get people to remember your hotel's name and click through to your property's website, your messaging will change depending on whether you purchase a text ad or a graphical ad.  Text-based ads usually come with a set character limit that restricts your communication. With text ads, it is crucial to include the phrase "official website" within your ad, especially when you are appearing on travel directory sites. This phrase will differentiate your ad from the other booking sites.

On local partner sites, where it may be more difficult to differentiate your property, it is important to include a "hook," or messaging that will catch the eye of visitors.  Your hook will usually tie into your unique selling point, such as your hotel's "Central Location" or your "Heavenly Beds."  On travel deal sites, it is best to incorporate an enticing lead rate or current specials to compete directly with your competitive set in front of the budget conscience audience.

Graphical ads allow for slightly more flexibility than a simple text ad.  These types of online ads are typically used to generate greater awareness and branding efforts that come into play during the beginning of the consumer purchase cycle.  As a more visual tool, attractive, bold imagery is essential for this form of advertising.  Include the URL to your property's website within your graphical ad for awareness purposes.  Even if the user does not click on your ad the first few times, they will be more likely to learn the URL and visit your website directly during the decision-making portion of their purchase process.

6. Continually Track and Tweak
To obtain an accurate analysis of how well your online ads are performing, it is necessary to gather at least 90 days worth of tracking data.  Web analytics software and tracking systems have evolved to the point that they can track a single viewer from your online ad, through your website, and finally, to your booking engine. When tracking and analyzing your results, it is important to keep your original objectives in mind. 

If something does not appear to be working, rather than removing an advertisement immediately, attempt to tweak the advertisement's messaging, color, or style. Be sure to designate a point person that will be responsible for tracking each of your ads consistently and recording results. Your online advertising plan can only become more successful if you build off of your existing efforts and knowledge.

Online media buying is completely quantifiable and allows you to see how effectively your money is spent. It is easily tracked and permits instantaneous tweaking.

Additionally, the time and effort required to establish a successful online media strategy can result in significant increases in revenue and unusually high ROIs that remain unchallenged by other traditional media. While online advertising and strategic linking are powerful online marketing tools, they are just one of the many elements that make up a successful, comprehensive online marketing program. 

A conversion-focused website design, strong search engine optimization and paid search campaigns, and a proactive email strategy that all support your online advertising efforts will maximize your hotel's exposure and exponentially increase revenue. 

Please visit www.TIGGlobal.com to learn more about how TIG Global's custom e-marketing solutions can meet your unique business needs and deliver unrivaled results to your property.

About TIG Global:
TIG Global, headquartered in the Washington, DC metro area, is the leading provider of interactive marketing services for the hospitality and travel industry.  Serving over 800 clients located throughout North America, Europe, Asia, and the Caribbean, TIG Global combines its industry knowledge and e-business expertise to help clients maximize the online channel.  To serve clients worldwide, TIG Global offers multi-language websites, a vast network of internationally based strategic linking partners, email and pay-per-click marketing campaigns tailored to all international markets, custom Web 2.0 solutions including our proprietary HotelProtect (
www.HotelProtect.com ) solution, and websites optimized for major search engines around the world.

Contact Molly Israel, Marketing and Sales Operations Director at TIG Global, for questions or reprints: misrael@tigglobal.com, 301.841.4762.

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