Friday, August 19, 2011

Google Places for Your Hotel

All of Plan B's more recent web clients have benefitted from the set up or auditing of their Google Account which includes the set up usually of a Blog, Analytics, YouTube Channel, Alerts and possibly most importantly Google Places.

First off is if you don't have a Google Account then you need to get one set up immediately. It is free and any business that is not utilising the tools in there is not truly working their online presence properly.


In a blog posting featured on Hotelmarketing, Laurian Clemence, Corporate Communications & Public Affairs with Google UK highlighted the imprtance of Places, “By having an online presence via Google Places, hotels are enabling users to find and interact with their business,” says Clemence. He recommends keeping listings simple, accurate and consistent.

From a tourism perspective Google Places is taking, and is likely to take even more, prominence as Google identify means of improving their social media offering (see Google + and Googe +1 Button articles elsewhere in this blog). But even now have a look at how it impacts on you just now.

Before jumping into the content below why not spend a couple of minutes looking at what's currently happening in your area and how Googel Places is using your (and your competitors) information.

Open a new window and try the following for your own area.
We've typed in Ayr Hotels and the search has come up as follows.

As usual paid listings at the top and right hand column - no change there. But on the left hand column you can now filter your searches - Click on Places and see what happens to your results.


Another addition you may not have seen is the Travel Dates button on the left. Visible on Tuesday but not Friday so a test feature we'd guess but an indicator perhaps of how Google Hotel Finder will come into play very soon.

The hotels are listed by letter via the Google Places information and on the map. Not the new information associated with each entry. By rolling over the listing you get an impresion of the website. In reality this means that the potential guest can get an impression of your website without leaving the search. Is your site ready for that?


You'll also have noticed that in Google Places the online travel agency and third party websites have vanished. This in iteself must offer hotels hope for regaining some of the business lost by the OTAs adveritsing and buying power. As the traveller uses Places more for specific searches the hotels have got a greater chance of relevant visibility.

The price button on the right hand side is linked to the Travel Dates button on the right hand side. Change the dates and the rates displayed will alter. The prices the hotel is offering to each of the OTA's then becomes visible with a click of the drop down button next to the best available price.

Most importantly however is the fact that the hotels are now clickable directly from the link. It is therefore of obvious importance that you have the best available rate on your website and use every tool available to promote it. See below. Also note at this point that if you don't have your Google Place active  you won't see your own booking link.

It also increases ease of competitive price transparency - the easy to click price button means that for any selected dates you and by definition your potential guests can review your competition's pricing (or be reviewed by) before they even need to open a website. Good or bad? Depends on how effectively you promote best available rate in your title tag!


Hotels who are succeeding in converting direct online sales (that is through their own online booking engine on their own website) Best Available Rate is a given. Why offer your direct customer a higher rate than if they book elsewhere? Rhetorical question.

So with the introduction of this on-search page transaparency there is a strong argument for using the Meta Title to promote the fact that your site is offering Best Available Rate as with the example above.

Last thing to note here is that Google have now launched their own reviews and the other review sites have been dropped to below the search.

    Action
    So what should you do? Well make sure that your hotel, bar, restaurant, leisure facility has the correct presence in Places. Ensure that no-one else has hijacked your business name and be ready for whatever comes next; for instance did you know that you can already highlight offers through Google Places?
    And most importantly do it NOW!
    • Research your hotel profile in your town, county, region.Type Yourhotel in YourTown, YourHotel in YourCounty and 
    • Take note of what others are doing better or differently. 
    • Look at your rates differences in your own channels and your competitors.
    • Update your Google Places account accordingly - content, images, categories, video, offers, etc
    • Create new Google Place for all definable products - restaurant, bar, leisure. Google are clearly happy that your products are legitimately listed
    • Update your Home Page metatag to promote Best Available Rate even before guest opens the site
    • Ensure you have best available rate on your site at all times
    • Consider encouraging guest reviews via Google Places not just encouraging TripAdvisor

    Quick Links
    An overview of your Google Place
    Look at Google Adwords - who's bidding for your brand or hotel name?
    Look at your metatags and content? Understand what they do.
    Read more about Google Places from Google itself 







    Updating and Monitoring Google Places

    Google Places is going to play an increasingly important role in searches for the hospitality sector and it is important that product producers maximise their use of this free tool. If you need to understand how it's changing have a read of Google Places and Your Hotel.

    The following was motivated by an interview featured in HotelMarketing's blog in an interview with  Laurian Clemence, Corporate Communications & Public Affairs with Google UK.


    Updating Google Places

    Ensure that your business’s name, address and phone number are listed in a consistent format across the web. The Company/Organization field acts as the title of your listing and should include the word “Hotel” and your destination if they are part of your official business name.Google doesn’t permit descriptors or keywords in titles.

    Your property description is limited to 200 characters and needs to sum up what your hotel, product and key markets are. This 200 character limit is something that hotels and other businesses must come across on a fairly regular basis for online advertising, listings and other third party activity.

    Why not therefore spend some time developing a few templated 200 character descriptions for different markets - business, leisure, golf, activity... makes sense and means that you keep a consistent theme and never miss out the obvious things. Remember who, what, why where, when and how. Keep it simple.

    Use of Multiple Listings?

    The Google Guy went on, “We recommend that separate listings should be created if the restaurant, lounge or spa within a hotel has its own name and telephone number, separate from that of the hotel. An individual website is not a requirement.”

    The same principle therefore applies as you would for the creation of a separate web page for each of your product areas - Leisure Club, Restaurant, live music venue - create a separate searchable entity for each one in Google Places linking back to the relevant website or page.

    Categories and Additional Details
    You can choose up to five categories to describe your business. At least one must be standard; the rest can be customized. Google recommends being as specific as possible, as it will automatically determine the generic category as well. For example, if you enter “Country House Hotel” Google will know that you are also a hotel.

    In the Additional Details section Clemence recommends hotels include “any additional information that would be helpful to potential customers as long as it’s specific and factual. Examples could be specific awards the hotel has won or a unique URL that leads to a menu for the hotel restaurant. The purpose is to help the user find all of the details about your business that might be useful to them.”

    Imagery and Map
    Businesses can upload a maximum of 10 photos and five videos, so make sure they are high quality, representative of your property and do a job for your sales conversion. You can't currently add captions but that may come in the future. The chances are that increased user photo uploads will follow in the future but you should keep an eye on them and report inappropriate photos.

    It's obvious that you should ensure you place marker is in the right position as it will impact on Maps, Street View, Satellite View, Driving Directions and Hotel Finder in the future.

    Offers, Updates and Analytics
    You can also add offers and updates to your listing and again it is free and as with any content it is a positive means of ensuring that your business is seen as engaging with your customers and lead to increased conversion through your own website.
    If you add an offer it will appear on your Places page and Google Maps listing. Similarly to share news, events or packages click the “Share an update” link.

    Google now features room rates and availability data on Places, Maps and Hotel Finder but restricts access to a limited number of online travel agencies, GDS providers and brands with sizable inventories across multiple markets.

    For your hotel, only a link to the hotel/brand website is provided. Some would argue that this is a deterrent to direct bookings but we'd argue that it's an awful lot less so than having OTA's buy your name in Google Adwords or flooding the searches with your product on their pages. In any case it is likely that an interface will emerge allowing hotel's to show their own direct rates - soon hopefully.


    Reviews
    With the recent removal of third-party reviews from Places listings and the addition of a more prominent “Write a review” button, Google has embarked on a campaign to develop reviews from its own users and whilst the volume builds they may have limited effect but you should not ignore.With the introduction in the UK of Google+ and Google Hotel Finder and the integration of other products Google user reviews can only become a more important part of your online reputation management program.

    We already know the many benefits of traveler reviews to search visibility and conversions. Says Google's Clemence, “Engaging with the reviewers can be a good way to get to know your customers and what they think about your business. Business owner responses allow you to build relationships with customers, but keep in mind that the responses are also public.”

    Presently reviews are not monitored by Google. If you're concerned about the accuracy of a review, Clemence recommends clicking the “Flag as inappropriate” link to submit a report. “If we find that the review is in violation of our Google Maps policies,” he says, “we'll take the appropriate action since we aren't always able to remove or be certain of violations.”

    What’s the Future of Google Places?


    The opportunities for increasing direct sales for hotels is a real one and we see the new products as offering an opportunity for hotels to gain back some of the business lost to OTA's. It won't necessarily be easy but it is do-able if you put your mind to it.

    Quick Links
    Read more and some action points on a related blog Google Places for Your Hotel



    Thursday, August 18, 2011

    Bookassist and MICROS-Fidelio announce certified OPERA Connectivity Solution for Hotels

    We're delighted to announce that our booking engine partners in Scotland Bookassist has announced official certification of their booking engine software integration with the OPERA Property Management System (PMS) from the world's leading hotel solutions provider MICROS-Fidelio. The connection service allows hotels to automatically and seamlessly manage their online reservations from Bookassist via the OPERA PMS.

    The connection service is the latest in a list of integrations between Bookassist's popular booking platform and the world's leading property management systems and channel managers.

    Speaking about the advantages of the integration, Karen Moran, Sales and Marketing Director at Moran & Bewley's Hotels UK & Ireland said: "We're delighted to have direct integration between our online booking and our MICROS-Fidelio OPERA property management systems right across the group. It saves considerable time and effort, and more importantly makes sure that the reservations detail is end-to-end accurate. The automation allows our staff to get on with the more important business of running the hotel rather than worrying about technology."

    Bookassist have collaborated with MICROS-Fidelio on the integration and client roll-out over the last 18 months culminating in official certification. A number of existing mutual clients have been using the integration since its first introduction in late 2010.

    Discussing the official certification, Bookassist CEO Dr Des O'Mahony said: "A significant number of our clients in all the countries we operate in are also MICROS-Fidelio clients. This integration is a real advantage for them, reducing manpower, eliminating transfer errors, and improving efficiency. We expect a significant uptake of this new joint service."

    "MICROS-Fidelio is pleased to offer connectivity between our hotel solution OPERA and Bookassist. The interface with Bookassist provides automated booking notifications directly into the OPERA hotel system," said Dr Peter Agel, Senior Vice President eCommerce and Strategic Solutions EMEA at MICROS-Fidelio.

    Bookassist® (bookassist.org) creates and manages successful and proven online strategies for thousands of hotels and groups and is one of the leading hotel booking engine and online marketing providers in Europe. Headquartered in Dublin and with offices in 6 countries, Bookassist has received numerous awards in Online Trade, Online Marketing, and Technological Innovation.






    Ian McCaig managing partner of Bookassist in Scotland, was delighted with the news, "This latest integration on top of some excellent new upgrades just presses the point about continuous improvement being critical. As the online booking sector moves ever faster with shifts to mobile, integration into social media and the need to react even more quickly to the market place this proves again that Bookassist can provide the hotel operator in Scotland - large and small - with the competitive advantages that they are looking for.

    If you're interested in finding out more about how Bookassist can work in conjunction with your MICROS set up inScotland email Bookassist Scotland or call 01292 512404.

    MICROS-Fidelio International (micros-fidelio.eu), the global markets subsidiary of MICROS®, is the premier provider of enterprise-wide integrated information technologies for the hotel industry. MICROS-Fidelio has become "the standard" in the industry with over 25,000 installations worldwide. Its enterprise solutions include multi-property, fully integrated hotel systems encompassing property management systems, sales and catering systems, central reservation systems, customer information systems, revenue management systems, an Internet/global distribution system-based hotel reservation service called myfidelio.net, and installation and support services associated with the various software products.

    Monday, August 15, 2011

    Google +1 Button - An Introduction

    You may have noticed when browsing on Google over the past few weeks that there is now a new +1 Button.

    It has some similarities with Facebook's like button but has significant differences and potential benefits for your website traffic and search engine strategies.


    If you like any web page you can just click the +1 button on your screen and the same choicdes would become visible to your friends and contacts when they Google it. It is a virtual word of mouth recommendation.

    According to Google +1 is shorthand for "this is pretty cool" or "you should check this out" and they advocate that websites should embed the necessary code to allow your site visitors to publicly give the webpage their stamp of approval. The pitch is that +1's can help friends, contacts, and others on the web find the best stuff when they search. Watch the video below to find out a little bit more.

    We are recommending that all our clients should start using the +1 button on their website - it shouldn't take long and the notional cost should be well outweighed by the benefits. Just drop us an email and we'll let you know the cost and schedule the work in over the next couple of weeks for you. To find out why you could watch the video below and read some of the FAQs.



    Google provided some FAQ's on the developer website pages which may clarify some issues. Here's some of the the bits that may be of interest to you.


    How does +1 affect search results?

    +1 helps people discover relevant content—a website, a Google search result, or an ad—from the people they already know and trust. Adding the +1 button to your pages lets users recommend your content, knowing that their friends and contacts will see their recommendation when it’s most relevant—in the context of Google search results.

    When a signed-in Google user is searching, your Google search result snippet may be annotated with the names of the user's connections who've +1'd your page. If none of a user's connections has +1'd your page, your snippet may display the aggregate number of +1's your page has received. Does +1 affect my site’s performance in search?

    Does +1 affect my site’s performance in search?

    Content recommended by friends and acquaintances is often more relevant than content from strangers. For example, a movie review from an expert is useful, but a movie review from a friend who shares your tastes can be even better. Because of this, +1’s from friends and contacts can be a useful signal to Google when determining the relevance of your page to a user’s query. This is just one of many signals Google may use to determine a page’s relevance and ranking, and we’re constantly tweaking and improving our algorithm to improve overall search quality. For +1's, as with any new ranking signal, we'll be starting carefully and learning how those signals affect search quality.


    How does the +1 button work?

    If you want to use the +1 button, you will need a Google account. When you create a Google account, remember it is not just a mail-box; there are many added benefits to it. Generally, the +1 theme will work for all the Google sites but you are also provided with an option through which you can have the +1 button for non-Google sites.

    Wednesday, August 3, 2011

    Dragon's Tooth Website Integrate Blog News

    Just completed a wee update for the team at the wonderful Dragon's Tooth Golf Course near Ballchulish in the West Highlands.

    Plan B developed the new site for Laurence Young in 2010 and they have supplemented that with an active Facebook page and regular blogging.

    We've now dropped the RSS feed from his blog directly into the website to ensure that all blog items can be viewed from the golf courses own website as they come through.

    In addition we dropped in similar feeds from the Scottish Golf Union and The Herald sports pages to keep the members and site visitors up to date with the winder world of golf.

    Ian McCaig of Plan B commented, "The website developed for Dragon's Tooth is driven by our own tourism content management system The Claymore Project and it gives the course complete control over their content, images, and uploding documents whether they be green fees, competition entry forms or menus. We can then develop a highly visual website based around the needs of a golf course at a really competitive rate. There really is no excuse for a golf course or club not to have a full CMS driven website incorproating the latest socail media tools"