Friday, 9 December 2011

Using Google Analytics to Make Better Marketing and Business Decisions

Let's be honest. A lot of hoteliers and marketing managers are just not comfortable with number crunching or data analysis at all. Who has time for spreadsheets and interpreting stats? Don't we have accountants and analysts in place for that kind of work?

But even arithmophobiacs (a real word, I looked it up) have to admit that you can't run a business entirely based on gut instinct and intuition (important as these skills are!). You need reliable information and you need to know how to interpret that information at some basic level to be able to make informed and profitable business decisions.

So on top of the daily management reports, occupancy forecasts revenue & expense budgets, income statements, guest satisfaction scores etc that hoteliers have to pour over, here's another often overlooked source of mission critical data to add to your toolkit: Google Analytics.

In a previous post I highlighted some of the benefits of using Google Analytics and how to set it up. Just to recap quickly Google Analytics is a free tool offered by Google that provides detailed information on traffic to your website. Some persons are happy just having an idea of how many "hits" they get to their website on a monthly basis and whether it is growing or not. But why would you not want a little more detail on how persons interact with your website or how they get there in the first place?

There are hundreds of articles out there describing Google Analytics and how it can be used. But what I am going to do here is highlight three ways in which paying attention to trends noted on Google Analytics has allowed us to make better marketing and business decisions and to improve our profitability:

1. Demographic information:

What the report shows - where does your traffic come from? Which countries, regions, cities? What languages do they speak? You might be very surprised at the results gleaned from the Demographics section under the "Audience" tab in Google Analytics (see screen shot below).

What we noticed - We were not surprised that the US made up our largest source of visitors, but Canada and Trinidad and Tobago being ahead of the UK? Given that traditionally the UK has been our largest source of business, this was a surprise to us. What was also surprising was that upon drilling down into the US data we found out that one of our largest sources of web traffic from the US came from California. Again surprising given the distance and the length of the flight to St. Lucia.

How we used this data to increase profits - focus additional marketing efforts (both on and offline) on locations that show significant interest in our properties and find ways to convert "looks" to "books" for these locations. We have continued to see our business from Trinidad grow and we have also been able to determine (using Google Analytics) that a lot of our online bookings from Trinidad are being influenced by our marketing efforts on Facebook and Google Adwords.

2. Sources of Traffic:

What the report shows - there are 3 basic ways that persons get to your website. Direct (someone typed in your url directly into the browser or got there via a bookmark), Referral Traffic (via a link from a listing on another website such as Tripadvisor), Search (from a search engine such as Google or Bing, both paid and organic). This report breaks it down for you (see screenshot).

What we noticed - we noticed very quickly that some sites who claimed to be sending us significant "hits" to our website were not sending us enough traffic to justify the cost. We continue to be amazed at the amount of high quality referral traffic that is generated by Facebook and we even know which key search terms are generating hits to our website (what are persons searching for when they find our site on Google or Bing).

How we used this data to increase profits - we immediately cancelled marketing campaigns that were not working for us and no longer need to guess if a listing on a website will generate profits. We can simply ask for a 1 or 2 month free trial listing and then see how it performs via Google Analytics to determine whether to continue. This has helped us to increase our ROI from our online marketing activities tremendously and we have seen bookings from our website double over last year (it is now our largest source of business) and this had a lot to do with tweaking that took place after reviewing these reports. We also noticed that most persons who were getting to our website via Google (organic) searches were getting there by searching for Bay Gardens Resorts, Bay Gardens Hotel or other Bay Gardens specific search terms. Not bad in and of itself but it did mean that we were dependent on the person knowing about our properties in the first place. Ideally you want persons to find your website after searching for "St. Lucia hotels" or "Saint Lucia resorts" or other similar search terms. We have therefore invested more in search engine optimization (SEO) through both in-house and external efforts which is producing better results for us. There are so many other ways that you can use traffic sources reports. It almost deserves an article to itself!

3. Conversions

What the report shows - what's the point of a website if it does not generate revenue? Google Analytics Conversion reporting helps you to determine if your site is achieving its true potential. There are two basic types of conversions from Google's standpoint. Actual bookings from your website (if you have a booking engine hosted on your website) also known as "e-commerce" conversions can be tracked via Google Analytics. This requires a bit of assistance from your website administrator as some tracking code needs to be installed on the booking engine's pages. If you use a booking engine hosted on another site (Sabre, Globekey, Siteminder etc) you can still do this but you would have to ask the booking engine that you work with to set up a Google Analytics account for your hotel's booking engine website which would be seperate from the GA account for your hotel's website. A little more complicated but still worth looking into. If you don't have a booking engine on your site, you can still track other "conversions" that you consider important such signing up for a newsletter, completing a wedding or conference inquiry form or watching a promotional video.

What we noticed - we took a listing with a well known destination wedding portal and were a little dissappointed at first when we noticed that we were getting very few inquiries from our profile listing on this site. We would have probably pulled this listing after the year's contract was up if we had not set up conversion tracking on our wedding inquiries on our own site. We soon noticed that quite a few persons who were referred to our website from this site were inquiring with us directly rather than with the destination wedding portal. We also know exactly how much online revenue is generated via our website by property, by room category, by country, by state and by city. Great information to have at your finger tips.

How we used this data to increase profits - it has helped us to better determine our ROI from our marketing activities. As mentioned above we were able to determine that a destination wedding listing was in fact driving valuable traffic that was converting into leads and sales. Same for our Tripadvisor Business Listing (although it worked better for some of our properties than for others). We were able use a combination of Demographic and Traffic Sources reports to determine that 80% of our Trinidadian web traffic was coming from our Facebook ads and this was behind the dramatic increase we had seen in revenue from this market. We also cancelled a lot of online marketing contracts that were costing us thousands but not producing enough traffic to be justified by the cost. Finally, by linking our Google Analytics account to our Google Adwords campaigns we were able to determine which ads were working and which keywords were converting and which were not. I was very disappointed for example that a Google Adwords campaign targetting the conference and events market was not working out and paused it to refocus our efforts on a Weddings campaign that was producing fantastic results in terms of the quality of the traffic and conversions. Google Analytics helped us to determine what worked and what didn't.

There are many other uses of Google Analytics and at it will require another posting for sure. But just to highlight a few:
  1. Quality of traffic - sure a particular ad campaign sent a lot of traffic but was it high quality? By that I mean,  how much time did they spend on the website on average, how many pages did they visit on average? Did they get to critical pages ("Book Now" or "Sign up for our Newsletter") and how often?
  2. Effectiveness of your web design team or SEO consultant - so you paid a web designer thousands to redesign your website. Did it work? Are visitors more engaged than they were before? Are they getting to the critical conversion pages more often. Same for your SEO consultants. If you don't see an increase in organic search traffic (it may take a few months so be patient) then you need to question how effective their efforts were. 
  3. Effectiveness of your selling cycle - at what point in the booking process are persons "abandoning" the shopping cart? Are there too many steps in the booking process? Are persons stopping right at the point that they have to put in their credit card (in which case some sort of online security seal such as Verisign should be considered to increase customers comfort levels)? Google Analytics' "Funnel Visualization" helps you to determine this. 
  4. Technology - what devices are being used to get to your website? We have noticed a significant increase in the use of iPads and iPhones by visitors to our site but alas quite a few of the features on our site are Flash dependent. So we may long term have to change some of these Flash rotating banners to Javascript or something that can be viewed on an iPad. 
  5. Exit pages - at what point are persons leaving your website? If a page has a high exit rate, then perhaps it is a page that needs to be tweaked or "optimized" as the online marketing experts call it. It may be as simple as changing a few photos!
There are so many other uses of this valuable tool. The key with any analytic tool is to understand what it represents and what it doesn't. It is important that you focus on long term trends. Don't get overly excited by one-off events. 

I don't expect every hotel GM or owner to start using this tool every day. But certainly invest some time in understanding it and ensure that someone in-house is looking at it daily and providing weekly reports to the management team. Google's "Conversion University" provides a full online training portal (there's even an exam and Google Analytics Qualification!). 

These insights into your web traffic will help you make better decisions with how you allocate your limited online marketing resources and will help you generate higher profits. Even if you aren't a fan of numbers and analysis that has to be music to your ears!

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