It’s been an ongoing mission of the major hotel brands to convince hotel management companies and hotel owners to “retire” their vanity websites. In fact, this has been going on for the last 15 years and the efforts have had marginal success for the brands. However, the brands have recently stepped up their efforts with more “forceful persuasions” this time around and have decided to pull out all stops in their efforts.
Much has been written in the past on the revenue benefits vanity sites have for properties and the value they provide to potential guests. But we thought it would be worthwhile for us to provide substantive and data driven facts as to show the real value vanity websites have for hotel operators and the brands. For this article we reviewed data sets from a sampling of 25 branded vanity websites we have managed for over 5 years. Our findings conclusively support that branded hotel vanity websites remain relevant in 2017 and must be maintained to maximize direct booking revenue opportunities.
Top Reasons Why Vanity Websites Remain Relevant in 2017:
- Vanity websites have higher booking conversion rates than brand.com.
- Vanity websites capture qualified wedding and group event leads.
- Vanity websites outrank brand.com on Search Engines for localized search terms.
- Vanity websites provide differentiation against local independent hotel websites.
- Vanity websites offer differentiation against other same brand properties on brand.com.
- Google deems vanity websites as authoritative and provides them with “site links”.
Vanity websites have higher booking conversion rates than brand.com.
The data continues to show that in many cases, vanity websites achieve higher online booking conversion rates than the brand.com sites. As reported by brand referral reports, we’ve consistently seen vanity website conversion rates north of 8%. This is a substantially higher booking conversion rate when compared to the brand.com conversion rates of 3%-4% overall. The vanity website higher conversion rates can be attributed to the marketing and messaging value vanity websites offer to potential guests. When vanity websites provide deep, localized content to visitors it increases the conversion rates dramatically when compared to the boring, cookie cutter, brand centric content found on brand.com.
Vanity websites capture qualified wedding and group event leads.
For nearly 15 years we have seen substantial year over year growth in event RFP submissions through the hotel vanity websites we manage. This growth can be attributed to vanity websites effectively communicating property venue advantages when compared with the lack luster meeting and wedding content found on most brand.com websites. The vanity website supports and effectively “sells” the event venue through comprehensive, deep visual and contextual content.
Vanity websites outrank brand.com on Search Engines for localized search terms.
With a properly deployed organic Search Engine Optimization (SEO) program vanity websites will outrank brand.com for localized, longer-tail, non-branded keyword phrases. We have experienced much success in placing higher in Google SERP’s as a result of comprehensive and well thought out organic SEO programs. Higher organic ranking on Google will, again, drive a more qualified prospect to the vanity website, which is a key reason why vanity websites enjoy higher look to book conversion rates.
Vanity websites provide differentiation against local independent hotel websites.
Independent properties are increasingly deploying aggressive direct booking strategies to stand out within their competitive sets. Most will not only highlight why consumers should book directly with them versus an OTA, but offer creative localized content and special offers. Independent properties also market their unique advantages over big box branded properties that provide generic guest experiences. Vanity websites provide branded properties with the ability to stand out with their marketing messaging and to highlight their unique property attributes, while maintaining the power of the brand.com booking engine which is never bypassed.
Vanity websites offer differentiation against other same brand properties on brand.com.
While the brands continue to improve their brand.com user experience, by their own admission they still have a long way to go and in fact, in our opinion, may never be able to adequately convey the unique attributes for each of their franchised properties. Vanity websites provide a unique advantage by being able to differentiate themselves against other brand.com sister properties. Simply visit any brand.com property and conduct a city search, i.e. “New York City”, and you’ll be presented with a long list of brand member properties, each of which will be presented by the brand in a uniform, bland and unattractive manner.
Google deems vanity websites as authoritative and provides them with “site links”.
In many cases Google has designated vanity websites as “authoritative” websites and issues extended site links as a result. When Google designates a vanity website as being “authoritative” they’re confirming the value of a vanity website’s content and determines it to be the be the most useful to Google users. Here is Google’s definition of an authoritative website:
Known sites—A known site is the official website for an entity as shown in Knowledge Graph cards. If you add markup to a known site, that data is treated as authoritative and used for Knowledge Graph cards where it is not already determined by data you put into Google My Business. This includes your official logo and social profile links. However, if you enter contact information through Google My Business, that data source is treated as authoritative. Source: https://developers.google.com/search/docs/guides/search-features
We have observed many occasions where the brands have utilized Google My Business to manually change the Google authoritative website links from pointing to the vanity websites and redirecting them to the brand.com websites. This premeditated tactic is essentially syphoning away the vanity websites’ established Google organic traffic, in essence “killing” the vanity websites.
Why do the brands care about vanity websites since all the bookings are passed through to the brand.com booking engines?
This is a valid question, when you consider that the hotel owner and/or management company is paying separately for the expense of maintaining and marketing a vanity website. Furthermore, the brand.com website ultimately gains all bookings as a result, with no additional expense to the brand. Why wouldn’t the brands endorse any effort that generates additional direct booking opportunities for a property and the brand, and doing so at no additional expense to the brand?
In our opinion, it’s a matter of the brands wanting to control 100% of a hotel’s direct revenue channels and in doing so ensuring substantial losses to a property should it ever decide to switch to another brand or, heaven forbid, become an independent property. Many industry experts have written about the diminishing value of a hotel brand in a technologically connected mobile world full of choices.
Clearly, brands will continue to “strong-arm” hotel owners and management companies into being compliant and will use various tactics such as negatively influencing a property’s brand quality scores to force adherence. The brands will continue sharing misinformation with their hotel members by claiming their research shows vanity websites “create confusion and an inconsistent guest experience” and thus “increasing the odds that consumers will book with a competitor”.
It appears to us that the brands are fiercely trying to protect, and rightfully so, against properties that may be weighing the costs associated with their brand versus switching to another brand or converting to an independent property. While we take no issue with this strategy, we do have issues when this done by communicating misinformation at the expense of the owner and/or management company.
Two Simple Recommendations:
- Insist on maintaining your hotel’s vanity website, at least for another 12-18 months, as the industry determines how well the brand.com websites can communicate the uniqueness of your property.
- Demand that your Google Knowledge Graph link sends users to your Google determined authoritative website.
In conclusion, our data and experiences support vanity websites and their relevancy and ability to drive direct business to the brand.com websites and “retiring” them should be carefully considered by hotel operators.
About Lodging Interactive:
Headquartered in Parsippany, NJ, Lodging Interactive is a full-service digital marketing and social media engagement agency exclusively servicing the hospitality industry. Through its web design and search optimization division as well as its CoMMingle Social Media Division, Lodging Interactive provides effective Internet marketing services to hundreds of branded and independent properties as well as management companies, restaurants and spas. The company also offers fully managed Live Chat agents for hotel websites through its LiveChatForHotels.com division.
Lodging Interactive is an HSMAI Adrian Award winner, and has won awards from the International Academy of Visual Arts, Interactive Media Awards, Horizon Interactive Awards, Web Marketing Association, Academy of Interactive & Visual Arts, and Travel Weekly’s Magellan Awards have recognized Lodging Interactive as an industry leader.
Lodging Interactive is a proud supporter of the Hotel Sales & Marketing Association International (HSMAI) and the company’s president, DJ Vallauri, currently serves on the Board of Directors of HSMAI’s New York Chapter. For more information, please contact email@example.com, 877-291-4411 or visit the company’s website.
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