3 Essential Data Practices For Improving Your Hotel’s Website Strategies
By Adam Lamagna, Senior Digital Strategy Manager
It's budgeting season, which means your hotel is probably ready to start planning how, when, and where you'll be investing in 2020. As part of the "20/20 Strategy" series, we'll offer expert tips to help you budget for key areas that could define how successful you are next year— including your hotel website. This is part 3 of the series.
Crucial to this role is understanding 'data integrity' (or 'data governance'). But are you sure what steps are needed to fulfill this vital part of your role? The following post is designed to help.
We'll describe how monitoring, maintaining, validating, and questioning your website data is key to having successful data practices and making better decisions around your hotel strategies.
Why Data Standardization is Crucial for SuccessThe discussion of data standardization is essential in the hotel industry, especially when it comes to the performance of hotel websites and booking engines.
However, there is currently no standard for data accuracy or integrity with hotel websites.
Many hotels strive for more direct web contributions since the cost of acquisition is usually much cheaper than the OTAs. But what most web vendors won't reveal is that their web analytics implementations can be manipulated to tell better data stories to their clients.
Imagine that you're making decisions about your website and direct business based on neatly plucked and curated data. Would that be helpful or hurtful? Good data practices may be the one thing that separates you from your competition, and there is currently no standard for data accuracy or integrity with hotel websites.
The fact that each web agency may have different implementation setups for their web analytics tracking, in and of itself, has major implications that reverberate throughout the industry.
Potential problems include:
- How would you know if your website is getting accurate traffic or revenue numbers?
- How would you compare web agencies and their track records with conversion rates?
- How would you know if your digital marketing efforts were actually working?
The Pillars of Data StandardsAt Travel Tripper and Pegasus Solutions, we strive for data standardization. There is a mindset that needs to be adopted and promoted to ensure the following fundamentals:
- Data Governance: Data should be governed by one full admin group to avoid the "too many cooks in the kitchen" syndrome.
- Data Validation: Data needs to be validated between sources and against a universal truth to ensure its accuracy. Often, this is the CRS or booking engine.
- Data Integrity: This applies to the maintenance, consistency, and transparency of data. Data should be monitored frequently, made stable using a uniform practice, and communicated honestly.
Good Data Practice 1: Data Governance
The first aspect of solid data practices for your website is to have it governed. Like every city, state, or country, your data should be overseen by one body, whether that's your marketing team, your web agency, or yourself.
Having an authority that regulates the data is important for accountability. Since most hotels work with a handful of platforms that pull in different metrics (i.e. revenue reports, Google Analytics, Adwords, Search Console, etc.), it's essential to have one team that takes sole responsibility of website data.
Remember, your website is the fulcrum for many of the systems it incorporates. To illustrate this further, consider the following scenario from a user's perspective:
- Rachel searches for hotels in New York City and finds your hotel on TripAdvisor.
- She opens up a new tab and searches for "your hotel New York City".
- On the search engine results page, the first two results are ads. The third result is your hotel website homepage. And the fourth result is your About page.
- Rachel clicks on your Google My Business website link to the right of the results, which takes her to "yourhotelwebsite.com."
- She looks at the homepage and clicks into Rooms, finds a queen bed, and clicks "BOOK ROOM", which takes her to "yourbookingengine.com."
- She completes a booking.
This is a common user journey, but what the user doesn't see is all the data platforms going on in the background to capture their data.
Different Platforms just for web usersThroughout Rachel's journey, there is a multitude of platforms at play for website data. Let's look at each of these in more detail.
Google Search ConsoleThis measures clicks and impressions of your organic traffic. It will have stored both Rachel's search for the branded keyword she typed in — "[your hotel name] New York City" — and the impressions, which measured how many times your website URL came up in that particular search, excluding paid search.
AdWordsAdWords measures similarly to Google Search Console, only for paid search results, not organic search results. Since Rachel did not click on either of the first two results, AdWords would store the impressions.
Google Analytics / Web AnalyticsThis measures traffic, behavior, and conversions. In the example above, Google Analytics would have measured Rachel coming in through the organic channel and denoted the homepage as the landing page. It would also have measured how long Rachel stayed on the homepage in a metric called time-on-page, which only triggers once Rachel moves to the second page (Rooms). From there, it should incorporate the booking engine data….and this is where it gets tricky with conversions.
Booking Engine DataSince most hotel websites have a booking engine that's on a different domain (hotelwebsite.com vs. bookingengine.com), it's important to note that cross-domain tracking is imperative to a successful website strategy.
Simply put, when a user goes from your website to your booking engine, that user's session (and his or her associated data) needs to remain intact and should not be logged as another session. This way, once Rachel makes that booking and a confirmation page is loaded, what Rachel booked (room, price, date, taxes, etc.) will all be logged in Google Analytics because her session from the website to the booking engine remained intact.
Good Data Practices 2 - Data ValidationIn the second part of this post, we'll address the second pillar of good data practice: Data Validation.
At Travel Tripper and Pegasus Solutions, one of our goals is to give our clients insight into their website performance on a monthly basis. Many of our clients come to us after leaving another agency and we discover their tracking implementations are much different than ours.
There are actually several ways to set up and customize cross-domain tracking. We recommend our clients use Google Tag Manager (GTM), which enables various teams to add different tags for Google Ads, Facebook pixels, Google Analytics, and booking engine revenue data.
Revenue data can be fed into web analytics using something called Data Layers. To keep it simple, a data layer is an invisible layer that sits above your website to capture data (hence, data layer). There are variables within that data layer, such as transaction ID, user ID, and product category. These are all data points that can be captured to get more accurate data from your booking engine.
Understanding How Data Layers WorkLet's look at Data Layers using the same example above. When Rachel moves from yourhotelwebsite.com to yourbookingengine.com and makes a purchase, the data layer will capture all the necessary data points, which will happen when the confirmation page loads (this is known as a triggering condition).
All of Rachel's information (what she booked, how much she paid, etc.) captured on
yourbookingengine.com can then be fed into Google Analytics. This will sync up the data from yourhotelwebsite.com. This makes it imperative for hotel websites to have cross-domain tracking to keep Rachel's session data intact, thus providing better insights on behavior and bookings.
Without cross-domain tracking and depending on the implementation, Rachel's single session could be counted as two sessions and her single booking could be counted as two bookings and two transactions (unknowingly increasing conversions).
How else can data be skewed?In a different implementation setup (and one we've commonly seen with clients coming in from other agencies), e-commerce conversion rates will be set-up as "goals" in Google Analytics. By GA's definition, a goal could be anything a user does or takes action on while moving through your hotel website, such as clicking into your booking engine.
If your conversion rates are set by your agency to goals and they count a booking engine click as goal completion, then that kind of setup could have increased your conversion rate and skewed numbers. Remember, a click into the booking engine does not ensure a booking, it only ensures that a user has made it to the booking engine.
In short, there needs to be a way to validate your data. You can do this by using the "Real-Time" feature in Google Analytics.
How to validate your dataHere's a simple data validation test: go to your website while simultaneously having Google Analytics open, and follow your session all the way through to your booking engine. If it doesn't keep your session intact and starts a new one, you may not have cross-domain tracking implemented.
Another way to validate is to look at your revenue numbers on the booking engine and compare them to your revenue data shown in Google Analytics. Make sure you only look at your website booking engine revenue (which is usually separated out on the production reports). If this number is within a 10% discrepancy from Google Analytics revenue, then you can consider the revenue data to be intact and validated.
We allot a 10% discrepancy from booking engine revenue to Google Analytics revenue because of system settings and session parameters. There are a few caveats that can trigger duplicate bookings, and there's a fundamental difference in the way that booking engines capture 'reservations' and Google Analytics captures 'transactions'. But again, if the discrepancy is within 10%, you should be good.
With all these different systems at play, data validation becomes essential to ensure your daily decisions are worth acting on. Make sure you're verifying data between the multiple systems or sources you're using and establish a universal truth for revenue.
Good Data Practices 3: Data IntegrityFinally, your data practices hinge on the maintenance, assurance of the accuracy and consistency, and the transparency of your data.
All of the systems we talked about earlier have a purpose and are attached to your hotel website in some way. There should be uniformity around implementations for Search Console, Adwords, web analytics, tag managers, and their interactions with any booking engine.
At Travel Tripper and Pegasus Solutions, our Tracking team has a systematic process for setting up each of these platforms. We then validate the data using various methods, including cross-domain and real-time tests and verification bookings. When you have a team that ensures data quality by properly fetching and storing data, you can then concentrate on analyzing and giving context to the data.
Our Digital Strategy Managers (DSMs) consistently help our clients monitor and maintain key aspects of their data integrity on a monthly basis by:
- Reviewing Google Analytics results and aligning revenue data with booking engine production reports
- Comparing Search Console data with Google Analytics data and analyzing organic impressions and clicks versus sessions and users
- Determining the most profitable behavior flows
- Looking for anomalies in the numbers. Spikes and drops can occur often, which is why our DSMs have a pulse on both the hotel landscape and market, as well as how they will impact the digital performance
Transparency promotes oversight and collaboration
We candidly share our data with clients, talk about what we see, and discuss whether there are any issues or concerns that should be brought up and addressed.
The goal of these meetings isn't just about communicating our analysis of the logical data. It's also about how we can enhance the impact of that data based on what's happening in the non-digital world. For instance, our clients may know about city-wide events, ADR shifts, flash sales or promotions, or hotel initiatives that might be beneficial to the analysis.
Technology platforms are akin to a living, breathing entity that changes frequently. They get updated, they crash, they dynamically shift, and they have relationships with each other. Adopting and promoting strong data practices is not only healthy; it'll ensure that you thrive as a data-driven team. If you are a hotel owner, a leader in a hotel group, or a hotel marketer working with web agencies, please connect with your agencies soon to ask about their data practices. You should try to find out:
- Are they validating the web analytics revenue against booking engine revenue?
- How are they determining their e-commerce conversion rates? Are they based off of goals or transactions
- Is cross-domain tracking set up, keeping a user's session intact from the website to the booking engine?
- Are they using Google Tag Manager and Data Layers?
Once you know that your website data is accurate and validated, it becomes valuable. When you adhere to data standards and prioritize data practices, your hotel's web and digital strategies will become far clearer and much more powerful.
To better understand your reports and turn insights into impactful actions, check out our webinar: 3 Steps to Creating a Data-Driven Strategy for 2020. In this webinar, experts from Travel Tripper & Pegasus share the key steps to creating a cross-channel, data-driven strategy for 2020. Register now to watch the recording!
Adam LamagnaMore from Adam Lamagna
The new Pegasus is a game changer for hotels, combining innovative technology with five-star support to give hoteliers more control over their revenue and distribution strategy than ever before. Following a recent merger with Travel Tripper, Pegasus now enables hoteliers to better connect with their guests through an innovative and flexible platform of Reservations, E-commerce, Global Sales, and Business Intelligence solutions that help hotels drive demand and maximize revenue and profitability. With more than 30 years of experience in global distribution, Pegasus serves hotels across 120 countries from eight offices worldwide in New York, Scottsdale, Las Vegas, London, Paris, Frankfurt, Tokyo, and Hyderabad. For more information, visit pegs.com or follow them on LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter.