11 Apr 2012

Mobile and Why it Matters for Hotels

You’ve heard a million people say it for at least the last five years: this is the year of mobile. 

For almost every marketing executive, the saying has become cliché and trite. Technology in the mobile space has drastically improved and our team emphatically believes that, for hotels, the time is now. As we move forward in 2012, it is important for hotels not to ignore mobile and risk being left in the wake of their competitors who already leveraging this opportunity.

Mobile Growth
Mobile device usage has undergone rapid growth and the trends show no signs of slowing down. A recent study from Google on smartphone usage points out the following: 
  • 38% of American residents own a smartphone 
  • 82% of smartphone users use a search engine on their device at least once a week 
  • 88% of smartphone users notice mobile ads on their device 
  • 92% of smartphone users seek local information on their device, and 89% have taken action after looking up local content 
A recent study done by Marin Software projects that mobile and tablet devices will account for 25% of paid search clicks by the end of 2012. In the hospitality field, I still believe hotels have a very big opportunity here as not everyone is doing this as opposed to standard PPC marketing. However, if you aren’t on top of the mobile game now, you certainly will be lagging behind your competitors in the near future. 

Mobile and the Search Engine Landscape 
It is a common misconception that if you are fully optimized for your regular website then you don’t need to do anything differently on the mobile side of things as those efforts are the same. Google and Bing have often stated that their primary interest is providing the best user experience, and in the case of mobile they have strongly hinted that having a mobile friendly website is a huge factor in how well you rank organically on mobile devices. In the case of mobile PPC ads, they blatantly state that a mobile friendly landing page will be a factor in quality score for PPC ads, which affect both your average CPC and ad position. I cannot count the number of times I have been frustrated when I land on a website and it takes me several seconds just to pinch the screen so I can read what I’m trying to find. Other people seem to share these same feelings. Nearly half of mobile web users are unlikely to return to a website that they had trouble accessing from their phone, and 57% are unlikely to recommend the site. With bounce rate an important factor in natural search rankings, make the mobile process as easy as possible for users. Give users exactly what they are looking for and it will result in a better experience for users, as well as help you in the very important mobile SEO field. 

Mobile and Hotels 
All too often, I’ve heard hotel clients claim they don’t think the creation of a mobile site is necessary for their business when I suggest one. For restaurants and local businesses it is important, they argue, but since people don’t necessarily book hotel stays on their mobile device they don’t think it justifies the cost to build a mobile website. If this blog post hasn’t convinced you yet that this is a myth, let me present some other stats that should put this type of attitude permanently to rest: 

  • 44% of leisure travelers and 47% of business travelers have researched hotel options on their mobile device
  • 25% of leisure travelers and 33% of business travelers have made reservations on their mobile device already 
  • 58% of leisure travelers have interest in finding hotels near their current location 
  • As of October 2010, Google reported that year-over-year mobile searches for hotel had increased by 7,000%! 

(Stats provided by PhoCus Wright, Inc. and Google) 

Not only is smartphone usage on the rise, but a large percentage of those users are using their device specifically for this industry. If you’re a hotelier that has a website with any type of flash imagery, iPhone users cannot see those images on their phone. Pull up your current website on an iPhone and ask yourself three questions: what are users seeing when they access the site this way? Is this what I want their impression of my hotel to be? Would I book a room on this site? If a user has to struggle to even find the Reservations link or see images of your property, the likelihood that they will book a room is drastically reduced. 

Next Steps 
All hoteliers should understand the importance of having a mobile friendly website. Not only will it help with your rankings in search engines on mobile devices, it provides a better user experience for all users looking for information on your business. While text-only mobile websites are better than a standard desktop site, with the rise in smartphone users TIG Global recommends building a website optimized for these devices specifically with swipe and multi-touch functionality. But remember that having a mobile website is not enough. Be sure you have a comprehensive mobile strategy that leverages all appropriate social media and online marketing trends. As mentioned previously, 92% of users seek local information on their mobile device. If you have a restaurant or spa on property, be sure you are making it easy for users to find you, whether that is by optimizing your Google Places page, having a strong presence on Twitter and Facebook, standing out on location based services like Foursquare or ideally, all of the above. 

Additionally, after creating a mobile site, don’t just let it sit there. If you’re going to build a website, don’t be afraid to market it. Take advantage of QR codes or paid search to show off your new website and show users you are ahead of the curve. Search engines allow you to target specific mobile devices, and as mentioned previously, Google Adwords considers your mobile landing page as a factor in quality score. 

Now more than ever it is important to start optimizing your mobile marketing efforts. The space is rapidly growing and for hotels, 2012 is definitely the year of mobile.