Search Engines are Re-Shaping Hotel Booking Funnels

Traditionally the online hotel conversion process or funnel has been viewed as consisting of at least 5 basic steps:

  1. A consumer visits a hotel website homepage
  2. A hotel search is performed
  3. A room is selected
  4. Personal and credit card information is entered
  5. The booking process is completed and a confirmation is viewed

In addition to these steps, under the traditional conversion funnel, consumers may choose to click through and view a hotel property page after performing a search and before selecting a room. Lately however, the structure of the hotel supplier conversion funnel has changed due to consumers’ increasing use of search engines to shop for products online, including hotel rooms. Compete finds that the total volume of search queries has steadily increased over time, led by Google.

Moreover, the percentage of referrals to the aggregate hotel supplier segment coming from Google has steadily increased since January 2007.

Aided by the work of search engine optimization and marketing specialists, hotel shoppers who input certain brand and location keywords into Google and other search engines often land on hotel property pages. These consumers bypass the top of the traditional hotel conversion funnel (the homepage and search results pages) and the marketing, loyalty, "brand experience" and core value messaging that occurs therein. Moreover, these shoppers interact first with hotel property pages that are often not optimized to serve as the brand’s point of introduction to the user.

As one measure of the prevalence of this behavior, Compete examined the percentage of Google-referred unique visitor traffic to hotel property pages at 6 hotel supplier sites since January 2007. It is first apparent that there is a relatively steep upwards trend through the 20 month period for most sites tracked. In August 2008, among these sites, 27% of hotel property page traffic came immediately from Google on average, up from 18% in January 2007. In addition, during this same time period, hotel property page traffic among these sites is up 28%. Thus, not only is the percentage of Google (and other search) referred unique visitor traffic to hotel property pages increasing but the number of unique visitors viewing hotel property pages is increasing as well.

As this trend continues to spread, the role of hotel property pages becomes an increasingly important one. Consumers reaching these pages from search are likely using branded or location-specific keywords and thus are more engaged than casual hotel shoppers. Consequently, hotel marketers would do well to focus on these consumers’ experiences and regard property pages as pivotal landing pages that contribute significantly to a brand’s online strategy.

Under the model of the traditional conversion funnel, interaction with property pages is optional (at some websites) and accordingly analysis of these pages is secondary. However as the search-influenced model becomes more common, applying detailed landing page optimization techniques to hotel property pages is vital to the conversion funnel’s success.

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