Making an Impression with Website Merchandising

By Allyson Fredeen Communications Manager, Ritz Carlton - Denver | June 11, 2017

When I began working for The Ritz-Carlton in downtown Denver in September of 2007, the climate for Public Relations professionals was worlds away from what it is today. For instance, Facebook was only for "college kids". MySpace was all the rage. Twitter seemed like a platform from a far-away galaxy that I would never need to engage in. Instagram wasn't yet born, neither was Pinterest. Denver had two daily newspapers, The Denver Post and The Rocky Mountain News. We vied for print placements more often than not and online articles were seen as the icing on the cake. I never heard the word blog until later that year.

Fast forward to 2017; in the hospitality business, if you're not playing well in the digital space, you're not playing. The heartbeat of any hotels' digital strategy should be the website. From social media posts to published articles and digital banner ads for your business, everything links back to that domain. This is why it is essential to have the right product, or messages, in the right place, at the right time.

Let's first talk about your site's homepage. Remember the old saying, "You only have one chance to make a first impression"? This could not be truer as it relates to your website. What kind of story are you trying to tell? Do you have strong visuals to grab your audience's attention in a world where this is so much noise? Are key tabs front- facing and easy to locate, or are they tucked away requiring minutes of clicking around to find a basic factoid like a phone number or address? According to experts, today's consumers have an attention span of just eight seconds. If in those first eight seconds, if your website is loading flash video or other large assets, the viewer will most likely close out and move on, resulting in potential lost business. If in those eight seconds the consumer does not see a link to the information they are trying to locate, they will click the little x on the upper right side of the page and you have most likely lost them to a competitor with a more attractive and easier-to-navigate homepage.

Your homepage is also where most consumers land first as a point of entry versus interior pages that carry more specific information. This is where you want to weave your SEO/SEA key word strategy in. For instance, we place words like "luxury", "downtown Denver", "hotel" and "Colorado" in the homepage copy so when potential buyers are using those terms in a web search, The Ritz-Carlton, Denver is more likely to appear in the results, which in turn generates click-throughs with the goal of converting bookings. However, don't leave this strategy to just your homepage; think about all the layers within a website. For Ritz-Carlton, we have interior pages for different areas of business such as Reservations, Spa, Dining, Meetings, Weddings, Offers, and Area & Activities. The crucial merchandising point here is that all of these tabs are visible from the homepage.

The consumer doesn't have to click around to locate the general subject of interest. Furthermore, revenue generating segments are front and center; the homepage's first visible tab is for reservations which makes complete sense. Why would you want to tuck away this critical section under another page when a viewer is giving you only eight seconds of their time? In today's climate, hotels are putting more emphasis than ever on direct bookings as OTA commissions can be quite costly. For this exact reason, special attention to website merchandising is vital. Your business's SEO/SEA keyword strategy also comes into play for your site's interior pages. As an example, one of downtown Denver's most popular neighborhoods is the historic Larimer Square area filled with shops and restaurants.

Most visitors to the city flock to this neighborhood and are searching the term when planning a trip to the Mile High City; therefore we incorporated "Larimer Square" into our keyword strategy, while also placing the words on multiple pages of our website like so, "Located near Larimer Square, an upscale neighborhood known for its boutique shops, luxury hotels, and innovative restaurants, The Ritz-Carlton, Denver provides guests with immediate access to the best that the Mile High City has to offer." If you're reading closely, you may have noticed this sentence also incorporates our other keywords like "luxury hotels" and "Denver." On a related note, Public Relations or Marketing Communications professionals should be privy to the notion that placing a press release on a site's news room and appearing "live" should always occur prior to pitching it to their media contacts. This way when searching the subject of interest, a consumer will see your news first in the results, and hopefully is motivated to click back to your site to learn more. Articles generated after the fact will naturally show in the search, after your news room result, receiving maximized exposure and generating direct clicks to your website.

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Coming up in June 2019...

Sales & Marketing: Selling Experiences

There are innumerable strategies that Hotel Sales and Marketing Directors employ to find, engage and entice guests to their property, and those strategies are constantly evolving. A breakthrough technology, pioneering platform, or even a simple algorithm update can cause new trends to emerge and upend the best laid plans. Sales and marketing departments must remain agile so they can adapt to the ever changing digital landscape. As an example, the popularity of virtual reality is on the rise, as 360 interactive technologies become more mainstream. Chatbots and artificial intelligence are also poised to become the next big things, as they take guest personalization to a whole new level. But one sales and marketing trend that is currently resulting in major benefits for hotels is experiential marketing - the effort to deliver an experience to potential guests. Mainly this is accomplished through the creative use of video and images, and by utilizing what has become known as User Generated Content. By sharing actual personal content (videos and pictures) from satisfied guests who have experienced the delights of a property, prospective guests can more easily imagine themselves having the same experience. Similarly, Hotel Generated Content is equally important. Hotels are more than beds and effective video presentations can tell a compelling story - a story about what makes the hotel appealing and unique. A video walk-through of rooms is essential, as are video tours in different areas of a hotel. The goal is to highlight what makes the property exceptional, but also to show real people having real fun - an experience that prospective guests can have too. The June Hotel Business Review will report on some of these issues and strategies, and examine how some sales and marketing professionals are integrating them into their operations.