If you have been following our Acorn IS Innkeeper’s Educational Blog long, you know I’m an avid Movie buff! So let’s just start with an oldie but a goodie! Who doesn’t love Jack Nicholson?
But sometimes the Truth is truly stranger than Fiction.
We have been watching the data trends of our various clients for over a decade. Even back when we provided a little standalone product called Urchin that Google bought years ago, and turned it into what we know today as Google Analtyics.
The problem Innkeepers have always faced is: TRAFFIC DOES NOT = BOOKINGS. And though the past rational has typically been “The More Traffic you get the More Bookings you’ll make”, we are finding that reasoning becoming less and less accurate in today’s world of Google’s search engine results.
The data below is actual data from a long standing Acorn IS Client, who had us properly install E-Commerce tracking years and years ago. If you haven't had E-Commerce Tracking installed properly, you simply will never be privy to this type of Revenue Tracking Data. Which leaves you in the dark, thinking OK: either my Traffic is Up … or it’s Down … or it’s Flat. You will never really know what those trends mean to your business without the Revenue tracking piece to tell you more information about your actual bookings.
Keep in mind, this example is Google Traffic only. Not PPC (Pay Per Click). Also keep in mind, the Revenue numbers are only tracking Bookings where the guest was sitting in Google when they clicked the Innkeeper’s web site, and then booked a room using the Booking Engine on the web site.
Google Analytics cannot tell you phone bookings, nor can it tell you all the places your guest found you before they booked a room. Google Analytics can only tell you the VERY LAST PLACE a guest was when they clicked on your Web site listing, and then booked a room. Other products, such as IAK (Intell-a-Keeper), can give you that type of data, but it must be purchased and installed on your site and all the places online where you employ your Booking Engine software.
SERIOUSLY, WHAT THE HECK IS GOING ON?
For all intents and purposes of this Blog post, I have only shown you one example of one of our clients. But of course, we didn’t stop there, we proceeded to investigate the data from a group of our clients who volunteered for us to look at their Google Analytics. These weren’t just any Innkeepers. These were Innkeepers who also had E-Commerce tracking installed. So with these Innkeepers, I can discern the difference between Google TRAFFIC and BOOKINGS that came from Google! And what we found is quite interesting. From 2013 to 2014 Google Traffic was on a steep upwards motion. Many times approaching almost double the amount of Google Traffic in 2014 compared to 2013. And yes, there are many factors to take into consideration:
- Did the Innkeeper move a new web site live?
- Did the Innkeeper get a lot more FREE Press in 2014 than 2013?
- Did the Innkeeper update their On-Page SEO attracting more FREE Google Traffic in 2014?
Many things can affect your tracking data, but the reality is, everyone we looked at had their Google Traffic increase in 2014 as compared to 2013. Then we moved on to Google Traffic in 2015 vs. 2014. And that’s where we began to scratch our heads.
Google Traffic did NOT continue to accelerate in 2015 at the same rate of speed as it did in 2014. In fact, some Innkeeper’s traffic was flat, and some was actually lower. But! And here’s the BIG BUT!!! Their Revenue from Google Traffic was increasing.
So back to the question at hand: "WHAT THE HECK IS GOING ON?"
In order to find the answer to that question, we need to look at what Google has been saying for years, and years, and years…
“Since the beginning, we’ve focused on providing the best user experience possible.”
But what does that really mean? Well, think about your own competition. For you to be THE MOST SOUGHT AFTER INN IN YOUR TOWN, you have to provide the best possible guest experience.
Google has proven they are the BEST at what they do. And by them striving to keep ahead of their competitors, they have become, hands down, your number one referring search engine. Not Bing, not YAHOO!, but Google. And to keep on top, they continue to refine what they do BEST: Search.
So, in order to form a hypothesis regarding the question “WHAT THE HECK IS GOING ON” we need to look back at what Google has been telling all of us for the past 5 years. This is where all that Google Analytics data comes into play. If Google is going to give their users “The Best User Experience Possible” that means they are going to choose web sites for their results that meet those high standards. So, how do you get your web site to meet their high standards? First you have to know what those standards are…
So, what do we know?
We know Google wants your web site to have quality content, not be over-optimized, use natural language, have quality in-bound links, and that they want to use the information you provide on your site so they can display the VERY BEST RESULTS for their user’s searches.
Then what happened in 2015?
Why are we seeing higher revenue with lower or flat traffic? Could it be that Google has continued to refine all these rules to the point that they are going to limit the display your web site listing unless the search is the perfect fit for what you are selling?
I personally think this is where Google is heading, and this is why...
Google released an artificial intelligence system known as RankBrain to monitor it's search results. As we understand it, RankBrain is intended to make the web an easier, better place to search, and is being applied to and used with Google’s current search engine algorithms to provide better results to user queries. Though not formally announced until October 26, 2015, many believe that RankBrain was released in the Spring 2015.
So, here’s the bottom line...
If I am interpreting the data correctly, and based on what I know from studying Google for the past decade is accurate, Google is going to continue to refine their search results down to the minutest detail based on the user’s search queries. As this happens, you will find it more difficult to drive unqualified traffic from Google to your web site. If you or your web company are using marketing strategies that are purely intended to drive increased traffic, following the belief that "The more traffic you have the more bookings you will make” I suggest you review both your Google Traffic and your associated Bookings. Keep in mind that just as Google provides you the Analytics data about your Online Traffic and your Online Bookings, it was Google who gathered that data for you, so they KNOW ABOUT IT too. So if you are using a web company that is attempting to drive your site increased, but unqualified traffic, it is going to raise your bounce rates, and Google will know. Which is in direct opposition of what Google is trying to achieve by “Providing the best user experience possible.”
Don’t know where to start? Here’s a Simple 3-Step-Plan.
Step 1: Make sure you have Google Analytics with E-Commerce Tracking installed properly. Universal Analytics is the most current version of Google Analytics, but you’ll need to ask your Reservation Company if they support it.
Step 2: Do your very best to follow ALL of Google’s guidelines.
Step 3: Don’t try to scam Google with strategies designed to increase traffic to your site that is clearly not the right fit for selling a room at your Inn.
Finally, don’t panic!
If you have been following Google guidelines properly, and you see that your Traffic is down or flat, there’s a very good chance it’s because Google is delivering your web site up to only the best possible future guests. Even if you don’t have E-Commerce tracking installed to tell you the actual booking revenue, you should see that your lower traffic is producing lower bounce rates, more pages viewed and longer time spent on the site along with increased revenue. These are all the things we see being associated with this new phenomenon.
We offer consultation services for any Innkeeper that needs assistance. We can tell you if you have Google Analytics with E-Commerce tracking installed properly. We can tell you the steps you need to take back to your programmer to get it installed. If you do have it installed properly, we can show you two simple reports to look at so you know exactly the difference between your Google Traffic vs. your Google Bookings.
Don’t keep guessing and pay no attention to Jack! You really CAN handle the Truth!