How much did your state or regional bed and breakfast association's website contribute to your bottom line over the past 12 months? How about 12 months before that? And five years ago?
Like most Innkeepers, if you took the time to look at this data, you would see that your visitors and bookings from association sites have been diminishing nearly each year since 2014.
The chart below shows sample Inn traffic from 28% of the state associations in the US.
Why are we seeing this trend?
Google launched Google My Business (GMB) in June of 2014. GMB is a free tool that allows you to promote your business profile and business website on Google's Hotel Search, Knowledge Panel, and Maps. All Innkeepers should be familiar with and using this tool on a regular basis since we have seen GMB traffic and bookings climb in 2019, and in many cases, surpass their historical Google organic traffic counterpart in Google Analytics.
However, associations cannot play successfully in the GMB world.
You may be thinking, if that’s the case, then let’s just set up a GMB listing for the association.
First, if an association wants to set up a GMB listing, they must have a brick-and-mortar address. We’ve seen some associations attempt to establish a GMB listing using an address provided by someone in the organization, at which point the association's GMB listing conflicts with the existing Inn’s address. Unfortunately, such a setup has caused serious damage to the Inn’s own GMB listing, resulting in a loss of placement and bookings.
Second, GMB results are typically based on locale, although many other factors go into Local Placement. Even if an association was somehow able to establish a GMB listing for the group, it’s not going to benefit the Inns in the organization, since Google would use the association's GMB address in its Local Algorithms.
Therefore, association websites on their own cannot, and are not intended to, successfully play in the GMB arena.
Prove it to yourself. Check your own association traffic to your site.
Your association referral and booking data for your individual Inn is available via your Google Analytics (GA). But in some cases, it can be difficult to determine.
If your association uses a well-known product to pull your Inn’s inventory into one page showing all the member's inventory (JackRabbit), then determining traffic and revenue can be even more complicated since it comes from a variety of sources and not just the association’s URL referral.
Here are steps for tracking traffic if your association uses JackRabbit.
1. GA Key Strokes: Acquisition --> All Traffic --> Source Medium
2. Set your Date Range (upper right-hand corner)
3. Add together any Session Referrals from the Association URL
4. PLUS + Any Session Referrals from the Association URL.bookdirect.com
5. PLUS + Any Session Referrals from Tools.JackRabbit.com
Here are steps for tracking revenue if your association uses JackRabbit.
1. GA Key Strokes: Conversions --> Multi-Channel-Funnels --> Assisted Conversions
2. Set your Date Range (upper right-hand corner)
3. Set "Primary Dimension" to Source / Medium
4. Add together any Assisted and Last Click Conversions from the Association URL
5. PLUS + Any Assisted and Last Click Conversions from the Association URL.bookdirect.com
6. PLUS + Any Assisted and Last Click Conversions from Tools.JackRabbit.com
Is this clear as mud? It’s completely understandable if you are confused.
If you are working with a marketing firm to help you with your marketing strategy, then make it easy on yourself and ask them to produce a report with this information and review the results with you.
What can we as an industry do about this trend?
Earlier this month, we did a study and webinar on the impact that JackRabbit's (recently purchased by SimpleView) Book Direct Classic and Book Direct Everywhere programs are having on an associations site's traffic and bookings for their respective Inns. A recording of this webinar is available upon request.
The data shows that an association's ability to provide their member inns referral traffic has declined to a small percentage. On average, association sites were only providing 1 to 3.5% of total referral traffic to their member inns.
What's more, the associations that had purchased the Book Direct Classic or Book Direct Everywhere programs were only seeing a sub-portion of that 1 to 3.5% of referral traffic resulting from the Book Direct options on the site.
Where does all this leave association sites?
Over the past few years, I’ve seen association leaders move their sites from one provider to another searching for this answer. Sadly, this tactic hasn’t helped associations provide their member inns with the traffic they were able to five years ago.
Therefore, changing providers or building a new site is not the answer. I believe we will find the answer when all the associations work together to find a new way to benefit their members.
For example, there are some DMO’s and other CVB sites that are doing well to provide their members value. And there are potential Book Direct improvements on the horizon that could help associations, but we all have to work together as an industry. Otherwise we will simply see more of the same trends until associations simply fade away.
If you would like to participate in a fact-finding investigation to learn how associations can improve their delivery of referrals to their member inns, please fill out the form below.