Thursday, 23 December 2010

Facebook Places and Geo-Location Networks

How Hoteliers Should Use Geo-Location Networks to Market Their Services!

For many months online buzz has surrounded Foursquare and Gowalla. Major retailers including Starbucks, Burger King, Pizza Hut and Gap are offering discount vouchers on Foursquare to generate business to their outlets.

In mid-September, Facebook launched Facebook Places in the UK, a feature that lets users share their location via their mobile phones. This launch puts Facebook in competition with other location-based social networking sites like Foursquare and Gowalla. Facebook Places is now available in the US, Canada and the United Kingdom and is expected to spread across the world soon.

While Foursquare and Gowalla have relatively fewer users than Facebook, they have more established geo-locality expertise and their user-base is increasing every day. Facebook with over 500M users will have a major impact on geo-location marketing and is expected to take it to the next level; if it gets it right. From a consumer’s point of view however, there are privacy concerns and Facebook is reasonably thorough in explaining how the Facebook Places feature will work and how to ensure your privacy is maintained.

From a brands perspective the geo-location feature offers countless opportunities. Like retailers, hotels can benefit immensely by using such features to promote their services and connect with fans/followers who are close by. The question is how can a hotel develop a geo-location strategy.

Geo-location like any other form of marketing requires proper planning. To use Facebook Places, you must firstly have a Facebook page. Facebook Places, like Gowalla and Foursquare, allow smart-phone users using the geo-location applications to check-in to Facebook Places and let others (friends, colleagues and people in their network) see where they are. In Gowalla and Foursquare it is possible to see comments and reviews posted by people who have visited listed restaurants, pubs, etc. This provides invaluable and timely marketing for your business which is much more effective than traditional review sites.

Based on users’ locations, a hotel can implement a timely and well executed strategy to target them and create interest for their different facilities. This provides a unique opportunity to reach and interact with your followers in real-time. Some of the benefits in using Facebook Places and other geo-location sites like Foursquare and Gowalla are the ability to:

- Promote last minute offers;

- Create demand for additional services such as restaurants, bars, spa etc.;

- Identify yourself and give close-by users a reason to experience your services;

- Create real-time communication/marketing;

- Share the guest’s location with other friends creates buzz and give them reasons to visit your hotel;

- Offer discounts and vouchers to make your products and/or services more appealing; and

- Create a daily campaign/s to drive interest to your specific products and services in a specific location – especially if you have more than one property.

Location has always been one of the most important components of a hotel marketing strategy. New tools and geo-location based social networks like Foursquare, Gowalla and now Facebook Places, have made it easier to integrate all marketing and communication efforts to create attractive campaigns to reach your target audience in real-time.

It is time to formulate an effective geo-location marketing approach that will benefit you the most. You must be aware of where your guests are and how to make your services more appealing to them on the go. Experience is everything and as a hotelier you must be ready to provide consistency across all channels. It is still in early days however retail industry explored the potential of this type of marketing with promotions and related messages and managed to increase the footfall to their specific branches. Hoteliers can follow the suit however need to spend more time in the planning and offering more relevancy and personalised offers.

Not sure where to start, get in touch ith us. We will help you plan and develop your location based marketing tailored to your needs.

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

SEO Friendly Flash Website Design

Flash websites have become an important part of web development projects for many businesses. They are very attractive and significantly more engaging. However a Flash website design project requires more detailed planning than those using full HTML from both search crawl-ability and SEO points of view. Search engines spiders have not favoured Flash for a long time but recently, changes in search algorithms have reversed the trend and Flash websites are again ranking highly on search result pages. Google now indexes textual content in Flash sites, however, if sites use Flash files and imbedded text only, Google still cannot recognise them. Yahoo on the other hand is working closely with Adobe to increase the Flash website crawl-ability. The results indicate increased ranking for Flash sites.

To overcome such hurdles, we recommend engaging expert support from a professional web development company like e-HotelServices. To get your Flash site indexed by search engines spiders you must start with the basic SEO implementation, removing the unnecessary scripts and codes but also keeping your website updated in response to constant changes in the search algorithms. Below, we have listed some recommendations that will help you increase the SEO-friendliness of your Flash website.

Creating an SEO Friendly Flash Website

Basic SEO

You must ensure tags such as title tags, alt tags, headlines, text and file names are relevant and properly drafted. It is even more important to do the basics right in Flash website as it does not have the flexibility of a full crawliability like HTML sites??


Single version URL issue makes it harder as search engines can only see and index one page. It is also risky as the ranking given will be most probably relevant with the keywords and title of the homepage. To overcome these issues use short URLs and with no sessions or many parameters is important. However search engines robots can index long and dynamic URLs, using short and the most relevant version will make it easier from crawliability point of view??

Title & Meta Tags

You must create the most relevant homepage title and meta tags for your website. This will make the process easier for search engines to spot your website and categorise it.

HTML Version of Your Site

To make sure your website does not miss any SEO related ranking; you should consider building your website in both HTML and Flash. This will make life easier for search engine spiders when indexing your site. It will also give choices to the website users on how to choose to view your website.

Loading Times

According to the recent attempt from Google, page loading speed is getting more and more important from ranking point of view. If your website is flash the loading time will be inevitably longer than the HTML version and that could be cause a problem in addition to the flash from seo point of view.

It is important to think about your target audience and how your website will interact with them. If your target audience are more likely to be interested in the visual aspects and willing to wait until the page is loading then developing a flash website makes sense. More importantly if your flash website does not have high ranking or developed in seo-friendly manner you will be losing business. We recommend analysing the situation and looking from different perspectives to make sure your site is build within seo in mind to get the desirable ranking. In an ideal world a website visitors decides whether or not to spend time and view other pages within the first 5 seconds.

SWFObject 2

SWFObject is an easy-to-use and standards-friendly method to embed Flash content, which utilizes one small JavaScript file)
This is another method of using Flash replacement to make your website more visible to search engines spiders.

Flash Site Tracking

Google currently offers the capability of tracking Flash content embedded in a web page. To use Flash tracking in Google Analytics there are two options:
- Using the visual tools inside Flash; and
- Setting up the tracking object in the code (your webpage/s code).

There are different ways of setting up tracking. For more information please refer to Google Analytics Flash Tracking to find out more.

For Google Analytics Tracking for Adobe Flash please visit to get more information.

To build (in Flash) or Not to Build

When building a commercial website as a general rule it is recommended that you build it in HTML. Although Google and other search engines have increased their indexing capabilities for Flash sites, they are still facing technical problems and more technical improvements are needed to overcome this issue. Our recommendation is to use HTML for content and navigation to make the website more accessible and search engine friendly. Always add textual content in flash files including menus, buttons and banners of flash websites to increase the crawliability. Many flash pages load via Javascript which makes it difficult to search engines notice the text and index the website.

Before building a Flash website you must have an understanding of how Flash sites are ranked and you must monitor the changes in the search algorithms regarding flash and other coded functionalities. Working closely with a digital web development agency like e-HotelServices will give you the opportunity to update your website according to the most recent changes in search algorithms keeping it SEO friendly. From coding to content plus on-page and off-page activities, many improvements can be made to increase the ranking of your Flash website.

Thursday, 9 September 2010


Yesterday, Google revealed a new search feature called Google Instant. The feature allows search results to be displayed as the user types and aims to predict the user’s search query before completion in order to make search faster and more personalised. The question is how will this affect search results and organic web site rankings.

Google says about its new functionality:

“Google Instant is a new search enhancement that shows results as you type. We are pushing the limits of our technology and infrastructure to help you get better search results, faster. Our key technical insight was that people type slowly, but read quickly, typically taking 300 milliseconds between keystrokes, but only 30 milliseconds (a tenth of the time!) to glance at another part of the page. This means that you can scan a results page while you type.”
The change will not only affect the speed at which search would be carried out, but it will affect users’ search behaviours by predicting and offering queries according their search history. This will work to guide the user and will take very place fast in order to offer users a quicker and more effective search experience.

From a user’s point of view it is an exciting change. However, among search marketers, there are concerns about the impact on SEO and optimisation works and how the search community will be able to predict and consistently delivery their content and the products and services that they promote to potential and existing user-groups.

Google claims that the changes brought on by Google Instant will not impact the ranking of the search results. However, it seems clear that when users across the globe start seeing search results as they type search rank and search results will have to impacted, as real-time feedback will play a significant role and thereby possibly changing the users search behaviours or even their initial search.

Search marketers have traditionally focused on users’ search behaviours as a guide to optimising their web sites’ content, meta- information, etc. With the entry of Google Instant, search becomes even more about real-time action and one result is that no two users will see the same search results anymore. This will make the search marketer’s job, to communicate the desirable messages to the user, much more difficult.

Luckily search marketers have learnt to be highly adaptive; thanks largely to the constant flux of change in our world and will discover patterns and ways to get through to target users as these become clearer. For starters, increasing the frequency of ongoing social media and social media optimisation will have to play an even more central role in order to achieve high organic visibility. Initially, this may counter some of the potentially negative effects this instant search will have. But one cannot yet tell for sure.

What we can say is that once again, the search engine marketing landscape is changing and the optimisation game with it. Real-time search is a fact of life and social media and blended search will play a more central role, more quickly.

At the end of the day, Google and the other search engines are changing search in order to deliver better, more relevant content to the user faster and more effectively than before. In effect that should make everyone better off and in time it will. Changing the way results are displayed will temporarily alter tactical implementation, perhaps, but the basics of SEO still remain the same; a website, in order to rank well for their product, service or message needs to offer unique and relevant content; be user- and search engine friendly; and perhaps more importantly use the social landscape of search to spread the message.

If the resulting technique sounds like the way business was done for generations, long before the advent of the internet was part of the marketing game, well, it is because in principle it is the same. Offer products and services with messages that people like, and they will reward you by tell their friends, who will tell theirs and on and on it goes. Word-of-mouth – the internet way.

Monday, 12 July 2010


On July 1st, Google took over ITA, a leading flight information software company, which provides services to airlines, meta-search engines and online travel agents alike. Kayak and Expedia were among the firms competing to acquire the company, but ITA executives were already deep in discussions with Google, who in the end closed the deal. The question that is on everyone's lips is what will this acquisition mean for the Travel Industry, its suppliers, distribution partners and consumers overall?

We have a few thoughts (and speculations) on the matter and thought we'd share.

First off, let us say this - who knows what Google has in store. With ITA under their control there are a number of possible scenarios and ways in which Google can play this. Unfortunately for the upper echelons of the travel industry many of these options look more like nightmares than opportunities.

So what are the conceivable possibilities?

Direct Competition

Since ITA is currently only specialised in airline tickets and information, it is not clear whether Google's acquisition will pose a threat to the wider travel sector including the GDSs (Global Distribution Systems). However, let's play Devil's Advocate for a minute. Airlines' usage and booking fees have traditionally represented the biggest chunk of revenues for the GDSs, so could this revenue stream be the reason why Google has acquired ITA? Do they have a long term strategy to provide similar services to airlines, hotels and other hospitality and travel products providers, despite their statement to the contrary?

The distribution of travel and ticketing information and the sales of the same is a multi-billion pound industry for the GDSs, meta-search engines, and the OTAs. The GDS reservations systems alone connects more than 600,000 travel agents and allows searching and booking of airline tickets, hotel rooms, car rentals, cruises and other travel products and services in one place. With ITA now owned and controlled by Google, Google is in a position to leapfrog ITA's current offering and develop this further by adding other products and services.

Google would thereby stand to put some real pressure on the travel industry suppliers, who are understandably worried how Google might use this power. That, of course, would mean a potentially awesome challenge for several verticals including the GDSs, OTAs, TMCs (Travel Management Companies) as Google with its seemingly endless resources, both financially and in terms of their intellectual capital, has the potential not only to steal market share, but could even jeopardize the very existence of some of these players.

If we leave the possibility of Google going into direct competition with the Travel sector for a minute, there are other ways Google could play this acquisition that could indirectly damage and change the industry.

Indirect Competition

You might recall that Google experimentally added hotel pricing information to the search results on Google Maps a while back (check out the article about it here). This move created a great deal of excitement and for many OTAs (online travel agents) the would-be hotel pricing information service hit dangerously close to home. More specifically, this information service would direct bookings straight to hotels, and hence detract attention and potentially also bookings from intermediaries. Also, many OTAs are used as search portals themselves, which would then also be under potential threat.

Furthermore, a would-be ripple effect of this hotel pricing search service could be that hoteliers would be encouraged to take the online sales channel more seriously and further their investments and thereby increase their independence from other indirect channels - further damaging the intermediaries control and market share.

Along the same lines of thought, the acquisition of ITA could signal that Google wishes to take another step onto the travel search and information display stage, by incorporating airline rate displays into the search results and encourage a more direct approach.

More dramatically, this move would impact not only the travel sector in the form of competition, but could also potentially change the way consumers search and purchase travel products online. By integrating search and pricing into one, consumers are encouraged to book their travel then and there, possibly merging search and booking. Rather than what is happening now, where consumers make the additional step of going to an intermediary to review prices and make their booking.

Any such move would arguably benefit consumers, hotels, and airlines by allowing a more direct approach, which costs less both in terms of time and money. As was highlighted by Google's in the press release; "Google's acquisition of ITA Software will create a new, easier way for users to find better flight information online, which should encourage more users to make their flight purchases online."

So whichever way Google plays it, according to the two scenarios above, they stand to become a dominant player in the travel market with control over travel information as well as general search and business information on the web - and that is the worry of many watching this from the sidelines. Google continues to grow in importance and dominance and seems to be an unstoppable force seemingly intrinsically linked with this decade's progress. So where does that leave us?

To consumers and the hospitality and travel industries (the actual providers of the products and services) Google's move may come with several important benefits. It does however come with the price of increased reliance and dependency on Google, their technology and their seemingly relentless company strength. There is always a bit of worry when one company holds so much power in one or several marketplaces regardless of who they are.

As with all such acquisitions, it will take time to see how this will shape the industry, what Google will do with its newly acquired travel information power, and to what extend Google will get involved and alter the current search and travel booking process or ITA's business model. That said, the speed and ease with which change is adopted within the search markets coupled with consumers' willingness to adopt changes in their consumption habits, the impact can make itself known faster than we might think.

If we look from an outsider's perspective, Google is likely to use ITA's expertise and relationships within the travel industry and create a new search experience, which may be more compelling, convenient and wider ranging than anyone ever imagined. And, if we revert to the principals of cold market economics, those who cannot stand the test of time or take on the heat of competition should get out of the proverbial kitchen.

By purchasing ITA, Google will with no doubt increase the role it plays within the travel sector. Also, by experimenting with real-time and dynamic rates in the search results Google may attempt to become a singular doorway to all and any travel searches online. How they will achieve this is still unknown - in fact little is known about what Google has in store and how it is planning to imbed ITA and their products and experience to strengthen Google's place in travel sector. One thing is clear however: the online travel industry is evolving and Google is doing what it can to innovate and create opportunities in this and other industries where it sees an opportunity.

As the old adage goes; change is inevitable and resistance to it may be futile. However, one way to counter the powerhouse that is Google has become is to encourage other companies to get into the innovation game and not leave all the work to search giant.

To download or print a PDF of this article click here

Thursday, 25 March 2010

Google’s New Travel Meta Search Experiment: Hotel Search & Prices on Google Map

Yesterday, we saw another first for Google as they started experimenting a combination of Google Maps and their Local Business Listings application to offer a new search experience: the meta-search. This project is still under development, but Google is currently testing how to effectively display hotel rates on the Google Maps search pages. As the news spread, concerns were raised especially among online travel agencies, vertical search engines and travel meta-search portals, as the search giant entered their territory.

See the screenshot from the Google Maps new experiment:

As the functionality is still in beta-testing, it is not yet clear how Google will develop the feature both in terms of price scraping and approach. On Google’s blog yesterday a post said that Google are currently evaluating the effectiveness of the feature from a user’s and advertiser’s point of view: “This new feature will not change the way that hotels are ranked in Google Maps. Google Maps ranks business listings based on their relevance to the search terms entered, along with geographic distance (where indicated) and other factors, regardless of whether there is an associated price.”

The biggest question is how will Google collect rates and will these be in real time? Will rates be drawn from the hotels’ booking engines or reservation systems, CRSs, travel agencies or other sources? The source is of primary importance and will have a great impact on how this new feature will affect the marketplace and who, of the business players, will benefit. From a user perspective, this features would seem to make searching for hotels and accommodation in know or unknown locations easier and more efficient.

Despite the uncertainty, the new feature clearly points out the growing call to local hotels and accommodation providers to get listed and registered on Google Business listings (where available) and on Google Maps. It seems clear that the feature will refocus the relationship between hotels and Google as Google becomes increasingly important as a sales and marketing channel for large as well as small market players.

From a search point of view, if prices shown in the results listings are not accurate or up-to-date this Google feature could increase bounce rates to hotel and travel websites as consumers will expect to see the rates advertised on Google on corresponding hotel or agency Web sites. However, it is still too early to tell whether and how this functionality will affect hotels and local businesses. What we can say is that with all such functionalities – when done right - it rewards those who are keep up-to-speed with these developments and punishes those who lag behind.

In the wake of the recession, some positive news is now being published about an increase in direct bookings and direct online revenues to hotels across the world. As hotels are doubling their e-marketing activities and budgets the internet is confirmed as the only sales channel on the rise even during the economic downturn. With Google’s price comparison feature, it will be interesting to watch whether this will further promote the increase in direct revenues or whether it will push the online travel agents, travel meta and vertical search engines pricing and services.

The question is: Will this feature speed up the disintermediation of the hospitality and travel sectors and lead to a decrease in hotel dependency on the online travel agencies? As online marketers working for more direct online revenues – we are keeping our fingers crossed.

Velit Dundar