Local University Group Photo in Baltimore (photo courtesy of Thomas Ballantyne)
I recently had the pleasure of speaking to the Mid-Atlantic InnKeepers Trade Show and Conference about using website analytics to make better business decisions. I was particularly excited because I used to own and operate a few small B&B's myself (technically mine were vacation rentals, but that's close enough to understand their struggles). From a business perspective, I have personally experienced the challenges of marketing my properties online and measuring what worked and what didn't. I had an absolute blast talking with InnKeepers about how they market their B&B's. Lisa Kolb of Acorn Internet Services and I talked at length about how they support their InnKeeper clients through training and education. So much of what I've seen improve the marketing efforts of SMB's comes down to education, so I was happy to help my fellow (well, former fellow) InnKeepers more effectively use analytics to their advantage.
Google Analytics was essential in measuring the effectiveness of my marketing efforts for my properties. I told the audience of InnKeepers that I'd provide them with an action plan to help better use Google Analytics to make continual improvements to their businesses. But this analytics action plan could be used by most small business owners. SMB's tend to have limited resources (both advertising budget and staffing) so getting the most out of their analytics is really critical.
Several attendees added me to their analytics accounts so I could create real-world reports and dashboard examples. I'd like to thank Blueberry Cove Inn, Flag House Inn, Inn at Green River, Sunrise Landing B&B, and The Victoria Skylar B&B for providing access to their analytics data for this blog post. That said, let's get started. Here's a three-step analytics action plan for my new InnKeeper friends and other small business owners looking to get the most out of their analytics.
1) Measure Advertising Effectively
I don't usually lead-off with advertising when I work with clients to better understand their website traffic. But B&B's face unique challenges that make measuring their advertising efforts one of the most important things they can do to improve their business. Travel is one of the most competitive categories on the Internet and the major players in the industry have invested heavily in ranking both organically and via paid search. Here's an example of how tough it is to rank for "Washington D.C. B&B's".
Only three actual B&B's show up in the organic search results (local in this case) and one in paid search. Everything else was DOMINATED by travel sites, B&B directories, and review sites. It's essential to understand exactly which paid directories are driving reservations.
However, of the five Google Analytics profiles I received only one had Goals or Ecommerce enabled. If you want to have end-to-end tracking of your marketing and advertising efforts and use a 3rd party reservation system you'll need to perform what is called "cross-site tracking" from your website to your 3rd party shopping cart. Your shopping cart provider should be able to help you implement this (more on that later). But there are other ways to track the value of your advertising dollars that are just as important (and easier to set-up). You should track visits by referral source as well. Here's an example from a different B&B.
2) Create & Track High-Value Pages (aka your "money" pages)
Back when I was in the hospitality business I knew exactly what my "money" pages were and how to track them. My "money" pages were:
- Blog posts about tourist destinations within 2-3 hours of my properties
- My virtual tours / video tours pages
- My main description page (photos & description)
- My Testimonials / reviews page
- My inquiry form / page
I was obsessive with tracking these pages in analytics and then making changes for improvements based on what the data was telling me. I also made some very random discoveries. I started getting A TON of traffic from a few somewhat random blog posts I wrote helping visitors to the Great Pacific Northwest. Here are a few examples.
I'm also a big fan of brutal honesty. Travelers (and potential online customers in general) are very savvy. Let them know the ups and downs of your area, B&B, or business. In the example below I highlighted the Seattle's infamous bad weather. This became on of my most viewed blog posts as it contained very helpful information to people traveling to Seattle in the offseason as well as a humorous tone regarding the obvious.
Here's how you can see specific content pages in Google Analytics. The default is to show all pages, but by using the filter you're able to focus on exactly what you want to measure. Here's a look at data from one of our Innkeeper volunteers.
By filtering your "money" pages you'll see which page is getting the most exposure and should provide ideas for other pages that could be beneficial as well as diagnose pages that aren't performing well. In this case we're just looking at pageviews and unique pageviews. While important it doesn't connect the dots. By creating an advanced segment showing visits that resulted in reservations we can gain more insight. Here's how.
And by taking these three simple steps we're able to see only the pages that yielded a confirmed transaction. As we can see, it's a healthy balance of room / room details pages and important logistical details about the area, their policies, specials and other information details necessary to making a reservation.
3) Yes, Search Results are Still Very Important.
Just because B&B's are in a competitive space where measuring advertising is very important doesn't mean that search isn't a big deal as well. As you can see from our recent survey and blog post about how consumers find a B&B search is still critical. Let's take a look at how to measure the keywords directing potential guests to your Inn's.
When we do that we see the top keywords the drive traffic to the site from the search engines. Here are the top 15 in this case.
But as you can see, we have a mixture of brand searches (for the Inn itself) and non-brand searches (searches for Inn's and B&B's in the area). Let's use the filter to make it really easy to see the non-brand searches by excluding an obvious branded keyword in the filter (in this case the word "green" since we're looking at data from The Inn at Green River).
InnKeeper's have some unique challenges. But by taking advantage of a few simple reports in Google Analytics you'll be able to quantify what's working and what isn't. There's a lot more available to you than outlined in this post, but this should provide a good starting point for you. Measuring your advertising efforts, the effectiveness of your content (money pages), and search efforts will payoff over time. It's just a matter of getting your hands dirty in the data 🙂
No better time to start than now.