Over the last fifteen years, I’ve worked with hundreds of hotels all over the country. Each hotel was a little different – some were over a thousand rooms while others were under 50 rooms; one was a 5-star luxury resort and another was a 1-star hostel; one was a vacation rental a few blocks from the boardwalk of Venice Beach, California, while a few were in the hustle and bustle of New York City’s Times Square – but one thing was always consistent: the question I was asked was “how can we do better through digital marketing?”.

Digital marketing is an umbrella term that generally refers to any marketing method conducted through electronic means that a hotel might leverage to interact with and acquire guests. This includes websites, search engines, blogs, social media, videos, emails, and ads. There are almost an infinite number of opportunities to improve digital marketing efforts and be successful. In fact, it’s a full-time job, it’s MY full-time job.

When working with new clients or hotels, I always start at the same place:

Think like a guest: 

This seems simple, but it’s often overlooked by the bells and whistles of other suggestions, tactics, or trends. When I start working with a new hotel, I immediately put myself in the guests’ shoes and try to walk through the entire customer journey. As I go through this process, I’m often surprised at how munch insight I gain in such a short amount of time, including key takeaways and action items that lead to a better guest experience and higher performing digital marketing efforts.

By the way, this is also an exercise I recommend conducting as often as possible. This one simple method will help any hotel leverage digital marketing to acquire more guests and remain relevant in the ever-changing digital marketing landscape. 

Here are some examples of how to think like a guest, which can lead to actionable insights that can be executed through digital marketing.

Think about where a guest starts their search:

If I were a guest, where would I start my process of looking for a hotel? Would I go to Google Search? What exact words would I search first? What would the search engine results page look like for the keywords that I used in my search? Were any ads displayed? What would the ads look like? Would any hotel websites show up? Would any other websites show up, like Expedia.com? Would I refine my search after my initial search? And so on. The questions will start to flow out of your brain as you walk through this process.

Paying close attention to what keywords were used to search and the results that Google surfaced will help you better understand what websites and resources a guest might go to before ever making it to your website. Why did those sites show up first? As you click through each site, take note on what those sites have done more effectively than you that warranted higher rankings on Google. As you take notes, use that information to update your own site or update the sites of those search results to reflect how you want a guest to perceive your hotel.

Think about what a guest might deduce from reviews of other guests:

Examine customer reviews very closely to identify actionable insights. We know customer reviews are important and we know that the vast majority of guests look at customer reviews before ever making a reservation. Responding to reviews is paramount as a hotel operator. However, as a digital marketer, pay close attention to any themes that arise in the guest reviews. What do guests specifically say they like best about your property? What do they say they like least? Are there consistent reviews about consistent experiences on the different booking websites? Can you use those insights to target certain guests on those sites? Can you use those insights to highlight certain experiences on your own website? Can you eliminate certain roadblocks that would hinder someone from booking your property after noticing consistent reviews concerning that roadblock? For example, if proximity to a certain attraction is consistently mentioned as a positive impact to a guest’s experience at your property, perhaps creating a landing page just for that attraction makes sense, or perhaps including that attraction in more of your images, or mentioning that attraction more often in your copy. Maybe you can partner with that attraction on marketing activations.

If you follow this approach to diving deep into guest reviews, and using those insights to leverage digital marketing tactics, you’ll slowly create a unique digital experience for your guests that explicitly highlights your biggest strengths and minimizes any potential roadblocks to a reservation.

Think about the information you have posted online – is it consistent or confusing?:

As a guest, there is nothing worse than going through the effort of researching a hotel, finding a special offer, than clicking a promotional link, only to find out that the link is broken or that the price you want to book the hotel at is actually lower on another site. Studies have shown that guests may bounce between hundreds of sources and sites, including your website, review sites, and social media sites, conducting copious amounts of research before ever making a purchase. Even when the guest has narrowed their search and chosen a property, they still come back to the hotel and destination site to plan their trip. Knowing this, and thinking like a guest, it’s important that images, content, copy, offers, room types, hours of operation, URLs, phone numbers, and all other information is consistent across the internet. Not only does Google value this consistency, but it makes for a much better guest experience, which leads to higher conversions.

If done correctly and frequently, thinking like a guest will allow a hotelier to make smarter digital marketing decisions and ultimately perform better through digital marketing channels.