How to Better Analyze Your Marketing Efforts in the Digital Age

By Cara Garretson

We live in one of the most exciting times in travel advertising history. Digital media has found its groove and most brands are embracing it in big ways. The online advertising space allows marketers to reach their prospects based on their age, income, zip code, online behavior and travel interests. Travel marketers find it exciting to know they are reaching the center of their target audience in innovative ways with very little waste. Furthermore, the ability to track a seemingly endless number of metrics associated with online media is one of the reasons the digital channel has taken marketing dollars from its traditional media counterparts. While having access to digital campaign success metrics and website analytics is incredibly exciting to most marketers, the analysis of these data sets can be equally as overwhelming. If you are making the migration from predominately traditional media to digital, there are a handful of things to keep in mind as you analyze your campaign data.

1. Make sure you are gathering high-quality campaign metrics

First and foremost, it is crucial that you are set up to gather your data in an accurate and organized fashion. I recommend that you, or your advertising agency, utilize a third-party ad server to serve your digital media campaigns. This will provide you with accurate, nearly real-time campaign analytics. At McKee Wallwork & Company we use DoubleClick to serve our online media and track the success metrics of the digital advertising schedules we manage for our clients. Third-party ad servers can be an invaluable tool in providing unbiased insight into the performance of a campaign. Additionally, most of our clients utilize Google Analytics to track their website visitation. I recommend that brands use both a third-party server and a robust website analytics platform to track their online efforts. The higher-quality your data is, the better armed you will be to analyze and act upon the information.

2. The click-through rate is only half as important as you think it is, maybe not even that much

According to DoubleClick, average click-through rates for the travel and hospitality industries average around 0.13% for standard banner ads. Many marketers focus on the click-through rate as their sole success metric and by doing so, risk making misguided marketing decisions. The truth is that most of the prospects exposed to your online marketing won’t ever click on your ad. Be careful to not interpret this as a lack of interest. The vast majority of users view-through, or visit a brand’s website in the days or even weeks after they were exposed to an advertising message. This frequently happens because the user remembered your company name and did a quick Google search to find your site. This phenomenon alone solidifies the importance of investing in a top-of-mind brand awareness campaign.

3. Sometimes high bounce rates are a bad thing, but not always

As defined by Google Analytics, a bounce rate is the percentage of users that visit only one page before exiting a site. It’s easy to instantly feel heartburn when you see your website analytics dashboard reporting a high bounce rate.

Before you panic, take a step back and think about the landing page that you are driving potential customers to and its content. Often times the landing page contains all the information the user is looking for including: hours of operation, hotel phone numbers, address, etc. If you’re providing your prospects with all the information they need on the first page you take them to, maybe they aren’t leaving because they aren’t interested but rather because they don’t need any more information.

If the landing page isn’t providing the user with all the information they need, you may want to think about other reasons you are seeing a high bounce rate. Does your website take a long time to load? Is the site’s navigation counter-intuitive? Maybe the layout is a bit unorganized. Make sure you implement changes to your site to increase the user experience and inspire prospective travelers to spend time on the site, learn more about your property and hopefully book a stay.

4. It’s not always good to see users spend a lot of time on your site

One of the metrics that most website analytics platforms track is how much time users spend on your website per visit. Typically speaking, you want your prospective customers to spend enough time on the site to get the information they need and to begin to build a connection with your brand. However, if you’re seeing very long amounts of time being spent per visit you may want to evaluate the user experience. If key information is buried or hard to find, you may be requiring your prospective customers to do a lot of digging to find what they need on your website. Make sure that the navigation is set up in clean and intuitive fashion. While users may spend less time on your website, they will leave with a much more favorable opinion of your property.

5. Track conversions wherever possible

One of the most beneficial aspects of digital marketing is the capabilities surrounding conversion tracking and optimizations. I recommend you place tracking pixels on your bookings “thank you” pages. Most third-party ad servers allow you to generate coding that when placed on your website will provide insight into what paid advertising placements are helping to drive bookings.

If you have a paid online advertising schedule running, and you are tracking the conversions that came from those placements, you will be better armed and able to optimize the campaign to drive the most conversions possible.

6. Perfect attribution is impossible

As travel marketers, we have more data at our fingertips than ever before but the truth is that it still isn’t enough to perfectly determine attribution. It’s a natural desire for marketers to want to know exactly which tactics work and which don’t. There may be indicators in your data sets that show a particular placement helped lead to a booking. What you can’t know is what else contributed to the conversion. It’s known that a prospect needs to be exposed to a message multiple times before a brand can expect a response. Through tracking pixels, you may know that a user was exposed to a particular banner ad just before booking but was that user also exposed to a print ad, an organic search result, social media efforts or good old word-of-mouth? You can’t know, so you can’t completely attribute that booking to the banner ad. Truly integrated marketing plans work as a cohesive unit and collectively move the needle towards your brand’s business objectives. Make sure to consider all your marketing efforts, even those that aren’t easily traceable, when determining attribution.

7. Optimize. Optimize. Optimize

All the data you are collecting and spending endless hours analyzing should provide actionable information to your brand. Try to find the stories in the numbers and look for ways to adjust your efforts, focusing on the tactics that show the most promise. Most marketers don’t get everything right the first time but rather see success through trial and error. Try to do more of what seems to work and less of what doesn’t show promise.

8. Know where the holes in your data exist

If you are using DoubleClick to serve your ads as we do, Google Analytics will report some of the referral visits from the ad campaign as “”. As noted earlier, most users who are exposed to an online ad end up viewing-through rather than clicking-through. Google Analytics would report this visit as direct traffic or an organic search referral if the user searched for your brand’s name to find the URL. Does the online advertising deserve some credit for this visit? Probably, but attribution gets sticky fast.

9. Your data sets will never match each other. Ever

One of the questions that I get asked most frequently is “Why doesn’t the total number of clicks reported from the online media schedule match the number of referrals from the ad campaign reported by my website analytics platform?” The truth is, there are many answers to this question; below are a few of the possibilities:

  • Abandonment
    If a user clicks on the ad and then closes their browser before the analytics code fires, it will register as a click but not a visit. This may happen more frequently than we’d all like to believe.
  • Double-clicking
    Some users may inadvertently click on a banner ad twice, much like you do when you are trying to open a program from your desktop. It’s possible that the reporting platform would register two clicks to this ad, but your website analytics platform would only register one.
  • Referral URL Issues
    Other possible answers to the data disparity get a bit more technical. As stated by DoubleClick, “An intermediary server or process (such as JavaScript) might be used to reconstruct a destination URL, omitting the referrer. Or the browser might block referrers. Additionally, some browsers allow users to disable the logging of referral URLs which would also cause errors in the data reported by Google Analytics”.

Knowledgeable marketers don’t compare campaign metrics to website visitation numbers. Both sets of data are incredibly important to a brand’s marketing efforts but represent completely different metrics. The smarter thing to do is to find the stories in the data based on the trends found in your different data sets.

My advice? Before you dive into campaign and website data analysis you need to understand the many forces at play with the numbers. By understanding the shortcomings of the data, you are better armed to analyze it. You will find it tempting to agonize over the tiniest of details in the datasets, however I advise against it. Instead, I recommend you look at the patterns and trends that your numbers illustrate when assessing your brand’s online campaign and website performance. Try not to overreact to highs and lows in the metrics. You should expect to see some months report strong numbers and some months report weaker numbers. What’s important is that overall efforts are moving the brand in the right direction. Make sure you know your data, understand its strengths and weaknesses and let it tell you its story.

Published in Hotel Business Review

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