Making the most of ‘Mobilegeddon’
05 MAY 2015 7:32 AM
Mobilegeddon has arrived, and sources said hoteliers should heed these tips to avoid having their mobile site punished by Google.
REPORT FROM THE U.S.—“Mobilegeddon” has come and gone, and hoteliers largely seem unscathed.
Google recently announced it was changing its search engine algorithm to measure the mobile friendliness of websites. As of 21 April if a website wasn’t ranked as mobile friendly, it dropped in Google search rankings.
The date was labeled Mobilegeddon by the media.
“When Google changed the algorithm, it basically rewards or penalizes a website in the search engines,” said Eric Feinberg, senior director of product strategy for Answers Corporation, a company that measures the effectiveness of websites and apps for the hotel industry.
The fact that hotel guests are using their mobile devices more is no secret to anyone who has spent time in a hotel lobby, especially hotel managers and employees.
“Our whole property is aware of how much people rely on their mobile devices,” said Susan Keaveney, marketing manager for The Shores Resort & Spa in Daytona Beach Shores, Florida. “We have a lot of people who use their mobile devices to extend their stay with us.”
That awareness may have largely thwarted the apocalyptic meaning behind the Mobilegeddon moniker, at least for most of the hotel industry.
Feinberg cited recent data from Phocuswright that concludes 27% of U.S. travel bookings by the end of the year will be made on mobile devices and two thirds or more of those are hotel bookings.
Feinberg said not only is Google listening to consumers by requiring businesses to provide websites that will give them a more positive experience while searching on the devices they most use, most of the hotel industry was already listening as well.
“The larger hotels were already mobile friendly,” said Feinberg. “I would say 95% of the industry already had mobile friendly sites. This mainly is going to affect the smaller boutique hotels and family owned operations that will have to decide to make an investment to mobile optimize their websites.”
“Our sites were already mobile-optimized,” said Julie Atkinson, senior VP Global Digital for Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide. “We are still rolling out a few changes; we’re always continuing to refine and optimize all of our pages for mobile.”
Atkinson declined to identify what percentage of the company’s bookings come from mobile devices, but said about 50% of its web traffic is now done through a mobile device.
Other hotels, such as the Raphael, a luxury boutique hotel on The Country Club Plaza in Kansas City, Missouri, which is affiliated with the Marriott Autograph Collection, was alerted by their web developers of the changes in advance.
“The challenge for a site as content rich as The Raphael's to be fast and relevant,” said Bill Carter, GM for the hotel. The Web developers and Internet marketing company tweaked the site with a few changes including making sure the “mobile friendly” tag shows up in search results, leading to better click throughs and conversions, as well as making sure the video homepage is shown only to users on desktops and tablets, as Carter said showing it on a phone would negatively impact the customer experience.
Carter said it is important to test the site with Google and get a high rating before the changes took place, as the hotel’s mobile traffic has increased 166% during the past year.
Some independent hotels, such as The Shores, had a mobile friendly site, but it wasn’t a responsive site. A responsive site is one that responds to whatever screen size the mobile user has and it is also the type of site Google recommends for its highest rankings.
“I’ve wanted a responsive site, which up until now has been a want and not a need,” said Keaveney, whose mobile traffic has increased by 60% in the past year.
Keaveney said the change will be financially painful for the resort but is necessary. It cannot afford to lose standing in the search ranking. “We have a very customized site, as an independent, we need more customization as that’s how we sell our story, but we’re probably not going to be able to have the site that we have now.”
Keaveney said she’s received an estimate of $50,000 to build a responsive site on the scale she has now. The lowest bid was $15,000 for a more basic designed site. “I’ll probably end up somewhere in the middle of that,” Keaveney said.
What hoteliers should do now
Feinberg said the industry is leaving room for improvement, especially when it comes to catering to tablet users.
An Answers Corporation/ForeSee survey, which polled more than 1 million consumers, revealed that people using tablets were the least satisfied with their experience using a mobile device. Only 74% of tablet users ranked their experience as satisfactory; 76% were satisfied while using a phone and 80% using apps.
“This is so important for hotels to consider,” Feinberg said. “If they don’t start to optimize their tablet experience for their guests while they’re in the research phase, they will start to lose out on revenue when it comes to conversions.”
Allyson Cavaretta, director of sales and marketing for the Meadowmere Resort in Ogunquit, Maine, said they saw the writing on the wall for tablets two years ago. “We wanted to make searches on phones and tablets a comfortable experience,” Cavaretta said. “We only had to do a couple of hours work to make the Mobilegeddon deadline.”
If any hotelier is still thinking they can do without the Google rankings, Atkinson said Google is just the first to make the transition. “We definitely expect to see a tipping point, as more people use mobile devices, we expect to see the same search engine changes on a global scale.”