Increase Your OTA Rankings with Optimized Visuals
In the past, travelers simply called a hotel directly or found the hotel website online to make a booking. These days, OTAs are the first choice for many travelers when it comes to searching for the best deal on a hotel room. It’s been reported that 35% of hotel direct bookings were discovered by travelers on third-party sites such as an OTA site. This is known as “The Billboard Effect” and we discuss it in greater detail later in this blog.
One of the big reasons travelers choose an OTA to learn more about a property is because the online travel agency uses visuals that have been optimized for maximum impact. Research has shown that listings that include a large number of photos convert a higher rate than listings that have nothing more than text. With optimized visuals, guests can see exactly what they should expect when they book a room. Clear visuals of the interior showcasing the key elements of the rooms and exterior shots that showcase the amenities of the property are what guests want. High-resolution photos with proper descriptions influence the decision a guest makes.
Online Travel Agency Visuals are Worth a Thousand Words
There is an old phrase that says, “a picture is worth a thousand words”. Optimized visuals are important because research has shown that the majority of human beings think in pictures. Visual marketing is more important than ever and online travel agency visuals need to reflect this fact. Research shows that 40% of people have a better response to visuals than plain text. In addition, 80% of what people see is retained by the eye while only 20% of words on a webpage are read by a user. People retain visual content much more than content that is mainly text. This is reflected in social media platforms such as Instagram and Pinterest.
The Billboard Effect is Alive & Thriving
In the past, traditional hotel advertising was done by purchasing billboards to promote the property. This led to the creation of the phrase known as “the billboard effect”. The phrase describes the marketing and advertising benefits experienced by hotels when they are listed on OTAs such as hotels.com or Expedia. The impact of the billboard effect on hotels was measured by researchers at Cornell University. The research team examined four hotels over a period of three months. They cycled the hotel listings, taking them on and off Expedia, for anywhere from 7-11 days at a time. Out of the four hotels studied by the research team, three of the hotels belonged to a branded, large chain and the fourth hotel was an independent hotel. The “on cycle” showed the hotels at the top of the search results. However, during the “off cycle”, the hotels were not easily found on the Expedia OTA. The study also showed that all four hotels saw increases in reservations during the “on cycle” with increases ranging from 7.5% to 26%. In fact, the independent hotel saw the greatest increase at 26%. The three branded properties enjoyed increases of 7.5%, 9.1%, and 14.1%.
Solutions to the Billboard Effect
If the billboard effect benefits hotels and increases bookings, hotels need to take advantage of this impact by taking the following steps:
- Distribute visuals everywhere – Expedia, Orbitz, and Booking.com are just a few of the OTAs people turn to when looking to book a room. There are thousands of distribution channels online. Placing high-quality visuals online, while using meta-tags helps search engines find the photos and gives hotels a big advantage in converting bookings.
- Score, curate, and track visuals – Hotels that know the content score of their hotel visuals get an inside look at how the visuals can be improved. The visual content score of a property is determined by the size of the image, how many images are distributed and how the room is categorized and if Room Types are selected. Scores can be increased and made more efficient in converting bookings, through image curation. Image curation uses precise meta-tags that are mapped to correspond to similar tags on all major OTAs, review sites, social networks, the hotel site, and search engines. Image tracking allows hotel management to see what images were uploaded, where they were delivered and if the images were modified or deleted. Image tracking gives hotels greater control over where the content is displayed.
- Use a centralized image repository – A centralized image repository also known as a digital asset library (DAL) organizes and stores images in one central location rather than being spread out on multiple computers. The DAL gives hotel management and property managers the ability to grant user access to certain people, so they only see the files that the property managers want them to see.
Why Curate Visuals?
Curated visuals increase the number of bookings for hotels and also give the property a good reputation among those searching OTAs for a hotel room. Curated visuals help hotels in numerous ways:
- OTAs have an easier time selling your property – Curating a library of high-quality images helps OTAs sell your property. A site with only one or two images is quickly viewed because there are not enough photos to make a big impact. Without enough photos, traveler searching for a hotel will quickly leave the website. A well-curated library with a large number of images shows guests what they can expect from a hotel. It also gives the hotel a reputable image and makes guests feel that the business is trustworthy.
- Improved visual content score – The visual content score of images is determined by the size of the image as well as the number of images used by the hotel. In addition, the visual content score relies on how the room in the visual is categorized. Using these insights to improve the impact of the images increases the visual content score and improves bookings.
- Tags on the images should be mapped to tags on major OTAs – Tags are used to describe the image or to describe what the image represents. The tags on the images should correspond to the tags on the OTAs and search engines to make a bigger impact with bookings.
- High-quality visuals increase rankings and bookings – Guests want to know what to expect when they book a hotel room. They will spend more time on an OTA site browsing high-quality visuals to get a better look at the property as well as get a better idea about the amenities waiting for them.
Property Managers Receive These Benefits
When it comes to a well-curated image library, property managers receive these benefits:
- Control over the visuals – Property visuals are a big part of building the reputation of a company. Property managers maintain control over the visuals in a digital asset library as they get to decide who has access to certain images. There is no more worry about the visuals being used or modified by someone that is not authorized to access or use the visuals.
- Improved bookings – Optimized visuals with the correct textual meta-tag information increases bookings. thanks to the quality of the photos, meta-tags that make them easier to search/find on OTAs or search engines and the interest they create in hotel properties as well as the area and activities that surround the hotel. Image tracking allows property managers to see when the visual content was delivered, where it was displayed and the quality score of the images to assess their effectiveness.
- Reduced expenses – A library of curated optimized images save money in the long run, and reduces expenses, by distributing the images to thousands of online channels including OTAs, search engines and GDS. Being able to use the same high-quality images over thousands of channels, instead of having to create new images for each website, reduces expenses for property managers.
Between 2012 and 2014, the number of people who exclusively visit hotel sites has come down from 12% to 10%. Whereas people who visit exclusively intermediary sites have gone up from 48% to 60%.