Last Click Attribution Is Killing Your Hotel Marketing Campaigns

Last Click Attribution Is Killing Your Hotel Marketing Campaigns

Marketing success today can be measured using many diverse metrics. Analytics programs let you measure everything from who and where your website visitors come from to what content they are interested in. These engagement and conversion metrics can help you understand what is really working when it comes to your website and marketing efforts.

Some hotels have an in-house digital marketing team, but most outsource their online campaigns to an agency. Either way, these teams are usually tasked with producing an ROI (return on investment) report for every dollar spent on channels like Google AdWords, Facebook, etc. There is an industry-wide obsession with knowing where the last revenue-generating click came from. This metric invariably takes center stage in marketing meetings, ensuring that the conversation never moves beyond the last click and how much revenue was booked. Ignoring overall marketing channel performance might have worked for hotels in the good old days, but not today. A lot of hotels are struggling to understand why they are not seeing massive returns on their advertising dollars anymore. Even brand name traffic and clicks are in decline. So what has eroded your marketing campaign power?

The villain in this story – the one preventing you from moving forward – is this thing called last click attribution. It has derailed countless hotel marketing campaigns for both large and small operators. I’d like to take some time to help you understand attribution models in the hospitality and travel business, and how they affect your marketing efforts.

What Is an Attribution Model?

The good news is that most hotels and inns are spending some amount of money on digital ads. The bad news is that decision-makers have a limited understanding of how online marketing works today, and which strategies they should be crediting for the successes and failures of their campaigns.

Let’s dive right into attribution. An attribution model is a set of rules that that help you determine which touchpoints along the conversion path should be getting the credit for the final sale or conversion. Sounds simple… but it’s not. What makes it tremendously complicated in our sector is the number of touchpoints involved when someone is planning a trip, and subsequently a hotel stay.

A touchpoint is any point of contact that occurs between you and your customer; in our case, we are discussing online touchpoints. Here is a list of some of the touchpoints that might occur between your hotel and a potential guest who is planning a trip to Sydney over a period of weeks or months before visiting:

  • Top-level destination research: airfare searches, Sydney travel blogs, etc.
  • Neighborhood research: staying in Bondi Beach vs Central Business District vs iconic Sydney Harbor
  • Hotel research: Narrowing lodging search by researching independent vs brands; top-ranking hotels for value and price on TripAdvisor; hotel websites, social media profiles, and blogs
  • Things to do: online searches for top things to do in Sydney; lists and blogs about Sydney; seasonal events
  • Dining: restaurants, dietary requirements and cuisine preferences, must-haves, food blogs, review websites

While the above process is happening, your guest might also encounter some of these hotel-specific marketing touchpoints:

  • Hotel display ads: placed on top travel blogs and websites
  • Hotel location and value Google ads: “Luxury Hotels in Sydney,” “Hotels near Sydney Harbor”
  • Hotel brand name Google ads: when they search for your hotel by name
  • Hotel TripAdvisor Page: while they are still researching your price and value
  • Meta/OTA rate shop: your listings, reviews, and rate profile
  • Hotel blog post about seasonal events: useful content on your website
  • Hotel email newsletter: perhaps they sign up to stay in touch before booking or arriving the hotel
  • Hotel local dining guide; return visit for more useful content on your website
  • Hotel Facebook ads: and other social media ads, while scoping out your social profiles

Every single touchpoint is a crucial part of the shopper’s journey. This Expedia study showed that a typical hotel guest will visit over 38 websites before booking the room.

A typical website reservation that you are seeing today is the result of 30+ touchpoints that occurred at different stages of travel planning before the final act of booking a room. All the online channels you use today are more connected than ever; they must work together to support your goal of getting a booking. If you are only looking at where the final click came from when attributing revenue, you are missing the big picture. The very last step in a long decision-making process has not single-handedly earned the booking. It doesn’t make sense to allocate your entire marketing budget based on the last click that occurred before the booking.

So, let’s talk now about proper marketing channel attribution.

Deciphering the Attribution Models in Google

Google has been working on making attribution modeling more mainstream. In 2014, they released the Attribution Modeling Tool in Google AdWords. They actually want you to see how users interact with your ads, so you can run better campaigns. As of May 2016, you can integrate the attribution model of your choice with your conversion data and ad bids. Excellent tool for everyone involved! It’s especially helpful for the very few with “Marketing” in their job title that actually log in and work on their marketing campaigns. Of course, if you are just waiting for agency reports to drop into your inbox, you cannot witness this beauty firsthand…but at least you can make changes to the way you measure success.

Once you have decided to actively assign attribution for your paid and earned marketing efforts, you have to determine which model works best for your business. The following example illustrates how each attribution model would work for a hotel reservation with four touchpoints.


  • Touchpoint 1: Google PPC Ad. Guest X finds your hotel website for the first time by clicking on one of your Google AdWords campaign ads for “luxury hotels in Sydney.” They browse the website and consume your content and photos. You capture their email address (with their permission, of course).
  • Touchpoint 2: Facebook Ad. Two weeks later, Guest X returns to your website, this time from a Facebook Ad about “Things to do in Sydney.”
  • Touchpoint 3: Email Marketing. Five days later, you send them an email about upcoming events in Sydney and why your hotel is in the best location to enjoy them. You get a click-through.
  • Touch Point 4: Direct Traffic. The next day Guest X books a room directly on your website by typing into the browser. Mission accomplished!

Your Attribution Options

  • Last Click Attribution. The last click before booking, in this case your website’s direct traffic source, gets 100% credit for the reservation.
  • First Click Attribution. The first touchpoint, your Google AdWords campaign ad for “luxury hotels in Sydney,” gets 100% credit for the reservation.
  • Linear Attribution. Every touchpoint – Google AdWords, Facebook, Email and Direct – gets equal credit for the reservation (25% each).
  • Time Delay Attribution. The touchpoints closest to the reservation dates get the majority of the credit. In this case, Email and Direct get most of the credit; Google AdWords and Facebook get less.
  • Position-Based Attribution. The first and last touch points (Google AdWords and Direct) get 40% credit each, and the remaining 20% credit for the reservation is divided evenly between the middle touchpoints. Facebook and Email get 10% each.
  • Data-Driven Attribution. This model gives credit for conversions based on the steps people have taken to find you and ultimately book a room with you. It uses data from your own account to determine which ads, keywords, and campaigns have the greatest impact on conversions. This is only available to accounts that have accumulated enough data over time. I love this model!

Where can you see all this? Oh, it’s right there in your Google Analytics dashboard! Look under Conversion > Attribution.

I have always loved GA. Here is why I think it’s better than anything fancy out there.

Why Should You Abandon Last Click Attribution?

Everyone would like to see the return on a marketing investment. It helps you justify why you did what you did, right? The cliché line “what gets measured gets done” (used by folks who love management guru books) is very hard to implement in digital marketing. I want to be clear that measurement is not the enemy here. It’s how you draw insights from the data that makes or breaks your marketing campaigns and future revenue.

Marketing budgets are already in very short supply in the hotel business. Imagine what happens when the allocation of these tiny budgets is determined solely by the last click that generated a booking. The result is apparent in hundreds of marketing reports today. It’s just not working anymore. It’s time to let go and move on.

The Booking Journey

The path to booking a hotel room today spans multiple websites and devices: online travel agents, metasearch, review sites, social media, etc. When you are dealing with 38 touchpoints, it’s not enough to look at the bottom of the funnel. Instead, ask yourself what you are doing to help your guest move through their booking journey.

Do you think your typical pay per click brand name ad “Official Website: Book Direct And Save!” helps when someone is still researching your location? No, it doesn’t!

Are you speaking with your guests on social media? Or is your Facebook strategy just serving up a“25% off for Spring Break” display ad?

What about email? Is it all about 35% off your best rates? Is that the only conversation you are having with your guests?

Focusing on the last touchpoint prevents you from helping your guests during the planning process, before they are ready to book. You are so busy moving marketing dollars to campaigns that target the last touchpoint that you never feed and fund top-of-the-funnel activities and channels. Ultimately, the volume is going to decline and you are going to end up playing the price game instead of selling value.

Underutilizing Your Marketing Arsenal and Agency

By giving 100% credit to the last click channel, you shift the focus of your marketing campaign to that one channel. All eyes are on the tool that is converting and showing a healthy return on investment. Hotel marketing agencies get stuck producing “ROI reports” to justify their existence every single month. Fixation on one channel kicks off a vicious cycle in which your revenue numbers start to decline, you fire the agency, hire a new one, repeat. This is particularly harmful if your digital assets are not in your control and you start from the bottom every time just like Sisyphus. Your website, campaigns and data need to consistently grow over time, and not get disrupted or lost when you change vendors.

Content production, photography, social media conversations, and email conversations are all part of your full marketing arsenal. Don’t go to battle with one weapon when you have a wide range of tools that allow you to target every single phase and touchpoint of the booking cycle.

Others Prosper While You Analyze

I have previously written about dinosaur metrics to avoid and super metrics to embrace. With most marketers 100% focused on the last click at the bottom of the funnel, the top-of-the-funnel playing field is wide open in the travel business. Online travel agents have done a great job of focusing on the entire travel journey. Of course, they bring tons of cash to the game and dominate paid channels…but there is a ton of work on the top of the funnel that is funded by conversions. They run, manage and curate thousands of websites that have content relating to the early stages of the travel-booking journey. As  a result, they build trust and solid brand names in the travel business without owning a single bed.

When you leave opportunity on the table, someone will always be there to seize it.


Booking a room at a hotel, bed and breakfast, or Airbnb is a process. First comes the destination, then the location within the destination, then a price and value comparison, and finally the right user experience to complete the booking. Judging your hotel and travel marketing campaigns at the finish line incorrectly assigns all the praise and investment to one single component. In time, your super-performing touchpoint will face a decline and stop producing revenue for you on its own.

New lemons are needed to make more lemonade. Stop squeezing the life out of your campaigns by focusing on the last click.

Super Metrics for Hotel Marketing & Online Revenue Optimization

Analytics metrics have evolved over the past few years. In my last article, I discussed the dinosaur metrics that have fallen in value since the last mass extinction event. Since online marketing and digital advertising are rapidly changing, looking at outdated metrics can allow you to be completely blindsided in regards to your online revenue and profitability.

In this article, I cover the five super metrics that now dominate the analytics and marketing world. These metrics have been around forever but are more relevant today than ever. These metrics have always been are near and dear to my heart – this is not just an infatuation. They have helped me evaluate and transform hotel assets worth over $1B. So grab your cape. Let’s dive into the future.

#1: Bounce Rate

Bounce rate has been one of my personal favorites since 1999. This metric will tell you explicitly whether your design, content, navigation and marketing are working for you. It’s my ultimate reality check metric.

According to Wikipedia, bounce rate “represents the percentage of visitors who enter the site and then leave (“bounce”) rather than continuing on to view other pages within the same site.”

My personal definition for bounce rate is the failure to get your website visitor to perform any action on your website. In the case of hotel/travel websites, that action is not necessarily limited to booking. You can expect a visitor to do a number of things, including: sign up for your newsletter, check dates and rates, read blog posts, browse your photo gallery, watch a video tour, etc.

As with all super metrics, you must segment and dig deeper to get the best outcome and insights. You can segment your bounce rate by Source, such as:

  • Google AdWords
  • Google Display
  • Facebook
  • Direct Traffic

“Bulk data generates reports. Segmentation generates insights.”

– Vikram Singh

What’s a good bounce rate? Great question. For hotel and travel websites, anything over 40% deserves scrutiny. One exception is a blog, where most people will read your landing page and be done. But, dig deeper. How many of the bounced visitors are already subscribed to your list? Did you have a call to action on your blog post? Context is king, y’all.

Here are some of the key culprits behind a high bounce rate:

  • Bad website/landing page design. High bounce should help you look beyond the high fives your team gave each other when your new website launched. Design conversation needs to move beyond colors, rainbows and unicorns on your home page. Your content and layout need to lead visitors to take action.
  • Bad navigation. Bad navigation is one of the leading causes of visitor confusion. Somewhere along the way we had an unfortunate invasion by the hamburger button. Today, many hotel websites are using it for vanity; it looks cute and doesn’t interfere with their mood-setting photography. However, if visitors cannot navigate to the content they are looking for, they will be bouncing off your cute website. You know the thing about making your website visitors feel stupid… they start to feel the same way about you.
  • Slow load times. Not since Tom Cruise mentioned it in Top Gun have your website visitors have had such a strong need… a need for speed! Load time for your website cannot be over four seconds on the very high end of the spectrum. Slow load time is one of the top reasons for high bounce rates. There is a whole section in Google Analytics where you can monitor this and stay on top. Log in and start exploring.

*Pro tip: Don’t test load times from the work laptop, desktop, or mobile device where you regularly view your website. Test from a random device to avoid the cookie monster.

#2: Average Order Value/Lifetime Value

This is a critical super metric that gives you good insight into how much your website is producing for you per visitor.

Average Order Value = Total Revenue / Number of Reservations

This metric is extremely helpful when you are trying to figure out ways to reduce visitor churn. It also helps you identify and reach out to better-performing segments with your inbound marketing efforts. Even better, you can start to figure out the average lifetime value of your guests, who may book with you several times over the course of a year.

Running specials in your low demand period? Adding a new restaurant? Renovations? Service upgrades? Knowing the average order value and average lifetime value of your guests will help you reach out to your most valuable guest segments first. TripAdvisor cannot be the only source for news and information about your hotel. Identify your most loyal guests and talk to them regularly.

#3: Custom Goals

Nothing is more painful for an analytics fan like me than hearing people say that the only website metric they care about is tracked ROI. Nothing else matters. (You know, the Gordon Gekko types.)

In fact, tracked revenue is a small part of what you need to be looking at when deciding on your marketing budgets. Last click attribution models will show quick gains, but won’t account for changes in the market (sometimes big ones). Examples include a new hotel opening, airline pattern changes, a drop in your user review score, etc.

The smartest people in marketing and analytics are looking at the bigger picture. Instead of staring hard at the bottom of the funnel, pay attention to the other actions visitors take on your website, such as:

  • Contact form submissions. What were the top questions visitors asked about the hotel? Were they interested in weddings? Food & Beverage? Meetings?
  • Video watching. What videos were played on the website, and at what point were they paused/abandoned? (Yes, Google Analytics tracks videos /events.)
  • Newsletter/blog/email signups. These are the guys who are interested, and likely to do business with you more than once in their lifetime.

Set custom goals for each micro action you want your visitors to take, and watch what happens. You’ll quickly find out what’s working, what’s not, and which visitors are the ones you want to attract and keep.

#4: Website Conversion Rate

This is a powerful metric that tells you what percentage of your website visitors actually put money in your pocket. Simple, right? No. Because most marketing managers quote their booking engine conversion rate as their website conversion rate, and that is a problem.

Important: In order to get this metric right, your booking engine must be connected to your website analytics software. No connection = No conversion data.

True story:
Once during a pitch meeting with a hotel group in Santa Barbara, my partner (who is a marketing Jedi) asked the hotel’s ecommerce manager their website conversion rate. He did not know what that meant. Let’s just say we did not win that contract. Or as kids these days say…Awkward!

Not knowing the conversion rate is one thing. Telling people that your website is converting at 14% is much more dangerous. When I hear super high numbers like that, I know that someone is quoting:

a) Booking engine conversion rate = how many visitors got into the booking engine versus how many checked out

And not the …

b) Website conversion rate = how many people visited your website and then clicked into the booking engine and then checked out

Quoting someone a 14% overall conversion rate means you are breaking all the rules of Internet Physics! High fives may occur… but do not expect a call from MIT or CalTech.

Conversion rate is a Boss Metric. Basically, if you can move this number up by a few percentage points, you’ll see a massive change in your overall revenue. By converting more of your total visitors on the website, you are  multiplying all of your marketing and advertising investments!

#5: Booking Engine & Website Abandonment

We have just covered some rock star metrics. …but booking engine/website abandonment is like a shot of adrenalin administered straight to your bank account. All you Pulp Fiction fans know what I am talking about. That scene with John Travolta and Uma Thurman flashes in front of my eyes every time I think of the power of Abandonment Rate. Let me elaborate, starting with the definition.

Abandonment Rate = Abandoned Bookings* / Total Bookings Initiated

(*Abandoned Bookings = Bookings Initiated − Bookings Completed)

So, why is this such a powerful metric? There are two specific reasons:

  1. No other metric can have a faster and more positive direct impact on your revenue.
  2. It involves fixing just a few steps in your final checkout process. It does not require an elaborate audit and a corporate committee to figure out what to do.

Now there is a scary reason why this is not talked about more in the hospitality business: the majority of hotels are running one of many conversion-poor booking engines. To make matters worse, these engines are deployed across thousands of hotels. Any customization to help you reduce your abandonment rate is going to be deeply frowned upon.

You can always take your abandonment rate optimization game to a new level. Here are some ideas on segmenting your abandonment rate. Try segmenting by source:

  • AdWords
  • Google Display
  • Facebook Ads
  • Direct Traffic

And by product:

  • Room Type
  • Package Type
  • Rate Type

This segmentation will help you get insights into which visitors (from what sources) abandon the booking process. This allows you to check any messaging and rate issues that are causing them to leave. As you analyze, please know that there are always rate shoppers hitting your website to find the best rate, and they might leave the booking engine to just to confirm elsewhere out of habit. You are looking for the details, not bulk numbers.

The solution is not to sign up for a software to send automatic emails to people who left the booking engine after leaving their contact info. Maybe their boss walked in asking about the missing cover sheet on the TPS report. The real reason for doing this analysis is to find out where the revenue bleed exists.


Analytics is rapidly evolving; the metrics that mattered just a few years ago are obsolete. Google and Facebook are brawling for online marketing dollars, and those are things you cannot control. What you can do is reject the ridiculous post mortem style monthly report that is filled with data but no insights. Instead, start getting your hands dirty by digging into your own open source website and analytics program. Embrace Google Analytics and start looking for information and insights that will bring you more revenue. Armed with these powerful Super Metrics, you can become a hero by increasing your hotel’s profitability and revenue.

Dinosaur Metrics Are Taking a Bite Out of Your Hotel Marketing Performance

Marketing is evolving as I am typing this sentence. I’m here to make sure you are not wasting your time, energy and marketing budgets by focusing on outdated metrics. Many of the metrics you’re using have become irrelevant because of the seismic change in how people are researching and booking travel today. If you are still measuring what does not matter, you will end up getting blindsided. Don’t let a false sense of security, or an unwillingness to change, cost you market share and revenue.

Outdated Online Marketing Metrics


Measuring straight up year-over-year traffic is a quick way to lead yourself into the land of confusion. Because of the way Google has personalized the heck out of their search engine, those massive droves of online visitors that used to reach your website are now:

  1. Finding the information they need in the Google universe (Google Hotel Finder, Google Flights, etc)
  2. Seeing their own version of Google based on their browsing history, their click-thru history, and the retargeting associated with their Gmail accounts. Basically, they are not seeing universal results, which used to result in massive traffic numbers.

Over the past several years, I have seen a decline in website traffic across the board in hotels and travel. The way people are moving across devices throughout the day, coupled with their growing concerns about privacy, means it’s getting harder to track them. Don’t worry: those wanting to sell you ads are working hard on a solution. But conversion and engagement metrics, not traffic, need to be center stage.

Childish Gambino sums it up: “Yeah, you got some silverware, but really are you eating though?”

Keyword Ranking

The personalization of search engines that I highlighted above directly affects another popular favorite from the days of old timey marketing: the beloved Keyword Ranking report. Back in the day, you know pre-2005, you could really hang your hat on this one. Rankings meant traffic, and traffic converted. Ah, the good old days! Today you are paying someone to dominate a list of keywords as part of SEO. You might as well burn cash to stay warm. Read these articles instead to learn how SEO has evolved, and why ‘pay to play’ is the new (old) king.

Meaningful content and website expansion have replaced keyword rankings. Looking at the Top 10 Keywords report in 2016 is like looking at a newspaper from 2005 to predict the weather today.

Email Open Rate

Bragging about the size of your email database is so last decade. The more relevant question is: how many segments or groups do you have within your database? Male vs. Female? USA vs. International? City vs. State? Sending massive email blasts without any segmentation is a sure shot way to get ignored/unsubscribed. Your content is key and needs to be segmented to succeed. Here’s an example of an email campaign that is WAY too broad, and therefore destined to fail.

You can beat your competition by embracing the power of segmentation. Like search engines, email systems also are not doing what they used to do back in the day: the good ol’ pixel-based tracking. One of the biggest email clients (Gmail) does not open image emails by default, which singlehandedly derails the “opened” metric. Anyway, sending emails like the one above does not help, even if they register as opened. I may have opened the email, but I will not sift through 100+ deals to find what I need, thanks. I have Google/Expedia for that!

Social Likes, Shares, Followers

Still counting Likes? Followers? Well, you can stop doing that. Neither of these things is anything more than a suggestion that someone might pay attention to you. For hotels and travel, this is where discussion is a better KPI (Key Performance Indicator) than the number of likes, retweets, and shares. A discussion can be an online interaction on social media, a phone call, or an email exchange. These interactions can take place during the trip planning phase, at the property during the stay/event, or post stay. All of those activities mean more than clicking on a Like button.

Social media is not the place to be broadcasting a message and expecting to get revenue. I fondly remember the days when agencies could make money by adding a “BOOK NOW” link on Facebook! But that didn’t last long. Today you need to look at the level of discussion you are having online. So, have you engaged your customers? What content have you produced that they should care about? These are the real questions to ask.

Pro Tip: Look at Insights section of your Facebook page. Go here to see your Twitter situation:


Travel is one of the most competitive segments online. You have to up your analytics game if you want to stay relevant. Pats on the back and high fives for outdated metrics are bad for your profitability (and your street cred). It’s always a great time to update your online marketing metrics to stay competitive. In my next post, I will cover the exciting metrics that actually drive your profitability. Stay tuned, stay woke!

Google Analytics vs. Adobe Site Catalyst for Hotels

Marketing is evolving, especially the Internet kind. Website analytics have come a long way in the past decade. We have access to more information than ever before. You can now monitor in detail how people are interacting with your website, where they are coming from, and where they are going.

Google Analytics vs. Adobe Site Catalyst (previously called Omniture) is one of those questions that I  get asked regularly, so here are my thoughts.

I have been an ardent user/supporter of Google Analytics for a while. I am amazed at the power and value it provides for free. On top of that, almost every year Google Analytics rolls out product updates and features that are a huge threat to the world of organized ‘enterprise analytics.’ To me, the choice is clear: Google Analytics gives hotels everything they need to excel at online marketing.

Not convinced? Let’s take on some of the superiority myths about Site Catalyst.

Analytics Tools Are Not the Issue

It really doesn’t matter what tool you are using to measure your online performance. A lot of agencies will tout Site Catalyst as a superior tool because they want you to think it matters. But it doesn’t. Why? Because you are not launching the next Mars Rover mission or performing neurosurgery! A few extra points of accuracy do not make a difference in the world of online marketing. As a rule, spend less on analytical tools and focus on hiring the right talent. Get people who can translate the data into insights for you. Remember, those touting the superiority of their analytics tool usually have a hidden agenda (ie, please work with our agency, we have Site Catalyst).

Sorry, Nothing Beats Free

Google Analytics gives you all the answers Site Catalyst does. The difference is that Google Analytics gives you everything for free, and Site Catalyst comes with either:

a) An agency marketing contract
b) A big monthly bill

If I can get all my basic statistics (traffic, clicks, conversions) and have the capability to set up custom dashboards, goals, behavior and visitor flow for free… I’m going to take it and run with it. Why drive a Ferrari to the grocery store? A Jetta can get the job done, minus the parking hassles and dirty looks you are going to get. The edge is not your analytics program; it’s the person logging in and giving you actionable insights.

Buzzword Alert!

The first thing Site Catalyst fans will throw at you is the super awesome level of customization  that it offers versus Google Analytics. Buzzwords like custom event metrics, site sectioning and hierarchy, and custom variable attribution will make your eyes glaze over. What they are really trying to say is: Site Catalyst can do some crafty things 75 times over that Google will only let you do 20 times over. I cannot even begin to explain how ridiculous this is. After working with hotels for a decade, I have yet to see one that tracks or even remotely cares about more than 5 “custom variables.” Try not to be seduced by buzzwords; focus on what you really should be tracking. What a hotel needs, Google Analytics delivers.

Shiny Custom Reports & Dashboards

If I had to pick the #1 reason agencies love Site Catalyst, it would be reports. Shiny, shiny reports! These can be generated, scheduled and emailed like nobody’s business. The sad thing is that nobody at the hotel is actually looking at these reports. If they are, they are likely are not trained to properly interpret them and deliver insights. You can’t really blame the agencies. They need these reports to justify their existence. (It’s a vicious cycle involving the ROI monster.) The reports and dashboards Google Analytics provides are pretty close to the ones you are going to really use with Site Catalyst. Features like ‘report collaboration’ are completely useless. How about collaborating on insights instead? Dashboards and reports are not going to magically give you those. You will need to take time to understand the numbers and what they are telling you about your marketing efforts. Too much focus on reporting can paralyze, and take so much of your time that you never take action. Last click attribution is killing hotel online marketing, and reports are not helping.

R.I.P. Data Accuracy

I’ve said it before: data accuracy is a fool’s errand. You can spend a ton of time chasing accuracy across your analytics platform. For example, you can run 20 reports on mobile devices that are sending you traffic, to look at top keywords, top pages etc. A lot of agencies love to tout the accuracy with which Site Catalyst showcases the contribution of branded hotel keywords vs. generic keywords to each booking. Guess what? We are now in the era of “not set, not provided.” Google has dropped the curtain on the keyword-based marketing show. No matter what analytics program you use, you are going to see the same thing. It’s time to look at the data you have and use it to make a plan of action, rather than endlessly debating the accuracy of one analytics program over another.

Data Ownership

Agencies love to say how Analytics you do not own your data. The fact is that unless your hotel is directly subscribed to Site Catalyst, it’s your agency that owns your data anyway. Not you. So, when you decide to move on from their services, they are taking their world-famous “data warehouse” with them. Now imagine your agency getting abducted by aliens, or just being upset that you fired them. You are not going to be getting direct access to anything past or present from Site Catalyst. Now with Google Analytics, you actually have a fighting chance. If you are the owner of your account (please be the owner of your account), you can switch agencies every 1-2 years and still have ALL of your data in your control and available for analysis. How cool is that? You become agency-agnostic with Google Analytics. Besides, who wants to store data in a warehouse? Warehouses are for storing grains, arks and alien stuff. (Source: Professor Jones.)

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In Conclusion

Site Catalyst is something that is much loved in the agency world and for good reason. It ties into Adobe Digital Marketing Suite, Test & Target, Digital Pulse, and Search Center. This makes agency life easy. They can: 1. Automate your marketing and save precious time spent per client; and 2. Inundate you with fancy reports to justify their existence every single month. Google Analytics, on the other hand, requires you to think. I love that feature. Insights happen when you get your hands dirty with analytics. Google Analytics is giving every business in the world, no matter how small they are, access to a world-class, enterprise level analytics platform. They are not asking you to spend anything or get into any contracts. Take the money you save on Site Catalyst, and invest in smart people who can tell you what to do with the information.

Death by Data: How Misusing Hotel Analytics Data Can Hurt Your Revenue

Analytics is an amazing and powerful tool. Voltaire/FDR/Stan Lee (depends who you ask) has said, “With great power comes great responsibility.” This is particularly relevant to Analytics users in the hotel industry who are making marketing decisions. Unfortunately, a lot of people misuse the power of  hotel analytics, and end up hurting their hotel asset by limiting its online revenue or wasting precious time and marketing dollars.

Here are some changes you should make in your online marketing strategy to avoid common, yet costly, mistakes.

Note: Google Analytics is one of my favorite Google products of all time. I have been evangelizing and speaking on how to get the most out of it for several years. However, the opinions expressed below apply equally to any other analytics program your hotel may be using.

Getting Caught in Traffic

Analytics is a brilliant product because it is revolves around the basic human desire to be popular and have numbers to prove it. You know, Holy Grail stuff. However, chasing ongoing pure traffic growth can turn into a full-time waste of time for your marketing team. High traffic numbers can be a false growth indicator.

Instead, how about we start with the basics: Why do you have a hotel website? What do you want people to do when they get to your website? These are the questions that will help you reposition and reshape your website to bring in more revenue. Website conversion and engagement metrics are much more important than traffic numbers, and they need your constant attention. Focusing too much on month-over-month traffic growth distracts you from this important work.

No Goals = No Funnels = No Need for Analytics

I meet a lot of marketing “experts” who are heading a hotel’s marketing team, yet do not understand the basics of tracking goals and evaluating the conversion funnel. Some do not even know the difference between clicks and impressions! If you haven’t defined what goals you have for your website, there is no meaning to be found in staring at web statistics. It’s like staring into the abyss and waiting for some (any) meaning to pop out. So, make sure you understand the basics of goal setting and funnel evaluation before you get into analytics. Then, you’ll have to integrate Google Analytics into your hotel booking engine – not just your website – in order to start reviewing and monitoring your ecommerce conversion funnel.

Data Accuracy Is Dead

Google killed it. The way people are browsing the internet today is making accurate tracking very hard. In my experience, those obsessing over data accuracy are usually the ones who have the least amount to contribute, and the least understanding about analytics. The focus needs to be on gaining insights from the analytics you have, and not on a fictional super-accurate data set that will make all your dreams come true. An additional challenge for hotels is the need to get accurate numbers from two different domains: your hotel domain and your booking engine domain. Even seasoned professionals find this challenging; Google Analytics and the many booking engines on the market were not necessarily made to work together seamlessly. My advice on this: keep a cool head, and call in advanced technical help when needed. Most of all, know what you’re looking at and don’t lose focus on the big picture.

The ROI Monster

The way the ‘interwebs’ and specifically Google are shaping up, it is going to be almost impossible to know the exact ROI (return on investment) of your online marketing campaign. Cross-browser, platform and device tracking are getting trickier. Along with privacy concerns (affecting everyone but the NSA), these technical challenges are making it harder to track everything.

In spite of these issues, a lot of hotel ecommerce managers have been turned into reporting monkeys. Which begs the question: why pay a full-time hotel ecommerce manager just to chase your online marketing vendor for stats, stats, and more stats? In the mad rush to track ROI on every penny you have spent, everything else that is super important (insights, branding, growth, strategy) takes second place.

It’s time to move on to better things. Don’t drag down your hotel’s online marketing efforts because you are not seeing a hockey stick growth chart or a 10,000:1 ROI Excel report (and yes, to my dismay, I have seen both of these).

Instead, you can choose not to participate in the reporting/ROI mayhem that has taken over online hotel marketing. Focus on insights instead of numbers. Move away from checklist-style online marketing. Understand how the analytics data relates to your particular hotel, its location, and its online goals. Analyze!

Here is what you can instead of beating hard on the ROI drum:

  1. Don’t ask a question that is impossible to answer accurately. Instead, focus on what you have in your control: website conversions, abandonment, branding, and story.
  2. Educate yourself and others about what the reports really have to offer. Accept that Google has done away with data accuracy; the proof is in the (not set) (not provided) statistics that are all over your analytics reports. 
  3. Stop the madness. Toxic reporting and hyped-up sales pitches are the biggest byproduct of ROI-driven marketing. It’s a hostage situation when you refuse to spend money online until you see 100% accurate and super-high ROI. This attitude is forcing agencies and vendors to produce reports for the purpose of showing ROI instead of pursuing productive, revenue-driving goals. 

At your next marketing meeting, try this instead: Give analytics access to everyone. Go ahead, let them look around. Let them dig in, and then bring their own insights and questions to the meeting. This beats the pants off listening to one guy reading numbers off a report. Questioning and thinking leads to discussion = insights= action!


Analytics is a powerful tool, but it is only valuable if you know how to use it, and wish to use it to bring about positive change. Analytics data should be used to make your website better every day. Using it to justify marketing investment 24/7 is a real energy drain that will hurt your business. In the end, if you do not understand the value of online marketing in 2013 and need non-stop assurances about ROI… why not go back to print media ? I am pretty certain they would be very happy to hear from you.