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HSMAI Special Section: Content Creation Strategy - Mobile Takes IT Betond SEO

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April 04, 2016
HSMAI
Max Rayner

If, as McLuhan said in his 1964 classic, the media is the message, then what does that mean for hoteliers charged with creating a content strategy in the era of smartphones and tablets?

Continuing to borrow from McLuhan, if the “content of any medium is always another medium”, what’s the right approach for a content creation strategy that will not lead us into the ash-heap of history?
For many hoteliers in the recent past, the answer was to create content based on Search Engine Optimization (SEO). This was fine back when being at the top of the first in the chain of Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs) was the holy grail, but that's changed.
Now the type of device your guest will be reading your content on is just as important as the actual words. That's not to say that SEO isn't still important – or that good SEO is easy. We all hear from people that could either sell us a bridge in Brooklyn or bogus work that “guarantees” position number 1 in SERPs. One of my past clients fell for such a ploy and did see a temporary rankings increase. It wasn’t until penalties kicked in and they had to call me to direct the cleanup that it became clear that the SEO experts had contracted link farms in third world countries which wrote many articles about “sex in <enter destination the client cared about>.”
On a side note, it says something about humans that people search for “sex” 13 times more often than they search for “God.” Closer to home, our industry should note that while 10 years ago people cared about “hotels” about five times more than about “God.” More recently “hotels” and “God” are running nearly even. So the next time you need a rank boost for your hotel in Peoria, just create a link farm about “sex in Peoria” and then search for “God” so you can pray that Google won’t catch you too quickly.
Obviously, the actual hard work to restructure Web properties and pages within properties to yield the maximal flow of ranking influence is legitimate, just much harder to do. So much so that I may well have more to say about it in a subsequent column. But in many ways this is old news: Of course you should get all your technical SEO factors right, and of course you should tune your content to support not just a persuasive marketing message but also for whatever you want that content to rank.
Setting “sex” and “God” aside for moment, there appears to be a long-term decline in searches for “hotel” / “hotels” that may be worth exploring in greater detail.
Does this mean that as people get more interested in bars, they become less interested in places to sleep. Something else may be at play here, and that something is shifting usage patterns – the favored medium for search is now mobile.
Because it’s so important, let’s restate this hypothesis once more: The medium is influencing the dialogue taking place through it. New possibilities, mediated by an evolving interface, are leading to new entry points and to new content.
Perhaps at some point long ago the primary use case with respect to hotels might be as shown on the left in traditional search results. That was all very good in times past. But now you're more likely to see a map-driven search (whether location aware or driven remotely).
In the age of smaller mobile screens, the first few words visible on the screen without swiping become incredibly critical at every step of the hospitality customer journey. Among other things, content creation strategy's job is to get those first few words to the right person on the right viewport at the right time, especially so in the mobile-first world we live in.

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So why does mobility require an intentional, deliberate content strategy,
even to the point of supplanting SEO concerns if and when there’s a conflict?

On a more expansive medium such as a desktop screen there’s a great deal
of room to be lazy about content and sketchy copy writing. For example,
you might see the lead description for a hotel go something like this:

“It is not everyday that you are able to find a jewel like this hotel.
With a great history dating back to 1926, we have a unique property,
with the simultaneous benefit of both historical architecture
and hip bars with a modern atmosphere.”

I don’t know about you, but I fell asleep writing the passage, so I can only
imagine how annoying it must be to try to read it in a tiny font on a smartphone. Note that Marriott, the brand ranking highest on the above search,
had much better copy in its SERP snippet:

“Hip and Historic in downtown Peoria Illinois …”

Sadly, Marriott's mobile content takes a strange turn for the worse and goes for boring instead … and to add insult to injury, allows a property with $40-$70 million dollars worth of recent renovations be represented as a “3 star hotel”:

“3 stars hotel … Upscale lodging with a pool and dining”

What’s even more interesting to consider, though, is the impact of varying content in a mobile medium (see the side bar in the spring 2016 digital edition of Hospitality Upgrade).

================================

CONTENT CREATION STRATEGY
So this and many other examples is why mobility requires an intentional, deliberate content strategy, even to the point of supplanting SEO concerns if and when there’s a conflict. Some of the obvious choices are:

1 START WITH STRATEGY, FOLLOW UP WITH DIFFERENTIATED CONTENT CREATION:
Who are you selling to? What problem do you solve? Are you the solution to the need for affordable, clean quarters, or are you the solution to high end aspirational desires for an “experience?” What personas are you catering to, and what cohorts do they fit into (whether as known parties or unknown Web visitors)? What tone should you strike with each group? How do these questions play across channels, and can you justify the economics of differentiated content across channels or only for yourself? Once these questions and others are answered, the content strategy and its degree of standardization or mass-customization will follow.
You can then mount an effort to develop differentiated content for different media. Copy writing for smartphones should be different than that for tablets, which should be different from writing for large, fixed screens. This effort needs to go beyond “editorial” and include a serious effort to structure content so you can share it with potential channels and GDSs. Include structured descriptives that enable full programmatic understanding of your location, property and room level content.
Even your purely editorial effort isn't just about the words. It's also about all the images and other rich content. I’m sure that the horrid little image in the above “Meh” example means something and may even look good on a desktop. But it shouldn't be allowed anywhere near a small viewport. Which is to say that “dynamic scaling” (often incorrectly put forward as the answer to all viewport size questions) isn't as good across large size ranges as it is within defined size “windows.”

2 START WITH STRATEGY, FOLLOW UP WITH MILD EDITORSHIP:
The strategic questions are every bit as important as in the first option, but depending on resources you can intentionally opt for a less ambitious path on content strategy.
You might give up on mass-customization and/or personalization and opt to fine tune content by channel and medium type.

3 “ISN’T THAT WHAT BOOKING.COM AND EXPEDIA ARE FOR?”
You may also conclude that all this “strategery” is a bridge way too far. No dishonor in that. Booking and Expedia have solved the problem for you by taking in-house the development of rich media and content.
This is why you often see much better images on either of them than a hotel or even a brand can afford to generate for itself. As long as you make the choice intentionally and in the full knowledge of the trade-offs, it’s OK too.

EDUCATIONAL RESOURCES ON CONTENT
If you’re interested, you may want to check out a professional forum or two to get a feeling for what my content strategy colleagues tell each other on understanding media and those pesky human extensions (which today is increasingly about mobile form factors).
One such forum is the Content Strategy Alliance, or CSA. It works to bring together like-minded professionals to provide the content strategy and businesses communities with thought leadership, information on jobs, case studies, best practices and a forum to discuss issues with others in the field.
Another similar forum is the Institute (CMI). This leading global content marketing education and training organization teaches enterprise brands how to attract and retain customers through compelling, multi-channel storytelling.
And if all else fails and your content is a horrible mess, you can always confuse things long enough to get another job by hiring a link farm to create a few thousand web pages that tie your properties to the types of articles you don't want your brand associated with.
But you might be safer and sleep better at night if you buy and read “Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man,” by Marshall McLuhan, published by The MIT Press and other classics in the field, then actually do the hard work of creating and executing a content strategy.

MAX RAYNER is a partner at Hudson Crossing and his practice areas include strategy, transactions, agile transformation, product innovation, technology and user experience.
 
©2016 Hospitality Upgrade
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