Saturday, June 09, 2007

Sol Melia and flawed search marking reports

Nothing gets BOOT guest editor Mike Potts of e-interactive madder than when travel companies make the wrong conclusions and use the wrong facts when talking about online marketing and search marketing in particular. Spanish hotel giant Sol Melia have been singing the praises of their own efforts in search marketing based on a flawed report and this has made Mike madder than hell. Here is what he has to say...

(Versión Español disponible en la blog propio de Mike Potts aquí)

It seems that publishing SEO benchmarking reports for the Spanish hotels market and using them for PR is all the rage these days, Adesis Netlife did it last year (downloadable here) and concluded that NH Hotels was the best in the market, now Sol Melia have released some PR quoting a report by Abser-t, claining they have the best positioning in search engines in Spain. These “SEO benchmarking studies” take a look at a few rival hotels chains performance in search engine visibility and try and present the findings as figures/scores so as to compare.

This report (references found in www.hoteltur.com as well as on the Sol Melia site here), not content with finding interesting ways to make Sol Melia’s SEO (natural positioning) performance look good, actually attempts to measure PAID search marketing performance (PPC) as well! Let’s get one thing straight:

It is IMPOSSIBLE to compare two companies PPC marketing campaigns by this type of qualitative analysis, never mind 10! Full stop.

I could write for hours about how this report is flawed in its facts and its methodology. It is without a doubt the biggest load of publicity biased rubbish I have ever read. If Sol Melia did pay for this (and we don't know if they did or not), then it would be like paying to take someone to dinner, then publishing the pictures to prove how attractive you are!

Here are the reasons why this report, and this way of measuring search visibility, are fundamentally wrong.

1. You cannot measure PPC performance in a comparative and qualitative way – paid search marketing changes placements by the second. Try doing a search for “hotels in Barcelona”. Then hit the refresh button. Did the paid results change order, did some ads disappear, some up, some down? YES, because Google optimizes campaigns against budget per day, because some companies use bid management systems, and because companies play with campaigns manually as well.

2. In this report the authors have decided to use a linear points scoring system for the natural listings, giving the top spot for a keyword 30 points, the second 29, and so on, then adding up the score for specific keyword searches. This is flawed and simplistic because;

a. Keywords and search engines are not linear things! Between 80 and 90% of search only result in visits to the first page of results, so coming on page 2,3 or 4 means nothing. There is no weighting of scores to account for this.

b. All keywords are not born equal. Some keywords drive lots of traffic and no sales to hotels, whilst others are valuable drivers of revenue.

c. Different hotels are targeting different markets. Some hotel chains are more family or leisure orientated, whilst others have more business hotels. Should the keywords deemed “successful” be the same for all these? Clearly not.

3. In at least two cases the report fails to report the results of important domains that belong to Sol Melia’s rivals. Hesperia Hotels, for instance, have three keys domains live – Hesperia.com, Hesperia.es and Hotels-hesperia.es. But the report only mentions one of these. Again a lack of balance and insight.

4. Finally it makes no sense to compare with no adjustment or analytical compensation a chain like Sol Melia with 350 hotels (and all the visibility that goes with this), with a chain like Hesperia that has only 50 properties.

This report was written by people who at best have no idea of how to use search engine marketing, what it means to value search marketing placement, or why keyword marketing works for some and not for others. At worst they do know, don't care and and simply trying to generate PR. It is embarrassing to Sol Melia's online marketing credentials to give this report any credence and support.

One last thing. It is possible to see whether a hotel chain is working hard on making sure that their distribution partners and competitors are not bidding on their hotels own branded keywords. This is an important part of a hotel chains PPC strategy, and involves both legal and commercial issues (for instance stopping resellers and their affiliates bidding against hotel names in Google). For example I just went on Google.es and typed “melia white house London”. What came second in the paid listings (when I did the search at 14.54 on 8th June 2007)? www.Hotels.UK-bookings.com, an affiliate of Booking.com.

2 comments:

Albert Barra said...

The funny thing is that Hosteltur.com where the press release was published decided removed all readers comments about the article. Most of the comments talked about the lack of professionalism in the study.

After a few complaints comments were re-instated on the next day.

Anonymous said...

Calm down. It's just Marketing and PR. It's not meant to satisfy the anorak brigade.