Tracking Reservation Sources

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A few months ago we wrote about the importance of tracking the sources of reservations, and mentioned that we would be testing the Intell-A-Keeper software available from Acorn Internet Services. While the high season bookings will get busier in the coming weeks, we thought it was time for an update on that process.

[pullquote]the results are both interesting and enlightening[/pullquote]We have been using Intell-A-Keeper (IAK) since January, and find that the results are both interesting and enlightening. In the interest of full disclosure, I (Scott) have recently started doing a small amount of part-time technical work for Acorn Internet Services that is unrelated to Intell-A-Keeper. We pay the same amount for our IAK service as any other customer would pay.

Our Prior Tracking Method

Before using IAK we would track our reservations by asking guests (via an online form for online bookings, or directly if over the phone) where they had located Brewster House Bed & Breakfast. We tracked those results in a spreadsheet each year, so we could compare year-over-year changes. We also used Google Analytics to determine hits on our website, and the sources of the traffic, and configured Goals so we could attempt to track the source of bookings.

In general, we knew that guest responses were not reliable, but without a better tracking mechanism, were not able to determine which were valid. Using Google Analytics only partially helped in this regard, as we could get a booking, then not be able to determine how the guest came to our site. This is largely because Google Analytics tracks only the last referer (yes, the correct spelling is misspelled – go figure) – the last source before coming to our site.

To attempt to do better, we talked with Acorn and installed Intell-A-Keeper.

Setting up Intell-A-Keeper

Set up is not difficult. You must have access to your web pages via an FTP account (unless you host your site with Acorn), and they will also need access to your Pay Per Click accounts, if you have any. For anything else you want to track, such as your online booking system (of course!) and any online directories to which you subscribe, Acorn will need login information so they can update the link to your website, and, in the case of your booking system, they will add some tracking code so that bookings and their sources will be properly tracked.

Once the setup is completed, bookings will be tracked in the IAK system (in addition to anything else you may be using).

What happens when you get a booking

After IAK is installed, when you get an online booking you receive an email from Acorn, showing the various places the guest visited in searching for your property. Often the results will show that they visited several sites – from search engines to directories – before booking with you. This is one of the great strengths of IAK – you know more than just the last place they visited before booking with you.

What about bookings over the telephone? There is a clever solution to that problem, and one that usually results in good information to verify (or correct) the information provided by the guest. When you take a booking over the telephone, if you send an email confirmation, you put a link in the email to a special page on your website, asking the guest to click the link to confirm their receipt of the confirmation. When they click the link, the same browsing information is transmitted as when they book online, and the property receives an email detailing the guest’s searches before the booking.

Analyzing the information

Because most guests visit several sites before committing to a booking, IAK gives a portion of the credit to each site that led to the booking. This usually results in a much better understanding of which referral sources are actually sending guests your way.

Intell-A-Keeper report typesAfter signing up for IAK, you have a login to a reporting page at intellakeeper.com, where you can select reports on referrals, search terms, entry pages, reservation types (email confirmation, online booking or website confirmation button), history (bookings by date and time), unknown visitors and query strings (the queries used to locate your property and book – including your own tracking query strings).

Referrals ReportThe Referrals report (left) shows the referring sites, the number of bookings the site participated in sending, and the percent of the total bookings that represents. You can drill down to see the search terms used from that site, the entry page to your site, and other details from that site.

You’ll notice that the bookings are fractions, such as google.com being responsible for 16.68 bookings. This means that, to some degree, google.com participated in 16.68 bookings, but it was not the sole referer in all of them (or else there would be no fractional amount).

The History report also allows you to obtain the details of an individual booking. This is, in a slightly easier-to-read format, the same information that comes in the email after a booking.

Comparing the IAK results to Google Analytics in determining the source of bookings hardly seems fair. With Google Analytics, if you examine the reports shortly after a booking, and if your Goals are properly configured and your online booking system is configured to properly report on bookings, you may be able to determine the source of the booking. If many bookings have occurred, or much time has elapsed, finding only the last source to refer the visitor is an educated guess, at best. IAK not only shows several sources (we have seen as many as 23 referral sources, but the average seems to be between 2 and 5 sources), but you can verify a specific source for an individual booking.

[pullquote]With errors of that type, we could end up dropping a productive directory and keeping an unproductive one![/pullquote] We had an interesting example this week, as the guest reported that they had found us on Google. A look at the IAK email showed they found us on Bing. Not a serious mistake, since we pay nothing to be on either of these search engines. However, we’ve seen the same type of confusion over paid directories. That is more of a problem, since we make decisions about the return on our investment in a directory based on the amount of booking revenue the directory can bring to us. Getting the identity of the directory wrong means crediting the wrong directory for a booking, and not crediting the right directory. With errors of that type, we could end up dropping a productive directory and keeping an unproductive one!

IAK isn’t always able to identify all possible sources, but it is far more accurate than either guest information or Google Analytics. One area where IAK can not provide accurate information are where the booking occurs more than 30 days after the search for lodging. In that case the “cookie” file that IAK relies upon may have expired and been deleted, so any sources prior to that time will not be recorded. Another problem occurs when the guest calls to book, but confirms the reservation by clicking on the email link from a different computer (such as a work computer), so that the cookie information simply isn’t present. Even with these limitations, the ability, in the significant majority of cases, to supply detailed information on multiple referral sources makes it a very valuable tool, indeed.

Final thoughts

One thing we want to make very clear is that we are not suggesting dropping Google Analytics for IAK. Google Analytics provides a huge amount of valuable information. However, it is not really adequate for determining the sources of bookings. Neither its Goals nor its e-commerce settings adequately give credit to the various sources of a booking. IAK beats it in that department, hands down.

[pullquote]IAK shines in telling you where your bookings are coming from.[/pullquote]What Google Analytics can do is provide lots of other details about visitors to your website. IAK doesn’t attempt to duplicate all these areas of Google Analytics. IAK shines in telling you where your bookings are coming from. That is an important thing to know, but it is not the only thing you want from your statistics.

In order to accurately determine ROI for your referral sources (such as directories, etc.), you must be able to pinpoint where your bookings come from. While IAK isn’t perfect, it provides great detail on the sources of bookings, and arms the innkeeper to make a much better decision than relying on guest information or Google Analytics for booking source information.

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