When it comes to booking an event space, a stunning 67% of the buyer’s journey is now conducted digitally. Which means if you’re not promoting your venue online, you’re missing out on more than half of your total opportunities to book and grow group business. So the question is: How do you create the right digital marketing mix to reach planners on the web? Here, we break down the many forms of online venue marketing and ways you can make them work for your hotel or venue.
Here are 6 Steps to Venue Marketing Success:
- Optimize your venue website
- Prioritize search engine optimization
- Put some budget toward pay-per-click ads
- Don’t just sell to planners — help them plan better events
- Increase visibility through venue sourcing platforms
- Fine-tune your social media presence
1. Optimize your venue website (it’s your most important ad)
Marketing a venue online all starts with your website. After all, no matter which channel you’re using to drive traffic, that traffic is going to land on your site. And if that site isn’t visually compelling and easy to use, users are going to quickly become disengaged — no matter how beautiful your ads or how compelling your offer.
In addition to following some key website UX tips and listing the services you offer, your website should do a couple of things really well.
Showcase the space visually
Show, don’t tell — it’s that simple. Here are the three things a website should include to make that happen:
- Accurate floor plans – Event planners find floor plans to be immensely helpful. Simply including your floor plans allows a planner to start mentally mapping their event into your space.
- Quality photos – Would you buy a product if it didn’t have compelling photos? Showcase your space through beautiful professional photography to highlight some of the unique elements that make your venue more than just viable.
- Video – In our survey of event planners, an overwhelming majority reported that video is the most helpful inclusion in terms of helping them visualize the space. (It had 50% more votes than the next leading answer.)
Make your venue mobile-friendly
Buying and sourcing moved online long ago. Now, they’re moving into the palms of planners’ hands. If your website can’t provide a seamless mobile experience, expect planners to move right along to the next venue.
But don’t just take it from us: Google research reports that users who have a negative experience on mobile are 62% less less likely to purchase from a brand in the future. Additionally, 48% of mobile users are comfortable researching, planning, and booking an entire trip to a new destination online. Why should we assume booking a venue is any different?
A few pointers for a mobile-friendly website:
- Avoid development programs that aren’t made for mobile. (example: flash)
- Make sure your site automatically scales text and photos to mobile screen sizes.
- Sites that don’t load quickly on mobile devices (three seconds or less) have high bounce rates, which negatively affect SEO rankings.
Use a tool that can help
Most venues and hotels don’t have a full-fledged development team to build them a state of the art website. Luckily, they don’t need one to create compelling content. Using a tool like Social Tables’ Event Sales solution allows planners to envision their events at your venue via interactive floor plans, streamlined search, and easy RFI submission.
2. Prioritize search engine optimization
Imagine: A world where you don’t even have to spend money marketing a venue online and people still come to you. It’s not too good to be true, it’s the benefit of doing SEO the right way. And at the heart of every great SEO strategy is an understanding of user behavior. Simply put: If you’re not providing value to the user, you’re going to take a hit.
As a venue, your SEO strategy is going to be two-prong, including both SEO and local SEO.
Dialing in local SEO
Since booking a hotel or venue is contingent on a specific geographic location, your local SEO needs to be dialed in.
A strong local SEO presence starts with three key steps:
- Putting it on the page – Make sure to use keyword phrases that include the location on your site, especially in headings and metadata.
- Act locally – Chances are, there are plenty of city-specific sites doing “best of” roundups in various categories. Reach out to these blogs and see if they’ll link to you in their content.
- Get listed – Use Google “My Business” to create a listing for your venue. This will ensure that you will have a rich result with your information shows up in directory listings.
Optimizing general SEO
As we mentioned, Google ranks organic results by how useful it thinks they are to a user’s search query. In general, it does this by looking at a few different factors that are worth keeping in mind. Of course, keyword research is the foundation of creating useful content, but it’s really just one of many factors that plays into how well you rank. The top factors are:
- Time on site – The more time users spend on your site, the stronger the signal to Google that it’s useful.
- Bounce rate – A bounce is when someone lands on your site and leaves without visiting a second page. The higher your bounce rate, the lower your SEO authority.
- Links to your site – If more websites are linking to your site, Google assumes that they are doing so because your site provides value.
- Keywords – Use keywords in your metadata, URLs, site headings, and within the body copy on your pages. (But avoid keyword “stuffing” or you will get penalized!)
3. Put some budget toward pay-per-click ads
Type in just about any query on Google and you’re bound to see ads at the top of the page above the highest-ranking organic results. These are pay-per-click (PPC ads), and if you’re smart about how you use them, they’re an incredibly efficient way to drive traffic to your site. But use them inefficiently, and they’re going to cost you more than they make you.
Map your PPC against organic SEO
If you have keywords that are generating a lot of impressions, but not a lot of clicks, try putting some bids behind those keywords to see if you can change that. (You can check organic impressions by query using Google Search Console.)
Put your budget toward your moneymakers
Only spend on the keywords that are most likely to convert for your venue. In general, you’ll probably be creating your ads and making bids via Google Ads. (example: If you’re an outdoor venue in Tallahassee, target “outdoor venues in Tallahassee” instead of “venues in Tallahassee” to qualify your audience and drive a higher conversion rate.
Test your ads by varying copy
Don’t give up on a keyword because it’s not performing well, and don’t assume that a high-performing ad set can’t perform even better. Making slight tweaks to your ad and measuring the impact is a great way to hone in on what’s actually working. Once you know, you can replicate best practices across your other ads.
4. Don’t just sell to planners — help them plan better events
Online venue marketing online isn’t about immediate, on-the-spot conversion. After all, no planner is going to pull the trigger without doing their research first. That’s why tons of venues — from big-name hotel chains down to individual venues — are positioning themselves as allies to planners by creating resources to help them plan incredible events.
Why? Because they know this type of content sends a signal to planners that their venue wants to help them meet their event objectives and bring their purpose to fruition. They also know full well that event success is the single biggest factor in driving repeat business. (Which means these resources could be the first interaction in a longstanding relationship.
An example for the big guys
Sure, it’s not the newest example on the scene — but it might just be the best. Marriott’s Meetings Imagined initiative, launched in 2016, is a shining example of planner-success marketing. Part Pinterest-esque board, part resource library, and part venue directory, the website directly maps the purpose of an event to event design ideas and even viable venues in the Marriott family.
Not only does this build positive associations with the brand, it also acts as a filter that drives more qualified RFPs and reduces overall RFP spam.
An example for local venues
Remember those “best of” lists we talked about earlier? You could be the local blog that creates them. After all, modern attendees are looking for authentic interaction with local culture, and that means planners are too. By being a tour guide through your content marketing, your venue can cash in on organic traffic from key local SEO terms while making a strong first impression with planners.
5. Increase visibility through venue sourcing platforms
More than 50% of event planners say the web is their primary source for finding and research potential venues, thanks, in part, to venue sourcing platforms that function like search engines. These “directories” give hotels and venues direct access to a new pool of event planners, while also giving them a means of collecting RFPs that is external to their website.
However, since listings on these platforms are generally templatized, there are less tools at a venue’s disposal for differentiating their property from others on the platform.
Keys to an effective venue search profile
Focus on the differentiating details.
How can your property convey the elements that make it unique? In communicating these, you’re also showing how your space maps to the unique objectives of meeting planners.
Use social proof
By leveraging the success of past events, hotels prove the success of future events in their meeting spaces. Hotels can create a grab bag of testimonials to use in marketing by encouraging planners to give feedback (both from themselves and attendee surveys) after the event.
Make it visual
Just as with your website, the inclusion of high-quality photography, video, and floor plans is key. By sure to seek out a venue sourcing platform that allows you to upload floor plans, as planners find this to be a quintessential addition when researching.
6. Fine-tune your social media presence
Not using Instagram to promote your property or brand? You could be missing out on a huge opportunity to get the word out. In fact, as of 2019, the social media platform has an estimated one billion active global users.
Still, building up your Instagram presence effectively isn’t just a matter of posting some photos and calling it good. An effective strategy is key to making your mark, and it all starts with some simple best practices.
Top tips for online venue marketing using Instagram
- Make it beautiful – If you’re looking to build followers and stand out in their feeds, you’re not going to make it happen without thinking about aesthetics — Instagram is all about the photos!
- Partner up – Know of other local businesses or partners with a large Instagram following? Look into opportunities to cross-promote and grow your audience from each other’s following.
- Work with influencers – Whether local celebrities or national treasures, Instagram influencers generally have large followings who trust their recommendations like they would a friend’s.
- #Hash it out – Hashtags are your best bet for getting discovered by new people. Try tagging your posts with locally-used hashtags to get your venue discovered more frequently in searches.
- Ask for tags – Chances are, most people hosting events at your venue will also be taking photos. Increasing your reach could be as easy as asking them to tag you in their posts.
With over 1.5 billion active users, Facebook is a social giant in its own right — but it’s a whole different ball game than Instagram. Whereas Instagram is all about the aesthetics, Facebook offers a plethora of way to build community. You can think of Instagram as your best friend for sharing inspiration, and Facebook as your best friend for sharing information.
Top tips for online venue marketing using Facebook
- Create a group – Invite planners who book events with you to a Facebook group, where you can share specials news and promotions. It’s a great way to drive repeat bookings.
- Post about more than just your venue – Share industry and local news, tips and tricks, and event recaps to keep your following engaged.
- Use overlay in your photos – Photos are the thing that stand at the most as someone scrolls their feed, so make sure it’s where you put the information that you think will make them stop and read.
Paid ads on Facebook and Instagram can help you promote your venue in highly targeted ways that reach tailored audiences. But that’s the key: Your ads aren’t going to perform well if they’re not getting in front of the right people. Both Instagram and Facebook ads are run via Facebook Ads Manager, and both give you the same three options for targeting audiences.
This is the default option for ad targeting. You can fiddle with this audience to do things like target those who have already been to one of your channels or exclude those users from your audience.
This audience is imported from email lists and other data sources, so they usually already have a relationship with your brand in some way, shape or form. You can use the options to whittle this audience down to a subgroup. (example: If you want to announce you built a new gym and target only those who are interested in wellness.)
This audience type allows you to target groups who share similarities with your current audience. You can use this audience type to target other users who resemble those that have already booked with you in the past.
Online venue marketing starts with a strategy
Different venues will get more benefit out of different types of tactics based on size, location, and other defining factors. Any of these pieces can fit in your group sales playbook, but it’s up to your venue to decide which work best for promoting online. But once you have your mix right, the bookings are bound to come in!
Up next: Learn how to increase traffic to your hotel website (& boost bookings).