Julian Grainger

Head of SEO at Unique

Why You Should Integrate a Reservation System Website with Google Calendar

One of the most sensitive industries in the world today is the hospitality industry. Customer service should be at its best, and that is the reason those in the business of hospitality should have a 360-degree view of their customers. One of the best ways to ensure this happens is through synchronisation of bookings with calendars in Google calendar for bookings. This allows a business to see customer details and bookings as they are.

 

Use Bookinglive to Synchronise

 

Using Bookinglive, it is now possible to synchronise various things in the reservation system. In the Google calendar, synchronise classes, workshops, all the bookings that have been made and tours with the selected calendars. One of the advantages of integrating your reservation system with Google calendar is that it is updated in real time on your mobile device. This has given mobile workers convenience since they can view the current status of the reservations from wherever they are.

 

Features of the Google booking system

advantages and disadvantages of online booking

Guests make group and individual bookings. With the Google booking system, you can display all bookings with ease, it works for multiple locations, you can see the staffs assigned, and you can display different resources such as vehicles. It is also important that you know the start and end date of the reservations that have been made. This will be possible, and if there are events that have been marked as busy in the booking system, you can read them back.

 

How does Google calendar for bookings work?

 

Over the last one decade, technological advancements have improved the way hospitality business operates. The manual way of doing things is no longer the way. The Google calendar booking system works in a different way from other booking systems since you can update bookings with ease. There are many advantages with this system besides being use friendly. Another thing is that you do not have to login to the system to make any amendments.

 

This is a Central Calendar 

 

If you asked any rooms division in a hotel, they will tell you that one of their biggest problems is over bookings. This happens when they do not have a system, reservations keep coming in, and they are confirmed. It becomes chaotic when guests check-in and there are no rooms for them. All this is avoided with a Google calendar booking system. In a hotel, the calendar shows availability of rooms, staff for the day, bookings and resources.

 

How is Google Calendar Updated?

 

This is one question that business owners, especially in the hospitality industry, keep asking. How can you update or modify a Google calendar. On an ad-hoc basis, you can log into the system and make the amendments that you require. It is not necessarily that you login to your booking system.

 

The Google calendar system makes tracking of reservations easy. Besides seeing the reservations that have been made, it is easy to see the most important customer details.


What Is An Open Source Booking System? What You Should Know

If you find yourself wondering what an open source booking system is, it is a program that you can use on your website to manage bookings, the only difference is that with a regular booking software, you need to pay for it. An open source booking system, on the other hand, is totally free to use.

Not only is is totally free to use, you can do whatever you want with it. In other words, if you need to make customizations in order to make it truly work for you, you can do it. This is so unlike other paid programs where the features are practically set in stone.


But how is it that you can modify an open source booking system? The answer can be found in the first two words: open source. Open source means that the creator of the software has made the source code public. If you know anything about software programs, you already know that the source code is the DNA that determines how a program will look and function.

If you are running a hotel or any business in the travel agency, you absolutely need to have a website that has a booking system. Programs that are not open source, however, can be expensive. You have an option in open source programs.

Take note, though, if you need to make changes to the booking system, you need to have a professional programmer do it. You can do it, however, if you are a non-technical person, you might end up ruining your version of the software. Thankfully, though, there are services out there that are dedicated to customizing open source programs.

Open source programs are all around. For every software that used heavily, there is an open source version of it. For example, while you can use the paid Microsoft Office, you can also use Open Office. The best thing about it is that Open Office is free on top of being open source.

This brings us to another important point about open source programs: they are free to use, which is a relief to most businesses. If you take a program as is and do not make any changes, you can have a booking system at no cost your business at all.

So, which open source booking programs can you find on the market? There is Gizmo, among others. You can download your version of the software on https://github.com/Rezgo/rezgo-parser. However, please take note: It is not the only software of its kind in the market. It is, however, one of the most recognized names of open source booking software.

If you want to check out other software, make sure to do a search on Google. Just like anything, not all of them are created alike. And so, you will want to check out how different they are from one another. You might want to test each software on your website before deciding which one to use.


Customer insight via Google

This is the second part of my statement that the real value of Google is not in the lead generation, but in critical bits of information about brand and consumer behaviour. This is about what are people searching and how are they looking for your product.

Google provides timely information about how your customers behave, how they buy and what, at a particular time, they are looking for.

I previously did this with the history backed up from reports from Google Adwords and if you have that you can get really granular and operate very, very quickly. I still use that but only in exceptional circumstances.

However, times have changed for the better so here is a graph from Google Trends for “government bonds” searches in New Zealand.

Consumer behaviour and demand

Consumer behaviour and demand

It shows a very sharp rise, surprise surprise, in people searching for government bonds in the last month. Something to do with that credit crisis.

What it really reflects is fear. And a very tangible mass movement of investors trying to bury their money safely in a ditch so they can’t lose it. In fact here is the chart for the search “invest in gold”.

Google searches as people run for gold

Google searches as people run for gold

There really is no better reflection of the motivations of the mass market, outside the market, that happens in real time through Google Trends and the Google Adwords reports. This is because they are updated more frequently than you can run a market survey, the data is much greater than an opinion poll and its all free and immediately accessible.

If someone managed to compress, monetize and distribute this a little better we could see the end survey research in its traditional form. Most good marketers, who are talking to there customers will know where the market is leading. This gives you the product they want to buy and a trend of when they are trying to buy it. All you have to do is work out the price.

It represents real time market demand.


Don’t pay too much for your Google Adwords

Number one ranking for nearly every Google Adwords search term? Best read this because you may be paying too much.

Google Adwords provides a great interface to choose relevant keywords that people are searching for with their keyword tool. But there are several drawbacks if you’re new to using it and your required cost per click can be easily misinterpreted. This error is prevalent in most Google Adwords campaigns and comes from the use of the average cost per click estimates the tool generates.

Let’s take the search term “Google Adwords“. The default average cost per click rate when this was written was $17.26. It shows heavy advertiser competition and consistent search volumes. This always leads to mistake number 1. Many marketers will take this as read and bid at or over this level to ensure high placement of the Google Adwords search term.

What they should do is put in a bid to the interface and re-calculate. At an $18 bid the average calculates down to $6.22. Anyone smell a rat?

Step two is to continue re-calculating bids down. Put in $7 and automatically your cost per bid drops to $3.81. Estimated ad placement is still 1-3. Put in $4 and your cost per bid drops to $2.78, still with 1-3 placement. Keep going until you find where 4-6 placement kicks in. For this search term it kicked in at $1.80.

Most people would be happy with this; they’ve saved heaps, and automatically bid at the tipping point which in this case is a bid of $1.95 averaging $1.50 per click at placement of 1-3. Mistake number 2. This is where you need to think.

How relevant is the advert to Google Adwords. Staying within the guidelines for advertising set by Google, if you are bidding for a word that is very relevant to your business your best strategy here is to go for the 4-6 placement. Google ranks Adwords not just on the amount of money you are prepared to pay, but also on the success of the advert. If your advert is more relevant than most of the adverts you see then go for the cusp of 4-6. If it isn’t as relevant go for the cusp of 1-3.

It doesn’t end there. The next question is how relevant is thelanding page for the advert. Google also crawls the end of the journey. Mistake 3 is to send users to your home page because that is the entry of your website. However, if the link and the page you send people too is more relevant, Google will promote your advert over other adverts. Make it relevant.

That is not to say build a page for your Google Adwords campaign. Mistake number 4 is not worrying about the user experience on your website. Orphan pages are like mini-sites, they are temporary and they do nothing for a consistent brand experience of your users. Land them at a natural point page, relevant to your advert, that is a permanent feature of your website. Google provides a measure of this within the campaign ad group keywords. It is a magnifying glass you can mouse over and will tell you how strong the landing page is.

These key aspects of relevance can mean Google will view your advert as more relevant to the search term. Now book your advert and let it fly.

For a week.

Mistake number 5 is the most common – not revisiting your advert. After a week you will get a handle on how successful your campaign is going to be. It will also show average ad positions and clicks. This is where you start to average down your cost per click.  For those adverts with lots of clicks, you are probably sitting at a number one position. Drop your bid. Google likes your advert, it’s making them money, so they place it high. Be brutal, pay less.

I always drop my bids in 50 cent increments. The Advert falls and then rises as it is relevant to the search term and makes Google money. I keep doing this every week until it stops rising back. But I don’t look for position number one as the end game, more like 2 or 3.

Position number 1 always comes at a premium but doesn’t necessarily perform better. Test it and see if you have a sweet spot for you to sit at 2 or 3 and get the same number of clicks you would get at position 1. Essentially, you can drive your cost per click down. In some cases to a third of what position number 1 is paying.

So next time you get your Google Adwords generated report from your SEO firm or advertising agency and you’re number one on every search term, start dropping your bids. You’re paying too much.


Google hacked

So there you are on your private wireless network at home moving documents and someone intercepts it.

Or you’re on internet banking and someone scans your session.

Or you’re just on the internet, say Facebook, and someone downloads or monitors this information.

You’ve been hacked.

Google recently “accidentally recorded data from unsecured domestic Wi-fi” when driving by houses photographing the street for streetcam. They did exactly this sort of thing. If you were transmitting over the wi-fi network at the time they drove past they recorded that data.

Hacking often leads to copying your data. And Google copied and stored the data. This is called theft in most peoples lingo. There is a guy being extradicted to the US for doing something similar to a military computer.

But its ok the networks were not secure. Wrong. If I leave my window open and a burglar climbs copys my hard drive it is still illegal entry and theft.

But its ok it was an accident. Really you accidentally had a program scanning for wireless networks? That is something you have just lying around to transmit from the antennae. Why exactly do you need that?

GPS devices don’t transmit. Bluetooth needs a sync’d connection.

So the next step is that ‘oh no we breached your privacy’. Yup let’s own up to that and hope no one thinks about the theft and hacking charges that may be supported by an investigation.

Update

And there we have it. They were deliberately mapping the information

http://www.techwatch.co.uk/2010/05/31/google-in-yet-more-privacy-controversy/


Newspapers – what could they do differently?

After reading this brilliant rant against the established media, mainly News Limited’s criticism of Google, I eventually arrived at the ‘yeah but’ question.

Newspapers have repeatedly struggled with the internet due to a lack of understanding on its mechanics and the power of the internet to substitute them.

They’ve attempted different business models and all the while alienating users due to their constant change.

One such attempt was content subscriptions. Two examples were Reuters and Fairfax. Reuters won because they learned the key is distribution to enhance someone else’s website. Fairfax failed because they thought they were the centre of the universe and tried to make the reader pay. Unfortunately as a business model most choose to follow the Fairfax and most of these attempts have now disappeared.

But it hasn’t been all bad either. Newspapers do get a lot of traffic, their websites do make money from advertising. This in itself is a great platform to begin truly exploring their potential on web.

So what do they have as assets?

  1. Content creation
  2. Established advertising sales capability
  3. A brand that signifies the quality, subject and/or politics of the content
  4. Existing real estate to launch
  5. Existing ad trafficking technology

If you had just one of these assets you’d be on to a winner. So four has to be a winning formula. So here are some things that Newspapers could do quickly, that enhances the web and changes the business model.

Enhance my ecom website

Like Reuters on our share trading website, why don’t newspapers explore how they might enhance ecommerce websites. Book reviews, product reviews, movie guides, news and other content all make for better ecommerce websites. It is expensive to do yourself if you aren’t in the business of doing it. Distribution should not be precious, just add a self service content shop to your own website they every web owner can subscribe to.

Sell advertising for others

APN in New Zealand run advertising networks for other websites. They take too big a cut for my liking but it is the right step in leveraging the trafficking technoogy and sales force reach.

Crowd journalism

If you want to become part of the web, stop editing and open your pages to people to become the commentators and journalists. The reason blogs and aggregators are killing you is that they do not moderate to an agenda or stop real contribution.

Having a comments page at the bottom is not contribution, it’s a sop. Allow people to add their voice to the article and even develop the story for you. Readers are more likely to read your news and follow a story as it is develops. It could be so simple by letting users tweet the story on the page.

Don’t stop aggregation, embrace it

Stop pretending you own the news and start understanding you only have ownership of the paper or web page you print it on. If you change your perspective you will put your efforts where they should be – in distribution. The wider your distribution, the more ways you will find to make money from it.

An example of this is affiliate networks. I have a widget that I sell on my site. I also let others sell my widget on there website for a cut of the revenue. You could apply this to news by opening up your content for others to make money from with their own news site. Properly delivered you could get a fee per impression of their advertising revenue. It works where your brand lends credibility to the affiliates website.

Don’t create content, use someone else’s

Editorial teams now have a great choice of picking up quality stories from blogs and aggregators. Now you just have to sell the adverts.

Think cable

Recognise that you have the possibility of scale unimagined. Stop writing stories for your own mass market publication and write for syndication and delivery on a global scale to particular market niches.  The same as cable TV.

Get into the new portals

Why can’t I see my news on Facebook?

Change the mindset

All up, these are not big leaps but they do require a change of mindset from a market for ‘the paper’ to a market of ‘me’.


Email = the appearance of service

If you are an ecommerce site you tend not to talk to your customers much, if at all. So if you’re looking to build a relationship with the customer, you need to appear to provide service. To achieve this, email is a key tool.

Email keeps the customer informed and it is automatic, cheap, can be controlled and customised by the customer and duplicates human service. Here are some ways to use email to create the appearance of service:

1.    Trigger updates to the customer on products or subscriptions they have bought. Delivery of information as it changes keeps the customer better informed than they would be if you relied on humans to deliver updates.
2.    Send confirmations immediately after customer actions. It’s like being in the bank applying for a loan and the bank clerk goes “that’s great, that’s all we need to process that”. The customer has that warm glow of achievement and is prepped to move to the next stage of the buying cycle.
3.    Notify the customer by email before you do something on their account. It allows the customer to opt-out of an action giving them a feeling of control.
4.    Use email to remind them to finish a process. Customers commit to a process then sometimes things fall off the radar. People get busy, but this doesn’t mean they don’t want to complete the task. Letting them know you’re as eager for them to finish a task (like an application process) shows them their business is valued.
5.    Trigger cross sell emails. Let customers know what similar customers find useful.
6.    Trigger emails suggesting optimisation. Let customers know of cheaper ways to using the service.
7.    Add a staff email in a newsletter when looking for feedback. It shows someone does actually read and care about their comments.

These are just a few examples, but you can use email to appear to serve in many ways. Just adapt what humans a normally do, automate as much as you can and hey presto! You’ll suddenly be building relationships without even knowing it, in inboxes everywhere.


Assessing demand on the internet

One of the most difficult things to understand when you are launching a website is the level of demand that exists for your ecommerce offering.

Many ecom websites dis-intermediate the supply process for products that have been established through real wold stores through traditional distribution. As a result there will be a wide number of distributors and retailers, and they aren’t going to willingly hand your their sales numbers to get a handle on demand.

You can purchase the information but it is often very expensive and may have little weight on the actual demand from internet shoppers. At start-up stage the business is also cash poor. Ballparks serve better than definitive figures in these instances. There is free information that can give you current demand on the internet, so you can use your money elsewhere.

Google keywords should be the first stop for assessing the interested and active market for your product. With some application of typical consumer behaviour, the way people use the internet and applying your own market position you can quickly assess the level of demand that can be tapped.

Take books as an example.  The UK saw 30 million searches for “books” in December with average search volumes of 15 million.  Many people will look at a number of suppliers if they have choice available, let’s say 4 suppliers, so there were at least 7.5 million people searching for a book, that did not already have a supplier in mind.

However, if I have a niche in children’s books, all of a sudden I’m looking at less than 2 million searches in December and less than 0.5 million potential uncommitted visitors.

But these only tell me half the story. There are also a lot of loyal, repeat customers of websites out there and they won’t use the search engines, they’ll go straight to the brand of choice.  I might believe I can take some of the business away with a better proposition so to complete a demand assessment I need to know what there traffic is. Getting these figures is more difficult without paying.

Go through press releases and visit industry websites like the IAB. According to a press (skite) release Amazon UK put through 15 million visitors leading up to Christmas. Books are a big part so we can start to make some ball park assumptions. People will often visit 2 or 3 times before purchase and Amazon has other products to sell. So lets be generous, add 2.5 million and there are probably at least 10 million people buying books online each month and about 0.6 million wanting children’s books.

You could also check alexa rankings or draw on free information published by Netratings, Hitwise (their retail data centre) or Deloitte’s to size up how much market share the internet has. All of these websites provide press releases and proportions of traffic that allow you to reverse engineer the actual numbers.

All up, current internet demand data describes a healthy demand for books in the UK and even niche opportunities like children’s books. These can be taken back and slotted in to any websites capacity planning, system scalability plans and market share targets and ultimately a business plan. And hopefully this blog post just saved some out there a few thousand dollars in research.


Will 2.0 kill CPM

Two websites, two successful launches, two very, very interesting results – at least for the advertising business.

The latest nzx.com release followed findata.co.nz in blazing its way into web 2.0 land. Of interest in both were the introduction of news based content alongside their core content – share trading data and information. Both clearly looking for a sideline of advertising dollars to boost revenues from the website.

Both sites look great, both sites maintaining much of their existing user base with the usual loss of disgruntled “I don’t like your new site” customers. But the new look and better usability should push up the user numbers in the long run.

You would think this is a success. But the punchline for 2.0 is a nasty one. New Zealand operates CPM cost models for advertising. So you pay per 1000 pages for an advert. Inventory is largely dictated by the number of pages downloaded and the more the better. It’s the cap on your potential revenue providing you have the audience and user numbers that advertisers want.

On both websites the same result. A big drop on pages delivered.  Findata dropped from 300K pages a week to less than 100K pages a week.  So before they could carry up to 6 campaigns and now they’ll max out at two. For Findata big deal, so what. They have a healthy ecommerce business. For NZX a drop from an estimated 400K pages to 250K pages. Again the opportunity and number of campaigns have dropped. Not so good when a major media player has banked on the advertising revenue from the partnership as a way of profiting from hosting the website.

For both these websites, if they had a business case around selling advertising inventory and I’m betting they do, they’ve just lost a lot of the potential. It is probable they never sold out of inventory in the past, but also probable they had an intention to in the future. And these two websites are not alone. A number of websites implemented recently have seen a drop in page impressions when moving to web 2.0.  The activity on the pages mean the website doesn’t have to serve as many pages to provide the same, or better user experience.

So what is a website to do. If we’re sticking to the CPM model then more ads on the page. A big stack on the right, richer media options and … wait for it… the resulting loss of usability from cramming the pages and annoying the user. It will also reduce the advertisers response rates as they will compete with more adverts on each page. That has happened before too and continues to happen thanks to the major publishers following exactly that plan of action.

So what’s the easy fix? Tenancy. Stop paying per page delivered and start paying for quality. Advertisers have to exercise the power of the dollar and start demanding quality again. CPM does not deliver quality with web 2.0 dropping and constraining inventory levels.

It looks like CPM might be a backward step for publishers.


Text links versus Google Adwords

I’ve recently been looking at ways of achieving critical mass for lead generation. The two that came through strongly were text links on publisher websites and Google Adwords on the google search engine. I want to be able to achieve critical mass relatively quickly and as cheaply as I can.  So I set about crunching some numbers to see which one would come out on top.

You may have already guessed the answer but be careful as this applies to New Zealand search and New Zealand websites. Because of our limited population this might not apply overseas.

The first thing I looked at were the top line revenues from previous campaigns and compare these to the cost of doing each. Google Adwords win this with a $ return on investment that is 15% higher.

Next I base lined the revenues over time to work out how much I’d have to spend on each for a comparable response. Text links win hands down here. They provided a response at critical mass levels 5 times faster than Google Adwords.

Ten I looked at the cost for delivery. Text links again win on cost per thousands impressions with the CPM 50 times lower than Google Adwords. You can’t look at this without the corresponding cost per click though where Google Adwords are only 20% cheaper. So that is a draw.

Advert positioning is also important – where is it on the page. Our average positioning for Google Adwords is number 3 – we pay less but we maintain very high relevance in our copy and our landing pages. Our text link is where ever we ask for it so text links win again.

But we could pay more for our adwords and that affects our positioning but negatively for the CPC and CPM. So what’s our click through rates. Google Adwords wins hands down with a click through rate clsoing on 1.5% and text links at 0.03%.

So if I want to turn on critical mass in a short time frame I also need to look at the capability of the media. In other words the use of the media or the number of impressions. Google Adwords, in New Zealand loses this. Our key words only deliver about 50,000 impressions a week. Text links on major publishing websites deliver around 7 million.

That means over 2000 leads are possible within a week from text links and only 750 from adwords. 750 aren’t going to get me critical mass over a week but 2000 will.

So if you’re in New Zealand and you want to turn on lead generation at reasonable prices in very short time frames choose a text link on www.stuff.co.nz or www.nzherald.co.nz rather than spending Google Adwords.