9 Search Marketing Secrets From the Ritz-Carlton

Digital marketing company The Search Agency announced the winners of its 2014 Stars of Search Award Monday evening at the Direct Marketing Association’s DMA2014 conference in San Diego. The agency honored Louis Cohen, SVP and head of search, affiliate marketing, and lead generation for the North American division of Citibank; Glenn Edelman, VP of e-commerce for Wine Enthusiast; and Jeremy L. Wilbur, director of digital marketing for The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company.

Direct Marketing News interviewed Wilbur (above) prior to the announcement and got the scoop on what it takes to be named one of the Stars of Search. Here are nine of Wilbur’s secrets to achieving search marketing success.

1) Go beyond ROI: ROI is often considered the Holy Grail of metrics. But when it comes to paid search, it’s important to look beyond gross revenue and consider other metrics, like overall profitability, Wilbur says. For instance, instead of using search to sell standard hotel rooms, the Ritz-Carlton leverages the channel to expose customers to various room types and vacation packages, which ultimately helps boost its bottom line.

“It’s not just always about gross revenue,” he says. “You can also add in layers to understand if you’re driving more profit to hotels, which is valuable.”

The Ritz-Carlton also uses paid search to track where customers are in their customer funnel, Wilbur explains, such as by tracking engagement metrics and the number of loyalty program enrollments.

2) Know when to let it go: Sing it with me: “Let it go! Let it go!” Even if marketers aren’t fans of the Frozen tune, they must be able to decipher which paid search opportunities are worth investing in and which ones are worth letting go. 

“Strategy is just as much about what you choose to do as what you choose not to do,” Wilbur says.

3) Cater to your markets: With 87 hotels in 29 countries and territories, the Ritz-Carlton is somewhat of a “globalization expert,” Wilbur says. To cater to each market’s needs, the hotel brand monitors search behaviors in each region and adjusts its search strategies accordingly to fit those nuances.

For instance, one of the brand’s markets in China is quite crowded from a direct response perspective, Wilbur says. As a result, the Ritz-Carlton will focus on generating higher funnel opportunities versus lower funnel ones. The hotel company also keeps this crowded environment in mind when managing its expectations and efforts.

4) Be present in every stage of the customer journey: A customer’s journey is never linear. In the Ritz-Carlton’s case, customers may start with a broad destination search when planning their trip and then narrow in on a particular neighborhood or attraction when choosing a hotel, Wilbur says. They also consult online reviews and social media when they’re further along in the funnel. Therefore, it’s important for the Ritz-Carlton to be there at every touchpoint.

“People weave in and out of search engines multiple times throughout their journey, and you want to make sure that you have a presence across those different opportunities,” Wilbur says.

5) Stay current and know when to adjust: Search isn’t a channel for those who like consistency. With tests and iterations constantly changing the landscape, it can be difficult for marketers to stay fresh and remain at the top of the results page. Although it may be tempting for marketers to alter their search strategies at the first sign of an update, Wilbur recommends holding off on any immediate changes. Some iterations are just tests, he explains, and can disappear after a few weeks. Therefore, marketers should be swift with the analysis but steady on the strategy modifications.

“I almost think of it like a hotel analogy,” Wilbur says. “Make sure that the foundation and the location of your property is flawless, [that] the amenities are modern, [and that] the service levels are excellent. But you need to know when it’s time to renovate.”

6) Avoid silos: When working with multiple third parties, it’s important for marketers to ensure that everyone is on the same page and that they’re progressing together.

“If as a marketer you’re working with multiple external resources—a search agency, media agencies, creative agencies—you have to make sure that they’re talking to each other [and] that the best practices and processes are being seamlessly shared,” Wilbur says.

7) View agencies as partners, not vendors: If marketers truly want to collaborate with their agencies, then they need to give them a little freedom. For the best results, Wilbur recommends clearly explaining the business challenge at hand without asserting assumptions for how the agency should try to solve it.

“In my experience it allows more creativity with the agencies,” he says, “and the search solutions that come back are maybe richer than what you had originally thought made sense.”

8) Don’t assume that search isn’t creative: Search may not seem like the most creative of channels. But Wilbur says that marketers can leverage queries and industry changes to develop innovative content. 

“Search can be a driver for what kind of content strategies make sense for brands,” he says.

9) Stay hungry: Marketing is full of shiny new objects. The urge to obtain them can result in traditional channels, like search, being taken for granted. However, search is evolving, and it’s critical for marketers to evolve with it.

“It’s easy for the marketer to feel like, ‘Oh search, we’ve got that.’ But I don’t think that’s the appropriate way to think about it,” he says. “Search is keeping everyone on their toes.”

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