Editor’s Note: This post originally appeared on the blog of the hospitality digital marketing company, buuteeq, prior to its acquisition by Booking.com in June 2014. The opinions expressed here are specific to buuteeq, though many of the technology insights remain relevant to customers and admirers of our new business, BookingSuite, a unit of Booking.com. Visit suite.booking.com for our latest thought leadership in the hospitality digital marketing space.
Reverse proxy search engine marketing (SEM) is a recent tactic that we want to inform our customers about. After thoroughly evaluating the technique, we have concluded that reverse proxy SEM is an undesirable technology that could actually harm a hotel’s reputation. It can potentially confuse guests, reduce trust in a hotel’s brand, cause guests to worry about their online privacy and credit card security, and interfere with a hotel’s online marketing presence.
But First: What Is Reverse Proxy SEM?
Reverse proxy SEM serves ads to potential guests on search engines which then directs them to a proxy version of a hotel website. The proxy version tracks all activity on a hotel’s website in order to provide detailed guest behavior to the hotelier. The proxy version of the hotel’s website is the same website hosted on the same servers—the difference is that the proxy injects tracking elements into the website, allowing the reverse proxy service provider to change on-page elements including text and links, and to track guest behavior.
This is similar to the technology used by Chinese ‘netizens’ to obtain access to the Internet, otherwise blocked by the Great Firewall of China. China blocks certain websites, like Facebook and Twitter, by blocking their IP address and more. Proxies get around this by serving as a portal that China has a hard time blocking, which Chinese netizens use to access those same websites.
Reverse proxy technology can only work by changing the URL—or web location—of a hotel website. When a guest notices this, he or she can feel like they are on the wrong website, or that someone is trying to fool them into giving up credit card details.
For example, when you visit Google, you expect to be on a Google owned domain, like google.com. If you look up and suddenly notice that you’re not on google.com, even though you thought you were, this could cause you to feel unsafe.
This is exactly the kind of feeling hoteliers should avoid putting their guests through, and for good reason. Unsavory individuals use technologies similar to this to skim credit card information from unsuspecting guests. This may be the first thing guests think when they find themselves on the wrong website. Guests need to feel safe, protected, and comfortable when browsing a hotel’s website. This sense of security encourages more conversions.
Some reverse proxy SEM services don’t stop at tracking hotel website navigation behavior. Using the proxy, they can track guests’ browsing behavior after they leave your website. This is used to watch guests browsing other hotel websites, or exploring online travel agencies and hotel directories, like Trip Advisor.
buuteeq believes this is a violation of guest privacy, and is not the kind of information that should ever be collected for further study. Think about it: what other kinds of websites could guests visit after visiting a hotel website? Are there any they might not wish you knew about? It’s that kind of privacy violation that hoteliers should avoid at every cost. Guest privacy is and always has been the duty of hoteliers and innkeepers, and this duty extends to the digital world as well.
Misuse of Trust
Because reverse proxy SEM technology can change any text on a webpage, hoteliers are placing great trust in the service provider not to make changes for the service provider’s own personal benefit. For example, some reverse proxy service providers could change branding text on a website to make guests think that their own brand powers the website or booking engine when it doesn’t, diluting the brand authority of their competitors.
Some reverse proxy service providers will change the phone number on a hotel website in order to direct calls to their own call centers so they can record them. This information can be useful to hoteliers for marketing purposes. However, after an in-house test, we discovered that many of these service providers do not alert guests at the beginning of the call that they are being recorded. This is a violation of guest privacy which can lead to diminishing consumer trust in a hotel’s brand.
Additionally, this could lead to missed business in the future. When a guest arrives on your website, they may write down your phone number or add it to their address book in order to make reservations with you again in the future. But what if you stop using the reverse proxy SEM service? The phone number on your website will then revert back to your original one. When guests try calling you in the future using the reverse proxy number, they will hear that your number has been disconnected—a very bad indication for how well a property is doing.
Not Supported by buuteeq
For these reasons and more, buuteeq has chosen not to support reverse proxy SEM. We do not offer the service because it is incompatible with our product and core company values.
Instead, we encourage hoteliers to use other services that can accomplish the same goal as reverse proxy SEM. buuteeq’s 360 Analytics is a highly detailed reporting tool hoteliers can use to see what pages on their website are most popular, which ones encourage more bookings, what keywords send the most traffic from search engines, and more.
Feel free to contact us if you have any questions about other website tracking options that integrate safely with buuteeq to secure guest and hotelier privacy.