Categories
buuteeq

buuteeq’s new name?

So a lot of folks have emailed me this week asking me “what happened to buuteeq”, so i thought i’d write a quick informal post to document for the seo bots.  As of first week of January 2015 we’ve changed the name of the buuteeq hotel marketing platform, it is now part of Booking.com’s BookingSuite family.  You can now find us at http://suite.booking.com

BookingSuite

I remember very fondly the day/time that Brian Adam and I named buuteeq, while in a hotel room in Beijing in January of 2010.  The company was originally called Hanbao Software (“hamburger” in Chinese), and it felt like that placeholder name (while undeniably cute/funny to native mandarin speakers), was not going to work for us as we got ready to start offering the product to hotels (at least with a straight face).  We spent a good 2+ hrs brainstorming, and thought ourselves brilliant when we opted for the kabal of letters that was b-u-u-t-e-e-q.  I was smitten with the visual balance of the double “u” and double “e” framed by inverse symmetrical b and q letters.  At the time (2010), what self-respecting tech startup didn’t want an impossibly silly misspelling of a common word, as their mark?  Alas, if we could have estimated the spelling-bee tax that buuteeq would become: over the years we probably spent a collective multi-hundred-thousand minutes (as a team) spelling the word on the phone to baffled listeners: “b, u, u, t, e, e, q… yes, like “buuh-teeek”, or “boutique”, the french word”.  Would have been so much simpler if the boutique dot com word was not parked by a domain squatter (and impossible for non french or english native speakers to spell without help!) Despite the spelling challenges and sarah lacey hating it, buuteeq as a mark served us well.  It captured the aspirational brand ambitions of our hotelier customers… all of whom have a unique product and a unique vision, and need technical help telling that story to prospective guests through digital channels.  We continue that journey as BookingSuite, a much easier to spell mark! and one that has instant recognition as part of planet earth’s #1 accommodation site, booking.com!  Booking Yeah!

I’ll also include a 1 paragraph description of buuteeq for the SEO bots looking for “what is buuteeq”.  buuteeq was a software company founded by Forest Key, Adam Brownstein and Brian Saab in January 2010 that build the world’s first digital marketing system for hotels, the buuteeq Cloud DMS.  The company grew to have thousands of hotel customers and 100s of employees before being acquired by the Priceline Group in June of 2014.  Forest, Adam, Brian and the entire product team continue at the company as part of Booking.com’s BookingSuite offering, with many more details yet to come about the innovation roadmap i’m beyond excited and thrilled about–more so than when this journey began nearly 5 years ago!  We’re having a blast and the party is still in its early days!

Categories
buuteeq

CEO Forest Key On buuteeq Joining The Priceline Group

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.

Things are about to get a lot more awesome. fkey_orange Med_2

On June 10, buuteeq joined forces with The Priceline Group, one of the world’s leading Internet companies and the global leader in online accommodations.

This new strategic direction now vaults us into the best possible position for transforming the digital marketing experience for hotels worldwide.

The Priceline Group currently works with over 480,000 accommodations partners globally and is rapidly expanding the suite of products and services they offer to these hotel and accommodations partners.

With The Priceline Group’s global reach and buuteeq’s best-in-class hotel marketing platform, we’re uniquely poised to help many more properties perform their absolute best digitally.

I want to personally thank our customers who have believed in us and accompanied us on our journey leading up to this point. We remain devoted to our commitments to you.

Everything you love about buuteeq will either stay the same, or increase in awesomeness tenfold.

We will continue to be an independently managed brand building our product and services the way only buuteeq can.

The only thing that changes is our rate of innovation and ability to hire the sharpest minds in our field to provide you with the best-in-class hotel marketing platform available on the planet.

You can count on:

  •  The same service, prices, and support
  •  The same team and founders in place
  •  The same buuteeq customer promise
  •  The same data privacy.
  •  The same rights to your website and assets (your content is YOURS)

This is an exciting time and an immensely important milestone in buuteeq’s history!

We celebrated on June 10, as you can see here in our montage of photo booth pics, but were back to getting stuff done the next morning just as we’ve always done and will continue to do—just more awesomely.

Cheers,

Forest

Photo booth montage from June 10th celebration.
Photo booth montage from June 10th celebration.
Back to getting stuff done bright and early on June 11th!
Back to getting stuff done bright and early on June 11th!
Categories
buuteeq

Trotamundo wins Perk of the Year 2014

I’m incredibly proud and happy to have won the Geekwire Awards Perk of the Year 2014 for buuteeq’s employee travel stipend program, “Trotamundo”.  I started buuteeq because of my deep passion for travel and seeing the world.  We created the Trotamundo program because we wanted our company culture to embrace and amplify the experience of travel.  Travel exposes us to diversity of human experience, inspires us, and ultimately transforms our world view in a way that also makes our company stronger and more nimble in our quest to revolutionize the hotel industry.

Here’s the award ceremony on youtube:

And some photos:

Geekwire Awards 2014 4 Perk of the Year Geekwire Forest Geekwire Wide Shot 2 Geekwire Wide Shot

Categories
buuteeq

Virtuous Employee Feedback Loop

marketing disrupt wide 01

My company buuteeq has grown to over 110 employees in 5 offices around the world, so a huge component of my time/role as ceo has been focused on “culture”–how do we create a consistent best-practice culture in multiple offices (while growing rapidly), how do we gather feedback and input from everyone on the team, and how do we communicate and implement changes based on the feedback we receive…

We’ve been using an amazing tool called TinyPulse for over a year now, and while it is not the only mechanism to manage the “pulse” of our culture (a lot of 1:1 coffees at TopPot Donuts down the street is part of my weekly routine to spend quality time focused on listening and responding to team member questions in person), TinyPulse is the systematic breadth process by which we receive regular employee feedback and drive a “virtuous cycle” that repeats itself regularly.  TinyPulse asks a weekly question by email (automatically), gathers the feedback anonymously (usually between 50-80% of employees respond on any given week), and presents dashboards that I and our VP of Talent review periodically throughout the week as data is being gathered.

image

Each week’s question generates a summary of yes/no, 1-10 scale, or open response questions, AND a subjective detail commentary (if respondent provides) which I can then respond to via a private message while maintaining anonymity.  This leads to very different feedback loops than what we hear in person or over email.

I thought it would be valuable, and transparent (one on my most cherished values!), to share some of the data we’ve gathered in the last 6 months.  This data represents “feedback”, not judgement, so there is absolutely no shame in sharing what at times looks like mediocre scores/responses.  I’ve written a brief summary of “what we took from the feedback” and “what we did to respond” to illustrate how the data drove our management team behavior.

Image

Takeaway: we can do better!  Some of the atomic comments suggested some of the managers were sensitive to receiving constructive feedback; we had a discussion with all managers about best practices and how to engage in discussions that would surface constructive feedback from their team.

Image

Takeaway: Totally unacceptably low!  Even though the “benchmark” (53%) (what other companies that use TinyPulse received on average response) was even farther below our score (71%), we aspire to more transparency in this (and most) areas.  As we dug through the data we realized we hadn’t developed “career stage models” and communicated those to team members.  As a young company we had done a good job recruiting people to join the team but hadn’t yet matured into providing a roadmap for careers.  This was really great feedback it led to a kick-off of many projects which we are now rolling out (took about 3 months to put in place).

Image

Takeaway: The comments were valuable as they pointed to specific growth opportunities that were being recognized, and others that were being asked to be opportunities.

Image

Takeaway: This question felt like a reflection on how well we were sharing the TinyPulse data itself!  When we first started using TinyPulse we would share the feedback each week and discuss comments and then open for public discussion during our weekly friday wrap meeting (held 4-5pm to end the week).  This made the visibility of the feedback 100% transparent.  We gradually started to do the open discussions less frequently and moved the sharing of the data to our Google+ community and email threads, which i sense was less visible.  There are 2 key elements to the feedback loop, (1) to share what is being said so everyone has visibility into how their feedback compares to that of the broader team, and (2) for everyone to see what is done in response to the feedback.  This creates a “feedback tax” that I think would scare off a lot of management teams, but i really want to rise to the challenge, even as the data grows in volume and complexity.  Blogging about the data here is in part motivated by this very feedback–trying to find multiple ways to drive the transparency!

Image

Takeaway:  We’re doing pretty well, but there’s always room for improvement.  We used the opportunity to revisit all of our benefits and our VP of HR gave examples of comparable benefits of companies in our industry/size/market, so really we “re-pitched” ourselves in hopes of getting more visibility to just how good our benefits actually are!

Image

Takeaway:  This is a perpetual rich channel of feedback, eg: the TinyPulse gathers lots of insights from the teams about office furniture, seating configurations, meals that we bring in for catered lunches, the kitchen/snacks, morale events, etc. etc.  So rather than look at the score here, the really interesting takeaways are the comments that highlight what is top of mind “next on the list” of things to work on to make the office environment better.Image

Takeaway:  Sometimes you just have to declare victory.  This is one of those.  It turns out that on just about any “scale of 1-10” survey, the results tend to come in at an average of about 8.x.  We talked with the team about the different perspectives of “what does a 8 mean”, and in many cases 8 is “excellent” and in others “10” is the equivalent.  So when the team as a whole is coming in at 8.5, we felt that this is an area we were performing ahead of the curve.  Again, not declaring victory outright, but since we are getting this type of feedback WEEKLY, sometimes the pulse feedback insights less urgency/reaction from the management team.

marketing disrupt wide 03

Image

Takeaway:  Great reflection of our core value of “never stop growing”, always want to see team members thinking of ways they can do better, and the comments overwhelming reflected specific areas for personal growth.

Image

Takeaway:  Similar to the feedback about work environment, this question had very specific recommendations for different processes, training, tools, etc.–super actionable.

Image

Takeaway:  Probably the most important feedback of all–this is exactly the entire point of using TinyPulse, to drive transparency, virtuous feedback loop, and to establish a really great culture in close collaboration across the team.  Thankfully, this score (8.7) is the highest score we’ve ever received in the tool.  Lots more work to do on all these subjects every day of the week for years to come…  Several more examples below, i’m out of gas to comment on them atomically, but the graphics speak for themselves and i’m happy to answer any questions in the comments or at my email, twitter, facebook, linkedin, or google + pages!

Team 29agosto13

Image

Image

Image

Team ROWise Guys

Image

Categories
buuteeq

Google SEO as “GOSO” – A Segmentation Chart

Stop calling it SEO.  What we really mean to say when we say SEO is “Google Organic Search Optimization”–so i’m going to start calling it that, GOSO.

I studied history in college and remember (perhaps incorrectly?) that the 13th century philosopher St. Thomas Aquinas characterized people as having various tiers of spiritual and intellectual access to god: some experiencing the church teachings as literal narrative, others as parable, and at the purest/highest echelon, altogether different divine connection.  GOSO similarly has different levels of access and understanding, divided into 2 major groups.

infographic illustrating the different types of SEO vendors


GOSO Group 1: Folks that know
There are only 2 tiers of folks that really know how things work, current and former employees of Google, and people you will never meet, as follows:

  • Secret Society GOSOites (insiders).  These are the several 1000 Google employees that work on the actual algorithms and on any given day, as a collective consciousness, could tell us all *exactly* how the system works and how to create content and what tactics to take on the web to *guarantee* success.  (note that any single member of this tribe actually does not have full consciousness… it really requires a hive mind to grok at this point!)  Members of this group have never, and will never, speak about specifics on the subject of GOSO’s true inner workings.  Spokespeople for Google such as the excellent Matt Cutts (his blog here) talk about GOSO and give guidelines, but these become the least-common-denominator best practices that everyone (who is competent) follows, thereby creating a series of hoops that we all must jump through just to get back to the starting line, and thus largely removing any real positive impact from following them.  I call this the GOSO Tax–it is web development, copy writing, and significant time and energy that must be invested just for table-stakes… to actually get ahead, you need to go further, and will have to look elsewhere.  Unfortunately every business owner I know has to deal with this hidden but significant tax, or suffer the consequences of *really* tanking and getting NO organic traffic.
  • GOSO Ninjas.  Just like a real Ninja, you’ve never heard of, seen, or talked to a GOSO Ninja.  By their very definition, these people are unknowable.  Here’s why.  These are the folks that have reverse engineered or otherwise figured out (albeit sometimes just for a window of time, before google employees track down and close the loophole) how to *print money* with GOSO.  Just like a alchemist that has discovered how to synthesize solid gold by mixing water and sand, a GOSO Ninja has access to the arbitrage that comes with knowing how to really manipulate SEO rankings and by extension, to drive meaningful volumes of clicks/traffic which is a commodity that can be turned into ready cash.  GOSO Ninjas work for *themselves*… printing money for *themselves*… and they keep all knowledge about GOSO strictly for *themselves*.  If you discovered a limitless well of solid gold, would you charge $150 USD an hour to teach other people how to extract gold from the well, knowing that in doing so it would only take a few extra folks tapping into your well before the well would be sealed off by Google?  Or would you be greedy, and just pull gold from the well for as long as you could… maybe take several trips a year to exotic luxury islands and enjoy your Ninja-ness?  Oh, and anyone that claims to be a GOSO Ninja is a fool, because they don’t even know what they don’t know, which is that they are NOT.  1st rule of GOSO ninjadom, you don’t talk about GOSO ninjadom!!


GOSO Group 2: The unwashed angst ridden masses
Everyone else, including myself and all of my friends that work in tech (especially those that work at google but not in the search algorithm group, because they know what they don’t know!) and every vendor i’ve spoken to who is a “GOSO specialist”, and every competitor i’ve competed against–all of us, without exception–are members of a collectively “in the dark” group of folks that don’t know how GOSO really works!  What separates us is to what extent we portray ourselves as something other than what we are, divided approximately in these sub-tribes:

  • GOSO Coaches.  These are the benevolent and generally well meaning folks that know what they don’t know, and limit their GOSO services to “coaching” and providing guidance and best practice advice, largely if not entirely by repeating what they have learned from staying very current with Google spokesperson guidance for best practice.  The information that GOSO Coaches peddle is public domain knowledge, but requires a lot of attention to detail to track (as Google is making changes all the time), and requires a lot of content management and technical maintenance:  keeping web pages up to date with different metadata and HTML & CSS code syntax, recommendations on keyword sets to focus on for success within your specific geography and business sector, writing good copy that is both structured for human beings and also for Google robots that will index the page, and most importantly, good old-fashioned marketing which encompasses visually appealing and subject-compelling content that human beings will actually click on, blog-about, refer to their friends, tweet, and otherwise celebrate.  This last piece is the stuff that dreams are made of (good content) and if a GOSO Coach can be in your corner helping you to be better at these tasks, then they can be an invaluable partner towards your business’ success in organic traffic.  The best GOSO Coaches are the ones that tell you in so many words “hey, i’m just a coach–i’ll work with you, we’ll do some good stuff together, i’ll tell you what i’m doing and bill you for those hours with a clear statement of work, and together we’ll carefully monitor the results in meaningful terms (money you are making selling your product is the best!) and evaluate this investment as we go along together, because there are many ways you can spend your hard-earned money, and GOSO may not be appropriate at all for your business.”
  • GOSO Charlatans.  These are folks that charge by the hour and suggest that through their efforts they will be able to “make you a first page result”, or suggest vague goals such as “improve” or “gain traffic” without any hard numbers or metrics.  They will never actually tell you what they are going to do, how they are going to do it, and most importantly, what the cost/benefit analysis is of actually succeeding.  They instead suggest that GOSO is a dark art that involves secret skills that they command.  What GOSO traffic/benefits are even possible within your particular business category/geography?  Would success achieving those ranking and traffic results warrant the investment, and how does that ROI (return on investment) calculation compare to OTHER investments that could be made that might be more easily tracked, measured, and perform better?  These considerations rarely enter the discussion with these folks–because for them GOSO work for GOSO sake is the real agenda… and there is always work to be done when there is no clear metric for success, and no transparency into the work!  Here are some tell-tell signs that you are talking to one of these folks:
    • they claim to be a GOSO Ninja (remember, if they are talking about being a Ninja, then they aren’t–why would they waste time talking to you?)
    • “i’m an expert and will improve your results”–highly suspect because if they were really self-aware they would say “I will try to improve your results but can’t guarantee anything because GOSO is an unknowable black art!”
    • “I can’t tell you what i do, when i do it, or how i do it–because xxxx”–where xxxx is any excuse of any kind–there is NO legitimate reason why a vendor doing hourly labor work as a service would not be able to fully document their activities.
    • They report on their success/progress with statements like “we are making great progress, we have moved from position X to position Y in google results”–(one possible exception is where Y is the number 1, 2, or 3.)  Even if you are getting ranked in the top 3 positions, reporting the “ranking on the page” as the primary measure of success is disingenuous, because SOOO many factors are involved and the direct activities of your vendor are probably only one small part of that success.  It is more likely that the New York Times wrote an article about you or your customers are raving about you on Facebook or Twitter, and that is what drove your breakthrough–and any social media driven SEO vendor would be characterizing your success because of their work for you in social metrics, not in page rank slots!  “Page rank slot up/down movement” is the stuff of charlatans and fools.
  • GOSO Factories.  These vendors provide a laundry list of “things we will do for you” that are easily done automatically by computers, or that can be outsourced to low-skilled technical labor in a far away exotic land.  Here you are getting what you pay for (i’ll give them that), but what you are paying for is a whole bunch of meaningless stuff that Google has already completely negated and made pointless.  Anything, and i mean *anything*, that can be done systematically to improve your GOSO performance is something that Google must ignore, because it gives too much leverage to someone to go build a systematic GOSO distortion engine.  “we’ll submit articles with great links to your site to 1000s of blogs”, or “we’ll register your business with 100s of online directories of businesses”–these are two classic “we will do something measurable” offers that are 100% worthless, worse, they can degrade your performance because Google can identify the massive scale/automation at play and Google doesn’t like to be manipulated in this way (it’s too easy, they’d rather leave that to Ninja’s who work much harder at it!)
  • GOSO Fools.  These are vendors that don’t know what they don’t know but have no sinister intent.  They often will refer to online experts as sources to credit their activities and tactics, but unlike coaches who go straight to the source (Google is the only source!), they will quote 2nd and 3rd degree references much like when we were in high school and used Encyclopedias for a quick fix of “expertise”.  The heresy of “such and such SEO expert” (usually a GOSO Charlatan or other Fool) is foolish testament, unless they are preaching the one true faith–the inherent *futility* of GOSO expertise to begin with!  Again, if it was knowable and scalable, Google has already closed the gap–so fools are simply trading in the lowest-common-denominator of best practices, but representing this information as something special and valuable, when it is not.
  • GOSO Laypeople.  This is the majority of the online community, of both creative and technical web professionals as well of the business owners and marketing professionals that they serve.  They are either angst ridden about the subject of SEO, and in search of a Coach… or they are at peace, comfortable in their bliss of unknowingness and spending their karma points on other things (SEM perhaps!).

Epitaph

Nobody reading this  post (which should have been interpreted as intentionally faux-serious-silly) should feel offended by my segmentation except for the Ninjas (who don’t like their existence to even be mentioned).

My favorite reading from others on this subject

One of my guiding lights on this subject has been the phenomenal journalism on this subject that the New York Times has published over the past 18 months.  While SEO-beat journalist David Segal doesn’t use my terminology–the characterizations are here; some of my favorites:

Categories
buuteeq

2011 Trotamundo Trips from buuteeq-ers

buuteeq just completed our first year with commercial service and it was really a great 2011.  The company and product are continuing to evolve rapidly, and there are lots of new faces on the team.  One of the unique benefits of working at buuteeq is an employee travel benefit we created called Trotamundo, which encourages all team members to visit hotels and see the world on the company’s dime.  The idea is that we all need time out in the wild interacting with hotels–where they will engage with hotel management to learn more about operations and distribution challenges and where we each can formulate opportunities for buuteeq to further add value in the hospitality industry.  Upon return from their trip, buuteeq-ers have to write up their findings, both for our blog and in presentations internally to the rest of the team.  Here are some example Trotamundo trip reports from last year (on buuteeq’s blog):

Dean’s Trip to Maui

Our sales veteran sales exec (first to join in North America) Dean escaped to Hawaii. He stayed at Ho’oilo House b&b who’s owners he had previously met online in the PAII forums. He signed them up for our free Facebook app, and they graciously invited him over to enjoy their hospitality. Instead of crowded beaches, Dean opted to visit more private, spacious areas so he could better absorb Maui’s breathtaking scenery.

Dennis’ Trip to Napa Valley

Dennis, our CTO, traveled to Napa valley where he explored the amazing vineyards of warm and sunny California. He stayed at the Napa River Inn, which is one of our free Starter clients that enjoys our Facebook app. A highlight of his trip was taking his kids to Safari West, a wildlife reserve in Sonoma. He got to see over 400 animals roaming free. Some of them were so bold they came right up to the car, which scared his kids a bit.

Leo’s Trip to San Pedro de Atacama

Leo, another one of our sales rock-stars, took his Trotamundo in san Pedro de Atacama to enjoy some peace, quiet, sun and breathtaking scenery. One of the highlights of his trip was eating pizza and drinking pisco sour at the Geysers of Tatio, a natural wonder of Chile. While there he stayed at Don Raul, which became one of our paid customers and currently enjoys our digital marketing.

buuteeq’s blog has dozens of these type of travel-logues and other updates about buuteeq, as does our About page which enumerates other benefits at our unique, pro-travel (friendly) culture.


Categories
buuteeq

Why Bad Hotel Websites Are Bad

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.

A fascinating new survey from eDigitalResearch reviewed the usability of 51 UK websites and came up with some interesting results. The top rated UK hospitality website was Booking.com, which looks like this:

why bad hotel websites are bad ryanair

 

The worst ranked site was Ryanair.com, which looks like this:

ryanair bad websites

 

 

What can we say about these two? Are they similar? Kinda. They both have all the same parts (search, reservations, reviews, ads, news, etc.) but they also look drastically different. One is pleasing; the other is confusing. Why? It all boils down to what we call Information Architecture (IA).

IA can be summed up as “What users expect to find and where they expect to find it”. Internet browsers browse the Internet in similar and specific ways. That is, many of them look in the same place to find the same information. If you design a website with good IA, then your users will find what they want when they look for it, and they will have a good browsing experience. A good browsing experience equals higher sales. If your site has poor IA it produces a poor browsing experience, resulting in poorer sales.

This is why Ryanair.com performed so poorly compared to Booking.com. It has conflicting colors that strain the eyes, and the site is a jumble of links and tabs, buttons and ads. This is poor IA.

How does this apply to hoteliers? True, both sites mentioned above are not individual hotel websites, but hotels were also studied in the analysis and performed dismally. As tnooz.com summed it up:

“Among other findings from the survey, hotels as a group was the poorest performing sector. Their websites often lacked such basics as FAQs and their email customer service performed subpar.”

Just like all other websites, hotel websites must have good IA in order to perform well for their guests. This is where buuteeq comes in. We have spent years of research to understand how IA works on the web and the best way to implement it in a hotel website. What we produce is digital marketing for the web, mobile phones and social sites that has eye-catching color branding and great IA, giving guests what they want, where they expect to find it. An hotelier could spend $10,000 on a rich flash site that has lots of moving images and sparkly effects, but if a guest can’t find the reservation button, what good is it? Form is nice but function is essential. buuteeq marries them.

eDigitalresearch.com offered some best practices for hotel industry websites. The ones that specifically pertain to hotel websites are:

“First impressions: ‘Homepage needs to convey clear offer and encourage further search.’ The homepages of the low-scoring websites were ‘overwhelming and confusing.’”

“Email customer services: The contact method has to be easy and responses should be “prompt and professional.” For low-scoring websites, contact information was difficult to find and there was a lack of response to emails.”

“Telephone customer services: Consumers shouldn’t have to wait forever on the phone, and agents should be able to answer specific questions. Long wait times and difficulty in finding phone numbers characterized low-scoring websites.”

“Booking process: Websites should arm consumers with the ability to change their options before completing the booking and the process shouldn’t require human intervention on the part of the company. Low-scoring websites had booking processes that weren’t intuitive and often couldn’t be completed online.”

 

Compare booking.com and ryanair.com to these examples of buuteeq-powered hotel websites.

Categories
buuteeq

Why Flash is a really bad choice for hotel websites

One of my inspirations for starting buuteeq was all the crappy flash microsites for boutique hotels.  We put together a little video to help highlight the key issues that make flash a really bad choice for hotel websites.

 

Categories
buuteeq

Me talking with Robert Scoble about buuteeq

I drove out to Robert Scoble’s house to show him buuteeq; i was exhausted from a long day of travel, but robert’s abode was a warm and welcoming environment, and his infectious upbeat mood and passion for all things wonderful and innovative that relate to technology made me really enjoy showing him buuteeq.  After seeing the footage i am more jealous than ever about not having my own Canon 5D with a fast lens–it is amazing how good the image quality is in his videos, and incredible that he is shooting so much of it and producing it as quickly as he does.  We joked that someone should build him a dedicated SaaS platform for post processing and posting his content–but his workflow is very unique as is the individual.  Thanks Robert for the opportunity!

Categories
buuteeq

buuteeq has launched

After 18 months of planning and hard work, i’m really proud of the  launch of buuteeq today.  buuteeq has been my baby; a concept that i put together myself with great support and inspiration from my wife and our multi-trip-travel experiences while living in Asia for 2 years and taking family vacations.  I’m beyond proud of the product we have shipped, and the marketing collateral, positioning, demos, pricing, segmentation, etc. are the best i’ve ever been responsible for–a really nice progression in my professional experience.  I feel like everything i’ve done in the last 20 years professionally was leading me to this moment: to the skills, the perspective, and the creativity that was necessary to pull this off.

http://www.buuteeq.com for the website experience.  Embedding the “welcome” video here in case someone stumbles on this blogroll.

Categories
buuteeq

The Future of Hotel Websites…isn’t Flash

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.

Adobe Flash® is a multimedia platform used to add animation, video, and interactivity to web pages. Flash gained popularity as a website development technology because it offered high-impact, rich Web capabilities at a time when there were no other alternatives (other contemporary web technology options lacked these capabilities).  Today, Flash is a very poor choice of technology to power a hotel’s website—a question that many of buuteeq’s customers bring to our attention, so I’d like to outline the issues and clarify some of the design and development concerns, maintenance costs, and technical obstacles that are involved when using Flash for hotel marketing websites.

First some background: earlier in my professional career I worked at Macromedia (the creator of the Flash technology before it was acquired by Adobe Systems), and I was the Sr. Product Manager in charge of the Flash product.  I personally oversaw the “media” aspects of the product line, which included the rich graphical, video, animation, and marketing features of Flash, and was responsible for business planning and taking the technology to market to make it successful with different audiences.  One of the audiences that I and my peers focused on at that time was websites that wanted to deliver video, which turned out to be a very successful market for Flash (YouTube, Vimeo, and a vast number of important websites that deliver video online went on to use Flash—and it is generally accepted that without Flash, the explosion of video on the web in the 2004-2008 era would not have been possible).

Another market that we marketed Flash to at the time was hospitality.  We built compelling demos and case studies and then went to the hospitality space to show hotels, airlines, and travel agents that by choosing Flash they could create a richer, more interactive, more clear presentation of the product and services they were offering, in an attempt to drive higher satisfaction scores and conversion ratios which would together yield better business results.  For its era, Flash was indeed an interesting choice and we had a good story—but even then there were cataclysmic issues involved when using Flash for e-commerce sites, and Macromedia itself got a black eye when it tried and failed to switch its own website over to the technology (and within a week had to revert back to standard HTML).

The technical case against Flash was outlined very eloquently by Apple CEO Steve Jobs in his open letter to the tech community, which you can read here.  I will thus speak more directly to disadvantages of Flash in the specific case of Hotel Websites, the key issues being:

  1. SEO: Flash hinders Google organic search and produces lower SEO relevance
  2. Mobile: Flash based hotel websites are not compatible with most mobile devices.
  3. Cost: Flash is needlessly complex choice of technology to design, develop, and maintain your hotel’s website.
  4. There are better looking and performing alternatives!

Let me elaborate (while staying conceptual so as to not get too deep into the technology):

Flash is Bad for Google search Discovery and SEO

Google, Bing, and other search engines send out crawlers that travel the internet, index websites by noting keywords, content and meta-data, then rank the websites based on the content they find.  Being fully “discoverable” by these crawlers is a pre-requisite so that you can be found by guests when they do a Google search  However, Flash based websites are seen by Google as big opaque “black boxes” that Google’s crawlers cannot directly examine.

The makers of Flash have tried to get around this by building a system whereby the developer of a website can attach a “tag” on each part of a Flash website that says to Google “hi Google crawler robot!  Thanks for coming to look at this website, which you can’t see for yourself but let me be nice and tell you what it is: a great hotel website with pretty photos and cool room amenities. I know you can’t actually see that for yourself, but trust me, that’s what’s in here—so please believe me and send customers my way!”  This is of course a non-starter for Google, because at the core of Google’s success is the concept of trust and relevancy.  What if the Flash website in question is a pornography site, but the tags adorning the black box say “educational curriculum for physical health”.  Google simply does not trust something it can’t see, and Flash websites are thus ignored.

Flash is not compatible with many mobile devices

Flash websites cannot be loaded on the vast majority of existing mobile phones or on important platforms that are setting the trend for the future such as the Apple iPhone and iPad.  If a user attempts to view a Flash website on their phone they’ll be greeted with an empty screen.  Various studies indicate that 30% of mobile users in the U.S. already regularly surf the web from their phones, and by 2014 the time spent on mobile internet browsing and mobile search queries is expected to overcome that of desktop in many parts of the world (in some, it already has!)

Furthermore–hotel websites built with Flash are actually also not compatible with about 10-20% of desktop PC users, because many PCs are running older versions of Flash that won’t load newer content, and most hotel research and shopping is done Monday through Friday during business hours, while people are sitting at their desk at work on computers that they do not have permission to install/upgrade or otherwise administer.  Any business that is trying to market themselves and their brand to a breadth consumer audience simply cannot afford to invest in a website that isn’t reaching 100% of interested parties!

Cost

“With great power comes great responsibility” (or so says Peter Parker’s uncle in the movie Spiderman), and because Flash is indeed capable of many interesting visual effects and animations, Flash based website designs tend to include the design and development costs of using some of these rich features.  Hotels might initially be pleased with the look of their Flash website but once they realize the prohibitive costs associated with maintaining a Flash site, the site often gets neglected. When a hotel’s site becomes neglected, its functionality diminishes and consequently, the utility of the site diminishes for guests, and business suffers.  The cost of building a hotel website in Flash needs to be measured in the lifecycle of the site over many years, not just in a one-time design and update.

The internet has evolved immensely and today there are other technologies available that offer a “rich” Web experience.  Broadband is now pervasive, computers are faster, web standards increasingly support “visual effects” and animations that were once unique to Flash.  These alternatives not only look great but they are far cheaper to develop and maintain.

For all these reasons, Flash is a poor choice for hotels aiming to offer a rich and compelling experience to as many guests as possible.

The alternative: great looking, better performing hotel websites using the latest web standards (HTML5)

The websites produced by buuteeq’s system are built with industry standard technologies that ensure a positive and satisfying user experience and conform to SEO best practices. buuteeq websites share the rich look and feel of Flash but outperform Flash in the following ways:

  1. buuteeq websites are SEO and Google friendly. As opposed to Flash, buuteeq powered websites can be properly crawled and indexed by Google.  buuteeq sites have a much better chance for a higher ranking in Google compared with Flash-only sites.
  2. buuteeq websites are fully compatible with all mobile devices. buuteeq websites are designed to load properly on all mobile devices.  This includes smartphones such as the iPhone and Google Android phones and tablet computers such as the iPad.  buuteeq websites are specially designed to look great and work great across all the various digital channels that consumers use to research travel decisions.  This ensures that hotels are reaching the widest possible audience of guests; something Flash cannot offer.
  3. buuteeq websites are much more affordable than flash-based sites. All costs associated with managing and maintaining a buuteeq website is far cheaper than that of custom developed Flash sites. All the added costs of compensating for Flash deficiencies can be applied to more meaningful projects with a buuteeq powered solution.