The Cookieless World is already here. Are you ready?

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Over the last few years, the big players like Google and Facebook have been warning that they will be moving to a cookieless world. And really, we are already living in a cookieless world when you consider the deprecation of 3rd party cookies on Mozilla and Safari as well as Apple’s iOS updates.

The way we measure performance has already changed to support the cookieless world. GCommerce has tested the difference between Google Analytics 4 and Google Analytics Universal in how it captures data, and on average Google Analytics Universal is missing about 40% of revenue data. This shows that the cookieless world is already here.

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Is WordPress Safe For Your Hotel’s Website

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WordPress Security, Plugin Auditing, & Why

“Is WordPress safe?”

This is a question I’m often asked by prospects looking to build a new hotel website and want confidence that they’re making the right decision. While WordPress isn’t the solution for every website, here are some reasons why we recommend the #1 content management system on the market. 

WordPress Security in General

As the most popular content management system with over 40% market share, it's understandable why WordPress might be an attractive target for nefarious activity. Here’s why we rest easy: 

  1. World-wide community. With a world-wide, open source community, it's in everyone's best interest to find, share, and patch security vulnerabilities, which WordPress releases at frequent intervals.
  2. Security plugins. We install a security plugin on all GCommerce hotel websites called Wordfence that helps protect against brute force password attempts, keeps a log of file changes and user logins, blocks suspicious IPs, and more.
  3. Regular updates. We apply released security patches (using the WordPress update panel) on at least a monthly basis with our Preventative Maintenance service, and more frequently when a critical patch is needed. This keeps our site from being low hanging fruit for would-be attackers.

It's important to remember that hotel website software is organic and constantly evolving – it's not something that should be set and forgotten (which is a good way to become a target). While we can't control when or how software updates are released by WordPress or 3rd party plugin developers, we can control when and how these updates get applied. We offer a Preventative Maintenance service for clients that host with us to do just that – taking the stress and unknowns of what’s going to happen out of the equation.

For GCommerce, this means using testing environments to identify and address issues before they're applied to public-facing hotel websites. So while we cannot guarantee there will never be breakages (no one can), we do everything within reason to keep this reality of software development manageable for ourselves and our clients.

On the topic of WordPress plugins

“Okay, I see how I can make WordPress secure for my hotel’s website. How do I keep plugins from breaking?”

In a nutshell, plugins add functionality to your hotel’s website. They can do anything from adding a simple button, to adding an Instagram feed, to adding an entire eCommerce store. Considering the complexity of what you need and how mission-critical it is to your operation is a great way to keep your investment in perspective. 

Before installing anything to our clients’ websites, these are the key factors we consider when evaluating plugins:

  1. Age of the last plugin update. We look at the latest update date for a given plugin to determine if it is still receiving ongoing support. Depending on the complexity of the plugin, we will generally only use ones that have been updated within the last year or less. 
  2. Number of installations. We consider how many websites have the plugin installed and in use on their site using the WordPress plugin repository. The larger the user base, the more likely there will be community support forums and/or support provided by the plugin developer which means more bugs are being discovered and fixed across a variety of development environments. In other words, it's likely to be more robust and secure.
  3. Premium options for complex or critical functionality, when needed. For functionality that is more complex or sensitive in nature (for example eCommerce plugins), we will generally recommend premium WordPress plugins for guaranteed support availability and responses.
  4. Using a limited number of plugins. We strive to avoid using too many plugins on a site to reduce the risk of compatibility errors. Whenever possible (and when it makes sense), we will first write functionality as part of the WordPress theme before reaching for a plugin to further reduce the risk of breakages. A good target is to limit to 12 - 20 plugins, but there are always exceptions. Just understand the more you add the more likely you may need to come up with creative compatibility solutions.

We know how frustrating it can be when a WordPress plugin that was working perfectly fine last week seems to stop working for no good reason. And while it’s tempting to say “Just change it back! It was working before!”, you run the risk of your out-of-date software being exploited. 

By keeping on top of updates so your version changes are small, dealing with these incremental breakages (which is normal) will keep the long term maintenance cost lower. It’s a lot like getting an oil change for your car. If you change it regularly you’ll get better mileage and performance out of it, with disastrous consequences if you let the oil run dry and melt your engine instead.

On the topic of WordPress themes

Similar to plugins, WordPress themes (also sometimes referred to as commercial templates), focus on the look and feel of your hotel’s website, with some functionality baked in. Wherever the theme functionality ends is where plugins begin. 

Similar rules apply when selecting a theme, especially the support. As far as expected mileage goes, I’ve found the lifespan can vary drastically from client to client. My rule of thumb – if you want to take advantage of the latest speed enhancements and stand out from your competition, you should consider revisiting your website needs every 3 - 5 years. (I mean, if your smartphone is considered ancient after 2 years… you get the idea.) 

Why Should I Use WordPress For My Hotel’s Website?

There are many, many reasons why WordPress is a go-to for our company. Here are some of our favorite reasons that impact our and our clients’ bottom line:

  1. Access to quality developers. There are plenty of qualified WordPress developers available anywhere, making it easy to find, vet, and hire support when you need it. While your current developer is hopefully providing all the services you need, having assurance that external support is available to maintain your site should you need it is a great insurance policy.
  2. More affordable long term maintenance. WordPress applies frequent, incremental patches which tends to make compatibility issues less severe and easier to address when they do arise (and they will). But because there is better WordPress developer availability, it's more likely these issues can be addressed in a timely manner and at a reasonable cost (vs. paying premium for developers in limited supply for other platform solutions like ExpressionEngine or Magento).
  3. Reduced staff training. The longer WordPress is used, the more likely it is you will have future employees that already have familiarity with the content management system, making training faster, more accessible, and easier to work with.
  4. No recurring license fees and includes upgrades. WordPress has no recurring license fees for the core software and users get to enjoy the benefit of having functionality upgrades for free. The trade off however is that the onus of keeping the software up-to-date is the responsibility of the site owner, unlike with a proprietary system.

Still not convinced? That’s okay. WordPress isn’t for everyone and it’s not appropriate for every site. But hopefully you now have a more informed understanding of why it might be the right choice for you. Thanks for reading!

Have more questions? Feel free to reach out to GCommerce’s hotel website experts for more information.

Future Proof Your Hotel Marketing Analytics

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As you may have noticed, there has been a lot of chatter about the “cookieless world” or “3rd party cookies” over the past year-and-a-half and there should be as that wave has already hit us and will soon be by us. If you have not created a plan yet for the “cookieless world” then you need to call a lifeguard ASAP!  One wave that nobody in the hospitality industry is talking about is Google Analytics 4 or “GA4”.  Well, there is talk about it but it seems to be coming from GCommerce, which is quite frightening as most every other vertical market is and has been talking about GA4 since it was announced in 2020 by Google. 

If you did not know, Google Analytics, the most widely used analytics technology, is designed to use 3rd party cookies to track user behavior and transactions. With 3rd party cookies eliminated, analytics data has become unreliable and incomplete. In fact, in a side by side comparison that GCommerce conducted over the past six months with a collection of its customers, Universal Analytics under-reported transaction data (purchases & revenue) by up to 40%! A 40% reduction in revenue through major channels significantly skews what channels are producing. It’s a marketer’s nightmare.  Just so we are all on the same page, most websites today run “GA3” otherwise known as “Universal Analytics or UA”.

In late 2020, Google introduced a new analytics package “Google Analytics 4” or “GA4”. GA4 works regardless of cookies and boosts analytics reliability and useability during this time of transition. GA4 is a brand new tool, aimed at providing a more comprehensive view of your website’s data. As mentioned above, our side by side comparison not only saw under-reporting with transaction data, it also showed that UA underreported Organic by 33%, Paid Search by 26%, and Referral by as much as 51% when compared to the attribution of GA4!  This could be for a couple of reasons:  

  • Legacy cookie tracking (UA) is starting to deprecate as the cookieless world grows closer, creating data gaps for major revenue channels
  • Advanced attribution models based on the new “engaged users” provides more transparency through the booking funnel

Now, you are probably wondering what is the benefit of adding GA4 instead of waiting until Google stops supporting UA?  Well, here are some things to think about when thinking about adding GA4 now instead of waiting.

Benefits of adding GA4 today:

  • Future proof your analytics, regardless of cookies
  • Maintain clean analytics data for your digital marketing initiatives
  • See your booking engine conversion funnel through custom tagging
  • The data captured today in GA4 starts today.  You are not able to collect past history. 
  • Be able to track booking patterns on your site via GA4’s “tagging” ability

If you are interested in learning more about GA4 and the benefits that GCommerce’s customers have seen by adding GA4 please let us know.  We can also let you know about the exclusive Historic Hotels of America GA4 package GCommerce has created. 

Here are a few FAQ's about GA4:

Google said 3rd party cookies aren't going away until 2023. Do I need to get started now?

  • Yes. Particularly with Google Analytics, it doesn't start capturing data until you install it on your site. While you will still have historical data in your Universal Analytics profile, you will essentially be starting from scratch if you wait until 2023 (not to mention you will be operating off of incomplete data for the next year).

Google Analytics is free, why should I pay for my data? 

  • Google Analytics 4 is a new tool that requires custom installation on your website. The custom installation will help you understand how current and future guests interact with your website. 

Do you hold our data? 

  • Yes, but your data will always be found in your native GA4 account. 

What if I build a new website? Should I install Google Analytics 4 at that time? 

  • You should install Google Analytics 4 as soon as possible. You could be missing out on key data and the most up to date attribution models which could empower design and creative decisions for future websites.  

Why should I pay for your GCommerce Google Analytics 4 Report? 

  • As a data driven marketing firm, we believe the raw metrics from GA only tell half the story. Our report was created with decades of experience within analytics and highlight the most important data that informs your marketing strategy. GCommerce’s Google Analytics 4 Report captures more intelligence than traditional GA reports. 

How long is the installation process? 

  • Our typical installation and QA process takes two to three weeks. 

Is there a separate agreement for GCommerce’s Google Analytics 4 Report? 

  • Yes. GCommerce has prepared a simple agreement for execution. 

Can you amortize the setup fee? 

  • Yes. The integration fee can be split up into equal payments in addition to the monthly fee over 12 months. 

Why can’t I see historical data within my GA4 account?

  • Google Analytics 4 commences tracking once the account is created and scripts are integrated on your website.

Does the GCommerce GA4 Report include booking engine production?

  • Absolutely. GCommerce is experienced in retrieving booking engine data, including transactions, room nights, room products, and revenue within most commonly used CRS platforms. 

What access do I need to get started? 

  • To integrate Google Analytics 4 on your website, GCommerce will need account level access to your existing Google Analytics account, access to your Google Tag Manager profile, and CMS access to your website. Access to your booking engine is also needed for any transactional data. 

Google Analytics 4 vs. The Cookieless World | Google Analytics Update

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Cookies or Cookieless. There’s been a lot of buzz among marketers about the timing of the Google Analytics 4 roll out. A few weeks back, Google made the announcement they were prolonging the timeline for their privacy sandbox push as publishers, browsers, advertisers and other 3rd parties were clamoring to roll out the approved version of tracking in the cookieless world.  

This announcement doesn’t apply to Google Analytics and their rollout of GA4. Google knows that while 3rd parties begin to develop cookieless technologies, its analytics platform must be the foundation for measurement.  

Their push for Google Analytics 4 adoption is obvious. With nearly half of all the websites across the web running analytics, Google is pushing GA4 right inside their account creation. Here is a screenshot of the set-up process which highlights Google’s emphasis on GA4. (You’ll see “Google Analytics 4” highlighted)

If you’re a current Google Analytics user, it’s important to upgrade to the latest version. GCommerce has been running both GA3/GUA alongside GA4 to understand the difference in data and measurement. For the month of June, we saw significant decreases in revenue within our GA3 profiles. 

Our tests have shown that Google UA underreports Organic by 33%, Paid Search by 26%, and Referral by as much as 51% when compared to the attribution of GA4. This could be for a couple reasons:

  • Legacy cookie tracking (GA3/GUA) is starting to deprecate as the cookieless world grows closer, creating data gaps for major revenue channels
  • Advanced attribution models based on the new “engaged users” provides more transparency through the booking funnel

You want to have the latest analytics technology available for measurement, and that means upgrading to Google Analytics 4. GA4 will work with legacy cookie technologies along with new best practices as we move towards the cookieless world. There’s no reason to wait. Contact the experts at GCommerce today.

AI Marketing | Future Of AI | Pros And Cons Of AI In Marketing

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The Marketing Cyborg: Why You Shouldn’t Be Afraid Of AI Marketing

There seems to be a general disdain towards artificial intelligence (AI) in marketing, though marketers should learn to love the technology. Humans are the backbone of marketing, but there is so much to gain from the assistance of AI. As computerized marketing becomes more common, these tools are becoming absolutely necessary for success in the field. Instead of resisting AI, marketers need to embrace the technology and function as a Marketing Cyborg - a carefully balanced blend of human and mechanical parts. 

Pros And Cons Of AI In Marketing

The biggest problem that most marketers have with AI is the loss of control that comes with automation. Humans are always a little scared to let external forces run parts of our lives, and this fear is only exacerbated in situations like marketing, where control is already somewhat limited. Even with the perfect messaging, channel, and audience targeting, results aren’t guaranteed. There are so many uncontrollable factors in this field; why would you voluntarily hand over even more control to a computer?

Well, because it ultimately works in your favor. Marketers are always working to optimize their campaigns, and AI makes it much easier to bridge this gap. Computers may not be perfect, but even the most genius marketing professionals can’t compete with AI’s capacity for learning and prediction. There will always be some level of guesswork involved in marketing, but AI is able to very reliably point marketers in the right direction. In a landscape with so many unknown variables, this is invaluable, and the marketing industry should not turn up its nose at an easy way to increase efficiency. Control is great, but it’s important to recognize the limitations of the human workforce. 

But what about the limitations of machines? The human eye has a unique propensity for things like tone and personality, and these elements are often vital to the success of a marketing campaign. AI is surprisingly good at quantifying an audience and predicting their interests, but there’s a big difference between knowing what someone wants to see and actually creating it. AI isn’t ready to take over the more qualitative and artistic side of marketing, so human input is still needed in marketing to fill in the gaps.

The Marketing Cyborg

There are problems with both human and AI marketing, but that’s exactly why the Marketing Cyborg is so important. Not entirely man, nor entirely machine, cyborgs are an incredibly powerful entity. They are capable of almost anything, and this is exactly why marketers need to stop resisting the future of AI. Consider some of the most successful companies in the world right now. Amazon, Facebook, Google - AI is built into the very fabric of these businesses, and that’s no coincidence. It’s clear that consumers respond to AI, and the marketing industry could greatly benefit from embracing the technology.  

The fears surrounding AI marketing are completely reasonable. Giving up control is hard, and there is a certain human quality to marketing that AI simply can not replicate. However, enhancing our abilities with mechanical parts does not mean we have to give up everything. Cyborgs are the perfect mix of man and machine, and this is what marketers should strive to be. Marketers must embrace the future of AI, working alongside these tools for the greatest chance at success. When humans and AI are able to work in harmony, it creates an unstoppable force to be reckoned with. 

GCyborg Solutions

The marketing team at GCommerce understands the value of AI, and we’re constantly working to embrace the technology. Both our search and digital marketers use AI marketing tools to increase efficiency and optimize performance, and we’re better for it. 

The entire foundation of search marketing is built on AI, so rejecting the technology isn’t an option for our search marketers. Search engines use bots to determine what users want to see, and a search marketer’s job is based on understanding and manipulating these AI for optimal results. If GCommerce were afraid to work alongside AI, our search marketing team wouldn’t exist, and we would miss out on a massive opportunity to increase visibility and web traffic for our clients. 

Within search marketing, AI marketing tools are particularly useful for advertising. Dynamically generated ads, smart bidding, and campaign recommendations make it easier for our team to learn about audiences, improve ad performance, and test new strategies. While this is all possible without AI, the technology makes everything much faster and more efficient, leaving our search marketers with extra time for research and experimentation to better utilize search bots to our advantage.

The benefits of AI marketing don’t stop at our search team, though. Just like search advertising, digital marketing would technically be possible without AI. However, ad personalization and specific audience targeting are what make digital marketing so lucrative, and AI makes it easier for our team to serve the right ads to the right people. AI marketing tools help take the guesswork out of digital marketing, leaving our team with more time to work on creative, original ads that drive results for our clients. 

As a company, GCommerce is always pushing boundaries to provide the best possible service for our clients. Our marketing team is constantly working to improve in this area, but human ability only goes so far. By embracing AI marketing tools and functioning as a Marketing Cyborg, the GCommerce marketing team is able to elevate our work to a level far beyond what’s possible with human marketing alone. 

So what are you afraid of? Contact one of our marketing experts for more information on AI marketing or becoming a Marketing Cyborg.

What Does Apple’s iOS 15 Update Mean For Hotel Email Marketing?

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Earlier this summer at it’s WWDC event, Apple announced a preview of feature changes coming to it’s devices with the new iOS 15 update. While the previous iOS 14 update took aim at paid media advertising through app tracking, iOS 15 privacy updates centered its focus towards email marketing through tracking within the Apple Mail inbox. GCommerce, and the entire digital marketing industry, immediately took notice and started to analyze the potential impact this update will have on email marketing. Set to be released sometime this fall, possibly later this month, we’ve been closely following this news.

What email specific features are included in the Apple iOS 15 update?

The two features that are positioned to have the biggest impact on email marketing include the Mail Privacy Protection and Hide My Email features. 

  1. Mail Privacy Protection - Apple states that this new feature “hides your IP address so senders can’t link it to your other online activity or determine your location. And it prevents senders from seeing if and when you’ve opened your email”. This feature is included in iOS15 but is not a default opt-in. The user will have to navigate to features and take action to implement the feature. This may have an impact on adoption rate.
  2. Hide My Email - according to Apple, this feature “instantly generate(s) unique, random email addresses that forward to your personal inbox - so you don’t have to share your email address when filling out a form on the web or signing up for a newsletter”. While important, this feature does incur an additional fee to use, so it’s yet to be seen as to what the adoption rate by users will be.

What do these Apple iOS 15 changes mean for my hotel’s email marketing?

  • It will impact open rate measurement - The Mail Privacy Protection feature will directly impact your ability to measure email open rates as well as use IP address to understand geo-location of a user which will impact your ability to use schedule send time based on IP location. Over the years Open rate has been the go-to metric to understand the initial engagement of your email’s content and subject lines. WPromote has indicated that within it’s beta tests, Open rates appear to be over reported but a lot is still left to be understood when the full release happens. Revinate also indicated that “Revinate emails opened with Apple Mail are only in the single digits,” so the release should not have a “major impact on our metrics or ability to evaluate campaign engagement”. 
  • Clicks, CTR and Revenue remain as the most important KPIs - While Open Rate may become less of a focus for email marketers, the true measure of success will continue to be placed on clicks, CTR and ultimately the revenue produced. You should focus your testing around creative, content and promotions based on these KPIs.
  • Greater importance of robust 1st party guest profiles - If your hotel is not already using a eCRM platform such as Revinate to obtain guest preference information and tap into rich guest profile information for advanced segmentation strategies you will be missing out on methods to ensure engagement and revenue generation are maximized from your email marketing efforts.
  • It could hurt deliverability rates - The auto-generating of unique, random email addresses by Hide My Email could result in higher bounce rates and emails sent to spam folders and is something to monitor.

What should we do now to prepare our hotel’s email marketing for the Apple iOS 15 update?

While a lot of the impact from the launch of Apple iOS 15 is unknown at this point, there are steps you can take to try and mitigate it. Most of these center around previous recommendations made in response to other privacy measures including previous updates from Apple, Facebook, Google and other tech platforms. 

  1. Prioritize collecting and expanding 1st party data and guest profiles.
  2. Focus on delivering valuable content, promotions and packaging to their target audiences. One way to continue to understand what type of content engages their audiences is to monitor and test messaging across various media types including search, social and display. 
  3. Focus testing on content components within the body of the email vs focusing on subject line open rates for success. Since we will potentially have less understanding of subject line performance, consider pulling ideas from other media channel ads such as paid search or social.
  4. Continue to build your brand awareness across all channels to encourage brand recognition and higher CTRs for all types of marketing campaigns.

Have additional questions on the recent Apple iOS 14 or 15 updates and how it impacts your hotel’s digital marketing? Please reach out to one of the experts at GCommerce, we look forward to connecting with you.

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