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By Tris Heaword

Data has been a boon to marketers, but the recent rise of big data and analytics has also led to a lack of data transparency.

This has now become a big problem in the marketing sector. In fact, 64% of marketers say they’re not clear about the origins of their data. Close to 25% of brand managers and agency buyers also admit they’re unsure how frequently their data sources are refreshed.

At Travel Tripper, we think the lack of data transparency is one of the biggest barriers for hotels’ success. A lot of hospitality marketing agencies simply aren’t transparent about their marketing metrics, and they don’t allow hotels to see the raw data.

But why does owning your data matter so much?

In the following article, we’ll dive into that very question. We’ll also explain how and why some less scrupulous agencies may misrepresent your data, and equip you with a series of questions to help you uncover if this is happening.

Why owning your data matters

Broadly speaking, owning your data means having more control over your business. Without ownership, you don’t have access to the kind of information that can directly impact both your day-to-day and long-term success. In specific terms, here are three big reasons why it matters:

1) Ability to analyze trends over time
A monthly report from your marketing agency is naturally going to overplay the good statistics and downplay the bad ones. If you want to have the best understanding of what’s going on, you’ll need direct access to the raw data, whether that comes from Google Analytics, Google AdWords, Bing Ads, Facebook Ads, you name it.

Lack of visibility into these dashboards prevents you from making meaningful analysis with the data, especially when it comes to tracking trends over time. Can you compare year-over-year statistics not just as a whole, but on individual marketing channels? Is there a natural seasonality to your bookings?

Hotels need to set the metrics that matter most to them. Owning your data allows you to dictate these metrics, while also giving you full access to the big picture or major changes and trends.

2) Long-term account ownership brings rewards and benefits
This is particularly true for certain marketing channels. For example, Google AdWords rewards long-standing accounts with a better Quality Score, leading to better ad positions at a cheaper cost. Over time, your hotel will reap the benefits of being a longtime customer of Google.

But here’s the thing: if your marketing agency owns and manages the account, and you decide to switch agencies and don’t take your AdWords account with you, you could potentially lose ALL of your account history and the potential price benefits that come with it. Your hotel will then have to start from scratch to earn back that same level of status.

Remember, there’s really no good reason an agency should want to set up a proprietary AdWords or Analytics account for your hotel. Always require that you are the ultimate owner of the account and have full administrative rights.

3) Accurate reports
Owning your data also lets you check whether your agency is reporting to you honestly and accurately. Unfortunately, some marketing agencies will selectively pick statistics to show, or use a misleading attribution model to make marketing campaigns appear more successful than they really are.

This tactic only serves the interests of the agency, painting them in the best possible light while potentially costing you money and damaging the impact of your marketing efforts. For that reason, it’s extremely important to know when an agency might be trying to hide data from you.

Unscrupulous agencies: how to spot the warning signs

Not sure if the marketing agency you’re working with is giving you the honest picture of your hotel data? Here are some warning signs that they might be trying to hide data from you:

A sharp rise in conversions and conversion value
Be wary of reports that show a sudden spike in conversions and conversion value. This can be an indicator that your marketing agency is skewing the data to make your campaign appear as though it’s performing better than it actually is.

Reports that show continual month-over-month increases should also be a red flag. At Travel Tripper, we’ve seen overly positive reports from hotels that clearly don’t reflect seasonal booking trends. A spike in conversions before hurricane season in Miami? Simply not realistic.

So how does data get misrepresented?

In many cases, it’s done with not-entirely-honest attribution models that give equal weight to view-through conversions and click-through conversions as part of the overall revenue generated. For example, if a user sees a banner ad for a hotel but doesn’t click on it, and instead books the hotel later by finding it via organic search, logic would reason that you give only partial credit to the banner ad as a view-through conversion.

However, some agencies end up giving 100% view-through attribution to the banner ad, which grossly inflates ROI numbers. In even more egregious scenarios when the user actually books through a paid search ad, we’ve seen agencies give 100% view-through attribution to the banner and 100% click-through attribution to the search ad—this results in the agency double counting the revenue and ultimately inflating the return on ad spend (ROAS).

Very low monthly management fees (with hidden extra costs)
At Travel Tripper, we know that some marketing agencies charge a significantly lower monthly management fee. On face value, this makes it look like they’re a better deal over other agencies. However, those same agencies can also increase the cost per click you’re paying compared to what Google AdWords is actually charging (specifically on the display network).

This is where the hidden extras can really start to hurt.

For example, we’re aware of cases where agencies will add up to 40% to the cost per click. This cost then gets passed directly to the client. As a result, the client can end up paying the agency thousands of dollars a month extra in hidden fees. In some instances, the cost per click fees can actually exceed the “lower” monthly management fee.

That’s why data transparency is extremely important, especially if you’re paying for advertising. Direct access to your Google AdWords or Bing Ads dashboard can show you exactly what you’re bidding and paying for ads, how often they’re running, and exactly how well they’re converting.

Asking the right questions

When evaluating digital marketing agencies, make sure you’re asking the right questions to ensure your hotel has full data transparency. Here are some to start:

1) Will I get access to all digital marketing accounts (such as Google AdWords, Google Analytics, Bing Ads, etc.)?

2) Will I retain administrative ownership of these accounts? (If your hotel already has admin ownership, insist that the agency use your existing accounts.)

3) Do you include view-through booking revenue as part of overall reported revenue? If so, what attribution percentage is assigned to view-through conversions?

4) Is the monthly amount charged for management fee the ONLY fee I will be paying, or are there any combined costs? (Although you may get hesitation on this one, asking this question will show the agency that you are expecting transparency in reporting and billing.)

The reality is that some marketing agencies will be less than honest about the data they report, leading to an inaccurate view of how well your campaigns are performing. For that reason, an agency should never be the gatekeeper to your data.

Hotels that use Travel Tripper for websites and digital marketing have complete data transparency. This means they have full access to their dashboards (for example, AdWords, Google Analytics, etc.), and they can see all the raw data that goes into reporting. We also make it a point to explain how we parse that data and use it for things like attribution.

Remember, your data is a major asset. Ownership of it shouldn’t be underestimated. When you control your data, you have the power to collect, monitor and take action on a wealth of information that can impact your bottom line.

About Tris Heaword

Tris is the Director of Digital Marketing at Travel Tripper with an extensive history in digital marketing and expertise in e-commerce, booking revenue maximization, and search network advertising and retargeting. Contact him at tris@traveltripper.com.

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