IHG recently decided to make it a policy that vanity (or independent) sites were not allowed for certain brands, with a 3 month compliance.  Brands don’t approve of vanity sites because they are hard to control, may cause guest confusion, lack of loyalty integration and many people do them poorly.  Let’s look at why IHG in particular should allow vanity sites.

#1 They allow NO customization for on-page SEO

Without a vanity site, you are forced to market the brand’s site. As an owner of an IHG hotel, there are likely other IHG hotels in same market, sometimes  even the same brand with close proximity to each other. The keyword methodology behind their title and meta on the brand’s site is branded, thus generic, and not location or hotel specific. There are no non-branded keywords integrated, nor can you modify it as a hotel owner.

Currently, you can add HTML code for an H3 only on the home page.  There is no other place to add header tags on any page.

Lastly, IHG’s branded sites are not enhanced with schema mark up.

#2 Reporting, reporting, reporting

Without a vanity site, there is very little brand.com data available.  There is a DMAAG report, but that doesn’t even provide breakdown of organic, paid, social or referring site traffic.  If your brand.com website is up or down, there is little data to allow an owner to dive deeper to strategize an action plan.

If you are running a paid campaign (through your CVB, social media, etc) there is no way to track the performance of this campaign through the brand site alone.  There is a performance marketing report, but referrals and partners listed are high level. They don’t define strategy used nor is there a revenue comparison against spend.

You can’t get keyword visibility reports or top referring domains report.

#3 Vanity site revenue contribution as a percentage of brand.com revenue

Long before vanity site were outlawed, one could see how much revenue was contributed by the vanity site to total brand.com revenue.  It was one metric that *could* help evaluate the impact of a vanity site. Where other brands generally fell into the 2 to 6% range, IHG vanity sites fell into 9 to 12% contribution range*.  One-third of IHG vanity sites contributed 20+% in 2017. Granted, changing of the Google My Business URL would capture some of this, but what about the non-branded traffic that a vanity site drives?  Without Google Search Console data or Omniture data (see also reporting!) from brand.com, whose to say how much the brand site currently gets now?

#4 Brand.com (HCM) Limitations

The customization on IHG brand.com sites are severely lacking.  There is no way to promote or track specific offers. For example, if you are promoting a package on your CVB site, there is no specific URL to send them to on the IHG that details the package.  You can send them to the offers page, but it may or may not be present depending on the date. Or, you can send them to a URL that pre-populates the rate code on the home page, but the normal person won’t be able to follow.  

There is no way to add any call to actions, other than an announcement or through GuestConnect, but those aren’t visually engaging.  

There are no opportunities to create any additional content, through a landing page or otherwise. This limits expansion of keywords, and also limits storytelling options.

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When IHG finally dictated the roll out of cancelling all vanity sites (for particular brands), the entirety of the how to’s revolved around domain and email address management, plus updating of your Google My Business profile. Owners and operators need more control over their own brand sites if they are going to remove their vanity sites.

Cogwheel Marketing is an advocate for owners, helping them navigate the brand systems and maximize return from their online presence.  As an owner or operator, you will likely have to shift away from vanity and independent sites if you manage a hotel with a major flag. Cogwheel can help you reinvest those marketing funds in the right places.

*Studies conducted from 2015 to 2017, covering approximately 30 vanity sites across multiple brands.