What makes a hotel website great? The design, the content or the number of the Online bookings? Mr John Giannatos* clarifies the website issues!
A “great” Hotel Website can be one of the most powerful tools for the creation of a strong brand, for the conversion of the website visitors into staying guests, as well as, for the attraction of many online bookings.
The Key purpose of a hotel website
The challenge / objective for a hotel website, is to present all the necessary information in the right way, so as to approach the appropriate audience and principally enable an online booking.
The main goal is to create revenue via direct online bookings or, indeed, by stimulating bookings via e-mail, as well as, to the projection of the hotel brand identity.
In my career, I have seen countless cases of businesses failing to represent the advantages of their hotel efficiently, while the web design firms only aim at ameliorating the visual aspect, thus, having very little or no impact on the numbers of Online Bookings.
In most cases, the problems stem from the web design firms themselves which in trying to overestimate their achievements art-wise, they totally neglect the hotelier’s crucial objective which is none other than the achievement of more direct Online bookings, therefore leading hoteliers with no previous expertise down the wrong paths.
In this article, I will not be addressing what makes a hotel website “beautiful”. What I will rather define and determine is, what will increase the number of Online Sales.
The booking engine production represents the most efficient and rigorous measure that charts the progress upon the revenue objective.
In the field of International e-commerce -from which I come from-, the term “Design” is not as perceptible to large corporations with turnovers of hundreds of millions of euro annually as it is to luxury hotels. The term “layout”, however, is the one that makes the whole of difference. As little as a small change in the website layout could be the key to an increase of >3% in sales which would translate into hundreds of thousands of euro in revenue.
The Web Design firms with limited e-commerce know-how, which sometimes promote themselves as “design houses” might actually and -in essence- be looking more at increasing their own sales rather than boosting the sales of a hotel.
I would say that web design firms act as the referee in a football mach. If they are the ones that win all the glory, then the match ends up being a failure!
So in this case, it is far more effective when the hotel website presents visitors with a simple and minimal template that does not tire the eye, but instead it promotes the actual product in a dynamic and clever way that wins the impressions.
SOUND OFF. One of the most clickable buttons in the history of Internet.
• The Music. If you carry out a Google search about this, you will come across thousands of articles mentioning why music on an e-commerce website is a generally bad idea. For one, the person surfing might be at work and shouldn’t really be surfing on the internet while at work. Music playing suddenly could blow their cover. On the other hand, the music selected may not nail the end-user’s taste. Last but not least, the user simply wants to have the full control and it is simply annoying when the customer has limited time to surf therefore having to turn off the music may prove to be the greatest “turn off”!
Music, animations, flashing text and other distractions applied onto hotel websites, is not recommended.
• Browsing a website becomes “a treasure hunt”…As Java Script buttons appear on the user’s screen from all directions and to all directions and when the customer is desperately trying to find the Check Availability button, the “great” website must essentially make the user’s life easy and not difficult.
• Simple GUI rules and human computer interaction facts are not kept up to the expected standards.
Just imagine how user unfriendly it would be if you entered an elevator and the buttons were placed on the floor or if you would have to open a compartment in order to press a simple button.
The Website User behaviour and the human computer interaction are all scientifically studied by the big Online firms and can set the new standards. If you don’t have sufficient knowledge about the above, do not try to define them yourself. Chances are…you will fail.
Your business’s basic website layout should more or less follow the standards defined by large websites because users basically like consistency. To put it in simple words, the customer should be enabled to operate to the benefit of your hotel’s image and not to be placed in a position of having to navigate through a “bad” website.
99% of firms that create “great” hotel websites would have already been fired from Amazon or e-bay!
THE KISS principle
K.I.S.S. is the acronym related to the principles of design making…”keep it short and simple“or “keep it simple and straightforward” or ‘Keep it simple stupid‘.
The KISS principle supports that simplicity should be the key goal in hotel web development and that the unnecessary complexities should be avoided. Any difficult step during navigation is bound to discourage the user and chances are high that he/she will leave the page immediately.
A/B testing requires having two different versions of a page layout, one being your current version and the other being the “competitor” of your current one. In order to research and justify your optimization, you route 50% of the visitors to the first page and the other 50% to the second page with a load balancing for a particular time span, so that you can monitor which layout brought the best conversion.
Every A/B testing experiment should be driven by a main goal. To lead more visitors to your booking engine.
NOTE: OTAs such as Booking.com or other successful booking engines carry out substantial A/B/ research in order to clarify which versions of any change will yield the best performance.
As you can see, the simple layout of the booking.com website is a result of thousands of A/B testings carried out, something that web design firms seldom provide to hoteliers.
How can I evaluatemy Hotel Website?
A very good way to see if your website is an efficient “sales channel” is to detect the conversion between the valuable website traffic -meaning the users who remained on the website and the ones who visited the booking engine- which essentially is the last step before making an actual transaction.
I defined this formula below three years ago in order to be able to have a clear “image” of the eficciency of a good selling website. In using the simple formula below, you can calculate if a website is, indeed, e-commerce productive:
The resulting ratio deriving from the formula should be above 55% for city hotels and approximately between 40 to 60% for resort hotels, (the higher the better) depending also on other factors, such as percentage of sales from Tour Operators or whether the website readily presents the prices to the user without linking them to the booking engine etc.
Factors which improve the e-commerce efficiency of a hotel website
– An availability query to the booking engine on every page of the website and ideally placed at the same section of the user’s main screen so that they wouldn’t need to scroll down in order to find it.
– Property contact details on every page and ideally placed on the same section of every page.
– Photo gallery clearly apparent to the user on the website. It is a fact that this button is clicked the most. Make it visible.
– SEO. Always keep SEO in mind when developing the hotel website. The most cost-effective way to maintain and improve Search Engine Optimization is to invest in a hotel website with a full CMS which allows you to continually add new (Key Word rich) copy and to easily optimize them using built-in functionality.
– Use of Images. Visitors want to see photos of where they will be staying! It helps them visualize their trips. The design of the page must certainly incorporate high quality photos of the hotel. It is a fact that hoteliers are selling services and experiences that customers cannot try in advance, hence, the use of photographic material depicting each Room Type enables the guest to have a clear idea of what to expect.
– Useful and handy information. The more information you include on your website about the hotel’s exact location, distances from main points, as well as, transfer and transportation facilities, the more secure the guest will feel in making a booking at your hotel.
– Do not forget the social media buttons. Social Media networking websites are becoming an important component of Hotel Internet Marketing
– Call to action and motivation. Up-to-date special offers or, for instance, Best Rate Guaranteed notices are bound to attract the attention of the visitor and propagate further motivation for a booking.
– Languages. Since visitors will often be travelling from another country and may not speak your native language fluently, it is a good idea to offer a version of your website in as many languages as possible and according to the countries where most of your clients usually come from.
– Find Us on map button that integrates with Google Maps to provide quick and easy directions for someone trying to find your hotel
– Create a mobile version of your website or keep a responsive layout design for mobile compatibility. Visitors usually make up their minds swiftly and may even proceed to a booking through their Smartphone.
A hotel’s success is primarily judged by facts, figures and, of course, sales. The website’s aesthetic angle and how artistic its design is, must come second in the list. In the cases where we have a very beautifully designed hotel website which, nonetheless, does not generate sales and, thus, revenue for the hotelier, clearly is not what we call a “great” website. In simple terms…a painting by Salvador Dali is a painting by Salvador Dali and a hotel website is -and should primarily operate as- an online store.
Web designers and web developers should not be the ones taking decisions concerning the e-commerce factors on the hotel’s website. The job of the Web designers should concentrate on the creation of an “attractive” web design. In most cases web designers may lack the appropriate skills which would enable them to produce the correct basis for an efficient website “sales-wise” because they are not skilled into taking account of other important commercial factors such as the fact that users come from different cultural backgrounds.
When creating a new website, it is highly advisable that hoteliers hire a project manager who specializes on e-commerce who will act as a go-between during the whole process and will provide substantial aid in the communication between the web designer and the hotelier. After all…the main aim is the achievement of the best result and the creation of what we call…a “great” website indeed!
JOHN GIANNATOS is a Results-oriented, performance marketing specialist and business developer executive with expertise in e-commerce, hardware and traveling with a high experience in international areas serving clients and projects from Canada, Silicon Valley, UK, Germany, Japan, Taiwan, Netherlands, Luxembourg and Greece.