A hotel website can never be considered a finished product. Gone are the days a property can redesign its site every three years and remain competitive in the market. With both web technology changing and the growth in mobile devices, hotel websites must continually evolve their design, supported delivery platforms, and content to stay competitive.
The seemingly monthly addition of new OTAs adds to the importance of effectively attracting potential customers to a hotel website and converting visits to sales.
A hotel website isn’t simply a component of a marketing strategy, but is instead a snapshot of the overall business and the first impression guests have of the property. Because the website represents all aspects of the property, the website team should include representatives across the hotel, including sales and marketing, food and beverage and revenue.
Optimizing a website requires focusing on new technology, including mobile and social integration, while sticking to proven design basics. Here, HT breaks down some best practices.
Optimize for Mobile
A recent report from Cisco predicts that by the end of 2013, there will be more mobile devices on Earth than people. It is not optional for hotel websites to be designed for ease-of-use on mobile devices, but a requirement for the property to stay competitive. To keep the customer from going to another website for booking, operators should think of web and mobile as an integrated component instead of two separate entities.
Optimizing for mobile technology was one of the issues that led the independent Adrift Hotel (www.adrifthotel.com) to purchase Buuteeq’s (www.buuteeq.com) content management product instead of the owners being responsible for the design and maintenance. Owner/operator Tiffany Turner says they can now utilize the third-party booking center supported by Buuteeq and visually appealing design templates while having control over their content at the property-level. Another key factor in going with Buuteeq was the use of responsive design, which is when the website determines the size of the device accessing the single-source content and displays the website optimally for the screen parameters.
Morgans Hotel Group (www.morganshotelgroup.com) uses the analytics provided by ZDirect’s (www.zdirect.com) mobile products to simplify the pages included on the mobile version. Their properties use a super-lite version of its website for mobile devices and their mobile sites also include a link to the full site. “A lot of people look for our address or rate information from their mobile device so we don’t need to serve them everything we offer,” says Jenn Bailey, director of e-commerce and mobile with Morgans Hotel Group. “By using analytics provided by ZDirect, we can eliminate pages that people never access from mobile devices.” Typically offering four to six choices on the mobile version gives guests enough information without being overwhelming for the device.
With mobile technology, it isn’t just about the information you provide and the way the site displays on the device; the location of hotspots on the screen impacts the likelihood of a guest clicking on that hotspot to access additional pages of the website. ZDirect will be releasing a heat mapping product for this purpose and has conducted research on placement. The research showed that, due to easy thumb placement, guests are most likely to click in the top left corner of a device and least likely to successfully click in the bottom right.
Integrate Social Media
The most effective websites encompass all marketing campaigns and messaging, with social media being no exception. It’s not uncommon, for example, for consumers to find a hotel’s website through a simple SEO-based web search, and then leave the website to check for reviews on social media, such as Trip Advisor (www.tripadvisor.com). The problem, however, is that once the person leaves the property or brand website, they will often book on another site.
Best Western now partners with Trip Advisor to include the TrIp Advisor rating and reviews directly on the Best Western booking page. “Instead of toggling away from the site to check out reviews, guests will see the reviews without leaving our site and book directly through our channels,” says Michael Morton of Best Western. “If we provide great service, then our reviews will be positive.”
Additionally, the hotel chain uses the customer experience tools from Medallia (www.medallia.com) to allow guests to easily submit reviews after their stay. The tools also alert Best Western employees each time a Trip Advisor review is written about the property and assigns the response to a specific employee so that each review is addressed.
Keep Functionality at the Forefront
With all of the technology and tools available, it is important that properties don’t lose track of the basics when it comes to website design and navigation. “Research shows that the three most important pieces of information on a hotel website are location, price and product,” says Brandon Harper, eCommerce manager with hotel management firm Winegardner & Hammons (www.whihotels.com). “If guests have to search for a rate/date box, then they are likely to not book through your website or even go to another property.”
This accessibility of important information spreads into another complex aspect of design: creating an ADA-compliant website. Compliance ensures that website visitors with disabilities are able to view and book through your website with the same ease as other guests. Winegardner & Hammons relied on Vizergy (www.vizergy.com) for assistance with ADA website compliance.
“People in the hotel industry are very busy running efficient, clean and profitable hotels and ADA compliance is an extremely complex topic,” says Harper. “Our team wants to use its time wisely and Vizergy used their expertise to provide us with actionable items to simplify ADA compliance for the properties
Finally, don’t forget the age old adage about the value of pictures over words. Since hotel websites are selling a product that guests have most likely never seen, showcasing high quality photographs should be one of the top priorities in hospitality website design. Turner says that website visitors, and in turn bookings, increased when the property added professional photos as the prominent feature of the site. “We learned that photographs are extremely important to our website. If we have a great picture on a page, then we get more hits,” says Turner. “When people see a photo that makes them want to stay here, they will book a room to come visit us.”