Your Hotel Website: Getting Back to the Basics
Considering the changes in web design trends and travelers’ online behavior, having your establishment’s website designed has become significantly more complex than it was a year or two ago. Chances are that you had a website designed not too long ago, and that you’re already feeling that it is not performing as well as you feel it could.
Some of these trends include the need for a unified online experience from numerous devices (mobile phones, tablets and personal computers), a growing culture of online sharing and recommendations among travelers, and a whole new way of consuming, perceiving and filtering online content.
In short, travelers search for products and experiences from anywhere, enjoy having endless options and trust the opinions of their piers more than they trust yours. On top of that their preferences and behavior change daily. Quite a force to be reckoned with.
In this post we outline 5 basic standards for having a website that is not only future-fit, but one that does what it is supposed to: inform, convince and convert.
Before anything, think about the core purpose of having a website – to enable visitors to make a reservation at your establishment. Miss that and you miss the opportunity to increase direct bookings and revenue for your business.
As crucial as it is to build a strong online brand, getting people to share your website with others and making your product stand out from your competitors, your website’s primary purpose is to inform visitors about your product, answer questions they may have and to convince them to make a reservation.
Tip: Different is not always better. Keep your site simple and logical. Don’t make visitors second-guess the reason they landed on your website.
2. Structure and Navigation
Rule of thumb is that someone should be able to find anything on your site in no more than 3 clicks, or taps for that matter. Needless to say this means that your navigation should be clear and logical. Not only where and how it is displayed on your site but also the order in which pages are layered and grouped. Visitors should have access to the information they are most interested in: where is your establishment based? What kind of rooms, units, tours or packages do you offer? What are your rates? Are there current offers they can take advantage of?
Tip: Avoid too many levels of navigation or animated effects that could slow your site down. Avoid ambiguous copy as far as possible.
3. Mobile websites and Responsive design
Chances are slim that by now you have not been alerted about the urgency and importance of a mobile website for your hotel or establishment. When planning your mobile website, there are two routes you can follow. The first is to have a dedicated, separate version of your website designed for mobile devices. The other option is to invest in a ‘responsive website’. Responsive websites prioritize and arrange your content according to the device and screen size it is viewed on, providing a seamless mobile experience without losing content or design elements.
It is important to grasp that the borders between different versions of your website are starting to disappear for good. Visitors do not expect to see a different version of your content and functionality when visiting your website from a mobile device anymore. In their eyes the aren’t visiting a mobile website or a full site they are simply visiting your website.
Having a responsive website is an effective and future-proof way of offering visitors a flattering experience, wherever or whatever they are visiting your website from.
Tip: Invest in a responsive or dedicated mobile website. Avoid slow animations and stay away from Flash.
See this infographic for a birds-eye overview of the effect of mobile on the travel industry.
4. Quality photography
Whether you market a 100 room hotel or run a 5 room guesthouse, the importance of high quality photographs on your website can’t be overlooked. Of course, not all business have deep pockets when it comes to marketing and branding material. Even if you can’t afford a professional photographer, there are some basic principals you can follow to ensure that your photographs inform visitors and sell your product:
- When shooting your rooms, compose photographs in such a way that they give a good perception of space.
- Lighting is important. You don’t want rooms to appear dark. Using a flash can take away the emotional impact of your images.
- Apart from informative images (giving an overview of space and amenities), throw in a few shots focussing on the finer details that make your product unique and interesting.
- Be careful when including people in your shots. Quirky group photos could work well for activity providers and hostels but not necessarily for upmarket or boutique products. It is polite to ask guests’ permission before posting images of them online.
Tip: Without quality images a brilliant and expensive website can easily loose it’s value and purpose.
5. Social Integration
Social integration on your website can become dysfunctional when not done properly and strategically. Let’s think about the core purposes:
- Firstly you want to inform visitors about your presence on other online profile so they can choose to engage with you (should they find enough reasons to).
- Secondly you want to enable visitors to share your website and products with their online communities.
It is important to remember that not all types of content on your website has ‘sharing probability’. Squeezing Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Google+ and LinkedIn share buttons onto every page simply for the sake of having them there could make your site slower and harder to use. Strategically placing these where visitors will find them useful (e.g. on special offers pages or product pages) can be very beneficial.
Tip: Before asking your web designer to ‘add social buttons to your website’, ask their advice on where and how it should be done.
One more, for the road: Music and websites
It is totally understandable that accommodation websites still fall into the ‘jingle-trap’. Surely music will add to the ambiance and atmosphere your establishment has to offer? Not exactly.
See, browsing the web has become all about choice. People love to feel that they are in control of the pages they open, the tweets they see, the articles they read, the posts they Like, the videos they watch and… the music the listen to. If they wanted to listen to music, they would play it on iTunes. What they want is a fast-loading website and the ability to control everything on it, without surprises.
Also keep in mind that a portion of your traffic will come from the place where people spend their time dreaming about escaping and wondering where their next trip will be to – at their desks, in the office. Nothing gets the boss’ attention like cheesy lounge jazz pumping through the office when you’re supposed to be finalizing a report.
Tip: Skip the beats