Benjawan Intrasuwan, Head of Digital at QUO, reveals why smart website design means much more than just making it look nice.
Online travel agents (OTAs). You love that they help significant numbers of guests book at your hotel, but those commission fees just don’t feel right. What’s more: what happens to the fantastic brand you created that is perfectly tailored to appeal to your target guests? On OTA websites, hotels are reduced to pretty much just a basic comparison of price, location and amenities. There is very little space left for an original brand to shine through. You have almost become a commodity.
For these reasons, the ultimate aim is to obtain commission-free direct bookings through your hotel’s own website. This is where smart website design really shows its value.
Express Your Brand
Your site as a whole should embody the mission and culture of your hotel and show visitors how you are different. Each page should feature content that clearly portrays its purpose. There should be a distinct sense of style, whether you are going for a sophisticated look or a laid-back vacation vibe.
Here are 8 principles we keep in mind as we build websites designed to significantly boost the number of visitors who actually convert and make a direct booking.
1. Be Quick
Worse than someone who comes to your website and doesn’t make a booking is someone who doesn’t even reach your website to start with. Forty per cent of users abandon a website that takes more than three seconds to load. Part of any delay is server speed, but website design also has a major impact on loading time. High-resolution images, video and advanced design elements slow down a website. You need an experienced designer to ensure that image and video weights are compressed and advanced design used sparingly to keep things fast.
2. Grab Attention
Research shows that the vast majority of users will abandon a website within the first 10 seconds if they don’t get a good feeling from it. This makes the design of the home page incredibly important. As soon as the site loads, it should enchant the guest and convince them that the rest of the website will provide them with what they are looking for. A good idea is to feature a ‘wow’ hero image or video that encapsulates what you want the guest to know about the hotel.
3. Make it Intuitive
Visitors come to your website with a clear purpose. It is important to make the experience as easy as possible for them. The navigation of the website needs to be simple. Approximately 25 per cent of users report leaving a website because it is too hard to navigate. Users especially shouldn’t have to search for the ‘Book’ button. It needs to be on virtually every page, prominently positioned and visible at all times. Using a bright colour that contrasts with the surrounding space ensures it catches the eye.
A website should be designed to appeal to target guests. Are you looking to attract business travellers, young families, couples or groups of friends? The design needs to reflect that through the choice of images, styles and colours. Users will book if they feel a connection with the hotel’s brand. With modern websites, the content and layout that is presented can change depending on the user’s IP, so you can target geographic areas and returning visitors. Personalisation is the key to making a deeper connection with a user and encourages bookings.
5. Be Responsive
Your website must adapt to different devices. With the massive proliferation of smartphones, a major proportion of the visitors to your website will be viewing it on a device that is not a desktop computer. If your website is not responsive and has not been designed to look good when displayed on a smartphone screen, you will frustrate and lose many of your visitors.
6. Share Experiences
One of the most important parts of your website is engaging content, and one of the most important forms of content is photography. Photos and videos should be professional, tell a story and deliver a strong message. Hotels can also use blogs to build the brand’s narrative, give exciting updates and inform guests about events and attractions in the area. Your content should be professional, informative and entertaining. Your website is the digital front door to your hotel. If you can’t wow a guest online then they will assume your hotel has nothing exciting to offer.
7. Provide Social Proof
Around 78 per cent of people trust peer recommendations, but only 14 per cent trust commercial advertising. Many people will not book a hotel until they have first checked out reviews from fellow travellers. If a user has to leave your website to find these reviews, there is a big chance they won’t be coming back. Integrating guest reviews into a website helps to give potential guests the reassurance they need to make a booking. Sites like TripAdvisor provide the ability to insert review widgets into hotel websites so visitors can check reviews without leaving the site.
8. Measure and Test
Optimising a website is an ongoing process. It’s important that usage is measured and analysed to spot areas where people are dropping out, getting frustrated and not doing what you want. Running constant tests to see what works and what doesn’t and making relevant changes will increase the percentage of visitors making bookings. Google famously ran a test using 41 different shades of blue for their advertising links. The result for Google was USD200 million per year in increased revenue.