By Jennifer Rodrigues
From Hotel Executive Online.
2011 is the year that hotels start to take back their online customers. The trend today is to drive your customers away from commission-based OTAs and steer them back to a property’s direct site – after all, they’ve been gone far too long.
While there are quite a few ways to bring customers back to booking direct, a hotel must make sure consumers stay “clicked” into their website and booking process. By whatever means a property gets them there, once they do arrive on the virtual doorstep, the website needs to reassure potential customers and sell them on booking with the property.
Accomplish this by optimizing the website to ensure that it’s user-friendly and focused on creating bookers, rather than just lookers. Optimization involves using the best current practices – like the ones included in this article – to maximize user response to the website. Here are some of the best practices of hotel website optimization:
Update, Update, Update—Frequently
Some optimization “techniques” are not really techniques at all. These general optimization tips can be applied to virtually any hotel site immediately—they’re simply tried-and-true website fundamentals.
Updating a property’s website frequently to reflect changes in offers, packages, and amenities is of the utmost importance. It may not seem like a technical “optimization,” but giving the website an up-to-date look and feel will assure customers that your property is up-to-date as well. Think of your website as online “décor”: if your foyer was decorated most recently in 1999, customers will make the assumption that 1999 was the last time you changed bedding as well—unfortunate, but true. It’s the same with your website coding and design; 1999 is so 20 years ago!
Update online rates frequently as well, and list the revision date somewhere on the site to demonstrate to site visitors that this is the most up-to-date info possible and make them feel comfortable booking directly. As with updating in general, today’s customer sees online management as a reflection of real world management. Hotels that routinely manage their websites and rates are perceived as superior properties.
Make sure the website is user-friendly. This includes using space to a property’s advantage. If there is way too much going on, the website will be confusing, possibly leading an overwhelmed customer to “click out” to the competition’s site.
Size and location matter with call-to-action buttons. List the most important call-to-actions at the top of the page and make them stand out. Include an ample amount of whitespace around the buttons to attract the attention of visitors to the site.
There are two important issues to avoid with call-to-action buttons: 1) “Blind Clicking;” and 2) “Unnecessary Clicking.” Customers are annoyed if they click on a call-to-action button simply to learn more about the offer, but are instead led directly into the booking engine (“Blind Clicking”). On the other hand, they are irritated if there are too many clicks to get to the booking engine (“Unnecessary Clicking”). In both cases, there is a good chance that the customer will become too frustrated to continue onto booking through the site.
To avoid both of these problems, determine if extra details are indeed needed before a direct trip to the booking engine, and always explain to the customer where the call-to-action is going to take them. Briefly explain “the next step” as a subhead on the call-to-action. Some examples of effective explanations that can be used to prep customers for what they can expect when clicking on a call-to-action button are:
Headline: “Earn Double Reward Points”
Subhead: “Click for details”
Result: The customer is led to a landing page with the offer details and a subsequent call-to-action button that leads straight to the booking engine.
Headline: “Weekend Rates from $120”
Subhead: “Book It”
Result: The customer is led straight into the booking engine.
A good rule of thumb is the two-click rule: From the initial call-to-action button, to the booking engine, consumers should not have to make more than two clicks of their mouse.
One last thing on call-to-actions – With too many call-to-actions, the result is usually an incoherent mess of copy, links, and images. Again, location is important. Link the most important offers (seasonal offers, special discounts, etc.) on the site’s main page. Bottom-of-page link position tells customers that the call-to-action is not that important. Always ask the question, “If this call-to-action is so important, why am I placing it near the bottom?” Your answer dictates whether you should a) move the call-to-action to a higher-priority position; b) move it to another page; or c) leave it out of your website presentation for now. Any further call-to-actions will most likely warrant a linking page titled “Offers” or “Specials.”
Website copy (a.k.a. website text) is often overlooked for fancy graphics, videos and pictures but unfortunately, this usually leads to a serious disconnect between relevant images, website links, and offers, as well as the overall flow of the website. Copy plays a vital role in driving the customer to book. Great copy makes the customer understand the benefits of staying at your property. A pretty picture is just the first step; compelling and engaging copy that explains why your customer belongs within that picture seals the deal. Think of copy as the central function of closing the sale. It is important to be precise: coordinate images and call-to-actions with brief, relevant copy.
Pare the words down to the minimum—remember that less is more with copy – because online visitors don’t have time to read lengthy paragraphs and paragraphs of text. Keep it short, sweet and tight, and whenever possible, use bulleted lists to break out large sections of text. Ensure that there is enough white space on each page and don’t overfill any one page with too much text, otherwise consumers will most likely skip over the page completely.
Search engine optimization (SEO) harnesses the ability of search engines to bring a property’s site to the top of the list of search results. Each meta-search engine (Google, Yahoo!, MetaCrawler, etc.) has a proprietary algorithm that coordinates a site’s keywords to relevant customer searches. There is also a “trust” function to these algorithms: long gone are the days of overusing or embedding keywords within your website titles, copy and pages. Today’s systems will banish a site to the netherworld of search if they detect such practices. To avoid problems and to get the most from website optimization through SEO, it’s best to contact the search operator(s) that will be used to market the site. If you’re unsure about SEO, or are not sure where to start, it’s best to seek out a professional online marketing firm and/or SEO copywriter, as they will be able to provide insight into the best practices that take a site from the bottom to the top of the search listings.
Drive Customers to the Booking Engine
The primary goal from the minute customers hit the website, should always be to get them to enter into the booking engine (and then of course, complete the booking through the site). Whether they’re set on booking, or simply checking rates and dates, the chances of booking the customer increase dramatically the second they enter the engine. Of course, this sounds elementary but, I mention it in order to belabor this very important point: always organize the property’s site with this primary goal in mind. Does that call-to-action button at the top of the site draw the customer into the booking engine within at least two clicks? Does the website copy promote the call-to-actions appropriately? For every single website element, questions such as these should come to mind when organizing its layout and functionality.
So follow the direct booking trend in 2011 (and beyond) and get customers back online and booking direct. Not only will that increase sales, but it will also cut back on those hefty OTA commissions – savings can be directed right back into a property’s online marketing strategy.
Read the full article here.
Jennifer Rodrigues, Visibility Development Manager with ThinkInk and TravelInk’d, is a seasoned public relations professional with a passion for the hospitality industry, which is expressed in her role at ThinkInk’s travel division, TravelInk’d. At TravelInk’d, she is responsible for developing cost-effective and creative public relations and marketing strategies for clients in the travel and tourism, airline, lodging, cruise and meeting/event sectors. For more information on TravelInk’d, please visit www.travelinkd.com or contact Jennifer at email@example.com. For more news about PR and marketing in the travel industry, follow TravelInk’d on Twitter @TravelInkd and visit the TravelInk’d Facebook Fan Page. Ms. Rodrigues can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org