Making Your Website Drive Traffic That Converts Into Bookings
By Pedro Colaco, President & CEO, GuestCentric Systems
Website sales focus: the conduit to success
In the last article of this series we discussed tips for having success in online visibility and driving traffic to your site. The second indicator to ensure e-commerce success is making your website sales-oriented i.e. ensuring your website engages users and drives willingness to book. A sales-oriented website incents "good" visitors to book and filters out "bad" visitors. The questions to ask about your website are:
- Is the website design representative of your property and the experience you sell?
- Is the website navigation easy and what the visitor expects in a hotel website? Do you keep visitors on your website or are you incenting them to navigate away from your property?
- Is the website a "brochure" or is there an actionable sales/book/contact message?
- Do you provide trust mechanisms to the visitor, e.g. do you embrace your TripAdvisor reviews?
- How many visitors are looking for rates and availability?
- Can you launch special offers without a 3rd party intervention? How can you react to demand changes?
Match site design to property experience
One of the most visible characteristics of your website is the design. This will be one of the more debated elements, and although an important one, it is not the decisive factor in a sales-oriented website. Hence, choose colors you like/dislike and a simple web design that matches the experience you convey at your property: charm, boutique, corporate designs are examples of styles you should choose from. Then, leave it up to the web designers; they are the professionals.
Website navigation and usability
Travelers searching for hotels want easy access to the relevant information. Avoid complex navigation, typically associated with bad usability. Navigation is not the area to innovate and try to be distinctive as it can lead to more visitors abandoning your website and not converting into bookings.
Keep navigation simple, preferably just one level of navigation with a clear menu that boasts terms that users recognize: Rooms, Location, Gallery and Special Offers are examples of menu items you should include.
The importance of pictures
Many studies show that pictures are number 2 factor right behind price in terms influencing the choice of property to stay in: after all, a picture is worth a thousand words. Hence, ensure you have a large banner on your website displaying pictures of your property, the rooms, but also the surroundings, things to do, etc. and make sure you update pictures once in a while.
Highlight promotions and special offers
By creating special offers on your hotel website you create an incentive for travelers to choose your hotel over the competition, optimize your Search Engine ranking with fresh content and most importantly you can sell distressed inventory in a way that does not cannibalize your regular sales. Your website should have a promotion gadget that highlights promotions on every page. Also, do not forget that your special offers should be posted in various channels: websites that promote hotel deals like dealbase.com, Twitter, Facebook, etc.
Incent visitors to stay on the website
In selecting the property of choice for a specific trip, travelers search for information around the hotel namely three types of information:
- Rates & availability;
- User reviews and user generated content;
- Activities around the hotel.
Many hotel websites include links to external sites like tripadvisor.com for users looking for 3rd party information. However, once users leave your website they will be displayed advertising of competing offers. Hence, it is critical that once you leverage content syndication technologies like RSS to provide the turnkey package for decision making on your website and turn that user into a booking.
Display real-time rates & availability
Two factors are always included in the decision of travelers: price and availability. Hence, it is critical that your website displays prominently, in every page, the ability for travelers to check rates and availabilities for the travel dates. Moreover, many travelers nowadays have flexible dates and are actively bargain hunting and willing to trade off some convenience for a better price or package.
Hence, a large calendar displaying a longer-term view of the rates and availabilities will provide travels with a great value-add in choosing the perfect vacation or business trip. One thing to note: to build the trust necessary for a repeat customer, it is critical that the calendar displays accurate information and not just seasonal rates or availabilities.
Provide the Best available rate; ensure Rate Parity
According to the Cornell Center for Hospitality Research, hotels that are listed on third-party distributors' websites (online travel agents, or OTAs) can expect to capture additional direct reservations. In order to leverage the full marketing potential of distribution channels, your website must offer the best available rate., so that customers that prefer to book directly with the hotel (an estimated 80%) book right there and then.
Enable instant online booking
Having a website that offers instant booking is crucial to decrease the abandon rate and increase online bookings. You must make sure that your website booking engine offers and easy and quick online booking process where guests can reserve a room. So, avoid multistep and confusing processes and ensure that you use a usability-tested booking engine.
Display trust mechanisms
Providing security and privacy to your website visitors is crucial for the success of your online business. Hence you must guarantee visitors that their personal information will always remain private, this will provide them confidence to book a room directly on your website. Security and privacy seals like Verisign and McAfee Secure play a pivotal role in enforcing this trust.
Integrate user reviews and user generated content
Studies indicate that 2 out of 3 travelers visit sites like tripadvisor.com, travelpost.com, tripreviews.com to get access to user feedback on the experiences they had when visiting specific properties. So, ensure that your website includes feedback and reviews from those sources, in an integrated form, so that potential customers don't "escape" to those sites, where competitive offers are advertised.
Website strategy: keep control or outsource?
When wanting to improve your website's sales focus you must decide which vendor to partner with and whether you want to be in control of the contents, pictures, promotions, and the 10 items outline above or whether you want to relinquish control over your website to a marketing agency.
While marketing agencies typically specialize in how to drive traffic (e.g. through search engine optimization), more often than not are not specialists in the hotel business, therefore may not know the intricacies of selling accommodation and related experiences online. Now, a few vendors provide integrated solutions that enable a high-end web presence that is focused on maximizing the number of online bookings on a small hotel budget, namely following the 10 tips in this article:
- Match site design to property experience
- Website navigation and usability
- The importance of pictures
- Highlight promotions and special offers
- Incent visitors to stay on the website
- Display real-time rates & availability
- Provide best available rate and ensure online rate parity
- Enable instant online booking
- Display trust mechanisms
- Integrate user reviews and user generated content
But always keep in mind that a sales-oriented website will have no results if it has no bookable offers. That will be the focus of our next article.
Pedro Colaco co-founded GuestCentric Systems and serves as President and CEO. He has experience in networking and software, product development, marketing, sales and channel management in global markets. GuestCentric is in Stamford, CT with offices in UK and Portugal. It is a provider that revolutionizes independent hotel operators' competitiveness for customers. GuestCentric’s Hotel e-Commerce Optimization offers simple, cost-effective ways to create web sites, integrate online booking and marketing to boost revenues, lower expenses and develop long-standing customer relationships. Mr. Colaco can be contacted at 203-517-0721 or firstname.lastname@example.org Please visit http://www.guestcentric.com for more information. Extended Bio...
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