Ms. Fredeen

Sales & Marketing

Making an Impression with Website Merchandising

By Allyson Fredeen, Communications Manager, Ritz Carlton - Denver

When I began working for The Ritz-Carlton in downtown Denver in September of 2007, the climate for Public Relations professionals was worlds away from what it is today. For instance, Facebook was only for "college kids". MySpace was all the rage. Twitter seemed like a platform from a far-away galaxy that I would never need to engage in. Instagram wasn't yet born, neither was Pinterest. Denver had two daily newspapers, The Denver Post and The Rocky Mountain News. We vied for print placements more often than not and online articles were seen as the icing on the cake. I never heard the word blog until later that year.

Fast forward to 2017; in the hospitality business, if you're not playing well in the digital space, you're not playing. The heartbeat of any hotels' digital strategy should be the website. From social media posts to published articles and digital banner ads for your business, everything links back to that domain. This is why it is essential to have the right product, or messages, in the right place, at the right time.

Let's first talk about your site's homepage. Remember the old saying, "You only have one chance to make a first impression"? This could not be truer as it relates to your website. What kind of story are you trying to tell? Do you have strong visuals to grab your audience's attention in a world where this is so much noise? Are key tabs front- facing and easy to locate, or are they tucked away requiring minutes of clicking around to find a basic factoid like a phone number or address? According to experts, today's consumers have an attention span of just eight seconds. If in those first eight seconds, if your website is loading flash video or other large assets, the viewer will most likely close out and move on, resulting in potential lost business. If in those eight seconds the consumer does not see a link to the information they are trying to locate, they will click the little x on the upper right side of the page and you have most likely lost them to a competitor with a more attractive and easier-to-navigate homepage.

Your homepage is also where most consumers land first as a point of entry versus interior pages that carry more specific information. This is where you want to weave your SEO/SEA key word strategy in. For instance, we place words like "luxury", "downtown Denver", "hotel" and "Colorado" in the homepage copy so when potential buyers are using those terms in a web search, The Ritz-Carlton, Denver is more likely to appear in the results, which in turn generates click-throughs with the goal of converting bookings. However, don't leave this strategy to just your homepage; think about all the layers within a website. For Ritz-Carlton, we have interior pages for different areas of business such as Reservations, Spa, Dining, Meetings, Weddings, Offers, and Area & Activities. The crucial merchandising point here is that all of these tabs are visible from the homepage.

The consumer doesn't have to click around to locate the general subject of interest. Furthermore, revenue generating segments are front and center; the homepage's first visible tab is for reservations which makes complete sense. Why would you want to tuck away this critical section under another page when a viewer is giving you only eight seconds of their time? In today's climate, hotels are putting more emphasis than ever on direct bookings as OTA commissions can be quite costly. For this exact reason, special attention to website merchandising is vital. Your business's SEO/SEA keyword strategy also comes into play for your site's interior pages. As an example, one of downtown Denver's most popular neighborhoods is the historic Larimer Square area filled with shops and restaurants.

Most visitors to the city flock to this neighborhood and are searching the term when planning a trip to the Mile High City; therefore we incorporated "Larimer Square" into our keyword strategy, while also placing the words on multiple pages of our website like so, "Located near Larimer Square, an upscale neighborhood known for its boutique shops, luxury hotels, and innovative restaurants, The Ritz-Carlton, Denver provides guests with immediate access to the best that the Mile High City has to offer." If you're reading closely, you may have noticed this sentence also incorporates our other keywords like "luxury hotels" and "Denver." On a related note, Public Relations or Marketing Communications professionals should be privy to the notion that placing a press release on a site's news room and appearing "live" should always occur prior to pitching it to their media contacts. This way when searching the subject of interest, a consumer will see your news first in the results, and hopefully is motivated to click back to your site to learn more. Articles generated after the fact will naturally show in the search, after your news room result, receiving maximized exposure and generating direct clicks to your website.

Now let's talk about timeliness. If a hotel wants to promote a special event or new products for the holiday season, they would want to enhance their content with specific keywords and related photo or video assets to their website weeks or even months prior in order to gain traction resulting in inquiries and/or bookings. Most companies seem to this well; what is often forgotten is removing promotions, events and photos for happenings that have come and gone.

This information should be expired right away and replaced with the next promotion or even general content to replace it - displaying outdated information makes it look like they are not paying attention to the details or can be viewed as lazy in making updates. This rings true for photography and video too; businesses should be merchandising their homepage and interior pages by what areas of business they are trying to impact. For example, if a resort's focus is to increase weekend bookings over the same time last year, they would be smart to add images and/or videos to their homepage, among other pages, that reflect leisure activities guests can experience in that particular destination, while also building out content that speaks to weekend getaways, staycations, babymoons, and special events like sporting games, festivals and concerts.

Speaking of events, there are multiple locations on a website to merchandise your calendars depending on business segments. For instance, ELWAY'S Downtown, the signature steakhouse of The Ritz-Carlton, Denver has its own calendar of events page under a drop down on the dining page of the website. This is because some viewers may only look to the main hotel events page and not recognize there are other happenings in other areas. In this case, it's better to show duplicate information on multiple pages in the case the shopper visits one section of your site but not the other. The same rings true for our spa business in that our main spa lading page has its own tabs you'd expect: treatment menu, pricing, spa cuisine, fitness center, general information and day packages.

But say a guest is interested in a spa package only and visits the hotels' package tab or section of the site versus the individual spa page, you would want to ensure you are placing the same information on that hotel package page that you have showing on the spa page; not doing so could result in missed revenue and the assumptions that your spa does not offer what the buyer researching. If the viewer cannot find what they are looking for after visiting that one page, most likely the eight seconds are up and they are unlikely to click around to locate the answer, and then you've lost them.

The last piece to consider is how content and images are being displayed on mobile devices or tablets. Today, many businesses have responsive design, including The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, L.L.C., meaning that what you are viewing on your desktop will be mirrored on a mobile phone or tablet. This nature of design is more important than ever as 85% of today's travelers are using mobile devices to book travel.

So next time your business is planning a website refresh or are creating one for a new venture, be sure to think about these straightforward yet significant questions to ensure you have a healthy site:

Do I have the right product(s) displayed for the areas I am trying to move the needle on; are they located in the right places of my website, and at the right time to influence business or customer behavior? Also ask yourself this from the perspective of a consumer who only had eight seconds to give, would I as be drawn in beyond those eight seconds to continue shopping, browsing or buying? Is it visually appealing and the content stimulating? Is basic information front and center or would I have to dig around interior site pages to discover the data?

Remember, first impressions really are everything. What kind of impression does your website give?

Allyson Fredeen has over 12 years of Public Relations and Marketing experience. She began her career as a Public Relations intern for Bloomingdale’s. She then worked for the Miami area stores as Assistant Public Relations Manager for two years. In 2007, Ms. Fredeen moved back to Denver where she began her hospitality career at The Ritz-Carlton. Over the last nine years, she has spearheaded Public Relations, Marketing and Communications tactics for the hotel. In her current position as Communications Manager, Ms. Fredeen crafts and implements communications strategies and generates ongoing publicity for The Ritz-Carlton, Denver. Ms. Fredeen also delivers on the digital strategies for the Ritz-Carlton and ELWAY’S restaurant website Ms. Fredeen can be contacted at 303-312-3826 or allyson.fredeen@ritzcarlton.com Please visit http://www.ritzcarlton.com for more information. Extended Bio...

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