Contributed by Paula Perrin, Sr. Market Analyst, SHR

Can I ask you something? How many articles on “ultimate website conversions” have you read in just the past year or two?

Bev Goldberg heart pillowA dozen?

Two dozen?

Yep, while there has never been more choice when it comes to hotel website features and strategies than there is now, being unable to sort through the tidal wave of information just seems to make things more difficult than they really have to be.

And who needs that? Not you, that’s who. We’ve sorted through the funk and junk, and come up with what we believe, based on results, might just actually work for you. And make your mom smile. (More on why later on.)

First, You’re Going to Need a Bigger (Better) Billboard….
With the rise of the OTAs, even in the EU, meta-search, and search engine marketing, consumers are in full control, searching customer reviews, and mastering the stages of booking. So, in the end, the consumer is the one deciding if he or she books with you directly or not.

What does this mean for you?

Picture2-1Basically, you need a bigger billboard. Or more pointedly, one with personalized lights, sounds, and feelings. In other words, you have to send out into the guest world that you have a greater understanding of just how unique each traveler and trip is than your competitors do; what we often refer to here at SHR as the audience of one mentality. Imagine the millions of travelers out there doing as many searches, or even more, but each is searching for VERY individual preferences. How do you actually reach each one of these bookers of the world with the right message at the right time in order to inspire them to visit your website in the first place?

Thankfully, “spray and pray” is NOT the way of the direct booking world anymore. You can use your access to the new data lakes to zero in on places (channels) your target customers might visit. For instance, with programmatic display advertising, you can go where your customers are actually hanging out; not where you think they might be. Your ads can now be targeted to a focused audience thanks to fatter and happier algorithms.

BONUS: they can help you to track the effectiveness of your campaign, so you only end up paying for advertising that serves your intended customers. Refreshing, isn’t it? 

Is Your Website Responsive or RESPONSIVE?
There’s usually a lot of time focused on how to drive traffic to your website (thus the zillions of articles on the subject) however making sure the visitor has the highest chance of converting once they’re there is often overlooked. One key to upping your chances of conversion is understanding the difference between a quietly responsive website and a site that has been designed to be responsive. With the increasing growth in both usage and revenue from mobile devices, ignoring this difference can be a deal breaker for most lookers.

But, you say, my website is responsive already! Look! It fits on a range of screen sizes. That’s great, but you need that personalized billboard, remember? Designed to be responsive means that true design and layout consideration has been given to key sizes of various delivery methods. In plain English, that means rather than squishing content to fit a screen, things like the layout, speed, and device capabilities have been carefully considered in advance.

According to h2c, giving this subject serious thought is absolutely key to successfully improving conversions across a widening traffic flow. For instance, desktop is losing market share these days, what with so many savvy travelers booking entire trips on smart phones. But potential guests still like to check out the official hotel website. Why? Generally, they use the brand site to verify the hotel and its desirability before making a final decision. So, make sure your website content is on fire (or at least smoldering) albeit in a professional manner. 

Picture1-3Speak Your Hotel’s Truth
You want to tell YOUR story, not someone else’s. First on the list, you need great imagery (look to your right) to allow your hotel to have the richest visual information. Next is text, but please, for the love of all that’s hospitable, keep it simple. There’s no need to over stuff your site with keywords like an angry pillow. Well-chosen language that captures your essence is enough.

And don’t forget about video! Not a full home movie, but probably more like engaging clips, maybe even just snippets, that you can add to gallery sections. Don’t waste your lookers’ time.

Next is room type. There should be definite distinctions for clarity and upgrades. Ask yourself, why would a guest pay more for this room? Why would YOU pay more for this room?

Then, there are USPs. No, not the U.S. Postal Service. This one stands for Unique Selling Propositions. Understand what your USPs are, boil them down to their essence, and sprinkle them liberally across your site like the magical fairy dust that they are. Some hotels use repeated icons or special graphics as highlights throughout their websites.

Last but not least is location. Where are you? Don’t make it a “Where’s Waldo” proposition, or you will lose them. Include distances to key landmarks if they are close and a good draw.   

The Little Engine that Could—If You Let It

Picture3Now it’s time to carry over the lessons in clarity and consistency that you’ve learned about responsive design to your internet booking engine (IBE). Again, according to h2c, this is a biggee. For instance, if you’re using a specific photo marketing a package (look to your left), you want that same photo to show up when they book. It’s also important to have a booking engine where labels can be overwritten, using the same wording throughout the whole process to build a sense of comfort and familiarity (but remember, no lumpy word pillows).

In other words, don’t confuse your guests by using the word “package” on the website and then “arrangements” on the IBE, or “book now” on one side and “reserve” on the other. The easier the guest can navigate, the faster the booking, the higher the conversion rate will be. 

For specific target audiences, it also makes sense to provide a dedicated URL and landing page. Set up access codes or promo codes that you can use for email marketing and social media campaigns at the same time or later on. Corporate accounts and groups crave and often demand this kind of personalized attention.

Here’s something based on human nature; offer something as “exclusive for registered guests only,” like a discount or additional fun benefits. You might just begin to beat out the OTAs more often if you can learn to play like they do.

BONUS: Once the guest has registered once, all future bookings can be made significantly faster and more convenient for them!

Oh, and a word from a friend of ours about cheapy booking engines.

“Going with a free or cheap booking engine. Really? How many times have we seen a PMS booking engine that didn’t even have mobile capabilities, but the hotel used it because it was free?” Max Starkov, Founder & Director for HEBS Digital

Bev Goldberg ProudThere Won’t Be a Quiz. But Still….
While some of what we discussed requires a bit more planning and strategy before execution, if you can lock yourself in your office for just a while and do most of those, you will be well on your way to making life easier for your guests by giving them what they want, increasing your revenues, and your ADR joy.

And mom will be smiling because now you can afford to send her on that ‘round the world cruise she’s always dreamed of. And who wouldn’t love that?

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