or my first post of 2013, I thought it would be fun to put together a list of five areas where hotel websites commonly fail to inspire bookings. As part of hospitality marketing company, I see many hotel websites on a daily basis and believe myself to be a good judge of what attracts potential customers and what drives them away. With the growing popularity of OTAs in booking, it is important for hotels to take responsibility for their own business and focus on improving these aspects of their websites.
While I would say this is the least damaging mistake to make on a hotel website, it is also perhaps the hardest to execute well. Very few people wish to read a full-length novel on a website, yet too little information will not properly sell a property or destination. In this case, I would argue that less is more: a few short paragraphs on the home page about the area, attractions, and amenities should be more than enough information to entice guests to book. Any additional written content should be located on other pages such as an area guide, separate amenities page or perhaps even a hotel blog.
This refers to something called “information architecture”—where important information is placed on your website. Sites with good IA are easy to navigate, with photos, amenities, attractions and a reservation button where a browser or the user expects to find it. There are far too many websites out there with poor IA though, forcing us to hunt for important information, such as contact information, social media links and the reservation process. In the best cases, such as the Little Palm Island Resort & Spa website, the navigation invites you discover the destination intuitively through an enticing word cloud, gorgeous pictures, arrows, scrolling navigation, and quotes. But most likely, if your customers are forced to hunt, they will just give up and find another hotel.
I’d argue that if there is only one aspect of a hotel’s website that inspires a guest to book, besides price, it would be glossy, high-resolution photos. Many people are visual, as evidenced by the popularity of picture-centric websites such as Pinterest. Hotel guests want to see what your hotel looks like before booking a room so they know what they are paying for. Do invest in professional photography if you are serious about attracting guests. Don’t use old, outdated, amateur or pixelated photography on your website unless your property has historic significance. Pictures are crucial in creating a compelling destination experience for your guest.
With the popularity of mobile booking via smartphones and tablets, any hotel website that uses Flash today is making a big mistake. Sure, it may look cutting-edge to have moving pictures and text on a computer screen, but do you really want to risk losing all the iPhone and iPad users out there? Flash also prevents your content from being “pinnable” on sites like Pinterest, so you also lose a lot of potential traffic. Many hotel websites also do not have a separate site optimized for mobile viewing, which can mess with the navigation as described above.
Many of these aspects are a matter of budget, and this is no exception. Many hotel websites suffer from poor or outdated layouts. Many independent or even chain hotel websites do not redesign their websites every two years as recommended and therefore look terrible in comparison to those that do. There are still many websites out there that use tables and layouts from the 90s—if you don’t know what I mean, consider yourself privileged. In the past, it was very common and attractive to incorporate moving text, images, pop up windows or music in the home page of a website, but now it is frowned upon. Today’s average web user looks at many websites every second and does not need to be bombarded with clashing imagery, colors, and text. Too much conflicting and confusing information will drive potential guests away from your site and into the arms of your competitors. Further, on the subject of sound, if you must add music or sound effects to your website, at least give users the option of whether or not to listen with on and off buttons. There is nothing worse than a forced melody every time you click or open a page.
Moral of the story is… if your hotel site suffers from any of the mistakes in the imperative areas described above, it is definitely time for a redesign. If you’re overwhelmed by all the information and options available in hotel website design today, feel free to contact us for a free consultation.