Website Marketing : 3 Common Heuristics to Improve Performance


Alex Corral

Mar 24, 2017


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What comes to mind when a hotelier decides to improve their brand’s digital reach and effectiveness to bring in new customers? The image in your head might involve new and vibrant graphics, catchy attention-grabbing headlines, paid search marketing campaigns, and maybe, some strategic SEO techniques. While each of the listed avenues can be remarkably useful, when properly implemented, they aren’t the “end-all, be-all” of website marketing. When you are trying to increase your digital footprint, you need to think more holistically. This is where heuristics come into the discussion.

 Once you realize how simple it can be, you will realize that focusing on heuristics is the most underutilized traffic-booster around—especially for hotel and travel professionals.

Bluntly, this is likely because focusing on heuristics is a complex and detailed undertaking that requires more time to grasp than other forms of digital marketing. The loose definition of a heuristic is a process one uses to gain knowledge or some desired result by intelligent guesswork rather than by following some pre-established formula. There are countless types of heuristics in existence, but all of them are based around a broad idea that humans make some choices without consulting and reviewing each small detail of a situation.

Why Heuristics?

With the long booking times and consideration, you better believe that travel has some specific heuristics that you might benefit from.

A bottom-line example of heuristic thinking is as follows: an individual decides to cancel after-work plans because he or she is set to complete a challenging assignment in the office, and assumes that a lack of energy will inhibit any plans after the shift’s end.

This thought process doesn’t appear to be unique (many of you might think that this is a perfectly logical chain of thought, I know I have), but what is significant is that we made those decisions in a matter of seconds. We did this without thorough consultation of the facts (perhaps eating certain foods or sleeping longer would boost energy levels, and the plans could have been followed through with. Furthermore, maybe the assignment won’t be complicated after all, and won’t affect energy levels). 

Are you seeing where I am going with this? Concerning the shockingly competitive website marketing landscape of today, heuristics can provide hoteliers with the ability to get a leg up on the competition by excelling in appealing to customers’ immediate thought processes and decisions.

Independent hotel professionals need to utilize these heuristics before it is too late. Let’s take a look at three heuristic types and how they can be used to increase your bottom line.

The Risk Aversion/Scarcity Heuristic

The risk aversion/scarcity heuristic is one, which appeals to most individuals’ natural disdain for inconvenience or being uncomfortable. Perhaps more prominent with this heuristic is the instinct to avoid risk and to act promptly when it appears as though a desirable option or variation of any product or service will not be available for much longer due to limited availability.

Big-name hotels are already using this technique as a critical website marketing maneuver, imploring potential customers to pull the trigger and book, or to risk losing out on a tremendous deal, a fantastic room, some combination of these things, or an accommodation altogether. The online travel agencies have mastered this!

This heuristic is successfully used all the time, in a diverse set of industries. Outside of the hotel sphere, video-game giant Nintendo has consistently provided a limited availability of their consoles. Demand for their consoles has, in turn, skyrocketed.

Pitching an accommodation as scarce or limited will increase its value, thereby enabling customers’ risk aversion heuristic. It’s no simple task in the lodging industry but is well worth the time investment.

The Sunk Cost Heuristic

The sunk cost heuristic operates by encouraging the spending of additional resources on a project, idea, or other expenditure that has otherwise failed, been financially undesirable, or not accomplished its set goal, under the guise of eminent success with further effort. The premise is that your decisions are tainted by the emotional (psychological) investments that you have. Once you hit your point, it becomes harder for you to abandon the investment that you have already made.

Wow, that was a mouthful. Let’s break it down with a simple example:

A gambler may increase a bet amount because he or she has been “cold,” and a winning streak is sure to be on the horizon, and more pressingly, because the lost funds must be recouped. Similarly, a “clunker” vehicle purchased for $1000 may be worthless after it breaks down, but many owners would agree to spend an extra $1000 or more on repairs to get some value out of the initially paid $1000. This idea can also be applied to an individual’s “sunk” time.

To utilize this heuristic, hotel professionals should use the likely point that a visitor will be comparison-shopping. They may have already searched elsewhere for accommodations and thereby spent time (and perhaps some money) planning their trip. Don’t give people a reason to leave your website. You need to make sure you keep them on there as long as you can. If you have an excellent web presence, then hopefully, you can use the sunk cost heuristic to your advantage, and close the sale.

The Price-Quality Heuristic

Finally, the price-quality heuristic is one of my personal favorites. It is directly influenced by an individual’s preconceived notions regarding what the cost of a particular product or service is. This notion may cause the individual to promptly disregard a potential purchase option because of what he or she perceives as an “overly expensive” price point. Often, this perception fails to account for a specific offering’s qualities and features when they are rather useful.

For example, a customer in a restaurant would likely dismiss the idea of purchasing a hotdog for fifteen dollars before reading on to find that the meal is prepared by “the world’s greatest hotdog chef,” with the freshest ingredients and the most elegant possible presentation. This point holds when a more-normal product is offered at an inflated price (in reference to the competition’s rates or a base rate).

To benefit from this heuristic in mind, hotel professionals should be sure not to alienate potential customers by charging a much-inflated price for something the competition is offering for cheaper. Of course, additional costs for a higher-quality offering may be acceptable. Still, one should be sure that these “additional costs” don’t prevent website visitors from reviewing the offering’s benefits and features!


Heuristics aren’t the easiest to understand or adapt to, and that’s why the marketing experts here at E-Marketing Associates are here to help interested businesses through the process. Thanks for reading, and we’re looking forward to working with you on optimizing your website.

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