Hotel News Now spoke with experts who gave their tips for creating a well-designed, fully functional hotel website that will bring guests back.
REPORT FROM THE U.S.—In today’s mobile-first world, successful hotel websites are designed to be easy to navigate and keep guests’ attention, experts say.
Tim Peter, founder of hospitality digital marketing strategy consulting firm Tim Peter & Associates, said having the right information online is key.
“The first thing a really good hotel website does is it has great content that answers guests’ questions all throughout their journey,” he said. “That includes images, that includes video, but certainly, do you have the right content to help guests understand why you are the right hotel for their needs for any given trip? It’s amazing how often hotel websites don’t do that well.”
The next important step to building a hotel website is making sure it’s optimized for mobile, Peter said.
“Most hotel websites are seeing anywhere from 30% to 60% of their traffic from mobile, and usually if you’re on the lower end of the range, it’s not because your customers aren’t using mobile, it’s because the mobile experience is so poor they don’t come to you on mobile,” he said. “We’ve long since passed the day of ‘Build it and they will come.’ They’re trying to come, but if you make it hard for them, they won’t.”
Hotel websites must have search engine optimization, Peter said, which is also key to mobile sites. Google split its index between desktop and mobile this year, he said.
“If you’re not mobile-friendly, you will rank worse on mobile than you will rank on desktop, and that’s going to have hardcore business implications for you,” he said. “Folks who have not talked about the mobile experience are going to find themselves in some trouble as they start to fall out of the mobile index.”
If a hotel is redesigning or creating a new website, it’s important to find a vendor who understands SEO, Peter said.
One thing website vendors should understand is the use of schemas, which is a structured data format used by Google to figure out “what content shows up in what context,” Peter said.
“You want to make sure your hotel website vendor knows about schemas and … what the appropriate schemas are to use for your property and … where to put them in the link on the site and in the correct format,” he said. “Google has come out and explicitly said, ‘we prefer a format called JSON-LD*.’ A vendor who knows about that stuff is really important.”
A good hotel website is simple, easy to use and fast, sources said.
Lauren Peress, director of marketing at Mohonk Mountain House in New Paltz, New York, said when the hotel redesigned its website, it had to be responsive, mobile-friendly and simple. A fast load time was also important because “people are impatient, and the search engines will mark you down for a slow site,” she said.
“With that in mind … one of the things I think is so important for Mohonk in particular is the imagery and being so photo-forward with our site,” she said. “That was intentional when we originally designed it because we’re such a photogenic property, and the reason people come here is because … it’s not the same as a regular city hotel. You’re coming to the top of this mountain to a lake in the sky to a historic property that’s iconic, and so we wanted to show people that the second they reach the site, but with lots of images on a website, it can also slow it down.
“So it’s finding that perfect balance between creative and technical that’s really important.”
Peress added that with the redesign, Mohonk tried to reduce the complexity of the site. To achieve this, the hotel created a simple navigation and reduced the number of hidden pages on the site to limit issues with broken links.
Best Western Hotels & Resorts also went the simple route with the design and build of its website, according to Felipe Carreras, managing director of e-commerce at Best Western Hotels & Resorts.
He said the company’s website design philosophy has a few key components to it.
“The first is always see things from the customer’s point of view,” he said. “The second is don’t make the customers repeat themselves, and the final is don’t make them think.”
Carreras added that Best Western doesn’t look to reinvent the wheel with its web design. The goal was to “keep things simple, keep it intuitive and use those standards that have evolved over time,” such as putting a logo in the upper-left corner of a website, which redirects guests to the homepage when clicked, he said.
“Other things we’ve done is we’ve looked to others in our vertical or even outside of our vertical for inspiration,” he said. “For example, colors of our buttons: We know this is something that is very well-researched and tested, especially (from) retail, e-commerce sites, so we looked at some of the best-performing (sites) and used the colors they were using because we do design on a bit of a shoe-string budget.”
Revenue, more on SEO
Best Western’s current site launched in October 2016, and the redesign was part of a digital transformation for the company, Carreras said.
“We rebuilt the website from the ground up, so we introduced the content management systems to make it a lot easier for non-developers to change the content on the site,” he said. “We overhauled our database connectivity, our web services if you will, to bring information back from our databases.”
The goal of the redesign was also to have a well-performing site with an “eye towards revenue.”
“At the end of the day, our site’s about getting heads in beds,” Carreras said. “What we really wanted to make sure it did was account for those opportunities that we could use to increase revenue, whether that be remarketing or retargeting pixels and tags. We wanted to have the robust performance and back end that could handle those opportunities without slowing the site down.”
SEO was also an important consideration for Best Western, Carreras said.
“We see the majority of our traffic from Google, whether it be paid or unpaid, so having that consideration, we really wanted to make sure that we built the site with an eye towards SEO so that our site is very easy to crawl, very easy to be found by the search engines, and that they’re finding what we want it to find that’s going to be relevant to the consumer,” he said.
Good website design also addresses accessibility and compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, Peter said.
“A, because it’s the right thing to do,” he said. “B, because we have a lot of aging travelers … and some accessibility things are for people who might need glasses and they need to read stuff. It just helps make it easier, and it has no negative impact on younger users. Most things that you do from an accessibility standpoint also help from a technical SEO perspective. It’s really the triple win.”
*Correction 1 August 2018: A previous version of the story had an incorrect spelling of JSON-LD.