Experts: Responsive design is the standard
27 FEBRUARY 2014 8:44 AM
A panel of hotel website experts at HSMAI’s digital marketing conference answered questions about responsive design related to content, cost and associated apps.
NEW YORK—Responsive design is a must for hotel and brand websites today, and those willing to invest a bit more resources should already be looking at the next best thing—adaptive design, according to experts.
A panel of Web executives this week at the Digital Marketing Strategy Conference hosted by Hospitality Sales and Marketing Association International agreed responsive design, which is a design approach in which Web content shifts and adapts to varying screen sizes, should be the standard.
“Designers and marketers have gotten lazy because they say, ‘There’s whitespace here so just stuff something there,’” said Ryan Clarke, director of business development for Wallop, a Canadian-based digital marketing studio. “Shrinking pages down to this small size requires you to think about what content is critical.”
The good news for hoteliers who are still weighing responsive design is that publishing separate sites for desktop and mobile is still serving the customer well for the time being.
However, “that doesn’t get you out of going to responsive design in the long run,” said Bryan Estep, VP International for Buuteeq, a Web design platform serving the hotel space.
Andy Kauffman, VP of global e-commerce marketing for Marriott International, said more than half of Marriott.com’s traffic now comes from mobile devices and all of Marriott’s brand websites will be responsive within the next 21 months. Part of that process is ensuring all the tools Marriott offers on its site, particularly revenue-generating elements, fit in a responsive framework.
“Responsive itself isn’t any great feat but to do it well means to take key pieces of your site and rearrange information to increase revenue for your hotel,” Kauffman said.
Responsive questions answered
The first question hotel webmasters must answer is what content goes where as the screen size shrinks.
The panelists suggested using data and research to determine the most engaging pages. Estep said using bounce rate and time on site for individual pages as metrics to determine what stays and what gets cut. “Seeing when the consumer leaves which page and goes into the booking engine is key,” he said.
Maps and photos are two of the most important elements of a hotel website and must be accounted for in responsive design, the panelists agreed.
Another hurdle to overcome during a responsive redesign is how to handle third-party elements within the site that don’t mesh well within a responsive framework. In this instance, Clarke suggested finding pieces of technology that fit and leaving ones that don’t behind. “Find people who have adopted responsive early to use as third-party partners,” he said. “If they’re not moving in that direction, that’s a problem.”
Kauffman said a responsive redesign requires a redefinition of partners. “In the future you may want to control the message and therefore use your partner more as an (application programming interface),” he said.
Is responsive design expensive?
“In the long run it’s going to be more expensive if you don’t do it,” Kauffman said. “It’s likely a reallocation of how you spend and when you spend your money. If you don’t do it, you’re going to be maintaining multiple sites with different experiences; different sets of buttons that are going to be costly over time.”
To justify the investment, Kauffman suggested hoteliers look at key metrics under mobile and tablet visits. Hoteliers should take note of how many bookings are leaking through customers who aren’t having a good experience.
“Look at bounce rate and time on site and that will help you calculate and justify the investment,” he said.
Clarke said hoteliers can look at responsive redesign as a challenge or setback, but it’s really an opportunity “to deliver a great experience to more guests,” he said. “The Web is in your pocket now,” he said.
The panelists agreed that redesigning a hotel website into a responsive framework does not eliminate the need for an app. The two should provide a different experience, they said.
“If your app is doing the same thing as your site then you need to question your strategy,” Kauffman said. “They need to offer differentiated service.”
However, Estep said apps serve a loyal audience, so without a strong loyalty program apps shouldn’t be a priority.
“There are many other urgent things, such as multiple languages, garnering (search engine optimization) for multiple languages, and those things I would invest in first before an app,” he said.
Kauffman agreed, saying Marriott targets its app to its loyalty customers.
“You have to love that brand and interact with that brand frequently to have that brand on your phone,” he said. “For the less loyal customers you want to have a great Web experience for them to land on. There has to be both.”
Next up: adaptive design
For those who wish to take redesign a step further and remain cutting edge, the panelists suggested looking at adaptive design rather than responsive design. Adaptive design lives within one content-management system but serves up different content based on what device the traveler is using. It requires sites to change the core content “down in the depths of the systems” based on the context of the user, Kauffman said.
Adaptive design eliminates slow load times that are often associated with responsive design.
But for most, adaptive design “may not be necessary; you don’t want to over-engineer it,” Kauffman said. “A lot of code cleanup can improve load times as well. This will vary by scale of business, but it all starts with the customer, and you really have to put your customer first.”