Every now and then you are going to need to take a step back, look at your website objectively, and determine what is working and what is not. It is easy to become attached to certain ideas and elements on a site and stick to ideas that are not actually helpful and that, in some cases, may even be harmful.
What every hotelier and marketer should do on a consistent basis is step out of their own skin and into that of a traveler who is looking at their company’s website. At the end of the day, travelers are the target audience of any hotel website and it is vital to speak their language and provide information they find useful. Today, we are going to go over how to ensure your website is easy to use for all visitors.
Why Your Website Quality Matters
When looking at your website, think about how it would look to someone who knows absolutely nothing about the hotel industry or your local area. Your hotel website will be most helpful to potential guests with little knowledge about the local area and who are unsure of what they want or need, in a hotel room. They do not know why they should stay in one hotel versus another and your website can guide them into making an informed decision.
While the ultimate goal of your website is to sell rooms, you also want to be sure your guests are well informed and that once they arrive, you are providing an experience that matches up with their needs. The goal for your hotel should be more than just a high volume of visitors. You should also have the goal of having guests who your experience is suited for – guests that will be satisfied with their stay and will be eager to provide positive feedback and recommend your hotel to other travelers.
The first step to ensuring you are attracting well-informed travelers is to ensure your website is easy to navigate so your potential guests can easily find what they are looking for. Making sure a guest has all the information they need is pivotal to giving them a positive experience. When an uniformed traveler arrives on your site, there could be any number of gaps in their knowledge or assumptions in need of correction. Making this information readily available and easy to find provides your hotel with high reviews while preventing poor ones.
For example, if you own a hotel that charges a $30 fee for on-site parking, this is information guests would want to know. If a guest comes to your site, is convinced to stay at your hotel, and is aware of that fee then when they arrive, they will either have taken that fee into account for their travel budget or they will have made other parking arrangements. However, if a guest chooses to stay at your hotel and that information is not easy to find they may not account for it, and they will be surprised (and probably quite angry) when they discover there are additional fees they were not planning for.
Moving forward, we are going to discuss how to set up your site so that it remains a powerful sales tool while also keeping visitors informed about the reality of your property (in short, how to make sure your website does not stink).
The Signs of A Bad Website
It is time to look into what parts of your website need to be fixed or maintained. Not all of them relate directly to information, much of the positives and negatives of a website still reflect how effective of a sales tool it can be.
At the end of the day, you should be asking yourself two questions to determine if you have a good or a bad website. The first is. “Is this website bringing in guests?” If you are not seeing a sufficient number of new room nights booked, then your website is not serving as an effective sales tool. The second question to ask yourself is, “Do my website guests have the right expectations for their experience?” because if the guests coming in from your website do not have a clear picture of your hotel, then your website did not do one of the most important aspects of its job.
Slow Page Speed
First, you should check the overall speed of your website. It is a fundamental rule of the internet that website visitors want their information as quick as possible. The longer it takes your pages to load when a potential guest visits your website, the more likely they are to leave without taking an action.
It is fairly simple to ensure your website loads quickly; we encourage you to scan it using a speed reporting tool like GTmetrix and addressing any problems it calls out. One of the simplest and easiest is ensuring your images are not being resized for visitors. If a page is displaying an image that is 300 pixels X 300 pixels, but the file itself is for the image at 3000 pixels X 3000 pixels, the visitor’s computer or mobile device is trying to download the entire file, resize it, and then display it. In doing so, your page is taking up more data than it needs and will always load slower than it can.
Another common cause of slow page speeds is an overabundance of widgets and embedded content. When your website is loading additional widgets and tools each one requires the visitor to download more data to use it, and the more complex they are the more data they will require. This is not to say your website should not include any widgets, scripts, or additions whatsoever; however, you should look into what evidence you have that shows it is providing a benefit. For example, if you have a widget for your on-site restaurant to make reserving a table easier, you should be able to receive reports noting how many reservations are being made through it. If there is no evidence that visitors are using this tool, it could be negatively affecting how useful the page could be.
Spacing and Kerning
This next issue should be eliminated in the initial build of your website. As your designer works with you to bring your ideas to life, the proper spacing of your on-site elements should be addressed and they should also be selecting fonts without kerning issues.
In short, every element on your website should have defined borders padding and margins that determine how much space is around them. Even if there is none that element still exists with a value of zero. As pages are built it is possible the way certain elements are designed could conflict with one another, or that formatting for a responsive site design could lead to disruptions on particular screen sizes. As you check your website, verify each block of text and image maintain proper spacing on the page.
While you look at your website you should also consider how your imagery looks to an outside party. Something that we see on many hotel websites is images that are of low quality or do not showcase the hotel very well. The old adage “a picture tells 1,000 words” rings true to this day and guests are much more likely to reserve a room if they have a strong idea of how their room and your hotel facilities look. That being said, if your images frame your rooms and facilities poorly it is also possible that guests can be turned away. At the end of the day, a visitor to your site should have a clear and honest picture of your hotel that remains appealing.
Another factor to remember is the overall quality of the photos used on your website. Over time, as an image file is edited, manipulated, and resized it will eventually experience some degradation, particularly if it is being scaled up from a smaller size to a larger one. It will look worse for wear the more you edit it. This can be easily prevented by maintaining a file of “master images” which you can consistently use as your source for future updates to your website. These master images should be the largest and highest quality versions of any photo you put on your website, ideally saved and organized right when you get them from your photographer.
Blue Magnet has worked on plenty of websites over the years where only one person had the original copy of an image, or they resized their only copy of it for use on the website. What ends up happening is any future use of that image has less potential than the original, as it needs to be of the same size or smaller. Some websites do attempt to make images larger than the uploaded version and the result is never pretty. For this reason, it is of the utmost importance that you keep the largest and least edited version of your hotel’s photography somewhere safe, and only edit copies of those photos so you always have an original to work off of.
Many hotel websites will also make use of stock photography when they begin pages about local area attractions or their own special offers. While there is nothing inherently bad about stock photography, in general, there is an extreme range in the quality of photos available. There are some photography sites where you can gain a license to use exceptional colorful photos that will easily inspire wanderlust in your page visitors. However, most stock photo sites also have a collection of images that seem so obviously staged or create scenes so bizarre it is a wonder anyone can find a use for them.
Believe it or not, some hotel websites (including the sites owned by major brands) will often find themselves using the lower quality stock photos instead of searching for something more relevant, and some hotels even end up taking original photos that look like poorly staged stock photos.
When a website has low-quality photos it sends a message to visitors that it is not trying hard or is willing to cut corners. If you were planning your vacation would you want to stay at a hotel that cuts corners?
So how do you identify the good from the bad? Just like every other decision you make for your own business, you should never just pick the first thing you see because it is “good enough.” Take your time and review photos before you decide to use them. Show guests, rather than telling them, that you are a dedicated and hardworking hotel owner that always goes the extra mile.
Inconsistent and Out of Date Information
At some point during the lifespan of your website your hotel will likely undergo an amenity or policy change that you want guests to be aware of. Surprisingly, some hotels do not think to publish these changes on their website. This obviously leads to issues and complications for your guests and it is why you should always make a point to double check the information on your website regularly.
What often helps is to have a running document highlighting all of your hotel’s policies and amenities to use as a resource on all future website updates. Whenever an amenity or policy is changed, either you or your marketing professional updates this master document as well as scan through your website to make sure the same information is consistent.
If you can keep track of everywhere key information is held, this can easily speed up the process as you audit and update your policies to match your needs and goals.
What is probably the most vital element to ensuring your website does not stink is considering how easy or difficult it is to navigate. If your website’s navigation is confusing and hard to understand you will most likely see a lot of your website visitors abandoning your pages. It is not hard to maintain an intuitive main menu for your website, however, with all of the cool and interesting things you can do with your website’s design it is easy to get caught up in an idea that you personally like, but is not a good experience for other visitors.
In short, you should make sure that your menu titles clearly depict what each page is about. For example, if a visitor comes to your website and wants to use your navigation to reach the rooms page they should not have to search too long or consider multiple pages before they click to it.
Page Errors and Broken Links
Over the lifespan of your website you will likely make various changes and updates to your pages in order to clarify information, keep things up to date, or simply remove outdated content. As you push through on these changes it is vital that you understand how the individual pieces of your website fit together. The reason for this is that a website oftentimes functions much like a piece of clockwork, pages will call to other pages or specific files which may be calling to other pages and files, and so on, all working together to deliver a final product to your website visitors. And similar to a piece of clockwork, if your page is calling to a page or a file that no longer exists it will hit an error and then the whole system begins to break down.
While saying “the whole system breaks down” may be a bit overdramatic, if you have ever tried to visit a website where you run into 404 errors on most links you click, forms and images refuse to load, and the whole site moves slowly, you would understand why you need to keep an eye out for this on your own website. Nobody designs their website with errors intentionally put there; however, throughout the lifespan of your website as you make changes and updates, it can be very easy to overlook what else can be affected by your changes.
On the visitor side of things, this creates an overall negative and frustrating experience on your website. They become lost on within various error pages and struggle to find the information they were looking for.
There is no simple trick or hack to prevent these errors, all it takes is knowledge, skill, and attention to detail. You may make a few mistakes along the way but if you are diligent in maintaining and auditing your website you can prevent as many errors as possible, which allows visitors to have a more intuitive experience when booking at your hotel.
Keeping Your Website Up To Speed and Looking Good
At the end of the day, it is going to be impossible to predict every little issue and problem that comes up with your website. What is important is to step outside of your own head and seriously consider the parts of your website that you can say work well, and consider the parts of your website that do not. In many cases, what does not work could be something you were very passionate about, or that you personally like for your website and this is the most fundamental aspect of marketing that you need to remember. You are not writing or creating for yourself.
Every element of your website should not be tailored to you personally, but the types of people you want to attract to your hotel. The key way to make sure your website doesn’t stink is to always look at everything from the lens of the type of person who you want to see coming to your hotel. What would they want to know and how would they want that information delivered?
Internet marketing can be tough, with so much data and information to pour through you need to research every decision to create the best possible final product. When you frame things the right way and keep your website running like a well-oiled machine you can create well-informed motivated travelers who are ready to book with you.
Not every hotelier has the time to dig into the guts of their website and make it a lean, mean, booking machine. If you are looking to take your digital marketing to the next level Get in touch with the Blue Magnet Interactive team and learn how we can help you.