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How to ensure hotel websites produce excellent results

This article was originally featured in the May 2019 issue of Boutique Hotelier.

A hotel's web presence is undoubtedly the linchpin of any modern marketing strategy, and while many understand this, the final result often misses the mark. So, how can you be sure your website, as crucial to your business as it is, is up to scratch? The following are some surprisingly simple, but vastly important considerations you need to execute correctly in order to succeed.

Answer consumer questions

The keystone to any effective website is deceptively simple, it needs to provide crucial information. Visitors to your website tend to arrive with a specific task in mind, seeking reassurance to any concerns, or to find answers to questions—and so ultimately the one and only goal of your website is simply to answer those questions.

Noted usability expert Paul Boag summed this up well in a recent article. According to Paul, "the majority of those arriving on your site already know what they are looking for approximately. We don’t need to convince them, we just need to answer their questions."

More often than not, the written content is considered late in the process, pushed behind decisions about the look and feel of the website. However, it pays dividends to put this first in line.

There are a number of methods for ensuring that your written content is fit for purpose, these generally include market research techniques, customer profiling, journey mapping and are ultimately aided by intuition. Through knowing your customer well, you're able to predict the questions and concerns they may have, and address them before they become a reason for consumers to look elsewhere.

Questions, frequently asked

Every hotel is unique, but typically you may end up with questions ranging from the simple "What's the phone number?" to the much broader "Are they any good?". Questions we often find important to cover include...

  • Where are they located?
  • Do they fit my budget?
  • Do they allow dogs?
  • What's the phone number?
  • Do they have a good reputation?
  • Are they appropriate for a romantic getaway?
  • Is there a restaurant?
  • Do they do weddings?

Set the tone

According to research by Carleton University your website users have already formed a judgement about your business within 0.05 seconds. This indicates the extent to which users make a decision about you before they've even had a chance to read your content, regardless of how well thought out it may be.

While the text is paramount, there is a clear need to address the visitor's concerns via other means too, especially those concerns that are broader in nature. This can be achieved by setting the tone through the visual aspect of your website, utilising the look and feel of your content to address questions and concerns in order to make a positive first impression on your visitors.

Take into account your market research and business aims and mould every bit of your website around these. Set the tone through your branding, (including your logo, typography and use of colour), and style of imagery, particularly photography.

Perhaps you're a country estate hotel offering fine-dining. In this case your target audience will likely fall into an older age range, prefer luxury brands and aren't likely to be shopping around based on price alone. With this in mind, you should be using colours, typography and imagery that reflect the customer's requirements and work to communicate the higher pricemark and luxury offering without you having to say a word.

Or maybe you're an ultra modern hotel & spa looking to attract millenials. In this case you may consider brighter, fresher tones, high quality photography featuring guests of a similar age and feature social media links and catchy content more prominently.

Matching the tone of your site squarely with your target customer can be a powerful approach, maximising the chances that when the ideal customer lands on your site they'll feel reassured they are in the right place for them before that all important 0.05 seconds has passed.

Mission critical pages

If you've followed the correct process for approaching your website build, you'll already know that  your website requires pages that answer all the possible questions consumers may have about your offering. Your hotel probably has more unique selling points than you realise, so don't leave anything out here. Typically your pages will need to include information on the following...

Rooms

Include information on pricing, facilities, interior imagery and how to book.

Restaurant

Include menus, wine lists and professional imagery of the food offering.

Spa

Include facilities, treatments and packages offered.

Weddings

Include suites, packages and services available.

Conference

Include the conference facilities available for corporate use.

Events

Share the dates and booking details of any special events you may host.

Activities

A place for information of any on-site activities you may offer.

We'd also recommend a few extra pages that fit well with the marketing strategy of most hotels...

Offers

A place for any special offers, these should be easy for you to promote through other areas of your digital marketing and customers should be able to buy these online.

Vouchers

A place to buy gift vouchers for your hotel online which can be a fantastic additional revenue stream.

Gallery

Ensure you have professional photography that showcases your hotel, its offering and grounds off at its best.

Blog

A place to share the ethos of your establishment, build character and generate marketing collateral.

Booking

An intuitive way for customers to book their stay, reserve a table or other activity that requires a reservation.

Each of these pages is mission critical and generates a return in its own right. For example, since offering buy online gift vouchers 3 years ago, The Peacock at Rowsley, a 15 bedroom grade 2 listed hotel in the Peak District, has seen an additional revenue boost of £8,000 every year from gift voucher purchases alone.

Don't forget it

A successful web presence is never a matter of set it and forget it, especially in the fast moving hospitality industry. Don't presume the website you put in place 5 years ago, or even last year, is still performing as well as it could and should be. You'll maximise your return by investing in your web presence on a regular basis, favouring small but regular updates over big expensive rebuilds.

Monitor your online results regularly, refresh your user profiles and return to review each of the points outlined above. Stay aware and don't be afraid to adapt, no website meets its potential when left to its own devices.

The end result

A hotel’s website is critical to the success of the business. It’s your responsibility to ensure that yours is up to the task. Ensure that yours answers your customers’ questions, set the right tone and implement those mission critical pages, and you'll reap the rewards; happy informed consumers, attracting the right customers for your hotel, and ultimately a sizeable boost to your sales figures.

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