How can you grow direct bookings on your hotel website? Help your guests make a booking in as few steps as possible. One thing that OTAs spend a lot of their time and money on is improving their conversion rate. It's time for hotels to do the same.
Millward Brown conducted a study for Expedia. They found that in the 45 days lead up to a booking, a consumer will conduct as many as 38 visits to travel sites. Shorten the booking journey so that they book while you still have their attention.
There are different "journeys" you might want your guests to complete, from filling out an enquiry form to booking a room. When you read the strategies below, make certain you're clear in your mind about what the core journeys are on your site. Make each journey clear and simple.
Today, after a look at how hotels can simplify things and make the booking process itself simpler, we'll look at factors you can control outside the actual booking process.
We'll give you 5 strategies to make the guest journey to your booking engine simpler – and to make your conversion rate soar.
- Simpler navigation: help guests find what they want easily and quickly
- Tools to aid recovery and retention: shorten the booking path, reduce booking abandonment, and showcase specialised areas
- Mobile-friendly websites: show the visitor the right message for each device
- Excellent imagery: sell the experience visually
- Do your homework to improve the booking journey: look at the data for market segments, and examine bookings by device and source
The Booking Process: Personalisation and Simplification
Tools and personalisation can be amazingly helpful within your booking engine. You can use technology combined with consumer psychology to speak to specific, active segments of your target audience.
For example, we at Net Affinity have found a few successful ways to tailor the booking process:
- Make room upgrade and enhancements optional features. That way, a hotel can remove them to quicken the process when they aren't really necessary.
- Reservation forms should be shortened to only ask for name, email & phone as contact details. Ask for the guest address at the reception desk – there's no need to put that 'roadblock' in your online booking process.
- Create a call to action that advises that there are "X rooms left to book!" This helps simplify the decision for the user by telling them they need to book soon or it will be too late.
How can hotels simplify things themselves, without add-ins or specialized functions in their booking engine?
- Reduce the amount of room types – Make sure the difference between room types is clear
- Reduce the volume of rate plans – Clear rate plans names and conscience descriptions
- Have a clear price display – keep that display consistent on all rate plans, e.g. 'Total Stay'
There's a reason why OTA's limit the types of rate plans you can show on their site – they only want the ones that work and those that are easy to compare. They've spend millions on research and development to discover exactly how users like to shop on their sites. Independent hotels don't have the same resources, but we can take advantage of the knowledge.
One other way to aid conversions is reassurance on the security of the booking process. This isn't something that reduces steps to booking, but the reassurance makes it easier for the user to decide to continue.
Now that we've covered the booking process itself, let's talk about how to get your guests there:
1. Simpler Navigation
The first thing to remember when you're looking at your hotel website's navigation is this: Navigation is a means to an end. The end, or goal, is for users to see your content.
Look at it from the user's perspective. Be simple and predictable - there are plenty of other areas to show your creativity. Navigation isn't one of them.
When you're building your hotel website, start by creating a site map. This should be a structure of your website with the main navigation, the pages they lead to and any pages nested within these.
What what will visitors want to see first? Make a list of your most important sections. Try to stick to 7 or 8 as a maximum. You might include rooms, dining, spa, weddings, and events. Add or subtract items to these depending on your own hotel's specific features.
Once you have those, figure out which pages will go "inside" those pages. For example, room types will be listed within your main rooms page. Menu pages will be linked to from your restaurant page.
Work with your web design team on this! Creating a site map that works for your users can be more trial and error than you'd like, and talking to an experienced team can help you get it right the first time.
After you have your intuitive, simple layout, it's time to look at labels.
Keep it predictable. Call your restaurant page Restaurant, Food, or Dining. Avoid calling it Our Exquisite Edibles or something more obscure – while guests will probably figure it out, there's no need to add the extra cognitive step!
Check out Killashee Hotel for an example of simple, clear naviation.
The science of user experience is complicated, and once you have your navigation there's a whole world of page layouts and other design choices to make. The list is endless! Don't go it alone, and don't feel the need to reinvent the wheel.
To sum up, focus on:
- Intuitive, simple site layout, keeping the users' needs first
- Predictable labels for your pages
- Working with a good design team
2. Tools to Aid Recovery and Retention
Booking Recovery Emails
What happens when a user abandons a booking? 81% do, according to SaleCycle. However, that doesn't have to be the end.
How do you get them back? First, make sure you capture their email as early as possible in the booking process.
Secondly, send an email within the first 24 hours asking if they'd like to complete their booking. If possible, include the guest's name and the details (dates, room types) of their stay to make it personal.
If the guest still doesn't book, consider a second or even a third email a few days later. Try offering a creative discount, an 'exclusive' offer or something else as an incentive to book! It doesn't take rocket science to figure out that offering a '10% off' promotional code is more cost effective than paying 18% for a booking through an OTA.
Paid Search Brand Campaigns
Your brand is an extremely valuable asset. For Net Affinity's clients, branded paid search campaigns provide a huge lift over unbranded ads.
When no brand ad is present, organic listings receive 30 – 40% of available clicks, with 60 – 70% of clicks going to other organic listings or paid ads by the OTAs. However, with a brand ad present, hotels are able to capture 60 – 70% of available clicks.
Tip: In order to get the most out of your marketing spend, look at your CPA (cost per acquisition) as a percentage figure. With OTA commissions starting from 15% upwards, your brand campaign should perform to a CPA below that, including your booking engine commission.
For example, if your booking engine commission is 4%, your brand campaign should ideally come in at 11% CPA or less, and you should keep spending on this campaign with no budget restrictions as long as the CPA is maintained at or below this level. Don't shut yourself off from a channel that's bringing in guests at a lower CPA!
Remarketing keeps you in the front of your guests' minds. When we navigate away from a website, it can be all too easy to let it slip out of our minds, until we couldn't find it again even if we wanted to. Remarketing is a fix for that.
Since we discussed booking abandonment emails above, we'll discuss paid remarketing here - it's the most popular type of remarketing.
Paid remarketing is probably the most frequently used by hoteliers. Platforms like Google and Facebook offer the ability to re-engage with users. Through either a cookie placed on your hotel website or an email list, you can set up ad campaigns to re-engage with users who land on specific pages on your site but fail to complete a booking or some other goal.
A note of caution: you'll want to make sure you've got frequency caps on your remarketing ads so people aren't seeing them too often and feeling harassed or followed. Our recommendation would be a maximum of 3 impressions a day.
Don't wait until a guest arrives to start building a relationship! To gain the long-term loyalty of guests, you should be in touch from the day they make their booking.
Send your guest relationship-building emails. Start with a simple confirmation email, assuring them that their booking was successful, thank them for their booking, and invite them to get in touch any special requests or information they have.
Don't forget about personalization – you have their email from their booking. Use it! Use an email service capable of personalization to some degree.
When you email guests closer to arrival, let them know about local events happening during their stay or unusual onsite amenities. Target these as much as possible. If you're emailing someone who's coming with children, let them know about family-friendly activities.
You can also use these emails for relevant upselling options, such as making a restaurant or spa booking. Lastly, don't forget to remind them of their booking details!
Place guest reviews on your own site and keeping reviews healthy across all the channels you're to demonstrate your value to potential guests.
Travel researches look to guest reviews to reassure themselves about their choices, to decide between properties, and to flag potential problems in advance. If you curate reviews on your own site, users won't need to travel elsewhere to find them (and potentially not come back!).
Try to place reviews on key pages, such as room pages, special offer landing pages, and event pages.
3. Mobile-Friendly Websites
Today, it's vital to have a mobile friendly website. This might be a dedicated, separate mobile site, a responsive main website (or an adaptive one, depending on your needs), or in some cases even a mobile app.
Whichever you choose, you must be on mobile. Here are 3 reasons why.
A. Google Says So:
Google has been using mobile-friendliness as a ranking signal for several years. That means if Google sees that your site is mobile friendly, you'll rank higher in search results than sites that only work on desktop.
The latest news about Google's dedication to mobile-friendliness came out just this week: They are now creating a "mobile-first search index." Effectively, this means that mobile sites will be indexed and prioritized above all desktop-only sites.
Being mobile friendly isn't optional anymore. If your hotel doesn't already cater to mobile users, start today.
B. Users Say So:
Support your multi-device users. It's a no-brainer at this point to say that lots of people use their mobiles and tablets to surf the web. Travelers do this as much as anyone else, and part of their surfing is travel research.
A new report from Expedia Media Solutions and comScore reveals that mobile travel content engagement surpasses desktop engagement for US travellers. In the UK, multi-platform usage is 54% of total digital travel users in 2016.
You must be certain to display the right message on each device. On desktop, you have more freedom to display content and images – you can even show more rate plans. On mobile, however, the name of the game is simplification.
C. Your Hotel Revenue Says So:
25% of bookings were on mobile in Q3 2016. While this is still a lower number than desktop bookings, it's not an insignificant figure.
From a revenue perspective, it's in your best interest to drive direct bookings – and many of those have the potential to come through mobile.
If you already have a mobile-friendly site but aren't getting the bookings you want, here are 6 ways to reduce mobile cart abandonment.
4. Excellent Imagery
Images are one of the most important parts of the booking journey. Can you imagine booking a hotel without having seen at least a picture of the room?
Visuals are one powerful way to communicate the value your hotel provides, "so that you don't just sell on price," according to Leonardo. When you properly emphasize the value of a stay at your hotel, you gain some flexibility with the prices you set.
Good pictures instantly tell the user what staying at your hotel is like, and give a sense of the atmosphere that would take 1,000 words of copy to replicate.
They also help from a more technical perspective. If your images are optimised for SEO, they help tell Google what your web pages about and boost them in organic search rankings. You show up for more people, and get more traffic.
What do you need to do to ensure your images connect with your guests?
- Know what your audience wants to look at. Are you tracking which images are the most-viewed on your website? If you can't drill down to that specific level of analysis, look at which pages are most important to your guests. Which images are on those pages? Among our hotel clients, we find that room photos are the most viewed images on nearly every site. Event galleries (e.g. wedding galleries) are also very important.
- Hire a professional photographer. Ensure that your photographer knows to highlight your USPs in images. For example, instruct them focus on shots of your pool, the views around your hotel, luxury rooms, restaurant food, etc. Also, make sure you've got good lighting and weather when you take the pictures!
- Avoid stock photography. At the end of the day, what's the point? Many people can tell stock photography from photos unique to your property, and they don't communicate anything real to your guests. While stock photos may be suitable for certain things, such as Christmas adverts or a 'hero shot' on a landing page, only use them if you absolutely must!
- Make your images easy to find. Don't make guests waste time hunting. If photos are not easily found, they may assume there are no images and move on to the next hotel.
- Look at your images without reading your copy. This is an easy test. Can you still tell what the page is about? Do they broadcast the ideal message to your ideal guest?
- Optimise images for SEO. According to every SEO specialist, optimised images are good for SEO. They improve time spent on site, and support the content on the page. They also make pages more relevant to search terms. How can you optimise images? Use keywords in your alt text descriptions. Make file names relevant. Reduce image sizes to improve load times.
- Do what you can to keep load time down. Sometimes, it's a tricky line to walk between loading 50 of your favourite images and keeping page load time to a reasonable number. So look at how many images your guests are actually looking at – you might be surprised! Guests often only look at the first 3-4 images per gallery. If that's the case for you, cut the rest. They're slowing your site down for no reason, and losing you booking.
- Place your best images 'above the fold'. Lead with your best foot forward, and dazzle your guests as soon as they land on the page. Place your strongest imagery where no one can miss it!
- Consider putting images from your guests in your gallery or on your social feeds. User-generated content (UGC) acts as a powerful form of social proof. If you see pictures from your guests that make your hotel look great, don't hesitate to ask to use them! If they're in a tweet or a Facebook post, you can simply share the post on your own page. If you want them on your site, be sure to get permission first.
5. Analytics to Improve the Booking Journey
Look at the data for your key market segments, and examine bookings by device and source. When you know where your guests are coming from, when those guests are booking, and how they're booking, you can create an incredibly tailored strategy. After all, it's about finding the right guest and the right time – and then selling them the right room for the right price!
To get started, here are 8 questions you can ask to see how guests engage with your site:
- Which source drives the most total revenue?
- Which sources deliver you the most valuable customers?
- Which device drives the most total revenue?
- Which devices deliver you the most valuable customers?
- Assisted Conversions: Which sources appear in your users' path to purchase, even if they aren't the sources that deliver the final conversion?
- Which pages of your booking funnel see the largest drop off?
- Are you adequately addressing users' concerns? (e.g. security, best rate guarantee, what happens with their data)
- Is the process and available information as clear and concise as possible?
Those questions will take care of your on-site booking journey. Along with those, look at who your guests are, and where they're booking from. Don't for get to examine booking windows and cancellation rates for each channel too!
These 5 strategies will help your guests make a booking in as few steps as possible. When hotels focus on conversion strategies, you take control of the booking process and grow direct bookings.
It's vital appeal strongly and immediately to your potential guests, and to shorten their booking journey. Guests should be able to book quickly and easily, and you should do everything in your power to persuade them to make their bookings directly.
Which of these 5 strategies have you seen the most success with? What does your hotel do differently?
Net Affinity is an Independent Digital Agency providing Revenue Generating Solutions for Hotels. Our services include Website Design, Digital Marketing and Booking Engine Technology. Our culture of award winning design and innovation together with a keen eye for emerging trends allows us to deliver services that directly impact on growing revenue for our clients. As experienced hoteliers we have a genuine and wholehearted passion in providing a complete customer centric service to our customers. We pride ourselves on the development of a relationship that allows us to nurture your business and ensure our success is your success.