Conversions – Getting Your Website to Do Its Job

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This is the fourth article in a series examining how B&B guests proceed through the decision process for booking a stay. Based largely on research from WIHP Hotel Marketing, the first article describes the four-step process for booking, the second describes how a guest discovers your property, and the third examines how to provide information to get the guest to your website. This article discusses how to get the conversion – to capture the booking – once the guest has come to your site.

What is the purpose of your website? Have you ever given that some thought? Is it to (a) show off your beautiful property, (b) get people to call you for more information, (c) get people to call to book, (d) get people to book online, or (e) other? For most lodging properties, we would venture to say that the primary purpose is to get people to book online, and, secondarily, to call to book. Is it doing those things well?

The Guest Arrives at Your Website

Our guest has decided where they want to go for their getaway, they have discovered your property (and, probably, up to 10 others), they have done some initial research and learned a little about your property, and have now arrived at your website. WIHP calls this the First Moment of Truth.

What happens in the next few seconds will determine whether you get the booking or not.

[pullquote]You have between 3-7 seconds to convince the visitor that your property has what they want.[/pullquote]For years analysts have been telling us that you have only seconds (reports we’ve seen range from less than a second, to about 10 seconds) to convince the visitor to continue with your site. The data for lodging websites from WIHP indicates that you have between 3 and 7 seconds to capture the visitor’s interest. As an aside, the technical details of determining the exact duration of a visit by a guest who departs make the data relied upon difficult to evaluate. However, there is no doubt that the time is very short to show the visitor that you have what they are looking for.

What is the Guest Looking For?

Again, WIHP’s research indicates that the prospective guest is looking for three things:

  • Value
  • Location
  • Comfort

They also found two other things that are very important: Quality websites sell better, and better booking engine design results in more bookings.

How should your website be designed?

A search on “web design mistakes” will yield many articles on poor choices in website design. Some even contradict each other. As mentioned in our previous post, Acorn Internet Services has prepared a series of checklists, accompanying their Smarter Innkeeper Series, to assist with selecting a web design company and/or SEO firm. The first article in that series includes a checklist to ask your prospective web developer, and makes a good list of things you should be planning to address with your website.

There are lots of examples across the internet of websites that are attractive and effective. For some examples, view the portfolios of design firms in our industry, such as Acorn Internet Services, Whitestone Marketing, or Insideout Solutions. While you probably don’t want your site to look just like another site, you’ll notice some similar elements on each site designed by these professionals. Large, high quality photos of the property, the rooms (comfort) and of the food (and other amenities, if appropriate). Clear, straightforward, navigation. Clear statements of rates and what you are getting for them (value). Clear descriptions of location and nearby attractions or points of interest.

If your website looks less “polished” than the competition (who may not be your neighbor, but in another location, entirely), you are not encouraging your visitor to book. If you aren’t showing them the things they are looking for (value, location and comfort), you are making it harder for them to find the information they are seeking.

Finally, if your booking engine makes it difficult to see what they want, and to easily and conveniently proceed through the booking process, you are making it less likely that they will complete the booking process (you can validate this using Google Analytics and checking to see where the visitor leaves the booking system, but that is a topic for another post).

What should your website do?

The guest has chosen about 10 properties to consider, and will visit the websites of all of them. Each will have 3-7 seconds to answer their questions. The questions will primarily be (1) is this property a good value? (2) is this property well-located for my planned activities? and (3) is this going to provide a desirable level of comfort?

There may be other questions in the mind of an individual guest, but virtually all prospective guests will be asking these three questions. Consequently, your website must answer them, and answer them quickly.

  1. Your design must look professional and current (the portfolios of the industry web design firms listed above will show you what is both professional and current).
  2. Your site must load very quickly (this is a priority for Google, and the slower it loads, the less time a guest will wait to see if you answer their questions).
  3. Your photos must be professional, beautiful, and must show the comfort and the value the guest will find at your property.
  4. Your rates must be prominently displayed, so the guest can easily see the value you are providing.
  5. Your location – especially your proximity to the most commonly visited attractions and points of interest – must be easy to find.

If your site answers these questions for the guest, and does it quickly, and if your booking engine makes the booking process clean, simple and easy (including on mobile devices!), you will be capturing the booking you are seeking.

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