As a hotelier, changing your website or building a new site from scratch might seem a daunting challenge, especially in today’s fast-changing online travel market. The following guide is designed to help hoteliers navigate these challenges, starting from initial design and content creation, to optimizing with SEO tips, marketing strategies, and reputation management. This five-step reference guide will give you an overview of everything you need to know to get your new website firing on all cylinders.
1. User experience and e-commerce
Understanding the principles of user experience and e-commerce is crucial to providing customers with an optimal online experience that drives conversions. Bear in mind the following areas as you begin to plan your website build.
Choosing the right platform
To start with, you’ll need to decide on the right kind of platform. While WordPress is a popular choice, it has significant drawbacks including limited customization and security issues. Instead, consider choosing a specialized web platform that is designed specifically to manage hotel e-commerce and optimize bookings.
The importance of responsive design
To create a seamless user experience, content needs to be optimized for whatever device it’s being accessed on. Responsive design fulfills this function, making it easy to see and interact with content on desktop, tablet and mobile. Responsive design is also far less complicated than creating and maintaining a separate “mobile version” of a site.
OTAs have become masters of e-commerce, designing websites built around the principles of conversion optimization. These principles involve making personalized recommendations, simplifying the booking process by asking for minimal details, and providing simple navigation. With relatively little investment, hotels can replicate these winning strategies to turn lookers into bookers.
ADA compliance and disability access
Many hotel websites are subject to laws that require them to be compliant with national and/or international disability standards. This means making the site more accessible to blind and deaf individuals. Fortunately, building an ADA-compliant hotel website isn’t difficult; it just requires adhering to specific principles.
The visual design of a website can have a significant impact on a customer’s first perceptions, which in turn can influence their ultimate booking decision.
Design and branding
Your website’s visual design should instantly set the tone for the kind of experience your hotel offers. Do you want to convey a feeling of old-world luxury or a modern urban vibe? Factors such as your choice of brand colors and typography can have a major impact on this initial perception.
The images on your website help tell the story of your hotel and destination, sparking desire and exciting guests about the prospect of staying with you. When deciding on the best images for your website, use a variety of wide shots, portraits and close-ups to create visual variety. (You don’t even need fancy equipment; there are ways to take excellent hotel shots with your smartphone.) Also, only use images that are relevant to the page topic (eye-tracking studies show that people tend to ignore generic images) and optimize photos so they look great on desktop, tablet and mobile.
The key to effective hotel copywriting involves getting into the head of your customer and focusing on the unique selling points they really care about. Your copy will also be far more effective when you inject it with personality. Tempting though it may be to try and appeal to everyone, writing in a distinct tone aimed at your key demographic will instantly have greater impact.
Every new website launch should have an accompanying SEO plan to ensure that your hotel gets maximum visibility online. Whether it’s launching a new website or redesigning an old one, you’ll want to make sure that all technical and content elements are in order during development.
Optimized URLs and meta descriptions
After your domain name, URLs are the most significant component of your website’s overall structure. So what makes for URL best practice? First, keep URLs concise and simple. Steer clear of using unnecessary connecting or stop words, and avoid multiple redirects; they increase load times and can affect search rankings.
While they no longer contribute to ranking position, meta descriptions can have a huge influence on a hotel’s click-through rate. Great meta descriptions need be informative, on-brand, and contain a unique value proposition that encourages a reader to click.
Launching a new website without harming SEO
Making changes to your website can damage your current search rankings if you’re not careful, so it pays to be aware of the checks you need to conduct before, during, and after your website is created. Before any redevelopments, use Google Analytics to discover which pages need improving, and the potential impact any changes might have.
While your new website is being created, carrying out an SEO benchmark report will reveal how your current site is performing, and provide a point of comparison when your new site is ready. Prior to launch, write out all redirects in a proper format and create an XML sitemap to help the search engines crawl your site. After launching, check for crawl errors within Google Search Console to identify any problems that need addressing.
SEO 101 basics
Once your website is live, you’ll want to continue building up your organic search rankings. Our SEO 101 guide for hotels offers key insights on how to optimize your hotel website for local search.
4. Reputation Management
When your website goes live, you need to maximize your presence on the web. To start with, secure an account name on the big social media channels to prevent another business claiming your brand name as their own, then commit to a consistent social media plan to keep customers engaged with your brand.
It’s also important to encourage lots of reviews from guests, as well as addressing any negative reviews swiftly and professionally. If your hotel gets positive reviews or favorable online coverage, be sure to share and link to these articles from your website and social accounts.
Reputation management also relies on creating a unified brand persona across the web. To achieve brand harmony, ensure that the same photos and text (such as room descriptions) are consistent on your website, booking engine, TripAdvisor and OTAs.
5. Engaging content
Creating a sleek and professional-looking website is only half the battle. To make that investment worthwhile, you need to populate it with engaging content to inspire guests and encourage them to explore your site.
According to Google’s Traveler’s Road to Decision report, 66% of people watch travel-related content while thinking about taking a trip. So hosting a video on your website is a pretty great way to instantly hook the interest of potential customers.
A promotional video can be hosted on a hotel homepage to showcase rooms, amenities and the hotel destination. But it can also be harnessed as a marketing tool to drive traffic back to the site. For instance, posting video content on relevant social media channels can capture the attention of a hotel’s core audience, influencing decision-making early in the travel journey.
A lot of hotels choose to create a blog purely for SEO purposes, which is a mistake. Unsurprisingly, publishing cookie-cutter content does little to inspire customers, and the SEO benefits only come about when people actually read, share, and crucially, link to the content. But when a blog is insightful and designed with purpose, it can be a hugely effective inbound marketing tool. As well as earning links from influential sites, a blog can increase direct bookings, instill brand loyalty from dedicated followers, and help answer common questions about the property or neighborhood.
Your hotel website is your best marketing tool
As the online travel market continues to become more and more competitive, hotels will need to think of their websites as their primary sales channel. The modern hotel website is no longer a form of brochureware but rather an e-commerce site must optimized through great user experience, strong design, and engaging content. When these elements are each considered and executed correctly, a hotel website can become a powerful tool that inspires travelers, boosts brand credibility, nurtures guest relationships, and above all—wins direct bookings.
Interested in learning how to design and optimize your hotel website for bookings? Join our upcoming webinar on Tuesday, Sept. 13!