Websites are a major part of hotels’ distribution network, so hoteliers need to make sure their websites are up to date and, mostly importantly, functioning.
REPORT FROM THE U.S.—As booking online is how most guests reserve their stays, hoteliers are keen to make sure their properties’ websites look nice, work correctly and offer the features and functions people have come to expect.
Experts said websites are not static things and must change over time to keep up with compatibility requirements and avoid looking outdated.
Hoteliers want to have the latest and greatest websites, said Kathryn Jones, corporate director of digital marketing at Hospitality Ventures Management Group. They have to ask themselves whether the websites they have today are modern and accurately reflect their hotels and their brands, she said, adding that even independent hotels have a branding element to them.
Deciding to update
Denihan Hospitality Group began updating its hotels’ websites for a number of reasons, said Michael Goldrich, VP of marketing, e-commerce and distribution at Denihan. The company looked at its legacy system with its older content management system and how it could be more nimble, he said, and then it explored options for improvement. After reviewing those, the company decided to move forward with a new CMS that was more robust and empowers marketing managers to do more on the sites and rely less on web development.
The new system would also improve their speed on smartphones, he said, which leads to increased conversions and more revenue.
Websites can last for about three to five years as long as hoteliers stay current on the technology and the look and feel of the site, Jones said. It’s a big investment to start over, she said, and her company has had to do it a couple of times, including for their corporate site.
Jones said she and others at HVMG are constantly on their own hotels’ sites and comparing them to competitors’ sites.
“If one or two of our primary competitors have a completely new website, it will make us take a look at ours,” she said. “Is this something we need to do? Maybe we upgraded, and they upgraded to meet us.”
The company doesn’t have a timetable set for these updates, she said, as it is more of a constant evolution to stay current.
Denihan also looked at who its guests are and what information they look for on the sites, Goldrich said. The goal is to make it easier for people to book online, he said, so the company needed to know what information the guests sought out. The other goal is to provide enough content that answers their questions but not so much as to overwhelm them.
“Make sure the descriptions about the rooms are clear and simple and fast,” he said. “Make sure when people come to the site, that’s what they want. We don’t want to make them think. We want to answer their questions.”
User analytics helps with deciding on what changes to make, Jones said. HVMG wants to know where people are going and what they are doing when they get to the site. The sites need pages about the guestrooms, obviously, but if the hotel has food-and-beverage outlets, spas and wedding venues, there should be pages that promote that, too, she said.
The prevalence of the booking engine is “hugely important,” Jones said, and it matters where it’s placed on the page. Having good imagery is a must, and that applies to more than just indie hotels. People don’t read as much as they did in the past, she said, and now the design is more image-driven with limited copy.
Provenance Hotels has made continued A/B testing a major budgetary priority for 2019, said M. Morgan Pittman, director of e-commerce at Provenance. The company has been prioritizing this heavily for the past two years and will continue, she said, as the testing allows it to continually optimize site performance and user experience to increase conversion.
A secure website URL is no longer optional with Google's new security protocols, Pittman said, so Provenance transitioned to this format in early 2018 to get ahead of Google's deadline this past September.
“If companies have not yet upgraded to a secure URL, they must do so as the tech giant is actively blocking traffic to those sites,” she said.
Google also updated its algorithm to give higher weight to backlinks on sites, Pittman said. Provenance is investing in content creation in 2019 with the specific goal of disseminating that content on social media to give it higher search rankings that result in backlinking.
“For us, this content can range from neighborhood guides to lists of the region's best hikes,” she said. “The content itself incorporates keywords dictated by deep dives into the search traffic for our destinations, but the topics can encompass anything our customers or social audience might find relevant that resonates with our brand.”
Denihan is a small hospitality company, Goldrich said, so it partnered with a design company for web development and help with the user interface. When using two vendors on one project, there can be a lot of confusion and finger pointing, he said, so they use a collaborative platform to communicate, which eliminates email and increases visibility and accountability.
“As a result of using this, we’re hitting all the milestones,” he said.
The company sets a due date and then works backward from the milestones, Goldrich said. There’s little slack in the project schedule, so this makes sure they all hit the date. They address any problems immediately, he said, because obstacles and indecision can mean missing deadlines.
HVMG has a couple of primary vendors for this kind of work, Jones said, and the company assigns them to different projects based on the budget for each hotel. There’s one who is better for a lower-budgeted hotel, she said, while there’s another that’s a bit more costly but can add the bells and whistles for a higher-end hotel.
Along with building and redesigning websites, the vendors help with testing the sites before they’re ready to go live, Jones said. The vendors handle their side, and then the sites are released to HVMG employees to test. Along with functionality, they look for things like browser compatibility, actual responsiveness and site-mapping, she said.
Provenance is allocating resources toward lifestyle photography for its websites, Pittman said. The company has seen increased performance in transitioning toward these types of images across their sites, and it’s creating assets that will allow the company to update the sites seasonally to make them resonate with customers and increase bookings.
Another area Provenance is investing in next year is improving their websites’ video capability, she said.
“Like lifestyle photography, this can increase conversion,” Pittman said. “But, it not only requires the production of video assets, it requires coding on the back end to provide a seamless video viewing experience for customers. We're investing in both.”