5 tips to keep independent websites fresh and appealing
 
5 tips to keep independent websites fresh and appealing
26 OCTOBER 2016 12:43 PM

Independent hoteliers might not always have a lot of time and resources to dedicate to their websites, but there are quick and easy ways to appeal to potential guests. 

GLOBAL REPORT—Keeping hotel websites fresh and appealing to potential guests can be a daunting task, especially if the property isn’t backed by a brand to help with the heavy lifting.

Although independent hoteliers might not have the same time and resources as those who own branded properties, sources said there are several things that can be done to ensure properties shine online.

1. Focus on content
Denise McNeil, New Castle Hotel & Resorts’ regional director of revenue, is responsible for the company’s Canadian assets, which include independent Liscombe Lodge, and soft-branded Algonquin Resort and Digby Pines Golf Resort & Spa.

A main strategy to keep these properties’ websites fresh focuses on content and stories that appeal to core segments of business, she said.

For the Liscombe Lodge, that means creating content targeted at families, couples and wedding business.

“We want to create relevant and engaging content, such as what to do and things nearby,” she said. “We want to educate people.”

McNeil cautioned that content shouldn’t be too much like a sales pitch or commercial. She suggested sharing third-party content as a way to engage potential guests and partners.

“It comes down to not being overly promotional,” she said. “Share content on behalf of other experts and get third-party endorsements to stand out.”

McNeil said blogging is another great way to create content for hotel websites—and it doesn’t necessarily have to come with a huge time commitment. 

She said that blogs no longer need to be lengthy pieces of content, but rather they can be quick hits about what’s happening in the hotel’s area. She suggested making a commitment of writing one quick blog per week to make sure the website’s content is constantly refreshing and relevant to potential guests.

Lisa Zifer, VP of operations for Riley Hotel Group, said a pretty site is nothing without engaging content that is current and relevant. Medina, Ohio-based Riley Hotel Group has a portfolio of 18 hotels, 11 of which are independent.

“Consumers are looking at a lot of sites,” she said. “That’s why you have to keep yours fresh with unique content, pictures, social media content and relevant blogs.”

Sam Trotter, corporate brand strategist for Charlestowne Hotels, said changing content and not remaining static are key.

“One of the easiest things you can do is change the retailing on the home page, highlighting packages specific to the season or booking window you’re in the middle of attracting,” he said.

For example, if it’s the middle of winter and the hotel’s city hosts a Christmas light festival, offer a hotel package for that and display it prominently on the home page. As packages change, the website’s content will naturally change, too.

2. Appeal with photography
Photography is another form of content that can change with relevancy to the seasons, Trotter said.

While photography can be expensive, he said there are ways around that. For example, he said guests don’t necessarily feel as if all the imagery on the website needs to be from the property.

“Someone on staff can buy some great stock photography that matches the look and feel. It’s inexpensive,” Trotter said. “You can get packs of stock photos to bring the pricing down, and there are lots of great options.”

McNeil said guests are no longer looking for staged photo shoots when it comes to website imagery.

“Keep it real,” she said. “Incorporate user-generated content.”

Zifer agreed.

“Website search engines like and value pictures,” she said. “Fresh websites and unique content helps your ranking.”

McNeil said videos are another great way to create an “emotional connection” with viewers.

Trotter cautioned hoteliers to beware of page-load times as videos can slow down the site.

“We’ve done it where we have quick videos where it’s a video that loops for five seconds,” he said. “And we do that for page-load times, to deliver it as fast as possible because otherwise people can disappear on you.”

3. Integrate social media
Social media is something you need to do,” Zifer said.

But she said hoteliers need the ability to monitor the analytics to determine what amount of traffic is coming from social channel to inform better decision-making. Riley partners with a company that allows it 24/7 access to its site and provides analytic tools.

“With analytics, we can see where they are coming from, did they book from Facebook and the revenue that comes from it,” she said.

“We have a small team that manages social media,” McNeil said. That team has been working on Facebook ads that drive traffic back to the hotel website, she said.

“Then, we are remarketing to those folks,” she said. “They will continue to see ads ongoing.”

4. Hire help, but stay in control
Sources said equally important to content is a back-end system that lends itself to a streamlined approach.

“We used to have customized solutions for websites, then over time more affordable websites came along,” McNeil said. For Liscombe Lodge, she works with a company that has a library of templates available for use.

“Once you lay in content and copy, that’s when it comes to life,” she said. “We have direct access and control of imagery through the (content management system).” Templates can be changed over time to allow for fresh design.

McNeil said the partner company offers full customer support access and analytics tools. For the services, she pays month to month.

“While you don’t have the custom part that takes time to build, you’re able to do a lot more with your dollars,” she said.

Trotter said that having control and access to the website’s CMS is important, because depending on a company to make back-end changes can be cost- and time-prohibitive. He said paying a monthly fee instead of a one-time design fee is the way of the future.

He said Charlestowne is moving toward a digital agency and away from revolutionary design to what is known as evolutionary design.

“Every couple years you would have a huge redesign. You would have a high-performing site for the first year, then start falling behind,” he said. “What we require now is what is known as evolutionary design. Your site isn’t the same site that it was six months ago. It’s reactive in real time to changes that Google is making.”

5. Optimize for mobile
Zifer said the majority of searches for hotels are done on mobile devices. Because of this, independent hoteliers need to make sure their websites are responsive and featured properly on all types of mobile devices. Users should have the ability to easily book a room via smartphone, she said.

Trotter said he sometimes sees more than half of traffic to Charlestowne’s independent properties coming from mobile devices.

“If it’s a bad experience, they are leaving,” he said. “Maybe they are calling you, but maybe they are not.”

He said independent hoteliers should think about the overall mobile experience of their websites, keeping the following in mind:

  • How long does it take pages to load?
  • Is it a frustrating or good experience to navigate the site via mobile device?
  • What types of analytics are in place to measure the mobile site?
  • What’s the conversion rate?

Trotter said a 1.5% conversion rate is considered good, but in reality many hoteliers see around a 0.5% conversion rate. A middle ground of a 1% conversion rate is a good goal, he said.

“I think that’s the easiest way to realize benefits,” he added.

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