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What you should be asking your website designer
By feature writers Max Starkov and Sara O'Brien
In the multi-screen world we live in today, hoteliers must meet the needs of their guests on every device. This means investing in technology that allows for the best user experience on the three screens: desktop, mobile and tablet.
The difference between an ordinary hotel, resort or casino website and a great one could be measured in hundreds of thousands of dollars of missed revenue a year. Some hoteliers are mistakenly led to believe that 'going cheap' when re-designing their property's website will save money. Wrong! Not investing in the correct property website will cause you to lose money and severely damage the hotel's bottom line. A property website must incorporate the right balance of excellent design, state-of-the-art digital technology and engaging visual and textual content, while providing optimum user experience from top to bottom, which inevitably will boost conversions on and revenues from the site.
Choosing the correct website design vendor is a key factor in creating and executing an efficient digital marketing strategy - and a great website design and development firm can be one of an hotelier's greatest assets.
A number of important factors must be taken into consideration when deciding on the right website design firm. Here are some of the questions you should be asking a potential website design vendor before making a decision that could either reward your property immensely, or destroy your property's bottom line:
1) Do you understand the unique needs of my hotel?
A hotel website must speak the language of the travel consumer, and each website is an artistic interpretation of the property's unique business needs. Therefore the website design must be based on hospitality-specific necessities that non-hospitality design firms often overlook: hotel booking and revenue generators such as best rate guarantee messaging, promotional tiles, dynamic calendars of events, and more. These elements work together to position a client's hotel as the hero of the destination.
2) Can you build a site that accommodates users on their desktops, mobile phones and tablets?
One size does not fit all - a simple resizing of the website to fit onto a specific screen size is not the answer for hotels. The property website must serve the right content to the right device category (desktop, mobile, tablet), without having to manage three different websites.
Desktop users require as much information as possible and place high value on visual galleries. Mobile users need slimmed-down content with an emphasis on maps and directions, easy to use mobile booking engine and click-to-call property reservation number. Tablet users require a visually enhanced experience as well as a website that is built to accommodate the touch screen and swiping capabilities the tablet offers.
Technology available today allows for a hotel to manage all content in one place, yet still provide a customized user experience for each device. Here at HeBS Digital we accomplish this by utilizing responsive design on server side (RESS) to accommodate user behavior on the three screens (desktop, mobile and tablet). We treat each device as a unique customer experience channel and serve different features and content from one single back-end platform (CMS Premium).
3) How many website design awards have you won?
An award-winning website design means more than just a pretty website. Many of the design award organizations look at the website's ROIs, best practices utilization, usability, conversions, underlying technology, etc. Therefore, working with a nationally-recognized and award-winning website design vendor provides the property with a better shot at achieving its goals and a better chance of acquiring an award-winning website for the property itself.
4) Is all design and development done in-house?
Many interactive and digital marketing agencies outsource website design, often to web development shops overseas. Website design and technology have become so complex, especially now in a three-screen (desktop, mobile, tablet) digital environment that integrates social media, that you need a partner who fully understands these complexities and knows how to maximize revenues from the property website.
5) Are you up to speed with all the latest SEO best practices?
The difference between appearing on the first and second page of search results can add up to thousands of dollars of bookings and RFP submissions, as we mentioned in our article, "The Undying Importance of SEO: How to Actively Manage Your Search Engine Presence."
There is a direct correlation between the quality of the website SEO and the results from your paid search (SEM) campaigns. The better the SEO on the site, the better the Quality Index assigned to your paid search campaigns by Google, which means higher ad position, better conversion rates, higher ROIs, and lower cost per click. A robust content strategy, supported by adequate technology and marketing funds, can make all the difference and allow the hotel to maximize revenues from the search engines.
We've had many clients come to us after thinking they could ignore implementing an SEO strategy only to discover this resulted in their revenues from organic search plummeting and website revenues overall suffering greatly.
Bottom line, your websites should come fully optimized for the search engines, including the latest Google Hummingbird algorithm update.
Here is only a sample of the "must-haves" SEO enhancements to the property website that allow efficient crawling by search engine bots:
6) Do you have a CMS (Content Management System) that will allow me to make updates to my site easily?
By this we mean activities such as adding an unlimited number of pages, updating 100% of content pages, changing all photos on the site, creating photo animations on every page, creating unlimited landing pages and promo tiles for special offers, packages, events? If not, how much will I spend on maintenance fees each year?
Today's hotelier must have access to a RESS-enabled CMS technology allowing single-dashboard management of all three device channel presences of the property website: desktop, mobile and tablet. Hoteliers must have access to a CMS that functions as the nucleus of your digital marketing, where every website update, social media post and image can be published with the click of a button. The CMS should not only allow you to create and manage content through the three distribution channels, it should also offer:
HeBS Digital's ‘Special Offers Module' and ‘Calendar of Events Module' address hotelier's needs when it comes to populating their sites with special events content. This is especially important in the hospitality space, as these elements help generate bookings and position the hotel as the hero of the destination.
7) Can it recover abandoned bookings and boost my website conversion rates?
Approximately one-third of hotel website visitors initiate a booking, yet 95% of those abandon before making a reservation. This leaves the vast majority of website visitors unexposed to the hotel rates and special offers. Even in the case that the visitor has decided to stay at the property, he or she may not feel compelled to complete the booking at that time or even via the hotel website, and choose to do this via an OTA.
There are number of reservation abandonment and recovery products that must be incorporated on the property website. For example, HeBS Digital has developed a suite of products that help website visitors complete the booking process. These include Smart Rate Promos, Reservation Abandonment Program, Reservation Email Retargeting, and Reservation Reminder Program - each working together to recapture bookings and boost website conversions and RFP lead generation.
8) Will you host my website in the cloud and do you use CDN (Content Delivery Network) to ensure fast download speeds and a secure hosting environment?
Investing in cloud hosting and a CDN (content delivery network) platform will inevitably boost site conversions and improve search engine rankings that are increasingly dependent on fast download speeds.
A few other benefits of investing in this type of hosting platform:
9) Will it be equipped with full-service for analytics or will it use free, open-source based analytics?
Tracking every dollar spent, as well as visitor behaviour on your website, will allow you to make quick tweaks to your online presence that result in higher revenues and a better user experience. This data could also help you justify the investment in technology needed (are you seeing low bookings from mobile or tablet users and need to invest in RESS?). In addition, with over 15 percent of website visitors utilizing the mobile channel, call analytics is a must for any hotelier. Assessing your call analytics will ensure you aren't underestimating the performance of your online campaigns and cancelling or lowering the budget on initiatives that are driving revenues via your voice channel.
Beware of free tools that own your data, have no customer support and do not provide you with the big picture.
HeBS Digital knows how important it is to hoteliers to track every dollar spent and be able to attribute revenue to digital marketing campaigns. For that reason, for all of our hospitality clients we utilize Adobe Analytics (Omniture), the most advanced web analytics platform in the industry today - the same platform utilized by Marriott.com, Starwood.com, and Expedia. A well-rounded analytics tool like Adobe allows us to make quick decisions on a campaign - such as tweaking marketing messages, pausing the campaign or allocating additional funds.
10) Will I receive ongoing digital marketing support after the website launches?
Designing, building and launching your property's new website is only the beginning. A new property website that is not supported by digital marketing and best practices efforts will only linger on the web and produce next-to-nothing revenues. In order to generate incremental and growing revenues, any new property website needs:
Industry best practices have shown that the ideal approach for any hotel, resort or casino is to deal with a one-stop-shop website design and digital marketing and technology firm. Due to the ever growing complexities of digital marketing and technology in hospitality, the boundaries between the property website and the property marketing efforts are blurring and disappearing. The property website must be conceptualized and built to support and work in harmony with the ongoing digital marketing efforts.
About the Authors and HeBS Digital
Max Starkov is President & CEO and Sara O'Brien is Senior Manager, Marketing at HeBS Digital, one of the hospitality industry's leading full-service digital marketing and direct online channel strategy firms based in New York City.
HeBS Digital has pioneered many of the best practices in hospitality digital technology and marketing, and direct online channel best practices and strategies. The firm has won over 250 prestigious industry awards for its digital technology, including its proprietary MetaSearch Gateway, digital marketing and website design. These awards include numerous Adrian Awards, Davey Awards, W3 Awards, WebAwards, Magellan Awards, Summit International Awards, Interactive Media Awards, IAC Awards, and others.
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