By Keith Paulin
So, you have finally read one too many articles about how 30% plus of your revenues should be arriving via the internet and that a further 30% are influenced by what they discover online about your hotel from your website…and the end of month reports show you are way short of those numbers.
You have taken an objective look at your website and you have decided its time to act…you need a new website for your hotel. You want to get it right this time but where do you start?
For the sake of this article, I’m going to assume, rightly or wrongly, that you have prepared and written an online strategy for your hotel that you will also share with your chosen website designer; you now need to provide them with some design guidelines…a briefing document that is both tactical as well as creative. Our focus here is more on the “look and feel” of your site…I have penned many other articles on hotel website search engine optimisation; Google me for the SEO stuff.
What I am about to share with you has to be taken in context…these recommendations are meant to provide you with a starting point, a foundation upon which to build your online presence… but they are not set in stone. We know that these principals work…and by following these guidelines you will end up with a hotel website that:
• Has a good chance of turning up on the first couple of pages of the Search Engines
• Will be attractive and engage visitors to your hotel website
• Will convert a high percentage of visitors into online revenues
However, once you have prepared a brief, it is important to let your designers…well…design. Don’t restrict their creativity because that is really what you are paying for. You should expect at least two and maybe three alternatives to review, refining these through a series of iterations until you have a design that is both visually appealing as well as Search Engine-friendly.
Layout – work in a grid, usually in thirds (navigation, text, call-to-action buttons or images, usually on the right) or quarters. See that your website designers align the core elements both vertically and horizontally using the grid as a basis for allocating space.
We get our best online results where vertically, one third is navigation (left or right) and two thirds body or text. Horizontally we like to see half of the screen as your header/brand and including a dominant image.
The lower half of the screen should show visitors a headline including the keywords they were searching for, text and the start of the navigation, all without them having to scroll…you can have long pages but visitors shouldn’t have to scroll initially to get the idea of what the page is all about.
Navigation – even experienced web searchers don’t want to learn how to navigate through your site – they need to quickly know how to get to your accommodation, special offers, room rates and web booking engine.
Consequently, we recommend vertical navigation bars…people are used to this, it allows easy drill-down to sub-pages and you can see where you are at any time…none of those pretty but painful horizontal “drop down” menus that keep disappearing and getting you lost and frustrated when they keeping folding up again.
Sub-pages and “landing” pages – many hoteliers do not realise that with a well constructed site, nearly half your visitors will “land” on a sub-page first rather than all arriving via the “home” page. This is why you must include your address and contact details in the footer of every page.
As much attention should be given to the design of lower level pages as the home page so make sure during the initial design stage that you get to see examples of what your sub-pages will look like.
There are two broad design principles we prefer for sub-pages. A single dominant image “floating” in space draws the eye of visitors and captures their interest…it becomes extremely memorable, especially if the image is striking.
Alternatively, use multiple images on a page and keep them the same size, or the same proportion; repetition creates a feeling of consistency and quality.
When it comes to colours, keep it simple…choose one dominant colour and use variations or tones of that base colour as highlights. Unless you have a particularly funky property, stay on the conservative side in your colour selection…blues, greens or beige/parchment can be a great palette to develop a quality theme from.
Don’t be afraid of open or white space…this is ideal for creating an uncluttered combination of imagery and text. Your website needs to capture the hearts and minds of your visitors once they arrive at your site as well as being very Search Engine-friendly and open space is a great way to carry this off.
Even a small image, placed in open space, can work wonders on creating the unique nature of your property. Use “drop shadow” effects to create a three dimensional or embossed look.
You need buttons too…we call them “call to action” buttons to be precise…graphics that prompt visitors to act…”make a reservation”, “check availability” or “make an online enquiry” are just a few examples.
Every page should have at least one button, designed to stand out but not overpower the overall design and that complements the base navigation.
Copy writing – not just the facts…write stories, create experiences, develop an emotional connection with your visitors. Tell them about the romance of your packages, the professional efficiency of your business centre team or those small touches that make your hotel stand out from the crowd.
And remember that online visitors scan rather than read verbatim so use headlines, bold, italics and bullet points to create visual “hooks” for their eyes to pause on. Write enough to keep your visitors interest but not so much that you bore them.
We also like guest testimonials (yes, I know that no one has ever published a poor testimonial on their website)…apart from the visual impact, these are an implied third party endorsement that shouldn’t be underestimated.
Don’t forget that Search Engines can only read text and design code…they can’t see images so you need your design to allow for at least 200 words on each page, within which you can insert the keywords that you are targeting…in the headlines, the main copy and emphasised elements like bolding, as well as in the meta data and title tags.
Fonts should be simple, san serif (no curly bits or heavy styling) and easy on the eye. Use a dark grey or dark tone of your base colour for page font as black can be too “in your face” on screen.
Where appropriate, reversing text in white from a darker background can evoke the feeling of confidence and security…but use this cautiously as it can also be very overpowering.
And as a final hint, use your common sense…you hotel website must be easy to build, easy to maintain or add to and compelling to visitors. If your website designer wants to take three months or more to design the “front end” and build the “back end” for your mid-size property, they are probably over-engineering it…from acceptance of design it should take no longer than a month to complete.
Nowadays, they should be providing you with a website based on a Content Management System which will allow you to edit or add pages in-house quickly and easily…this will also reduce your ongoing costs. Finally, your website should indeed look smart and stylish…simple, fresh and not too busy…enough to capture visitors imagination without trying to do too much.
Use the above guidelines wisely (and remember these are guidelines, not gospel) when you document your hotel website design brief…then let your designers design…and both you, and your website designer, will have a sound foundation upon which to design and build a great website that sells more rooms…after all, that is why you are making this investment, and this time you definitely want to get it right.
Keith Paulin is a leading online marketeer in the hotel industry and is the Group General Manager of Hotel Marketing Workshop, a company that specialises in hotel internet marketing for clients around the world through effective hotel website design, hotel email services, website content maintenance and hotel website search engine optimisation.