Hotel Web Site Productivity... The New Way to Measure Your Site's Effectiveness.
By Neil Salerno
Friday, 7th April 2006
The way I see it, search engines have become so convenient, user-friendly, and accurate that online consumers are being converted into search addicts. Search engines have become an essential part of the Internet. I feel bad for many hotel web sites that are not yet search-friendly and/or have not improved their site content to accommodate search requirements.

The way I see it, many hoteliers still don't-get-it. While hotel sites are getting more attractive, many simply ignore the basic requirements to be a searchable and functional web site. Both the design of the site and the text content make a huge contribution to the search ability of the site. Search engine compatibility is not complicated nor does it have to change the entire "feel' of your web site. Many times minor changes can make a huge difference.

It's obviously important to attract as many visitors as possible to your site. Your site means nothing unless people can see it. But your site's design has a great influence on how search engines spider and rank your site; which will determine the number of visitors who will see your site. That's right, folks, it's a "Catch 22"; for those of you to young to remember, that's a problem which revolves in a circle, over and over again.

You should no longer be satisfied with web masters who simply track the number of visitors to your site. Site optimization includes the ability of your site to convert "lookers" to "bookers". Getting visitors to see your site is only half the job; the easier half. How many visitors are actually making a reservation? Productivity means bookings.

I spoke to a professional the other day who was satisfied that the only way to increase bookings was to attract more visitors. Well, how about also optimizing the design of the site so that more of those additional visitors will make a reservation?

Over time, many hotel web sites tend to become a collection of disjointed, unrelated information due to the hotel's eagerness to include as much information as possible, as if that would make a difference. Sometimes less is more. Many others continually display information which is out-dated, due to simple neglect. A web site is not your hotel's online brochure; it's a continually evolving sales tool.

For independent hotels, web site optimization is an absolute must. Loyal franchise shoppers often overlook details on a franchise site because they are familiar with the requirements of that brand. But, only 20% to 25% of Internet searches are brand-specific. This leaves a lot of "opportunity" available to independent hotels. Your site's ability to get ranked higher by search engines and its ability to "sell" rooms, once visitors get there, is critical to the site's productivity.

Don't kid yourself, if your site is not producing well, the solution may not simply be fixed with search engine optimization (SEO). Getting more visitors to view a non-functional site, fixes nothing. Creating an effective sales tool involves a lot more than simply having pretty pictures and listing facts about the facilities and amenities of your hotel. Your site should be designed using sound hotel marketing principles; that means that it has to be designed to sell. You've heard it before; content is king. Many designers spend more time composing photos and flash elements than developing text and links, the most important part of your site.

Would you have your maintenance engineer write your hotel's marketing plan? No more so than you would have your marketing director fix a leaking sink. Why would you leave it to anyone other than a hotel marketing professional to design your web site? I have a client who had his new flashy site designed by a major web design company to the tune of $6000. In six months the site produced reservations in the low single digits each month. After content and navigation changes, it now produces roughly thirty percent of all his reservations.

For independent hotels, it is also necessary to provide the "instant gratification" that only an online booking engine can provide. Most hotel site visitors will not be satisfied with waiting for a fax or email confirmation of their reservation. I simply cannot understand why there are still so many hotel sites that don't have the ability to accept an online "real-time" reservation. Many booking engines are seamless and easily affordable; the return on this minor investment is huge.

Whoever has designed your site, make them accountable for reservation production; unless, of course, your bank now accepts deposits of unique users. According to Secure-Res, their average client site converts 3.48% of all visitors; wouldn't it be common-sense that it should be much higher? Can you imagine making reservations for only 4 out of every 100 people that call your hotel?

Neil Salerno, CHME, CHA
Hotel Marketing Coach


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