More Web Site Hints, Tips, and Tricks - Unwrapped.
By Neil Salerno
Saturday, 10th June 2006
When it comes to boosting web site sales, search engine optimization (SEO) has become the first and last choice by many web marketing companies. It seems that SEO has become the current Rx prescription for non-producing web sites. In itself, SEO can be very beneficial, but it is certainly not the cure-all that some web marketers claim.

The ironic thing about search engine optimization is that it actually needs to begin with the structure of the site itself. Applying SEO to an improperly designed hotel web site is like adding high-test gas to a car that doesn't have an engine or transmission. It's still going nowhere.

Designing a functional web site is not rocket science, but there are some fundamental design necessities to produce a marketable web site. Don't get caught up by web designers who want to create a work of art instead of a hotel web site that sells rooms. Don't think that a hotel site only needs to look good. Flash elements are still a bad idea and entire flash web sites, a new trend, may be great for museums and art galleries, but terrible for hotel web sites.

There are still many web designers who don't understand the purpose of a hotel web site. In their eagerness to make an attractive site, many completely ignore the interaction between search engines and web site content; how they must compliment one another. Text content sells rooms, yet many designers treat it like an after-thought. Text is what search engines see in order to rank a web site.

There are just a few key components of a well designed site; thoroughly researched and well-thought-out Meta Tags; a simple site navigation theme; well written sales text; a good link strategy; a good booking engine; use of low density photography; and knowledge of how consumers choose hotels. It's amazing how many sites violate one or more of these essentials.

Many hotel web sites today are producing upwards of 30% to 50% or more of their hotel's total room business. Some hotels claim even higher production numbers and yet, on the other hand, there are still many hoteliers who are facing dismal production but love the "look" of their sites, so they do nothing.

Many hoteliers have allowed themselves to get hung up in the technical subterfuge of measuring the effectiveness of their site by "hits", "unique user visits", and other technical jargon used by web designers who know little about selling rooms online. I can't count the number of web sites, I've reviewed, that are completely dysfunctional from a search and/or sales stand-point, but get a descent number of "unique users".  The problem is they don't book many reservations.

The average hotel web site converts less than four reservations from every one hundred visitors; many even fewer. A well designed site can increase conversions by two or three times. The true measure of a well designed web site is the number of reservations it generates. A good booking engine will give you the "look-to-book" ratio of your site. If it's only average, you can do something about it.

I hear from many hoteliers, who have spent hundreds or even thousands of dollars for the development of their web sites that are now very unhappy with their site's production. They have web sites that are attractive brochures instead of sales productive web sites. As a result, many of these hoteliers are frustrated with and disappointed in their site's ability to generate business.

The fix doesn't have to cost a fortune and the return can be very cost effective.

Take a lesson from the bright people managing franchise web sites. During the past few years, several franchises have invested time and energy to improve the ability of their sites to capture reservations. They have made their sites more user, search, and navigation friendly; reduced the number of clicks to make a reservation; improved their booking engines; and enhanced their sales message through well-written text.

As a result of their efforts to improve the market ability of their web sites, many franchises have significantly increased overall production. Making your site sales worthy is the first step in marketing your web site.

Ok, you've improved your web site, it's now optimized to "sell" reservations; and your new booking engine is integrated into your site and ready to capture and track new reservations. Now, it's time to apply search engine optimization, right? Well, not exactly.

A very effective way to prepare your site for SEO is to create a good "link strategy". Search engines like Google and Yahoo place a strong emphasis on links within, to, and from your site when it is ranked. When choosing a designer, check-out their knowledge of links and how strategic links can be effectively used on your site.

Populating your web site is similar to populating your hotel. Greater popularity of your site generates even more popularity. Sometimes, a temporary boost from pay-per-click sites like Google and Yahoo can give your site that added popularity needed to improve your rankings by search engines. They will work with your budget, so it doesn't have to be open-ended. They can place your site among the first four search results.

It may sound too simple, but I am surprised at the number of people who haven't yet learned to utilize the "signature" on their emails. A link to your web site along with a brief message is simple to create and can be beneficial.

Marketing your web site includes marketing on-your-web-site. If your current booking engine doesn't accommodate the booking of packages, it's time to change engines. People love packages; especially simple packages with popular elements. At the very least, they provide an additional choice for visitors.  

If your hotel accommodates group business, include a "request for proposal" page on your site. If planners visit your site, give them an opportunity complete an electronic RFP to get a quick response; it's only common-sense.

Use your site to develop a data base of the users who visit. One way to accommodate this is a simple email newsletter link to which users can register. A simple award of some kind can enhance the popularity of this link. A good site designer can easily build this for your site. Use your new data base to further market your hotel.

Location is still the number one criterion for choosing a hotel. Simply listing your address is not enough. What are the room night generators in your area? Descriptions of and links to these generators can multiply your chances for getting bookings.

Meet with your sales and/or front office team to review the text details on your site. They know the "hot buttons" which your guests share. It amazes me that so many sales and front office people have no clue as to what is on their hotel's web site, yet they are the most guest-knowledgeable people in the hotel.   

Pay keen attention to what rates are offered on your site. Are they current, are they at parity with rates offered at the front desk and other channels, and are they competitive with your neighbors? Rates should never be developed in a vacuum. If your deserved position is to be number one in your market, let your rates reflect that position. This is especially important for independent hotels; your rates will define your hotel. People don't shop rates, they shop value.

Download and print your web site, give it to peers, friends, and family and get their viewpoint. You will gain a completely different viewpoint when you see it in print. Is the text in priority order; does the text sell; is it up-to-date; is it accurate? The devil is in the details; your web site deserves your attention.

Neil Salerno, CHME, CHA ~ Hotel Marketing Coach

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