What Small Hotels can learn from Big Brand Websites.
By Andy Hayes ~ Exclusive for 4Hoteliers.com
Wednesday, 2nd December 2009
Let's face it:  running a tiny hotelier business is a different beast from running a massive big brand chain, but that doesn't mean that each camp can't learn from the other. 

In fact, I'd like to highlight a new corporate website from Marriott, which is very good and offers quite a few lessons learned that small hotels can take on board.

Here's a snapshot of the website homepage as I wrote this article:

And here are three things I really like about it.

Simple Wins, Always.  

When businesses owners hear that people's online attention spans are nearly zero, they are quick to assume that loud, flashy websites will get attention. 

Unfortunately, the only thing that usually gets you is the back button.  Simple wins the race nearly every time.  That's because unless your web visitor can understand who you are and why they should stick around within 6-8 seconds (varies depending on target market), you've lost them. 

That isn't very long.  So strip everything down to its core:  who, when, where, where, why, how.  Less is more.

Don't Hide your Sales Funnels. 

See how Marriott focused your attention on five things key things they want you to do?  See how the front-and-center option is to search for a hotel room? 

That's smart because this isn't just an information site:  it's a marketing channel.  It's actually several marketing channels, but the company has make a few important ones priority and made it nice and clear so that you just choose which one suits you the best. 

Don't let your customer wonder if you're in the business of selling – shake hands, introduce yourself, and then put your offer on the table.

Just because you have a lot of content doesn't mean it can't be easy.

Marriott has an unbelievable amount of content, from blogs to various brand websites, membership and reward programs, and a host of other products and information. 

But Marriott has given everything a priority.  How do I know?  I can see it visually:  the most important stuff (i.e. sales funnels) is front-and-center, with peripheral but frequently used options made smaller and less obvious but still easy to find.  Notice how all these important options fit on one page (which we call ‘above the fold'), while other useful (but not as important) items are found by scrolling. 

Easy and organized. 

What could have been better?

Continue the Pursuit of Simple throughout. 

I hope that the pages underneath this snazzy homepage will be reviewed in the ‘pursuit of simple.'  Some of them are a mess, and it is a shame there isn't a little more consistency between the different "sub-brands" that are housed underneath the main homepage.

Where's the Search? 

So many web novices reach a website, ignore everything and just start clicking away at the search box.  Marriott doesn't have one which means they're alienating a portion of their audience.  The search could have easily fit just under the My Account option, and given all this content, it is a shame they have left it out.

And a Parting thought

Marriott just scrapes by with getting away with the fun-yet-effective graphics design effects on the homepage.  I normally do not like these, because unless you're a casino there isn't a need for whizzing widgets and spinning sidebars.  The Marriot ones are a touch glitzy but they still work.  (I hope they have tested it well for cross-browser support.) 

But if you're looking at your own website, make sure that you are worried about great content and organised content, not about flash and glitz.

Andy Hayes is the Managing Partner of Travel Online Partners (TOP), a company focused on helping for small businesses in travel and tourism with online technology. 

To find out more about their do-it-yourself guides, coaching and consulting, visit the website www.travelonlinepartners.com
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