How to Design a Good Hotel Website

May 9, 2015 SnapShot Team

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For this first article in our new Hotel Marketing series, led by SnapShot CMO Martin Soler, we take a look at best practices for Hotel Web Design. Stay tuned for further Hotel Martketing do's and don'ts.

During the big “Flash crash” in 2012 when most hotel websites were still built in Flash and almost no one had mobile friendly sites, we published some guides on what to do and what to avoid for hotel websites. But these tips below still apply to anyone who wants to give their hotel website a facelift.

How can you know what you should be doing for your next website? What are the hotel marketing elements that must be taken into account in the design? And which ones should be avoided?

The design, architecture, and development of a hotel’s website is paramount in its success for obvious reasons, not the least of which is direct revenue. With that in mind, we’ve compiled a list of the key elements and tools that hotel website designers should take into account when re-designing a hotel website.

Navigation

The navigation on your site should be self-explanatory and easy to understand. In other words, the navigation needs to answer the questions your visitors are already thinking, the main three questions are:

  1. What does it look like? (the rooms please, get to the point quick)
  2. Where is it?
  3. How much does it cost?

To get the exact list of questions that guests need answered, ask the front-desk what calls they get from guests trying to book on the site. I mean, actually get the front-desk staff to note all these questions and tabulate them to see which ones need to be present on the site (and easily accessible).

What to avoid:

Avoid menus that drop down on multiple levels which in turn bloat the site and make for a complex navigation. Anything that will slow down the booking should be avoided.

Speed of Loading

The load time of your site needs to be lightening fast. A hotel website has between 3 to 7 seconds to sell the hotel. Now we’re not talking about loading the page, but selling the hotel. There’s a huge difference. That means the user will click away from your page if you aren’t able to present all the key elements within a the first few seconds.

Keep in mind that a user will usually make a short-list of around 10 hotels they are interested in. To get the sale you need all chances on your side. The most important part about this is that speed is what delivers the emotional impact: You may have the most amazing site in the world, but if people need to wait to see it, they’ll go somewhere else.

What to avoid:

Slow loading of images. One of the most important elements on the hotel’s website is the images, so if it takes your images a long time to load, your site will have a bad user experience. A load time shouldn't be more than 2-3 seconds. You can use tools such as loads.in to measure your site's load time.

Emotional Impact

“People don’t ask for facts in making up their minds. They would rather have one good, soul-satisfying emotion than a dozen facts.” – Robert Keith Leavitt

Your site needs to create an instant emotional impact and that is best done with great photography (providing you have a great product to sell). What will sell your rooms more than anything else is great photography well presented. We’ve seen a lot of hotels present large photos on their site, which gets one part right, but designers need to think about the large screen sizes that are used today. The majority of computers browsing for hotels have screen resolutions of 1280×800 and above. So ensure your site shows large images well (and fast).

You should also show the rooms in the best possible light, never hesitate to improve them on Photoshop, as long as you’re not lying.

A general manager who was quite concerned with the heavily photoshopped images on his site told us a story that illustrates this point quite well:

The hotel, promoted as a romantic and cosy hotel had images that fit the bill, slightly hazy, pretty dimly lit and rather nice. Even though they were a bit above reality they did the job. Guest reviews repeatedly reported that the hotel was just like the website and pictures, something the General Manager never quite understood. One day he changed out a few people from the Front desk team who had been doing a great job and deserved a promotion. A couple month later the guest reviews started reporting that the website and hotel’s images were heavily photoshopped and it was much worse in reality.

What caused such a total change? It came down to a few points:

  1. People don’t remember pictures, they remember experiences. A picture on a website conveys an experience. In this case it told the users they were going to have a cosy and romantic experience. When they arrived in the hotel the former front desk team delivered a cosy and romantic experience. Sending the guests to romantic restaurants, suggesting romantic excursions in the city, etc. The new team sent them to other restaurants and touristic bus-rides and they didn’t look and feel as cosy and romantic. The lesson we learned was that people remember experiences, so if you live up to the photoshopping, people won’t remember the images as photoshopped, but rather the experience itself as authentic.
  2. Don’t worry about over-selling, worry about under-delivering. If you sell an amazing experience your only way to sell it is through great pictures. You can’t sell great service by writing about it, but you can sell an amazing experience through great photos. So find your Unique Selling Proposition and sell it as much as you can. Note: Imagine if McDonalds never photoshopped their sandwiches… They do, nobody is disappointed.So while including large amounts of text on every page may seem like a great strategy for search engine optimization, it isn’t going to do much for the emotional impact. When designing the site, remember that the biggest priority is the user and not the search engine. The user is the one who will be sleeping in the hotel, search engines rarely do.

What to avoid:

Too much text, pixelated images, images that can’t be expanded.
Emotional impact is key in hotel websites, and pictures are the most efficient way to do that.

Social Integration

Social media has become the default method of sharing experiences. Integrating social media sharing options on your site is a must for any new hotel website. The question remains how to do it right. Designers need to make sure it is integrated at the right moment on the booking process and without distracting from the booking itself. Additionally you need to ensure you have a proper designer/developer to integrate the sharing options as they can slow down you site’s load time quite dramatically.

A great example of Social Integration on hotel websites is Four Seasons.

What to avoid:

 

Too many sharing buttons, ugly sharing buttons.

Creativity

“Things which are different in order simply to be different are seldom better, but that which is made to be better is almost always different.” – Dieter Rams

If you hire a superbly creative agency to make your site, you’ll be delighted by the innovative approach they take to the hotel’s website design. While that can work great for branding, it may not be right for a hotel website which has a mission to accomplish in a very limited time.

While you want the site to be creative and differentiate itself from your competitors, value those differences in terms of improvements and not just differences. Remember that your website needs to reassure the user that your hotel is a safe place for them to stay, and having bizarre videos or odd photos won’t do that.

Put simply, creative web design must focus on results, not just on creativity for the sake of it.

What to avoid:

Creativity that doesn’t improve sales. Bizarre photography or useless staged photos that don’t show the place.

Mobile

In 2011 mobile traffic to hotel websites increased by 345%, it accounted for 6% of the overall traffic. The year before it only had 2% of the “market share” and that was only the beginning. There is no question that every hotel needs a mobile website. Even if the number of bookings from mobile devices is rather low, users are visiting the hotel’s site and “shopping” on their mobile devices and then do their booking on desktops.

There are two options to mobile websites that you can choose: A responsive website or an adapted website. Both can do the job and what is most important as a hotelier is to have a mobile website that still delivers an emotional impact no matter the device.

What to avoid:
Too many animations. Many mobile devices still can’t render the animation galleries smoothly, therefore putting too many animations will slow down the use of the site and it won’t deliver a good user experience.

In Summary

While there are many more details that go into making a successful hotel website these are some key ones to pay attention to when getting your site redesigned. How these elements are integrated into the design, details on how smooth the site is, how good the user-experience is and more play a very important role. All the above can be done well in one easy-to-use package or it can be thrown together into something less than perfect. The cost of the website ultimately depends on the quality of the implementation.

When choosing a designer for your hotel website it can make all the difference if you choose a designer that has experience in creating websites for hotels, because they will have experience with menu structures and booking process and can help determine what is important and what is not.

Stay tuned for more articles on Hotel Marketing.