Your property’s website has two very important purposes: 1) expand reach, which is achieved through good search engine optimization practices, and 2) increase revenue by converting lookers into bookers. Converting these lookers is harder than it seems with the average hotel website only achieving a conversion rate of under two percent. However, there are ways to raise this number with strong branding, intuitive navigation, and clear calls to action. Read on to learn how to avoid common conversion mistakes and turn your website visitors into paying guests.
Social proof, including online reviews, user-generated social media content, and third-party awards and certification, plays a crucial role in convincing consumers to buy. Eighty-one percent of travelers look at accommodation reviews before booking, and they won’t stop looking simply because you don’t have them on your website. Instead, they’ll leave your website to search elsewhere—and you may not get them back. Luckily, a simple widget can embed a review selection on your website for viewers to scroll through.
If you don’t have many reviews, ask. Request feedback from guests in your post-stay messaging and promote your favorite review sites on signage around your property.
However, reviews aren’t the only kind of social proof that boosts your online reputation. Trust symbols such as Tripadvisor badges, lodging association membership, and star ratings all increase your credibility. Don’t neglect your social media plugins either (it’s called “social” proof for a reason).
Easy and Secure Online Bookings
Today’s travel consumers expect the convenience of booking accommodation online at any time. If your property’s website doesn’t offer online bookings, it hampers your conversion rate. Put a “book now” button in your header so that your booking engine is accessible from every page, the moment a viewer is ready to make their purchase decision.
However, your booking engine needs to be more than simply present to convert lookers to bookers. It has to be efficient, mobile-friendly, and secure (they’re giving you their credit card details after all!). Consumers have little patience for complicated, clunky booking processes (especially on mobile) and won’t hand over their personal data to sites they don’t trust.
Keep it simple. Only ask for information you absolutely need. You’ll have plenty of time for upsells and surveys later, e.g., in your pre-arrival email. The less clicks and pages involved in the booking flow, the better.
Lastly, your booking engine should integrate with your property management system, otherwise your staff have to manually enter data and risk dropping bookings.
A significant amount of travel research happens via smartphone, so a mobile-friendly website is essential for accommodation providers striving to maximize conversions. The best way to do this is with responsive design.
A responsive website automatically detects and adapts to the device accessing it (whether it be a desktop, laptop, tablet, or smartphone), providing an optimal, consistent user experience. Not only is a single responsive website more efficiently and cost-effectively managed than maintaining separate desktop and mobile sites, but search engines prefer that too.
Your property’s USP (unique selling proposition) is defined by your stay experience (which includes location, staff, amenities, services, activities, and the reason behind your business) and by your guests. Who are your most profitable guest personas, and why do they choose you?
Taking a close look at both can reveal your property’s unique strengths over your competition. Recent guest reviews are a good place to start for insight on what guests love most about your property. Whatever your USP is, whether it’s your celebrated dining experience, super convenient location, popular surfing lessons, or exceptional business and event services, promote it boldly on your website.
Don’t just write about it. Images and branding play a key role in showing guests what makes you special.
All content—whether images or text—should be up-to-date. Swap out those summer pictures when September rolls around and let people know if your special offers change (see below).
Fast Load Time
The longer your website takes to load, the more customers give up on it. Webpages that load in under two seconds receive the highest conversion rates with those rates going down two percent for each additional second it takes to load up to nine seconds. (If your website takes more than nine seconds, it is officially a tortoise. And the tortoise isn’t winning any races here.) Your site speed is critical to user experience, and good user experience is critical to conversions.
Check your site speed on mobile devices, not just on desktop. More than half of visits are abandoned if a mobile site takes more than three seconds to load.
Special Offers and Best Rate Guarantee
While parity agreements don’t allow you to offer cheaper room rates than what you offer through OTAs, you can still add value to incentivize customers to book direct, like free parking or access to special package offers.
Make sure your website clearly advertises packages, direct booking perks, and a best rate guarantee to maximize conversions. They should be promoted on your homepage as well as a dedicated specials/packages page and in your booking engine.
While they are sometimes considered intrusive, pop-ups advertising special deals can be effective—as long as they are used strategically, at the right time, on the right page (which usually isn’t as soon as the customer lands on your website).
Don’t make customers hunt down special offers that could clinch a direct booking.
Make sure offers are free of any hidden fees, which leave potential guests feeling duped. Even if those guests still buy, it makes a poor first impression and may leave them less receptive to future upsells.
Visuals are the most effective way to convey your property’s stay experience and are incredibly important to consumers throughout the selection process. They give information quickly and reassure potential guests about what to expect from your property, which convinces them to book with you.
Use high-quality hero images (those big photos that stretch right across the top of the page), in-content photos, slideshow galleries, and videos to tell your property’s story, making sure images support the purpose or topic of the page. Videos are extremely popular with 91 percent of people wanting more online brand videos in 2023, so how about covering your bases with a virtual reality tour?
To give customers a comprehensive picture (pun intended) of your hotel, display images for each room type, interior spaces, exterior spaces, facilities, and location. Images are a great way to convey amenity information—which guests need to make a decision. Galleries can be organized into themes like “stay,” “play,” and “eat” to help portray the experience of your property in a cohesive way.
Make sure images are professional, high-quality, and consistent with your branding. Add alt text to all photos for accessibility and SEO. Images are the most-important factor for 78 percent of vacationers in selecting accommodation.
When it comes to your color scheme, keep it simple—like the rest of your design. Don’t make your viewer look everywhere at once. If you do, they won’t be able to focus on what you want them to see.
Clear Calls to Action (CTAs)
Key to conversions, strategically placed calls to action (CTAs)—such as “book now,” “view availability,” “request event proposal,” “discover our specials,” or “contact us” buttons—work like stepping stones leading the customer along the path to purchase.
The strongest CTAs convey their purpose concisely and clearly, provide customers with a useful action at the right time, are positioned prominently on the page, and stand out visually (for example, appropriately sized buttons using a contrasting color).
The easier it is for customers to navigate your website and get the information they need, the faster they come to a booking decision. On the other hand, customers are prone to abandon a confusing website that takes too much effort to find their way around.
To make your site as easy to explore as possible, use a familiar menu style, such as a horizontal navigation bar along the top of the page (or a hamburger menu for mobile), that visitors instinctively know how to use. Customers should be able to access critical information from any page of the website with a single click via the main menu. It’s also important to limit the primary options in your navigation menu so as not to overwhelm potential guests with choices. Simplicity is key!
However, content and labeling are important too. For instance, if a page is labeled “stay,” then it should contain room options, not the dining menu. Your homepage serves as a basic introduction to your hotel, and it should be immediately clear what kind of hotel you are when visitors land on it. A youth hostel will have a very different homepage from a six-star luxury resort (yes, apparently there is such a thing as a six-star resort).
A chatbot or FAQ page can help here as well to answer common questions. This also frees up time for your staff (they don’t need to be fielding calls about when your checkout is).
Phone Number on Every Page
While online bookings are the norm, some travelers still prefer to call to book. Even savvy online bookers sometimes need to contact you to ask a question or address concerns.
Make sure you catch every customer by displaying your property’s phone number (with click-to-call capability on mobile) and email address in your website header—and on every page of your online booking process too. If you make customers hunt your phone number down, you risk losing a sale.
Web design plays a critical role in maximizing conversions. Hotel websites that present the content customers want in a visually appealing and accessible way convert visitors into actual guests. Use analytics tools to check that you’re reeling in those guests, and they’re not slipping off the line. And if it turns out your website needs some TLC, we welcome you to get in touch.
Editor’s note: This post was originally published June 2017 and updated September 2023.