Web Design NoNos - man looking away from laptop in disgust
Web Design NoNos - man looking away from laptop in disgust

Your website is your calling card. It (hopefully) gets a great deal of traffic, so you need to ensure the design and functionality represent your business well. And that’s a question you should ask regularly. What worked a few years ago likely won’t impress prospective guests now. Trends change and websites become outdated quickly.

It’s important for any website to make an immediately good impression on increasingly critical digital consumers. Today’s consumers simply abandon sites that are outdated, slow to load, or confusing to navigate within a few seconds.

To attract more customers, increase conversions, and build loyalty, make sure your hotel or tour operator website avoids the following major web design mistakes.

Not Making Your Website Mobile Friendly

Not having a mobile-friendly website is one of the biggest design and usability mistakes any business can make. Almost half of American smartphone users complete the travel research and planning stage with only their phones, even if they later book on a computer. Your website has to provide a user-friendly mobile experience to capture these potential customers.

A mobile-friendly website means more than just responsive design and reformatting; overhaul your written content to keep it short and sweet (forget the five-paragraph spa treatise).

Complicated or No Online Bookings

Not giving customers the option to book direct online is another major no-no for both lodging and tour operator websites. Most travel bookings are made online with 74% of worldwide travel and tourism revenue predicted to come from online sales by 2027, so providing a secure, easy-to-use booking engine is a must. If you don’t have one, customers will “jump site” to a competitor or OTA.

Make your booking process as quick and uncomplicated as possible, only asking for essential information. Just like your website, user experience should be at the core of your booking engine’s design, so choose wisely.

Don’t make customers hunt your booking engine down. They should have easy access to it from any page of your website. And like the rest of your website, it needs to be mobile friendly.

Web Design NoNos
Non-mobile hotel websites lose customers.

Unprofessional Photos and Badly Embedded Videos

Images play a critical role in travel decisions—particularly in the accommodation selection process. You need high-quality photography that reflects the unique experience and personality of your business to strike an emotional chord with potential guests. Hire a professional; this is not the place for backlit phone selfies.

For hotel photography, include both interior and exterior shots. Guestroom images are especially important and should be used for every room type. Other facilities like meeting spaces, dining areas, exercise rooms, the pool area, gardens, etc., should be presented as well. Include shots of guests enjoying your property, so prospective customers can imagine themselves doing the same.

Activity or tour operator website photos also need to lean towards the experiential. Include pictures of customers enjoying the activities, views, landscapes, or wildlife that feature on tour as well as shots of facilities and transportation vehicles.

Use hero images (go big or go home), in-content photos (photos used to illustrate written page content), and image slideshow galleries to support the purpose of the page. But beware of having too many, which can slow your site and make it look cluttered.

Videos are a must for driving engagement and conversions. But great videos can let your website down if they aren’t integrated into your site well. Auto-playing videos and music are a big annoyance for visitors—especially if they are browsing at work—while haphazardly placed videos detract from the visual design and usability of a site. And worst of all, videos that automatically play suggested videos when your video finishes (a standard YouTube embed feature) could end up showing your local competitor!

It’s easy to embed a YouTube video into your website; Google offers a step-by-step guide. Just be sure to deselect the “show suggested videos when the video finishes” option before copying the video embed code from YouTube.

Weak Calls-to-Action

Visitors need direction, and this is where calls to action (CTAs) help. Relevant, well-placed CTAs support user-friendly site navigation and steer customers toward booking. As mentioned above, your booking engine should be easily accessible from anywhere on your website via a CTA like a “book now” or “check availability” button.

Other effective CTA buttons include “view rooms,” “discover our specials,” and “contact us,” directing the customer through their travel-planning journey. While customers can find this information through the main menu, relevant CTAs within page content guide them there quicker, before they get distracted. Be careful not to put too many CTAs on a single page though, or it will confuse them.

Strong CTAs are clear, specific, and strategically placed to take visitors to the next step. It’s a call to action, so use action verbs!

Hidden Contact Details

While the world has gone online, many customers still opt to enquire by phone or even in person. Your website needs to make it easy for customers to reach you whichever way they prefer. Leaving your business’ full contact details off your website or hiding them at the bottom of a single page costs you bookings.

Don’t force customers to click through to the contact page to find your phone number; make sure it is consistently displayed in the header of every page (the fewer clicks the better, especially when your site is being used on mobile devices). If you can also fit your physical and email address in the header without visually overcrowding it, great! Otherwise, include complete contact details in the footer of every page.

Make sure your contact page features a map (Google Maps are easily embedded, user-friendly, and widely familiar) that pinpoints your property’s location and perhaps even nearby attractions. This page should also offer complete contact information.

Web Design NoNos - frustrated user
Don’t make your customers hunt information down.

Confusing Navigation

Make it easy for customers to find information. This isn’t the minotaur’s labyrinth; they shouldn’t need a string to navigate. The most important information should be no more than a click away from the homepage.

For desktop, use a familiar format for your main navigation. A horizontal menu along the top of the screen is a popular choice (that’s where everyone knows to look for it), and when it sticks to the top of the screen as you scroll, even better. Use easy-to-understand categories like “Rooms,” “Amenities,” and “Local Area,” like our client Loblolly Lodge. You don’t need to reinvent the wheel here.

Don’t send your viewer away from your site. It may seem smart to link off to your TripAdvisor reviews or YouTube channel, but once visitors click through to those sites there’s a good chance they won’t come back. Those sites are great for exposure, but they are also great at distracting users. Instead, provide reviews and videos on your website.

Not Making Your Site Accessible to Everyone

Accessibility means more than simply having an ADA compliant room on your property. Disabilities come in many different forms, not all of which are visible and some of which make it difficult to use a website without modifications.

Add an accessibility widget to your site to enable prospective guests with disabilities to navigate more easily with features such as adjustable font sizes, dyslexia-friendly font, and seizure safe profiles. All images should have alt text, and all videos should have closed captioning. In addition, not every visitor may be able to use a mouse, so make sure your website is navigable by keyboard.

Ignoring SEO and Analytics

Your website is an investment and, like any other investment, the returns need to be tracked. Otherwise, you may be throwing money away. Following good SEO practices and keeping an eye on website analytics ensures you make the most of your website.

Achieving high search engine rankings largely depends on creating genuine, relevant content your customers are looking for. Other key SEO practices include making sure your site is easily accessible (crawl-able) to search engines, ensuring it loads quickly, and updating content regularly (blogging is a great way to do this).

Pay attention to local SEO as well as more general search terms. A little under half of all Google searches are for local information. Check that your name, address, and phone number are consistent across the web, complete your Google Business Profile, and include relevant local information on your site (your blog is great for this too).

Web Design NoNos
Non-secure sites send guests packing (not for your hotel).

Having an SSL certificate is also good for SEO. You want Google—and your customers—to see that your site is secure! Today’s travelers are savvy online consumers and know what to look for when choosing sites to trust with their data. If your website and booking engine URLs don’t display SSL security signals (“https” or a padlock icon, depending on the browser), your online visitors won’t stick around. In fact, some browsers (like Google Chrome and Firefox) flag non-secure sites within the address bar to alert visitors.

Be sure to track your website analytics to quantify success and identify areas for improvement. The most widely used analytics tool is Google Analytics, which provides all the statistics you need to review your website’s performance, including traffic, traffic sources, bounce rates, page views, and conversion rates.

Test your website yourself as if you are one of your customers. View it on different screens/devices and on different browsers to check that pages load properly and forms, plug-ins, widgets, and videos all function correctly. Or better yet, ask a friend or relative to test it.

Even the most beautiful, innovative websites can be guilty of the oversights above. Take the time to prevent these mistakes on your website to maximize conversions. We can help!

Editor’s note: This post was originally published February 2017 and updated April 2023.