Usability Testing Your Hotel Website

The face of your business online, your property’s website is the most important direct conversion tool in your marketing toolkit. A hotel website gets one chance to make a good first impression and if customers find it difficult to navigate yours, they will most likely leave to look elsewhere. Making sure your website is easy to use is crucial for maximizing conversions.

You’ve no doubt put a lot of thought and time into your property’s website and it can be difficult to look at it with unbiased eyes. But it’s important to evaluate your website objectively to identify areas for improvement and ensure it isn’t costing you bookings.

So how do you know if your property’s website is truly user friendly? Conducting a usability test is one of the surest ways to find out.

What is a Usability Test?

A usability test involves engaging real, live test subjects to carry out specific tasks on your website and then evaluating the process from their perspective, with the purpose of better understanding how actual users engage with your website and to identify the biggest user issues.

You can test how easily visitors can find certain information on your website, whether your website provides enough information to drive the decision to book, and how easy it is for visitors to complete actions like making a booking or signing up for your newsletter. Ultimately, usability testing your hotel website can tell you how well your website is converting lookers into bookers.

It might seem daunting, but it’s not. With the help of just a few friends or acquaintances, employees, or even family—as long as they promise to be objective!—you can quickly and easily run a usability test yourself.

Creating Your Test

The first step is to prioritize any current areas of concern—perhaps your packages aren’t getting the attention you expected, or your event bookings have been slower than usual. Resist the urge to test your entire website at once; when testers are faced with too many scenarios or tasks to perform, they become increasingly disengaged as the test progresses, rendering the results increasingly less useful. A more focused test that’s limited to three to five concerns (or tasks/scenarios) will yield more valuable results.

From booking a room or a particular package to researching event facilities, your usability test can cover a variety of scenarios. Here are some examples:

>> You’re planning a long weekend spa retreat next month with a friend and have landed on this hotel website. How would you research the spa package options available and then make a booking for the two of you, from January 18 – 21?

>> You’re starting your own business and are meeting with some investors in town next week. You need to book a meeting room on December 12 for two hours for 10 people and this hotel was recommended to you by a friend. You’ve found their website—what would you do next to research and book their meeting facilities?

>> You’re getting married next summer! You’re on this website because the property has been raved about in local wedding forums online. How would you research this property’s wedding facilities and services, and then what would be your next steps for getting your special day booked in for next July?

>> You’d like to buy a gift certificate for a one-night stay at this property for a friend’s birthday. How would you go about buying a voucher through the website?

>> You’re traveling with your family next week and need to book a room for the four of you—two adults, two children—and Ralphy, your friendly pug. Confirm the property is pet friendly and then book a three-night mid-week stay for your family (including Ralphy).

Keep these guidelines in mind when writing your task scenarios:

  • Don’t give your testers any hints. If you really want to test how intuitive your website is, don’t lead or guide your test subjects. For example, say, “Make a weekend booking for a two-night stay,” NOT, “Use the blue BOOK NOW button to make a weekend booking for a two-night stay.”
  • Be specific. Clarify exactly what you want your testers to achieve so you can better measure the success of the outcome. For example, instead of simply asking them to book a stay, ask them to book a stay for a certain number of people, for a certain number of nights.
  • Keep the test short. Again, limit your test to no more than five scenarios/tasks so that your test subjects remain fully engaged. The entire test should take your testers no more than 15 minutes to complete.

Choosing Your Test Subjects

As few as five test subjects will be enough to highlight key problem areas within your website. In fact, any more than that just becomes an increasing drain on your time analyzing the results, which only get more repetitive with additional testers anyway.

Choose testers that fit your customer demographic, and based on relatability to the tasks or scenarios you are testing. For example, someone who has never booked accommodation online before is probably not the best person to test your online booking process.

Try to select a mix of test subjects that comprise people who are familiar with your property and website, and those who aren’t. Those who are familiar with your business—for example, employees—are probably already aware of certain issues and can provide valuable insights on how to fix them. Strangers to your property and website, on the other hand, will rely solely on the intuitiveness of your site, yielding truly objective opinions.

Test subjects can be employees (from any department), friends, family members, guests, industry personnel (eg. wedding and event planners) and total strangers!

Conducting Your Test

Tests can either be supervised or unsupervised. A supervised test might have you sitting next to the test subject, watching and noting how they complete the task at hand. An unsupervised test can be conducted remotely, with the use of screen and voice recording software. Unsupervised is often the best choice for usability testing as test subjects feel more comfortable without someone watching over their shoulder.

The device—PC, Mac or mobile device—should be provided or specified by you. Before the test, explain to your testers that there are no right or wrong answers; make sure they know that you are testing the website, not them. Ask your testers to “think aloud” during the test, explaining why they are doing something, what they do and don’t like, any issues they come across, or why they get confused. Each task or scenario in the test should be completed in turn.

Have them record the entire test with screen and voice recording software (a quick Google search for “free screen recording software” offers lots of options) so that you can analyse their experience with your site in detail later.

After the test, you can ask testers questions (in person or via a questionnaire) to get a more general view of their experience and impression of your website. Some questions to ask are:

  • How easy did you find the task/s?
  • How long did the task take?
  • Did you encounter any problems in completing the task?
  • What did you like about the website?
  • What did you not like?
  • What changes would you make?

The Results are In; Now What?

Once the tests are complete, compare your test subjects’ experiences and opinions. The results should clearly reveal problem areas on your website and point you in the right direction to improve them.

Make a list of action points highlighted by your testers’ feedback and then focus on fixing one issue at a time, prioritizing the ones that are most detrimental to conversions. For example, sometimes call-to-action (CTA) buttons (like “Book Now” or “View Our Specials”) need to be made more obvious—or less prevalent. Or menus need to be decluttered to make navigation more intuitive.

If your property’s website doesn’t provide real users with an intuitive user experience, it’s costing you bookings. Usability testing is an effective way to identify practical improvements you can make to your website that will increase conversions. And it’s easier than you thought!

Want some help improving your property’s website? Feel free to get in touch.