For any website, intuitive navigation is key to user experience. No matter how awesome your website looks, your customers will jump ship if they can’t find the information they’re looking for. Your website’s navigation should work like a compass, steering customers toward the end goal (making a booking).
Hotel websites typically have a lot of information to cover, so it’s important to organize content well. Here are three important tips for achieving intuitive site navigation that enhances user experience and drives conversions.
1. Think like a customer.
When designing the structure of your website and organizing content, always keep the end goal in mind. How does each page lead the visitor toward making a booking? The most effective way to design a successful site structure and content is to put yourself in your ideal customer’s shoes. In other words, think like a customer who wants to be convinced to book.
Every page needs to provide real value (information visitors want to know in order to make a decision to book) and lead customers to the next step. For most customers coming from search engines or other external links, this starts with your homepage.
Your homepage not only needs to make a great first impression through appealing visual design and compelling introductory content, it also needs to guide visitors further into your site to learn more about your property and gain the confidence to make a booking. Navigation—including the main menu and in-content links/CTAs (calls to action)—is critical to this journey.
If you were one of your customers, what would you want to know next? Probably more information about rooms and rates, hotel amenities, location and the like. Make sure all key content is never more than a single click away via a prominent main navigation menu. Even better if your main menu is always on screen as the user scrolls down the homepage (we call it a “sticky” menu).
Use internal links and appropriately placed CTA buttons (e.g., “learn more,” “view rooms,” “check availability”) to lead customers to the next steps and compel them to explore your site further. Avoid vague CTAs like “click here” that don’t indicate value to the user (what they will learn if they click).
(For more guidance on what makes a great hotel homepage, check out our tips.)
Make sure your online booking engine is always accessible on every page of your website. The easiest way to do this is by including a “book now” link or button in the main navigation menu (not a sub-menu). Additional booking CTAs can be included too, for example, a booking widget on your homepage and unit-specific booking buttons on your “Rooms” page. A customer can make the decision to book at any time while browsing your site, and you don’t want to create friction by making them hunt down your online reservation system.
2. Keep it simple.
Research has shown that people prefer simple designs over busy ones. The more complicated the design, the more distractions there are and the longer it takes to find your way around. Simple designs are most intuitive (and can be the most striking too—simple doesn’t mean boring!). They load fast, look professional, and help content stand out.
When it comes to navigation, keep it simple by limiting the number of primary menu items and sticking to one topic per page. While your homepage serves as an introduction and may include a summary of your property’s various features (accommodations, location, services, etc.), every other page should be focused on a single topic.
For lodging websites, primary menu items typically include accommodations/rooms, amenities/services, specials/packages, area attractions/things to do, about us, contact/location pages and reservations/book now. But every business is unique and properties offering niche services like weddings and events, activities, or onsite dining will require pages dedicated to those services. For most properties, five to seven primary menu options is ideal.
If you have a lot of pages to cover, consider using sub-menus (e.g., drop-downs) to keep primary navigation options to a minimum. The Cusheon Lake Resort website (pictured below) keeps navigation simple by limiting the primary menu to seven items while including a variety of relevant and useful sub-menu options under “About Us.”
If your audience is made up of younger, mobile-savvy customers, consider eliminating the ‘home’ option entirely and instead link your logo to the homepage.
3. Use familiar menu styles.
Along with simplicity, familiarity is also important for achieving an intuitive website design. The human brain prefers things that are easy to think about to things that are hard, and the more familiar you are with something, the more comfortable and easier it is. When it comes to navigation, don’t try to reinvent the wheel. Save your creativity for your website’s visual design elements and content.
Perhaps the most commonly used menu style for hotel websites is the horizontal navigation bar across the top of the screen. Through familiarity with the horizontal menu, users instinctively know where to look for more information and can use it without much thought.
A transparent background works well for horizontal menus on hotel websites, allowing for a striking edge-to-edge hero image presentation. Just take a look at the Breezy Palms Resort’s homepage pictured below…
For mobile devices, the “hamburger” menu (a pop-up menu usually represented by three short, stacked horizontal lines) is the standard choice, optimizing space on smaller screens. Because most people browse the internet on mobile devices now, the hamburger menu style has become widely recognized and is increasingly used for desktop website designs too. A hamburger menu can be a visually appealing choice for a hip brand that attracts a younger crowd, but take care—adding an extra click (to open the menu) can degrade the user experience on desktop, especially if your website includes numerous pages.
To make it as easy as possible for your website visitors to find what they are looking for, stick to obvious wording for menu items, such as “Rooms,” “Activities,” “Dining,” and “Special Offers.” Creative or metaphorical names like “Indulge” or “Journeys” can be too vague or confusing and are not likely to translate well.
Intuitive navigation is one of the most important aspects of website design. It’s absolutely essential for a great user experience that drives conversions. Steer your hotel website to success by designing simple, familiar site navigation with your prospective guests in mind.
Need help? Our design team has designed hundreds of conversion-boosting websites for lodging and tourism businesses—contact us for your free, no-obligation quote.
Editor’s note: This post was originally published November 2015 and updated September 2022.