Hotel guest experience starts online

If you ask any independent hotel manager what their priorities are for the next 12 months, increased online bookings and better reviews will figure prominently on the list.

Yet the solution most managers will come up with will be around increasing traffic to their website, increasing marketing initiatives and encouraging more happy customers to review the hotel. But what are the decision-making factors behind a booking? What are the reasons people leave good reviews? The answer each time is guest experience.

If your website visitors have a good experience online and they like the like what’s on offer, they will book. If your online experience isn’t great – if the booking system is clunky – if the site doesn’t work well on a mobile – if it’s hard to find the deal-closing information – visitors will not book. No matter how much web traffic you get to your site, you won’t hit your booking target unless you focus your attention on the guest experience.

hotelBut most hotel managers don’t realise that the customer experience doesn’t start when your guest arrives at the hotel – it starts as soon as they search Google or hit your homepage. According to Trip Advisor research, 87% of guests use the internet for the bulk of their travel planning and nine out of ten people will have some form of digital contact with the hotel prior to staying there. Yet, how many hotels are still failing to invest time and resources in digital channels like their websites, booking engines and social media profiles?

Whether it’s the hotel website, social media pages or profiles on third party sites, huge opportunities to influence customer decisions remain untapped. If you want to get ahead, keep the customer experience at the heart of everything you do, starting with your online front of house.

Below we’ve put together the top three considerations for your website and your social media activity…

Top three website tips

  1. Think first impressions

If your website is out of date, poorly designed and not fully functional, your visitors will expect the same when they arrive at your hotel. Your website is likely to be the first contact you have with customers, so make a good impression with strong content (including good quality photographs and clear, concise copy), a fresh professional design and no broken links or defunct features.

  1. Be mobile-friendly

It’s 2015; your website simply must work well on mobile devices like phones and tablets. If your website doesn’t look good or work effectively when your guests are on the move, they’ll more than likely move right on past you to one of your competitors’ websites.

  1. Keep structure and calls to action

So your potential guest has come to your website for a reason. Either they will are looking for information or they have come to book, so help them out and make your website structure as logical as possible. The big aim of your website is to either get them to book or get in touch, so wherever they are in the structure, make it obvious how they can do that.

Top three social media tips

  1. Be present

You really need to be where your customers are. If you aren’t using social media, you’re missing out on connecting with new customers and keeping in touch with current and past guests. The best sites for hotels are Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

  1. Always respond

Social is another communications channel, so treat it like one. If someone asks a question or makes a comment, make sure respond to it. Remember to be gracious with negative comments – don’t forget that everyone else is watching and judging how you respond to criticism. In this case, the best defense is never offense!

  1. Don’t just sell

Don’t use social media solely as a sales vehicle. People will quickly be turned off by overly sales-led messaging. Sure, talk about offers and encourage people to stay with you, but you’re going to need to be a bit more creative if you want people to listen. As a guide, only posts things that are in some way valuable, useful or interesting.

Hotels can get a free digital report from Guest Core which provides a full review of the hotel’s online performance, including booking engine, website and social media performance.

 

Posted by Kyle Brookes, digital sales and marketing specialist at Group Dane.

Famous last words: “Coming soon”

Have you ever noticed a huge empty shelf in Tesco with a “Coming soon…” notice on it for weeks or months? No. The reason they don’t do this is because it’s a waste of valuable space, it’s inconvenient for customers browsing and looks unsightly. So why would you do this on your website?

coming-soon-supermaketInconvenient

Website visitors hate being disappointed and that is exactly how they’ll feel if they click on a page or section of your website and are greeted by those famous last words “coming soon”.

“Coming soon” pages are usually added out of pure excitement for the glorious content that will soon take pride of place, right there for all to see. But in reality, your visitors will feel like they’ve been thrust back into the 90s to play an annoying game of Take Your Pick. Your visitors may be excited to see the content you’re hinting towards, but when they look behind door number 3, they’ll find an out of date pork pie.

Unsightly

Just like empty shelves in Tesco, a blank page with “Coming soon” or another derivative of “Nothing here for you” looks bland. Even if you try to cheer the page up with a nice image, it’s only about as effective as a nice bunch of flowers lodged between the empty supermarket shelves.

The fact you’re spending time thinking about how you can make an empty page look pretty should set alarm bells ringing. Save yourself the headache and hold off publishing the page.

Waste of space

If Tesco are eagerly awaiting a big delivery of a new product, they don’t empty the shelf until it’s due to arrive. This is obviously because they would be losing potential sales by wasting the retail space. The same goes for your website; whether you’re selling products, providing a service or sharing information, poor use of site space will affect performance by diverting customers away from the content.

Wait until the content is ready to be published and only then add the page or section to your site. Your users won’t thank you for waiting, but they certainly won’t hate you for not waiting!

How is your UX affected by responsive design?

“My experience of your website started at my desk and ended on the train.”

While on my lunch break yesterday, I visited a travel website on my work computer. My experience of the website was very good, so much so that I didn’t even realise when my lunch break was over. My boss will be pleased to read that as soon as I realised, I got straight back to work (honest).

Train - London Later, on the long train journey home, I pulled out my smartphone to finish browsing the same website. At first, I was pleased to find that the website was responsive (which means it adapts to the device it’s being viewed on). But wait. Something didn’t feel right… It looked completely different. I double checked it was the same website I visited on my lunch break… It was. Why was the look and structure so radically different from the desktop site? Why could I not find the information I was looking at earlier? Why was the navigational structure so different that the only things familiar were the colours? Without wanting to sound too dramatic, I felt confused, agitated and impatient with the website.

This got me thinking about how important it is for a responsive website to have a consistent user experience (UX) across different devices. If you’re not familiar with the term, UX is basically concerned with the emotional aspects associated with the use of interactive technologies like websites and web applications.

The whole point in a responsive website is that it will work and display adequately according to the user’s device. However, the fact it’s adapting means that the quality of UX is also potentially changing with it. It is important that any differences across devices must be logical and intuitive.

How is my responsive website’s UX?

Slip your feet into your customers’ shoes and think about how they might want to access your site.

Customers' shoesTest your website’s UX on all screen sizes and devices you intend to support, such as smartphones, tablets and desktop computers. Just remember that you don’t have the power to choose which devices you support – you must always, always go where your customers are. Remember, you can look at your web analytics to determine what devices are most commonly used by your customers.

For help with UX or responsive design, get in touch.

Thrash your bounce rate and improve ranking

When it comes to search engine optimisation (SEO), lots of businesses focus purely on getting visitors to their website. Many don’t realise that the way visitors behave when they are there affects its search ranking.

Did you know that your website’s bounce rate, which is the number of people navigating away after visiting just one page, is one of the factors search engines like Google and Bing use to calculate your website’s relevance, quality and importance?

High bounce rate can be a sign of low visitor engagement, poor keyword targeting and poor design/functionality. So, what can you do to try to reduce your website’s bounce rate?

Relevant keywords

Make sure the keywords you have optimised your website for are 100% relevant to your business. If your strongest keywords aren’t carefully aligned to what you do, you’re likely to pull in visitors who aren’t interested in your website.

High-quality content

Once you have attracted the right visitors, you need to make sure they actually want to be there. You can do this with strong, engaging content. Make sure all of the pages on your website have genuine, relevant copy, images and videos, which are useful or interesting to the visitor.

Intuitive navigation and structure

Make it as easy as possible for users to find content on your site; use clear navigation and page structure. If you have a user journey in mind, at each point make it clear where you want visitors to go next.

Regardless of how trendy it might look, avoid overly complicated or stylish navigation that isn’t user-friendly and intuitive for the user.

Design

When it comes to visitor engagement, presentation is content’s twin brother. If your design isn’t good quality, visitors may assume that this reflects the quality of your business and quickly bounce off to one of your competitors.

Functionality

From links to coding, make sure everything works the way it should. Clicking on broken or inaccurate links is very frustrating to users, while broken functionality is likely to send your visitors packing.

For help with search engine optimisation and reducing your bounce rate, get in touch with Group Dane.

Time for a digital health check

We all know that if we don’t look after our own health and lifestyle, we’re likely to get sick sooner or later. To most of us, this means eating the right food, limiting poisons like alcohol and caffeine, doing enough exercise and getting mental and emotional satisfaction.

Believe it or not, thinking about these principles helps us to understand how to keep a healthy digital presence. By digital presence I mean your online existence through websites and social media.

Whether you’re a business or an individual, your digital presence is just as unique as you are. And whether you have consciously developed it or not, it even has a personality in its own right. Hold that thought and humanise it one step further by relating your whole digital presence to the human body. Trust me, this will eventually make sense!

Take a look at Group Dane’s digital health check infographic below, then read on for a magical metaphorical tour of your digital presence.

Group Dane Digital Health Check Infographic

Click image to view full size

Brain

Think of the brain as your digital strategy. Just like your brain controls your body’s actions, your strategy should control the actions on your website, social media and email marketing.

Face

Your face is usually the first thing people see when they look at you. Equally, the first thing people see when they visit your website is the design. Make sure it does you justice. Be honest, do you need a face lift?

Eyes and ears

You don’t need eyes in the back of your head to keep an eye on your customers and competitors. With good social media infiltration, you’ll be able to easily watch and listen to what people are saying about you, the types of products or services you offer and of course, your business rivals!

Vocal cords

Human beings use their vocal cords to communicate. When it comes to your digital presence, you have two voices: your website content (let’s call this your baritone voice) and social media interactions (this is your tenor voice).

Heart

Of course, this is your brand. Keep it central to everything you do. After all, it defines you. Just like your body relies on a strong healthy heart, your digital presence is dependent on a strong healthy brand.

Lungs

Take a deep breath and breathe some life into your website with dynamic up-to-date content. If you don’t have time to update your website regularly, think about feeding in some relevant automated content to keep your site breathing between your updates.

Skeleton

Think of your site map as your skeleton. Not only will it hold everything together and help visitors to navigate your site, it will also help search engine spiders to index it and boost search performance.

Right hand

When it comes to updating your website, a good content management system (CMS) is your right hand man/woman. If you aren’t able to easily and efficiently update content, it could be time to seek some professional help.

Bowels

Here is where all of your waste website content should go. Think of the bowels as a trash can for out of date content, or better still – an archive. Putting old content into an archive on your website can help with search engine optimisation. But whatever you decide to do with old content, don’t just leave it where it is or you risk making your website look like it’s been abandoned.

Blood and veins

Just like blood runs through your whole body within veins and arteries, html runs through your whole website. Just like blood, html can become dirty, old and heavy and this can cause problems to the rest of the site if it isn’t cleaned up.

Mojo

Have you got the X factor when it comes to design, functionality and content? If you don’t have anything special to show, your customers may not see your package in a favourable light.

Achilles heel

Poor search engine performance is where many websites fall down – don’t let this become your Achilles heel. Make sure yours stands up well in the search engines like Google, Bing and Yahoo.

Muscles

Your website functionality is just like the muscles on your body. Flex the functions your website can perform and assess whether it’s strong enough to do everything you need it to. Remember that your web functionality needs to be strong enough to carry the weight of your business.

Treatment

If you feel that your digital presence is suffering from a long-term ailment or just needs some defibrillator action, Group Dane has the cure. Get in touch.

Top tips for email marketing

How many times have you deleted a marketing email without even reading it? It didn’t take long for digital junk mail to become almost as annoying as its ugly paper-based cousin!

That said, email marketing can be rather effective if you do it properly. We’ve put together a few key tips to help you get it right and maybe even avoid your messages heading straight to the recycle bin.

Target contacts carefully

Make sure you take care when putting together your contacts list (this is the list of people you’ll be sending your email to). If you send specific demographics of your customer base targeted messages and offers you are far more likely to have a higher success rate.

Keep it real…and simple

Only send a marketing email if you have news, a special offer, a brand new service or something else interesting to say! Every time you send an irrelevant, uninspiring or babbling email, you could lose potentially valuable contacts.

And remember not to tell your customer absolutely everything there is to know about your business or products in the email. Think of it as a call to action; make it clear what the action is and stress the benefits.

Tone and style

Think carefully about language and tone of voice in your email. If you over-do the marketing speak, you may turn people off.

Always make sure the words and images in the email are in-keeping with your brand.

Service providers

It is important your emails are managed properly, look professional and have tracking enabled. You can do this effortlessly by using an email campaign service provider.

There are a number of great providers to choose from and some of them even offer free packages. Our favourites include MailChimp, eShot, and Pure360.

Tracking

Whether you use an email campaign service provider or not, you should have analytics tracking set up on your emails. This will help you to monitor how many times the email has been read and by who.

Links and replies

You’d probably be surprised how many companies send out marketing emails that don’t link back to their websites. Don’t make the same mistake!

Just as importantly, make sure you include a reply email address in your message.

Stay legal

It is a legal requirement in the UK to include an “unsubscribe” link in marketing emails. But, wait…this isn’t a bad thing. After all, it’s pointless sending emails to people who don’t want to receive them or don’t have any interest or use for your product or service. The unsubscribe button will help to keep your contacts database more efficient.

Always remember to include a link to your privacy policy, which should explain what data you keep about your recipients, how you keep it secure, who (if anyone) you will share it with and what they can do to access it.

Don’t forget, by UK law, all marketing emails must also include your business address in the footer.

More…

For more advice or help with planning, creating or measuring a digital marketing campaign, get in touch with Group Dane.

“Don’t tell me what to do!”

So you have a website, but will your visitors use it in the way you hope they will? Whether you want visitors to find out information, watch/listen to media or buy/sell something, your aim is to get them to do it before they leave your site. How can you do that when people hate being told what to do?

Force the user journey?

In short, you can’t ever force your visitors to do anything. We call people who enter your website “visitors”, we don’t call them “prisoners”. So it is important to constantly bear in mind that they are usually there out of their own free will. Equally, the way they use your website (their “behaviour”) is their own choice. You may have a very specific and wonderful user journey planned out, but the best you can do is guide and encourage them to follow the path you’d like them to take.

Why carrot over stick?

No matter how much you try to remove your visitors’ choices by limiting their navigational options, there are always two choices – to stay or to go. If you don’t allow them to choose their own journey through your website, they will probably just decide to leave.

Put simply: respect your visitors and offer them everything they need in the most logical, attractive way possible.

Use a logical site structure and layout

Do some user testing and listen to your own instincts. Ask your testers to find certain things or perform specific actions on your website and record their feedback. Could they find everything they were looking for?

If you have any analytics data for your website, check what the most visited pages are, along with the most frequent exit pages. This is an invaluable insight to your visitors’ behaviour. Are they doing what you expect them to do?

The key here is to give visitors lots of what they want and never less than they need.

Attract, coax, intrigue

If you want a visitor to perform a particular action, whether it’s watch a video or click on a link, you need to somehow persuade them to do it.

Dangle that carrot again:

a. Videos

  • Give your videos titles that accurately describe the content and entice users to click the play button.
  • Always pick an interesting, visually stimulating video thumbnail (the freeze frame that shows when the video isn’t playing). The thumbnail you choose can help to sell or repel video plays. You can change YouTube video thumbnails easily.

b. Links

All links within your website should describe what you are linking to and, if possible, why the visitor should click on them. Remember that links are calls to action, so make sure you sell the action well. What benefit will the visitor get out of this click?

c. Section and page names

The titles you give to sections and pages should clearly represent the content they contain. This goes for the page headings and navigation labels too.

d. Page presentation

If you want someone to read a passage of text, make it look as appealing as possible. Break up big blocks of text with smaller manageable chunks. Make sure your content is easy to read – a good way to check is reading it out loud.

e. Image slide shows

Obviously, all of the images on your website should be stimulating to some degree. But if you’re using any kind of image slider or transition, you need to carefully think about the image order. Always try to use the best ones first to hook visitor attention.

f. Cohesion

Think about how all of this ties together. Don’t allow items of content to clash or compete with each other. Make sure the page has a focal point, which is closely related to what action you would like visitors to perform.

A safer “get out clause”

Don’t forget that visitors always have the ultimate “get out clause” – if they don’t like the page they are on, they can easily exit your website. Where possible, always offer an alternative call to action that doesn’t involve leaving the site. For example, if the focus of a page is a video, accompany it with a link to an alternative piece of content.

Your website should be like a pick ‘n’ mix sweet shop; full of choices. But remember to carefully choose which sweets to stock.

More

There’s so much more we want to tell you. For help with information architecture, user experience, web design and more, get in touch with Group Dane.