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The best way to review and revive your hotel’s website

First, sharpen your axe 

Abraham Lincoln is often quoted as saying “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” which contains a solid truth; investing time into getting ready, taking stock, planning ahead and prepping your tools, makes for a quicker, easier job and a more successful end project. 

When it comes to reviewing and refreshing a website, this principle particularly rings true. Investing smarts, taking time to plan first, will save you time and money, and make for a better end result. 

Avoid the cost of the boom-bust cycle 

The fact that you’re thinking about a website review is a great sign. Many still fall into the trap of the “boom-bust” cycle. They invest large sums into a new website, go through a resource-intensive process, and finally launch. The new website sits untouched for years when it comes to their attention again, now needing another intensive redo – usually scrapping everything and starting over again. 

This boom-bust cycle doesn’t produce the best results and regularly decimates marketing budgets. Paul Boag, a noted usability expert, describes these boom-bust redesigns as “an unpredictable expense that comes along every three to five years and they’re a big cost for the business. It’s much cheaper and much more predictable if there’s an ongoing operational expense to maintain and keep the website up to date.” 

Continually optimise 

Fortunately, there is a viable alternative to the boom-bust cycle – continual optimisation. Rather than throwing out the baby with the bathwater, continual optimisation introduces a shorter cycle of reviewing your website and introducing gradual improvements – spreading budgets out in a more manageable way, allowing you to react to user feedback and business changes quicker and producing a much more effective end product. This iterative process hinges on a thorough website review process. 

Put research tools to work 

The first step is to start gathering some data. No doubt you already have some basic website tracking in place such as Google Analytics, but we’d suggest implementing a more in-depth visitor tracking tool in addition to this. 

Using tools like Hotjar or Fullstory (a free 30 day trial of Fullstory is available and is a handy way to get started) you can view exactly how people use the site so you can review and improve. You’ll be able to see video-like recordings of the pages they navigate to, links they click, what they pay attention to and what they ignore, and places they get stuck. This can be an invaluable way to discover some quick wins and fix bottlenecks that are holding bookings back. 

Harness the power of the full team 

It’s hugely beneficial to get the whole team involved on a number of levels – from getting a variety of different viewpoints, to building a sense of ownership and getting them behind the same vision. 

Not all your team will have the time to input into this process. If you are limiting the numbers involved be sure to select those that are closer to your target audience demographics, while still representing a broad spectrum. Sketch out your audience 

With your dream team assembled, put a couple of hours aside, or perhaps an afternoon or a couple of sessions, and working together, follow this process, gathering all their input. The first step is to define your target customers. Using the weight of experience and real data you’ll need to boil your customers down into as few categories as possible. If you can refine them down to one that’s brilliant, but most establishments will find they have perhaps 3 or 4 archetypes. These should differ from hotel to hotel, but as an example, they might be…

  1. International visitor
  2. Business traveller 
  3. Romantic getaway couple 

Note that throughout this whole process, you’ll need to leverage the experience and intuition of you and your team. But beware, although intuition is a powerful tool, we all have biases to be aware of and cater for, being aware of this and keeping your dream team diverse helps to counter this. 

Tell their story 

Now we know who you’re aiming for, let’s tell their story. There a number of useful tools that can enable this process. 

Pen portraits 

A pen portrait, sometimes known as a user persona or buyer persona, is essentially a bullet point description that gives you a rounded picture of a person. It’s a bit like a CV that tells you about that person more generally. 

Engaging your intuition, and using what you know of your past customers, start to describe them and their life. 

There are lots of areas to brainstorm, but here are a number of ideas to get you going… 

  1. What’s their name? 
  2. Are they male or female? 
  3. How old are they? 
  4. Where do they live? 
  5. Are they married? 
  6. Do they have kids? 
  7. What car do they drive? 
  8. What are their political views? 
  9. What do they drink? 
  10. What do they do at weekends? 

Keep going until you reach a rough consensus on each type of customer. 

Empathy maps 

While pen profiles are a great starter and give us the basics, we need to dig deeper. This is where empathy maps come in. Rather than the list of facts and figures that pen profiles can often end turn out to be, empathy maps help us to understand the customer’s feelings and thoughts – what drives them. 

Classically empathy maps cover these points…. 

  1. What the user thinks and feels 
  2. What the user hears 
  3. What the user sees 
  4. What the user says and does 
  5. What are the user’s pain points 
  6. What does the user want to gain 

Put together in the format shown, these provide a visual snapshot of your target user. But as with any tool, empathy maps aren’t perfect, so don’t be afraid to adapt them to better fit your needs. Web usability expert Paul Boag commented, “Although I have been using empathy maps for some time I confess I have found them frustrating. In the end, I started adapting the empathy map for my specific needs. 

The result was that attendees found it much simpler to complete in the context of my work. Also, the outcome was much more useful in informing future deliverables.” 

Pulling it all together 

Having run through all your research so far, it’s helpful to draw everything together and share the results with the team. This can be as simple as a written report, but a more visual report such as a poster of each persona with images and key words and phrases can be a very helpful reference point. Remember, you’ll want to be referring back to these personas throughout the whole process. 

While we’ve touched on the core research tools we recommend using, there are other tools you may want to consider as part of your toolkit, such as customer journey mapping, for example. 

Applying it 

Now you’ve taken the time to plan, gathered data and research, it’s time to put it into practice. 

Answer questions 

The ridiculously simple truth about websites is that people have certain questions they want answering or certain objections that need addressing, and your website simply needs to answer these. Your first port of call is to loop through your personas, and one by one list the questions and concerns you think they have. Then review your website’s copy – does your website answer these questions clearly? 

For each user profile, brainstorm what the questions and objections are, and the tasks each user profile wants to complete. 

Attract the right audience 

Looking at the broader visual aspect of your website with fresh eyes, or rather, through the eyes of your user persona, does it fit with their aspirations? Would it attract them or put them off? 

If your target audience is diners looking for a luxury experience, then bright colours and low-quality imagery won’t click with them. Instead, you should be using appropriate muted colours, typefaces that suggests high class, and professional images of exquisitely presented dishes. 

Deal with the pinch points 

Particularly looking at data you’ve gathered through tools like Fullstory, while also thinking about how each persona undertakes each transaction, where they are, what device they’re using, and so forth, use these findings to diagnose and iron out any bottlenecks in the process. You may find, for example, that the majority of customers want to book via their smartphone while out and about – but your website is slow to load over poor connections and your booking engine doesn’t work on mobile. Fixing bottlenecks like this can realise business that’s otherwise wasted. 

Discovery 

Similarly, think about how each audience typically discovers your hotel. If it’s through a Google search, then ensure your website is fully optimised for search engines. If it’s through social media, you need to squeeze the most out of this particular marketing channel, ensure every page has appropriately filled descriptions and images. 

Keep reviewing 

I’ve found this approach to be a great process that can fundamentally change your business and gets everyone on your team included and behind the same vision. But don’t forget that this isn’t a one-off and fall back into that boom-bust redesign mode that costs your business. Put time aside, even if it’s only every 6 months, to re-visit this process and plan the incremental changes to your website. 

Ben Walker is the author of The Digitally Marketed Hotel and founder of Arise, digital specialists in social media and web design for the hospitality and tourism sectors. 

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