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Let’s Be Honest, Does Your Hotel’s Website Suck? – How and Why People Choose Hotels Online

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Let’s Be Honest, Does Your Hotel’s Website Suck? – How and Why People Choose Hotels OnlineThere’s only one way to know whether or not your website is doing its job and that is to check the number of reservations it’s generating. If you have an independent hotel, this is an easy task; your booking engine’s analytics should tell you. If it’s franchised, it’s a little harder because most brands don’t want you to know how much your proprietary site is contributing to bookings. Many don’t want you to have a proprietary site at all.

Unfortunately, many franchises still discourage the use of proprietary websites and/or measuring your own site’s production. It’s a matter of self-preservation; they’re afraid you won’t need them, I guess. A big hooray for enlightened brands like Hilton and Preferred Hotels, which support the use of proprietary sites for their hotels. It makes common sense; proprietary sites can do what franchise sites cannot. Only a little more than 20% of searches are performed by brand name, anyway.

Is Your Website Producing Business? (Do you know?)
More and more hoteliers are turning to the Internet to sell their hotel rooms, food, beverages, and other facilities. But, the question is just how effective is that website to attract visitors and book business? It is amazing how many hoteliers have no idea whether or not their site is actually producing business and appear satisfied with only knowing how many visitors the site gets.

Would you hire a sales person and not measure how much business he or she books? Would you be satisfied just knowing how many people they talk to? I doubt it.

More than just the way they look, too many hotel sites are not designed to be found through generic search nor are they designed to drive reservations. In the last few years, many website designers have gravitated towards building websites for hotels. Unfortunately, many of them have no hands-on experience with hotels to understand how and why people choose a hotel online. It’s also sad that many of them don’t know how search engines work either.

Destination-focused Websites
In several past articles, I referred to some hotel sites as nothing more than online brochures. A hotel online brochure is a site, which only covers information about the hotel itself; that makes it dead-in-the-water from a search standpoint. Someone who designs such a site, doesn’t understand how travelers use the Internet to find and book rooms.

Few people choose a hotel before choosing a destination. The fact is that most travelers first select a destination, attraction, or activity, then select a hotel within the scope of that destination. Hotel online brochures mention little, if any, information about the destination features nearby. Yet, this is the most important search findability information on your site. Selecting a hotel is most often the "second" decision made by travelers.

A Matter of Value
The location, not the address, of a hotel plays a very important role in the process of determining value. Most travelers do not choose a hotel by facilities and rates alone, it’s value that counts. How convenient the hotel’s location is, as compared to where they need or want to be, is their primary value decision.

It’s Also a Matter of Search Findability
Just designing a website that looks great is a small part of a site designer’s responsibility; almost any site designer can make an attractive site. You’ve read a lot about a site’s search ability or findability; to me, the most important part of any site. Many site designers appear to have been enlightened about the use of title and description meta tags; important search elements, but we still see a lack of understanding about keyword search tags.

Many search engines, like Google, search for keywords within the body text of each web page. This is why keywords are useless unless they have been incorporated within the site’s content. Remember, content is king. Researching and using popular keywords is essential to generic search. Generic search incorporates location attributes; trip types, such as meetings, weddings, etc; and popular attractions or activities.

Getting on page one of generic searches is an achievable goal for all hotels; the ultimate goal is to be within the first three generic search results. Pay-per-click advertising is a great tool for sponsored search results, but is too costly if generic search is ignored.

Competition has never been keener than it is today and the vast majority of travelers are using the Internet to decide where to go and where to stay. There is markedly less incidental travel since the recession started; making productive hotel websites more important than ever before.

Promoting your hotel through the Internet does not end with the publication of your website on the web, it only begins at that time. There are many hoteliers that are successfully marketing their hotels online through packaging, special promotions, holiday activities, and guest comments. Are you?

Neil Salerno, CHME, CHA
Hotel Marketing Coach
Email: NeilS@hotelmarketingcoach.com
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