As one of the most difficult years for hotels comes to a close, many hoteliers are reviewing their budgets and wondering how to make them work even harder for them across 2021. The direct channel being the most cost-effective channel to get business is not new information to anyone.
No business segment has been safe from the wrath of the Covid 19 crisis and in search of silver linings among a sky full of grey clouds, direct website business is probably one of the least impacted segments, certainly for the leisure market. With the outlook for international travel, corporate, events, and group segments bleak at best for 2021, now is the time to really examine how well you are driving your direct website.
The dilemma is what investments for 2021 further drive your direct website revenue and what elements of your marketing budget should you consider saying goodbye to.
One area to consider is who is converting your traffic. In a hypothetical situation, you are investing in driving traffic to your website through a variety of digital marketing campaigns yet the conversion rate on your website is not where you would like it to be.
Increasing traffic through further digital marketing campaigns may not be an option and considerably harder due to budget and time limitations. A “quick fix” may be to add a tool to your website that claims it will help you do just that. However, as we all know “a quick fix for a long-standing problem only works for the short term”. We need to do the work to improve conversion – it requires a long term strategy and focus to achieve sustainable growth.
Rather than jumping for the quick fix solution start considering the recommendations from these below as a way to convert your traffic in a more sustainable way.
Video and photography
You have approximately eight seconds to win the visitor and this requires compelling content. For years, us included, we have been shouting about “Book Direct”, could we qualify this as compelling content though?
Our team wrote extensively about changing this message and emphasising your brand voice more, to read more about life beyond “book direct” click here.
Through our Allora insights we have seen that people are not yet ready to convert on their first visit, therefore hitting them with different messages or pop-ups might cause irritation more than anything else, think of your own behaviour; what do you do with pop-ups?
If they are not there to book, what are they doing there? They are there to consume content. People love beautiful things, in particular amazing photography and videos. Just look how much time we all spend on Instagram for example or how everyone actively looks for the John Lewis Christmas video every year.
Your photography and videos are an asset to the Hotel – not a cost – and so investment in this area is key. Bear in mind that your hotel video and photography will be the first impression many guests get of your property and first impressions always count. That impression will play a part in whether someone will stay on your website or leave to look for alternative accommodation.
>> In addition to that, they can give you a competitive edge and as we mentioned with the John Lewis example, it gives the opportunity to emotionally connect with your viewer in seconds.
Page Speed Improvements
As internet speeds have increased exponentially since the days of dial-up, consumer patience levels have decreased to the same degree. A study from Crazy Egg has shown even a one-second delay in page load speeds can result in:
- 11% fewer page views
- 16% decrease in customer satisfaction
- 7% loss in conversions.
If you can improve your page speed load time – it will have a direct impact on your conversion rates and subsequently your digital marketing return on investment.
>> In addition to that, it will also help you outrank your competitors from an organic perspective. Google views most hotels’ content as extremely similar so page speed is a critical factor in standing out from the crowd. If your website is faster than most, this will signal to Google as a better website and in turn, help you appear higher in search results. In addition to that – the faster the load time, the more pages search engines can crawl, the opposite could have a negative effect on your indexation.
The last and most important argument, as a guest-centric business, a better load time translates to an improved user (or guest) experience which will make return guests more likely to use your website for booking their return visit to your property.
As the hypothetical situation mentioned earlier – you are investing in getting traffic and there are tools which will suggest they can improve your conversion. You have done all the work in getting the traffic, campaigns have been fully optimised yet there are claims that guest conversion can be improved.
It may not be necessary to bring in a third party to do this for you – you can find out how to improve the conversions through A/B tests. Carrying out tests helps to take the “feelings” out of conversations – where the front office manager feels the book now button should sit in the top right corner versus the events manager argues the bottom left.
From personal experience, marketing and the website design are subjective which garner opinions from all departments of hotels. Given your website is a major revenue driver for the hotel – key decisions need to be made on more than just feelings and opinions, data needs to be the foundation of it all.
>> A/B testing presents different content – for example, colours, buttons, text, or images – to websites visitors and then measures conversion rates from the visitors who saw content A or content B. This allows you to determine which content works best at encouraging guest conversion and gives you valuable insights into visitor behaviour. It demonstrates the impact of making a change on your website or landing pages has on your guest conversion rate and ultimately your bottom line.
Moving a conversion metric by even half a percentage point could be the difference in meeting targets or not. For example, if you have 40K users per month, a 1.5% conversion rate with an ABV of €200, that website will generate €120K. If you move that conversion rate to 2% at the same ABV the same website is generating €160K, a 33% increase in revenue.
Consider what else could be impacting conversion
Whether you implement one of the above recommendations or choose to spend your marketing budget on a provider that claims to help with conversion – it key to remember other external & internal factors that could be influencing your conversion.
Are there other elements increasing guest conversion that third party tools will try to take credit for?
- An e-zine with an exceptional value offer to your past guests
- Announcement of a concert or an event nearby (remember those pre-Covid days?!)
- A wedding showcase
- Offline marketing – have you ran a radio campaign recently or taken out ads with a newspaper & magazine that could be driving traffic. Typically offline marketing helps to drive the top of the funnel traffic or brand awareness, the pay-off in conversion can take a little longer.
Other more permanent & long term elements to consider are:
- Hotel category: luxury properties typically have a lower conversion rate as they are a more aspirational purchase in that they get a lot of window shoppers. They will also have a longer consideration phase in their path to purchase.
- Location: if you are in a location with a large number of properties i.e. a city center, travellers have more to choose from and may be inclined to shop around more.
- Rate parity: are you displaying at different rates on different channels? This is going to lengthen the purchase path as travellers shop around checking to see if prices on one channel are like for like with another channel. Investing in photography, page speeds, testing, and even a conversion improvement tool will be futile if there are a variety of different rates for essentially the same thing on different channels.
- Rate strategy: increasing or decreasing rates will have an impact on conversion, as we mentioned most people will not make a booking on their first visit to the website. What if they see one rate on their first visit to the booking engine and a week later they see that same rate has increased, they may be more or less likely to convert. It could either scenario: more likely out of fear the rates will increase again or less likely because the rate is now beyond their budget.
- Why else are people visiting your hotel? Is there a leisure center with private members? Do local residents love your restaurant, is your bar popular for after-work drinks? These are all other reasons for people to visit your website and while they may not lead to a “conversion” they are still generating business for your property.
Conversion metrics are misleading at best
Once you have examined what areas of your website you could improve – visuals, speed, testing, and taken into account the impacting factors above – it is also time to ask “what do you consider a conversion?”.
The traditional conversion metric is the number of visitors divided by the number of bookings on your website. This is quite a linear perception of conversion, as outlined above there are quite a number of reasons why someone would leave your website without converting.
We all know from our own buying behaviours that it is not as simple as visiting a website for the first time, completing a purchase, and leaving the site. It is in our nature to visit multiple websites, multiple times.
At Avvio, we have evolved our view from traditional conversion to guest conversion. Using traditional conversion metrics a visitor booking for their family holiday that visited the booking engine five times before they booked would have been seen as four failed conversions and one successful conversion.
We should view this all as one journey and think about how we speak to that booker on their first visit to the website versus their fifth. Looking at it from a guest journey point of view in terms of your digital marketing and website will ultimately lead to more guest conversions and a healthy pipeline of low to high intent visitors.
Increasing conversion rates is best done in a sustainable way as outlined above as using a quick fix simply plasters over the cracks, the underlying problem will still remain. It is important to also look at who is responsible for conversion – when you use multiple vendors – everyone will claim they are driving success or claim attribution.
Establishing where success is coming from will help you in generating more business. This may feel like a “if it’s not broken, why fix it” scenario when you are getting a high conversion rate and everyone claims it’s them. However “breaking it” is the best way to find out how you can grow revenues in a time where there is hyper-competition for constricted demand.
As mentioned earlier, the direct website is one of the few channels still performing and because of this more hotels are increasing their efforts in having their direct websites perform.
>> Make sure you are giving your hotel the best chance to outshine your competition with compelling photography and videos, fast page loads, and continual testing to optimise for conversion.