Hotel Online  Special Report

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Nine Tips to Create a Dominant Hotel Web Site

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By: Neil Salerno – May 2006

Many hoteliers today agree that the only way to really measure the effectiveness a hotel web site is to track the number of reservations being generated from it. For those of you who are still satisfied with simply knowing how many visitors your site gets, you may be missing the big picture. More visitors don’t necessarily mean you are getting more reservations.

There are actually two separate issues at hand; one, driving visitors to your site and two, converting lookers into bookers once they visit. Many people are quick to consider SEO, search engine optimization, but more people need to concentrate on WSO, web site optimization. WSO is your site’s ability to sell your hotel, once users visit the site. 

There are many WSO points which contribute to making a productive hotel web site. Contrary to the belief of many web designers, a hotel web site is not just an attractive online brochure with moving parts, bells, and whistles; it should be an interactive tool to generate sales; and that takes marketing expertise. Unless one is designing a site for a museum, there are definite marketing principles involved in the design itself. 

Perhaps the most difficult undertaking is to make people understand that their attractive web site may be a marketing failure because it lacks the sales tools to produce reservations; such as well-written selling text, technically acceptable photography, an easily understood navigation scheme, researched and carefully chosen search terms/phrases, workable Meta Tags, and a good link strategy. 

Here are nine tips you can use to help ensure that your site will capture a greater share of online reservations and dominate the competition. 

1.  Flash Intros and Other Flash Elements

Simply put, get rid of them. They may look pretty, but they don’t do a thing to help your site’s popularity nor its productivity. I’m sure one of the most frequently clicked links on these web sites is “skip intro”. People aren’t looking to be entertained, they are looking for information. Tell your web designer, no thanks on flash intros.

Search engines only read text. Flash elements take too long to load on slower connections (many users are still on dial-up or limited-range broadband). A little flash can be attractive, but too many web designers get carried away with it. Don’t use it. Your web designer needs to spend more time developing text, which is far more important to the success of the site. 

There appears to be a growing preference towards developing the entire site in flash. It sure is pretty but it has some huge problems. It’s costly to produce and to make changes. Flash requires navigation links to be double-clicked in order to function. This may sound like no big deal, but many users will assume the link is broken, since we are all so accustomed to single-clicking links.  This type of site may be perfect for art galleries or museums, but dysfunctional for a hotel sales site. Second, flash confuses search spiders and almost always encourages a low site ranking. Third, take a good look at successful booking portals like Expedia, Travelocity, etc...No flash!

2.  Be Careful with Photos and other Graphics

Until all Internet users are using high-speed connections, check the density of the graphics you place on your site. Graphics with higher density than 40K bytes are likely to be very slow to load. Slow downloads can be very annoying to your site visitors. Don’t choose a photo just because it’s pretty. If you cannot reduce the density of a photo, scrap it. 

Photos create interest, but text sells. You can make your photos more interesting and searchable by simply adding text descriptions to every photo. This works especially well for “photo galleries” on your site. Since search engines only read text, your photos will become part of the search process and actually increase the popularity of your site.

Want to see the density of your photos? Simply right click the photo and click properties.

3.  Navigation Elements on your Site 

The first rule of hotel site design; don’t make it necessary for visitors to “learn” how to navigate your site. Web site designers, who lack hotel marketing knowledge, tend to become overly creative when designing and naming navigation elements. Your site’s navigation scheme is among the primary evaluation essentials for search engine spiders when ranking your site. 

Drop-down menus are fine, but stick to common labels. You can’t go wrong with common labels such as “facilities”, “amenities”, “activities”, etc. Talk about confusing, we even saw one web site that labeled their home page “lobby”. Don’t try to reinvent the wheel. Navigation elements do not need to jump, twirl, or flash in order to create interest in your site. Above all, trash that flash.

4.  Meta Tags and all that Technical Stuff

There is some debate over the importance of Meta Tags, some search engines swear by them, some don’t. It only makes good ‘ole common-sense, however, to make sure that you have the proper tags attached to your site…they are free. Want to see your tags? It’s easy, go to Explorer and find your site, then click view, source. 

There are various tags, such as Title Tags, Key Word Tags, etc. If there are tags entered, how well were they researched? How accurate are they? For most search engines, tags help them find your site. By the way, some Meta Tags should be different on each page of your site. 

There are several web sites which will allow you to see how many searches were performed, during the previous month, for each search term used. They will even suggest search words and phrases you might never have thought of. Don’t guess; you could be wrong.

5.  Text – What does your site say? (And how does it say it?)

The most common error on hotel web sites is poorly developed text. I can always recognize a site designed by a techie; the text usually looks like an after-thought. Text is the most important element of the site for two reasons; text is the only element that search engines can see, and second, text is what sells your hotel. Photos create interest, but text sells.

Realizing that most visitors will rarely read your entire site, it’s essential that the text is written in order of importance from top to bottom. The first two to three paragraphs should include as many key words/phrases as possible to facilitate searches. Be careful not to over do it, you could be accused of spamming.

Home page text is obviously most critical. This is your opportunity to clarify your location, not simply your address and the most important selling features of the hotel. The location description should contain distances to room generators, such as attractions and businesses, etc. 

Don’t forget to ask for business; you are writing sales text, not a brochure. The old concept of features and benefits still apply. Write as if you are talking to your visitors; forget ninety-dollar technical terms…talk plainly. Developing text should consume the most time and thought in designing your site.

6.  A Booking Engine could be your best investment

For the life of me, I can’t think of a single reason why every independent hotel shouldn’t have a booking engine attached. Independent hotels need a booking engine to gain equal footing with franchised hotels. Simple fact is that more and more users are booking reservations in real-time online. Email availability inquiries just don’t do it, anymore.

Not all booking engines are equal. Look for an engine that can be easily maintained; you will have to maintain rates and room inventory. Look for a well-designed engine, which is user-friendly and professionally designed. Look for an engine that charges a flat fee each month with no commissions or booking fees. Look for an engine that has a good technical staff to assist you. 

Above all, don’t expect Internet users to be satisfied with email reservations on your site. We can only guess how many reservations you could be missing. For those of you, who think that a booking engine is financially out of reach, think again, the return on this minor investment is huge. 

7.  Collect and Use Your Web Site Data

There are many web site data collection software programs and basically they all collect just about the same information. You need to know your primary feeder-markets, primary referral sites, most productive search engines for your site, etc. 

Make sure that your web master knows how to use this information to make changes to your site. There is no “perfect” web site; only those we continue to perfect. Software such as Web Trends or Web CEO can show the popularity of each page on your site, so adjustments can be made. Many of these companies collect data by hour, day, week and/or month on your web site. Yes, they are affordable too.

In the old days of print advertising, my favorite saying was “50% of all advertising is a waste of money; the problem is we don’t know which 50% it is”. This is not true with a web site; we can easily see what is productive and that which is not productive.

8.  Pay-Per-Click Advertising

In those good ‘ole days, we had to spend money to advertise our hotels, without knowing what the response would be, if any at all. Pay-per-click advertising is exactly as it appears; you only pay for those users who actually go to your web site. 

Check it out; it could be a great investment if you find someone who knows how to use it properly and will maintain it for you. It could help you dominate your competition.

9.  Develop a Link Strategy on your Site

Several search engines also use your site’s popularity to rank your site. They measure in-coming and out-going links as one criterion. Links to attractions and relevant locations can be very useful. Use some caution, however, it helps to link to those sites that are most popular and never place out-going links on your home page.

Dollar for dollar, Internet web site marketing represents the best-value sales tool available to hotels today. It still provides a great return-on-investment and is the great equalizer for Independent hotels. Don’t be satisfied with a site which looks attractive, but produces too few reservations. 

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Contact:

Neil Salerno, C.H.M.E., C.H.A.
The Hotel Marketing Coach
www.hotelmarketingcoach.com
NeilS@hotelmarketingcoach.com
607/331-3626

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Also See: Your Hotel Web Site: If It Ain’t Broke…Break It! / Neil Salerno / May 2006
Independent Hotel Web Sites - Marketing Winners…and Losers / Neil Salerno / May 2006
Tired of Hotel Sales Training That Excites… But Doesn’t Change Anything? / Neil Salerno / April 2006
Hotel Web Site Productivity…The New Way to Measure Your Site’s Effectiveness / Neil Salerno / April 2006
Hotel Revenue Management. . . The Way I See It / Neil Salerno / April 2006
Hotel Web Site Lookers & Bookers; Want to Convert Lookers on Your Web Site? / Neil Salerno / March 2006
Hotelier Rebuts Article Concerning Third-party Online Aggregators / Neil Salerno / February 2006
Great Opportunity for Independent Hotels - Cash-in on Electronic Sales / Neil Salerno / January 2006
Some Hoteliers Still Don’t Recognize the Benefits Derived from Third-party Listings; Shame, Shame, Shame on You! / Neil Salerno / January 2006
Online Hotel Rating Sites Driving Anxiety into  the Hearts of Many Hotel Managers / Neil Salerno / December 2005
Hotel Web Site Priorities –Some Do’s, Don’ts; Why the Heck Did You Do That? / Neil Salerno / November 2005
The Best Hotel Sales Director I Ever Met; What Do The Good Ones Have in Common? / Neil Salerno / November 2005
The Best Hotel General Manager I Ever Met / Neil Salerno / October 2005
What’s your eMarketing Proficiency? Using Electronic Marketing Tools / Neil Salerno / October 2005
When Times Get Tough…Get Tougher! Sell Harder Before You Cave-in on Rates / Neil Salerno / September 2005
The Web Site Conundrum…Are You Winning the Electronic Marketing Game? / Neil Salerno / August 2005
Lions and Tigers and Bears…Oh My; The Hotel Yellow Brick Road is Less Scary than It Used to Be / Neil Salerno / August 2005
Running Dry on Good Hotel Ideas? It’s not What You Know - It’s Who You Know / Neil Salerno / July 2005
Revenue Grabbing Tips for Independent Hotels; Start Thinking Like the Chains / Neil Salerno / July 2005
Hotel Web Basics That Really Work…Content is King / Neil Salerno / July 2005
Hotel Supplier Sites versus Online Travel Agents; The War Chronicles / Neil Salerno / June 2005
New Hotel Technology Surround Us; Yet Face-to-face Selling is Still Most Productive / Neil Salerno / June 2005
The Internet…The Great Equalizer For Independent Hotels / Neil Salerno / June 2005
Third-Party Booking Sites Still Dominate Internet Sales;  Why Do So Many Consider this Bad? / Neil Salerno / April 2005
Now That Online Hotel Booking Is Here to Stay, New Challenges Emerge / Neil Salerno / April 2005
Independent Boutique Hotels Can Compete With their Big Box Neighbors / Neil Salerno / April 2005
Who Are Your Most Important Guests? We’ve Come a Long Way, Baby! / Neil Salerno / March 2005
New Consumer Hotel Booking Preferences - They Love the Internet…Now What? / Neil Salerno / March 2005
Who Would Have Thought - Today's Hotel Marketing Necessity Is Also its Best Value / March 2005
Time For a Hotel Web Site “Make-Over”? Methods for Building a Successful Web Site Change / Neil Salerno / March 2005
Create Impact by Developing a Link Strategy For Your Hotel Web Site / Neil Salerno / February 2005
Steps to Develop Your Hotel's Presence on the Web / Neil Salerno / February 2005
Five Hotel Internet Marketing Myths - Busted!/ Neil Salerno / January 2005
How Does Your Hotel Web Site Measure-Up? 2005 Will Be the Internet’s Most Productive Year so Far / Neil Salerno / January 2005
Are You Being Out-Hustled By Your Competition? How to Dominate Your Hotel's Market Set / Neil Salerno / December 2004
Why Are Some Hotel Companies Plagued By Management Turnover? Is This Systematic of Poor Performance? / Neil Salerno / December 2004
Basic Components of a Hotel Website: Current Weather, Flash Animation, and Virtual Tours?? Plain Talk About Internet Sales / Neil Salerno / February 2004
Don’t Compromise Your Goals In 2004; Five New Year’s Resolutions You Will Want To Keep / Neil Salerno / January 2004
No More Whining About Third-Party Suppliers; You Control Your Own Fate On The Net / Neil Salerno / December 2003
Six 'Maxi’s' Guaranteed To Boost Hotel Sales / Neil Salerno / November 2003
It’s Time To Take Back Control Of Rates & Rooms - But Is The Enemy...Us? / Neil Salerno / November 2003
Booking Engines Are Like A Box of Chocolates...You Never Know What You’re Gonna Get! / Neil Salerno / October 2003
Hotel Web Site & Search Engine Optimization; Always A Work In Progress / Neil L. Salerno / October 2003
Hotel Budgets and Marketing Plans; Oh No, Is It That Time Again? / Neil L. Salerno / September 2003
Increasing Hotel Internet Sales Is Not Rocket Science...And It Doesn’t Have To Be Costly Either / Neil L. Salerno / September 2003
Are You Treating Third Party eWholesalers As Competititon Or a Valuable Marketing Partner? / Neil L. Salerno / August 2003
How Often Have You Heard, 'I could have gotten a better rate but the client saw our rates on the Internet' ? It’s Time To Get Back To Selling Location, Facilities, and Services / Neil L. Salerno / August 2003
Before You Begin that Marketing Plan Challenge Your Sales Team; Expect More and Get More / Neil L. Salerno / July 2003
Jump Up and Shout Yes - Delivering Best Online Customer Experience, Nice Job Vividence! / Neil L. Salerno / July 2003
Is The Internet Delivering On Its Promise? Well, It Depends on How you Look at It / Neil L. Salerno / June 2003
Coaching and Mentoring, Sometimes A New Paradigm Can Go A Long Way / Neil L. Salerno / June 2003
Sales Training Works Well, But Sales Mentoring Makes It More Effective; Mentoring Lasts a Lifetime / Neil L. Salerno / May 2003
Is It Time For A Sales Tune-up? How Healthy Was Your Last Forecast? / Neil L. Salerno / May 2003
Hotel Web Sites; Want it Creative or Effective? / Neil L. Salerno / May 2003
If You Always Do What You Have Always Done.... You’ll Always Get What You Always Got! Hotelier’s Mantra... Thinking Outside The Box / Neil L. Salerno / April 2003
Good Sales Planning - The Basics Still Work / Neil L. Salerno / April 2003


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