Your competition grows every day due to the Internet. When your hospitality website is competing in Google against huge directories and major hotel chains, it’s not easy to simply outrank your competition. Custom search engine optimization can bring more traffic to your website, but then what? Getting people to visit your website is of little value if once they get there, they are not enticed by what they see.
The average conversion rate in the hospitality industry is one to two percent. That means for every 100 website visitors, only one or two make an actual reservation. Your website is the one marketing tool you have 100% control over. Improving your website conversion rate is the best way to increase your online revenue. By changing your website design, graphics and video, “calls to action”, and outdated website content, you can significantly increase your website conversion rates. Most hospitality businesses can make more money today, and increase conversion rates by 5-10%, simply by paying more attention to their website design elements.
There has been a major shift in website designs in the past few years. Almost all new websites are now “content management system (CMS) websites. These new database driven websites allow customers to make routine text changes via the Internet, post timely integrated blog entries, and change graphic elements and special offers much more quickly. CMS websites are also easier to make ADA compliant, which is now required by law.
Another major change in successful websites is that website content is becoming less wordy. In the early days of the Internet, photos and graphics were used sparingly due to long web page load times. Now that Internet connection speeds are so much faster, we are seeing more and more video and graphic content online. In essence, websites are the “new” TV. Updating your website to incorporate these latest trends is just smart business sense.
The most important thing you can spend money on as a hospitality business is a new custom CMS website design. Expect to pay $7,500 to $15,000 for a state-of-the-art CMS website. Select a company that uses valid CSS to create a one of a kind CMS website design. Opt for a design company that employs unique CMS “builders,” as well as creative graphic designers. The days of the jack-of-all-trades website designer are over. For the best look possible, you’ll need a “specialized” geek to build it right. Website design-build quality varies greatly from website design company to company, so choose carefully. Stay away from template CMS website solutions, which are even more costly, and less creative. Cookie cutters are great for cookies, not your website. When comparing costs, the same custom CMS website you pay $10,000 to own, would cost $24,000 to $36,000 over a two to three year template rental period.
Your new website should not only be beautiful, but functional as well. Your website navigation, calls to action, and text should all be lean and enticing. Make sure your basic navigation is limited and leads with the things you sell first: Accommodations, Specials, Reservations, Activities, About Us, etc. Use drop-down menus to limit overall navigation clutter. Make sure you have clear calls to action on every page and put them “above the fold,” so a customer does not need to scroll down to see more information. Rooms pages should be visual, easily to navigate, and display a “Book Now” call to action in multiple locations. Your booking engine should be easy to access in a variety of ways on your new website.
Most existing websites have way too much text and also lack unique activity pages. Instead of having one long activity page, break your activities up into many unique pages, with short descriptions. This will help you gain more exposure in the search engines and give you additional ways to be found by potential online searches. Have an integrated custom blog and stay active in posting short blog entries once or twice a month. Write two to three paragraph entries about things travelers would want to know if they visited your area. This will also “ping” the search engines to revisit your site to log the fresh content that has been added.
When it comes to website text, the new standard is “less is more.” RezStream recommends keeping website content short, descriptive, and to a minimum. Remember, people skim on the web and video is quickly taking the place of long narrative text pages. Have no more than 100 words on your home page and try to limit other pages to no more than 150 words each. Two to three short and sweet paragraphs is more than enough on any page. Lead with your unique sales propositions when you write text. “Our rooms are as close as you can get to the beach without getting sand in your toes.” By mixing up less text, with more video and professional photos, potential customers have room to breathe and less cause to hit the back button and leave your website.
With a new website in place, make sure you have an advanced setup of Google Analytics. If configured correctly with your online booking engine, Google Analytics allows you to track revenue all the way to keywords used by a potential customer. This information will tell you what is and is not working on your website. RezStream also recommends the use of a “heat map” tracker (www.crazyegg.com) to see where potential customers are clicking on your website. You can then use this information to change the position, color, and layout of graphics and text on your website. Paying attention to what you learn from these tools, and revisiting the process on a monthly basis, will yield the highest return on investment (ROI) results.
While you may not always be able to outrank your competition, you should still invest in custom SEO for your website. Too many people these days are looking for easy solutions. There are companies out there that promise that their websites are “search engine friendly.” Guess what? All CMS websites generate “search engine friendly” Meta titles. The problem is that few people are actually searching for these phrases in Google. There is a massive difference in ROI when you optimize your website for terms people are actually searching often in Google. Simply put, there is a BIG difference between “search engine friendly” and “search engine precise.”
When a reputable Internet marketing company adds CUSTOM SEO to your website, they first do extensive research on the ACTUAL TERMS people are using to search in Google and the other major search engines. They also do research to see if you can rank for the terms you want to rank for. Finally they write CUSTOM Meta titles, H’1s, Meta descriptions, Meta keywords, and add strategic linking for your website pages. All of this is done by hand, after exhaustive research. This specialized work is very different than just auto generating Meta titles that few people are searching for.
Companies that claim that their template CMS websites do this “automatically” are misleading people. These companies will also tell you that SEO does not work, and that all that matters is the age of a website domain and number of inbound links. While these are elements of ranking well, they are not the only elements that matter. Google lists over 250 elements of ranking well in its search engine. A website with the same number of inbound links, domain age, and custom SEO, will almost always outrank a website with similar domain age, links, but lacking CUSTOM SEO. You don’t have to take RezStream’s word on this claim. Simply add Google Analytics to your website and optimize it with CUSTOM SEO. You will see increased rankings for terms that actually matter (not just your name, which few people usually search for) and increased revenue. The bottom line is that few people search in Google for the name of your property or use general vague terms. Most people search with very specific combinations of words and there is competition for these terms in Google. That is why custom SEO works when done properly. That is the difference between “search engine friendly” and “search engine precise.” Reputable Internet marketing firms will also help you set up and manage pay per click accounts, add helpful new inbound links, adjust your SEO over time, and help you add more content to your website. Being successful in Internet marketing is not a “set it and forget” proposition. It takes time, hard work, and ongoing attention. When you combine a wining design with custom SEO, you have the ultimate online revenue-producing tool. You will see the results increase every single year that you continue to tweak your design and continue to adjust your SEO elements.
Mobile websites are growing in popularity and if don’t already have one, now is the time. Make sure your mobile website is also a custom one, works on all platforms, and is not a template. You need to be able to have different content on your mobile website than your regular website. Limit text to 50 words or less on each page and have limited graphics, photos, and no video. Load times are key with mobile websites so they have slightly different standards than regular websites do. Make sure you link your mobile website to a mobile booking engine. It’s all about speed and getting to information quickly when it comes to mobile websites.
Your website is the one marketing tool you have 100 percent control over. A more creative and organized design allows you to significantly boost your online revenue. Be more like proven winners Apple and Zappos in your marketing approach by telling people why you want their business, not just “what” you offer. You can make more money from your existing website by tracking your progress and frequently changing key design and content elements. Getting more people to your website is often less important than what they do once they are there. Make sure your website is sticky, has fresh content, and is converting at the highest possible rate.
About the Author: Bill Mitchell is the Co-Founder and Chief Operating Officer of RezStream, a company dedicated to hospitality solutions, located in Denver, Colorado. Bill has over 30 years experience in the hospitality industry with extensive knowledge in consulting, sales, support, website design and Internet marketing.RezStream sells reservation software (RezStream Professional PMS), online reservation booking engine services (RezStream Rez2u Booking Engine), Global Distribution System services, custom website designs, and Internet marketing services.
RezStream also offers a full line of ADA compliance consulting services, ADA compliant website design services, and an ADA reservation services consulting. Call RezStream at 866-360-8210 or visit www.rezstream.com for more information.