Tips to improve your website and help increase bookings

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Even if you’re on lots of online travel agent sites and specialised accommodation sites, your own web site is the most important marketing tool you have. Obviously, a direct booking from your own site — where you don’t pay any commission to a third party — is first prize for your marketing efforts.

With the help of some experienced colleagues in the industry, here are some tips on what visitors look for on your B&B, guest house or hotel website.

1. Lots of good, big photos

People are doing a lot of research online before they book. They will generally compare at least 4 to 5 web sites and photos create the first impression for them. Since research is about learning facts, bear in mind that up to 60% of people are visual learners. They need pictures to tell the story.

Guests want to see what your property looks like both inside and out. There should be decent-sized visuals on all the pages, especially the home page. Animated slide shows are good – but only if they load fast. Good photos are ones that capture the feeling of your property as well as the essentials such as the bedrooms, bathrooms, views and facilities.

Full sized photos of the exterior, living spaces and room interiors are essential. “Include vibe pictures such as artwork on walls, a breakfast table set up and a beautiful flower arrangement to help convey the ambience and show the attention to detail,” suggests experienced website designer, Suzie Allderman. She also recommends that you stay away from too many stock images, such as pictures of Table Mountain, and rather focus on unique images of your establishment.

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Nairobi Tented Camp does a great job of showing staff and guests in all its photos.

Importantly, your photos should provide a true reflection of what a guest can expect when he or she stays with you. Making everything look “too pretty” and thereby disappointing the guest on arrival, can backfire badly. Another tip is to include people in some of the photos, so that your guests have a “wish I were there” feeling. Good examples are of people looking at vistas, enjoying your pool, or enjoying some of the activities in your area.

If you don’t currently have good photos, pay an experienced photographer to take some. It will be the best investment you can make for your online image.

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Thonga Beach Lodge has large photos showing different views of exteriors and interiors.

2. Prominently display your online booking link

Since your marketing efforts are aimed at getting guests to your web site, make sure they can book there and then, with a realtime booking engine, even while you’re asleep. If you’re already a NightsBridge client, you should have this all-important point covered.

However, we’ve been surprised at how many of our customers hide the booking button. It’s either really tiny, or at the very bottom of the page (out of sight), or on one page only. You’re losing booking opportunities if you do this.

Take a look at your web site through the eyes of someone who has never been to it before. Is the “Check Availability and Book Online” link prominent? Easy to find? Above the fold? (Think of a newspaper — You see what’s on the front page on the top half of the page. Don’t make visitors scroll down to find the booking button.)

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People generally look at information online in an F-shape. The image below shows the dominant online reading pattern of users. It was first discovered by usability expert Jacob Nielsen in 2006. This means that you should add your availability widget or a book now button on the top left or top right of your pages. Include the button or link on all your pages.

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Users also often scan from the top left to the bottom right of the page in a Z-shape. It is therefore useful to add a call to action booking button, link or widget on the bottom right of the page too – above the line (area where people need to start scrolling down).

It’s still useful to have an email address or contact form as well, in case people have questions before they book. You can also make your telephone number prominent to ensure that it’s clear how to get in touch with you.

3. Location, location, location

Strangely, this is often missing! You can’t guarantee through which search process guests found your site. They may actually not know which town you’re located in. Make sure to prominently display your address. It is very useful to mention the suburb, town and country in your text, as well as in the web page title. Search engines can pick up this content. It’s even more useful to add a page that describes your town or suburb and its attractions. But remember to add this information on the Home page as well.

A printable map with your address, contact number and directions from the airport is useful. Show and explain your location relative to attractions.

Most clients now use Google maps on their phones to get driving directions. Make sure that your accommodation shows up correctly. Find out how to add your property on Google maps or get someone to do this for you. This also helps your search engine ranking.

4. Content is King

By content, we mean the writing on the pages, describing the beautiful photos on your site. Apart from the visuals, you also need text to explain what you offer. The big bonus of good text is that the search engines love it.

Get help with your writing — there are lots of freelance journalists. At least get your content checked for spelling and grammar. Sub-editing (checking and re-writing by a professional) should cost around R150 per hour.

Include concise, well-written descriptions of your establishment in your own style, focusing especially on your rooms, facilities and unique selling points.

“Accommodation websites should include destination content as well as information that is relevant to their specific target market”, says Theo Cromhout, who has 15 years of sales and marketing experience in the accommodation industry.

It’s also a good idea to write about your town, its attractions and activities in the area. For example, if you have a beautiful garden or special plants (like fynbos in the Western Cape) nearby, write about it and show some photographs. It’s unique content that might well lead a lover of birds, or plants, or whatever other activity or interest you’re describing, to end up booking your rooms for their visit.

Taking a fresh look at your site can pay off handsomely. We look forward to hearing (and seeing) your success stories.

Useful links:

Find out more about how to adjust your web layout and get more bookings in these articles: Understanding the F-Layout in Web Design, Understanding the Z-Layout in Web Design and 10 Usability Tips Based on Research Studies.

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