Have you ever wondered what it is that OTA’s do that kicks their conversion rates through the roof? What is it that they do to make their presence so well felt and received? Why are they so successful in obtaining bookings and why can you never seem to achieve the same with your own direct bookings platform?
OTA investment in E-commerce research is eye-wateringly big. Expedia last year spent a total of $750 million dollars on research and development to increase conversion. They also ran 1,750 A/B tests as well as actually using two-way mirrors to study the eyeballs of users while they were using the site.
Now I am not telling you to spend a fortune on testing and install two-way mirrors in a room and watch guests eyeballs. Other than the fact that it would most likely get you arrested, it is not necessary. The good news for you and for all hoteliers is that their secrets, really are no big secret. So, don’t start a riot outside their head office and commit corporate espionage to obtain them.
Today I give you the first 4 examples of best practice of OTA’s and large hotel chains to increase your direct booking conversions and increase traffic to your booking platform.
1. Mobile Friendly, fully functioning and, the platinum rule, Usability
These days people view your page on a whole host of different devices, including devices that run on different systems and need different programming languages to be able to display the information on your page in the correct way. They also use many different types of devices to view your page, such as; Iphone’s, Android phones, Tablets and even watches.
Of course, the big OTA’s spend millions on developing mobile-specific apps to make the user experience as good as it can be. However, there are ways around it. The best thing you can do is make your site adaptable. This means that you ask your website developers to make sure that your site is viewable and usable on as many platforms as possible. The browsers used the most, and the ones you need to worry about, are; Chrome, Safari, Internet Explorer & Edge, Firefox and finally Opera.
Key to success?
Usability is the key to success for any website, not just a booking platform. But what is usability and why is it so important? Why should you spend time and money on something that quite frankly, sounds like a simple thing to consider and get right. Wrong.
“On the Web, usability is a necessary condition for survival. If a website is difficult to use, people leave. If the homepage fails to clearly state what a company offers and what users can do on the site, people leave. If users get lost on a website, they leave. If a website’s information is hard to read or doesn’t answer users’ key questions, they leave. Note a pattern here? There’s no such thing as a user reading a website manual or otherwise spending much time trying to figure out an interface. There are plenty of other websites available; leaving is the first line of defence when users encounter a difficulty. The first law of e-commerce is that if users cannot find the product, they cannot buy it either.” Nielson Norman Group
2. Take advantage of what OTA’s can offer
Now, of course, we all know that OTA’s can offer us bookings. They have a good client base and people all over the world use them to book hotels and stays on a daily basis. So they can offer you bookings and help you keep your room capacity to a maximum, but is it really worth it? Are there any alternatives?
The likes of the big players in the OTA market, booking, Expedia, Trivago etc, are all well established and are well known. However, there is a constant emergence of new OTA’s on the market. These new OTA’s are doing what they can to break down the Duopoly of the OTA market and make things a little easier for the hoteliers.
A good example of this is bidroom.com. Bidroom is, as they say, “an OTC (online travel community) not an OTA”. What is the difference I hear you say? Well, bidroom.com are trying to do things a little differently.
They are a subscription based, private or closed OTA. This means that they make money from their subscribers and not from the hotels. They offer 0% commission on bookings to hotels and on top of that they also offer you a free direct link to your own booking site as they say “we do not need our subscribers to book through our platform, it is their choice”. This is a great way to drive traffic to your booking page and increase your own conversions. This kind of thing is available on other OTA’s such as Expedia, but it costs a lot of money (according to sources the current annual cost of a direct link is £2,500)
3. Visual, Simple, less is always more
This is along the same lines as usability. If you look at any good, successful, overachieving website or OTA, everything is simple and visually appetising and ‘clean’, This is just as important as usability in itself.
Why? Because if your booking platform is all geared up for a great user experience but visually makes you want to throw up a little bit, or too much information is given, then guess what, they leave.
So what should you do to make sure that doesn’t happen? The most successful brands, websites and even adverts and songs in history have all had one thing in common. They are simple in design and theme. It is imperative that you get this part right and really think about how and why you want to include something in the design and information you are giving to your visitors.
Why so Important?
When someone comes to your landing page, they want answers and quickly. They need to know where to click to make a booking and they just want to be able to check if you have availability easily and quickly. They don’t need masses of information about you and the hotel and the entire history of how you got there or whether or not your cat will be eating with them.
Take Bing.com as an example. Choosing a specific blue over some other hues amounted to an additional $80 million in annual revenue for Bing.com ( Fried, 2010).
Now, of course, I am not saying that if you use the right colour on your website then it will increase your revenue by that much, but it highlights the importance of visualisation for us all. As we all know and have heard many times for many different reasons, Less is more. — Ludwig Mies van der Rohe
4. Test, Test, Test and Test again
Testing is something that needs to be an ongoing process. It is no good designing something and then getting a handful of people that are friends of yours to look at it and boost your ego and tell you how amazing it is and how wonderful you are for producing it. Great for the ego sure, not so great for your revenue sheet.
The giants, of course, spend millions on testing, spreading the testing over a wide range of age groups, sex, even things like income and education. (remember Expedia and the two-way mirrors?) There is a way, however, for you to do similar tests on a small scale.
Ask guests that have come to stay to test your site for you while they stay and give you feedback. You could organise a test day, invite some people off the street to come to your hotel, provide them with a free lunch and a drink and you will be amazed at what people are willing to do for you.
How to do it
The testing is simple. Ask your developer to make a test page for you, where it looks and feels exactly like the real thing. The ‘testers’ can sit down and go through the process as if it was for the first time, all the way through to actually booking the room. Then you get them to fill out a form with some set questions for them to rate it on.
Things such as, how easy was the process? Did they like the way it looked? What could be improved? Would they visit the site again? What things did they not like about how it looked or how it functioned? Did they like the colours used? Was there enough/too much information.
By getting feedback on all of these things you can relay this information back to your developers. Get them to implement the suggestions that are most common for instance or the ones that you really like. It is important however to remember that you need to do the same again. Perhaps 6 months later or 3 months later, but definitely annually to keep things fresh and up to date.
Look out for part two of this article on Wednesday.