Originally published to Hospitality Net
It can be a daunting and complex proposition to manage dynamics such as staffing in the face of labor shortages, digital transformation enablement, or attracting pre-pandemic levels of group business. Often times, however, small incremental improvements in specific areas can deliver sizeable impact without massive amounts of time and effort. Optimizing the performance of your direct channel by addressing key eCommerce fundamentals, for instance, can provide significant returns in exchange for a fairly low level of effort.
Industry and Guest Evolution
Before we examine the “what” and “how” of an effective eCommerce strategy, it’s important to understand the “why”. First, let’s recognize that our industry has changed. Greater competition, compressed booking windows, and a new awareness of how quickly unforeseen circumstances can impact demand necessitate that hoteliers maximize the value of every potential booking. Second, the guest has changed. They have elevated shopping expectations driven by the experiences they receive when shopping on the eCommerce giants – fast, intuitive, simple. They also have a greater desire than ever before for more personalized experiences that speak to their unique needs and preferences.
These influences mean that yesterday’s eCommerce practices may no longer be sufficient in generating direct bookings and ancillary revenue from a hotel’s ecommerce website while delivering the highest potential value to guests. It’s important to regularly assess your direct booking processes, strategies, and tactics to ensure that you’re doing all the right things to attract, entice, and convert website shoppers into loyal fans.
While eCommerce tactics can be as simple or complex as needed to suit your unique offerings and strategies, a solid base should cover fundamental strategies. Here are 3 areas of focus to examine and refine.
1. Search Engine Optimization
Ensure guests can find your property
If your direct channel isn’t present in search, it’s not part of the channel mix. Search for “hotels in X city” to see if you’re appearing in results for your location. If you’re in a large urban market, get more specific with your search query “waterfront 4-star hotels in X city”. Are you present? Are you listed on the first page of results? Have far down the page is your listing?
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is now a basic component of any digital marketing and sales strategy. Nearly all hoteliers will utilize some form of SEO in their eCommerce practices, yet it is often confined to competitive keyword, title tag, and meta description strategies.
To take your SEO strategy to the next level, there are a number of additional elements you can utilize on your website to increase search engine rankings for greater site traffic, including:
- Link Building: Search engines consider the reach and scope of your site when serving up results. Build links between both internal pages and with reputable external sites to increase your rankings.
- Schema Markup: This is a more technical and advanced strategy, which will likely require the assistance of your webmaster. Schema markup (also known as “structured data”) is additional information in your website’s HTML code that tells search engines more about your property.
- Ad Campaigns: Targeting high-potential guest audiences via paid search ad campaigns (e.g., Pay Per Click or PPC) can drive high-converting groups to your direct channel and makes a strong addition to your overall SEO strategy as it allows you to test different messages and offers with specific guest segments.
2. Website Navigation
Put guests at ease and reduce abandonment
The eCommerce giants invest significant focus in making website navigation simple and intuitive – and so should you. Unfortunately, this is not often the case in hospitality eCommerce sites. You may have experienced navigation challenges yourself when booking a stay on a Brand.com website. For instance, was it clear and simple to begin the booking process at every step and on every page? Once you clicked the “Book Now” button, were you taken to a new URL, with a different look and feel that left you wondering if you were in the right place? If you clicked into a Brand.com website from a metasearch site, did your stay data arrive intact and prepopulated in the booking engine?
Focusing on key navigation improvement areas can deliver a better guest shopping experience, higher conversion rates, and increased ancillary revenue. Here are a few elements to consider when evaluating your website navigation experience.
- Mobile-First, Responsive Design: Recent studies show that more than 40% of hotel bookings come via mobile devices, while more than 60% of website visitors are on mobile devices. Ensuring mobile-friendly navigation is no longer optional.
- Integrated Web to Booking Engine Experiences: Solving the fragmented website to booking engine experience with a single URL and a matching look and feel sets guests at ease and encourages higher conversion rates.
- Meta to Booking Engine Deep Links: Making it fast and easy for guests to click from meta sites into your booking engine with all dates, rooms/packages, and guest numbers pre-populated can help support a healthy channel mix between OTAs and direct bookings. This can also drive higher direct conversions due to the ease of booking and the time savings involved.
3. Conversion Optimization
Entice guests to book profitable stays
Attracting potential guests to your website and delivering a pleasant navigation experience is only part of the eCommerce equation. Now that they’re in your direct channel, you need to close the deal. Conversion optimization can cover a wide array of strategies and tactics, but it’s crucial to address the fundamentals and there are many different ways to turn a website visitor into a loyal fan.
- Effective Use of White Space: Clean and uncluttered layouts can help focus the guest’s attention on the actions and next steps you want them to take.
- Social Tags/Urgency Messaging: Create urgency and capitalize on human nature and the “fear of losing out” by highlighting booking options and packages with additional social context such a “Best Seller”, “Hot Deal”, or “Only 2 left!”.
- Discounted Promotions on Services: Consider discounting and promoting services (parking, breakfast, late check-out) in the booking flow which can not only help entice more guests to book but can also help protect Average Daily Rate (ADR) by keeping rates constant.
An effective eCommerce strategy that increases direct bookings, drives ancillary revenue, and personalizes the guest experience begins with a solid application of fundamental strategies and tactics. And while there is no “one size fits all” approach to optimizing the performance of your direct channel, a willingness to experiment can help to build the right set of tools to meet the expectations of your guests and the business objectives of your brand.
For more information on fundamental eCommerce strategies in hospitality, be sure to download the “Ultimate Guide to Hotel eCommerce” to understand all of the different elements you can apply to create your winning formula.