In the consumer-led world of hospitality, it is easy to underestimate the power of the internet. But with well over a million Google searches for ‘London hotels’ being made every month in the UK, and an ever-increasing number of restaurant bookings made online, an effective website can be crucial to a business’s success.
We have already seen in previous parts of this special feature that review websites and social media need to be managed correctly in order to keep a hold of your hospitality business’s online reputation. But your website can be the hub for all of this and, more importantly, you are in control of everything on it.
“The website is your marketing centre, whether you’re a restaurant, bar or hotel," says Sam Trainor-Buckingham, marketing director for Ignite Hospitality Consultants - experts in restaurant and hotel website design . "You should treat it in a similar way to an e-commerce site. You want to have that perfect online presence and then everything else can point towards it.”
Paul Stamp, community manager at Yellsites Web Design , adds: “If a website is to act as a reputation boosting tool, it must first fulfil its purpose. A successful website sets clear business objectives and keeps these at the forefront. If you’re providing a service, customers will need to be able to contact you or book online. If the vital component is missing from your site, your business is unlikely to get off the ground and your online reputation is unlikely to grow.”
So, in the fourth part of our feature to help you manage your hospitality business's reputation online, we look at how to use your website as a shop window for customers, suggesting ways in which an effective website can boost your reputation and convert those lookers into bookers.
Content and design
The design of your website is crucial in ensuring the business is portrayed in the best-possible light. It should of course contain all of the fundamentals - contact details, booking information, up-to-date menus, opening hours, maps and directions. But where many businesses go wrong is in knowing their customer base and understanding what else they want.
“Identify around four or five key customer profiles that would be attracted to your business, then create your website structure for these people.” advises Trainor Buckingham. “At the moment, simplicity is the best approach and the website should be easy for customers to navigate. Another one of the most important things is the imagery – a picture is worth a thousand words, particularly when it comes to websites for hospitality businesses.
“Then, without overloading on content, you need to make sure you are effectively communicating your key persuasion assets to your customers. You should identify from the beginning what makes you stand out from your competitors - it might be your photography, your head chef, or some of the specific services you offer.
“It’s also vital to ensure you have a conversion system on the most relevant parts of the website. So if you’re running a restaurant or hotel, you should have an online reservation box on the home page. You can then use the online bookings as a way of capturing customers’ data; using their email address as a tool for further communication.”
Online review systems
These days, a hospitality business’s website can be used as a jump board to other online platforms where your brand is active such as social media, location-based marketing services and review websites. But one way of attracting more people to your website and maintaining a strong online reputation is by using your own review system, allowing customers to place feedback directly on the site.
“Few will commit to a service or product without reading previous customer reviews,” says Stamp. “Working a customer review mechanism into your website is a bold move, but it’s one that can have a positive effect upon your online reputation as you will be presenting yourself as transparent and honest.
“Negative comments about your service can and will arise, but responding to these in a timely and helpful manner upon your own site is likely to strengthen your online reputation. People will talk about your service elsewhere online (blogs, forums, and social media), so I think we will see many more service brands adopting a review system on their own site in 2012 - it will help brands manage customer enquiries with increased ease."
Starwood Hotels & Resorts was one of the first major hotel chains to take this step in October last year. Chris Holdren, senior vice president of Starwood Preferred Guest – the Group’s membership programme – says: “Our goal is to provide everything a guest needs to select and book their best hotel experience and there’s no better place to offer this information than on our own website. Starwood’s new ratings and reviews platform provides a valuable new way for guests to learn from the experiences of fellow travellers.”
Erin Mulligan Nelson, chief marketing officer for Bazaarvoice – which powers Starwood’s new Ratings & Reviews system – adds: “With the launch of Ratings & Reviews, Starwood is showing a true commitment, embracing the authentic voice of their customers.”
So… do you have a winning website?
You may be reading this thinking your website doesn’t need improving; that it already looks eye-catching and provides customers with the information they need. But there’s more to it. As Stamp summarises: “The factors your website users are most likely to value when it comes to committing to your brand include ease of use, easy-to-find information, easy-to-read descriptions, coherence and simplicity, evidence of a good reputation, a customer focus and a local presence.
“If these criteria are all present and correct, the size of the business behind the website need not matter; your customers are likely to trust you, regardless of your size, if you are open, honest, clear and have their interests at heart.”
- Does the content of your website appeal to the different customer profiles for your business?
- Does it have all the basic, up-to-date information and is it easy to find?
- Can it take bookings online 24/7?
- Does it include links to your business’s Facebook and Twitter accounts?
- Does it encourage customers to join a mailing list to build a customer database and run email-marketing campaigns?
- Do you have a targeted landing page for the website?
- Is your website mobile-friendly?
- Could your website benefit from using its own review system?
Finally, having taken all of the above into account, try not to overlook the basics. Avoid cluttering your website with unnecessary information, using PDF menus, playing irritating music and over-using flash content. A winning website will enhance your business’s online reputation, but a weak website will just as easily turn potential customers away.