Website Usability Tests To Maximise Hotel Bookings

How to run usability tests to optimise your hotel or restaurant's booking conversions


Paul West

A hotel’s website is it’s most important marketing and distribution channel. A core hotel marketing strategy is to drive as much relevant traffic to your website which must in turn convert that traffic to bookings. It’s a simple philosophy but a highly effective one. By focusing on these two sets of data – potential guests go in – bookings come out, hoteliers can significantly reduce their distribution costs as they are more likely to convert bookings directly and reduce their reliance on OTAs that charge high commission rates.

The ability to completely control it means hoteliers can work towards optimizing their website for bookings and their guests’ experience of the website brand touch-point. Improving your website conversion rate, the % of visitors that convert to a booking, is called Conversion Rate Optimisation.

Website Usability Tests are a highly effective technique that anyone can use to help with Conversion Rate Optimisation and your users’ general experience.

Usability Tests

Usability Tests are real, live tests using a selection of people who are likely to fit your guest socio-demographic profiles. These tests are conducted in a controlled environment providing a range of age groups with particular scenarios to undertake. Test subjects are asked to ‘think aloud’ as they perform tasks, describing how they’re feeling, why they’re doing something, what they see, how they navigate the site and what they would do to perform the tasks asked of them. The tests are recorded with audio and video so they can be analysed in depth.

During the analysis process the ease at which the tasks are performed is assessed. Insights are gained from how long tasks take, where people looked for things, whether they were confused by the navigation process and generally whether they found the website easy to use and clear to navigate. I promise you will be amazed by how people use your website if you conduct tests like this.

From the results it is then possible to adjust aspects of the website to make the users’ journey easier and the conversion process more effective. You also learn about perceptions of the design, how it makes people feel, which is very useful from a branding perspective.

Usability Tests can be carried out on your current website to learn how to improve it, or during the development process of a new website.

Case Study – Alexander Hotels

During the recent development of a new website for our luxury hotel client, Alexander Hotels, we conducted Usability Tests to help us during the design and development process of the new website. These tests help us remove subjectivity from the design process and focus instead on how people behave to achieve desirable objectives. Of course the most desirable objective of a hotel website is booking conversions for rooms, the spa and for gift voucher purchases so these made up a significant proportion of the test scenarios.

Across all age groups tested the response was very promising with users finding the site easy to navigate, engaging and attractive.

Some general points which were highlighted:

“Love the design, really want to visit this hotel!”

Really liked size of photos and format of text, first noticing this and then the booking engine

Wanted to ‘dive into the hotel’ – very attracted

User flow through the site was intuitive, with all age groups finding key information and clicking appropriate calls to action.

Particular outcomes from the user testing included:

– Scrolling was an issue for some users, reducing the size of the images to allow some text above the fold was necessary

Some confusion during the user journey between group and property level websites and confusion on how to return to the group level homepage.

Ease of user journey between specific group level pages (E.g. weddings, business) and their property level counterparts needed addressing.

Assess role of the booking widget and what pages it should appear on, users used it to find special offers when on the special offers page rather than simply scrolling to view offers.

Galleries needed to be included for specific areas of the site as part of the sub-navigation. In particular the restaurants and spa pages.

Should include a map with all hotels marked on it, available on Our Hotels and Homepage

Redesign action buttons on individual special offers

The detail of particular offers needs to be carefully considered, with specific reference to the what dinner menu is included in DB&B packages

Use of phone numbers as calls to actions throughout site needs consideration, particularly under special offers

AH Life confused users, and ‘Blog’ was seen as too down market. ‘News & Events’ appealed across age groups.

From these insights we adjusted the designs in various ways including extra navigation at the group level and the indented text box to bring the text above the fold (the line visible within a browser without scrolling). Also the adjusted special offer page buttons to make it clear where to click for details on the special offers. The booking engine was removed from this page to stop people from searching using the booking engine rather than scrolling for the offers down the page.

This was an extremely valuable process and we are now highly confident that the new website will deliver a significantly improved Conversion Rate and a happy experience for our client’s customers.

Run Your Own Usability Tests

You can perform Usability Tests yourself, you don’t need anything more than a video camera and a computer with an internet connection.

Here’s how:

– Select approximately five different people to perform the tests. Ideally they will cover a range of demographic & age groups.

Offer gift vouchers or other treats to entice people to take part.

Develop ten different scenarios you would like to test, for example:

You’ve searched Google for ‘Luxury wedding venue’ and clicked a search result, landing on this home page. What would you do?

You are looking for a long weekend spa break and have landed on this website, what would you do to research the breaks available and to then book?

You are looking for a spa gift voucher for Xmas and your partner hinted at this hotel. You find the website, what would you do next to buy a voucher?

You are looking for a conference meeting room for your firms AGM for 100 people with lunch. This is your local hotel so you visit the website. What would you do next?

Set up a computer with good internet access in a quiet, private room.

Connect a video camera and microphone, or use screen-sharing software such as so others can monitor the tests.

One person should attend the test with other observers in an adjacent room viewing the video feed or screen share feed.
The person testing then ensures there is a relaxed environment and explains that there is no right or wrong answer to the scenarios, that you are testing the website, not the person, and begins the scenarios. They also explain to ‘think aloud’, to describe everything they are doing and why.

Each scenario is covered in turn.

If any additional questions spring to mind due to the behaviour of the person doing the test then go ahead and ask.

Also ask about general perceptions, such as what impression the website gives.

The observers should write notes during the test such as interesting insights, specific behaviours, anything expected or unexpected.

When all the tests are complete the results can be examined and compared with each other so that conclusions and insights are drawn.

This article first appeared in the Institute of Hospitality’s magazine, Hospitality

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