As we know being digital marketers, the great thing about our field is the ability to test activities. Any changes we make to our website, booking engine, online advertising initiatives, CTA’s or even choosing between a particular hero image can be tested — allowing us as marketers to see what performs best, and what resonates most with our customers.
Being hoteliers, website conversion rates are paramount, and unless you’re getting 100% conversion then there’s always room for improvement. The continued success of OTAs at gaining bookings can largely be attributed to their investment in user experience, something continual A/B testing has played a large part with. Booking.com for example has its own in-house experimentation platform, and doesn’t make a single change to its website without validating it first. At one single time they will have thousands of tests on the go to determine performance impact. Airbnb is another platform that spends significant amounts of time running tests to improve UX experience.
While the scale and frequency of OTA testing might seem intimidating, hotel brands (both large and small) can make significant improvements of their own by testing areas that stand to deliver the greatest overall benefits. To find out what these areas are, you should take a look at where in the conversion funnel you are losing customers.
This will be specific to your hotel (and there will be endless options) but generally speaking here are four basic areas to consider:
- Booking engine — if you are losing customers here then A/B testing can be a great way to address these issues. For example, are customers leaving when they see your price? Perhaps the price is too high or they are leaving to compare prices on other sites? If the latter you could consider testing a price comparison widget to see if this is the case.
- CTAs — are your calls to action causing you issues? Are they too soft or perhaps too hard sell? A/B test a series of different CTA copy from ‘Book Now’ to ‘Find out more,’ or ‘Check availability’ to see what works best. Simple changes to these can have a huge impact on conversion.
- Email marketing — Testing different subject lines, layout and images can enable you to see which campaigns work and what has a higher CTR.
- Landing pages — if you are using any landing pages to support paid campaigns, email marketing or otherwise, test these to ensure high conversion rates. Copy length, images, forms etc. should be tested for user experience effect.
As well as the areas listed above, hoteliers should also be sure to take any testing opportunities when it comes to introducing new software. Hotel websites need to be smarter and more dynamic to perform like OTA’s in terms of functionality and available information, which often means equipping themselves with additional tools (e.g. price widgets, layers, smart notes and review comparisons) to capture the attention of visitors and encourage them to book direct.
The Hotels Network for example, offers A/B testing to hotel brands to trial new tool combinations. Traffic to each website needs to be sufficient in order to perform viable tests, but most new clients are eligible for a complimentary trial. The following US based hotels A/B tested a number of tools to see the effect on conversion rates via direct bookings:
This 64 room hotel trialed a combination of new tools on its homepage and booking engine including a reviews widget, price comparison widget, exit pop-ups and smart notes. Customers were either shown the new version of the website or a control version. Those shown the new version resulted in a conversion uplift of an impressive 62% during the test period. This ensured the hotel was able to see what effect the new version of the website was having on conversion rates in comparison to the old site.
With 162 guest rooms, the Luxe Sunset Boulevard Hotel trialled a review and price comparison widget as well as pop-ups and smart notes. Of those shown the new site a 50% conversion uplift was recorded over the trial period. The hotel was able to test different versions of the website and measure how personalising the user experience for each visitor generates more direct bookings.
The team at Hotel Giraffe, part of the renowned Library Hotel Collection, is dedicated to providing guests with the best experience possible, during their stay but also during the booking process on the hotel website. The hotel A/B tested a new version of their site with price and review widgets, smart notes and pop-ups. Throughout the trial period a 26% conversion uplift was recorded for those shown the new version of the website, giving a direct indication of how the new software would perform. The positive impact on revenue seen in the results of the A/B testing at Hotel Giraffe and at the brand’s other properties, gave the team the confidence to roll-out the new technology across the group.
While it’s handy to be able to see the change in front of you when trialling a new software, A/B testing should continue as an ongoing process. The Hotels Network new ‘experiments’ feature for example allows hoteliers to easily infiltrate testing into each campaign or message, to optimise conversion rates. A/B testing is combined with multivariate testing across all pages of a hotel’s website and booking engine, and can be used across any content or format. This type of on-going testing allows hotels to understand what performs best (e.g. an offer), what visual format is more powerful, how much revenue you can expect from a campaign, and more.
Ultimately, the tests you run should be defined by the areas that stand to offer the biggest benefits relative to your hotel. While it may seem like an extra task on your to do list, it will be more profitable in the long term and allows you to iron out any creases early on.
Good luck and happy testing!