20 Secrets of Top-Converting Websites and How they can Boost Your Hotel Bookings - Re-cap of Bryan Eisenberg's presentation at SES Chicago

If the average conversion rate for a website is around 3 percent, why do some websites achieve a 10 percent conversion rate? What do they do that the others don't? This is the question that Bryan Eisenberg set out to answer in his presentation '20 Secrets of Top-Converting Websites' at the SES Chicago conference this December.

O'Rourke Hospitality Marketing Bryan revealed 20 of his most valuable tips that will help you increase your hotel website conversion rate. Bryan is a New York Times bestselling author and a recognized authority in improving conversion rates, persuasion architecture and persona marketing.

First of all, what is a conversion? A conversion is when someone takes a desired action on your website i.e. they purchase a product, download a whitepaper, or in the case of the hotel industry, they make a reservation. You may attract a lot of traffic to your website but this means nothing if your site isn't designed to facilitate conversions.

How effective is your hotel website in regards to conversions? You can learn this by analyzing the metrics of your Analytics software. Through analytics you can learn what the most popular pages on your site are, where users spend the most time, and where you may be losing people. No matter what your conversion rate is, chances are you could still improve it. Below is an outline of tactics that the top converting websites use according to Bryan. Does your hotel website incorporate these tactics?

The top converting websites do the following:

1. They Communicate Unique Value Propositions & Unique Campaign Propositions
Does your hotel website communicate your Unique Value Proposition? What is it that makes you unique among other hotels, and how does this appeal to your target audience? Think about your unique campaign proposition too. How are you packaging up and selling your hotel?

2. They Make Persuasive & Relevant Offers
Are you offering promotions and packages that are relevant to your guests? How persuasive are your offers?

3. They Reinforce Their Offer Site-wide
Make sure your offer is consistent and repetitive throughout the site. If a guest sees your offer on your homepage, make sure it is repeated on your reservations page so they feel confident they are still going to receive the offer.

4. They Maintain Scent
Make sure you have a consistent look and feel on every page and on every form of your website so that users always know they are on the right track. For example if a user clicks on a form it should match the previous page so they won't feel lost. Make sure your offer doesn't change anywhere along the way either. If you promise something, you must deliver it.

5. They Make A Strong First Impression
Similar to first impressions of people, users will size up your website in a matter of seconds. Make sure your first impression is impactful.

6. They Appeal To Multiple Personas/Segments
Your website must appeal to different personality types. Bryan segments the personalities into four groups: Spontaneous, Humanistic, Methodical, and Competitive. He referenced Jacob Nielsen who has also conducted research on these personality types and web usability. Below is a list of the four personality types and the questions they will want answered on your website:

A person who has a competitive personality is decisive and looks for the bottom line. This personality asks 'what' questions. Regarding your hotel, this person will want to know location, comparison to other hotels, and star rating systems.

A person who has a humanistic personality appreciates a hotel with a friendly staff that is helpful and polite. This personality asks 'who' questions. He/She wants to feel good about a hotel and values learning about the experience of others who have stayed there.

A person who has a spontaneous personality is impulsive and appreciates a personal touch. This personality asks 'why' questions. He/She avoids cold, hard facts and wants to know if the staff will help her, or if there is a restaurant or nightclub. This personality type will be impressed by silky sheets, quality toiletries and special touches.

A person who has a methodical personality likes to see the hard facts and wants to see the information presented in a logical manner. This personality type asks 'how' questions. He/She is not impressed with the personal touch and will look for things such as check-out times, prices, and what comes with the room.

7. They Don't Slice & Dice (Website) Optimization
Not only should your website appeal to these four distinct personality groups, but you must also optimize your site design, content and search features in a way that meets the needs of each personality type and encourages conversions. Website optimization is the art of improving your website to optimize the visitor experience and conversion rates, not to be confused with search engine optimization, which is the process of improving volume and quality of traffic to a website from search engines.

Let's look again at those personality types and see how they may navigate through your hotel website. If the different personality types cannot access the information they are looking for, the way they want to look for it, they will get frustrated and leave your site.

A person with a competitive personality may go directly to the online reservations page. This person will most likely choose a hotel from the drop down menu by city and select the first hotel. He/She may also look at hotel details and the map. This personality type won't typically look at the other pages on the site but will rely heavily on the search button.

A person with a humanistic personality will look at the homepage first, and be drawn to particular adjectives in the copy such as 'charming,' 'cozy,' or 'historic.' This person may try to search for hotels in the city under these adjectives such as 'historic.' He/She will also want to see the image gallery and the video, and will most likely look at services and amenities. This personality type will also want to read reviews before making a reservation.

A person with a spontaneous personality will look at the hotel brands on the home page. He/She won't read much about the brands but may be impressed by the logos. This person will look at descriptions of area attractions such as shopping and restaurants. He/She will also look at images of the hotel and imagine if they would have a good time there.

A person with a methodical personality will most likely spend the most time on a hotel website. He/She will try the registration tool and read through all the copy, which they will most likely find too 'fluffy.' This person is looking for facts and would appreciate a 'fast facts' list. This personality type will check all the maps and driving instructions and will want to find it all.

To learn more about personas and personality types see Bryan's blog post 'Use Personas to Increase Conversion Rates.' 1

8. Leverage Social Commerce: Use Voice of Customer
People love to read and write reviews. This is especially true for the hotel industry. Do not try to hide from these reviews, instead use the voice of the customer to help sell your hotel. Bryan referenced the case of Amazon selling Tuscan milk2 on their site. It is one thing to sell it, but a surprising 1,141 people have written reviews about the milk, and hundreds more have claimed the reviews as helpful. Some of the reviews are even in the form of poems.

9. They Use (voice of customer) For Navigation
Listen to what your customers are saying, and make sure your navigation caters to their needs. For example, if you host weddings at your hotel make sure it is easy for guests to navigate that section of your website. Listen to your guests' common questions and check to see if their questions are being addressed on your website.

10. They Use It (customer reviews) For Promotions
You can also incorporate guest reviews on your promotional material or e-mails. For example, you could put testimonials from meetings or weddings on your e-mail campaigns that are targeted to that segment.

11. They Use It (voice of customer) For Credibility
People tend to trust reviews written by past guests. If you have these reviews on your website it adds authenticity and may even help your guests learn about your hotel. For example, if a previous guest wrote that your hotel is far from a subway stop, the next guest will be prepared to take a taxi.

Bryan referenced 'The Brooks Group'3 website which sells sales management books. They post reader reviews on their site, as well as a 'would you recommend to a friend' feature. These reviews have helped The Brooks Group increase sales and have lowered their book return rate.

12. They Use It (voice of customer) For Feedback & Research
You can learn a lot about what is working in your hotel and what isn't, by reading the guest reviews. There may be some problems with your facility or staff that you were unaware of, and the reviews allow you to identify the problems and fix them.

You can also use a focus group to test your website usability. You may think your website is easy to navigate until you watch a user try to click through it. Bryan promoted the use of sites such as This is a company that will conduct a test on your website for $100.

13. They Use Persuasion Principles Like Scarcity
Persuasion principles such as scarcity are very effective. If you offer a room discount for a limited number of rooms, chances are that guests will feel that they can't pass up a special deal. Bryan referenced Robert Cialdini's 4 six principles of persuasion, which are reciprocity, commitment and consistency, social proof, authority, linking, and scarcity.

14. They Make Forms Engaging
Every form on your website should be easy to use and follow a consistent look and feel. Bryan referenced proflowers.com5 and said they make everything on their site engaging, including their forms.

Make sure your forms are short and there are no surprises. Some websites trick the user and claim all they have to do is enter their e-mail address to receive something, but when the user hits submit, they are taken to a more extensive form.

15. They Provide Point of Action Assurances
A point of action assurance will help your guest feel more confident about taking an action on your site or making an online reservation. For example, make sure the guest knows they can make changes to their reservation, show them the lock symbol when they are entering their credit card information, and let them know you are not going to share their personal information with anyone. Make sure you are responding to any lead you receive. Bryan claims that the average lead loses 6 times its power in the first hour you don't respond to it.

16. They Keep You In The Process
Make sure your site communicates with the user what the next steps are. A good reference for this is the 'Land's End'6 website. For example when a shopper makes a purchase they see a pop-up with an image of their selection to assure them that they are ordering the correct item. When a guest makes an online reservation on your site make sure they know exactly what they are getting, and what they have to do to confirm the reservation.

17. They Consider Email Preview
E-mail is still the number one way to reach your target audience. You should only send targeted messages to people who have chosen to opt-in.

18. They Budget For Experience
Budget for some website testing and for some trial and error. What is it going to cost to improve your site, and how will that pay off? Bryan claimed that Amazon has hundreds of tests being conducted on their website at any given time. Even very small changes can greatly affect your conversion rate.

19. They Utilize a System for Prioritization
Prioritize your website goals and make sure your website design is in line with these goals.

20. They Make Data-Driven Decisions
Make decisions about your website based on the data you can collect from analytics software and your testing. Too many companies make the mistake of depending on the HIPPO (acronym for Highest Paid Person's Opinion). Collect the data of what needs to be improved and make a 'to do' list.

And the bonus tip which also the most critical point . . .

21. They Know How To Execute Rapidly!
You need to be aware of what is going on in the travel industry at all times, and be prepared to execute changes. For example, just 2 hours after Michael Jackson had died, Amazon changed around their whole website to accommodate demand for his books and cds. Focus on trends to see what is spiking up or down.

Bryan also suggested 5 steps to great conversion rates next week:

1) Identify the problems, review the analytics, check for high exit-pages, bounce rates, or poor quality scores.

2) Create a 'to do' list on things to improve.

3) Develop a hypothesis for why something isn't working on your site and why the changes you propose should solve the problem.

4) Prioritize your 'to do' list by resources and impact.

5) Start testing.

As Bryan says, think of the small details - they all add up. Similar to website optimization, any small step you take can have a big impact. Start with the 5 steps listed above and analyze the data from your analytics to see if your conversions have increased. Do not think of execution as a one-time event, rather it is an on-going process.

1 Use Personas to Increase Conversion Rates (
2 YouTube - ABC News Milk (
3 The Brooks Group (
4 Robert Cialdini's Principals of Persuasion (
6 Land's End (

High Converting Websites Referenced by Bryan:
See Nielsen List of Top 10 Online Retailers by Conversion Rate: March 2009

If you would like to learn more about Hotel Website Design, call us at 978-465-5955 or send an e-mail to

O'Rourke Hospitality Marketing, 44 Merrimac Street, Newburyport, MA 01950

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