In the days of the web’s infancy, putting aside a budget for online marketing was, for many, a luxury. These days, with the crunch still biting, the internet has never been such a crucial tool in a travel company’s strategy.

With clients more eager than ever to search the web for better deals, an effective, easy-to-navigate site can make or break your next 12 months. So how should you spring clean your web offering? Make sure you address these key elements:

Design: Tailor the look and feel of your website to your product and your clients’ needs. If it’s high end, present a luxurious online brochure feel with plenty of good pictures, Flash video and evocative copy that evoke a sense of exclusivity. This is known as creating an ‘immersive user experience’ that leads the user through clear calls to action and on to a tried-and-tested sales funnel.

A great example of matching the tone of the site with the quality of the product can be seen at the Voyage Jules Verne by Kuoni site. If you’re at the other end of the scale, say an aggregator or a price-comparison site, think speed and ease of use.

Your site is going to appeal to travellers who know where they want to go, what they want to do when they get there and what they want to pay for it. They are motivated by price and being able to compare prices, not the site’s look.

 

Navigation

No matter whether you are selling cheap and cheerful, fly-and-flop trips, or bespoke safaris, navigation is key. If your customer can’t access what they want to know in a few clicks, you could lose the sale.

People simply do not have the time or patience to work out how to use your site – there are too many competitors out there to bother doing spending extra time with yours. A recent survey by technology provider Akamai and Forrester Consulting found that online shoppers will abandon a site if it takes more than three seconds to load.

So, make sure they are only ever a few clicks away from where they want to go. That means always being able to return to the home page, bypassing the blurb if they want to buy straight away, and never having to scroll too far down a page to get to information they need.

Price-comparison site users should be able to access results in such a way that they feel they can make a smart choice based on what they want, not what the operators want to sell them.

 

Search engine optimisation

Learn the ways of Google and treat them as your online bible. Google hates static websites that contain the same motionless content month in and month out.

It loves regularly updated copy and interactive sites, so think about user reviews, message boards and forums. This will improve your rankings in search results and give you valuable customer feedback – for free.

Google also looks for keywords, so use relevant terms in page titles, headlines and first paragraphs.

If your site has an RSS feed with, for example, travel news, make sure you write your news flashes with clear, concise headlines that convey the message – that way, readers who receive your feed will be encouraged to come to your site and get the rest of the information.

 

Site credibility

Even before the recession, the need for site credibility, where users clearly understand who is behind the site, how they can contact them and who they are paying money to, was becoming more important. In the current climate, it has become crucial.

No one wants to give their credit card details to a shady site. Display parent company details, bricks and mortar addresses and ‘contact us’ details as clearly as possible.

Flag up ATOL and ABTA accreditations to reassure customers who are worried that your company is going to go bust before they take their holiday.

 

Useful links

 

The expert’s view: Philip Ludgate

Phillip Ludgate is a client partner at web design company Fortune Cookie

Do…

Ensure every area of the site is sending the same message and that tone of voice remains the same throughout.

Create a vision or mission – this will be the foundation for everything you do.

Pick the right partners – do some research before you choose.

Understand your audience and involve them in testing your wireframes (web templates) – they will uncover things you have overlooked.

Include trusted third-party sites – to introduce an element of user-generated content.

Don’t…

Distract your customer. Many travel sites bombard people with offers and incentives at the expense of responding to their real needs and requirements. Successful sites offer relevant choices that are sympathetic to users’ needs and desires.

Get complacent. Even when things are going well with your online strategy, remember to keep comparing your success to that of your competitors.

Be a slave to technology – make technology a slave for you. 

 

Philip recommends:

Small Luxury Hotels of the WorldSmall Luxury Hotels

Winner of Best Hotel Website at the 2008 Travolution Awards, slh.com is everything a hotel brand should be.

The site is rich in beautiful imagery, and the booking funnel is well tailored to ensure conversion.

SkyscannerSkyscanner

Why can’t every site have such a simple search tool as Skyscanner? The user experience is such a joy that, from first use, customers become advocates.

The design is simple, yet effective, and they have expanded their business into car hire and hotels.

HomeAwayHomeAway

The site’s designers have produced a masterful web 2.0 execution.

By integrating user-generated content to drive conversions, the company behind this site is destined for excellent business returns.