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4 Tips to Evaluate Hotel Mobile Strategies

Last year, Google Travel found that 25 percent of all online searches for travel came from a mobile device.  People are already choosing to search on their mobile devices over a desktop computer in locations where both devices are likely available to them (work or home).  It’s no surprise that 56 percent of American adults are smartphone owners; however, with their limited time, attention span and screen space, hoteliers have to adapt, taking any friction out of the equation, and make the website experience seamless and easy-to-navigate for mobile users.  PhoCusWright estimates mobile revenue should reach 20 percent of online travel dollars in the U.S. by the end of next year, when mobile bookings reach $25.8 billion.
How does your website measure up
Mobile-friendly sites are the standard version of websites that function normally on all mobile phones (e.g. no Flash elements, which aren’t capable with iPhones), but don’t be confused by their title because these mobile sites are not always friendly for your business.   All of the content is listed, but there is often a need to pinch and zoom to navigate the site.   Images are too small to provide an enriched experience, there is too much copy/content and files and images and videos aren’t optimized for mobile bandwidth.

Mobile-optimized sites are specifically designed for users on a mobile phone.  They can be a dedicated version of a website specifically designed for mobile, or a responsive design that adjusts the layout and content of the site to match the website visitor’s device (computer vs. tablet vs. phone).  The key is that visitors receive a customized experience and further, we can develop and track specific conversion expectations and metrics for these consumers.  There are two types of mobile optimized sites:

Dedicated-mobile sites offer specific content and call-to-actions based off the type of device you’re on when viewing the site. 
Mobile-responsive sites are the best kind of website to have in this constantly evolving digital world as they create a consistent user experience regardless of the device (desktop, tablet, mobile). 
Regardless of the type of mobile website you have, it’s important to ask what core items you are going to convey.  You have to be very focused on what you’re saying and how you’re saying it to influence your visitors’ next steps.
How to avoid mobile pitfalls
Mobile searches drive behavior in the moment, and consumers want speed and convenience; however, a purchase via mobile phone, even with a mobile-optimized site, can be challenging.  The relatively limited screen size on mobile devices generally means that users will spend less time and look at fewer pages.  Furthermore, the multiple fields normally required to make a purchase and other key factors represent barriers to conversion, especially when planning travel. 
This where the phone comes into play.  The bottom line is that most hotels are overlooking the most basic information on their mobile sites, the phone number. 
According to Google, three of four mobile searches trigger follow-up actions, whether it is further research, a store visit, a phone call, a purchase or word-of-mouth sharing.  On average, each mobile search triggers nearly two follow-up actions. 

Calling to make a purchase is one of the easiest options for a  traveler when they are browsing hotels via smartphones.  Adding an easy-to-find call button on the home page is a step in the right step in optimizing your mobile site.          
In the hotel industry, there is a perception that generating a call is more costly than website bookings.  This might be true, but a comprehensive comparison is the cost of booking customers via phone versus  shifting business to the OTAs (online travel agencies) such as Expedia (20 percent or more commission cost), or a competitor who made the booking process easier.  Not to mention, last-minute booking is very common on mobile devices.  Both Orbitz and Travelocity have reported that more than 60 percent of hotel bookings made on mobile phones were for the same day.  Customers want to speak to somebody quickly for this type of booking. 
Having a phone number available for questions will also help improve your mobile site. Over time, you will observe trends of information consumers can’t find on your site, which will help you adjust the content.  The call center should be viewed as a commerce center, not a cost center.
Net Conversion recently worked with a travel industry client who was reaching users on mobile, but they were lacking an optimized experience.  There was only a five percent click-to-call rate.  Net Conversion developed dedicated mobile efforts including an optimized landing page, a click-to-call button and separately targeted mobile efforts, our client’s click-to-call rate jumped to 25 percent.
Net Conversion offers four tips below to help operator’s evaluate mobile strategy:
Geolocation: Where are your current mobile website visitors accessing your website from, in-market or pre-arrival?  Tailoring content to each one of these specific consumer segments will help improve website relevance, engagement and as a result, conversion metrics.  While situations vary by market and by hotel and change based on seasonality, here are some examples:  In-market visitors are often more likely to be looking for directions, area info, dining options, etc.  Maps, area guides and calendar of local events are useful content for this segment.  Pre-arrival visitors are still looking for pricing, availability, and amenities.  Special offers, email signup and highlights of amenities are crucial elements to help convert consumers.
Planning Cycle: Where are your current mobile website visitors in the planning cycle for booking accommodations?  Early in the process, consumers are still exploring destinations, accommodation types, etc.  Having an option for email sign up is a good way to stay connected with consumers who are still early stages.  For consumers further along in the process, call and/or e-commerce options are essential to facilitate bookings.  Throughout all phases of the planning cycle, having clear, simple actions (email, phone, ecommerce), will help drive increased conversions. 
Measurement: How do you measure current mobile website visitors?  Key engagement metrics including average time on site, pages per visit and bounce rate have to be taken into consideration.   Mobile specific tracking metrics should be developed and tracked to understand how the channel is performing.  Mobile website visits, calls, email signups and mobile-specific bookings are really the fundamentals.  Understanding how those metrics change over time and how they differ by various consumer segments (geography, leisure vs. business, etc.) is the key to driving success in any online strategy.  
Mobile Website vs. Mobile App: Which platform is best for your business?
Mobile Website – this will be the best solution for most hoteliers. The vast majority of travelers, both leisure and business, use search to find accommodations. Both paid and organic search listings will direct consumers to your website. Also, mobile websites are platform agnostic and don’t require different programing for different operating systems (iOS, Android, etc.).
Mobile App – this strategy can work to complement a mobile website.  The primary challenge with a mobile app is driving new customer acquisition so the best case is a hotel with a strong repeat-customer base or loyalty program.   Once an app is developed, consumers have difficulty finding it unless they are already aware of the hotel.  Consumers that are aware or part of a loyalty program can be encouraged to download it.  The app becomes an extension of the CRM program.
In addition to the tips above, remember to effectively optimize your website for speed and convenience.  Potential guests don’t want to, and won’t, scroll through five pages on their devices to find your phone number.  They’ll go somewhere else. Give them easy access to your product, and give them the option to call.
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