Developing a standout website might seem like a daunting prospect, with a plethora of developers to choose from and money to be invested, but the results can really pay off.
Matt Illston, managing director at Mr Zen, a technology company that has been building websites for the travel industry for more than 10 years, says: “Your website says everything about you as a business – it’s like a shop window. It should clearly show customers the product you sell.
“You don’t have to have everything on it, though – just what you want to push at that particular time. Selfridges has a great window display but it hasn’t got it cluttered with everything in the store.”
Here, Illston gives his tips on what to consider when creating or improving your website, while four agencies that have recently spent time developing their sites highlight what worked for them.
The front end of a website is what users interact with – the pictures, videos, drop-down menus, enquiry forms and live chat functions – and there are various elements you need to focus on:
“Having clients regularly upload blog posts about their positive experiences is a great way to generate a buzz. Customers really do use this resource and more often than not will book a holiday based on what somebody else has said. If clients are willing to populate the site with content, then it really shows that you’re a popular business.”
Martin Jones, chief executive at VeryHolidays – an OTA specialising in low-cost breaks – has ensured that feedback is “the first thing visitors will see” on the website.
“We display our Trustpilot score right at the top of the page. It’s very easy to display 10 good reviews but, like us, a lot more effective when you have more than 2,000 positive ones,” he says.
Pictures and video content
Inspirational video content can have a great impact when featured on the homepage, says Illston. “Alternatively, a slideshow of five to six great images can be just as effective."
“The choice and use of imagery is very important – great pictures give a website a more high-end feel. If a video is too large and slowing down the site, then ask your web developer to optimise it. That should help
Donna Parkinson, owner and manager of Avista Travel in Clitheroe, says her website was designed to reflect product the agency sells.
“We aren’t a bucket-and-spade business and we wanted our website to show clients that we offered high-end holidays. We wanted it to look neat and tidy, with bright colours and great pictures. Even the font can change a client’s perception.
“If a member of staff has experience with website design, then ask them for their advice. Nicola from our marketing department had some, and her input was invaluable.”
Illston says the decision to incorporate social media channels on a site should be influenced by the demographic that the agencies are targeting.
“Older clients might not use social media as much, whereas millennials will be more experienced. However, be aware that Twitter is being used much more for communication between travel companies and their clients. You must reply to customers quickly for it to be effective.”
Enquiry forms and live chat
“There are both benefits and pitfalls of having an enquiry form on the site,” warns Illston. “If you make it too simple, then you will get timewasters using it. And if you make it too complicated, it may put people off.”
Lynne Woodward, founder of Wallasey-based agency Coddiwomple Travel, wanted to avoid clients booking online entirely.
“There are only two of us working in the agency at the moment – we really don’t have time to handle online bookings. We’ve just moved into a new office and really want people to come and see us. We are conscious that our customers like interacting face-to-face, so instead of having online booking capabilities when the site is launched, we will have directions to the offices accompanied by lovely pictures of our new premises.”
Live chat – the ability to speak to clients in real time on the site – may be useful, says Sharon May, managing director at Worldwide Travel Solutions, yet incorrect management could have negative results.
“We don’t use live chat because we are a very busy small agency with only four staff in the office. If you have live chat but don’t have the means of manning it, people could get frustrated when they don’t get a reply."
At its simplest, the “back end” of a website means the components that enable the user-facing side to run. It consists of a server, an application and a database.
The customer journey
It’s important that agents understand how their clients are getting to the website, explains Illston.
“A lot of web developers will offer you a monthly report, detailing activity on the site and where traffic has come from. Google Analytics is another great tool too. Having an idea of what customers are looking for enables you to hone your marketing so you can send material they are more likely to engage with.”
May says that by having an Advantage Travel Partnership-built site, tracking her clients’ online journey is much easier.
“Advantage sends me monthly stats that show me where the traffic to the website is coming from. If I have lots of hits for August, then I can see why. I might have written a blog post or posted an offer on Facebook that has done particularly well. What I’ve found, however, is that personal posts drive more traffic than holiday deals.”
“It is absolutely critical that your website is mobile-friendly,” Illston warns. “Smartphones are being used more than any other device – even more than tablets. A lot of people are looking at booking travel on the go and want to be able to access information and offers in the palm of their hand.”
Search engine optimisation (SEO) means the techniques used to increase the number of visitors to a website by obtaining a higher ranking in the results of a search engine.
“Having new content that’s uploaded regularly will help with SEO – it shows Google that the site is constantly changing.”
He explains that by selling and then blogging about a niche product, a website’s ranking will be improved quite dramatically.
“A past client called Health and Fitness Travel have loads of blog posts about their niche, and now Google regards them as an expert on the subject, moving them close to the top of the search results," he says.
Coddiwomple’s Woodward hopes that by focusing on the singles, cruise and LGBT markets and populating the site with relevant content, the agency will become an authority in its chosen fields.
“We will use the same people to regularly blog and vlog (video blog). I’ve got a client who vlogs regularly for her own business and her posts do really well,” she says.