With spring sprung and summer saluting us, there can be few more seductive problems than working out where to go for a last-minute getaway.
And with the Internet being my – and pretty much everyone else’s – first port of call, I let Google guide me to two sites that topped the tables for spontaneous searches: ‘last-minute holiday bargains’, and, pandering to genetically tuned sybaritic tendencies, ‘last-minute luxury deals’ for the second and third sites.
Only two sites? Well not quite, this month’s third site turns out to be the nubile, but as yet unseen, sister of the attention-seeking second.
What genuinely surprised me was that Lastminute.com failed to claim pole position in any of the last-minute searches I carried out at the time, achieving a best result of third.
Other big brands also failed to make the front row; so once again the top slots were occupied by names I’d never considered before, a bit like a Minardi ending up on pole for the Monaco Grand Prix.
It just goes to show what the Internet can still do for competitive underdog brands who know a thing or two about search engine optimisation…
At the top of the natural search results on the Google search engine was Teletext Holidays. The website does not explain the proposition well, but this site is effectively a travel portal, linking to offers on other sites, such as Thomas Cook, Virgin Holidays and the other tour operating giants, as well as smaller operators, such as Holiday Experts and Sunset Holidays. Special offers are highlighted on the homepage, along with the facility to search for deals, and users can also sign up for an e-mail newsletter. Teletext Holidays also touts city breaks, cruise deals, car hire, insurance, airport parking and guides.
The homepage appears well organised but is awash with animated adverts that all vie for the surfer’s attention. The ‘top travel deals’ landing page lacks both structure and intrigue.
The dedicated deals section employs a rigid template with a brief outline of ‘the deal’, ‘the dates’, ‘the extras’ and ‘how to book’. However, there is no actual description of the hotel and only two rather drab images. There are a few last-minute deals listed on the homepage that direct you to Mercury Direct.
The low prominence of the ‘deal’ section is the first obstacle to finding a last-minute offer. Furthermore, the offers often link to the partners’ homepage, so users then have to search the partner site for the advertised offer. The usability of the partner sites varies considerably in quality, as you can imagine…
The provision of online booking services depends on the partner and, more often than not, users are urged to call a phone number. Nevertheless, the reasonable brand awareness of Teletext Holidays should guarantee a fair share of last-minute price-led bookings.
This site does not give the user a joyful browsing experience, but the site might direct you to a bargain.
Overall score 50/100
I’d never heard of this company, which, on first impression certainly does seem to know a thing or two about search engine optimisation. The website offers surfers a range of packages to ‘exotic escapes at affordable prices’, with destinations including Cuba, Sri Lanka, Mexico and the Maldives. Although the website is not solely dedicated to providing luxury holidays, there are several offers for five-star properties. Users can search for a hotel by name or by destination. There are a range of special offers as well as last-minute deals. It also has a dedicated wedding and honeymoons section.
The astonishingly tacky look and feel of this site is compounded by dated design, poor graphics and a boundless use of exclamation marks that are, I suppose, intended to be a call to action (ie: ‘Book now – do not wait!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!’).
There is adequate information on each hotel and around three images of reasonable quality for each one, but it isn’t comfortable to read because of the ghastly design.
The glut of offers on the homepage is slightly nauseating at first, and text size is small throughout, impairing legibility. Yet the mechanics of the site are fine and it is quick to browse.
Despite containing several tempting last-minute offers, the website’s design severely jeopardises the integrity of the brand. There is no online booking service, only an availability request form and a contact number. All that SEO effectiveness gets the company on to the front row; and then the engine blows up…
This site wins the search engine optimisation battle to get in front of notoriously fussy luxury travellers and it sticks two fingers up at them. It’s either run by anti-capitalists or design amateurs… (see next review for the answer).
Overall score 37/100
Ah, ha! Now I know the answer to the last column conundrum. While reviewing the Holidayplace.co.uk, I inadvertently discovered that the company also has a dot-com site that has not been optimised for search engines and has a Google page rank of zero. This is a classic example of ‘brand schizophrenia’. The company has actually addressed some of the design flaws of their UK site but are loathed to relinquish its original site’s superior page rank of fifth. In fact, the two sites seem to compete against each other – they both have different contact numbers, and the special offers vary in price.
The clean, regimented layout of the homepage hints that some money has been spent on the design of this website. It’s not great, but it’s definitely better than its ugly sister. It is better structured and illustrated, easy to read and every link seems to have its place. However, the failure to configure the site for Mac users will most likely alienate a significant chunk of luxury travellers.
This site contains far more than its alter ego. In addition to the overviews of the hotels offering last-minute deals, there are meal plans and around seven good quality images per hotel, as well as downloadable resort fact sheets and destination maps. Interestingly, there is the facility to receive the latest offers via an RSS feed.
Dates and prices are displayed on the page for each offer, so no extra searching is required. The biggest usability flaw is the inconspicuous link to ‘hotel info’ – some users may miss this vital content.
Again, there is an absence of an online booking system and users are urged to call. Even so, if this site was as visible as its sibling it could be successful.
She shall go to the ball! The potential could be realised if she’s ever allowed out…
Overall score 70/100