By Dan Croxen-John, chief executive of AWA Digital
With 87% of travellers now using the internet to plan their trip, travel companies large and small are continually investing in state-of-the-art websites or migrating to new platforms to capitalise on this growth phenomenon.
Switching to a new website or platform is one of the biggest capital outlays any 21st century business faces, as well as being a substantial investment in time and management resource.
With such high stakes comes high expectations for a higher conversion rate for bookings and improved efficiencies. All too often though, the journey is fraught with headaches and the launch doesn’t go according to plan, resulting in fewer visits to the website converting to bookings.
Online travel agencies are the fastest-growing segment of the industry and it is estimated that 57% of all travel bookings are now made online, so there is a lot at stake when things do go wrong.
Research highlighted a plethora of problems
To uncover the extent of the problem, we carried out research among managers with first-hand experience of switching to a new site or platform earlier this year. This revealed that
– more than half, 55%, of respondents had experienced problems
– more than a third, 37%, said that these problems had resulted in a loss of revenue or sales.
Our research findings identified a plethora of problems, with the main issues being loss of sales/revenue, disgruntled visitors and management time wasted.
Loss of revenue was caused by a number of factors, including fewer sales, loss of customers through reduced traffic or simply by the website being delivered late.
Disgruntled customers also led to a loss of revenue as well as longer-term damage to the brand.
Respondents to our survey cited a number of reasons why problems occurred when they switched to a new website.
We classified these into five key areas. Below are typical comments made by respondents relating to each type of problem:
– underqualified or inexperienced project team members ‘A manager with no development experience made business decisions based on the suggestions of external companies without consulting the existing development team’
– poor communication ‘We should have had structured fortnightly meetings with actions and delivery times’
– a lack of foresight about requirements when planning the customer navigation journey ‘Data architecture wasn’t scoped properly’
– poor project management ‘We needed stronger project governance’
– inadequate testing ‘Poor understanding from the developers resulted in the site going live before it was tested properly’.
How can you protect your online bookings?
So, what can you do to protect your online bookings and conversion rates when you switch and ensure that your new website delivers an improved return on investment rather than a budget deficit?
The action you need to take depends on the stage of development you are at – this could be the strategy, early, middle, final or live stage of the project.
If you are still at the strategy stage, it is worth considering whether you need a new site at all. Optimising your current site can be a much more cost-effective way to convert visits to bookings.
You can easily use the following tools to assess how well your existing site is performing: a conversion funnel to reliably show where visitors are dropping off; heatmaps to understand exactly what your visitors click on and what they don’t; and a survey to find out why your website visitors and customers don’t buy more from your site.
At the early stage of a project, changes to the functional specification can easily be made to ensure that your new website will convert at a higher rate.
At this stage, it is also crucial to focus on the needs of your business and your customers and not be overly-influenced by competitors’ websites.
Once the project has been passed over to designers and developers at the middle stage, it’s vital to ensure that the website is optimised to provide the best customer journey and that sufficient thought has been given to the hierarchy of the destination and accommodation categories. New features can look impressive, but how well will they convert visits to bookings?
Plenty of time should be allowed for user testing of the wireframes and mocked-up pages at this stage of the project as any barriers to conversion identified now will be much easier and cheaper to fix.
At the final stage, there’s no more time left to make changes and your main focus should be on setting up some benchmarks in Google Analytics so that you are tracking the important measures accurately from day one.
If, despite all your best efforts and planning, your new website has gone live and is not performing as well as your old site, then you can put a conversion disaster recovery plan in place.
This involves using a range of tools that enable you to both understand why the new website isn’t converting well and split-testing tools that allow you to quickly test your new insight.
A new website is an exciting way to take your business to the next level and with the right planning and foresight can deliver the additional bookings you deserve.
A report based on our research An Investigation into Problems of New Website Projects is available on request.