Being part of a tourism website company has its perks. I get to talk to interesting people that live in great places about topics they’re passionate about. I really enjoy hearing their stories and helping make their lives easier. For all the clients engaging our services, they know the universal truth of online tourism marketing: not all websites are created equal.
But being in a tourism website company also has its downsides. One of the less envious tasks I have is trawling through tourism businesses that underinvest in their best marketing tool. Having scoured through more than 1,000 websites in the past month, I thought it was timely to share with you what exactly makes a website underperform. The list below will give you a blow-by-blow account of my experience.
Before I have someone complain, please note I’m not suggesting that an underperforming website is a reflection of you providing poor quality experiences for your clients! Often tourism operators persist with these websites because they have a steady stream of customers and great reviews. So what’s the value in reinvesting in your website? Your website is your best marketing tool for your business. It enables you to form a direct relationship with your clients. It will also grow your existing customer funnel. Through your website, you build trust, create excitement and reduce uncertainty and unnecessary distractions. These things will get you more sales.
Finally before jumping into the list, here’s the broad questions that guided my decision as to what I deemed ‘underperforming’. These same questions should help guide you in reviewing your own website.
- Does your site accommodate desktop, tablet and mobile viewing?
- Does your website inspire your customers?
- Does your website build trust in your services and brand?
- How easy is it to find and book your tours?
- How clear is your information, and is the most relevant information appearing first?
Avoid the blunders below to create a great website experience for your customer and more sales.
#1 Use of a non-responsive design
If you pick one piece of advice from this list, pick this. In 2016, you need a website that can cater for desktop, tablet and mobile. A lot of the websites that could be improved had this as a consistent theme. If your website isn’t designed for mobile, the question isn’t ‘if’ you’re losing customers; the question is ‘how many’. More than 50 percent of Google searches are through mobile. Bottom line: If your website isn’t responsive, you are losing out on some serious sales.
#2 A ‘yawnfest’ of a website
The less inspiring your website, the smaller the geographical range and the smaller the niche of customers you’re going to attract. Great reviews help overcome a boring website, but make customers excited to come to you! Include things like great pictures and relevant, up-to-date information. And if you have the time, include a blog!
#3: Lacks personality
You should include an ‘About Us’ page, and include profiles of your tour guides, including names, certifications (especially if your tour has an element of physical risk) and backgrounds. The idea is to create connections between your business and the customer. Customers want to know who they’ll be spending their time with. As a rule of thumb, the higher the tour price or the longer the tour, the more information you should provide.
But don’t ramble on and on about yourself, unless you’re offering an autobiographical tour. Build rapport with the reader on the About Us page. If your competitive advantage is your historical connection to a place, advertise it, but keep it short. Ultimately, you’re the bridge linking a client with a great experience — very rarely will you be the experience itself.
#4: Tour times and locations aren’t clearly stated
Be clear when you offer tours, and ensure it makes sense to the reader.
Tip: Be mindful that season start dates can differ between countries — if you’re catering for an international market, it can be wise to list the specific month or day.
#5: Use of sliders
Sliders or carousels, whatever you prefer to call them — don’t use them. Google ‘sliders and website conversion’, and the results will convince you more than I can. In short, you may think they look good, but they aren’t helping you out.
Personally, and especially for fast scrolling or large-image scrolling, I find them super annoying and, if I’m trying to read other information on the website on a larger screen (17’+) that’s taking up more of my visual field, nauseating.
Don’t believe me check some of these implementations out.
- http://www.tommysnashvilletours.com/(opens in a new tab)
- http://enjoythed.com/(opens in a new tab)
- http://www.staugcitywalks.com/(opens in a new tab) (multiple sliders on the one page)
#6: An outdated design
Knowing that you’ve been delivering great experiences since 1998 is a great marketing tool. But your website’s design shouldn’t be the way you communicate this message. Websites, like fashion, rarely age well. You wouldn’t provide a customer today with a 2002 tour schedule, so why do the same thing with your website? In other words, make sure that your website design isn’t stuck in 1998.
#7: A slowly loading website
Check out how fast your website loads. While this might seem obvious, it is often overlooked. Just make sure you do it, and then do it again from a different device. If error messages continually interrupt the experience, or buttons and images appear out of alignment, then it’s going to be harder for your customers.
#8: The tours lack character
So you’ve started your walking tour around New York, cool. But what makes you different than the other 506 New York walking tours listed on TripAdvisor? Give an insight into what separates you. Locations are a good start, but you should aim to create excitement and intrigue. For example, try standing out from the crowd by taking tourists to have a drink with an old neighborhood stalwart full of interesting stories. Or take them to have a ‘slice’ at your favorite pizza joint.
Also, don’t rely on your business name to be a sufficient enticement or educator for your services. You still need to provide context for what your guests will experience, especially if they are not local or come from other cultural background. So if you have a niche tour, make your niche accessible to the broader public.
#9 Horrible abuse of fonts
Using bold text is a great way to draw attention to important information. But even the Cookie Monster knows cookies are a ‘sometimes food’. Don’t bold every noun or combine bold text with italics and differing colors. It’s horrible! And keep your text in bite-sized chunks. Organize your information so there is a logical progression, and avoid overwhelming the reader with multiple columns — a tourism website shouldn’t look like a newspaper!
And as always, don’t be a comic sans criminal!
- https://walkingtourssausalito.wordpress.com/(opens in a new tab)
- http://www.savannahsidewalktours.com/(opens in a new tab)
- http://www.superiortrails.com/(opens in a new tab)
#10: Inconsistent themes
Consistency is king. Use a theme that matches your brand and tours. And, if you are creating graphics, ensure they fit with the theme and match the page layout. Using images that don’t make sense or clutter the page aren’t going to help!
- http://www.hauntsofmackinac.com/(opens in a new tab)
- http://www.oldtownsmosthaunted.com/(opens in a new tab)
…But make sure that your using a visually appealing theme
Even if you apply a concept or theme, keep usability and design principles in mind.
#11: Blocked from international viewers
Don’t disable your website to overseas visitors! If your customers can’t find you, you’re not going to get their business. Geoblocking may be useful in a limited number of cases for security concerns for a specific address, but the use of geoblocking security software for your site will reduce sales and potentially be a bigger cost to your business than the security issue you’re protecting against.
Even after submitting my email address – which only the most persistent client would do – I never got a response email or unlock code!
#12: Lack of security software
Keep your website up-to-date with software and patches. Getting your site hacked is a pain to deal with and will hurt your web traffic. A hacked website will both directly turn visitors away and will impacting your Google ranking. So secure your site and keep it patched!
#13: Lack of clarity
When I’ve left planning to the last minute and I’m wandering around the hotel lobby looking for Wifi, make it super easy for me to pick you. For these last minute clients, help them buy your services. Be clear with dates, costs, location and activity, and keep the pages between your landing page and buying to a minimum. The more clicks you ask someone to do, the harder it becomes.
Creating super easy options also extends to the number or variety of tours you offer and opportunities to ‘mix and match’. If you can cater to mix-and-match, do it. But the same principle applies when buying a sandwich: have some staple menu options that guide the decision process. Don’t serve up a variety of options and force your customer to wade through them.
#14: Emphasis on looks over functionality
We know that a great-looking website doesn’t mean a great-converting website. Keep this in mind with the design. Always make it super obvious about where you want your customer to go, and have clear calls to action. And again, if the page is long, break up the information into easily digestible chunks.
#15: Usage of bad stock photos
Stock photos stick out. There is something otherworldly about stock photos that creeps me out. If you want your site to engage customers, create a connection with your business by using real photos of you and your customers but most importantly, your experience! Give your customers the tools to imagine themselves experiencing your services.
…But show your best side
Get a professional to take your photos. Snapping a quick photo mid-tour on your iPhone is cheap and will give similar results. A lot of factors go into great photography. Using ‘OK’ photos will not result in more bookings.
#16: Usage of background music
Never, I repeat never, automatically play music or sounds on your website. Besides stealing bandwidth and possibly creating an awkward situation for the visitor if they are in the middle of a public space, nothing turns visitors away quicker than a noisy webpage buried somewhere between their other 20 tabs.
(It’s best to turn down your volume first.)
#17: Patterned backgrounds
Overly colorful backgrounds or backgrounds that use patterns is visually unappealing. The practice of draping your website in wallpaper went out of fashion more than 10 years ago for a reason.
- http://www.secretgardentours.org(opens in a new tab)
- http://www.tombstonewalkingtours.com/(opens in a new tab)
But besides being fashion eyesores, patterns or visually busy background images draw focus away from what you want your visitor to look at: your tours!
#18: Poorly resized images
You can always scale high quality images down, but you can’t scale low quality images up. Graphics need to be fit for purpose and scaled correctly.
#19: Keeping website fashion trends of the past
Realise when you’re in a fashion trend, and unless its contemporary, break out of it.
#20: Pointless subscriptions
Return visitors are fantastic, and referrals are great. So how do you get them? Have a strategy to engage existing customers and their friends. But like anything, this takes time and energy. So while keeping in contact via a newsletter might sound good, if you’re not going to invest effort into properly curating, managing and contacting these people, why collect the information at all? Are you willing to publish a new newsletter every couple of months? Is this a good use of your time, and what information are you going to publish to create interest for your readership?
Before starting a newsletter or a subscription service, be mindful of why you are having someone signing up and what purpose will it serve. Ultimately, ask yourself how you plan to use that information and what benefit the signee will get.
In 2016, I don’t want to know about the 2014 fall schedule. Information needs to be timely and relevant. If you’re not willing to update that information every month, be sure that the information is general enough to not easily go out-of-date.
If your last blog post is from five years ago, or you refer to an ‘upcoming 2009 tour’, it will affect your customer’s perception of your brand’s quality and impact sales.
- http://adventurethroughtime.org/2015/05/29/the-working-class-hero-bozemans-historic-north-tracy-district-2/(opens in a new tab)
#22: A website resembling a pamphlet
Don’t treat your website like a pamphlet to be handed out on the corner. Enough said on this.
#23: Usage of shopping carts
Shopping carts are great for e-commerce. But their functionality becomes clunky in the tour and activity space where calendars and business rules around individual tours can be complex. There are great booking software companies out there that can be integrated into your website. Use them and avoid the shopping cart option.
#24: Outdated branding
There are a very limited number of companies that have logos that have remained largely consistent over the years. Of this limited group, even less are technology companies (IBM probably being the only one). Think about revising your logos or banner every decade or so.
#25: Lengthy booking processes
This is a consistent theme here — creating super obvious and engaging tours, easy selection process and seamless booking. It’s no problem if you don’t use booking software, but be clear how clients get to be on your tours. When including directions about booking, assume your client is watching the TV at the same time. So expect harder or longer process to lose potential bookings.
#26: Ambiguous tour navigation
If I don’t know what you do, I can’t book your tour. By all means be creative, but don’t let creativity impact usability. Support images with text — don’t let customers play the guessing game.
- http://adventurethroughtime.org/(opens in a new tab): You need to scroll over to see what the tours are, and there’s a lot of them. Don’t play memory with your customers.
#27: Lack of a personal domain
I get nervous when I see the contact address is a email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org. This is telling me that the tour I’m about to book isn’t run professionally. Domains aren’t expensive, and the additional bookings you’ll receive are worth the investment.
#28: Walls of text
If you’ve got a lot to say, again, break it up into manageable chunks. Creating an information overload disengages the reader. You’re not writing a newspaper; you’re running tours, so it’s best not to model your website in that regard.
#29: Asking for credit card details on an old website
Just like you wouldn’t trust an old broken ATM machine, it doesn’t matter how many times your old website tells me you’re site’s ‘secure’, I’m not going to pass my details over.
There you have it, folks! If you aren’t making any of these mistakes, congratulations: you are part of a very elite league of tour and activity operators! If not, there’s hope. Many of these mistakes you can easily fix by yourself. But remember how powerful of a marketing tool your website is, so if you want to be part of the elite crowd, get your website designed by a company that is an expert in the tourism industry. Contact us to find out more!
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