By Mike Ford, co-founder and managing director, SiteMinder
We live in exciting times. I believe we will look back on this period as the age of technological entrepreneurship. Technology is allowing entrepreneurs to both invent new experiences and to challenge the way we are used to doing things by reimagining them. Never have we seen so many successful technology businesses – inside and outside of travel – being launched so rapidly.
I have recently been following some interesting debates around whether hotels should utilise a cloud-based, ‘instant’ website creator solution to rapidly launch their (new) website and subsequently maintain it themselves, or if they should engage a third-party website developer/agency to build a custom-made website from the ground up.
There are hundreds of thousands of hotels in the world with websites that are severely impacting those hotels’ ability to attract and convert guests online. These websites are not responsive on mobile, they are image-poor, they lack functionality, the content is dated because it is too hard and time-consuming to keep it up-to-date, and they are lacking the structural components used by search engines to find them. In short, they are essentially invisible on search engines like Google. So, what options do hotels have to bring their shopfronts into the light, attract guests and compete effectively against other hotels and also OTAs for the guest booking?
We at SiteMinder have proudly just launched our latest product, Canvas – an easy-to-configure, cloud-based website creator and editor for hoteliers. Canvas allows hoteliers to easily generate visually-stunning, functional and secure websites very quickly with no design skills required, no coding skills required, and no requirement to host anything onsite. Hoteliers have full access to switch between design themes, colour schemes, layouts and fonts – and to change any bit of content – on any page at any time, themselves, through an easy-to-use administration portal. This means they can make unlimited changes at no additional cost. They can create and customise as many pages as they like, when they like. A hotelier can get up and running within a day without the need for a web developer or designer.
For the purpose of this post, I will refer to product offerings like Canvas as ‘website creators’ and analyse how these shape up as an option against building a custom-made hotel website built from scratch.
Hotel website creators vs custom-made hotel websites
As with all technologies that are new, you will get your naysayers that insist it is impossible to get the same result from a faster, ready-made, more automated solution as from a solution that’s built manually and at a significantly higher cost. That is, until that new piece of technology becomes the mainstream and everyone forgets that we used to have to build things like websites from scratch each time they needed a major overhaul, because people can no longer imagine doing it in such a slow, expensive and cumbersome manner.
Consider the parallel of robots that build products in factories. At first it was inconceivable that robots could do a human’s work. Yet today they can produce products not only faster and cheaper, but with better quality results as well. Let me repeat that: with better quality.
Of course, like anything else in the world you get different levels of product offerings out there. Not all website-generating and content management technologies are great, but the ones that will flourish are those that continually refine themselves to achieve the same, if not better, website results than custom-made development projects were ever able to achieve.
When technological advancements challenge our views of what’s best, inevitably there will always be an ideological discussion between those who seek to preserve the way things have always been done, and those that seek to drive change for the better. If we didn’t have the latter, we would still be in the dark ages.
So, let’s take a look at some of the facts underpinning this discussion and seven of the top myths that the naysayers will promote in order to convince you that a custom-made, ‘build it from scratch’ website is the only way to go.
Custom-made websites are better for SEO than cloud-based website creators
In order for a website to be SEO-friendly and optimise a hotel’s natural search ranking, there are structural website components required and qualitative components (such as website content) that need to be taken into account and executed on.
Examples of structural components that enable a website to perform better include the website’s ability to be responsive and viewed on mobile devices, the ability to set metadata and sitemap elements within the website page structures, the ability to name website pages, integration to search engines for rapid site indexing, web page response times…you get the picture.
A website creator solution can just as easily have all of these components built into it as a custom-made website can, meaning custom-made websites actually offer no advantage here if you choose the right alternative product.
The remaining cornerstones of a good SEO strategy are related to the content you put on your site, how relevant it is, how often it is refreshed, etc. There are also other factors such as which other sites are linked to your site. These things still need to be done regardless of whether you build a custom-made website or whether you buy a cloud-based website creator/editor. In fact, a website creator like SiteMinder’s Canvas is stronger from this perspective, as the hotelier can instantaneously update the content on their own website themselves without any cost from SiteMinder.
Custom-made websites are better designed and are better at converting traffic than website creators
If you were to walk through SiteMinder’s offices on any given day you will see teams of experienced graphic designers, user interface designers, user experience designers, search experts, developers and testers working to make Canvas a better product.
All of this expertise combined with years of hotel technology experience are continually being invested into this product, and results are constantly being analysed and tested for performance and usability. In order for a hotel to build a website from scratch that incorporates an equal level of expertise and experience would simply be out of reach from a time and cost perspective for any hotelier barring the biggest global hotel chains.
With a product like Canvas, a hotel benefits immediately from all of this design expertise, performance testing, security and high availability architecture. As a hotel of any size, your chances of achieving a better conversion and performance outcome on a custom-made website is slim and, if achieved, will come at a monumental upfront and ongoing cost. Generally speaking, once your custom-made website is built, your web designer is going to move on to the next job unless you pay them a large retainer to constantly refine, update, and A/B test your website on an ongoing basis.
With a website creator, you don’t own your data
Time and time again, I get asked this question: By using a cloud-based product, do you own your data? The naysayers would say no of course, but if that were true then why is it that I see these same people use cloud-based accounting systems, CRMs, iTunes, social media – or even email and smartphones for that matter? You don’t host any of these things yourself; the provider does.
So, why is this suddenly a concern for your website when everything else you do in the cloud works the exact same way? If you can trust Facebook with your intimate personal data, why wouldn’t you trust a reputable website creator from a market-leading technology provider with your website content? You simply need to sign up with the right technology provider and ensure their user agreement guarantees you ownership of your data.
With SiteMinder’s Canvas, it is very easy to extract your data if you choose to go the custom-made route or move to another website creator. And the content is100% yours – from the images to the copy, to the domain, forms, links and everything in between.
With a website creator, you are unable to analyse your website performance
Any website creator worth its salt will ensure that you have the ability to easily and fully integrate the analytics tool of your choice into each page. A custom-made build is not required for this. Just choose a provider that has this as part of their offering. Problem solved.
With a website creator, you are unable to create custom pages
Again, this depends on the provider you choose. SiteMinder’s Canvas offers predefined templates from which you can choose, each with a multitude of page types you can select to suit your hotel. And for those special pages that you feel do need to be created from scratch, you are able to create your own custom pages easily and quickly with full editing tools that make creating pages and temporary promotions a breeze.
A valid question that I have seen raised is: How much control do you allow the hotelier with the design elements of a website? The answer is this is that it will vary by product.
Our goal is to allow hotels to achieve what they need without having to create a custom page at all, but we give them the option. As a hotelier, no one knows your hotel business like you do and you should have the ability to make the website yours. But just as no one knows your hotel business like you do, it’s important you select vendors that know hotel technology and usability design like nobody else does, and that offer a solution which allows you to make as many custom changes as you need without ever risking the performance or effectiveness of your website.
If I want my website to look unique, I need a custom-made website
While SiteMinder’s Canvas and similar offerings are loosely based on a series of professionally-designed website templates, each hotel can easily apply their own personality to make their website completely different from any other hotel using the same technology.
In addition to the ability to switch seamlessly between page layouts, colour schemes and fonts, you can upload your own images, content, logo, integrated widgets (such as TripAdvisor awards) and even create completely custom pages. No two websites will ever look the same. You don’t need to go through the pain and cost of a custom-made website to be unique.
I am a hotelier, not a web designer. I can’t create a beautiful website without professional help
As per Myth No. 2, it’s important to remember that reputable providers of website creator solutions would have made significant investments into developing products that not only look great but are easy for a hotel to generate.
These products should allow hoteliers to effortlessly apply their own personality and brand to the website, and to customise their content, while always ensuring that the website maintains the structural integrity that makes it visually-appealing and convert well.
Now, full disclosure here: I don’t have a single design-oriented or graphically-capable bone in my body, and so from the outset I tasked my team to create a product that I could personally use to create a great-looking website in less than an hour. I created one in less than 40 minutes. We were ready for launch at that point, because I knew any hotelier could do the same.
If even after reading all of this, you are still not convinced, consider the following benefits of a ready-made web creator such as SiteMinder’s Canvas:
- YOU are in complete control of your website content. You are never at the mercy of a third-party developer/agency that charges a fortune for minor updates or changes. YOU can change themes, colours, fonts, page content and page designs any time that suits you. You can preview all changes before publishing them live – in an instant
- YOUR website is being designed, tested and upgraded all the time by a team of experts and is having millions of dollars invested into it each year
- YOUR website will always be SEO-friendly, responsive and updated to cater for any new technology trends without you spending an extra cent or needing to rebuild your site from scratch ever again
- YOUR website will be up quicker, be thousands of dollars cheaper to both create and maintain, and be more cost-effective to keep running than any bespoke solution
- YOU benefit from technical teams that are looking after data security, monitoring performance, ensuring high availability and providing manned support centres to respond to your queries, any time of day
- YOU benefit from built-in integrations to Google Analytics, Internet booking engines, Google Maps, and widget integrations to TripAdvisor and Google places to show attraction in your area
- YOU can try before you buy. With Canvas, you can see your entire website before making the final decision to buy, thereby eliminating risk.
With technology changing so quickly you need to have a quality technology partner ensuring that your website will be carried automatically forward as the industry, travellers and needs shift. Hoteliers no longer need to break the bank and rebuild their website each time there is a technology paradigm shift or a search engine changes its algorithms.
Of course, I am not at all suggesting that custom-made websites don’t have a place. There are many hotels that may want (as opposed to necessarily need) very unique design elements that can only be achieved through unique coding. No product can ever appeal to everyone, but I am confident that with Canvas we are on the path that makes sense for most hoteliers and allows them to maximise their direct online business capabilities, in the most cost-effective, quickest and sustainable manner.
Time to make your decision, hoteliers. Your website needs an update and time is a wasting…tick tock.