Boutique Hotel Website Checklist

These ten things are must-haves for your boutique hotel website.

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After week of planning and a long, exhausting drive, I’m at my little, beautiful boutique hotel.

It has a sense of place. A sense of style.

Walking through the doors, I immediately begin to absorb the personality of this special place.

But I almost never got to see it this boutique hotel of my dreams.

If a friend had not convinced me (and it took a lot of convincing) that this was the hotel where I should stay, there is no way I would have even considered making a reservation.

But why not, Kimberly? You just said it was perfect.

Because when I researching, I of course went to the hotel’s website. After about four seconds on the site, I thought, “Never. This is a mess and if it is this messy online, what will it be like in person?” So the research continued with other hotels.

But over coffee one day, my friend said I needed to give this boutique hotel another chance. She had stayed there and it was that special. We pulled it up on my phone.

Bad. So bad. I told her that travel was too important to me to risk it. She asked me to trust her.

Of course in the end, I did trust her and had a glorious time, but she is the only reason I even walked through those doors. The hotel seemed to be doing everything it could to convince me NOT to make a reservation.

The hotel’s website gave me no reason to trust it.

In today’s digital marketing world, your hotel’s website is one of the first touchpoints that your guests will experience and there are some (more or less) simple things that you must make sure are working. Click here for a more in-depth look at touchpoints.

There is so much that could be said about how your website works. This could be the “30 Things Your Website Must Do,” but today, let’s just start with a quick and easy checklist. I am not a website designer, but I do know the ten items below (along with great copywriting, packages, SEO, etc.) are critical.

Even though your website can and should do many things, the most important one is to convince people to book a room with you.

But you are a small property, without a team of branding and marketing experts right down the hall or in the corporate office. How to do that? Here's a ten-point checklist of items that need to be alive and well on your site. Start here.

 
  1. Your website is mobile friendly.

  2. Your contact information and CTA are easy to find and usable.

  3. The site is easy to navigate - it makes sense.

  4. You explain why it is better that they book directly with you.

  5. You have high-quality photography.

  6. All links work and are current (it is January - I do not want to read about the Christmas Day Buffet).

  7. If you have a pop-up, it is disabled on mobile.

  8. Simple information (menu, etc.) is accessible through your site, and is not just a .pdf they must open.

  9. Your 404/Page Not Found is on-brand and directs the visitor.

  10. Your website has a soul, a feeling, a personality that is reflective of your brand experience.

Bonus: Your Website is Helpful (more on this at the end)

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Let’s go into a bit of detail about each of these.

1 | Website is mobile friendly.

This is so basic, but I had to include it. If your visitor needs to expand the screen to read your website on his phone, it is not mobile friendly. You should be able to read the font. The images and copy should flow, not look all crammed. Don't ask your web person about it - look at it yourself. If it is not, put it at the TOP of your priority list. Stop reading now and go get this fixed.

2 | Contact information and your CTA are easy to find and usable.

Your website is your greatest marketing tool. What is the purpose of your marketing? To sell rooms. Thus, your CTA, or Call-to-Action, must be to book a room. Make sure your Book Now button or Check Availability button is upper right corner on a desktop.

And also, especially on mobile, make sure your phone number can be found immediately and is a click-to-call. Great to put your number in your footer also, but the best place is the upper right of your website. Right next to the Book Now button.

Your address is prominent and a map is accessible. They want to SEE where you are.

3 | Your site is easy to navigate and makes sense.

Do you hide the front desk behind the pool? Are your elevators or stairs on the other side of your restaurant? Of course not! There is a common sense to the way you lay out your lobby and your property. It’s a combination of what people expect and your hotel’s unique personality (and simply what you have to work with). Visitors to your website also need to be in a place that makes sense. Don’t make them hunt to find pictures of rooms or basic info.

I know, there is an argument that if you use “cute and creative” names, it will help brand you. Yes, but you are not trying to win a design prize here - you want people to find what they want to find quickly and then book. Our brains like the navigation bar to be what we are used to. Make it easy.

Clarity over cleverness

4 | you explain why it is best to book direct with you

This is the NUMBER ONE thing you can do to affect our bottom line. Many travelers still have it in their minds that third party booking is the smartest thing to do. “I’m going to book right here where I can see all the rates - I’m a smart traveler, and plus I get points.”

There’s also the, “I’m in a hurry and I know how to do it this way” factor.

Your visitors need to trust that if they book with you they will get the best rate. You are saving up to 30% if they book with you, so give them something. A late checkout - a cocktail - a $20 hotel credit. You probably know that if they book through an OTA, you don’t have their email, and you cannot contact the guest. You won’t be able to communicate with them or nurture them. More on how to get their info in a later post.

Have a Book Now or Check Availability button in the upper right and consider a pop-up explaining and educating why it is best to book with you direct.

5 | High-quality photography

This is a no-brainer, right? Spend the money and hire a photographer. Include a variety of shots that truly show the personality of your hotel.Take the visitor on a journey through your photography. Your images should tell stories and evoke emotion. While you’re at it, make sure you have a couple of signature shots and shots that are great for press.

6 | All links and content are current.

Sounds so basic, but seriously! Go in and check your links. If a holiday or any sort of event has passed, take down the promotional message.

7 | If you have a pop-up, it is disabled on mobile

Google does not like pop-ups on mobile, and sometimes they will hurt you in search. So, if you have a promotional pop-up or one asking for email addresses, leave that to desktop only. Sometimes you might have a message that is big enough that mobile users need to see it, but know that Google can get irritated.

8 | Menus and other interesting information Open within your site and can be downloaded

So many reasons to have your menu within your website - SEO, faster load time, not taking your visitor away from your site, the copy is searchable, etc. Sure, once in a while someone will actually want to print your menu. If you feel that strongly about it, have a link to the pdf, but still have it written in HTML. This goes for spa menus, a calendar of events, etc.


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9 | Your 404/Page not found is on-brand

But, Kimberly - I don’t have any broken links.

Please trust me. It. is. going. to. happen.

Too many people have access to the website and now there is a broken link. Or you decided a page needed to be removed. Or someone just typed something wrong.

This is a fantastic opportunity for you to strengthen your brand. Here’s an entire blog post on this with examples and a worksheet. The one here from Graduate Hotels does it well.

10 | Your website has a soul.

I know. A little too woo-woo, but it’s important. When I am on your website, am I going to intuitively know how your hotel is going to make me feel? Am I going to feel calmed and inspired, or will I feel hip and sexy? (Can I do both?!?) What stories are you telling me? On what journey are you taking me?

Whew! This was a long post.

And, there is so much more - copywriting, load time, SEO, live chat - more on those later. Remember, your website is most likely your most important and strongest marketing tool. These ten steps are things that you can most likely take care of quickly. Then, we can move into items that might take a little more time or are not QUITE as critical.

Oh! The Bonus Item - Help Your Visitor. Just a quick note on this: throughout your copy, you need to be showing the reader why their experience in your city is going to be a better experience because they are staying with you. (I am going to do another post on just this in a couple of weeks.)

But in the meantime, yes, I think you should have a blog and create a local guide from your hotel’s perspective. More on that, I promise.

Just make sure that your website is reflective of all the good that you are doing in person. Create your website so that:

  1. They already trust you

  2. They are convinced it is smarter to book through your website and the entire experience is positive

  3. Once they do arrive, the experience that started when booking continues

I created a checklist for you with some more examples of great hotel websites. Enjoy!