I travel kind of a lot for the web development training work I do. Some of the hotel-booking experiences I’ve had have been absurdly bad.
I was curious what I would get if I were to google “grand rapids mi hotels”. Hotel sites are paying for ads to show up when I search for things like this. Are they making good use of their investment or squandering it?
Below I review the landing pages for 4 websites:
- Experience GR
- Trip Advisor
Kayak, Trivago and Trip advisor are paid AdWords ads. Experience GR is an organic link.
I want to address Kayak first because I think their landing page is the best. Here’s what appears above the fold:
This page draws attention to exactly the place it should: the form where you enter your travel details. The “Search” button also contrasts strongly with the background.
When I did this search, Kayak showed up as the #4 paid link. Let’s look at the #3 unpaid link, Experience GR.
There is a lot of missed opportunity here. Look what appears above the fold:
There’s literally nothing on this page that lets me advance my goal of booking a hotel room. This page follows the “modern” trend of having a hero image that occupies the whole viewport, completely wasting the valuable space available.
If I scroll down, the next thing I notice is the “Grand Rapids Hotels” chunk of content.
The headline “Grand Rapids Hotels” is not particularly captivating. What does that headline tell me about the information that follows? Not really much.
If I bother to read the paragraph below “Grand Rapids Hotels” (which I probably won’t), I see that it starts with “Lodging in Grand Rapids runs the gamut from luxury hotels to budget motels.” I’m not exactly on the edge of my seat.
On a landing page (or in most writing, really), the job of each sentence is to get the reader to want to read the next sentence.
If I see “Grand Rapids Hotels”, that doesn’t really pique my curiosity to want to read the next sentence.
If I read “Lodging in Grand Rapids runs the gamut…” I don’t even want to read the rest of that sentence!
I’m not even sure why these two paragraphs exist at all. I just want to book a hotel!
If I scroll down, I see the actual part of the page I’m interested in: the part where I can pick a hotel.
My first thought is that I’m confused as to how these hotels are sorted. I see that the first hotel starts at $69.50 a night, the next one starts at $44.99, then the next one is $219.00. That’s a wild difference.
When I look up to the top row of controls, I see that the list is sorted by name. I can’t really think of a less meaningful attribute by which to search for hotels.
Let’s contrast this for a second with Kayak’s hotel results page:
Kayak’s default sorting is by “Recommended”, which of course makes sense. People want to choose a hotel based on how much the room costs combined with how good the hotel seems.
Experience GR only offers sorting by name and price. Since name is arguably useless, Experience GR really only offers one attribute by which to sort.
Anyway, here’s what I think Experience GR’s biggest missed opportunity is.
When a visitor clicks on the Kayak link, the visitor is presented with a page that clearly has just one goal: get the visitor to click Search. Kayak has done a lot (made the form starkly contrast the background, made the submit button starkly contrast everything else, auto-filled the form fields, made other page options much less prominent) to reduce any friction that might prevent the user from taking this action.
Once the user has clicked Search on that page, the user has made a certain level of commitment to Kayak. The user has made a small “yes” to Kayak, which makes it that much easier for Kayak to get another small “yes”.
(By the way, notice how Kayak’s buttons say “View Deal”, not “Book Now” like Experience GR’s. They don’t want you to have to make any one big commitment at a time.)
So, I think Experience GR’s biggest missed opportunity is the failure to present the user with a single, clear goal that’s easy to say “yes” to.
Here’s what’s above the fold for Trivago:
Their page looks pretty cluttered and almost amateurish in design. Let’s compare it to Kayak for a second.
In Kayak’s case, it couldn’t be clearer which part of the page it is I’m supposed to focus on. With Trivago, not so much. No one thing pops out as the dominant element.
Maybe I’m supposed to focus on the calendar first. It looks like I’m supposed to select a date from the drop-down, but the design of the date field also makes it look like maybe I can type there. And I can’t help but be drawn by curiosity to the results that appear below the form. There’s just too much noise on this page distracting from the page’s goal, which is presumably to get me to perform a search.
I think Trivago could benefit hugely by simply hiding the search results when the page first loads. If it’s necessary to enter a date range before the search results are meaningful, then why show search results at all before a date is entered? And if the search results can be meaningful without first having a date range, why have the date dropdown automatically dropped down when the page loads?
Trivago could also benefit from a more professional-looking design. I’m not a graphic designer so I can’t comment on exactly how this could be achieved, but most people could probably sense a pretty stark contrast between how professional-looking Trivago’s site looks and how professional-looking Kayak’s site looks.
Here’s what’s above the fold for TripAdvisor:
TripAdvisor doesn’t suffer from the amateurish design problems Trivago and Experience GR do. From a pure “professionalism” perspective, TripAdvisor looks just as good as Kayak.
Usability seems pretty good, too. The large “Grand Rapids, Michigan Hotel Deals” header is where my eye is drawn first, and then naturally I look next to the search form.
There are at least a couple things TripAdvisor isn’t doing as well as Kayak. First, Kayak seems to have a better understanding of the principle of small, incremental commitments and the benefit of limited choices.
On Kayak’s landing page, above the fold, there’s one and only one action available: click Search. (You could also navigate away but that’s not really an action, that’s just navigating away.) It’s very easy for me to say “Oh, you want me to click Search? Okay, I’ll click Search”. When I then land on the results page, I’m probably more likely to follow through with my action because I’ve already made a micro-commitment to following through with the action and I want to be consistent with the “message” I’ve sent by clicking Search.
(By the way, I learned about people’s desire to be self-consistent in the book Influence by Robert Cialdini.)
TripAdvisor doesn’t have the small-commitment thing going on. When I click the link on the Google search results page, I’m taken straight to the TripAdvisor search results. Now I have to expend some cognitive energy (only a little big of cognitive energy, but some) figuring out exactly what it is I should do.
Again, this also ties into the idea of limited choices. If TripAdvisor had limited my choice to “either click Search or don’t”, it would be a lot easier for my to say “yes” to their request. But since I’m not even 100% sure what the request is, it’s harder for me to comply.
- If you limit the number of choices on a page, it makes it easier for the visitor to say yes to whatever you’re asking them to do.
- According to Robert Cialdini’s Influence, when a person says “yes” to a request of yours, it makes them more inclined to say “yes” to your next request. Therefore, don’t ask a visitor to do something big. Break the big request into a number of smaller requests.
- Professional-looking design engenders more trust than amateurish design. (Duh.)
- If you want the visitor to perform a certain action, put that action above the fold.
- If you want page copy to get read, keep it extremely short. Use a header to attract action. Make the header evoke curiosity so that the next sentence gets read. The job of each sentence is to get the next sentence read.