Build pages with richer content while also achieving fast response times with these site speed tips for hotel websites.
It’s not enough that a hotel website looks attractive to travellers or that it has a high ranking on Search Engines. Hotels are losing customers through their slow site speed. An exclusive 15-month study done at USA TODAY’s request by Compuware Gomez, which monitors website performance, reveals that many travel sites take more than two seconds for their home pages to load; this may not sound long but can feel like an age when a customer is hunting for their next vacation destination. Here are several ways hoteliers can speed up their sites.
Why is page speed important?
Web analytics firm QuBit (founded by ex-Googlers) recently conducted research based on 60,000 individual pieces of customer feedback, which led them to conclude that slow sites cost online retailers globally more than £1.7 billion. The study looked at general retail sites such as Ikea and Barnes and Noble, but QuBit said there are lessons for travel sites in the findings. QuBit identified six key benefits of faster sites:
- Higher traffic – a fast loading page will encourage repeat visitors, driving overall increases in traffic.
- Reduced abandonment – one of the biggest impacts of slow site speeds is users abandoning their shopping cart or booking engine in frustration at poor speeds.
- Increase page views per visit – consumers are more likely to spend longer on a site, and view more pages, if each page loads quicker.
- Enhanced response rates – consumers are more likely to interact with or respond to marketing or offers if they are delivered in a timely fashion.
- Improved brand equity – a negative site experience can affect a brand’s reputation with consumers.
- Increased conversion rate – all of the above will combine to deliver an enhanced conversion rate to purchase, driving increased sales and revenues.
A slow site speed is not only losing you visitors, it can also result in lost traffic as well. Google is including page speed as a signal in their Search Engine algorithms. They state “Like us, our users place a lot of value in speed — that’s why we’ve decided to take page speed into account in our search rankings. We use a variety of sources to determine the speed of a site relative to other sites.” A faster site also results in lower operating costs – a definite win win.
If you are a site owner, webmaster or a web author, here are some free tools that Google suggests to evaluate the speed of your hotel website:
- Page Speed, an open source Firefox/Firebug add-on that evaluates the performance of web pages and gives suggestions for improvement.
- YSlow, a free tool from Yahoo! that suggests ways to improve website speed.
- WebPagetest shows a waterfall view of your pages’ load performance plus an optimisation checklist.
- In Webmaster Tools, Labs > Site Performance shows the speed of your website as experienced by users around the world as in the chart below. We’ve also blogged about site performance.
- Many other tools are available at code.google.com/speed.
How can I improve my hotel website speed?
Once you have identified that your page speed could be faster (and let’s face it, most hotel websites could use a little help in that department), it’s time to isolate what elements of your site are causing you and your visitors the most headaches. It could be due to more than one problem on your site. Here are some of the most common causes of a hotel website that takes several seconds to load each page.
Optimise images for the web
By the nature of the industry, hotel’s websites tend to be very image-rich. But images need to be optimised for the web. So this means choosing the right image file type, compressing images before they are uploaded and using the right size image (rather than downloading a larger image and resizing it). Look at all your images including your logo and favicon.
Minimize the number of HTTP requests
Yahoo! says in its best practice web developer guidelines that 80% of the end-user response time is spent on the front-end. Most of this time is taken up in downloading elements on the page such as images, stylesheets, scripts and Flash. Reducing the number of HTTP requests in your page is the place to start to improve page speed. This is one of the keys to faster pages. Ways to do this include:
- Reducing the number of components in turn reduces the number of HTTP requests required to render the page, hence increasing site speed. Combining all scripts into a single script, and similarly combining all CSS into a single stylesheet.
- Using image maps combine multiple images into a single image request from the server.
- Combining inline images into your (cached) stylesheets is a way to reduce HTTP requests and avoid increasing the size of your pages. Please note that inline images are currently not supported by all browsers.
- Avoid linking out to other media
Linking out to other media from your website can also be a cause of a slow page speed. Try not to link out to other media such as such as images, slideshows etc that are not hosted on your site. If the external website is slow, your hotel website will also be sluggish by default. If possible, try to host all content on your own server. The only exception may be videos as these files tend to be quite large and may take up unnecessary storage space.
Clean up code
Another common culprit is clumsily written or unnecessary code on your website. The fewer lines of code that have to be read, the faster your site will load. Ask your web developer to take a look at the code with the intention of reducing the size of the HTML code on each page and write more efficient code. This includes optimising your CSS code, removing unnecessary white space and opting for a CSS/DIV based layout, instead of a table-based layout.
Use a Content Delivery Network
A content delivery network (CDN) is a collection of web servers distributed across multiple locations to deliver content more efficiently to users. For a bed and breakfast servicing a local area, the cost of a CDN may be too prohibitive but a multinational hotel chain should be able to offset the cost with the increase in usability, longer page visits and improved hotel bookings. Yahoo! says this can improve end-user response times by 20% or more.
Your web server software can send information to web browsers to help them cache information and operate more efficiently. For most web server platforms, like Apache, you can adjust the “Expires” or “Cache-Control” header attributes for the resources you are sending. You might need to consult with your hosting or internet provider to make these kinds of adjustments.
As more travellers look to the web to research and book their travel, their patience threshold for slow hotel websites is getting lower and lower. At Hotel Website Designers, we understand that site speed is important so hotels can remain competitive, retain customers (and not lose them to competitors) and increase hotel bookings. Contact us if you are thinking about a hotel web design or look at the competitive design solutions we offer.