Written for the Occupancy Marketing blog

Websites are funny things if left unchecked – over time we get asked to add so many different things: a new widget here, a bit more info there, a gallery, a video, a link to a supplier… the list goes on and suddenly a website can become cluttered.

There’s a great website theme from Zen Habits http://zenhabits.net/theme/ which has literally none of the stuff any of our client websites have – no sidebars, no comments, no slick animation and no popups; it’s an interesting idea for a blog website but how does it translate to a hotel site? We need all of those things, right? Maybe not. Anything which cannot be used to directly aid a booking – which is directly leading a user down the path to conversion – can fairly safely be removed. Risky? Not as much as you might expect – a lot of things that are added to webpages are there because nobody has taken a considered approach to whether each one is truly needed.

Here it is from the top… you’ve built your site content around your different customer personas, you’ve treated every page as its own landing page and you know what each page is used for – it’s not a big step to taking away elements of the webpage that you feel don’t directly lead to bookings. The easiest way for a hotel to test this? Go ask some of your hotel guests! Once a guest is in your hotel they are easy to find, easy to approach and probably pretty susceptible to a voucher for a drink at the bar in exchange for a five minute chat about your website. Hotel guests are your target market and their logical feedback is worth lots. Here’s what you need:

  1. Pick a primary task for your subjects to perform – e.g. book a room on your mobile or on your laptop
  2. Have a particular webpage element to observe whilst the primary task is being carried out e.g. links to a partner site
  3. Set up a room at the hotel with a laptop running Silverback http://silverbackapp.com/ or set a video camera looking down onto a table to record a mobile phone
  4. Clear your phone/computer of distractions and saved passwords – remember to start off with a clean/incognito browser window
  5. Have credit card details and an accessible email account for the user to use/access whilst they are performing the task
  6. Find a subject willing to give you 10 mins of their time and ask them to perform the task with minimal hints
  7. Make sure you have consent to record their actions
  8. Ask the user to speak their actions aloud, explaining their decisions – don’t lead them unless they are struggling
  9. Question them at the end, how did they find using the site? did they see the partner links (or whatever element you were observing)? was it useful? did they click it?
  10. Thank them and give them something as a reward for their help
  11. Repeat a few more times, varying the task slightly
  12. Learn and act!

This technique to make incremental improvements does not end there – if you are thinking about a new version of your website then you can do this same guerrilla testing by simply printing out the prototype designs and ask what your guests think. Let us know how you get on!