If only I could create the perfect travel website (2008)


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Travel Technology Show seminar presentation given by Jason Till - a leading digital strategist and user experience expert on 6/2/2008, while he was Head of Digital at travel industry specialist, Designate.

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If only I could create the perfect travel website (2008)

  1. 1. 20 secsHi. I’m from Designate. Designate’s a communications agency whichdelivers strategy, creative, marketing, and technology services to clients intravel, leisure and finance sectors. One of the things we do is makeWebsites. We won the Travoluton “Best Website Design” award last year forWales in Style. 1
  2. 2. 1 minHere’s my list - from user perspective - of what I’d like to see in a travelWebsite. I won’t talk through this slide in detail as there’s lots to cover in thispresentation. 2
  3. 3. 20 secsSorry to let you all down, but there’s no silver bullet at the current time.Things are really quite exciting at the moment. Technologies opening up newopportunities, but at the same time technology can hinder. 3
  4. 4. 30 secsOTAs who are aggregating a lot of content have the toughest job. Althoughthey are catching up, with new functionality being added to travel systemsinventory. The closer you are to your inventory in the value chain, the morecontrol, of course you can exercise, so I don’t envy the big companies’challenges. 4
  5. 5. 30 secsHere’s a running order of what I want to cover. I’m going to make clear thatthis isn’t going to be a thorough exposition of how to optimise a bookingprocess on a Website. To do that we need more time and you’d have to crossmy palm with silver.Today I’m mainly interested with how a Website sells and performs. 5
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  7. 7. 1 minHere’s an example of the conventions which most online travel agent sitesemploy – and I appreciate that the travel sector isn’t restricted just to OTA’s.Most of the conventions should be pretty clear and most people here will befamiliar with them. They also tend to live in similar places on most Websites,although the search tool does jump around.The main issue here is that the search function is often the thing that lets sitesdown. I have couple of examples of this later. The “Hero shot” / deal panelat the top (like the other photography) is suitably dynamic and stylised,suggesting the company understands the audience – sporty, younger.Overall this Website’s pretty good and does it’s job well, with the propositionclear: price and choice. Although it could with do some clear anchoring text atthe head of page. I’ll come back to more examples which don’t perform aswell later. 7
  8. 8. 40 secsI’ll provide limited apologies for the lack of usability in this slide as behind thescenes it can be more complicated than on the surface.Content is what sells your holidays and it’s challenging to merge other typesof content (guides, reviews, multimedia, weather) together with inventory in ameaningful way – a way which makes people want to use the holidays. Goodinformation design can help, but you still need to get over the hurdle ofintegrating data from different sources – often with different data structuresand formats.That’s enough of this complicated slide. 8
  9. 9. 1 minThese are the main issues a generic traveller and an e-commerce director willwant to cover.But there’s one thing missing we’ve commissioned independent researchwhich shows that TRUST is the overriding factor when making a travelbooking online. 9
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  11. 11. 1.30 minsFor all people, travel is a considered purchase, from discretionary income andpeople have different considerations.Career motivated or business travellers value efficiency, control, the abilityto compare/contrast results and details. Slow-to-load Web sites, sites thathave elaborate Flash-based intro screens, and sites that dont providedetailed information are almost guaranteed to lose this critical segment oftravelers.Entertainment Motivated travellers value Social computing tools, audio,video, color, etc. all matter. This group is also highly impulsive, and excellenttarget for last-minute offers and cross-selling. Holidays are about personalidentity, People collect “experiences” – and can very much be “vanitypurchases” The good experience should start during the planning or they’llswitch off. These people really are brand fickleFor Family motivated travellers Personal online safety is very important tothis group; your privacy policy and tools to ensure secure online transactionwill resonate. They’re also more discretionary with their disposable income.When designing a WEBSITE YOU NEED A CLEAR UNDERSTANDING OFWHO YOU’RE DESIGNING FOR – AND SHOULD IDEALLY FACTORTHIS INTO USABILITY PLANNING BY developing PEN Portrtaits orPERSONAS of the people you want to communicate with. 11
  13. 13. 20 secsAnd what do people like doing most when they’re not travelling? Researchingit online. In term of online purchase intent, travel is secondary only to bookpurchasing. 13
  14. 14. 40 secsLookers and bookers are those people who research and book their travelonline, as defined in the previous slideThey’re YOUNGER;They’re BETTER EDUCATION (so you need to sell in a sophisticated way)And they have a HIGHER INCOME – so there’s more opportunity todifferentiate on more than price alone 14
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  17. 17. 2 minsWhen they’re in planning mode, they’re looking for inspiration, but the customer journey is fragmentedand nebulous; with numerous research “tools” available and people can tap into the “wisdom of crowds”.Thinking and planning time is being stretched and fragmenting BUT impulse purchases are availableimmediately.According to Research conducted by Google. Consumers Take nearly a month to go from first search topurchase of a travel product”; They make make 12 searches and visit 23 websites, and they visit theirchosen site 3.9 times before making a final booking. And it’s not straightforward - people go through aprocess of iterative ideation, which means they’re on “receive mode” for new ideas until they’ve pressedthe submit button. People are becoming much more “brand fickle”When they’re on location Their not just collecting memories and sending postcards; they’re capturingmultimedia; they’re emailing; they can blog; they can login to their interactive travel itinerary, whichsomeone like Trip-IT provides (in the US)When they return home They can be on Facebook updating their “where I’ve been” map; uploading toYouTube or Flickr; responding to “leave some feedback” email from Expedia, for example. All of theseactivities feed the iterative ideation process at the front of the customer journey.Some travel companies are trying to replicate and copy functionality across the customer journey, andeven integrate social searches and content from third party providers into their inventory.The perfect Website isn’t one which provides all of this functionality (you’ll never be better than Flickr orFacebook at social media ), but one which understands people’s needs enough to know where it’sproposition fits in with the customer journey.More information can be found about the Google statistics on the Travolution Website.http://www.travolution.co.uk/Articles/2007/12/11/1186/Google+study+highlights+travel+buyer+behaviour.html 17
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  19. 19. 30 secsCONSIDER REMOVING SLIDENote: Travel suppliers should not take their customers for granted; they areconstantly checking to see who has the best option for them. 53% of theBookers who research on a travel suppliers site also research on sitesbelonging to high-street agencies, and 57% research on OTA sites likeLastminute.com. All it takes is for someone else to do a better job of engagingthe customer and youve lost them. 19
  20. 20. 30 secsSo how do you make yourself perfect, and create a Website that people wantto purchase holidays from? Well you have to think about people’s emotionaland rational practical needs, but what does this mean? 20
  21. 21. 1 minBecause the Internet makes price-shopping easier, travel firms must appeal totravelers emotions to more fully engage them.Note: Despite travelers keen focus on budget, Bookers are more willing to bepersuaded to bend the budget and go to their first-choice destination 21
  22. 22. 2 minsA brand needs to think about it’s position and image in relation to how a userthinks emotionally about travel and their own personal goals. People needto be sold to effectively and the good experience should start when acustomer’s researching a holiday – they need inspiration. But many sites arestill not categorising holidays in any other way than beach; cruise; city break;or ski. This is a combination of the constraints in legacy systems, lack ofunderstanding of user needs and ineffective selling and categorisation.People think in different ways about holidays than the way travel companiessell to them: they want experience. There’s a list of key issues on the bottomleft of the screen which should act as key guidance in assessing how effectiveyour site is positioning itself.Everyone’s got a practical side, and people will have a key set of questionsthey need to cover before they can get there. This is about fulfilment of theservice starts on the Website, the moment someone’s using it, not when thesale’s been made. Keep the things on the bottom (and top) right inIt’s worth noting that emotional and rational are NOT mutually exclusive.Peoples’ rational expectations of a Website may well be not satisfied by anegative experience with usability or accessibility. For example some sitessearch tools won’t work or are frustrating to use – especially if you’re notusing IE on the PC. This is hardly inspirational for anyone buying a holidayonline.AND DIFFERENT AUDIENCES NEED TO BE SOLD TO IN DIFFERENTWAYS – AS SHOWN BY PIE CHART ABOUT TRAVELLERS MOTIVATIONS. 22
  23. 23. 30 secsTo keep it simple, let’s focus on the proposition and think about the emotionalside of the selling job your site has to do. Remove all the constraints oflegacy systems and usability. It can start as simply as answering these eightquestions. We’ve built successful Websites by starting with these questions. 23
  24. 24. A quick case study here, designed to show how thinking about appealing topeople’s interests can get around the challenges of marketing destinationsalone. 24
  25. 25. 20 secsSouth West Wales Tourism Partnership came to us with a destinationmarketing challenge – how to repackage something which most people inBritain equated with industrial decline – this is a typical picture of South WestWales, which sums up it’s image in the public consciousness. 25
  26. 26. 30 secsWe created three distinct brands with clear differentiation as shown here.Each of which acts as a gateway to accommodation and attraction providers.These are optimised for search around specific keywords which areexperience-driven, NOT around specific destinations.The sites have been incredibly effective at promoting and bringing in trade toSouth West Wales.We believe this is a “long tail” success story - destination marketing has beenturned on its head 26
  27. 27. 30 secsFor those of you in the audience who might have seen the latesttransformation of a British Television institution, this is a very similar leap informat that some travel Webites really need to start thinking about.For those of you who aren’t familiar with it or haven’t seen it - it’s as simple asmentioned before: THINK MORE LIKE A MEDIA OWNER IF YOU WANT TOENGAGE PEOPLE. 27
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  29. 29. 1 min (SLIDE NEEDS REWRITING)Without fail I’ll always recommend to clients that they take a user-centreddesign approach. We’re redesigning a financial client’s e-commerce Websiteright now using an approach that’s known as user-centred design, withiterative-prototyping and formal user lab testing. This attaches a £10-15Kpremium on the project and 3-4 weeks extra time, but the expected siteefficiency gains we believe will pay back 10:1. 29
  30. 30. 1 minIn my preparation for this presentation I looked atabout 30 different Websites. Many of the sites haveclearly been designed for Internet Explorer a don’twork as well in Firefox (I have a couple of exampleslater). Depending on who you choose to believe,Other browsers, including Firefox can make upanything from 23 – 40% of the Internet population.A statistic that no e-commerce director shouldignore. If you don’t design optimally, you’rehindering the user experience and diminishing yourchance of converting.YOUR DESIGNERS MUST NOT ASSUME ALLBROWSERS ARE JAVASCRIPT ENABLED,EITHER. AROUND 5% of Web users switch off 30Javascript and so won’t be always able to see yourpages as you designed them.
  31. 31. 30 secsThese examples examined along the lines of the basic anatomy lessonearlier, but also show where usability or selling features could be improved.I’m only at this stage looking at home pages so you can easily compare andcontrast.And I apologise to anyone in the audience if you manage these Websites. NoWebsite is perfect and continuous improvement is always necessary. Thesearen’t designed to single anyone out, just to illustrate common issues. 31
  33. 33. 1 minAGAIN, ALL NORMAL CONVENTIONS FEATUREDPOSITIVE RSS feeds of deals – becoming increasingly prevalent across allwebsites, but the problem is they tend to be basic feeds on the latest deals,not a customised alert based on user preferences. To be perfect, they wouldhave to be based on a user profile.Some nice tools on the right hand side, BUTNEGATIVE the BENEFITS OF REGISTRATION AREN’T SOLD. WHAT’S INIT FOR ME. “Register and get….”POSITIVE The achievement award on the right handNEGATIVE – THIS website is built in HTML tables, which restricts itsaccessibility and the ability repurposing the design, across mobile devices, forexampleNEGATIVE – NO BRAND DIFFERENTIATION / NO ANCHORINGSTATEMENT –ASSUME PROPOSITION IS “CHEAP AND CHOICE” 33
  34. 34. 30 secsPOSITIVE – neatly laid outRSS deedNEGATIVENo differentiationNo hero shot / promoNo brand positioningNo “contact me”I’M ASSUMING THE PROPOSITION IS “CHEAP AND CHOICE” 34
  35. 35. 30 secsGOOD, CLEAR LAYOUT, but a shame about the chunk text which could bebroken up. The search tool could be broken up a bit more.DOESN’T DIFFERENTIATECLEAR ABOUT ITS PROPOSITION: CHOICE / PRICEIN THIS PRICE / CHOICE MARKETPLACE it’s all about the margin - manyOTA’s are using similar inventory, so with search optimisation this site willperform well for it’s owners as it has good usability features. 35
  36. 36. 30 secsThis is not an OTA – actually a direct selling company, so deals not soprevalent.Nice clear design.They should still consider “deals” to entice people.Proposition could be a little stronger. 36
  37. 37. 20 secsThis is a beautiful website which covers all the conventions and sells reallywell.They could make a little more use of the white space on the left though –that’s some valuable selling space not being used. 37
  38. 38. 30 secsCovers all the main conventions.Very strong proposition. 38
  39. 39. 20 secsI thought I’d show you some higher-end Websites now. These tend to bebetter at selling emotively – usually on a higher ticket / margin but lowervolume. They’re generally closer and more hands on with their inventory aswell, using an approach which could be described as “carefully selected”. 39
  40. 40. 1 minI should declare an interest here. Wales in Style is run by Designate onbehalf of visit Wales. We are about to redesign the Website to include usergenerated content functionality and some improved information architecture.I’ve got a full list of improvements back at the office, but I won’t share themtoday.It’s worth noting that the “quality” end of the market tends not to publish itsphone number of the home page. A “contact” or “feedback” link is the norm. 40
  41. 41. 1 minExcellent straplineEmotive use of language and imageryAward - trustSearch by 41
  42. 42. 30 secs•  Imagery – who can’t fail to be inspired by this imagery•  Good anchoring statement•  Emotive selling – Valentines’ gift•  Member benefits suggest premium services•  Helpful features below the search tool provide extra focus and inspiration – “IDEAS”•  NEGATIVE OR POSSIBLY NOT – Email sign up below “the fold”BLOW UP THE SEARCH INTERFACE 42
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  44. 44. 30 secs (one more example needed)Shortlists are the type of functionality which are likely to aid return visits,increase traffic (especially if they can be shared) and reduce bookinglatency – much easier to return and book something if it’s already saved andI can return.No perfect travel site should be without a shortlist 44
  45. 45. 30 secs – two more examples needed.Southwest Airline’s DING - $150M of incremental revenue – the next step onfrom RSS feeds.If you’re running a website that’s got an RSS feed, think about how you couldmake your customer targeting and offer personalisation better with a gadgetor widget. If you don’t currently have an RSS feed, then think about gettingone of those. 45
  46. 46. 30 secs (one more example needed)Lastminute.com’s ADD TO MY Calendar functionality makes use of atechnology called “HCalendar” my holiday planning really integrated into how Iorganise my life. I ordered my holiday on my company laptop, and thenclicked on a link to mark the holiday out in my diary.Microformats are part of the “Semantic Web”, which is part of the future ofonline technology in which more and more information will have relevance topeople, dates, locations, and places and can be integrated more seamlesslyinto devices which we use and carry around with us. You can find out moreby going to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Microformats (although this isquite technical). 46
  47. 47. I must mention EXPEDIA’s excellent user-generated hotel rating system – it’sextremely effective and integrates really well with their CRM – a welcomeback email dropped in my inbox at exactly the right time. Not quite perfect, asit doesn’t show me reviews from people like me, but it’s near perfect.This shows an example of a hotel I researched and then fed back on, addingto the wisdom of crowds, Expedia, so excellently employs. 47
  48. 48. Mapping is becoming a richer tool now developers are starting to exploit theAPIs from Google, Microsoft and other mapping providers. In this examplemy search results return further points of interest which I can click and explorewhich are sorted by categorisation and show the distances from my baselocation. 48
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  50. 50. 30 secsCalendars are one of my pet hates, and one of the first things which act as abarrier to people using searches effectively.The huge pop-up on the left shows a list of dates in August 2009, eventhough I’m on a winter sports homepage. I have snowboarded in Junebefore, but this was in Argentina, not Europe. A piece of functionality knownas calendar control is vital here, but it also needs to be intelligent.The box on the right shows a flexible search, but it assumes when I’mchoosing to be flexible about my dates, I can take 14 days either way andnothing else. That’s not very flexible to me – I want to be able to specify tothe exact margin when I’ll be flexible – as it’ll usually be around weekends. 50
  51. 51. 20 secsI visited this Website on February the first to find a search tool whichdefaulted to January 08. 51
  52. 52. 20 secs – red circle neededUnsurprisingly it didn’t return any results.When the search failed – it should have made some recommendations. 52
  53. 53. 20 secsI visited this Website in Internet Explorer 7 to find that it only offered availabledates within the next three weeks.So I shut down my browser and revisited in Firefox and it offered me none atall. 53
  54. 54. 10This is a bit more flexible, than the plus or minus 14 days search we sawbefore 54
  55. 55. 20 secsBut it’s not quite as good as this, which is almost perfect. To make it perfect,in my opinion I should be able to a different lag at the beginning from the tailend of a holiday. 55
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  57. 57. 20 secsStyle error.Menu doesn’t render properly on Firefox due to a problem with the style sheet(CSS) - white text on cream background will diminish chances of any bookingbeing made. 57
  58. 58. 30 secsTechnical errrorErrors happen, but all Webservers can be set up to handle errors and show afriendly page.This is the equivalent of leaving the phone off the hook and locking the door,but not leaving any message.Remember, a traveller will visit 23 Websites along their journey, so if thishappens they might only remember your site as “the one which didn’t work”“We’re sorry, there seems to be a problem. Please come back in a littlewhile.” (i.e. we would like your business and we don’t want to scare you off.) 58
  59. 59. 30 secsI don’t know if this is a problem with my PC or the website - many users willblame your site if it does this, in any case. But be careful where you rely onmultimedia files. There are more robust ways to implement them than donehere. 59
  60. 60. 30 secsNo travel Website seems to be able to handle a search which does includedoesn’t include the Airports north of London which I don’t want fly from withoutme performing two separate searches on Gatwick and Heathrow. This is acommon issue amongst people like me, who live on the South Coast ofEngland. 60
  61. 61. 20 secsSubmit button hidden 61
  62. 62. 10 secsIf you click on the register button without completing the form. 62
  63. 63. 20 secsAll Web developers should understand error handling. 63
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  65. 65. 20 secsWebsites should be simple. BUT if the planning was kept as simple as shownabove nobody would use our Websites.To make them effective and efficient, we sometimes have to go on acomplicated journey… 65
  66. 66. 30 secs…which requires us to look at how people move through on their “travelcustomer journey”, which I demonstrated earlier.If we’re prepared to get to grips with the underlying complexity of the issues(which this slide shows), the end result will actually be more simple, and moreeffective.Apologies for this slide by the way. 66
  67. 67. 30 secsA best practice approach to Website design considers a number of issues,which are shown here. The biggest challenge is making sure we cover all ofthe issues above in order, without bypassing and going straight into visualdesign. When this happens sites can fail. 67
  68. 68. 30 secsGetting to the end result requires a managed process, with clear stages whichalign business needs and user needs and test that these are being met.As I mentioned before, I always recommend usability testing. When the siteis launched, keep getting feedback, keep testing and keep this fed back intoan ongoing site improvement plan. 68
  69. 69. 30 secsHere’s a quick reminder of some of the key issues which needs to be thoughtabout when designing a usable Website. 69
  70. 70. 1 minAnd here’s my final “recipe for creating the perfect travel Website”.If only it could be this simple. 70
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