Why your hotel website needs a usability test and how to do one

What is a website usability test?

How well is your website working for your hotel? Is it helping or hurting your booking conversion rates? The answers to these question may surprise you, but you will not know the answers without doing a website usability test. This might sound like it would take too much time, too much money, or be too complicated, but it does not have to.

While there are plenty of market research companies out there that would be happy to do a full-scale usability test on your website for thousands of dollars, you can easily do them on your own. Whether you manage a large hotel, run a boutique hotel, or own a bed and breakfast, you can conduct a website usability test that will let you know if your website is benefiting or costing your business.

Why is a website usability test useful?

Website usability tests are important tools that any business owner who depends on a website to interact with customers should use, particularly ones in the hospitality industry. Think of your website as an important member of your team who is responsible for communicating information to current, former, and potential guests. Just like you would evaluate any hotel employee, you should evaluate your website to see how well it is working and identify areas for improvement.

A website usability test will allow you to gain valuable insight into how your website is attracting, keeping, or turning away users. While you might think your website is easy to use, provides all the information needed, and reflects positively on your property…it also may not. Website usability tests can find out.

Determining what type of test to conduct

While you can test your entire website as a whole, it is generally not recommended. You first need to determine what insights you are hoping to gain as a result of the usability test. Identify a problem area you want to improve, such as increasing corporate bookings during the week. Knowing what you are looking for first will help you to create a test that can achieve the specified results:

Specific Information: An information test will allow you to find out how visitors to your site are finding the information they seek. Perhaps a certain coupon code is not being used. Is it because the coupon rate is not enticing or can it simply not be found by your site visitors?

Specific Tasks: Perhaps your weekend getaway landing page is underperforming compared to other pages. Ask testers to visit that page and complete a specific task, like booking a room. Does something go wrong during the process, such as missing links or booking form errors?

Special Functions: When meeting planners visit your site looking to book a corporate event, are they able to find everything they need before choosing your property? Testers acting as decision makers can analyze your site from a specific perspective to see if your hotel is lacking in certain areas.

Choosing your website usability testers

running-a-website-usability-test

A website usability test can be conducted in a variety of ways, depending on the type of information you want to receive. Different types of testers will net different kinds of results, so deciding on who your testers should be is important. This sounds more complicated than it is, but choosing different types of testers for different purposes can help you to gather more reliable test results.

Familiar Employees: Your first round of testing might be conducted by employees who are familiar with the website and property. They are probably already aware of certain issues, and they can help you to sort out bigger problems first that will help drive future testing.

Unfamiliar Employees: A restaurant employee could test your concierge pages because they might be less familiar with those particular services. They can still provide valuable insights from an internal perspective, due to their familiarity with the overall property.

Industry Testers: If you want to find out why wedding planners are not booking your property, ask people in that industry to serve as testers to find out why.

Guest Testers: Since guests are your target audience, you can offer incentives for their opinions in exchange for 15 minutes of their time in person while visiting your hotel.

Random Users: You can also solicit random testers to get a truly objective opinion from friends of employees, hospitality students at a local college, or business owners nearby.

How many testers should be used?

Believe it or not, this is one of the most important parts of conducting a website usability test. There is a sweet spot between gaining useful information and gathering the same information. According to Jakob Nielsen, the best results come from just five users. This may be surprising to you, but it turns out that the first five users generally find the majority of usability problems.

When you reach 9-15 users, they are just finding the same problems over and over again. It is a waste of time and resources to use more than eight usability testers, with five being the ideal, because the problems have already identified. It is best to conduct several small five-person usability tests on different areas or after each redesign cycle, rather than 15 testers focusing on one problem.

How to conduct a usability test

When you are ready to start your website usability tests, there are a variety of different ways you can do them. The testing environment and the type of tests you perform will net different results. The most important thing to keep in mind is data contamination. You should never guide, help, or question your testers while they are testing your site. You want real results that are organically found without any outside influence. Aside from the initial instructions and test questions, you should be mindful of not influencing the testers before the test or during post-test questioning.

Unsupervised Test: Allowing testers to navigate your site in an office by themselves, or even alone at home, is a good choice for most website usability tests. Testers should feel comfortable and in an environment that is similar to where your normal visitor would most likely be.

Supervised Test: Important information can be gathered just by watching testers use a website. Seeing where they encounter problems or how they navigate the site can be more useful than post-test interviews. Of course, breathing down their necks can make testers uncomfortable, so consider using a conference room with overhead projection and invite other observers.

Informed Test: Testers know they are using your hotel website. Testers will tend to want to please you with their answers, so make sure they understand that there are no wrong answers.

Blind Test: Testers conduct a comparison test of multiple websites and do not know which site is yours. This is perhaps the best kind of test because answers will be objective.

Single Site Test: Testing just your website for usability is a good way to find problems that any visitor might encounter. This is a good way to test your site for finding specific information or completing tasks, such as room searches or your booking process.

Comparison Site Test: Testing your website in comparison to your competitors is a good way to find out how your hotel site performs next to other sites. This is particularly useful with special function tests to find out why you are losing business to a competitor. For instance, testers might be asked to decide which three hotels they would most likely use for a wedding and why.

Questions to ask after a website usability test

website-usability-testing-for-hotels

Keep the test time to a maximum of 15 minutes. Any longer and you will already have the answer to your first question…your site is too complicated to complete tasks quickly. After the test, talk with the testers to discuss specific issues and find out their overall opinions or suggestions for your site:

  • How easy was the task?
  • How long did the task take?
  • Were you able to complete the task?
  • What problems were encountered?
  • Were there ways around the problem?
  • What did you like about the site?
  • What did you not like about the site?
  • What are your feelings about the site now?
  • Would you return to the site in the future?
  • What changes would you make?

Tracking and analyzing the data

After your website usability tests are complete, you should be able to easily identify which parts of your website need to be improved. Resist the urge to redesign your entire site. Otherwise, a new round of usability tests will need to be conducted to find new problems. Take a focused approach and fix small problems one at a time rather than trying to solve all of the problems at once. Perfection will never be achieved, but making small improvements over time should result in a better user experience for your guests and improved conversions for your hotel’s bottom line.

Nate Lane

Nate Lane

Nate Lane is a senior global director of business development, product development, and agency operations with 10+ years of experience driving growth and innovation as an "intrapreneur." He's an avid mountain biker, a coffee and craft beer enthusiast, and a proud family man. Contact him at nate.lane@pegs.com.

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