Some hotels may be doing everything right, but are still seeing a high proportion of customers leave their direct channel without completing their booking. When many hoteliers are working hard to attract high volumes of traffic to a beautiful website, and 87% of guests are visiting the hotel’s own website at some point on their purchasing journey, an industry average conversion rate of 2.2% may feel like a kick in the teeth. What are hotels doing wrong?

While some websites may be plagued by slow site speeds or a poor user experience, high bounce rates are a challenge that eCommerce businesses face across industries. New surveys have shown that 92% of online consumers do not intend to buy anything on their first visit to a website, and only 4% of all visits result in a purchase. Hotels are fighting against the odds here - especially as room bookings require a far greater investment in money, time and commitment than many other products.

That being said, not all searchers who leave a website are a lost cause. By analyzing user behavior, psychological traits and typical booking patterns, hotels are able to identify not only why people are leaving prematurely and how to stop them, but also how to win the most valuable guests back.

Which visitors are worth winning back?

Every user that visits your direct website inherently has a certain likelihood to convert. While the user experience of your website, the quality of your reviews and the effectiveness of your content all play a part in a user’s decision, there will always be visitors to your website that have absolutely no intention to book your hotel. There may be a myriad of reasons behind this - for example, they may be indulging in ‘wanderlust’ despite being unable to afford your rates, or they might live locally and want to check out your restaurant menu. Ultimately, it’s not worth expending too much energy on these people beyond leaving the best possible impression on their first visit, in case circumstances change.

On the other side of the spectrum, a user may be completely set on booking your hotel there and then. If they’re dropping off at this point, it’s most likely your own fault. Being as clear and transparent as possible on your terms, services and most importantly prices is key - according to the Baymard Institute, 60% of online shoppers abandon their purchase at the last minute because of unexpected extra costs. A slick website experience is still needed to seal the deal, but it’s not a case of trying to win over these visitors. Instead, you’re just trying to make sure they’re not scared away.

Google Analytics is a fantastic (and free!) tool that can help you see not only your bounce rate, but also how users are interacting with your website.

It’s actually the users in the middle, those who haven’t yet made up their minds, who are the most important to focus on during the booking journey. This group is also the most complex, and each individual user may have their own reasons as to why they’re not yet entirely convinced. They may still be researching the best place to stay, or they could be decided on your hotel but leave as they want to explore other deals across the internet. However, everyone who fits in this category shares the same fundamental quality: they have a genuine interest in staying at your hotel.

By utilizing data on who these users are, how they’re interacting with your website and how they compare against existing guest information, you can create a persona around those who have potential booking intent. Rather than expending resources on users who have already made up their mind and will be far harder to persuade, focusing on this group means you can concentrate your efforts on bringing back and convincing those who are closest to converting.

The psychology behind successful retargeting

Hotels aren’t powerless once a user has left their website, but you can’t just lie down and wait for them to return. Retargeting this ideal group of users with advertisements that convince them that booking your hotel direct is the best option is crucial - not only get them to click through and complete their purchase, but also to sow the seed for when they book in the future. Being able to show prospective customers that your hotel offers the best price direct, even after they’ve left to explore other options, is incredibly effective at expediting their decision-making process.

Retargeting is an essential part of the customer journey, and needs to make the most of data from across your acquisition and conversion tools to be truly effective. (Source: Hubspot)

But one ad on its own won’t make the difference. There’s extensive psychological research to suggest that repetition of a message is key to persuading someone to book. Marton Jojarth, Director of Commercial Operations at Google Cloud, suggests that repeating a message leads to familiarity, which then leads to a preference in the brand that is being shown. Notably, the ‘mere-exposure effect’, developed by social psychologist Robert Zajonc in the 1960s, suggests that users may not even be aware of this; the repetition causes them to show a subconscious predisposition towards the brand.

Of course, there is a limit to the number of times users can see an ad before they start to get annoyed. The ideal amount of exposure, coined the ‘effective frequency’ within advertising circles, has been debated for years, with sources ranging from three exposures all the way to 20 and beyond - and that’s without considering the cost of such a campaign. Not all touchpoints are created equal, however, and hotels need to know not only who and how often to retarget users, but also where these ads appear.

Optimize your website experience

Winning a user back is only half the job - after all, if they bounced in the first place, there’s still a chance they could bounce again. You need to make it as smooth as possible for the customer to progress through the purchasing journey, and this means considering the user experience at every step of the way. Beyond all else, the performance of your site is key. Your website should be clearly signposted, easy to navigate and quick to explore across all devices. With studies suggesting that 55% of visitors spend less than 15 seconds actively on a page, you don’t have long to convince them. If that precious time is wasted on waiting for assets to load, it’s only going to exacerbate your bounce rate further. Your website also needs to be responsive; if it doesn’t pass Google’s mobile-friendly test, you need to go back to the drawing board.

On-site conversion tools are also a fantastic resource for providing that extra motivation for the user to book. Presenting the most compelling offers, deals or services in the form of a pop-up message directly to the visitor means they don’t need to discover these deals themselves later in the user flow, and even showing when rooms are close to selling out adds another potential catalyst to the decision-making process. Best of all, showing exclusive bonuses via an exit message when it seems a visitor is likely to leave is a good way of giving them pause for thought about booking elsewhere.

Exit messages can actually intercept users who may be considering leaving, and provide a final reminder of why they should be booking direct.

Above all else, hotels need to test, iterate and improve on everything they do. From each personalized message to every retargeting ad, hotels need to be analyzing what is working and what isn’t, and use this to drive the evolution of their acquisition and conversion strategies. As the competition continues to grow, there is an even greater chance that guests will not be coming back after their first website visit. Hotels cannot stand still and grow complacent; they need to fight harder and smarter in winning users back to their website, and then ensure that the next time they leave, it’s as a satisfied buyer.