SIMBA Session 2: Creating a Website with a Professional Look and Feel
Principles of Good Web Design
The value of a web site for a travel professional is real. Many continue to operate without a web site and even if they have one, without due consideration for basic design and marketing principles. However, consumers expect business operators to have a web site and the real question is more often the role the website will play in the overall marketing plan of the travel agency. The recent ASTA report titled 2013 Technology & Website Usage revealed some travel professionals using a Facebook page in lieu of a website indicating a degree of confusion about the role of both a Facebook page and a website in a marketing strategy. It’s worthwhile to again consider the role of a website in marketing your travel practice.
Every good marketing effort begins with a fundamental strategic assessment, and web site marketing is no different. Having a web site without a strategic purpose in mind is worse than not having a web site. Your web site represents your business – it is marketing on your behalf 24 hours a day. It is important, therefore, that it speaks your marketing message accurately and clearly. It will many times be the first place consumers will turn to learn more about you and your travel agency. If your web site does not accurately portray your company’s core marketing message, you will confuse and lose many potential clients. To properly represent your business on the web requires preparation and a strategy that is well developed.
Start with your core message – the story of your agency or travel practice. Your site should revolve around you and your travel practice. Who are you? What is your fundamental reason for being a travel consultant, and how will you project your brand image through your web site? Is your marketing message personal service? Luxury? Insight? Price? It is all too easy to send a mixed message unless you adhere closely to your core marketing message. A list of cheap travel specials, dozens of supplier logos or a heavy emphasis on a booking engine does not project a message of personalized service. The axis between message and presentation has to be clear and consistent.
Next, consider your site’s viewers. Who are your target clients? What will bring them to your site? What will make them stay? What will make them return? Will your site be for existing clients to use or for new prospects? Both? Will you include “specials” or drive your viewers to a personal contact? Do you have solid content providing insight into your areas of expertise? Be sure to translate your “features” into client benefits. Been in business for 20 years? What does that mean to your client? Let them in on the benefits of doing business with you.
A quick trip around travel agency websites will reveal a wide variety of quality. With all of the do-it-yourself tools available, many agents launch out on a web site project totally on their own. Many actually pull it off. However, the ease with which a web site can be built should not lead you to the immediate decision to build your own. Again, consider your core message. If an image of professionalism is important to your core marketing message, then your website must reflect that value as well. Therefore, give strong consideration to employing a professional web designer to assist you in the planning and building of your site.
Spend a lot of time reviewing other sites during your research phase. Look for elements of design and content that you feel will appeal to your demographic. A good site is a combination of both form (layout and design) and function (content and information). Bookmark favorite sites, do screen captures and show your designer what you like and explain the rationale. The more specifically you can explain your strategic objectives, the more clear the final product will be.
Finally, think long and hard before you attempt to duplicate the approach used by the mega-online agencies like Travelocity and Expedia with booking engines, “deals” and discounts. You can’t compete with OTAs on their turf – price. Remember, the OTAs sell travel, but your product is YOU and your agency. Consider heading in the completely opposite direction: personal service, expertise, consultation. On that ground the OTAs can’t compete with you.
A web site is your most dynamic marketing tool outside of your own personality. For better or for worse, it will represent your company every minute of every day. Don’t settle for a quick and easy solution. Have a well-thought plan and execute it with the best tools available to you. Begin with your core message and build from there. The final product should walk and talk identically to the way you present your agency in person.
The User Experience
Key to your site is the user experience. The visitor to your site must feel comfortable on the site and easily understand what is being offered and how to find the content he is seeking, even if that content exists off site in a conversation with you. They key elements of the user experience are:
Proper use of space;
Clear navigational system;
Clean, concise copy;
Good color palette;
Strong photography and video
Naturally some of the items above spill over into the topic of content, but for now let’s concentrate more on the look and feel of the website. There should be a sense of coherence and balance to the site and its constituent elements.
Good designers start first with a plan, often using a “wire frame” of the site, which is a drawing of what each page will look like. Often a designer will utilize paper cut-outs representing columns of text, graphics, photograph and other images and will lay the cut-outs on a table to easily re-arrange the elements.
Importantly, the start of the process is the goal of the site and what the user experience should be. Naturally this means the general type of content should be known from the outset. Will there be text, images, videos, and other types of content should be itemized to be able to visualize placement.
Proper Use of White Space
A well designed website will make generous use of “white space”. This is the portion of each page without graphic or textual elements: margins, gutters and space between columns, lines of type, graphics, figures or other elements. White space allows the viewer to focus on the other page elements and makes the design readable and easier to understand. White space is sometimes referred to as negative space, and though called white space it can be of any color.
Here is an excellent use of white space in a web page design you have seen many times: Google’s search page.
The Google search page is, in fact, mostly white space, allow the visitor to focus on the functionality of the search tool. A good idea during the design phase is to leave lots and lots of whitespace on the page between the elements and to slowly move the elements closer together until a sense of balance is achieved. Your goal is to eliminate clutter, achieve balance and group sections on the page that compliment and easily flow into one another. You can use white space in conjunction with bold text, titles and bullet points to assist visitors to scan a page quickly to determine if the page holds interest for them.
Here is a well-designed web page making great use of white space. Note how clearly defined all of the elements are and how balanced and comfortable the page feels. Your goal is to eliminate clutter, achieve balance and group sections on the page to logically flow together.