On a scale of 1 to 10, how important is your website to your travel business?
If your site were to disappear overnight, how would it affect your bookings? If your answer is anything like “not much,” then you're certainly missing out on business – and potential revenue.
Your website is your biggest marketing asset and the centerpiece of all your marketing activities. It’s the first place curious travelers and would-be guests turn to when they’re looking for more information on your brand’s vacation offerings. In fact, studies have shown that your potential guests can be as much as 57% of the way through their decision-making process before they’re ready to actually book on your website.
That means your greatest opportunity to influence their purchasing and booking decision lies in your website.
Your brand’s site SHOULD...
- Be recognized by stakeholders across your company as its top asset – Helping your company grow, scale and achieve its goals.
- Serve as your company’s top salesperson, working 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to acquire new leads and move people seamlessly through your Customer Value Journey.
- Collect real-time visitor insights, enabling you to engineer high-impact interactions, discover new opportunities to improve the guest experience and unlock new business opportunities – before your competitors do.
If your website does not do these things, then we have some bad news and some good news for you:
The BAD NEWS:
Your brand is one of the many victims of the dreaded “brochure” website syndrome.
The GOOD NEWS:
“Brochure” website syndrome can be cured. Here’s how...
Why “Brochure” Websites Don’t Work
Why do “brochure” websites fall short of helping your brand grow, scale and achieve its goals? Chalk it up to three primary factors:
- They don’t provide clear value for your online visitors
- They aren’t engineered to deliver a predefined value for your business
- They don’t change at the same pace as your business
Let’s take a quick look at some of the reasons why a “brochure” website (and quite possibly your website) doesn’t work or sell for you as hard as it should. Then, we’ll look at the factors that go into building a website that does drive company-wide value.
1. "Brochure websites" don’t provide clear value for your online visitors
Take a moment and think about the last website project you worked on. It probably went something like this:
First, you and your web development team brainstorm ideas for what you want the website to look like – referring to elements that you’ve seen and liked from other businesses, competitor sites, style preferences and maybe some technical specs that someone in the business says the website must have.
The new website is built in a vacuum by the development team over a period of many months.
Finally, after some back and forth with the development team, the website is tested for bugs, then launched. Everyone celebrates the launch of the pretty new website.
Then...they don’t look at it again for several months. Maybe even years.
Does any of this sound at all familiar? The thing is, websites today require a different mindset than what was traditionally used to build sites in the past.
Here’s the problem:
During that entire process, no one has considered the visitor motivation or actual user data to make decisions regarding the site’s design and function. As a result, the site may deliver on the team’s creative vision, but is at high risk of not delivering the value that your visitors and potential guests are seeking.
If you are building a site in hopes that it will get you customers, but it is not used by actual customers before completing its development, then it’s a safe bet that your new site’s performance will fall short of expectations. Maximizing your investment in your website is about moving the right people intentionally through the stages of your sales process.
People purchase your vacations and experiences for one reason and one reason only: TRANSFORMATION.
In order to build a peak-performing website, you must begin by gaining a deep understanding of WHO you serve best and WHAT is the TRANSFORMATION they seek.
How are you meeting their wants and needs?
You have to ask yourself: How is your site helping them move from their current, dissatisfied “Before” state…to their more desirable “After” state?
Maybe they are stressed out and are looking for a relaxing getaway; maybe they feel disconnected from their partner and need a romantic escape, or they could be seeking more quality time with their kids and need to feel adventurous during their family vacation.
Spending the time and energy upfront to explore the “Before” and “After” states of your potential guests will help you achieve crystal-clear positioning, messaging and content – so that visitors and search engines know exactly what value your business creates, and can extract that value quickly and easily.
You and your team may be tempted to skip this step, but don’t do it: If you skip this step, you are almost guaranteed to not achieve the level of impact you want from your brand website. What you build may look good and feel good, but it might not connect with your audience or build momentum.
2. “Brochure websites" aren’t engineered to deliver a predefined value for your business
More often than not, brochure websites aren’t planned and built in a way that can be directly linked to the business metrics and objectives your brand is trying to achieve.
The average small- to medium-sized business (SMB) website typically costs anywhere between $15,000 to $60,000+ to build out – that's a substantial up-front cost for most businesses.
Yet, traditional website development typically begins by looking at popular trends, competitors’ websites and dreaming up cool gimmicks you can use to make your site look and feel different. But, the performance goals for the business and the user’s wants are never addressed in the functionality that can be built in to help achieve them.
If that’s the case, how could you (or the agency you’ve hired) possibly know that your site will deliver on your business objectives after all of the time, money and resources you’ve invested?
Tying your site back to concrete marketing and business metrics is critical to building a peak performing site that everyone in your company values.
How do you measure that value?
At minimum, your site should work 24/7 to help achieve the following marketing and sales metrics:
- % New Visitors Converted Into Leads
- % Leads Converted Into Customers
- # of Return Customers
So that covers how to plan for your site to directly link to the business metrics and objectives your brand is trying to achieve. But that alone is not enough to ensure your website is built in a way that delivers on those metrics.
Building your site to deliver on business metrics requires creating opportunities that prompt visitors to take a clearly defined action – that you can track and verify.
When a visitor takes that defined action on your site, that’s called a CONVERSION. You can assign a value to each conversion based on the value it creates for your business, which enables you to more easily forecast and track how much your site is impacting the bottom line of your business.
For example, let’s say your business priority is to grow sales by a certain amount – and you’ve decided that increasing the number of marketing qualified leads would be the best way to accomplish this.
You might choose to populate your website’s home page with a call-to-action for a downloadable guide that takes the visitor to a landing page with a form that serves a “thank you” page after the form has been submitted.
Every visitor who makes it to that “thank you” page is a new lead for your business – and if every new lead is worth $20, then after 10 leads, you know your site has created $200 of value.
So a website that WORKS for you is a site that CONVERTS your visitors at planned points along the journey – allowing you to validate that your site is contributing to your business in the way you expect at all times. Or, if it’s not, you can make the appropriate changes needed.
3. "Brochure websites" don’t change at the same pace as your business
The only constant in life is change. The world is always evolving, shifting and changing. The market, companies, products, our competitors – the list goes on.
So...why wouldn’t your website change too?
While all marketers agree that their site is critical to business growth, a recent study shows that 42% of marketers say they only make impactful improvements to their site once (or not at all) each year.
That means that while the needs of your visitors – and your business – are changing rapidly and regularly, that “brochure website” remains the same.
Improving your site’s conversion rates by responding to these changes is one of the fastest revenue growth opportunities for your business today.
But unfortunately, it's not as simple as just throwing a "click here" button on your home page…and watching the leads pour in.
In order to maximize your revenue opportunity, you need to start investing in the continuous improvement of your website – in the same way you would invest in training and developing an employee.
The goal is to continuously collect real customer insights, engineer high-impact interactions, secure bookings, discover new opportunities to improve the guest experience and unlock new business opportunities – before your competitors do!
In a 2017 survey, it was reported that when companies invested in continuous improvement of their site, they realized 14% more visitors, 16.9% more leads, and 11.2% more revenue from their site – just six months after launch.
Imagine the impact that could be created over 12 or 18 months later!
Escape “Brochure" Website Syndrome
For these reasons and more, “brochure" websites are just flat-out a bad investment in today’s world. But getting on the road to greater engagement, enhanced bookings and increased online revenue is not as simple as just building a “better” website to take you there.
First, you have to recognize your site as the critically valuable asset it is: Your most valuable and versatile “employee” – helping marketing, sales and services all meet and even exceed their goals.
Then, you have to change the way you think about building and growing your company’s site.
Enter Growth-Driven Design. Growth-Driven Design (or GDD for short) is a smarter way of thinking about building and growing your site. The GDD approach strives to deliver on 3 basic principles:
1. Minimize risks associated with traditional website design
GDD seeks to avoid the risks of traditional website design by taking a systematic approach to shorten the time to launch, focusing on real impact and continuous learning and improvement.
2. Continuously learn and improve
The GDD approach ensures you’re continuously researching, testing and gaining insights about your visitors – informing improvements that can maximize the value created by your site. Through continuous improvements, we can reach peak performance.
3. Transfer learnings to marketing and sales
GDD is tightly integrated with marketing and sales. What we learn about visitors helps inform and improve strategies and tactics for both marketing and sales teams (and vice versa).
Whereas traditional site design would involve a new 3-6 month development cycle every few years, Growth-Driven Design involves building your site in stages – and continuously improving it over time.
By integrating the basic tenets of lean, agile development, the GDD approach minimizes many of the risks inherent in traditional site development – and transforms your site from a static and unproductive “brochure site” into a continuously improving revenue-generating marketing platform.
Here are the 3 stages of Growth-Driven Design, so you can get a better sense of how this approach helps you to avoid the costly pitfalls of “brochure websites.”
STAGE 1 – GROWTH PLAN
At this stage, you define the transformation your ideal guest seeks, along with how he or she can achieve it through your travel services, destinations or experiences. Then you create assets that enable him or her to extract value through your website. By mapping these assets into your Customer Value Journey, you’ll be able to create clear goals for those assets (that ladder directly up to your business goals) and track visitors’ interactions with them – so you can measure how well your site is working.
Here, we clarify priority business objectives and match them to deliverables that can be achieved through your website. This step ensures that your site will have a causal relationship with business results, no matter how much it contributes to them, because business objectives are informing its development from the start.
This stage lays the foundation for the GDD process using the following steps:
Define SMART Goals: What are your highest-priority business goals? How have you historically performed on those goals? What challenges could prevent you from achieving those goals? How do you plan for your site to help you achieve that high-priority business goal?
Define Personas: Growth-Driven Design centers around your site visitor, so it’s critically important to think deeply about who your visitors are, the “Before” and “After” transformation they seek from your travel products and experiences, and the jobs they need to get done (through your site) from the very beginning – as that will set the stage for all future activities.
A persona is a fictional representation of your ideal guest – the group of people that spends the most money with you and is most profitable for your brand. You can group visitors into personas based on common characteristics your audience shares – such as business or leisure traveler; solo, family or wedding traveler, etc.
Depending on how sophisticated your marketing research is, “detailed” personas can be more challenging than they are immediately useful. If this is the case for your brand, then honing in on the intent and context of your persona(s) will help get you started.
Here’s an example of what that might look like in the travel space:
Intent: Book a vacation
Context: So he can have a thrilling Adventure
Website & Analytics Audit: Now, it’s time to start digging into the data. First, align your web pages and metrics to your business objectives. Here's an example:
Page: Product Page,
Metric: Requests For Quote – Form Fills
Business Objective: Increase Sales By Generating More Qualified Leads
Next, review your analytics to determine the baseline performance for those pages on your existing site.
- Which pages are performing well?
- Which pages are performing poorly?
- Where are visitors scrolling, clicking and falling out of your journey?
- How are your lead-generation elements performing?
- How are your purchase elements performing?
As you go through this site audit, you’ll start to determine where there are opportunities for improvement that can be addressed through your future web work.
Now, if you’re transitioning from a “brochure" website, this audit may not bear much fruit. Why? Because in order to truly know what’s performing well and what’s not, you must have established a path of clearly defined actions for visitors to take on your site in the first place.
If that’s the case, start by auditing the steps in your sales journey. We like to use the Customer Value Journey roadmap from Digital Marketer. This is an immensely helpful tool because, as Peter Drucker said, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.”
Each step of the journey represents a progression from one page on your site to another – trackable events that enable you to set goals and measure the outcomes.
Here is a an image of the Customer Value Journey roadmap:
Once you have your roadmap completed, it's time for...
Fundamental Assumptions: Using what you’ve learned so far, you can start forming some fundamental assumptions about your site visitors and potential guests.
Some examples of fundamental assumptions include:
- Value propositions for each product, service and offer
- The various locations and devices users will be accessing your website from
- The “transformation” your visitors and potential guests are seeking
These fundamental assumptions will help you explain the behavior and problems your visitors are trying to solve. They will also be influential in your global strategy, page strategy and future improvement cycles.
User Research: After you’ve identified some of the areas of opportunity through your audit, the next step is to proactively reach out to your existing guests and site visitors to gain a first-hand understanding of how you can increase your site’s value for them.
In particular, learn more about the “transformation” they seek from your products, services and experiences; what content and features of your site are most helpful to their decision-making; which are least helpful; and what content and features are missing that would make it easier to realize the value they seek from your site.
As you’re collecting new visitor and guest research, it will help you validate the fundamental assumptions – and will likely provide you with additional information to also include in your assessment.
Global & Page Strategy: The last step in the growth plan phase is to develop both a global strategy for the overall site as a whole, along with an individual page strategy for each major page on the site.
Both the global and individual page strategies should incorporate the input from all of the previous steps and lay out specific project steps that will be taken in order to transform your “brochure website” into a peak-performing and high-booking “super salesperson” site.
Create your Wishlist
The next step in the planning process is creating your “wish list.”. This is a brainstorming session where you and your team will take what you’ve learned from your strategy planning and dream up every impactful, creative and innovative idea that you “could” implement through your site in order to help visitors and potential guests achieve the outcome(s) they seek to accomplish – also known as their “jobs to be done.”
This list should include ideas such as:
- Key impactful site sections and pages
- Marketing assets, tools and resources
- Specific features, modules and functionality
- Design elements and content
- Changes in experience based on devices, country, etc.
Generally speaking, your wish list items will fit within the following categories:
- Boost Conversions: The first category of wish list activities are those that are directly related to conversion rate optimization.
- Improve User Experience: Improvements to the site that provide your visitor and potential guest a better experience and make it easier for him or her to navigate, find what they’re looking for and solve their problem(s).
- Personalize to the Visitor: Adapting the site, calls-to-action, content offers, etc. to the specific visitor based on the data we know about them. This includes, but is not limited to, tailoring based on interests, persona, device, geolocation, referral source or previous actions on your site.
- Build Marketing Assets: Marketing assets are items that hold great value for your marketing program – such as email lists, social accounts, your blog, etc.
Build new marketing assets into the site such as tools, in-depth resource sections, online training, directories, etc. – essentially, any item that will provide great value to both your visitor and your company.
- General Website Updates: Of course, there are going to be general site updates that come up from time to time. These can always be added to your wish list as well.
Don’t get hung up on your existing website during the wish list process. Think about what items should be on the list to achieve your goals in an ideal world if money, time and development skill were not an issue. After a few hours of brainstorming with the team you should have a list of 50-75+ ideas for the new website.
However, not all of these items will be implemented right away.
Your wish list will serve as the source of ideas for improving your site’s performance. Remember, it is also a “working list” that you may add to and subtract from continuously, over time based on user data and new needs.
STAGE 2 – LAUNCH PAD
At this stage, you design and build out the most important pages (not all of the pages) of your site – and launch it quickly to start observing how visitors interact with your site's core elements. By building your site in stages, you get the opportunity to identify what’s working and what’s not – and make improvements before your site re-design is finalized. Your “Launch Pad” is not a final product, but rather a prototype that is used to collect real-time performance data that informs the continued development of the new site.
The purpose of the Launch Pad is to hone in on the essential 20% of website elements that will make an impact and can be launched quickly so you can continue to learn about your visitors and improve the site in the next stage.
This is not the “final” version of your site, and is not meant to be “perfect.”. It will, however, be more performance-oriented than your current site, so don’t allow your team to get stuck on things like analysis, features or content while building your Launch Pad. Your Launch Pad website is the starting point from which your website development will continue, incrementally, as insights about how web visitors interact with its elements are collected.
The size and complexity of your Launch Pad will vary depending on the type of site you have and the action items that derive from your wish list.
Run an 80/20 Analysis on Your Wish List
At this point, it’s time to start sorting and prioritizing your wish list items. This way, you can determine which should become “action items” for your launch pad website.
Review the list with your entire team and identify the 20% of items that will produce 80% of the impact and value for your site’s visitors. Once you’ve identified those core 20% of items, pull them to the side and do some additional filtering by asking yourself the following question:
Is this action item...
- A “must have” or just a “nice to have”? If you answer “nice to have,” then it will return back to the wish list.
Then, with the remaining items, ask yourself:
Is this action item…
- Absolutely necessary for the initial Launch Pad site? Or could we build it into the site down the line?
The goal of asking these additional questions is to really narrow your focus down to the core, “must have” action items and pages that will provide the greatest impact. This way, you can quickly launch and start testing your new site on visitors.
Create Hypothesis Statements for Each Core Action Item
Once you have narrowed your list of action items for your launch pad website down to the core 20% “most impactful” items, you then create a “hypothesis statement” for each action item.
The hypothesis statement helps us stay “clear” about how each action item relates to the persona we’re focused on, the performance metric we’re trying to move and the desired performance result.
The following is an example hypothesis statement:
Hypothesis Statement for [Action Item]
For [Marketing Mary] visiting the [Pricing Page], we believe changing [Enterprise Pricing] into [Request a Quote] will [boost MQL conversion by 10%]
We believe this to be true because [research or previously validated assumption].
Expected Impact + Effort Required + Metrics Measured + Definition of Complete
At the bottom of each statement, there are four important items:
- Expected Impact: The impact value should be a single number based on the value the visitor will get from the action item and the impact that will have in moving toward your goals.
- Effort Required: The effort required should also be a single number that represents the combination of the number of hours, resources and difficulty to implement that particular action item.
- Metrics Measured: What specific metrics will you need to measure to test this specific action item and evaluate if your hypothesis was correct? The more specific the metrics, the better.
- Definition of Complete: What are all the steps you need to complete in order to consider this action item complete? Defining this up front is important, as it will erase any “gray areas” that may arise later down the road when reviewing results or efficiency.
Implement Web Development Steps
Once you’ve identified the most critical pages and action items you must include on your Launch Pad site, you should run those items through the website development process. These steps include:
- Messaging & Content
- User Experience (UX) & Site Architecture
- Inbound Marketing Strategy Alignment
- Mood board and Design Comps
- Quality Assurance (QA) and Testing
- Launch and Post-Launch QA
Set Up Data Collection
The last step in successfully building out your Launch Pad involves setting up both qualitative and quantitative data collection around:
- Your goals as defined in the strategy phase
- Each of your fundamental assumptions, and…
- Each hypothesis statement of your action items implemented in the launch pad website
Setting up data collection and implementing the required tech into your CMS is an important step, as it allows you to start learning about your visitors once your Launch Pad site is live and active.
Now we are ready to move on to Stage 3 – Website Optimization.
Just Launched a New Website?
Have you recently launched a website but want to implement the Growth-Driven Design continuous improvement model? If so, that’s great! You can use your current site as your Launch Pad and move right to Stage 3: Website Optimization.
STAGE 3 – WEBSITE OPTIMIZATION
After rolling out your Launch Pad, you’re ready to start your continuous improvement cycles. At this stage, design assumptions that went into your “Launch Pad” site are validated by user research collected through real-time experiments, then improved upon over time. Research findings are used to determine which elements are most and least impactful, so you can scale those that are high-impact and modify or eliminate those that aren’t.
This stage revolves around Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO).
Achieving peak performance for your site lies in continuous improvement sprints.
This entire cycle begins with and revolves around the personas for whom you are optimizing the website experience – and their interactions on your Customer Value Journey.
Therefore, at each stage of the website optimization cycle, we must ask ourselves how this relates to and provides value to the personas visiting your site. If it ever becomes unclear how an action item provides value to or relates to the persona at any point, you must take a step back and re-evaluate exactly what you’re working on.
OPTIMIZATION CYCLE STEP 1: PLAN
First, you review your wish list, prioritize the most impactful items and plan to implement the top ones into your current sprint cycle.
Review Website Performance vs. Goals: Review the current performance of your new site and contrast that to the goals you’re trying to achieve. Gaps represent potential opportunities for improvement.
Collect Additional Data or Research: There is often additional data and research you may need in order to help clarify what action items you should add to your wish list.
Review Learnings from Marketing & Sales: Connect with the marketing and sales teams and see what key items they learned about the user since your last cycle.
Brainstorm New Wish List Ideas: Based on the current information at your disposal, hold another brainstorming session to determine any new action items that should be added to the wish list – and also delete any items that no longer qualify.
Prioritize Your Wish List: Once you have all the new items added to the wish list, you can then prioritize all the action items based on the impact (High/Medium/Low) they will have on both the business goals of your site and the value created for the site visitor.
Plan sprint cycle: Armed with an updated and prioritized wish list, you can choose which action items will be most impactful to implement in this cycle.
The number of items you pick will depend on how long the cycle is. You’re better off picking less items and really focusing on doing your best work with them. If you happen to complete them early, you can always go back to your wish list and pick more.
OPTIMIZATION CYCLE STEP 2: BUILD
In the BUILD step, you and your team get together to start completing each action item that you added to the current sprint.
Each action item you implement should be treated like an experiment to determine the impact it has on the performance of your site. To measure your experiments, you must create validation parameters for the performance metrics tied to each action item.
After your experiment is pushed live, you may want to develop a traffic campaign (social, PPC, blogging, etc.) created specifically to drive traffic to that section of the site. This way, you can immediately start collecting data.
During the build phase of the cycle, you will create and schedule that marketing campaign with your marketing team.
OPTIMIZATION CYCLE STEP 3: LEARN
After your experiments have had enough time to run and collect data, you can move to the LEARN phase. In this step of the process, you review and analyze the information you collected about your site visitors and potential guests.
Based on the information you collected, you can validate or disprove your hypothesis. Did your change have the impact you expected? Why or why not? What insights about your site visitors have you gained from these results? Did you learn anything about them that you didn’t know before?
Once you’ve documented the results of your experiment and the insights you gained about your site visitors, you’ll need to publish that information in a central location that’s accessible to everyone in the organization. Having a structured system for publishing your findings provides a great reference for the future – especially in the event that you need to look for trends or look up previous experiments.
OPTIMIZATION CYCLE STEP 4: TRANSFER
The last step in the cycle is to transfer any impactful information you’ve learned in your cycle to other parts of your business.
Take time to review the insights you gained from each experiment in your sprint and brainstorm how they might be useful for others. Review previously completed experiments to see if you can find any additional patterns leading to insights about your site visitors.
Once you’ve gathered your recommendations for others within the organization, host a meeting to share your findings with them and brainstorm ways they can integrate and transfer these ideas into tactical action items within their own departments.
Once you’ve completed the cycle with a set of action items, it’s time to start planning your next cycle.
And so the cycle repeats itself – each time with a greater end result and additional insights about your visitors and potential guests. The more cycles you can complete, the more impact your site will ultimately provide.
Congratulations, you have escaped “Brochure” website syndrome!
In the past, you have almost certainly experienced some of the risks and pitfalls inherent in the traditional website design process – and may have even come to expect them as part of the redesign process.
But the reality is these drawbacks are completely avoidable – if you simply take a step back and re-evaluate both the way you think about the role of your existing site and the way you approach building and growing your site into the future.
Companies who are adopting the Growth-Driven Design methodology are finding major success in the flexibility and results they are obtaining. For example, a 2017 survey found that companies that invested in continuous improvement of their site saw:
- 14% more visitors
- 9% more leads and
- 2% more revenue from their site
All just six months after its launch – Imagine the impact that could be created 12 or 18 months later with continuous data-driven improvement!
Is it time for you to adopt a smarter approach to your travel website?