Demystifying Responsive Web Design for Hotels and Resorts

It’s common sense that today’s traveler has access to more information on-the-go than at any prior point in history. The mobile web – that is, the web viewed by smart phone or tablet – may soon dwarf traditional web browsing on a desktop, and in some industries it already does.

This is why it’s so important that your hotel website be designed for today’s travel searcher. With an endless wealth of information at their fingertips at all times, they’ve grown impatient with websites that are unattractive, difficult to navigate and which hide the most pertinent information and functionality when viewing on a mobile device. They want a better user experience.

The most popular solution you’ll hear on the digital marketing blogosphere today is to “go responsive.” But what is responsive web design? And is it really the cure-all it’s sometimes made out to be?

Let’s take a closer look at responsive web design for hotels and resorts.

What is Responsive Web Design?

Responsive Web Design refers to developing websites which adapt or “respond” to the user’s settings. These websites are built to accommodate several view sizes, from smart phones to iPads to several different desktop browser sizes. Adjustments may include changing the size of images and buttons, changing text size or changing the structure of a page. A well-designed responsive site will give users access to all or nearly all of a website in a form that is easy to read and use on most any device.

How is that different from having a mobile website? In general, mobile websites redirect users to another URL or webpage that is designed specifically for mobile browsers. This page may be designed to closely resemble the main site, or it may offer unique content and navigation. Responsive websites, on the other hand, don’t have mobile-specific URLs. They serve up the same content as the main site, because they are the main site. They’ve just been sized and adjusted according to the user’s settings.

Try a couple examples:

The Mills House – This website by Valet Interactive for the historic Mills House hotel in Charleston sizes down as you reduce your browser window. Go ahead and give it a try. Start with a maximized window, grab one corner, and then slowly reduce the size to see how the elements shift, step by step, from the full size website to a single-column, mobile friendly website.

theWit Hotel – This responsive site subtly removes obtrusive visual features as it sizes down. Pay special attention to the content overlay on the banner image and the four buttons beneath the booking calendar to see how they behave as the browser size changes.

responsive website design for hotels

hotel responsive web design

For more a more technical dive into the world of responsive design, check out this piece by Moz.

Good Things to Know about Responsive Web Design

If you’re considering a responsive website, here are some good things to know for before, during and after the initial web development process:

  • Work with Experts – Responsive web design is a complex approach to web development that requires considerable creative and technical skill, plus extensive review and quality assurance. Best practices and techniques are still being discovered all the time. Ask your web developer about their experience with responsive web design before choosing a vendor.
  • Development Can Take Longer – Responsive websites are actually several websites in one. Understandably, this can add to the amount of time it takes to design and build them. It may also add to your development cost. On the upside, these increases may be offset by your savings from not having to invest in a mobile website.
  • Simplicity is Better – Very complex, interactive or “busy” websites take poorly to responsive design, as do overly visual or image-heavy designs. Content-driven websites convert more easily to the various sizes and are more flexible for structure changes. They will also perform better in search. In fact, responsive web design has a lot of potential SEO benefits. See the next section for a closer look.
  • Simple Updates are Faster – If you have a mobile website, then you know how easy it is to forget your mobile website when updating your main site. And that’s a problem, because inconsistent and unreliable information about your hotel can hurt your bookings. When you have a responsive website, there’s no mobile website to babysit. When you update the copy on your main site, you update the copy that every user sees.
  • Test, Test, Test! – Your web developer should handle this for you, but it’s hard for a single development house to test every possible platform, even with browser-cloning tools available online. So, test your site! Try viewing it with different browsers or devices, smart phones and tablets. Try manually sizing it. Test the buttons and functionality. Make sure your booking features are still adequate. Minutes spent shortly after the launch of your site can mean thousands of dollars down the road.

Responsive Web Design and SEO

The culminating secret to good SEO, though it’s not easily achieved, is to give users what they want. If you give them what they want, they’ll stay on your site, and your site will do better in search. A responsive website is not an abridged version of your main site the way a mobile site would be. It’s your full site. That means there’s more information available to your users, which means it’s more likely you’re giving them what they want.

This is probably why Google recommends responsive websites and why Valet has seen a trend of improving performance in mobile searches among our responsive sites.

There are other potential SEO benefits making the case for responsive web design:responsive website design  and SEO

  • In-Bound Links are Aggregated – Unlike with a traditional main site-mobile site situation, a link to your responsive site is a link to your mobile site. They are one in the same. That means that your off-site SEO efforts have a higher likelihood of paying off in mobile as well.
  • There is No Duplicate Content – When you only have one site, you don’t run the same risk of duplicating your own content. While off-site content duplication is still something to keep an eye on, at least you won’t be shooting yourself in the foot.
  • Mobile Optimization is Automatic – Websites optimized for mobile tend to perform higher in mobile searches. With a responsive site, you are always optimized for mobile.

Be advised: it’s not uncommon for a hotel to differentiate its optimization between desktop and mobile users. Depending on the behavior of your mobile users, you may opt for a different keyword strategy on your mobile site. However, when you have a responsive website, this is not an option. All users are served according to the same keyword strategy. If you know that your desktop and mobile users search for different things, you may wish to build a mobile site instead of a responsive website.

Should I have a responsive website for my hotel?

The answer depends on your situation. If you are building your first website, or if you are budgeting to replace or majorly overhaul a current website, Valet strongly encourages that you consider going responsive. It’s how we have built the majority of our websites in 2013, and it’s our recommendation to most clients building a new website.

If, however, you already have a website you like and you are not looking to make a big change, upgrading your site to be responsive will likely prove cost-prohibitive. It is essentially rebuilding your website from the ground up, after all. At the very minimum, you should consider building a mobile site to complement your main site.

Notice the common denominator. Whether going responsive or building a mobile site, what’s most important is that you serve the mobile user. Whatever that means for your hotel, your digital marketing agency and your budget, it’s essential that you take actions to provide the best possible experience for your mobile users. Before long, they might be the majority of your business online, assuming they are not already.

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Steven Mayo is the Director of Client Services for Valet Interactive. He has over 8 years experience in marketing with a specialization in web content and content marketing. Off the job you'll find him brewing beer, listening to death metal and spending time with his family.