One of the most important areas to invest time into is developing the persuasive layer of your online experience and deliver more reasons for your visitors to do what you want them to do.
In fact, I see persuasion as being one of the next big battlegrounds online.
As more websites are upping their game around the fundamentals of good user experience and usability principles they’re looking for the next area of growth and to gain competitive advantage.
One brand I’ve paid particular attention to since 2009 has been Booking.com. I previously wrote a piece back in October 2011 about the wide range of persuasive techniques used on its search results page.
Since then Booking.com has continually evolved and refined its online experience, adding in new features, functionality and in particular using even more persuasive techniques.
In this article, which is the first in a series, I’ve highlighted many of these newer features and provided tips and advice on how to apply these techniques to your business.
Social proof demonstrating most recent bookings
On the right-hand side of the homepage Booking.com dedicate a full section to showcasing recent bookings from other visitors.
As you will see throughout the online experience, showcasing social proof is a hugely influential technique that Booking.com use and it starts with the homepage.
If you aren’t yet using social proof to provide credibility to your service or products, test introducing voice of customer insights onto your homepage.
Clarity of what you are here to do
One thing is absolutely clear, when you arrive on the Booking.com homepage, you are here to search for hotels.
The big, prominent and quite simple search area shouts out ‘start here’ to the visit from the moment they land on this page.
If you could get visitors to do one thing from your homepage, what would this be? How clear is this currently on your homepage?
Re-assess the prominence of content and calls to action on your homepage to see whether you can get a higher percentage of visitors doing the one thing you would love them to do.
Clarity of the proposition under the primary search title
Booking.com recognises the opportunity to provide a simple succinct brand proposition message directly under the search title.
Straight away, visitors get a clear understanding of the volume of hotels available and the range of accommodation types. Not too bad in one short sentence.
Consider adding in a short one liner under your primary page title which provides visitors with an immediate understanding of your proposition and why they are in the right place.
Answering primary user questions in a prominent place
Under the search facility Booking.com has chosen to present visitors with one USP (accompanied by the simple but highly effective tick to demonstrate this is a positive statement) which aims to address two primary visitor questions:
- When will payment come out?
- What if I want to cancel?
You’ll no doubt have a range of unique selling points that you would like to put in front of your visitors.
Using both qualitative and quantitative research you’ll be able to get an understanding of which of your USPs resonate most with either first time or returning customers.
The next step is to split test the messages which appear to resonate most with visitors through your research, with the aim of identifying the one USP message that has the biggest impact on your conversion rate.
Providing a large area dedicated to promoting their USPs
In addition to highlighting one primary USP under the search facility, Booking.com also features a whole area dedicated to its key benefits, and even heads up this area with the title “Why use Booking.com?”.
Looking down the list of benefits really does feel like the site is tackling all the major areas that visitors may have questions on.
Look at your top five most popular pages on your website and ask the question “how well (or not) are we communicating our USP’s to visitors?”.
I rarely see online experiences where the business has chosen to dedicate a significant amount of their homepage to showcasing a list of their primary USPs.
Often brands appear a bit shy in shouting about some of the reasons why customers choose to use them and not one of their competitors. Don’t be one of these businesses!
Recognising the credibility that comes from external review sources
As you go further into the site it’s clear that Booking.com has invested significantly in gaining customer reviews on a per hotel basis.
In fact, it probably has the largest volume of customer reviews that I have ever come across. Well, apart from Ebay seller reviews!
This is of course fantastic, influential persuasive content, but Booking.com also recognises the importance of providing visitors with independent review scores, in their case from review centre.
Are there independent review sources that you can you use within your online experience to provide some impartiality around customer feedback on your business, products and service?
If there is, test using this content, including the logo of the review source to enhance visual recognition.
My original article back in 2011 looked in detail at the wide range of persuasive techniques that Booking.com uses on the search results page.
Below I have listed out some of the primary additions it has made since then which are providing more reasons for visitors to consider making their booking here rather than on a competitor’s website.
A demonstration of the volume of rooms reserved for this date and location
On most search results pages you now get a panel which says what volume of rooms have already been reserved in this location on your chosen dates.
Depending on the user’s state, this can either provide social proof of the popularity for the area which they are looking at or a sense of urgency by showing how few hotel rooms are left , not that Booking.com is shy in trying to encourage visitors to act already!
Is there a key metric or usage-insights around your service or website which you can bring to the surface to act as a form of social proof or show scarcity?
If there is, test introducing some content which displays this information to see if it has a positive impact on your primary conversion metric.
Visibility of how popular hotels are with other visitors
Another new addition to the search results pages is (another) icon, this time a cute little heart.
The inquisitive part of me wondered what this meant so I swiftly moved my mouse cursor over the icon to see what the heart and number was demonstrating.
As it turns out, it shows how many people have added the property to their wish list. Another tick in the social proof techniques box.
Look beyond simply providing a list of popular products or “Top 10 most viewed items”.
On a product by product basis are there any purchase or intent to purchase numbers which you can bring to the surface to demonstrate the popularity of certain items?
ASOS would be a prime candidate for this with its highly prominent and integral ‘my saved items’ feature. Having heard first hand that “we have literally hundreds of thousands of saves a day” perhaps using this data to demonstrate which are the real on trend or popular products would be interesting to test.
The ability for visual filtering
Visual filtering techniques on product listing and search results pages, is one that I’ve only really seen ASOS provide (for quite a long time too, kudos).
It gives visitors the option to ‘hide this brand’ so if you’re browsing through lots of products, rather than only being able to filter which brands you would like to see, visitors can choose to hide certain brands they aren’t interested in.
Quite recently Booking.com has started providing visitors with the ability to hide certain hotels that you aren’t interested in. I can see this being a particularly popular technique more for ‘power users’ who spend a significant amount of time browsing, filtering and sorting hotels to get exactly what they’re looking for.
I’ve been there myself, keep seeing a hotel in search results that I know I would never book for one or many reasons.
If your website provides visitors with lots of choice consider techniques beyond the standard filtering experience which can empower users and give them control over the content or products they are presented with and have a greater chance of finding what they want.
Image gallery exploration at an early stage
Another key feature that Booking.com has introduced is the ability for visitors to cycle through hotel images whilst still on the search results page.
Quite a few retailers are now adopting this approach, providing visitors with a richer understanding of the product or service, without having to click through to the product page and then back to the search results.
There are a number of ways to use this technique; whether using quick view overlays or simple image changes as users hover over a product image.
If your website provides visitors with lots of choices, consider using this technique to allow users to have more control over the filtering processes with the addition of images on the search results page.
Hotel detail page and the booking process
In my next article I will be providing a detailed review of the persuasive techniques used by Booking.com on both the hotel detail page and within the all-important booking process.
Questions for you
- What persuasive techniques do you use to encourage visitors to take action and why?
- Which other websites do you feel could have the title of “the most persuasive website in the world?”
- How much is too much when it comes to using persuasion techniques? Do you feel that Booking.com are trying too hard to persuade people to book with them?
Thank you very much for taking the time to read this article, and please do add your comments. Also don’t forget to look out for part two in May…
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