Blog category: webapp

Video of Bookassist’s hotel webapp on iPad

By Des O'Mahony | On Thu, November 04, 2010

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fqgjfTkwkEA?fs=1]

This is a highly-optimised touch-screen app which works in portrait or landscape mode for iPad. Automatically served to your hotel customers when they visit your hotel website on iPad.

Of course the customer always has the option of viewing the full hotel website instead by tapping the exit icon (shown here) on the screen at any time, just as in the iPhone/Android webapp.

As a live example, while on your iPad, visit m.moranhotels.com.

For more video, see bookassist.tv

Labels: webapp, mobile, ipad, booking engine

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Mobile strategy push by Apple - it’s the free one that counts!

By Des O'Mahony | On Wed, October 05, 2011

There’s been a lot of talk of “disappointment” at Apple’s announcement yesterday of the souped-up iPhone4s. Industry watchers and punters alike were of course holding their breath for the mythical iPhone5.

But it was not to be, yet. And in the noise about what does and what does not constitute a major upgrade, the true strategic push was missed.

Apple has made major under-the-bonnet changes to the new iPhone4s to sell at the premium price point, and yes the current iPhone4 stays on the books and gets a big price drop when taken under contract. But the real game changer is that the iPhone3Gs will continue to be available and will now be offered for free from the carrier networks for contract or pay as you go customers.

Apple’s premium products have not ‘til now been considered accessible enough to ruffle the cheap Android market. The free iPhone 3Gs could well be the thing that does it, bringing a boatload more users into Apple’s smartphone bracket that otherwise could not afford, but would have preferred, Apple.

The swelling of users on the platform is a good thing for the mobile sales potential for hotels through platforms such as Bookassist’s web app which is already representing over 5% of reservations through Bookassist systems.

Labels: webapp, mobile, apple, android

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Hotels - Ignore The Mobile Trend If You Dare

By Des O'Mahony | On Fri, May 03, 2013

Cris Petcu

“Mobile” is the word on everyone’s lips these days. Leaving the house in the morning without your smartphone causes panic, anxiety and worry that the day is ruined without it.

Mobile search in particular is surging in an upward spiral. The growth levels of search through smart devices have eclipsed all past search growth trends and provides a big opportunity to all businesses with an online element, and especially to those in travel.

Google studies have shown that mobile searches in travel have the third highest follow-up actions of any industry, which is a lucrative opportunity to be seized (only the auto and beauty industries have more). Hotels are a major part of this dynamic industry and are heavily affected by online trends. More and more hotel customers are going online everyday to check out latest deals, hotel locations, reviews and photos as part of their decision-making process, which means your hotel’s online visibility and presence on mobile is a vital point of contact. On April 11th, Booking.com announced on its website that mobile bookings had tripled year on year, proving that hotel customers are increasingly willing to book on-the-go.

With such high follow-up rates on mobile devices hotels need to provide their mobile visitors with mobile-centric information and show that they value and respect their visitors.

First impressions are very important and as mobile is fast becoming a hotel’s first introduction to their customer, mobile must be an integral part of online strategy.

Essential To Serve The Mobile Customer

In recent study carried out by Google (http://www.google.com/think/research-studies/creating-moments-that-matter.html) some critical information resulted that really hits home the importance of mobile search in the travel industry. Results showed that the majority of the travel-based searches carried out on mobile were done not in a downloaded app but in a browser. About 12% of those mobile searches generated a purchase, which is a phenomenal conversion result. Mobile-optimised websites can no longer be ignored.

More than one seventh of all travel searches on Google are via mobile. The reality for the hospitality industry is that, since it’s all about serving the guest, you cannot choose to ignore one seventh of your customers. It’s like telling every seventh person who walks into your hotel lobby that you’re not interested in their business. That would be commercial suicide, yet it’s essentially what many hotels are doing right now.

Another important factor to consider is that, according to Google, 81% of search coming through mobile is done for speed and convenience reasons. Mobile search is also responsible for pushing conversions through multiple channels as it can be the first point of contact between a hotel and customer before they action a booking. This means that there has never been so much evidence available to suggest that it is absolutely essential for hotels to provide focused, convenient and customised information to the mobile visitor as the potential value of this contact with the customer is huge.

Customised Mobile-Centric Websites or Responsive?

Mobile searchers are impatient and have specific needs compared with desktop users. A full website on a mobile screen does not service these needs so either the website must adapt or the approach must change more radically. A website needs to intelligently focus on the mobile visitor and provide them with what they are looking for - quickly, effectively and professionally.

Bookassist research has shown that the information sought by mobile users visiting regular websites, and their behaviour on websites, is markedly different from desktop users to the same websites. The popular and normally successful approach of responsive design, whereby the shape and layout of a regular website is adjusted to better match the mobile screen size, is not proving to be the best approach for hotels.

For example, based on tens of thousands of visits that Bookassist has tracked on hundreds of hotel websites, we developed our mobile optimised website (or webapp) approach for hotels to immediately offer the primary information needed for mobile users right on the front screen in prominent touch-friendly buttons - easy booking, special offers, photos, social media, maps and directions and call-now buttons - while still allowing users to access the full website if they need to, just one tap away. This filtering out of all the unnecessary information targeted towards desktop users is the key to success on mobile.

As most of a hotel’s mobile visitors come through search they should be automatically directed from the full website to a customised mobile optimised website, not presented with a question asking what they would like to do. Such questions are just a barrier to conversion, since the question may not be understood, or the language may be incorrect, or the user may simply be impatient and dismiss it and move on (we’ve all been there!). You need to provide the user with the best possible experience for the platform they are on, while allowing them later to easily switch if they wish. That’s why Bookassist’s soultion takes the decision automatically based on the screen size of the user.

Providing your mobile visitors with a mobile optimised website shows that you respect and value this growing profile of visitor. As proof of its success, the Bookassist mobile-optimised website platform recently took second place in the Eyefortravel Mobile Innovation Awards in San Francisco in March 2013 (//bookassist.org/mobile/).

Engage Your Direct Mobile Customer In The Right Place

Proper mobile search optimisation and mobile search marketing ensure that your hotel has the best opportunity to capture direct online business at the highest possible margin. Targeting mobile users with Pay Per Click (PPC) advertising has become a very important marketing tool in the process of mobile search and mobile sales. Google researchers have found that mobile PPC ads are most effective during goal-oriented searches, meaning when someone is ready to buy they are more likely to take interest in a mobile PPC ad then when they are not. Almost 59% of such goal-oriented people found that mobile ads were a useful resource at this stage of the decision making process.

Now Google is rolling out new Mobile Enhanced Campaigns, basically encouraging more and more advertisers to join the mobile PPC advertising space. As search levels are surging on mobile devices this should not be ignored and will be embraced by many of the big players in the industry who already have a strong PPC presence on mobile. This means that targeted mobile PPC campaigns and professional mobile-centric websites will be key components of online strategy and help drive the surging revenue potential from the mobile search space.

Never has the importance of presenting your brand with intelligent, customised and effective information for your mobile visitors been so clearly evident, and to back that up with mobile marketing that specifically targets your customer segments. Hotels were slow to embrace the internet 10 or 15 years ago and as a result lost ground in the space to large online travel agents, which dominate to this day. Now is the time to target and serve your direct customers on mobile.

Don’t miss the train this time. The evidence is out and is shouting, “All Aboard”!

Cristian Petcu is an Online Marketing Specialist with Bookassist (bookassist.com), the technology and online strategy partner for hotels.

Bookassist’s mobile website (webapp) solution for hotels. The platform was recently honoured on the world stage with a runner-up position against world-leading brands at the Eyefortravel Mobile Innovation Awards in San Francisco in March 2013.

Bookassist’s mobile website (webapp) solution for hotels. The platform was recently honoured on the world stage with a runner-up position against world-leading brands at the Eyefortravel Mobile Innovation Awards in San Francisco in March 2013.

Bookassist’s mobile website (webapp) solution for hotels. The platform was recently honoured on the world stage with a runner-up position against world-leading brands at the Eyefortravel Mobile Innovation Awards in San Francisco in March 2013.

Labels: webapp, traffic builder, strategy, social media, ppc, mobile, apps

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Mobile User Behavior Is Changing On Hotel Websites

By Des O'Mahony | On Wed, May 21, 2014

WebApp versus Responsive

There’s always been a strong discussion about whether responsive is really fit for purpose for hotels’ web and mobile presence, or whether a separate mobile-focused webapp and desktop/tablet website is better. A strong advantage of responsive sites is that the content is largely the same and managed in one place, it’s just adjusted physically to match different screen sizes or devices. This makes it easier to deal with for the hotel, and ensures a consistent image and brand projection across devices for the user and prospective customer. However, such an approach does not always take account of differences in user requirements and behaviour across different platforms. A strong advantage of webapps is that they are not tied to the structure, content or philosophy of the desktop website, and can focus much better on the mobile users’ specific needs. Webapps represent a good mobile-first strategy compared to a catch-all responsive strategy. Or certainly that was the case.

Responsive typically takes the same basic elements and alters their presentation or priority for different screen sizes or devices.
Responsive typically takes the same basic elements and alters their presentation or priority for different screen sizes or devices.

The Mobile User Is Different

In 2010, when Bookassist pioneered mobile solutions for hotels with direct booking capability, we launched a stand-alone webapp approach for hotels that operated quite separately from a hotel’s own website. (Throughout this article, I’m using mobile to refer to smartphone only, not tablet.) Our analysis of mobile traffic across hundreds of hotel websites at that time showed that users on smartphones had very different and more immediate demands to those users on desktop/tablet, which meant that responsive was not quite good enough as an approach. Our webapp system forwards a hotel website user on a smartphone to a dedicated webapp for the hotel, where the popular functions that mobile users want are immediately catered for:

  • location details for the hotel,
  • phone and contact details,
  • map,
  • routing,
  • same-day booking,
  • photographs.

Analysis showed that pages with large amounts of text were simply being ignored or quickly exited by mobile users. Their demands were quite specific and short term. We built (and build) our mobile approach based on analysing the user, not based on what we “thought” would be the best solution. As we approach mid-2014, our webapp solution (soon to be upgraded to WebApp V3) and the philosophy behind it continues to evolve to match mobile users’ needs. Our user research continues to track strong changes in mobile user behaviour. Mobile bookings for our hotels through their webapp platform continue to grow steadily, as shown below. But we have noticed very interesting trends and changes in mobile user behaviour.

Growth in mobile bookings in Bookassist's Dublin hotels
Growth in direct mobile bookings recorded in Bookassist’s Dublin hotel clients

The Mobile User Is Different?

Firstly, the mobile platform itself is evolving very quickly. You don’t need statistics to understand this - it’s clear to everyone that in the past 3 or 4 years, the market penetration of smartphones has been enormous. Screen size continues to grow, with Apple’s flagship iPhone 5s and iPhone 5c now among the smallest screen size in the top sellers (the upcoming iPhone 6 expected to address that issue). Screen quality and pixel density have both improved, meaning that more of the web is visible with clarity on a smartphone screen without scrolling. All of these physical device changes (see Appendix 1 below) mean that you undoubtedly find it increasingly easier and more comfortable to browse and work on your smartphone. As a result, user patterns on mobile and desktop are beginning to quickly converge and they do not show the kind of differences in behaviour that we saw just 2 or 3 years ago. Increasingly, catering for a different user behaviour (as distinct from screen size) across devices may now be less relevant than it was before. Secondly, smartphones are no longer new-fangled devices. Now, they’re normal, they’re everyday. People have grown used to them very quickly, and as a result people are using them more and more as everyday web access devices. Accordingly, the patterns of behaviour we are seeing on mobile are less different from desktop than they used to be in previous years. And our analysis of booking trends on mobile shows this evolution in stark terms.

Last-Minute Is Diminishing On Mobile

From a booking perspective, mobile has always been touted as a strong “last minute” channel, but again here we are seeing a clear shift in mobile user booking towards a more “normal” distribution. The portion of same-day bookings is clearly decreasing on mobile, from close to 30% in 2011 to less than 15% today in our figures. Long lead-in times are also becoming more prevalent, just like the typical desktop booking distribution. People are planning ahead on mobile, and booking ahead, more than ever before. It should be noted that last minute booking was very significantly swayed towards business travellers, and business travellers had a larger share of smartphones in the earlier years. But as the profile of bookers on mobile switches from business-dominant to everyday users, the result is a drop in the last minute portion of bookings on mobile.

Change in booking lead-in for Bookassist's hotels on mobile
Change in booking lead-in for Bookassist’s hotels on mobile

The trend is quite clear. Mobile user behaviour for hotel websites is approaching the norms of desktop user behaviour. The differences in behaviour are reducing as mobile phones evolve and users get more comfortable with their use for everyday online access. This is probably one reason why last minute mobile booking company Hotel Tonight are now also offering a look ahead service for rates up to 7 days in the future as reported on thenextweb recently - possibly pre-empting the increasing desire of mobile users to plan ahead.

Responsive Revisited

All of this of course is good news for responsive design. There will always be a need to ensure that responsive design takes note of the different requirements of users on each platform, not just the layout of information. But the data here does clearly show that those behavioural differences are rapidly diminishing to the point where they are very manageable with a single, well thought-out responsive solution across all devices. At Bookassist, our Web Design team now designs all websites for hotel clients on a smart responsive basis, while ensuring that key processes such as booking are genuinely optimised for the smaller screens and other limitations on mobile. This fuses the best of our knowledge on responsive design with our knowledge and experience of hundreds of hotels using our webapp platform. We continue to offer a strong dedicated and ever-evolving webapp solution for hotels who wish to retain their non-responsive website designs but need a proven, effective and award-winning mobile browsing and booking solution. Recent examples of our responsive approach are:

Appendix 1: Screens Are Growing

The following two figures illustrate the rapid change in screen size that has accompanied the growth in mobile phone usage online. From 2010 to 2013, mobile phones’ diagonal screen size has shot up by 38%, giving a far more useable area for the mobile user. More importantly, if you look specifically at browsing, the average screen size being used on mobile web has also grown in that period. So the devices themselves are growing, and browsing is increasingly making use of those larger screens.

Growth in average diagonal screen size (inches) on shipped devices to end 2013, from NPD Display Search.
Growth in average screen size (square inches) used on mobile web to mid 2013, adapted from 51Degrees.

The screen size issue is not the full story, as screen resolution has also seen a stark change, allowing more of a web page to be made visible on the same notional screen size, as illustrated below. While standard desktop monitors traditionally ranged 72ppi (pixels per inch) to 96ppi (and that is also changing with Apple’s Retina displays on its MacBook Pro line and the recent introduction of 4k monitors), mobile devices pack far more pixels into each inch than typical desktop displays do, and can therefore display much more on the same real estate. Mobile ppi figures on the popular smartphones are now in excess of 4 times the density of traditional desktop monitors, essentially cramming more of the visible web onto your screen. All of these physical device changes mean that it is increasingly easier and more comfortable to browse and work on smartphones, and so user patterns on mobile and desktop are beginning to quickly converge.

Screen pixels and pixel density in the top smartphones as of March 2014, adapted from Gizmag.

Dr Des O’Mahony is CEO and founder at Bookassist (bookassist.org), the award-winning technology and online strategy partner for hotels worldwide.

Labels: website, webapp, responsive, mobile, booking engine

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Google’s Mobile Update

By Des O'Mahony | On Sun, April 19, 2015

Google begins rolling out a mobile friendly search algorithm update on April 21, and expects to take a few weeks to complete the change. The purpose of the change is targeted at the fast-growing cohort of mobile users who use Google search and will highlight those sites in search results which are optimised for mobile viewing. A simple example is shown below, where Google is now inserting the “Mobile-friendly” tag into the page description of search results, in this case a Bookassist-designed hotel website with an optimised webapp.

While having the “Mobile-friendly” tag on search results for your website may or may not influence the searcher’s opinion on whether to access your information or not, the real issue is that over time those sites that are not mobile optimised will begin to drop in mobile search results. Given that, for many searches, Google local information already takes up half the screen, it’s not wise to allow your site result to drop any further than first or second position.

Also, there are no different degrees of friendliness - either your site is deemed to be mobile friendly or not by Google and you can’t influence that decision other than to meet their criteria.

You can check if your website is considered mobile friendly at this address:
https://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/mobile-friendly/

Note that ALL Bookassist-built responsive sites and mobile webapps are classified as “Mobile-friendly” by Google’s new search algorithm.

Labels: webapp, mobile, google

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