What we will cover
Creating the design is the easy part in a web design project. The hard part is creating the content to plug into the design. Yet it is the content that is most important and what speaks to the visitor. This is why we always start by identifying the types of guest that we would like to target, then produce the right content that our potential guests can relate to. Finally we wrap this inside a design that fits both the audience and the content.
I’ve broken this process of research, information gathering and creation down into eight steps. Some might take a few minutes to complete, others will take a little time. We're working on a worksheet and checklist that will help you work through this guide and keep track of your progress. Drop us an email and we will send you a copy once it is ready.
The first thing we want to do is get to know ourselves, our business and our strengths. We also want to identify our ideal guests and see how we can best serve them while also differentiating ourselves from the competition.
If you are already a Chalet Engine client, we may have discussed this on our kick-off call, but it is really worth spending some more time here as everything we do in the subsequent sections is built upon what you discover about yourself and your potential guests. Here are a few high-level questions to get you started.
2. Your Domain Name
Choosing the right domain name is extremely important for so many reasons. There are many articles online to help guide you in the right direction and I strongly recommend that you watch Rand Fishkins short video here
When I’m looking for that perfect domain name, I like to start by listing all of my ideas, words and phrases, then try putting them together to create something that works. Thesaurus.com is useful for trying to find alternative words. Once you have a list of potential domain name ideas head over to hover.com to see what is available.
3. Login Details
If you already have your domain and other services set up, it will be useful to pull all of your various login details together in one place for things like
- Domain registration and DNS management
- Your existing website (if you have one)
- cPanel, FTP or phpMyAdmin - These are parts relevant to an existing website and can be useful
- Email marketing and list management websites (for example Mailchimp, Constant Contact, Aweber etc.)
- Listing websites, Tripadvisor, AirBnB etc.
- Google search Console and Google Analytics
Wait a minute, doesn’t marketing come after the website is launched? Well, mostly I would agree that the bulk of your marketing plan will spring into action after launch, but when it comes to creating a website, we like to begin with the end in mind.
Many websites are launched with the notion of ‘Build it and they will come’. Sadly, this doesn’t work on the web. You can have the best business and website in the world, but if you don't have a plan for how you are going to market it, you will struggle to drive visitors to your website and make bookings.
At Chalet Engine, we follow the idea of a hub and spoke model. At the centre is the your website (the hub). Surrounding it are all of the channels that we can use to promote your business, but their primary purpose is always to bring those visitors back to your website. The name 'channel' is marketing lingo for referring to methods or platforms by which you can promote your business. Examples of channels might be Facebook, Twitter, listing websites, SEO, advertising, email marketing etc.
Why place your website at the centre? The reason we do this is because this is the one asset that you own and control. Channels such as social media networks and listing sites rise and fall in popularity over time. Many of the original social networks have even disappeared. Remember Myspace, Friendster or Bebo?
Building a business that focuses around a Facebook page, or an AirBnB or Homeaway listing is like building a house on someone else's land. They own your listing and your content. They can and will change the rules over time. Some of the biggest names have already introduced new fees, actively removed references to personal websites and discourage the use of brand names to make it difficult for owners to attract bookings outside of their platform.
Having your own slice of the internet means that you can build on your asset’s credibility and authority in your resort. At the same time, directing visitors back to your website with a balanced portfolio of channels that perform. If a channel disappears or begins to fade in popularity, all is not lost. Because you didn't ’bet the farm’ on that channel’s success, you can re-focus your efforts on alternative channels and take advantage of new opportunities as they arise.
For the launch of your new website, have a plan, or at least some ideas for which channels you will use to promote your business at launch, as this will inform some of the choices you make while building your website.
5. Branding & Styling
Branding and styling preferences refer to how your business presents itself to the world through it’s design, personality and voice. Your branding and style should be consistent across all of your online and offline media. Some of the information that you will need to have available or give consideration to include
Many businesses have specific brand colours that need to be reflected in the website to match those used in other online media and printed material. If possible, colours should be provided as RGB or hex code. A Hex code looks something like this (#ffffff). If you don’t know these colour codes, a link to an online webpage containing these colours, a photograph or logo can often provide this information.
"It does what it says on the tin!"
"Snap! Crackle! Pop!"
If you have a catchy tagline that you use often, let us know so that we can incorporate it into the design.
Many chalet businesses make great use of social media to promote their businesses and keep in touch with previous and potential new guests. Our websites can integrate with social media in a variety of ways, so let us know which social media accounts you use in your business and provide links where possible. Examples of popular networks include Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and YouTube.
Some of these networks provide built-in tools to help you embed their content within your website. If you would like us to do this, include login details for those services.
7. Content & Images
Ok, now we're going to start digging into the creation of your website, design the structure and begin putting together the main pages. Following us through these steps should make the work less daunting as you piece together everything that you need.
Website Structure (Creating a Site Map)
During the early stages of designing a house, you need to make decisions on the number and types of rooms needed. Next, you plan where the rooms will go and how they are inter-connected.
In much the same way, before we dive into the content, we need to decide what pages we need, where they will go and how they will connect to each other.
Your site map is the first visualisation of the content that will be included on your website. Start thinking about the types of information that you want to include in terms of pages that might be required. Keep your business goals in mind, but put your guests goals and experiences first. After all, what is best for your visitors is also best for your business.
When mapping out your website, don't stress about having individual pages for every piece of content. For example, rather than create individual pages about cycling, rafting and hiking, it is completely ok to start with a 'Summer Activities' page encompassing all of this information. When you are first starting out, having too many pages can be overwhelming, so focus on the key pages now and then once your website is launched, you can consider creating new pages to expand on those areas.
That said, if you specialise in a particular activity or have a lot of content on cycling for example, you might want to push this out to its own dedicated page with subheadings and images. This will be relevant and valuable to your guests and having pages focussing on specific subjects will help that content rank with the search engines.
Once you have identified all of the pages, we will work with you to design an efficient menu structure so that visitors to your website can easily find the pages that they are looking for and navigate through your website.
When designing a 'tree like' menu structure, it is considered best practice to have between 3 - 7 top-level menu items. If there are more key pages that need to be accessible directly from the main menu, then you will need to consider how you might build a hierarchical menu structure with top level and sub-level menu items. Avoid going deeper than one level as this becomes difficult to navigate, particularly on mobile devices.
To give you a head start, here are some of the pages that you will want to consider:
- Home page
- property page(s)
- An about page
- A contact page
- A booking page
- A resort/area page
- and perhaps a blog
Writing content for the web
Ok, now let’s talk about creating content for the individual pages. Writing for the web is different to how you might write a book, newspaper article or magazine column. This is mostly due to how people consume content differently on the web.
When we sit down to read a book, we usually set time aside to focus and read word for word. On a website, we could be reading on a desktop, laptop, tablet or mobile. We also consume content on the web everywhere, be that at work, while minding children at home or even killing some time while waiting in a queue.
This has transformed us into a nation of ‘skimmers’. We skim content, looking for what might be relevant to us before we commit to reading more. So how do we write for those that like to snack on content?
- Firstly, consider the ‘inverse pyramid’. This is a trick used by journalists to keep our interest. That is, don't save the best to last. Mention the most important and interesting information up front. Then proceed to break it down and explain in detail. This will keep your reader engaged and draw them deeper into your content.
- Keep sentences short and easily readable. No prizes for big or clever words here!
- Keep paragraphs short with only a few sentences per paragraph.
- Break your page down into sections with subheadings. This helps our readers skim and find the content most relevant to them.
- Inject some of your personality and don’t be afraid to get a little creative. Writing in your own voice creates a more personal connection with your visitor. After all, holidays are supposed to be fun, so leave the corporate speak in the office.
Now that we know how to write our content, let's begin with the most important page of all. Your home page.
The Home Page
Much in the same way as you created structure and hierarchy across your website with the various pages, you now need to apply the same thinking to your home page. We call this ‘user flow’ and this is the theoretical way in which we want the user to interact with a page.
Your home page is most likely going to be the first page that your visitor sees and as such it has 3 key responsibilities that should allow the user to interact and flow through the content. When thinking about the following these 3 sections, keep in mind your ideal guest and how the content, images and language might appeal to them, answering their questions and provide a natural flow through to other parts of the site. On your homepage the flow follows three main steps.
(1) Grab your visitor’s attention and stop them from clicking the ‘Back’ button or closing the browser tab. We often use a large image to do this, but we can also use video or animation.
(2) Next, we want to create that initial interest quickly with a short sentence or two that communicates what you offer and convince them to take a closer look.
(3) Now that we have our visitor's attention, we want to guide them in the right direction and provide more content to satisfy their questions and concerns.
So let’s break these 3 sections down a little more...
The Opening Image
To help us create that opening ‘Wow’ factor to grab the visitor’s attention, what we need are at least 5 of your largest and best quality images. This can be a mix of interior and exterior shots of your property and the surrounding area.
To help us understand what these images are, they should be renamed so that their filename accurately explains what they depict. For each image, also include a short caption. For example (“After a long day on the slopes, what better than a long soak in the outdoor hot tub” or “Take in the spectacular view from the master bedroom”).
This is usually a short paragraph or two that lets the visitor know who you are, what you offer, what makes you different and why they should book with you rather than the competition. It’s a lot to try and fit into a couple of sentences, but once you’ve stopped your visitor in their tracks with your opening image, now you have only a few seconds to keep their attention and make them want to find out more.
Features / key selling points / Extra services
What we need now is a list of what you offer your visitors. As well as the standard information about your property, this should include those things that differentiate you from the competition, such as your personal knowledge of the area, distance to the nearest ski lift, ensuite rooms with toiletries provided by Jo Malone, child minding facilities, chalet boot fitting, personal chauffeur etc.
This can be a difficult exercise as what differentiates us isn’t always obvious. One way to uncover these is by scanning through your testimonials and reviews or just ask past guests why they booked with you. You may be surprised by what you hear.
For each item that you can think of, try to create a one or two word heading, followed by a short sentence to explain what it is that you offer. We can then include this information on the homepage and if appropriate, link to another page for more information.
Testimonials / Guest Reviews
Guest reviews are extremely powerful and we like to use them throughout our client websites as well as on the homepage. They provide reassurance and the social proof that booking with you is safe and a guarantee of an enjoyable holiday.
For each testimonial, where possible, you should provide their Name, Location, quote and if possible an image if they are happy to do so.
So far we have covered some of the 'must have' details to include on your homepage. Often, we will also pull images and sections of content from other pages of the website onto the homepage to provide more information about the property(s) and/or services that you provide.
For a single property, we will often pull a small number of images from this page onto the homepage to give the visitor a sneak preview of some of the rooms and invite them to explore further by linking to this page.
If you are promoting a number of properties, we may display some sample images on the homepage as well as direct links to each of the property pages. How we create this will be determined by the photographs that you are able to provide and the number of properties that you are promoting.
In general though, you should provide the following for each property page:-
- Images - These should be named so that we can identify which property they belong to and also which room or setting they represent. These images should be high quality. If possible, you should note a caption against each image.
- Floor plan images if they are available
- Vital statistics - This includes information like how many guests a property accommodates, how many bedrooms, bathrooms, internet/wifi, hot tub, whether it is ski-in/out, nearest ski lift, private parking etc.
- A paragraph or two about the chalet to explain what it is like to stay there, it’s location and the surrounding area.
- A more detailed breakdown of each room where it is appropriate. For example, is it en-suite, does it have a balcony, what about storage, bedding and other facilities.
- Full address so that the property can be displayed on a map and used to provide direction information on mobile devices. We also use Google’s lodging schema to increase your chances of having your property displayed on a map during searches.
- Supporting information such as downloadable brochures, videos, 360 degree panoramas etc.
- A brief summary of the surrounding area, location within a resort and nearby amenities and attractions.
Helping your visitors get familiar with your property, the area and have their questions and concerns answered at this stage helps develop trust and familiarity and therefore increase the chances of them booking with you.
There are a number of websites dedicated to providing detailed information on your ski resort. Typically, visitors to your website are more interested in your property, it's location within the resort and your personal knowledge of the area. You should still cover the basic information and assume that the visitor isn't familiar with the resort, but combining this with your local knowledge and experience of the area makes for a much more personal and valuable experience.
For example, listing some of your favourite restaurants with their speciality dishes not to be missed or talking about the personal boot fitting experience at your local ski hire shop (which happens to be just around the corner) helps create a relationship with your visitor and provide added value. What's more, if these recommendations are in the immediate surrounding area, your property becomes the perfect base from which to explore your recommendations. At this point you are no longer just providing accommodation, but helping them plan their holiday and create itineraries.
Your property page should also include travel information such as distance from the airport, bus and train stations, recommended transfer options etc.
Other useful information include nearest supermarket, bars, restaurants, local activities, excursions and events in the area.
The contact page is often a missed opportunity for chalet owners to really reach out and encourage visitors to get in touch and be able to do so in a variety of ways. The key information to include here is:-
- The property address (you can also include your business address if appropriate)
- Google map co-ordinates if you would like to embed a map
- Telephone numbers
- Email address
- Skype name
- Links to Social Media pages (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram etc.)
Most contact pages will include a contact form including Name, email, telephone and message as a minimum. If you would like to gather additional information, let us know. Best practise here is to keep this as simple as possible. The more information you ask of your visitor, the fewer responses you will receive.
To accompany this page, it can be a good idea to include a photo of the people who are likely to receive this contact information. It shows the visitor that there are real people waiting to reply to their message. You should also let your visitors know when and how you will respond.
If there is any other content that you would like to include on this page, let us know.
So far we have covered the ‘must have’ pages on a ski property website. In addition, you may have other pages covering information that will be relevant to your visitors. For example, you may provide cookery classes, provide mountain tours, offer excursions to nearby resorts. Perhaps you focus on a specific niche such as cycling and can inject your knowledge and experience of cycling routes and events in the area.
You shouldn’t feel like you have to identify all of these pages from the get-go. Having Chalet Engine as part of your team means that we’re always available. If you need to create a new page later, rework an existing page or make any other modifications, we’re only an email away and this is included in our service. In fact, we review your website frequently and will make recommendations and suggest ideas where we think improvements can be made.
8. Your Booking Process
The layout and content that we include on your booking page will depend on your booking process and we can support most options.
Chalet Engine is designed to work with all online booking platforms and Property Management Systems. If your booking platform of choice provides either a WordPress plugin or the ability to embed HTML code, then we can easily place your booking calendar / rates / form within the page.
If you’re not sure if they can support this, get in touch via our contact page and we will contact them and find out for you. We don’t expect you to have to figure this out, that’s what we’re here for.
If you are already using an online booking system or property management system, it can help if you provide us with login details so that we can find the relevant code to add to your website.
If you are using Google Apps to display availability, embedding your Google calendars and spreadsheets is no problem. Again, we can talk you through finding the code that we need to make this visible on your website.
Not everyone has the need for a full blown booking system. If you have been doing this manually, we can help by creating a pricing table for you to display your rates. The rates tables are completely flexible, so we can build any number of columns and rows to suit your requirements.
You can send us this information either as a Google spreadsheet, in Excel or in text format.
For collecting booking information, we can build a custom form to your requirements, so please include the details that you would like us to collect. For example:-
- Arrival date
- Departure date
- Number in party
- Other information
At this point, we really only want to gather enough information to create the booking. If you need to gather further information regarding ski hire, passes, flight times, dietary requirements etc., we can build additional forms on dedicated pages for collecting this information.
Depending on the Chalet Engine plan that you have selected, we can also collect PayPal and Credit Card payments directly on your website with through a payment provider such as Stripe. We don't charge any commission. If this is something that you require, let us know and we can discuss how this will be implemented.
The most common result of a booking request is an email to the owner. Some chalet companies also make use of tools such as Slack, Trello, Mailchimp etc. Depending on the Chalet Engine plan that you have chosen, booking forms can also be used to trigger other events such as new cards in Trello, Slack notifications, the addition of the booker within your email marketing platform. If this is of interest, we would be more than happy to discuss how you can build some automation into your website.
7. Blog Posts
7. What next ?
You're done! Well almost… Here’s what you need to do now.
If you would like to work with Chalet Engine, either get in touch for a chat or get the ball rolling by choosing one of our plans. As soon as you are on-board, we will contact you to discuss progress on your worksheet, get your development website launched and ready and get to work creating your new website.
We're always working to improve this website planning guide, so if you have any feedback, we would love to hear from you.