Following a period of decline, the UK hotel market saw its first positive swing in months in August 2009, with the average occupancy rate reaching almost 72%. Although a full-on recovery to pre-recession fortunes is not yet in the offing, as consumers and businesses begin to spend again, growth was expected in the final quarter of last year. (Source: http://www.hotelnewsresource.com/article41443-UK_Hotels_See_Minor_improvement.html)
Criteria under the spotlight included homepage, navigation and search, content, presentation, interaction and brand and persuasion. Overall, Marriott came out better with Hilton losing out mainly in the navigation and search area.
The Marriott homepage is designed with functionality in mind, placing a prominent search form together with a promotion of its latest offer, enticing those site visitors looking for a deal. However, the main navigation pales into the background given its proximity to the imagery. The many links on the bottom half of the page risk making the homepage look cluttered and/or the visual design dated.
Navigation and search 18/25
The navigation needs stronger visual treatment to stand out and command the site visitor's attention. However, it does a good job of highlighting the site visitor's current location. The page headings match the navigation labels, supporting easier orientation around the site. Disappointingly, the site search or ‘Search by Keyword' is hidden behind a tab within the hotel search form, that's frustratingly only accessible from the homepage.
Content is well organised with just a few exceptions. The ‘Meetings & Events' category is mildly confusing with the landing page almost exclusively focusing on events, with hardly a mention of meetings. Also, occasionally the UK Marriott site links to its US equivalent with no warning of the change, which is compounded by the identical look and feel of the two sites.
Presentation, though generally good enough, could be sharper. A cleaner, less cluttered look and feel would instantly lift the aesthetics of the site.
Interaction design is generally well thought out but highlighting of errors within context is poor. A stronger differentiation between error fields and the rest is essential to help ease the site visitor through this potential bottleneck.
Brand and persuasion 7/10
The site is fairly well branded although better assurances around the security of bookings made on the site, for example through security seals, would allay any potential concerns.
User experience appears to have been factored in when the Marriott site was created, resulting in its respectable performance here. A few tweaks here and there would help enhance this further.
Hilton creates a great first impression with its sleek visual design and a clean layout. Hardly any scrolling is required on a standard resolution, an ideal for homepages. However there's no indication of prices on this initial view. And a lack of manual controls for the slideshow style Flash display is somewhat irritating.
Navigation and search 12/25
This is the biggest area for improvement on the Hilton site, with its confusing navigation. It's difficult to know where you are within the site, with no highlight in the navigation, inconsistently styled secondary navigation and items opening up other sites in new windows with no warning. Additionally, some of the Hilton brands such as Doubletree lead to microsites within the same window making it impossible to return to the parent site. Finally, site search, while persistent throughout the site, is hidden below the fold.
Some of the maps on the hotel pages are confusing, displaying hotels additional to the one selected. There's also no indication of the nearest tube stations for London hotels. Moreover, the HHonors rewards pages miss opportunities for conversion by not providing strong calls to action.
Hilton beats Marriott in the presentation stakes with a design and presentation that is cleaner and easier on the eye. Effective use of white space contributes to the aesthetically pleasing result.
Although the interaction speed and visual controls are acceptable, Hilton, like many sites, falls down at the error messaging hurdle. Annoyingly, not all errors are returned at the same time and some error messages are simply too generic to be helpful.
Brand and persuasion 7/10
Overall the Hilton site has a high aesthetic appeal but lacks in certain user experience areas. Implementing proven usability guidelines could improve this site considerably.
Marriott wins this battle with its superior user experience. However its visual design, when compared to the Hilton's, lets it down. Hilton has a clean, sharp look and feel, which instantly creates a perception of ease of use although in reality it's the site more in need of usability improvements.
Analysis by Mrudula Kodali, senior consultant, Webcredible
This sponsored article is courtesy of Webcredible.
Webcredible is a user experience consultancy, offering a range of usability, accessibility and design services for websites, intranets, mobile devices and applications. Founded in 2003, the UK-based consultancy researches, designs and builds interfaces to support user requirements and business goals.
Webcredible adopts a knowledge sharing approach to its work, and its expert team regularly reviews, tests and designs websites in both the public and private sector, ensuring that companies are providing the most usable and accessible websites possible.
With a long list of global clients in the private and public sector, including AIRMILES, uSwitch.com, eBay, the BBC and the World Health Organization, Webcredible is widely regarded as one of the most respected consultancies in the user experience industry.
Over the course of this series of special reports, in conjunction with Revolution, Webcredible will be evaluating the websites of some of the top brands on the web, and pitting competing websites against each other to find out which is the most usable.