Turn Your Website Up a Gear

Tuesday 13th June 2017

Journey’s Joe Sergeant looks at the i-frame versus API booking engine debate, voicing his opinion on which is best, as well as reiterating the importance of catering for a mobile audience.

 

Experience for mobile users

We’ve already mentioned the importance of catering for people using mobile devices. The concept of creating a separate mobile site is hopefully dead, so it’s important to focus on creating an online experience that caters for both. Not only should your hotel website be responsive, it should also be taken from a ‘mobile first’ perspective. You should be looking to create a website for mobile, which can then expand as it’s viewed on larger devices. The benefit of this is that you can serve up smaller images by default, and then if the device width increases you can then increase the frame rate accordingly to serve up a larger image.

In previous website design, the general approach used to be to compress a larger site downwards in order to allow it to work on a mobile device. This method used full-size images, which took a long time to load and gave no benefit to the user, as they weren’t using devices that could show the image in any more detail. Now though, the opposite approach should be used. You should scale up as device size increases, which will help to decrease page load time – something that’s particularly useful on 3G internet connection.

When looking for developers to produce a website, a mobile responsive version is something that hoteliers should expect. But this still isn’t always the case. This is becoming a serious issue as Google is starting to penalise websites that aren’t responsive, meaning they appear further down the search rankings, in the depths of obscurity. With more people viewing websites on mobile devices, appearing low in the search results isn’t conducive to business success.

The fact that API allows you to present your site however you like increases the ease of making it mobile friendly. This can again be demonstrated directly in the search rankings. You may have noticed, but if you search on Google using a mobile device, it will often have ‘mobile friendly’ included next to some of the results. These are websites that have used API to inform Google that your website is responsive. The fact this is clearly displayed, means that prospective guests searching for hotels on a mobile are more likely to click on the link to your website, increasing their chances of booking.

The biggest plus for API is the range of options it offers. For example you can display live pricing on room subpages, showing you the current rate for that particular room option. On hotel websites using i frames, you can't see pricing until you've proceeded far enough with a booking.

Joe Sergeant, Senior Web Developer, Journey

iFrame versus API booking engine

When it comes to booking, what type of engine should you use? It’s a long discussed question amongst developers as there is debate on whether to use an iframe booking engine, or an API booking engine. I’m a fan of the latter.

iframe booking engines are third party. They’re just windows of search results from an engine that you have no control over. You can’t determine how they look, meaning they don’t necessarily conform to the stylised design of your website. This can jar with the overall appearance. Additionally, iframes are often unresponsive and don’t interact well with mobile devices. Some of them do, but many don’t, which is detrimental to the whole experience.

Essentially they are a widget provided by the booking engine for hotel owners to put on their website, which will let a guest book a room without having to go elsewhere to do so. It’s simple and straightforward, which means i frames are commonly used. From a guest experience point of view though, the lack of conformity means they’re very aware it isn’t part of the site and is a separate module.

The alternative option is to use something called API, or Application Program Interface. This provides basic raw data, such as room type, pricing and so on, but there will be no styling and it won’t look like a usable web page. When using i frame booking, this info is loaded in however the booking engine chooses to present it. When using API it is just information that a developer can use to create their own booking front end. They can present it in a style of their choosing, making it fit within the overall website design, offering a seamless user experience in the process.

The biggest plus for API is the range of options it offers. For example, you can display live pricing on room subpages showing you the current rate for that particular room option. On hotel websites using iframes, you can’t see pricing until you’ve proceeded far enough with a booking. It’s at this stage that prospective guests often give up and opt to use comparison sites such as booking.com that present easily accessible pricing information.

Using API helps to keep people on your webpage, therefore increasing the likelihood of a booking. With iframes, having booked, you return to the webpage you were on previously. As it’s third party, the i frame booking engine doesn’t convey to your website that a booking has been made. With an API however, you’ll know this is the case and you can steer visitors accordingly. For example, once the booking is confirmed, you can lead guests to other pages on the site, perhaps suggesting things to do during their stay. This might highlight the restaurant menu for instance, enticing guests to arrange a meal, which then becomes an unobtrusive form of upselling. API relays information to your site that can bridge the user experience.

Of course, these advantages do come at a cost. Not only in terms of financial outlay, but also in increased development time. You need to weigh the additional costs against the benefits of having a consistent user experience that works seamlessly. Can you afford not to do it? With competitors investing, you don’t want to be left behind. The use of API can certainly make you stand out, whilst ‘supercharging’ your booking process and making it more user friendly.