NB: This is a guest by Graham Jones, an internet psychologist and author specialising in how customers interact with the web.
People go on holiday for a variety of reasons, but research shows the kind of holiday we want is linked to our personality type.
People who are introverted, who tend to be fairly fixed in their job and who have what you might call a â€śsolidâ€ť home life are the ones who seek a â€śget away from it allâ€ť kind of holiday.
But individuals who are dynamic, who socialise a great deal, who are often out and about, are faced with so many new experiences every day, they want something more daring, exciting, thrilling.
That kind of basic difference between holiday makers is also reflected in the kind of experience they want online when booking their travel.
The introverted individuals want to see something that is clearly â€śget away from it allâ€ť, but the extroverts, the dynamic people need to have an exciting website, with lots of different stimulation.
These people live life in the fast lane, and they want their websites to be the same.
Trying to be everything to everyone
This presents a clear problem for travel companies, since many of them offer a variety of holidays to meet the range of tastes. The difficulty for the company centres on the fact they do not know who is visiting their website in advance. Consequently they are unable to always provide the right experience with their website to match the personality of the visitor.
As a result, ebookers frequently enter a site and then disappear quickly because they are not seeing something which connects with their personality type. Several studies have shown that the time people wait to see if a site is for them, is less than one second.
Travel companies therefore have to demonstrate that what they are offering on their website matches the visiting individualâ€™s personality immediately. This means they may well need more than one website.
Indeed, lack of website connection to personality is one of the reasons why people revisit sites. The first time, it wasnâ€™t for them in that first fraction of a second. The result is they do not have any memory formed for that site, which is why they can revisit sites, only to spend a second or two there, realising they have been there before.
Travel companies could view this repeated visiting as positive â€“ when in fact it is a negative indicator,
suggesting their sites are not appealing to people. Once people do connect with a website because it matches their traveller personality, there are two factors which companies need to take into account.
Firstly, as a study from Tealeaf confirms, there is a large amount of browsing and going from site to site. Central to this is the assessment of trust. People want to be confident that the purchase they intend making is from a reputable company and that the website they are using can be trusted.
It is about knowing that when you put your credit card into the website, you wonâ€™t be confronted with an error message or be left in any doubt about your security. Indeed, research which has included eye-tracking analysis of website visitors shows that one of the key elements people look for on a web page is a signal of trust.
How to build trust online when brand affinity is weak
In the past, the company brand was one of the elements of trust which people connected with. However, as the research shows, brands are becoming less influential and hence ebookers are looking for other signals of trust on web pages.
These include a physical address, a telephone number and an email address â€“ all prominently displayed at the bottom of the page (where most people look for these items). When people cannot see these elements, they will either leave the site, due to lack of trust, or look around for other signals that the company can be trusted.
Central to that trust is social proof. Human beings behave in ways designed to protect them from harm. If everyone is doing something, the rest of the people around them tend also to do it. Clearly, if many people are doing something and they donâ€™t come to any harm, then it is â€śthe right thing to doâ€ť.
As a result, people are always looking for signals on a web page that what they are dealing with is acceptable to more than one person. They want to see that the product on offer is being used by many people â€“ it is social proof that it is OK to buy.
With holiday purchases â€“ being seen by many people as their most significant item bought each year â€“ then social proof becomes paramount. People want to know that the destination they are considering or that the hotel they want to book is also acceptable to other people.
Holiday websites which therefore demonstrate social proof â€“ in the form of reviews and comments from previous tourists â€“ are likely to gain more business than those which do not include social evidence.
There is another aspect of the social side of travel websites to consider as well. Social Acceptance Theory is the psychological notion that we want other people to tell us we have done the right thing.
This boosts our confidence that the decisions we have made are correct. Part of the decision-making process for any purchase is to work out whether other people will think we have acted correctly.
As a result, interactive comment systems on travel websites serve a second purpose. Not only do they help buyers make up their mind, as a result of social proof, they also enable them to gain social acceptance once other users start to give them positive comments about their decision to visit a particular destination.
Holidaymakers want one of two things â€“ an escape or a new experience. Online, the website must match those desires if it is truly to connect. But it must do more than that. Travel websites also need to enable trust and confidence â€“ which are powerful motivators in ebookers.
Equally, travel websites need to establish social proof and provide a method of potential customers gaining social acceptance.