There are countless website solutions out there these days. You could go the SaaS route and pay a monthly subscription for your website, or you can hire an agency to make a website for your hotel. Both have their pros and cons. There are some hoteliers, however, who want to make, host, and publish their own websites by hand. And for them, there is no argument–the best tool to use is WordPress.
WordPress is a content management system for experts and novices alike. Publishing your own website with WordPress gives you absolute control over its technology and content. It also makes you responsible for its security and performance. You’ll have greater freedom, and you’ll be able to get the exact look and function that you want. But you’ll also have to spend time updating plugins, improving website load speed, and updating your website over time as new technology appears. Before you begin, you must understand that you’re getting yourself into a fun and rewarding project that will take up some of your time.
With this 7-step guide, I will show you how to make a basic but fully-functional hotel website with WordPress. If you don’t want to get your hands dirty, then I suggest purchasing a website subscription. But, if you like to fiddle with things and learn as you go, keep reading.
Step One: Choose a Host
A website hosting provider is a company that lends you a computer (or a “cloud” of connected computers) where your website is installed. You need to choose a hosting provider before you begin. This is the home of your website. The host is responsible for keeping your website online 24/7, so it is important to choose a reliable host.
There are many options out there. For WordPress, there are two that I recommend:
Bluehost is an affordable web host with great customer service. They give you a server (which is the computer where your website will live), and you can do nearly anything you want with it. Their 24/7 customer service is excellent, and has helped me out of many jams in the past. Bluehost is what I use for my websites.
WP Engine has marketed itself as the host of choice for WordPress users for years. However, in my personal experience, they have mediocre customer service. They also have many rules in place that prevent you from using the plugins and themes you want. These rules are in place to protect your server, so they say, but I find them burdensome.
Both are good options, but I prefer Bluehost for the lower price point and the greater freedom.
Step Two: Purchase a Domain Name
A domain name is the web address where your website will be found. For example, www.cloudbeds.com is the domain name of Cloudbeds. If you already have a website, then you already have a domain name. You can use it, or purchase a new one.
You can purchase a new domain name through your hosting provider, which is likely also a registrar. Use these SEO guidelines when choosing a new domain name for your hotel’s website:
- Choose a .com top-level domain name. These domains are more trusted by Google and guests. Avoid novelty top-level domain names like .hotel or .travel. These are new, and are less trusted by Google and guests.
- Make your domain name short. Google trusts shorter domain names more than longer ones.
- Do not use hyphens or numbers. Google prefers no punctuation in domain names. Domains with hyphens or numbers look sketchy.
- Use keywords related to your business. If possible, snag a domain name related to your hotel’s location and target audience. You can include a landmark or region.
- Use your hotel brand. If you can’t use keywords, then simply use your hotel’s name. Both Google and guests think branded domains are more trustworthy.
Step Three: Install WordPress
Regardless of the host you choose, installing WordPress is easy. WordPress is basically the engine used to run your website. Once you install WordPress, you can build your website on top of it.
You can do this yourself. I recorded a short 10-minute guide which you can watch below or here.
Or, if you don’t want to do it yourself, call your hosting provider. They will gladly do it for you.
Step Four: Log In to Your Dashboard
After you install WordPress, your host will give you a username and password for your new website. They will also give you a URL where you can log in. If you don’t have these things, call your web host. They will help you find them or reset them.
Once you log in, you will appear at your website’s dashboard. There is much you can do here, and it is easy to get overwhelmed. Let’s start by installing your theme. In the left-hand sidebar, hover over “Appearance” and click “Themes”.
Step Five: Install Your Theme
A theme gives your website its look and feel. There are many great themes you can choose for your hotel website–and most are free! When choosing a theme, bear in mind the following:
- It should be responsive. Responsive design makes your website optimized for any mobile device. These include tablets, and including devices that have yet to be invented. Be sure to check how your theme looks and works on a mobile device after installing it.
- Choose a modern design. Less professional themes will look overly ornate, have complex fonts, or have clunky user interfaces. Choose a theme created in a variant of “flat” design. Flat design is a term used to describe design that uses only a few colors and simple user interface elements. It does not complicate things with rounded edges, drop shadows, highlights, and other complex design features. Flat design focuses on clean, crisp, and clear user interfaces and typography that improve website usability and conversions.
- It should have a blog. The point of a hotel website is to improve your direct reservations, and one of the best ways to do that is with blog content marketing. Make sure you have a theme that has different layouts for your conversion pages (such as your homepage, photos page, and rooms page) and your blog.
- It should make good use of photos. Guests decide whether or not they like your property the moment your first image loads. Make sure you stun them with beautiful photography across your website. You should not only use a theme that has a photo gallery, but it should also use your beautiful hotel photos on every page of the website–especially the homepage.
To find a theme, go to Appearance > Themes. Then, click the “Add Theme” button at the top of the page. This brings you to WordPress’ theme gallery. Use the search field to search for hotel or bed and breakfast inspired themes.
You can also purchase themes from 3rd-party developers online. Be careful when shopping for themes online. Many “free” themes you can find on Google come with malware or built-in “backdoors”. Only download your WordPress themes from trusted marketplaces. These include themeforest.net, the Mojo Marketplace, Templatic, and WordPress.org itself.
Step Six: Install a Booking Engine
This is the most important step in building your website. The point of your website is to increase direct bookings, and you can’t do that without a booking engine. Install a hotel booking engine plugin like WP Mybookings* by Cloudbeds. Plugins give your website extra functionality that does not come native with WordPress. WP Mybookings lets you take bookings right from your WordPress website. It also connects to your channel manager and property management system.
Whichever booking engine WordPress plugin you choose, make sure that the booking engine is mobile responsive and commission-free.
*UPDATE: The Mybookings WordPress plugin has been retired, however, Cloudbeds offers a customizable, commission-free booking engine that works seamlessly with your website. Get more details here.
Step Seven: Install Other Plugins
Plugins give your website added functionality. The following are some free plugins I recommend for every hotel website. From your dashboard, go to Plugins > Add New and use the search box to search for and install these plugins:
- Yoast WordPress SEO – This plugin gives you the ability to fine-tune many SEO fields. It also produces media sitemaps and helps keep your permalinks clean.
- iThemes Security – This is my favorite free security plugin. It can backup your database, update web scripts, and lock down some of the back-end sections of your website from preying eyes.
- Jetpack – This plugin, made by the makers of WordPress, includes some nice new features. These include a comment section for your blog, a network for making your photos load more quickly, free web statistics, and a mobile theme for non-responsive websites.
- EWWW Image Optimizer – This free plugin makes your images load more quickly.
- Unveil Lazy Load – This plugin reduces the load time of your website by only loading images when your guests scroll down to them.
- W3 Total Cache – This plugin has many options that make your website load faster. If you use this plugin, search for guides on how to set it up. It is banned by some website hosting providers, like WP Engine, because it consumes many computer resources. However, in my opinion, it is the best free caching plugin for WordPress. It is a complex, but useful, plugin.
- Digg Digg – This free plugin gives your website some nice social sharing features.
- Flare – This free plugin looks better than Digg Digg in my opinion and has many nice features, but it is no longer supported. Choose this or Digg Digg (not both).
WordPress is an excellent, mostly free solution for hosting and crafting your own website. The process is time-consuming and can be complicated, especially for hoteliers who have never built websites before. However, if you can do it, creating your own WordPress website gives you complete control over your hotel brand and how the public sees it. It is an excellent option for hoteliers who want to put in the extra effort to polish their hotel brand’s web presence.
Do you have any questions about WordPress? Post them in the comments below and I will do my best to answer them.