Issue 2002 2 - Tuesday, February 26, 2002
|Travelocity.com's new homepage: lessons to be learnt for your own site|
Length, width and size
The site uses the liquid layout technique, which enables the page to automatically adapt itself in width to the screen resolution used by the visitor.
This is an interesting technique, since it optimizes the way the page is displayed no matter what screen resolution the visitor uses.
However, the structure of the homepage has be constructed with great care to ensure that the display maintains a certain coherence with all resolutions and guides the user's eye to the parts of the page the site wants him to look at.
This is where Travelocity's new homepage makes its first big mistake.
The automatic repositioning of the elements has a disastrous effect here when a resolution of 800x600 pixels (the most common) is used: a large empty space appears to the right of the search engine, which unbalances the right-hand side of the page and greatly reduces its effectiveness.
Another point to be mentioned on the technical side is that, at 129KB, Travelocity.com's homepage is clearly too big: it takes 36 seconds to download it with a 28.8 kbps modem, which is much too long for a homepage.
This is due to the length of the page - 1420 pixels - meaning that the user with a screen resolution of 800x600 pixels has to scroll down 4 screens to get to the bottom of the page.
Merchandising elements ... not very visible
This brings us to Travelocity's second big mistake: with a 800x600 resolution, its special offers and deals - in fact, all the categories except for the search engine - are only visible from the second vertical screen onwards and stretch over 3 screens lengthwise.
Moreover, with a 800x600 resolution, when you scroll down from the second screen, you can't help noticing that the elements are placed not only in three columns of different widths, but also at varying heights in each column, making it extremely tiring to read the page.
This means that users will look at it in an unfocused way, which greatly reduces its effectiveness.
It should also be noted that only one photo, and a rather small one at that (100x80 pixels), is used to help sell the products on the page.
At Travelocity.com, they seem think that they will be able to get users dreaming about taking a trip simply by presenting it to them in text format
with the merchandising aspect, we also noted that new products are found
right at the bottom of the page -1150 pixels down from the top: bravo
to the users who scroll right down to the 4th screen to find them!
A certain number of elements enter into the equation here: logo, tag line, window title, favicon.ico, etc.
Although the logo is fine (except that it hasn't been changed the site was first created, and hasn't aged very well), putting "A Sabre Company" under the Travelocity.com name as a kind of tag line, is not, in my opinion, a very bright idea commercially. Although all travel agents know what Sabre is, I'm not convinced that the majority of visitors do.
The site's real tag line is, in fact, only displayed in the window title: "Travelocity.com - Go Virtually Anywhere! Airline Tickets, Hotels, Cars, Vacations and Cruises."
And when we look at the window title, we can see that the site has made another mistake: it's too long!
Window titles should be limited to 64 characters so that they can be displayed in full when users bookmark the page. As you can see in the image below, the tag line is cut off after the word "Cars":
One positive point, though, is that the site uses a favicon.ico file reproducing its logo, as you can see in the image. In addition, the title starts with the name of the site, another positive point.
Search engine - navigation
Search engines are one of the key elements on an eTourism homepage. However, some of the sites in the sector put several search features (flights, vacations, cars, etc), on their homepages, with the result that they crowd up the page.
Travelocity.com has found a very intelligent way of getting round the problem: on its homepage it only offers a search feature for flights, and lets users access 5 other search engines - lodging, cars/rail, vacations, cruises and deals - simply by clicking on the tabs to the left of the search feature.
The tabs, with their highly visible pictograms, stand out well on the page. They allow users to access not just the corresponding search engine, but also the main page for that category.
The choice of displaying one search engine at a time, and combining it with navigation functions, is an idea to worth remembering.
It is also worth noting that the site's main navigation features are all found on these tabs; the top menu bar is just a mirror reflection of the tabs.
Customer relation elements - almost nonexistent
No phone number, no chat feature, no email address on the homepage.
To contact the site, you have to go through the "Customer Care" category (which changes its name, moreover, in the footer menu at the bottom of the page, where it is called "Customer Service"...) and search through an extremely dense page (3 and a half screens long!) to find what you're looking for.
Similarly, if you want to subscribe one of the newsletters offered by the site (Travelocity real deals and Travelocity Insider), there is no way of doing this on the homepage. Not only that, but before you can actually subscribe to them, you have to become a Travelocity member.
And, while we're on the subject, nowhere on the site does it mention how often the newsletters are sent out.
To sum up then, this is a homepage with rather limited eShop-ability capacities (ability to convert browsers into buyers), that only manages to achieve a slightly above average score (5.77 out of 10) because its search engine is well-presented and intelligently combined with navigation functions.
Apart from that, we found that, out of the 160 criteria we use to judge the quality of homepages (see our study "Homepages that sell"), nearly half were unsatisfactory.
All in all, a rather surprising and disappointing result for one of the world leaders in the sector.