A decade of Booking.com UX
Booking's popularity among consumers shows no sign of waning. Their sustained popularity isn't just the result of a marketing spend that reaches into the billions; it's on account of a ruthlessly efficient user experience.
During a period in which many hotels were only just developing an online presence, Booking.com were honing a user-friendly experience designed to maximise conversion.
What sticks out most is the similarity to Booking's current site. They hit on a winning formula - early. Most prominent on the page is the search function, which is in marked contrast to many hotel websites even today. Numerous booking engines don't yet offer the functionality of an availability search on the website homepage.
Price is rising in prominence, with the rates on the right-hand-side of the page emphasised more heavily than a few months earlier. The 'search by address' function has also been dropped. Booking is moving away from being a site you use to book a hotel you already know: it's what you use to find a hotel in the location you want to visit.
Another crucial addition - that little data capture field in the bottom left. Booking.com began building their mountain of customer data up early, and have only accelerated since.
By 2009 we're seeing 'No booking fees' displayed prominently on the homepage. Hotels in 2017 are up against nearly a decade's worth of impact from this kind of messaging: it takes a lot of work to rewire the belief that the cheapest, most straightforward price is with an OTA.
It's also worth noting that the number of hotels listed nearly tripled between 2007-2009.
By 2010, Booking.com had perfected their signature technique: the wildly successful 'one room left!' message.They create the sense of urgency that time and again pushes travellers over the line into making a booking. It's not necessarily a feeling that hotels should be trying to cultivate on their own site.
2011 was not the first appearance of Booking.com's iPhone app, but it's in prominent position on the homepage here. Again, OTAs had the scale and resource available to optimise for mobile much earlier than many hotels. Very little has changed since 2007. Two search fields have been added by 2011: 'I don't have specific dates yet,' and 'I need extra beds or rooms'. The site is tactically widening its functionality to capture guests at more stages of the booking funnel.
By 2012, Booking.com are poaching ground from the 'last minute' market and offering 'Flash Deals' to their database...
... which has evolved, by 2013, into 'Half Off Hotels':
The nudges to subscribe are steadily growing in prominence, with it now being assumed that you'll use an account to make a booking. The site has also rebranded its 'Popular Destinations' to 'Recommended' locations, evidence of being its being able to draw on a massive data scale in order to tailor its homepage to different segments of consumers.
And one more thing - the small matter of a logo change. The updated lower-case logo coincides with the launch of Booking's ad campaign of the same era.
2014 sees the promotion of a real hotel bugbear: 'FREE cancellation on most rooms'. See that little red '1' at the top of the page? Annoying, isn't it? Almost makes you want to click it to make it go away...
By 2015, that little '1' is delivered with an envelope rather than a bell. A tiny change, but you can be sure it didn't take place without an A/B test making sure it was worthwhile.
Also new for 2015 is the addition of a 'subscribe' banner to the search box, an area that historically Booking haven't adjusted too much.
We're only picking out a couple of changes each year, but look closely and you'll see a multitude of alterations. Sometimes it's just tiny matters of wording - between 2015 and 2016, for example, the word 'business' changes to 'work'. We also see the appearance of an option bar at the top of the page, evidence of Booking's increasing diversification of services. 'Homes and apartments' are advertised both at the top and in the bottom left of the page, in a response to Airbnb's growing market share.
If you blur your eyes a bit, you could be forgiven for thinking the 2017 and 2007 webpages were one and the same. Despite a decade of intensive testing and iteration, Booking.com have had the wisdom to keep their core user experience unchanged. In the mind of the consumer, it's simple, it's reliable, and it lets them do what they came online to do.