Airbnb started 6 and a half years ago where a lot of awesome companies do, San Francisco. From there it has gone from strength to strength and caused somewhat of a digital headache for many leading travel companies, not to mention the impact it’s having on the price of New York City hotels. So much so, it’s now worth an estimated $10bn.

Looking around the site and app, it’s not hard to see why. The idea is simple. Somewhere to stay at whatever location you need at the price you want. The simplicity of this idea is translated into its current website which is not only aesthetically stunning, but is also a joy to use.

Understanding Users

The ability to give users exactly what they want is not always the case, especially in the travel industry. Airbnb have the unique ability to offer a wide range of choice, controlled through key variables.

However, it’s the method that this is conducted that makes it not only simple, but fun. The desktop version of the site live filters your results, for starters.

So for example, if you are looking for a romantic weekend for Valentine’s Day in Paris you are going to be able to find the ideal place in one view. This, combined with the map and individual views of rooms, gives the users a choice of the preferential browsing method.

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Airbnb have obviously done their homework on the priorities for the key filters that users are looking for. Added to this the “live” map gives the visual indicator of location.

When looking at possible accommodation what is the one thing we all look at first? The pictures of the rooms, obviously. Airbnb have combined browsing locations and rooms beautifully by having sliders on the individual pins for the property photos. This stops the requirement to go to the property, return and re-filter. Nice and efficient.

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Big Red Buttons

Working on Conversion Rate Optimisation strategies, I do sometimes get accused of making suggestions along the lines of “just make all the buttons bigger and red”. I would argue that firstly changing calls to action can be tested but also salient and consistent calls to action are key to User Experience.

Airbnb have a clear and consistent strategy towards primary and secondary calls to action that lead the user smartly through the process.

Primary:

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Secondary:

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This type of visual recognition is one of the most basic requirements of good user experience based design.

Putting users in their places…

The travel industry sells through helping you to remove yourself from the day to day, have new experiences and go on adventures. Airbnb translates this through the use of high quality visuals that look to put you in that location, helping the user to picture them self on a sun decked veranda or a modern apartment.

In this sense Airbnb are more like an estate agent than a travel company. The focus is not on the location, you’ve already decided on that. Airbnb users are looking for the right place to stay. A home from home, albeit one in sunnier climes with trendier interiors.

The priority of every property on the Airbnb site is to sell the interior of each possible location through images.

Obviously price is important but this would have been filtered for in the previous step. It’s up to the property page to sell the interior and boy, does it deliver, the property pages all look stunning, giving it the best possible chance of firing a potential lead.

It isn’t just the images that look good, the accommodation on offer sells the ideals of urban and suburban living. They are all places that look equally welcoming and trendy that emphasise both the sense of comfort but with that edge of adventure.

Trust and Transparency

One of the biggest questions that may block a conversion on Airbnb is that, obviously, users stay in someone else’s space. Trust is a major barrier in all sales, of course, but when applied to choosing accommodation in a foreign land? Next level trust barriers.

Airbnb overcomes this by treating their service as a community of like-minded people, represented by the individual stories told on every accommodation page.

They effortlessly combine the style and information of a social profile, peer reviews and local interests within the core product. This helps to instantly build a rapport with a potential host at a human level, before they even commit to a booking enquiry.

Booking requests are made (and hopefully approved!) and there’s the benefit of an internal messaging feature, obviously fully secure and tracked by Airbnb, to ensure all hosts and visitors are legitimate and communication can be tracked.

The Cool Factor

Right now Airbnb’s biggest pull is that people are talking about it, giving it one of its most powerful sales tools: word of mouth.

Users want to be a part of the Airbnb experience as much as they want to catch the latest episode of Game of Thrones. It’s a water cooler talking point, a social interaction on such a positive level that the word is spreading the old fashioned way.

This only adds to the draw of the Airbnb brand and makes it all the more likely that users will convert via the site, big red buttons or not!

Summary

Airbnb are in the great position of having a simple and flexible proposition. What they’ve done well is made the online experience match that proposition.

On top of that, the site delivers a functionality and aesthetic that makes the whole experience fun and easy. Rather being an involved search, it’s merely a gateway to your next adventure.
This social aspect is what is currently separating Airbnb from other travel sites. Traditional sites use the classic methods: nice visuals, price incentives and exclusive deals.

Airbnb has a market leading ‘human element’ that sets them apart and makes users want to be part of their community of adventurers. This gives them a massively powerful conversion tool.

When you combine this with an online experience that is aesthetically spectacular and simple to use, you have a winning conversion formula.

Image credits: 360b / Shutterstock.com