I have been exposed to quite a bit of technology and web site discussion lately, so I thought I’d share some of what I learned combined with my observations and biases as they relate to this business.
In my opinion, web sites are the “Great Equalizer” when it comes to marketing. It doesn’t take as much money to get the word out online to a wide range of potential guests as traditional marketing did. Regardless of your size or budget, you can make a big impact on your business with your web site.
Having your own domain name is vital. And it should be a simple domain name with no fancy abbreviations or punctuation. It can be challenging to accomplish hat because your inn’s name may already be “taken”, so you may have to consider other options. If your name is something more common, such as “Manor House”, you’ll probably find that ManorHouse.com is already taken. Experiment with alternatives such as TheManorHouse.com or DenverManorHouse.com. The longer your domain is, and the more words imbedded in it, the more you might need to use creative capitalization so people can understand it. The Inn on Mapleton Hill uses InnOnMapletonHill.com. The Adagio B&B uses AdagioBB.com.
What is your web site’s purpose? I see that it has two purposes, one being to tell prospective guests about your inn — especially the guest service and the guest experience you are offering. Having a clear understanding of your market niche — your Brand — sure helps you convey this to your audience. Knowing your audience helps you know what elements to incorporate into your site. Are you targeting an international market or people with disabilities? Do you expect your clientele to be high tech (people with high speed connections) or low tech (with a slow computers and connections)? The second purpose of your web site is to excite and intrigue people enough to get the prospective guest to CALL you. Then YOU can sell them your inn experience and book a room. Though I also know if you create your web site effectively that it will sell and book many of your rooms for you.
I firmly believe in hiring webmasters who have a strong background in B&B web design to create your site. Blizzard Internet Marketing is the webmaster I recommend to my clients because of their specialization and close involvement with the B&B industry. You can reach them at . (I have no affiliation with Blizzard, I just like their work.)
I’m have broken my comments into three general segments to use when evaluating an inn site’s design: Elements to Incorporate, Elements to Avoid, and Issue to be Aware. Be informed before you hire your webmaster so you can discuss your design with knowledge.
Elements to Incorporate into Your Design:
- As with your brochure, your web site should utilize good writing and photos. The guest experience should be conveyed concisely and accurately. Don’t oversell your inn or the experience. “Undersell and over-provide” still reigns true.
- To help those exploring your site, use a navigation bar on every page so your site visitors can easily get from one page to another. This can be especially valuable when a search engine brings someone to a page other than your main or index page. A navigation bar is essentially a brief table of contents that shows visitors where they are and gives them some guidance on where on your site they might go next. They may be ready to book, so make it easy for them to do with one click!
- Your pages might include one for room descriptions and prices, one for information about the inn and guest experience, perhaps a page talking about you, and a contact page is a must. A page of links to other sites (like your community, your REALTOR, local weather, and a currency converter — if you are desiring international guests). A page about the activities and attractions your area offers is nice to help guests decide if they want to come to your area in the first place. Guests can also use local events to help them plan the timing of their to your inn.
- Make it easy for potential guests to contact you from any page on your site. Be sure to make your basic contact information clear and visible on every page and have a link to a separate contact page that shows all pertinent details. Contact information includes your email address, your phone numbers(s), your mailing address, and physical address (if that’s appropriate to your business style — some inns discourage drop-in traffic so they only share their physical address with registered guests). As an aside, make sure you check and respond to your email at least daily. I recently emailed an innkeeper to get information and didn’t get a response for six weeks. By the time I heard back, I had forgotten all about them.
Elements To Avoid, or give your audience the OPTION of experiencing:
- I hate non-optional sound files on web pages — that is, music that suddenly starts playing when I open a page. Music MIGHT be appropriate for some properties, but don’t make sound the default. Give people visiting your site a choice of hearing your music or words. Be considerate of people’s time and space. You don’t know where people are (like at work) when they are surfing the ‘net and looking at your site. You need to let them choose what pictures to look at and to let them have the choice of when to listen to your message.
- Animation is another catchy element — to avoid. It’s so overused on the ‘net that it’s become ineffective, not to mention it takes longer to load the page. Rely on your niche, content and layout to capture people’s attention, not gimmicks.
- Welcome pages slow the user down. If they clicked to see your site, why make them click again to get into your site? When people click on your web address, they should quickly see real information, not gimmicks, photos that take forever to load, or cutsie stuff. They’re there to FIND OUT about you. Tell them!
Issues to be Aware of as you design your site
- Bandwidth: photos (number and size), sound files, large background images, and complex pages with lots of parts affect loading speed. Who is looking at your site? When? Are you expecting people in other parts of the world to view your site? Typically they pay for connection by the minute along with paying for their phone lines by the minute, so make your pages quick loading by removing extraneous page elements. Most people in the US still don’t have a fast Internet connection either and have a notoriously short attention span, so if you don’t want to lose their interest, make your site fast to load.
- Keywords embedded in your page help some search engines find your site. Some search engines find your site through the words that you use in your copy. I think the use of keywords lets you expand your chances of having a search engine find your site. You can enter words in the “meta keyword” segment of your page to expand your chances of being found.
- If you focus on people with disabilities as part of your market niche, keep that in mind as you design. You’ll want to have pages that are easy to navigate for the disabled, including blind or mobility impaired travelers.
- When linking to other sites (your community’s activities page, weather, Mapquest, etc.), be sure to open another window for that action so you don’t lose your viewer. Some sites don’t let the viewer back-track to your site.
- Consider using online reservations to make it easy for guests to plan their agenda and book with you. Don’t forget to go through your regular confirmation procedure when an online booking is made! It’s the wave of the future. Ride it to success.
Once you have your site designed, implemented, and running be sure to visit it at least quarterly — you want to make sure your information stays current. I’ve visited B&B sites that show rates effective 2-3 years prior today’s date! That lack of attention makes potential guests wonder if they should keep searching to find an innkeeper who’s more attentive to details. It’s not unlike your need to see your guestrooms daily and sleep in them periodically, looking for the little details that need polish.