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April 2007

Websites that Work: Seven Elements of an Effective Site

At conference after conference, innkeepers tell us that 80%-90% of their reservations are generated by the Internet, with many bookings coming directly from their own websites. They know that an effective website is essential to generate these reservations, yet have many questions about cost, results and reliability. Here are some key points:

What are the most important elements of an effective website?

Although there are some notable exceptions, website design is not rocket science, despite the astronomical prices some companies charge. While truly creative custom websites are appropriate for some high-end properties, most properties will do well by focusing on these key points:

  1. Professional, up-to-date design: Any website more than three years old needs a fresh look. At a minimum, add new photos. Other updates can include enhanced navigation or a complete new design. Antiques enhance your décor; an “antique” website will not deliver the reservations you need for profitability.
  2. Consistent navigation: Easy-to-read links to the inside pages of your site should run across the top of every page on your site (under the header template) or down the left-hand side of the page.
  3. Uniform template: The top of every single page of your site should have a design template that includes the following information:
    • Inn name
    • Toll-free phone number
    • Book now button
    • Marketing slogan that indicates the inn’s location
  4. Great photos: Spend as much as you can on the best possible professional photography. Combining appealing photos with an effective website generates reservations almost immediately. Large photos can be optimized for the Internet so they load quickly; with most users now on high-speed connections, there’s no need for the tiny thumbnails of the early Internet. When hiring a pro, ask to see their online portfolio of inn pictures. Interior shots are tricky; rooms must be appealing without being over-staged or made to look larger then they are. Take seasonal exterior shots yourself so you have photos of your inn in all seasons – with spring blossoms, summer greenery, fall foliage, Christmas decorations, winter snow, and so on. Remember, if your guests tell you that your inn is much nicer than it appears on the Internet, you are losing business every day.
  5. Good SEO: A knowledgeable web designer will create website pages that will get you coverage on Google and other search engines by building your website with SEO built in from the ground up. This includes appropriate use of keyword density, meta and alt tags, page titles, and other specific strategies. Your website is not an art project; it’s a marketing tool designed to deliver reservations … lots of them!
  6. Strong call to action: Never make prospective guests click through multiple pages to find your phone number or reservations page. The point of your website is to generate reservations, so make it as easy as possible to do just that. In addition to a toll-free number, have multiple links to a real-time booking engine, or you will miss reservations from a large percentage of travelers.
  7. Reliability: Chose a company that offers reliable hosting and promotion services, with a responsive support staff available to make changes and answer questions.

How much should I spend?

Don’t be penny-wise and pound-foolish. Unless your nephew is an experienced, licensed plumber, you wouldn’t trust him to install your new $20,000 whirlpool and marble bathroom that just happens to be over the antique crystal chandelier in your dining room, would you? By the same token, your website designer should be a specialist in the B&B industry, and with a track record of proven results creating websites that are not only attractive, but easy to navigate, turn lookers to bookers, and come up well in the search engines. If a friend or family member promises to build you a website for free, consider that a “free website” may cost you tens of thousands of dollars in missed reservations. In fact, a November 2006 study by DoubleClick and ROI Research showed that the source that most influenced Internet users to make an online airfare purchase was the website (33%), more than word-of-mouth (9%) or online ads (6%).

  • Analyze your marketing spend: Average gross revenues for B&Bs are $150,000 annually (PAII Operations Study, 2004), and the average total marketing spend is $24,000 (PAII Marketing Study, 2006), or 16% of revenues. If 90% of your reservations come from all Internet sources, then consider allocating 90% ($21,600) of your marketing budget to Internet marketing. Of that 90% of reservations, how much revenue is generated by your own homepage?
  • Understand your conversion rates: It’s not just the number of “hits” your website receives, but the revenue that results. Tracking software will tell you how long people stay on your site, and how many pages views per unique visitor. The longer they stay, the more pages they visit, the more likely you are to convert a looker to a booker. On the other hand, the higher your bounce or click-away rate, the lower your conversion will be. For example, if you have 1,000 monthly visitors and you get 20 reservations, your conversion rate is 2%. If the average reservation made from your website is two nights at $150 nightly, your monthly gross is 20 x $300 = $6,000. If you improve your website and increase the conversion to 3%, you’ve increased your monthly gross income by 50%, e.g., 30 x $300 = $9,000. That’s an extra $36,000 per year!

RezOvation, BedandBreakfast.com’s sister company, is proud to announce the launch of its website design, hosting, and promotion program, tailored specifically for our industry.

  • Cost: RezOvation designs cost only $499 for a five- to seven-page website. Just sign up for our monthly hosting, tracking, promotion, and marketing package for only $199 a month (12-month commitment required).
  • Design: Choose from more than 100 different design combinations. Pick the ones you like, and select the layout, colors, fonts and copy for amazing results. See some examples.
  • Manage: Once your website design is completed, hosting, promoting, and tracking users to your website is worry-free. RezOvation provides a single point of contact for all services for a fraction of the rates charged by our competitors.
  • Updates: Call or email us once a month to update rates, add specials, or change photos at no extra cost.
  • Host: We secure your website with high-quality, unlimited bandwidth hosting. We set up your hosting account and register or transfer your domain. All accounts are hosted on double-redundant servers at our top-tier hosting facility for ultimate reliability and dependability.
  • Track: Google Analytics is the most accurate and easy-to-use package on the market. We will set up your account and code your website so you can see exactly where all of your guests are coming from, what they are looking at, and – most importantly – who is booking.
  • Promote: We incorporate organic SEO (search engine optimization) coding right into your website. We’ll use the same type of optimization that has proven to work at BedandBreakfast.com. Want to use PPC sites? We will set up accounts, complete with targeted keyword lists and bid amounts, on the three main search engines – Google, Yahoo and MSN – based on similar methods used successfully at BedandBreakfast.com.
  • Communicate: IntelliContact makes it easy to email past and potential guests, and is included at no extra cost. We’ll set up the account, help you import your contacts, and train you on how to do regular email marketing.
  • Connect: Two LogMeIn Pro accounts allow you to access your PC, with all of your applications, from anywhere on the road. Need to take a reservation while you’re on vacation? Easy – just log in and enter the information directly into your PMS from any Internet-connected computer.

The RezOvation design, hosting, and promotion suite is the most affordable and easy-to-use set of services on the market. Let RezOvation take the worry out of website design and maintenance. We'll show you how we can make your site look great, sell more rooms for you, and save you money. Contact us today:

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