Ever feel overwhelmed by all the advice on Internet Marketing for Innkeepers? Do discussions of search engines and website positioning make you dizzy? Feeling nauseous over all the email, phone calls, books, speakers and junk mail telling you what you absolutely must do with regard to online marketing? Have we got a cure for you! It's called "Common Sense' and it can cure even the most resistant strains of Internet Marketing Fever. Welcome to the "No Hype Zone" where today we will cover common sense and how it applies to marketing your inn.
As the webmaster and technical support for hundreds of innkeepers, I field many internet marketing questions. Most days I help dispel myths, reveal the truth and guide innkeepers through the maze of marketing options. It's something I enjoy immensely and if you don't have such a person or voice of reason in your life, may I humbly suggest you find one quickly as the spin can get out of control.
How not to major in the minors
Traditional marketing uses the principal of the Four P's (Product, Price, Place, & Promotion) to represent, divide, and prioritize the four major areas marketing. Innkeepers can utilize this principal to guide their marketing efforts and govern their use of time and money. It's also a great formula for organizing the content of a web site, as the first three P's are exactly what potential guests are looking for.
Before I launch into a discussion of the Four P's and how they can help you as an innkeeper, I'd like you to notice that "Promotion" is last on the list. If this alone doesn't convince you of where your priorities need to lie, then sit back, relax and read on.
The four P's of marketing and how they apply to innkeepers
Product (You and your Inn)
You are selling an experience. Call it a product, service, or just time away from the kids, but it must be a positive experience. If your guests have a wonderful time, they will be sure to come back and tell all their friends to make reservations as well. It's no wonder Word of Mouth is still the best advertising source. Unfortunately, some innkeepers take this for granted or fail to realize the cost involved. Cost, you say - what cost? The cost of doing everything you possibly can (within reason and budget) to ensure your guests leave happier than when they arrived. If this is where you're putting your time, effort and finances - you're way ahead of the game.
Price (Setting your rates)
In some industries, price can be the difference between success and failure. We've found over the years this isn't the case in the B&B industry. In other words, if you lowered your price ten dollars, would you have twice as many guests? Not likely and you'd probably just end up losing money. Matching the rates of your competitors and common sense are the rules with regard to setting your rates. If you're booked solid and overworked, by all means raise your rates.
Place (What's special about your location)
Obviously, B&B's located in Seattle, Washington get more reservations than those located in Billings, Montana. Since you can't move your inn to a more popular location, market what you do have. A clear understanding of why guests come to stay in your area can be a lucrative use of your time. If river rafting is popular, cut a deal with the local rafting companies for a special package with reduced rates for rafters. Now, two companies are advertising your services with a special bonus for your guests. Get creative by giving your guests what they want and you will reap the benefits of this simple marketing technique.
Promotion (If you build it, they will come - slowly)
Since the majority of Bed and Breakfast Inns run at less than 50% capacity, promotion is still a necessity. Word of mouth is fantastic but it takes time to build a clientele of repeat guests who sing your praises to their friends. The obvious and popular choice for promotion is the Internet, but the depth of options and hype surrounding the industry could confuse even the most savvy of innkeepers. In the next section, we'll enter the Internet No Hype Zone and discuss what's important and what's not and find out why print advertising might still be worth more than you realize.
The no-hype truth about Internet Marketing
There's no doubt about it, the Internet has become the single most important and cost effective marketing tool of all time. However, all the hype can make the process confusing and overwhelming.
Ever receive an email that stated the following? "If you're not listed in the top ten sites on the search engines, you'll never be found!" Statements like these are what keep innkeepers up at night and webmasters wringing their hands. Slick marketers prey on this fear and provide optimization services which promise to get you to the top of the search engines. Many companies charge hundreds of dollars per month for these services, yet are unable to consistently deliver such results. Another service advertises they will submit your site to 1,000 search engines for only $150. Gee, sounds like a great deal doesn't it? Too bad you'll never get a hit from 990 of them and you're most likely listed on the other ten.
One of the "secret methods" search engine optimization companies utilize is doorway and hallway web pages. These are special pages on your website created to increase your standing in a specific search engine. While possibly effective, the return on investment is very low. The doorway you should be most concerned about is the one your guests walk through. Read on to find out why.
Where reservations really come from
Ever hear an innkeeper say they receive over 80% of their business from their website? Well, they're 80% correct. Don't get me wrong, a quality website is an incredible asset, but what they leave out of the statement is how people found their website in the first place. This information is vital to determine and improve the effectiveness of your website as a marketing tool.
Three paths to your website
Over the last six years, we have closely watched the visitation statistics of hundreds of B&B websites. During this time, one pattern has held true and I call it the principal of thirds. Viewers come to every web site via one of three possible methods. Amazingly, each of these methods occur equally one third of the time on average. They are:
1. Searching via a search engine or directory such as Yahoo
2. Clicking on a link on another page such as a chamber of commerce web site
3. Typing in the web address by hand
Once you understand this principal, it's easier to avoid the hype and focus your marketing efforts on what really matters. Let's discuss each of the above to get a further understanding of what they really are.
Seek and ye shall find (the first 33%)
If your website is listed on the Yahoo directory, it generally represents over 20% of the visitors your website receives. This leaves only 13% to be divided among all the other search engines combined, so each attributes less than 2% of the total visitors to your site. All the hype about search engines, meta tags and positioning you've heard so much about represents only a small percentage of the hits your web site receives. When you consider this, it's easy to understand why building a special doorway page for one specific search engine might not be worth the time.
So, why are the search engines so over-hyped? Simple, there's a ton of money to be made by companies who can make you believe you're not doing well enough in the search engines. The search engines are necessary; they just aren't the holy grail.
The missing link (the second 33%)
Links from other websites comprise a third of all visitors to your site. The majority of this category is represented by only a handful of links which work incredibly well while the remaining links contribute little if any visitors to your site. Armed with this information, you can ensure you have the necessary links and spend your limited time on more fruitful tasks. Here are the top three links you should have:
1. A local B&B association site
2. A state or regional online B&B directory
3. Your local chamber of commerce website
The best links are those both close to your inn regionally and your industry topically. In other words, a lodging guide on your area is a productive link while the local T-shirt shop site is not. Likewise, national lodging guides do not perform as well as regional or state guides despite their greater coverage. The closer to home, the better it works.
When it comes to links, you get what you pay for. Free links or links from free lodging guides generally attribute very few visitors to your site. The solution? Ask for a free trial period and then check your stats when you are asked to renew.
Sleight of hand (the final 33%)
A stats program for your website such as WebTrends Live is a great tool for revealing how visitors came to your site. However, it's difficult to track those who typed your address by hand. So, how do these people find your web address?
1. Traditional media such as printed B&B guides, business cards, brochures, etc.
2. The innkeeper gives out the web address during a telephone conversation or on their answering machine.
Unfortunately, much of the internet hype has overshadowed common sense marketing. Simple things like leaving your web address on your answering machine, giving it out to every guest who calls and including it in standard print media have often been pushed aside. Don't forget this final 33% and you'll be ahead of your competitors who do.
Focusing on the fundamentals
Following is simple recipe for success in web marketing. I would encourage you to hire a professional web designer, host and webmaster to handle your marketing to ensure quality and accuracy. Focus on companies who specialize in the B&B industry who have promotional plans built on this foundation. The basic plan:
1. Start with a professionally designed website created by a designer preferably in the B&B industry. Use professional photos and limited text, focusing on what's important or different about your area and inn. In other words, use Product, Price and Place - your guests want this information first and foremost.
2. Host your website with someone familiar with the B&B industry and hire them to be your webmaster. They generally cost the same or less as other webmasters and are experts in your industry.
3. Make sure your website is listed in Yahoo and Dmoz and indexed with the major 5-8 search engines. Don't worry about placement within the listings -- this is often difficult if not impossible to control.
4. Buy keywords phrases on pay-per-click engines such as goto.com ( "your-city your-state bed and breakfast.")
5. Get a link from your local chamber website.
6. Get a link from the top one or two regional/state B&B guides in your area.
7. Get a link from your local B&B association website.
8. Get a link from bbonline.com.
9. Don't forget about giving out your website address to every potential guest who calls, placing it on your answering machine and all marketing materials.
10. Be sure you're still considering printed B&B guides and that your web address is included.
11. Make sure you have a stats package installed on your website so you can evaluate your marketing efforts.
KISS the hype goodbye
I like the KISS principal (Keep It Simple Stupid) especially as it applies to marketing. By tuning out the hype and focusing on what works, you can increase the effectiveness of your marketing efforts. You'll sleep better at night knowing you've done the right things and ignored the rest.