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Scott, you recently stated: "You should never give someone a reason to leave your site once you have them there." Could you elaborate a bit on how this statement relates to linking to your local association? If you are a member of your association (city or state) many promotional groups advocate linking from your personal site to your association website. By doing this you are linking directly to your competition. What is the advantage? Does the link popularity advantage outweigh the competitive disadvantage? We do all come together in associations to help one another but in many cases we are still competitors, friendly competitors, but still competitors. The same is true of linking to convention and visitors bureaus, yes it provides a service to our guests, but it also opens up a wide world of other lodging possibilities to them. What has been your experience with individual Inns linking to their association website and/or to convention and visitor bureau websites directly from their homepages, and what are your thoughts and opinions on this?
Thanks in advance
Chambered Nautilus Bed and Breakfast Inn
In a vacuum, my statement about never giving a person a reason to leave your site is accurate. Trouble is, nature abhors a vacuum!
For years we have heard from people that you need to be giving your viewers links to things to do in your area. It's actually the principal the web was built on which is why they call it "Hyper Text." However, I disagree completely with doing this as my job is marketing inns -- not other web sites in their area.
I personally believe that by the time someone arrives at your web site, they already know they are coming to your area and know why. It is sufficient to have an area information page complete with photos and descriptions of things to do in your area -- they don't really need the links. If you do feel compelled to give them links to other web sites, here's a novel idea I have not yet seen implemented. Why not present them in the confirmation page which comes up after they fill in a reservation request? Then you're only giving them to those who are booking with you.
B&B associations, chambers of commerce and B&B directories often request a link from your web site to their home page in return for a link you might already be paying for. For obvious reasons, they request this link be placed on your home page. Let's be honest here, they want the link on your home page because they want people to click on that link and leave your home page. Is this a good idea? Of course not! Then why do they request it this way? Because they know it is the most read page on your site. I often compare this to greeting a potential guest at the front door of your inn, handing them brochures of local things to do and sending them on their way without ever showing them your inn or inviting them to make a reservation. If you wouldn't do this in real life, why do it with your web site?
That said, let me mention a couple exceptions:
1. The purpose of a B&B association is that you are recommending the inns in your association over other competitors. From research, we know that most potential guests review at least two B&B web sites before making a decision. If true, you will want to point them back to your association members before sending them off to the search engines. If other members have complied and also linked back to the association site, then you're most likely benefiting as well.
2. Any time you are receiving something of greater value in return for placing the link on your site. In other words, if you are receiving the link from a valuable site for free in exchange for your link. Remember though that the value of what you are receiving needs to be as great as the business you are losing for providing an exit to your site. Caution is advised.
Notes on these exceptions:
1. If you're paying for the link from a site such as a local chamber of commerce, why the heck do you have to put their logo on your page and link back to them? At the very least they should give you the option of doing so and a discount if you do. And why does it have to be a logo on your home page while your link is buried in their site? Most chambers I've seen which require the link back do not give you the option of doing so -- they require it. If so, their policies are Draconian and there's little you can do about it if you need the link (and most do) unless you organize an uprising which is something I always enjoy when Draconian policies are implemented.
I know my views on this are not the party line most innkeepers are used to hearing. Much of what I say isn't but that's primarily because there is so much misinformation out there. In this case, common sense prevails -- to wit... A link from another web site to your web site brings you potential guests. A link from your web site to another web site does not and is an invitation for the potential guest to leave. Which would you rather have?
Domain Name Confusion
I thought there was only one place to register a domain name - Network Solutions. I've heard about another one called Dotster. Are there others?
Dr. Dodson House B&B
Here's an analogy I use often. To register your car, you go to the DMV and for a fee they register your car for a given number of years. The DMV is a government agency and so has a monopoly on this task.
Let's say for a moment the DMV was turned into a company and after a while the government decided their monopoly wasn't a good thing. The DMV would keep the master set of records so no two people ended up with the same license plate number but they would also have competition. That is, other companies such as car dealerships or just about any company could become a licensed registrar of license plates and renewals. Their would be a list of requirements for these companies such as the proper computers systems and the like but it wouldn't be too difficult as to encourage competition. These companies could charge what they wanted and pay a small fee for each license they sold or renewed back to the DMV for keeping the central records.
Okay, enough of the analogy. Replace license plates with domain names and you have the current domain registration system. In the beginning there was the Internic Council (aka the DMV) which had a monopoly on the sale of domain names. The government broke up their monopoly and they became a company called Network Solutions.
There are tons of companies which are accredited registrars. You can see a list here: http://www.icann.org/registrars/accredited-list.html
A word of caution -- just because a company is accredited does not mean it is a good company with helpful tech support. Your domain holds great value. Before you entrust it to just any registrar, do your homework. You may save a few dollars a year only to someday lose control of your domain if something goes wrong. In my opinion, it is better to work with your hosting company or webmaster on this subject than to handle it yourself. It's not a difficult task but if you toss out your invoice simply because you didn't recognize the name of your registrar (which may have changed due to a merger), you will lose your domain -- possibly forever.
Most of the hosting companies in our industry take care of these things and offer a discount off the $35/year Network Solution charges.