Nearly Everything Has Changed
It's time to throw out nearly everything you know and have been told about the search engines because getting to the top of the list has never been easier. By following our simple five step plan, you can improve your standings in almost every search engine and increase your reservations.
Since the beginning of the web, we have freely submitted web sites to search engines and those sites were listed without charge. As the economy slows and search engine companies seek new revenue streams, this process has begun a migration to paid listings. This is good news for innkeepers even though it will cost a bit more. Here's why.
Oh what a tangled web...
For years, innkeepers have been told they need to have their website appear in the top ten of "the search engines." That's a tall order which has been both impossible and frustrating as each search engine ranks web sites differently. Savvy marketers have taken advantage of this frustration and with a mix of art and black magic they have sought to fool the search engines into listing their clients first. The search engines caught wise to their tricks and simply changed the criteria to ensure no one entity could subvert the process. If they actually caught these companies in the act of subverting the listings, they and their clients were blackballed from the service spelling disaster for the well-meaning client. At the very least, their ranking was penalized for attempting to fool the search engine.
More importantly, the smaller search engines like AltaVista, Lycos, HotBot, InfoSeek (go.com), Excite, etc. have only represented a combined 13% of the total hits a web site receives. That's a lot of effort for so little a return.
Conversely, Yahoo has for several years represented the vast majority (20%+) of the total traffic most websites receive but has been difficult to secure a listing. We have seen sites which were submitted every two weeks for almost a year and were never listed.
Let's take a look at what's changed and how you can get to the top without cheating and with only a small amount of time and money.
Weaving a new web...
For $199, Yahoo has a Business Express service in which they guarantee they will review your site within seven days. This does not guarantee they will list your site, but we've never heard of a B&B going unlisted. This service isn't absolutely necessary, but if you've been trying for a while to get listed with Yahoo or you're in a hurry, it's the best option you have. Considering the importance of Yahoo, it's definitely worth considering.
Another service, Looksmart, has recently emerged as one of the major players by getting other minor search engines to list Looksmart content instead of their own. This means a listing with Looksmart is also listed on engines like MSN, Microsoft's own search engine, thus increasing the value of a single listing. Looksmart is requiring either a $99 fee (Basic Submit) for a response within 8 weeks or a $199 fee (Express Submit) for a response within 48 hours for a request to be listed. It's quite possible you are already listed on Looksmart so be sure to check before signing up with either service.
In the coming months, other search engines such as go.com (Infoseek) will be releasing their own paid submission programs but the jury is still out as to whether they will be effective.
Pay per click
The second trend which has recently emerged is pay-per-click listings. This has been championed by goto.com and is actually very good news for innkeepers. At goto.com, you can bid on search terms such as "San Francisco Bed and Breakfast" and pay anywhere from a penny a click on up. The higher your bid, the higher up you are in the listings. Since very few companies are willing to pay for such a detailed search, your cost should be very low and you can be listed near the top for a small fee. Until recently, this method had limited value as goto.com was the only one showing your listing while few people used their search service. All of this has changed now as some of the bigger search engines are carrying the top two or three listings from goto at the top of their own search results. Engines such as Netscape Search, AOL Search, AltaVista, HotBot, and Lycos have stated they will be including these the beginning of 2001 while some have started already. Obviously, competition for the top listings will increase as savvy innkeepers and webmasters catch on, but the overall cost should be relatively low.
What Will Be...
The last few months of 2000 showed a dramatic shift in the way search engines work. Revenue from banner ads have fallen and the once free submission services now have a price. Again, the good news is more accurate results from the search engines and more reservations for innkeepers willing to pay the price.
Since all this can be a bit confusing, we've created the following five step plan:
The Five Steps to Success
1. Get listed on Yahoo! (www.yahoo.com)
2. Get listed with Looksmart (www.looksmart.com)
3. Get listed on Google (www.google.com)
4. Buy the following on goto.com (www.goto.com)
Your City Your State Bed and Breakfast
(ie. Bend Oregon Bed and Breakfast)
5. Check your web stats often to make sure you are getting your money's worth.
A Final Thought...
In summary, while innkeepers may not like the idea of paying on a per-click basis, it sure beats not being listed at the top of the search engines no matter how hard you try. It's a brave new web and the magic of trying to figure out how to get to the top has now become a simple, scientific process. Enjoy!