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
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
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
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
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.