The Elements of Internet Marketing
By Scott and Allison Crumpton

Internet Marketing for innkeepers is comprised of the following four elements: Design, Hosting, Maintenance, and Promotion. Historically, we have lumped Maintenance together with Hosting, but in recent months we've seen a trend toward separating the two. Thus, I will cover each section separately below. Our motivation for writing this article springs from our almost daily discussions with innkeepers across the country who simply need a basic understanding of the elements of internet marketing.

An Analogy

Since terms like Design, Hosting, Maintenance, and Promotion can be vague and confusing especially to the uninitiated, let's start with a basic analogy and build on it.

The Internet is the world's largest library. Every library is associated with four types of people: writers, publishers, librarians, and readers. Someone writes a book, a publisher makes it available to the world through the library, the librarian helps people find the books, and the reader reads the book.

In the case of a website, the writer is the designer who created your website. The publisher is the hosting company who makes your website constantly available. The librarian is the promotions specialist who helps people find your website and the reader is your potential guest. I will refer back to this analogy as we continue on.

Design

Designing a website is like writing a book -- given the right tools and enough time -- almost anyone can do it. The difference lies in the quality of the finished product. Like a good book, there are websites that are interesting and capture your attention and some you can't wait to get away from. Considering a website should be your inn's most important marketing tool, it is surprising how many innkeepers do not take website design more seriously.

Professional Designers

Professional and talented web designers are not prevalent. Simply having talent in graphical design, computers, and layout is not enough. Web design is a skill unto itself requiring years to develop and hone into a fine art. Even if you do find a professional designer, the likelihood they will have an intimate knowledge of the B&B industry is slim. Thankfully, there are a handful of companies who specialize in web design for B&B's. Sure you can use a designer outside of the industry, but your results will vary. Additionally, they are usually much more expensive. Be sure you check sample sites and ask other customers of their level of satisfaction before choosing a design company.

Doing It Yourself

Certainly you can do it yourself. However, unless you are the rare talent in the innkeeping world, I do not recommend you design your own website. The reason is simple. A professional web design will cost about the same as the average inn makes on only a handful of reservations. Why spend hundreds of dollars on software and countless frustrating hours only to produce a website which can have an amateur appearance potentially affecting your bottom line in lost reservations? If you're interested in being your own webmaster, I recommend you maintain your own website once the original site is finished. You'll get the benefit of a professional design and save money on updates.

Hosting

Once your site is designed, you need a Hosting company. Hosting is simply the storage of your website on a computer (server) which is available to anyone with Internet access. In our library analogy, the host is the publisher. Unlike a normal library where the city owns the building and the publishers sell the books to the library, the Internet consists of bookshelves, which are owned by the Hosting companies themselves. A hosting company then sells the individual space on their bookshelf for your website.

B&B Hosting Companies

Nowadays, web hosting companies are very common. However, there are only a few companies who exclusively host B&B websites. These companies have specialized in this field and offer a full range of services to innkeepers. Their service is generally top notch because the B&B Host must provide quality services. One unsatisfied and vocal innkeeper can potentially ruin their reputation.

The shop on the corner

Most innkeepers started out by hosting their website with their local Internet service provider; fortunately, this trend is changing. An ISP is the company who provides either dial-up service or DSL. While convenient, these companies rarely, if ever, do anything additional for you and have very few services. What services they do have are generally more expensive than a B&B specific hosting company. If you're hosting with your local ISP or a non-B&B hosting company, consider the benefits of the additional services and value you might be missing..

Maintenance (Webmastering)

If designing a website is like writing a book, then maintenance is simply the updating of the text and pictures of that book. In the case of websites, we call the people who perform this task "Webmasters" although that title can entail many more advanced duties. Generally, this task is performed by either your web designer or hosting company even though some innkeepers do it themselves. Following is a discussion on the difference between having a professional handle this task for you and learning to handle the task yourself.

Professional Webmasters

Most often, it is your web designer who carries on the task of maintaining your website. Since they have both design talent and the tools on hand to update your site, they are usually a good choice for the job. Most web designers charge by the hour for updates you request. Even if you infrequently request modifications, the cost can be quite high. To offset this cost, many hosting companies in your industry offer maintenance plans which generally cost an additional $10 per month as part of their hosting package. This is a small fee compared to the $45-$75/hour you will pay most designers to make minor updates to your site. Additionally, these companies can perform many more advanced tasks and provide technical support beyond the common web designer.

Doing it yourself

While web design is not for the faint of heart, maintenance can be a simple task as long as you don't get carried away. If you rarely make changes to your website, then it's best to entrust the professionals especially with a low priced maintenance package. If you like to tinker with your site, you have two choices depending on how much you want to change.

Major editing

If you are planning on changing the overall design of your website, moving pictures around, adding pages, etc. then you will need a professional html editor. Programs like Microsoft FrontPage, Adobe GoLive, and Macromedia Dreamweaver are applications of choice. For the novice, FrontPage is probably the least expensive option. Regardless, be prepared for a fairly steep learning curve that includes photo editing, upload and download of your site, and working more closely with your host to get it working. Remember, your hosting company is not the tech support department for the program you are using. If you run into trouble (and you most likely will), go get a good book on the application and settle in for some in-depth reading. This is the price for doing it yourself and you will need all the patience you can muster.

Minor changes

There are several companies out there who provide tools to assist innkeepers in editing the content of their website without having to learn a new program. Granted, they are much more limited in that they are designed to allow you to update your text, specials, etc. but not change the design of your site. The trade off is that text updates are instant and painless. If you're interested in this type of feature, check out www.bbeditor.com or search around for other services that provide this feature.

Promotion

It is the job of the librarian to help readers find what they are looking for in a library. Likewise, it is the job of the Promotion Specialist to help potential guests find your website. In a library, the librarian indexes books in a card catalog you can search. The same is true on the Internet. Search engines serve the same purpose as the old fashioned card catalogs found in the common library. Anyone can act as the librarian of your website by promoting it to potential guests. Read on to find out what a professional Promotion Specialist offers and how you can also do it yourself.

Nearly every web design company offers some limited form of website promotion as part of their services. This usually entails adding specialized keywords to your pages and submitting your website to the search engines for inclusion. Unfortunately, there are scam artists who prey on the uninformed and offer to submit your site to thousands of search engines. Since there are less than 15 major search engines which really matter, any company who offers such a package is either unethical or clueless.

Promotion Specialists

A Promotion Specialist goes beyond simply adding keywords to pages and submitting your site to the search engines. Their job entails analyzing how many visitors your website receives daily and formulating a plan on how this can be increased. This includes factors such as determining the "holes" in your internet marketing strategy, finding the best lodging guides and locating effective, popular websites near your location which you can link to. Their job requires both an intimate knowledge of website promotion and your industry. Depending on the company you choose, the results can be quite dramatic.

Thankfully, the B&B industry is served by several companies who offer this specialized service. The options run from the simple and inexpensive to some of the most advanced techniques used in any sector of the industry. Packages range from $99-$3,000 depending on the services you need and how aggressive you want to become.

Doing it yourself

As with nearly every service except hosting, you can certainly do it yourself. Submitting to the search engines is simple enough and there are resources you can turn to for further help. A few months ago, Arrington's ran a couple articles on the best lodging directories and have since included numerous articles on increasing visitors to your site. However, beyond the simple stuff, you will want a professional to help unless you've got the time to become an expert in the field.

Conclusion

Hopefully this article has dispelled some of the mysteries surrounding your most important marketing tool - your website. A quality website is an asset which brings more value every month than it cost to create. Few marketing ventures payback nearly so quickly and completely as a proper web presence. Thankfully, there's help available - for both the do-it-yourselfer as well as the novice. Whether you want to take on the great adventure yourself or hire a professional, the benefits are increased reservations and revenue.

Moriah Mountain Internet Marketing    |     P.O. Box 1283     |     Grants Pass, Oregon 97528
Toll Free: 800-841-5448     |     Fax: 541-479-5879     |        www.moriah.com