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.
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
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 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.
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
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..
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.