At a recent conference, we gave a session on effective website
design by reviewing the sites of innkeepers who were present.
We entitled the session "The good, the bad and the ugly"
and asked for volunteers with "thick skin." The most
amazing outcome of the session was the stark difference between
the message the innkeeper wanted their website to present and
the real message the site portrayed. We asked a simple question
"What do you want guests to know about your inn?"
Most of the time, the answer to this question was never mentioned
in the sometimes voluminous content of their site.
In keeping with the wedding theme of this issue, we have entitled
this article, "Are you married to the right website or just
living with the wrong one?" Like a good marriage, your website
should be your partner in marketing. Unfortunately, too many innkeepers
settled for the first proposal which came along instead of their
true soul mate.
A good website is valuable like a good spouse. It is a partnership
borne of mutual interest and goals. If your aim is not united,
your goals will never be achieved.
The Honeymoon is Over!
The honeymoon is over and it's time to take a long, hard look
at your partner (in marketing). There are, however, two small
problems. The first is objectivity and the second is discernment.
Unless the reviewer of your website possesses these two qualities,
you will never obtain a true and accurate evaluation.
Love is blind (and deaf too)
When we first started reviewing websites several years ago, I
was shocked that most innkeepers thought they had a wonderful
website. It didn't matter how terrible the layout, they were convinced
their site was quite wonderful even sites which blinked,
flashed and gyrated so much they made me nervous! This fearsome
and blind loyalty to their partner in marketing was very confusing...
until we found the source.
Through rose colored lenses
Most innkeepers base the quality of their website on the feedback
they receive from their guests. In many instances, when we suggest
a website should be improved, the response is often, "all
my guests love my website!" This leads to the misconception
that the website is a perfect match for your inn.
The true meaning of the statement is "everyone who visits
your inn and mentions your website tells you they love it."
There are two major flaws in this method of evaluation.
1. It leaves out those who visit your inn but didn't like the
website and chose to keep quiet about it. I've been a victim of
this mentality myself - choosing not to mention a very annoying
aspect of an inn even though it could have helped the innkeeper
2. It leaves out everyone who views your website and didn't book
This second flaw is probably the most dangerous in that your
website may be costing you thousands of dollars in lost reservations.
If potential guests are visiting your website but not finding
what they are looking for, you've lost them due to an ineffective
website and misrepresentation of your inn.
The greatest problem innkeepers face in evaluating their website
is not the quantity of the feedback they receive but the quality
of that feedback. Additionally, their interpretation of what this
feedback means leads to a dangerous misconception that everything
is well with their site.
Going in for counseling
It is imperative to find an objective and professional designer
to review your website. However, be very careful whom you choose
and gather more than one opinion. There are many "professionals"
out there who are technically savvy but lack true design talent.
A case in point came up recently when an innkeeper asked a group
of their peers to review their new site. The site was built by
a "professional" design company in our industry but
appeared to have been thrown together by an amateur. The images
were not even color corrected. Despite this, the reviews from
several innkeepers were very positive. Thankfully, the innkeeper
requested reviews from several professionals as well.
Fixing the problems
Often times a website can simply be 'tweaked a bit' to make it
more presentable. Replacing pen and ink drawings with high quality
photos, removing cute little web graphics which don't match the
site and cutting out half the text is a good place to start. Rethinking
your site and trying to focus your pages will generally yield
Here is an example of a site an innkeeper fixed up after our
review at a recent association meeting:
The advice we gave to the innkeeper was to focus more on the
wonderful view from his inn rather than the leopard graphic. As
we were looking through his site, we found this wonderful view
shot on one of his internal pages. He then told us this incredible
picture was the view from his deck! Amazing! This is what sells
- not logos (even though the leopard logo was a very well done
icon.) We made a few other suggestions such as adding more pictures
to the front page, moving the navigation to the bottom and including
contact information. These simple little changes yielded many
positive results. Now, the first impression of his inn is no longer
the leopard graphic but the view you will enjoy when visiting
his inn. That's an important change which took very little effort
and can easily increase reservations.
Like a house with a bad foundation, it's often less expensive
and more productive to simply tear down the old website and start
over. I know some innkeepers don't like to hear this, but the
effect can be dramatic and pay for itself with only a couple new
I've listed below some sample sites showing both the before and
after. We chose sites that began decently enough and could have
improved with a little effort, but for the same amount of money
were transformed. You can see them at:
Your perfect match
One of the most surprising aspects of many websites we review
is they rarely reflect the beauty and individuality of the inn.
We have spoken to innkeepers about the unique aspects of their
inn, looked at their very professional brochure and then were
astounded by a website completely lacking in professionalism.
Poor communication with the designer, hiring someone with little
design talent (despite their technical expertise), or even doing
their own design work are often all contributing factors which
can lead to failure.
Making a list
Sit down for five minutes with a pen and paper (or computer)
and write about your inn. List your main selling points, what
makes your inn and area so special, and what you have to offer.
When you are done, decide on the theme of your message and make
three to five major points. This should be the basis for your
website. Keep in mind that it doesn't need to be a novel. I recently
looked at a 15-20 page Bed and Breakfast website and then looked
at their simple tri-fold brochure. I had to wonder how their guests
would feel if they handed them a 20 page brochure on their inn.
If you wouldn't do that in print, why do it electronically?
Presenting your best side
Often I find that an inn has an incredible view of their area
with nary a photo of the exhilarating view anywhere on the site.
Likewise, they will often include a pen and ink or other unattractive
photo when they live in a region full of wonderful area attractions.
A collage on the home page such as the one at http://www.imnahariverinn.com
is a simple way to sell both your inn and your area.
You have a screen size of about half a sheet of paper to make
your first impression and sell that potential guest. Why then
would you fill it with pen and ink images, logos, or unnecessary
text when that space is so valuable? If a picture is worth a thousands
words, then use your best photos at the top of your home page
and sell what you have. A good example of making a lasting first
impression can be found at: http://www.washingtonbedandbreakfast.org
Seeking professional help
It is the rare innkeeper who can create a website with a truly
professional look. If you are one of those innkeepers, congratulations.
If not, may I suggest you find a professional web designer within
the B&B industry. The cost of a top quality website is equal
to the money made on only a handful of reservations. With this
in mind, why would you settle for anything less when your website
is the hub of all your marketing efforts. Truly, this is not the
place to skimp and pinch pennies as it can either cost you thousands
in lost reservations or make you a bundle. Perhaps it's time to
send that old website packing and start looking for one you can