I operate a small hotel and restaurant. I've invested several thousand pounds in a website but find it's lost in the search engines and smothered by online agents' sites. How can I get more customers to my site?
Chris Morton, Chris Morton Associates
Most problems stem from the way the net is viewed as a free resource where you can display your brochure and be successful. Times have changed.
The web is not free. Development and hosting both cost money. So does promotion, whether through web-page optimisation, online advertising, identification of news groups, special interest e-zines, etc.
Getting best value online demands the use of direct marketing skills: identify your market niches; determine what you can afford to spend per customer; identify relevant market opportunities; promote; measure response and calculate the rate of return.
Web success requires you to think like your customer and place your message where he or she is looking. To improve the return on your site's investment:
- Identify your key markets and the keywords used by your customer. Check out the free keyword tool at http://search
- Tailor your website so you're addressing the right keywords in tags and text.
- Consider using Google AdWords and bid on both the obvious and less obvious keywords used by your market. Remember to bid on misspellings - such as accomodation - as these are often cheaper.
- If your key market is walking in mid-Wales, dedicate a page on your site to walking and ensure visitors arrive on this page, not a general one.
- Offer a real incentive in exchange for visitors' e-mail addresses - a restaurant voucher, say - then build your
e-mail list and increase investment return through effective promotions. Online marketing enables you to test headlines and sales offers very quickly. Use the results to improve off-line promotions.
Robin Houghton, enewsworks
Being found in searches is the raison d'être of any online travel or booking agent - they spend a lot of time and money on what's called search engine optimisation, and it's tough to compete. But here's where you should start:
- Certain design elements can hamper search engine rankings. For example, if your site uses frames or relies heavily on Flash, some adjustments may be needed.
- Remember that search engine crawlers don't see beautiful images, they see words - the words in the underlying code and the copy on the page. For example, if you want to be found in a search for "quiet hotel in Oxford" then those words must appear both on your website and in the code. Take a look at the cached versions of competitor pages in a Google search and you'll see what I mean.
- Inward links from high-quality, relevant and preferably well-trafficked sites will help greatly. Get listed in travel, hospitality and local portals as well as the larger, general directories.
- Regularly refresh the content on your site, even if it's just a spot on the home page for news or promotions. If you have an e-mail newsletter, archive it on your site - that's new content each month.
- Experiment with pay-per-click advertising, such as Google AdWords. It's a quick-fix option - bid on search terms and you can go straight to the top of the results. Set daily limits for your campaigns and the budget won't run away from you.
- Get help with optimisation, as it's a specialist field, but beware "search engine submission" services. The big four - Google, Yahoo!, MSN and Ask - crawl the web all the time and they will pick up on your site if it has been well optimised.
Clive Holland, Sugarvine.com
This is a common problem for new or small websites. Search engines - and particularly Google - tend to favour large, established, text-based directory sites over a small website for an individual hotel. But you can do certain things to maximise your chances of appearing on some keyword searches.
Search engines take hundreds of factors into account when giving your site its rankings, including the keywords in your page title, the text on the page, how long the site has been live, and how many incoming links there are to the site. If you really want to come top of the search engine listings, it's best to employ a professional search engine optimisation company.
But you don't have to rely on getting your own site to the top of the search engines for your traffic. If you keep seeing the same websites appearing when you're searching for your hotel or related keywords, ask them to link to your site. Some will charge a flat rate or charge on a commission basis, some will require a reciprocal link and others will link to you free of charge. Also, most search engines now have opportunities to buy a sponsored link at the top of the results. This will cost you, but if you target your keywords carefully you can get a good return on your investment and a lot of exposure.
Include your website address on all your offline marketing too, put your domain name on all stationery, newspaper adverts, invoices, brochures and flyers. And keep your website up to date with latest news, special offers and events.
Do you have a business issue you want to put before Caterer‘s panel of experts, drawn from all areas of the hospitality industry? E-mail: