This article is an overview of what you should be doing to ensure your website works well, and that you get all the bookings you need.
We often get owners who (sadly wrongly) believe that once they have a website built that it will instantly start bringing in visitors without them needing to do anything further. This may have been the case in the early days of the internet, but nowadays with so many websites, the internet is now a very crowded place; often with the big players vastly overshadowing everyone else.
But don't feel beaten, your own website is still always going to be your best marketing asset; namely because it focuses solely on just YOUR property, unlike being one of the many thousands of properties on the big booking sites. Your website should be the one place online where you are really happy with how your accommodation is displayed; it should have an easy to navigate layout, with beautifully placed text and photos. Your website should be attractive, informative and guide your online visitors to do an action; either call, book online (if you have this facility), or to enquire via an email link or an enquiry form. You can increase the potential for this using Call To Actions within your website.
USE THE LARGE BOOKING SITES
If you are just starting out with a new property, perhaps you've just started up a B&B or bought a cottage you wish to holiday let, then you are starting literally from the bottom. Your website and domain are new, and so unlikely to get returned for any searches for quite some time. Our best advice for new owners (or equally for owners who aren't getting sufficient bookings) is to use the large booking sites to your own advantage. Start using Booking.com, Airbnb etc; and start getting heads on beds. It's far better to be fully booked and pay the commission than to be left empty. But - crucially; treat each guest as a building block - you need to ensure that each guest that stays with you leaves you a review on either Tripadvisor, Google or Facebook, as these are the main places people will check your accommodation out on. Did you know that 9 out of 10 people will check out reviews before booking a stay...so the more positive reviews you have, the more people will be happy to book a stay.
In addition, when your property is listed on any big site such as Tripadvisor, Booking.com or Airbnb etc you will find that quite a few people who, if they like the look of your accommodation and think perhaps they may wish to book, will then "google" your accommodation name, with the idea of finding your website to book directly. There has been a few programmes in the UK aired recently about booking direct with owners to save money. Make sure that your website clearly states that "For Best Rates Book Direct" via the website. These direct bookings being commission free, will quickly pay you back the cost of your website from the commission saved on these bookings. (Note - It really helps to have a distinctive property name (particularly when it comes to self catering cottages; as you may find that you have 3 or 4 cottages all with the same name in the same area!)
IN ESSENCE: If you are a new owner make getting online reviews a priority; and for established owners wishing to increase bookings, check how many reviews you have online, and if you don't have many, or have had a few negative reviews, then this could be the factor that is causing a reduction in your bookings.
How do you ensure a good review? Unless you are really certain that your guest has had a great stay, you may be nervous asking them to add a review for you. This is one of the main reasons we created ReviewsPad; a reputation enhancement service that allows you to ask your guests to rate their stay, and then based on the rating, asks them to either leave a review (if they rated your 4 or 5 stars) or directs the guest to let you know what went wrong if they leave a 1, 2 or 3 star rating. This invaluable tool could be the fundamental tool you use to ensure you get great reviews online. Find out more here.
Use Facebook & Social Media
We recommend that at the very least, you have a Facebook Business Page for your accommodation.
Having your own Facebook Business Page for your accommodation can be a real game changer for many accommodation owners. We have had several of our website owners tell us that they get nearly all their bookings simply by using Facebook Ads, and they aren't expensive - you could spend £20 a week to reach many thousands of people; and you can choose the demographic and location i.e. you can select to have your adverts shown to women in the 40s in the UK.
To get started with Facebook, you need to have your own personal Facebook account; don't worry - there isn't any link between your business page and your own personal profile. It only takes a few minutes to sign up to get your own Facebook account, and from there you can create a Facebook Business Page. (We're going to be writing a "How To" article in the coming days on how to set up a Facebook page, so look out for this!)
What you can do with your own Facebook Page: Facebook is a great way of letting people know about your Offers, Late Availability as well as useful / nice information & photos.
When you want to add something to your Facebook page you simply post a new status ( type your status update into the bar that asks, "What's on your mind?" When you hit "share," your status update will post to your wall, and it'll show up in the news feeds of the people who have liked your page). The more people you get to "Like" your page the more successful your posts will be. If any of your 'fans' click "like" on one of your posts, their friends may also see your post, so your post can end up getting seen by a large volume of people. You can boost the post using Facebook Ads too, which will allow it to get seem by many more thousands of people.
TOP TIPS: Make sure you add your website link in the "About" section, and ask all your friends and family to "Like" the page. Make sure your website has a social icon linking to your Facebook page so that anyone who visits your website can easily get to your Facebook page. Include a link to your website within at least one in 3 posts. Consider having a blog added to your website, that can link to your Facebook page. If you are one of our customers whose website was made recently, we can add a blog function to your website, enabling your site to auto post to Facebook and other social media that you connect. (You can see this in action by visiting our Facebook page, where you will see this article has been added! Click Here to visit our Facebook Page)
Twitter is very good too, but very different. It's faster paced and you need to repetitively add the same information multiple times (using different wording) in order to maximise your chances of getting seen by enough people. However it's easier to get followers on Twitter; typically you just need to follow people eg the followers of your local Tourism board, and about 20 percent of the people you follow will end up following you back. So, whilst it's quite time consuming, you can build up quite a nice volume of followers quite quickly if you are able to follow a few hundred people daily until you reach the level you want.
If your website has a blog function then we highly recommend that you use Missinglettr to send out your blog posts - this excellent service will create multiple twitter posts based on your blog article, and send them out periodically throughout the year; this is such a timesaving tool! Their Free Service is ideal for most people. Find out more here
Instagram is great for those who love taking photos. You can't add links back to your website from your photos but your photos can inspire your followers to want to stay! Your profile allows you to add your website link.
Collect Email Addresses
When you get a visitor land on your website, you really want to make the most out of that visitor. We highly recommend your site includes a Newsletter Sign Up call to action; perhaps by using a Pop Up (annoying but effective), or within a section on the home page.
Mailchimp is a fantastic email marketing service, that is free up until you get to 2000 contacts (which would take ages!). This service allows you to add the email addresses that you have collected, (if you are techy savvy you can embed a sign up form into your website) into a mailing list that you can email to completely free of charge. Build up the list with each guest that stays with you and when you get any late availability or have a discounted stay you can email your list with the details, and you will find that by the time you have reached a hundred emails or so, any late deals are highly likely to be taken up by one of these guests. Get Started With Mailchimp Here
We'll be adding more information to this article over the coming weeks, so check back soon!