Keeping up with the Jones' is a popular expression that all Brits are familiar with...it means keeping up with your neighbours, and in this instance, I'm talking about your competition!

There is a definite movement among accommodation owners to focus more on getting direct bookings and seeking to rely less on the big booking sites such as Booking.com and Airbnb etc.  When it comes to SEO, you will have probably noticed that all the top ranking spaces are taken up by these larger sites. It's pretty futile to try and compete for any competitive search phrases but this is not surprising when you consider how much these companies spend each and every month to ensure they keep their coveted top-ranking placements. But...did you know how much you are helping them achieve this? You help them immensely whenever you add an award received from one of these booking engines to your own website (eg Tripadvisor Certificates of Excellence).  The award (which links to your listing on their site) provides them with that important inbound link from your website. Each inbound link helps improve their own SEO score, so you can imagine what effect the many hundreds of thousands of links that Tripadvisor receives by giving out these awards and getting owners to add them to their website.

Thankfully with the use of social media and other marketing tools, it's possible to come away from being so reliant on the large booking sites, and this leads me to the main focus of this article...if you're looking to achieve more direct bookings, then your own website will become your main marketing tool.

For any direct bookings, your website should be your best asset...it's your shopfront that is always open. A Facebook page is never going to sell your accommodation visually in the same way that a good website can. People buy or in this case, book with their eyes, and so having a visually appealing, professional website is imperative for good results.

You will have found that if you currently use Airbnb, Booking,com, HomeAway (VRBO), etc that you may already get direct bookings via your website, simply because some people who view your property on these booking sites will then do a web search to find out more about your accommodation and in doing so come across your website. You already probably know how satisfying it is to get a direct booking and not having to pay any commission as a result.

In addition, your website will also receive web traffic when you market directly either via email marketing, social media marketing or pay per click campaigns.

Your website is therefore vital for you to get that direct booking. When a potential "booker" lands on your website, the last thing you want is for them to be underwhelmed by your website, or find it hard to enquire/book, and either dismiss your accommodation from their considerations or slightly less worse, decide to go back to the booking site to make the booking!

Appearance and functionality is so important for a good website. Ask yourself the following questions:

a) Do you think your website is as good as it can be... how does it compare with other similar accommodations' websites?

b) Does your website make it clear to your online guests that it's best to book direct?

c) How long ago did you last have your website overhauled? (If it's over 3 years ago, it's probably overdue a facelift!)

d) If you were looking for accommodation like yours, would your website inspire you to book?

e) Is your website up to date? Are photos current?

f) Does your website have "Call To Actions" - these being either buttons or sections on your site that encourage your onsite traffic to do something such as take a look at your availability, enquire, call you etc.

g) Does your website have recent testimonials/reviews showing?

If you answered "no" to any of these questions your website isn't doing the best it can for you, and people looking at your accommodation are going to be less likely to book directly via your site, losing you bookings, and resulting in you having to pay commission to the big sites... a double loss!

Case Study - Tregella Guesthouse, Newquay.

We have made a grand total of 3 websites for the owner of Tregella Guesthouse, in Newquay, Cornwall.  The first one was in 2014, the last one was just over 2 years ago, so I was a bit surprised when the owner asked how much it would be to get a new website!  Chris, the owner, had been working really hard to get more direct sales, and whilst her website still looked good, she wanted extra functionality and also a bit of a style change to a more modern site, that would be clean and crisp.

The new site went live just the other day, and you can take a look at it here: Visit Website

So, what new benefits/functionality has this site got, that her old site didn't have?

Appearance: The new site looks a lot more modern, fresh and up to date - it's a website that will instantly make anyone who is looking to book be incentivised to continue to browse the site, and read all about the accommodation.  The new website keeps site visitors interested, and therefore much more likely to book.

(Whilst the owner's old site didn't look old fashioned, there is a clear improvement between the 2 sites, which is understandable given that website styles have changed quite a bit over that timescale. And whilst it's hard to put a finger on it, you can always tell when someone has had a new website made.)

Old Site New Site

Call To Actions / Benefits of Booking Direct - the new site has lots of Call To Actions, taking the online guest to view availability, reasons why it pays to book direct, etc which has been shown to greatly increase the likelihood of an enquiry or booking.

Trust...without taking the online guest offsite... we've already talked about Awards from Tripadvisor etc which when clicked takes your potential booker straight to your listing on the booking site. What happens next? Within a few minutes a pop up appears showing them similar accommodation to yours...which increases the chances that you may lose this online guest. You don't want this slippage, so the only other way of building trust and credibility is to show some recent reviews on your website. However, whilst a lot of owners simply copy and paste their best reviews onto their website, a better way of doing this is by using Repuso which is a great service (see it on the new Tregella site) which brings in your best reviews for you. It saves you hours of time, and keeps your website incredibly up to date as you can set it to automatically add any 5 star reviews as and when your receive a review on any of your channels such as Facebook, Tripadvisor, Airbnb, Booking.com, Google etc.  As these reviews are clearly added to the site that they were reviewed on, it gives greater trust than reviews that have been copied and manually added to the site by the owner. Repuso isn't expensive either, and I think the majority of owners would think it highly worthwhile to have this service for very low sum of just a few pounds a month! Visit Repuso here

Call Now Buttons: The use of Call Now buttons also makes it easy for mobile users to easily place a call to the accommodation owner.  Anything that makes it less of a chore for people to make contact is a good thing!

Social Following: The owner has recently started to use Instagram as a marketing tool. This is very sensible as Instagram is hugely popular and as her accommodation really appeals to surfers, and it will be easy for the owner to reach this audience by using surfing hashtags in her instagram posts. We've embedded the instagram feed as a global area on her website, (which means it appears on each page), and this is not only an attractive feature but also makes it really easy (and more probable) that any guests browsing her site who uses Instagram will click to follow the Tregella Instagram account.  We've also added social account links in both the header and footer so that anyone looking for these links can easily find them.

Email Capture: Did you notice the newsletter sign up in the footer? This allows online guests to ask to be added to the owner's Mailchimp e-marketing list; which is ideal for direct marketing.

If you are an existing customer of ours, get in touch with us to find out about the preferential rates we have for you.

One of our main objective is to keep our existing customers happy with their website, and so if are looking for more direct bookings, and feel it's ready for a new website please get in touch with us.

For new customers, we'd love to tell you more about our services...we are more than just a website agency - as we specialise in accommodation websites we are constantly looking at new innovations within the industry that either improve owner's websites, or social media marketing, or will save them time. We're looking to build up a community of accommodation owners so that together we can help owners take control over their bookings. You can contact us here.

I hope you enjoyed this article, please don't hesitate to come to me with any questions,