How healthy is your web site? Does it get high search engine rankings? Is it an effective sales tool that generates reservations for your bed and breakfast? Here’s a checklist of ten questions to help you assess the effectiveness of your site.
1. Do you know the key search phrases people use when searching for accommodations in your area? When they go to Google, do your target customers search for "your town bed and breakfast" or "your area B&B" or "your town lodging"? It’s important to know, since these phrases are your most valuable internet marketing tools.
A search engine is essentially a match-maker. When the web user enters a search query, the search engine scours its massive database looking for all the web pages that contain that phrase. And when it compiles its results, the web pages with the exact matching phrase usually go toward the top of the list followed by all the other pages that contain the words in no particular order.
When assessing your key-phrase marketing, keep in mind that it’s difficult to optimize any single page for more than two or three key word phrases. And you’ll probably have more than three phrases that you’d like to use. But you’re not limited to your home page. You can optimize every page on your web site, each with a different set of key word-phrases.
Choosing which search terms are best for your target audience doesn’t have to be guesswork. A Google search for "Search Engine Optimization" or "Search Engine Marketing" will lead you to a wealth of "how-to" information on the subject. And online database tools like WordTracker are helpful and affordable. Or you can hire one of the growing number of search engine optimization and marketing specialists to perform your key phrase research for you.
2. Do your page titles contain your strongest key word phrases? This is the first place a search engine looks for key word phrases, so it’s crucial to make every word count. If you can include two key word phrases and stay within the 50 character limit, that’s even better.
And don’t use your B&B’s name in the title unless it’s also a valuable search term, one that the majority of your target customers would likely search for.
3. Does your web site begin with an "enter" page? This is the kind of web site design I love to see on my competitors’ web sites — a purely visual statement unspoiled by useful information!
First of all, waiting for an empty page to load can be extremely annoying. But more importantly, an empty page gives the search engine spider nothing to index. With no key word phrases to tell the search engines what your web page is all about, you’ll get no search engine traffic at all.
4. Are your pictures an asset or a liability? In reality, your guest rooms may be delightfully decorated with beautiful furnishings, nice lighting and attractive creature-comforts. But on your web site, those rooms are no nicer than the photographs. If your photos are sub-par, you’re compromising your advertising message. Hire a photographer!
5. Are your pages fast-loading? The web’s popularity is built on the premise of instant gratification. And there’s nothing instant or gratifying about a slow loading web page. In fact, if a page takes more than a minute to load, you’ve lost your audience. Many lose patience after twenty to thirty seconds.
On the web, text loads immediately. It’s the photos and graphics that slow things down. So here are two things you can do to minimize those load times:
• Before adding a photo to your web page, make sure the original jpeg image is sized and cropped to the exact dimensions that will appear on the page. Reducing a photo after it’s added to the web page only changes the dimension, not the file size.
• Use Adobe Photoshop’s "Save For Web" feature to reduce a photo or graphic’s file to the smallest possible size. While the full version of Photoshop carries a professional price tag, the smaller Photoshop Elements version can be purchased for less than $100 and has most of the photo-editing features of the full version, including "Save For Web".
6. Are your web pages short and single-focused? Long, bottomless web pages get very little readership. So keep your pages short — 200 words or less — and to the point.
Don’t forget — your visitors are looking for instant gratification. They want specific information: your rates, your location, your amenities, your room descriptions, or your availabilities. And they don’t want to sort through a lot of other stuff to find it.
So make it easy for the visitor to skim through your pages. Organize your site into short, single-focused pages — each with a specific topic or theme. Use short paragraphs with subheads or boldface lead-ins to help the reader skim for information. And when possible, use bulleted lists to enumerate your features and amenities.
There’s an added benefit to having more pages. You’ll have the opportunity to optimize the additional key word phrases we discussed in question 3.
7. Do each of your pages contain links to all of your other pages? Having a complete set of site navigation links on every page is not only a courtesy to your web site visitors, it ensures that the search engine spider will visit and index all your pages.
If your site uses a graphical navigation bar — with "mouse-over" buttons that change shape or color when touched by the curser — consider adding a set of textual links at the bottom of each page. This, too, will help you with the search engines.
8. Do you have a visitor tracker on your web site? Do you know how many people visited your web site last month? Do you know how they found you? Did they come from BBOnline, BedandBreakfast.com or did they use a search engine? Do you know which search phrases they used?
Do you know how long they stayed on your site and which pages they visited? Or did they take one look at your home page and lose interest? If you’re not using a visitor tracking service, you’re essentially in the dark.
There was a time when you'd have to pay anywhere from $10 to $40 a month to have a good-quality visitor tracker on your site. But now, most of those same features can be found in the free Google Analytics tracker. While some of its features are designed to track Google AdWords advertising conversions, most of the features are useful for any web site. It is transparent to the user, offers password protection, and tracks all the pages on your site.
9. Do each of your pages display your contact information? When a potential customer wanders through your web site, he or she could decide to become a paying customer at any time — while viewing your home page, your rooms page or your map page. And when that happens, will your phone number be there? Will there be a link to your email address? Don’t make your customer go off looking for a way to contact you. Put the information on every page.
10. And finally, does your site make these common mistakes?
— Do your outbound links open in the same window, effectively taking your web site visitor away from your site? All external links should open in a new window.
— Do you have important text in a graphic, just to make it look better? The type face may be more attractive, but the search engines can't "read" a graphic. Use regular HTML text.
— Do you use special fonts on your web pages? An esoteric font may look perfectly fine on your computer, but entirely different on most other computers. Limit your choices to fonts that are on all computers (Arial, Times, Verdana, Comic, Georgia, etc.).