by Kit Cassingham, The B&B Lady
You know it when you see it and use it, but what is it about a bed and breakfast website that makes it good? Your website is an imperative B&B marketing tool. The quality of the website creates the first impression of your inn and hospitality; it sets the tone for the guest experience.
The beauty of a website, though it can be the curse too, is the additional options websites offer in their design and execution. Websites should be designed for search engines as much as for people. Search engines index websites so that people can find them. If the site isn’t search engine “friendly”, it’s effectively not available to people, at least not without their prior awareness of the site.
Is your website categorized as ugly, bad or good?
An ugly site is one that is hard to use and doesn’t take advantage of technology’s advances for either human interface or search engine activity. It’s badly written, badly designed, and ineffective.
One of the best examples of an ugly site is one that is structured of a long continuous page rather than a collection of small, focused pages, forcing people to scroll up and down to find information. This kind of site is ugly because it’s not search engine friendly and specific information can’t be book-marked by people.
Words tell stories. Make sure you tell the right story by choosing your words well, editing and polishing them before going “live” with your site. An ugly site is filled with typos and grammatical errors, and the writing is uninspiring. The “guest experience” isn’t successfully shared, leaving it to everyone’s imagination — not what you want to convey as your inn’s story.
An ugly site usually has hidden contact information, making it difficult for potential guests to reach you with questions, or make reservations. And often visitors are forced to make contact via telephone rather than email. Match the technologies and give your site’s visitors options, especially making sure your email address is available.
On an ugly site, pictures are badly reproduced or utilized, if they are used at all. What a shame to not show people what you have to offer. Pictures can help sell your bed and breakfast inn as the place to stay. The lack of any artwork or ornamentation to break up the text is hard on visitors’ eyes, encouraging them to leave rather than browse your site.
One thing that makes a site ugly is a “virtual tour” with sound that starts automatically. Technology and its advancements are good, but shouldn’t be forced on unsuspecting visitors. People visiting your site may be on a slow dial-up connection, or may be trying to book a holiday from work and don’t need to have sound suddenly emanating from their computer.
The domain name of an ugly site is long, tedious, and unmemorable, like “some-domain.com/your-state/your-town/business/~your-inn.html”. Your search engine placement isn’t ranked as high, meaning people won’t find you as readily. Furthermore, you are promoting other businesses over yours when you don’t have your own domain name. Why would you do that? It can’t be price because domain names are inexpensive, and are usually considered synonymous with your name, so choose it carefully. Inn owners are in the people business, so cater to people’s needs for simplicity and have a user-friendly domain name, like “yourinn.com”.
Site navigation is how people find information on a site. In a one-page ugly site, if navigation exists at all, it takes you to the part of the page that shares the information visitors are seeking when they click a link. A multi-page ugly site navigation system is one where the navigation is so vague that visitors are challenged to find what they want. This kind of site may or may not be search engine friendly, but it’s definitely not people friendly.
An inconsistent design helps create an ugly site. The design can be plain or garish, but either way it doesn’t set the desired tone or hold visitors’ attention. An example of an inconsistent one-page site is the use of varied fonts and graphic styles, and a lack of balance or apparent design. An example of an inconsistent multi-page site is where each page has a totally different and inharmonious background, style, font, and color. These jarring aspects are hard to reconcile and make people wonder if they’ll have a jarring experience at the bed and breakfast.
Sites don’t have to be ugly to be bad. What makes sites bad? They’re less polished, use technology without thought to its usefulness, are hard to navigate, and/or are slow loading.
Words that don’t help people’s understand why they should stay at your inn contribute to your website being bad. People want to know facts and feel emotions from the copy of B&B websites. The absence of facts or emotions will leave questions unanswered, which means a delayed or nonexistent reservation. Using flowery copy filled with adjectives and adverbs can be misleading and sets your guests up for disappointment, which works against your business success. The adjective “gourmet” is an example of misleading text that creates disappointment more often than not; “gourmet breakfast” is more misleading than informative. Polish your words so they tell the story you intend.
Contact information that’s difficult to find is bad design. If people can’t contact you when and how they want, they may not bother booking with you. Give people browsing your site the options of emailing, calling, and writing.
Pictures on websites that are out of focus, have badly lit subjects, or that are too high a resolution for fast loading are worse than having no photo at all. When dial-up users try to load a page, they’ll gravitate to sites that load quickly and skip those that load slowly. Pictures and graphics can also be a problem when text overlays them, making the text unintelligible if the images overpower it. Deeply colored or heavily textured backgrounds can interfere with text legibility too. How hard will you work to read website copy? Your site visitors won’t try very hard either.
A bad site design concerning virtual inn tours is one where visitors are forced to download software to view your tour. You’ll lose many of them because either they don’t want more software on their computer or they don’t want to take the time to download new software.
Long domain names like “some-domain.com/your-inn.html” (note the use of dashes between words; they make the name more legible but harder to convey while speaking) are hard for people to remember and difficult to share verbally. What people can’t remember, or write down correctly, they can’t visit. That means reduced traffic to your site, and less business. Additionally, you lose brand name power without your own domain.
Poor navigation, where the site’s layout isn’t clear, will frustrate site visitors, causing them to abandon exploration of a site. Owner’s won’t garner much business from your site if it’s difficult to use. I’ve seen beautiful looking sites with navigation I couldn’t understand, so didn’t spend much time there. On each page provide readily apparent links that take your site visitors to the desired information. The links should be obvious, clear and consistently positioned, seen as buttons or tabs in a navigation bar at any of the four edges of your page.
An inconsistent look and feel to your site detracts from visitors’ experiences and may send a message you don’t intend. A bad site’s inconsistent look isn’t as bad as an ugly site’s inconsistencies, but still incongruous enough to raise concern. Examples of what I mean by inconsistent include a hodgepodge of backgrounds through the site, illegible or varied fonts, or different colors for each page (though I have see this technique used effectively).
Using a splash page, or “Enter Here” page, is one that doesn’t tell people much about your inn, and requires they click again to enter the site. This is disrespectful of your visitors’ time. The problem with making them click again — remember, they already clicked your link to look at your site — is the more clicks people make the more likely they are to leave. Making them click repeatedly to get information they thought was one click away doesn’t give a feeling of hospitality or welcome. Splash pages also reduces your search engine effectiveness. Search engines consider the first page in the site THE most important. If you have nothing of value there, your search engine ranking will suffer. One time I was forced to click 11 before I reached the sought information. I clicked the Google link (an expected click), then the enter page (an unexpected and unnecessary click), then I clicked on room descriptions (an expected click), then clicked on room descriptions again (an unexpected, unnecessary, and annoying click), and then had to select each of the seven rooms individually to learn what I wanted (a series of unexpected clicks that by that time was very annoying). That was too many clicks and annoyance for me and my busy schedule. Few visitors will bother with 11 clicks; make information obvious and easy to find, or potential guests will go somewhere else — probably to your competitor.
Obviously you want to avoid creating an ugly or bad site, but what makes a good one? A good site is one that is artistic, informative and well written, easily navigated, fast loading, and offers options for accessing the information available to site visitors. It’s user friendly to both people and search engines. A good site takes advantage of the ability to share photos, virtual tours, and sounds, but at the visitors’ discretion.
The words on your site convey not only the emotional connection to people, but also the facts they need to help them make their decision about booking a reservation. The use of nouns and verbs, avoiding adjectives and adverbs, creates clear, accurate copy. Addressing your market niche by describing the offered guest experience helps create a connection with those who will value your inn most.
Evident contact information shows your interest in hearing from the people browsing your site. People are busy and don’t want to dig for information when they are ready to book a reservation or to ask questions. Make it easy for them to spend their money with you. Place your contact information on each page, and have a “Contact Page” with the same information. A note about email addresses: to help minimize your spam problem, consider either a contact form for guest communications or a .gif of your address, rather than having a standard email link.
Another aspect of contact information is online reservations. I don’t mean a system whereby people email you asking if certain dates and rooms are available, but a system that lets people see availability so they can book what and when they want. A reservation is the ultimate contact.
A picture is worth a thousand words, so use pictures to speak volumes about your inn and the guest experience. Use pictures of guestrooms and common areas, of the breakfast table, views to and from the house, and guests having fun and interacting with others. Be sure to use photos that load quickly for those on slow dial-up internet connections. In consideration of slow connections, use pictures judiciously; show the cream-of-the-crop photos on appropriate pages, and give visitors the chance to see more pictures by clicking a link. Give people options of how much they learn and see so they feel they are getting what they want and need during their visit.
Inn tours have become popular and if used well are effective marketing tools. People love seeing the total picture, and a tour is gratifying. Having an optional tour, with the click of a button, lets people see more when they are ready. Tours should be easy to use, and viewable without having to download any software first.
Another technological advancement that can enhance websites is sound, speaking and music being the two most common uses of sound files on B&B websites. Allowing site visitors, at their option, to hear a description of the inn and guest experience can augment the visitors’ sense of the inn; that’s good for business.
Registering your own domain rather than using someone else’s domain for your site is also good for business because of the power of branding. Your URL should look like “myinn.com”. Your domain name is part of your marketing, so be sure it stands out.
Clear navigation makes it easier for people to find the information they want or need. Clear navigation uses “tabs”, “buttons”, or a navigation bar that directs the user to the desired content. You would want “Home”, “Rooms”, “Policies”, and “Contact Information” links, for example. Some web developers use a Site Map (available from each page) to help visitors find the information they want that might not be obvious. For example, under the “Policies” link you might place your business policies and green philosophy. That’s not an obvious placement for your environmental philosophy, so the site map provides clear navigation.
Having a consistent look and feel to your site speaks of attention to detail, quality, and care. Your guests want that in their inn experience; showing it at your site comforts them that will be their experience at your inn too.
You only have one chance at a first impression; make it good impression with your well designed and executed bed and breakfast website. Make the website an accurate reflection of your B&B inn and the hospitality you share with guests, making their experience outstanding and memorable.