Build a website and take bookings

This is Section 1 of the series ’45 things you can do to get more bookings’

Section 2 – SEO – get to the top of Google
Section 3 – Content strategy – keep telling your story
Section 4 – Social Media & PR – talk to your people
Section 5 – Advanced Strategies – get that extra edge
Section 6 – Monitor your Progress – monthly stats are essential

1. Have a responsive website

A ‘responsive’ website is one that works both on desktop computers and mobile phones.

We’re almost getting to the point where this shouldn’t need to be mentioned, however, there are still plenty of antique hotel websites kicking along that do not work on mobile phones.

If yours is one of them, move this job to the top of your list immediately, if not yesterday.

Your business website MUST work on mobile phones. If it doesn’t, you are costing yourself serious money and branding yourself unprofessional.

Use Google’s mobile-friendly tool to see what Google thinks of your website for mobile users.

Your website MUST work on mobile phones

2. Make your website fast

In general, websites have become slower rather than faster, yet people now expect instant results. If your website doesn’t load within a couple of seconds, you’ll lose customers.

Measure your website’s speed using a tool called Pingdom. Choose the location nearest where most of your customers live.

Do multiple tests, preferably 10, because results really do vary. On average, your website should load in 2 seconds or less.

At the time of writing, my own website is loading in less than a second if I test from Europe, but around 3 seconds from Australia. I still have some work to do.

Is your website loading in 2 seconds or less?

3. Book now button on website

Can visitors book directly from your website? In real time? Without talking to a human?

If not, you’re losing bookings.

Nobody wants to fill in an ‘enquiry form’ and wait for the hotel owner to write back at some unknown point in the future, if at all.

Your competitors are ready to take your guest’s booking right now, so get onto this immediately if you haven’t already.

There are a number of ways to take direct bookings, depending on how you have the rest of your system set up.

Text messages to 'Lamest Hotel Ever - Hi, do you have a room available tomorrow? Hello? Hellooooooo Is anybody there? Earth calling… Forget it, I just booked a room down the road.

For example, if you’re using Little Hotelier you can add a Book Now button that will deal with your booking automatically. It will communicate with your other booking channels, such as booking.com, to reduce your availability accordingly.

4. Call to action

People come to your website to find answers to their questions, and to solve the problem of where to stay.

You can solve that problem, but you need to make it very obvious what people need to do.

Put your Book Now button on your home page, right up the top, and make sure it really stands out.

Google loves a website with clear instructions, so you’ll benefit twice.

Tell people what you want them to do, like this:

5. Set up a channel manager

A channel manager allows you to fill every room without fear of overbooking, regardless of how many different companies are taking bookings on your behalf.

Guests can book rooms at your hotel through companies like Bookings.com, Agoda, Expedia, Wotif and TripAdvisor, as well as on your own website, and current availability is updated in real time.

If you’re not using a channel manager you have to log into each company and manually reduce availability every single time you receive a booking, which means it’s very easy to overbook. In order to reduce that risk, you have to reduce the number of rooms offered to each company, which means you potentially miss out on bookings.

There are a lot of companies offering channel management. Investigate the options carefully.

MAXIMISE your bookings

It’s particularly important that the channel manager integrates with your own system. You don’t want your availability being updated everywhere except at your own front desk.

When someone walks in the front door you need to have absolute confidence that you have a room available, rather than putting them into the last room – which Mr and Mrs Angry booked online this morning. You’d better believe Mr and Mrs Angry will be posting on TripAdvisor within moments if they show up to find their room has been given to someone else.

6. Set up Google Search Console

Google Search Console used to be known as Google Webmaster Tools. It’s used by all sorts of people though, both webmasters and others, so the name was changed in May 2015.

According to Google, “Google Search Console is a free service offered by Google that helps you monitor and maintain your site’s presence in Google Search results. You don’t have to sign up for Search Console for your site to be included in Google’s search results, but doing so can help you understand how Google views your site and optimize its performance in search results.”

That’s understating it. Google Search Console is an excellent tool because it gives you all kinds of information. Do you want to know what search terms people typed in that brought them to your site? What about who is linking to your website? You can check both in the search console.

Google Search Console also tells you about broken links and other problems with your website.

It’s actually quite ridiculously exciting once you get in and start looking around.

If you link your Google Search Console with your Google Analytics account you’ll be able to access additional reports.

A Beginner’s Guide to Google Search Console is a good place to start if you’re just learning about Google Search Console for the first time.

Looking around Google Search Console is actually FUN!

You can find out so much about how people are finding you.

And who is linking to you.

And ALL the things!

7. Make sure everything is in YOUR name!

Oh my goodness, oh my goodness.

I have lost count of the number of clients who have no idea how to access their domain registration – even corporate clients with millions of dollars at stake cannot tell me where the keys to their front door are located.

You know that’s what it’s like, right? Your domain, ie your website address, is like your front door. Your website is your building.

If the company that first built your website 10 years ago registered your domain in their account, they control everything about your website. At any moment they could log into your domain registrar and make one simple little change which would mean visitors to your URL would now see an entirely different website. The (UGLY) home page could read “Blue Beach Resort” – what a joke” and there would be absolutely nothing you could do about it.

To be clear, there is a process you can follow to reclaim your domain so in the above instance you could eventually take control of your URL, but it takes time. You don’t want to find yourself in this situation.

Please, make sure you can log in to your domain registrar and your hosting company, and that the accounts are in your name.

The same goes for anything else you pay for. Don’t fall into the trap of letting someone else take care of things because you don’t understand it. Outsourcing is important, but you don’t want to outsource the actual control of your online assets.

Outsourcing is fine, but you still need to OWN your own stuff

Blue Beach Resort, what a joke

Don’t use the same company to register your domain name AND host your website.

That’s putting all your eggs in one basket.

8. Maintain your website

If you’re using WordPress it needs to be updated regularly. Plugins, themes and the WordPress core are constantly changing and if you don’t keep up you put your site at risk.

Granted, this won’t directly increase your bookings, but it will help prevent that gut-sinking moment when you realise your website has been hacked.

Bookings tend to dry up altogether when there’s a nasty message plastered across your home page.

You need to regularly update your website software

9. Secure your website

Website security falls into the same category (let’s call it the ‘dull and boring yet critically important’ category) as website maintenance.

There are things you can do to make it really easy for hackers to get into your website. And there are things you can do to make it really difficult for hackers to get into your website.

If your username or password are ‘admin’ you have some urgent work to do.

Website security can be a confusing and slightly scary topic. Don’t let that put you off attending to it. Ask questions. Get answers.

You should not be able to log into your website with ‘admin’ and/or ‘password’

10. Backup your website

Assume your website will go down one day. It’s highly likely that at some point it will happen.

Be ready for that moment by having a current back up of your website.

How?

If you’re using WordPress, install a plugin called Duplicator. Click on it, then click Build Package. Follow the various prompts until you end up with two things to download – the installer, and the archive. Download both.

You now have a current copy of your website on your local computer. Store it in a folder called Backups, in a logical place you can find.

Backup as often as you update your website.

Don’t worry if you don’t know how to restore the backup. Think forward to a moment in the future when your website has disappeared from the face of the internet. You’re talking to an expert and they say, “you don’t happen to have a backup do you?”

They’ll fall off their chair when you say that yes actually, you do. This will be a golden moment. Nobody ever says yes.

Not only will your current website be easily restored, you’ll save yourself a packet in fees on two fronts:

a. the tech person won’t have to spend time digging around behind the scenes, desperately trying to find usable fragments of your website, and
b. you won’t need to pay for a brand new website. WIN!

If you’re not using WordPress, you’ll need to investigate the best way to backup your website. Make it a priority.

Is your website important to your business?

If so, you must have a current backup.

Your website has gone. I don't suppose you have a backup - comic strip

11. HTTPS

Advanced – If you already have a website and this list of 45 things is making you sweat, put this one in the Advanced category. Come back to it later when you’ve sorted out other more urgent things.

If you’re about to build a brand new website, you might as well make it HTTPS from the outset.

HTTPS is the secure version of HTTP. It means the connection between your browser and the website are encrypted.

In the past https was only used for websites involving highly confidential transactions, but now it is becoming standard for all websites, to the point where Google is favouring https over http.

At the time of writing I haven’t yet changed my own website over, but it’s on the list.

You need to make the change properly so as not to lose any SEO benefits you have already gained. It’s one of those jobs where you can discover too late you’ve done damage that can’t be repaired. Don’t let this put you off making the change. Just be aware that you need to proceed carefully.

This is not the time to be gung-ho or ‘she’ll be right’.

Proceed carefully if you’re switching from HTTP to HTTPS.

12. Set up Google Analytics and monitor it

  • Who is visiting your website?
  • How many people are looking at your website right now?
  • How are people finding your website? Are they coming via a Google search, from Facebook, from an advertising campaign or somewhere else?
  • Are your website visitors mostly men or women?
  • How old are your website visitors?
  • What are they interested in?
  • Whereabouts in the world are your website visitors located?
  • Are people mostly using a mobile phone, a tablet or a desktop to visit your website?
  • How long do people spend on your website?
  • Which pages do they visit the most?
  • How successful are your advertising campaigns?
  • Do you have a search box on your website? If so, what are people typing into it? Are they finding what they’re looking for or going elsewhere?

These are all things you can find out with Google Analytics.

Once you know the answers to questions like these you can make good decisions, especially about things like advertising.

Have you noticed a few bookings coming from French visitors in their 40’s? Is Google Analytics confirming quite a bit of traffic is coming from France? Maybe you could run an advertising campaign targeting people living in France, aged 40-50 and interested in travel?

I won’t say Google Analytics is easy or that I’m a full bottle on it yet. It can be a bastard of a programme to learn and it has limitations.

Overcome the Google Analytics Learning Curve in 20 minutes is a good place to start if you’re brand new to Google Analytics.

This article (Hey Idiot! You’re reading your Google Analytics all wrong!) gives a bit more insight and is also a really great example of someone writing in their own authentic voice rather than a special, sterile ‘internet voice’. I actually had a few laugh out loud hucks while reading it, which is not something you expect when reading about Google Analytics. Although thinking about it, I did turn up this article when I searched Google for the phrase ‘google analytics is a bastard’.

You might be thinking there seems to be a fair bit of overlap between Google Analytics and Google Search Console.

You’d be right.

That’s the end of Section 1.

Head to Section 2 – SEO – get to the top of Google

Cath, can you help?

Yes, I can.

I work one-on-one with hotel owners to help with all these things so you can get more bookings.

Find out more here.

What do you think?

What else do you do to increase bookings?

What have I missed? Have you spotted a typo or some other error? Do you agree or disagree with a particular point?

Or, if you found this information helpful please let me know. My casual thought about putting together this series turned into an obscene amount of time, blood, sweat and tears, so I would be chuffed to hear from you.

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