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Small Hotels: Expenses Rising Faster Than Revenue

Fort Lauderdale’s Sun Sentinel has a story on how revenue at small hotels is not keeping up with expenses.

dollarsWhen times get tough (even when times are good) it’s critical to invest money where it will help your business. But as this article makes clear, you don’t want to be spending more than you should. Uncontrollable items like property taxes and huge cable TV bills make it all the more important to make smart decisions in areas where you’re in control of what you spend and what you get.

We created SiteValet with this in mind:

  • We think your website is absolutely critical to your business and you shouldn’t simply be getting by on “I already have a website,” when that website is outdated and ineffective.
  • But you also shouldn’t be wasting thousands of dollars on custom website design and development. The return on that investment is just too questionable.

We give you a great, modern, effective website that’s better than most custom sites. And instead of charging thousands of dollars, we charge a low monthly fee and no up-front costs.

Spend smart!

The Importance of Photos: A Real Estate Example

Kelly Lantz is a friend and local realtor here in Charlottetown, PEI. I saw this tweet from Kelly this morning (Kelly does a great job of using Twitter for her business):

Kelly Lantz tweet

While this tweet is about real estate, it’s basically the same for inn, B&B and hotel websites: most of your potential customers are “buying” you sight unseen. This makes your website and the information you provide on it important. And it makes the use of clear, informative, compelling photos a necessity.

The Guardian (UK) on the State of Restaurant Websites

Tony Naylor has a good article up on The Guardian about the poor state of restaurant websites. Many of his complaints and his feedback apply equally to the websites of inns, B&Bs and hotels.

Rare is the restaurant that doesn’t have a website these days. Even rarer is finding a good one.

More damaging, to my mind, are websites which whether by omission or clunky design lack basic information.

Other problems he discusses include:

  • lack of clean, logical overall design
  • use of gimmicks like background music
  • lack of interesting, fresh content (particularly blogs)

I’ve given my thoughts on some of these problems in this series of posts.

If you read the article, be sure to read through the comments to get an idea of how certain things on websites can really irritate your site’s visitors.

SiteValet featured on Tnooz

Tnooz logoTnooz, a prominent travel technology weblog, did a feature on SiteValet today.

The focus is mostly on the startup/entrepreneurial side of things, but still a good write-up.

Thanks to Stephen, Kevin and the folks at Tnooz for the coverage.

Useless Flash Welcome Pages

We’re not fans of Flash on inn/B&B/hotel websites, but we’re especially not fans of useless Welcome pages.

The Oatmeal is a funny, irreverent site. Today they take on this topic and others in 8 Websites You Need to Stop Building.

Websites with Flash Intros

PhocusWright: Website Glitches Could Cost You 1/3 of Your Visitors

Just over one-third of consumers (34%) report that a technical glitch will lower their likelihood of visiting a travel Web site again.

iStock_000005307293XSmall.jpgPhocusWright’s Consumer Response to Travel Site Performance.

A new survey of almost 3,000 leisure travelers indicates a very low tolerance for glitches on your website. We think this includes a number of the problems we discuss in our series, What’s Wrong With My Website?.

Are you comfortable that your visitors aren’t experiencing any of these “glitches” on your website?

More New Themes Coming – Executive Suite Variations

Executive Suite is one of our most popular themes, so we’ve asked our designers to create some variations on it. Here’s a preview of what’s coming:

SiteValet's TV Debut

SiteValet was on TV yesterday. We were featured in a business segment of CBC PEI’s Compass called Made in PEI.

Special thanks to Cheryl Paynter. Cheryl is the Director of Hotel Operations for D.P. Murphy Group, owners of Stanhope Beach Resort & Conference Centre. She said some great things about SiteValet. My two favourites are this one from the video:

We operate hotels. We don’t understand the technology of websites.

And this one, which unfortunately didn’t make the cut:

I don’t know why anybody in this business would build a website from scratch with something like SiteValet available.

Thanks to reporter Steve Bruce and his producer Tracy Lightfoot for inviting us and pulling this together.

Comments, thoughts, questions. Would love to hear from you in the comments section below.

Looking for color inspiration? Check out Kuler

kuler_logo.gifI met with Bill & Mary Kendrick (Briarcliffe Inn) at lunch today. They’re thinking about having a Custom SiteValet Theme designed. We were talking about color palettes and I suggested they take a look at Kuler (pronounced ˈkələr, I assume).

Kuler is a website by Adobe that shows user-submitted color palettes. The palettes are very nicely presented. And you can filter/sort them by Most Popular, Highest Rated, and so on.

If you’re thinking of having a Custom or Semi-Custom Theme developed, take a look at Kuler for some ideas.

kuler-reflection.png

New Themes On Their Way

We have a bunch of new themes coming. We should be adding 2 or 3 per week for the next few weeks. Here’s a little preview.

Note: these are visual mockups from our designers. The final themes may end up looking a little different.

Give Your Website a Quick Check with Website Grader and Woorank

WebsiteGrader and Woorank are two tools we use a lot at SiteValet. They’re pretty similar, so I’ll talk about them collectively.

websitegrader.pngThey are both web applications where you enter in the URL of your website (or any website) and they will run a bunch of tests against it. After 15-30 seconds, they return with a score out of 100, and a pretty detailed report.

Both tools are testing two broad aspects of your website, each important to how your site performs from a search engine optimization (SEO) standpoint:

  1. On-site tests. These are things about your website’s content and the code behind it. These are techie things like sitemap.xml files, 301 redirects, the structure of you site’s HTML, etc.
  2. Off-site tests. These measure your website’s presence on the web. How many sites are linking to you, etc.

woorank.pngWoorank appears to test more things, and provides a nice red/yellow/green indicator on each test. They also break the reports into clearer sections, including “In-Site SEO” and “Off-Site SEO.” But each has valuable information, so we always run both tests on any site we’re evaluating.

Even if you’re a little intimidated or overwhelmed by a lot of the information, give it a go. You’ll learn something about your website.

It’s a good idea to recheck every now and then to see how you’re doing and identify areas for improvement.

websitegraderbadge.pngWhat score should you get?

There are too many variables at play here to say definitively. Popular blogs and websites (that are also well coded) can have scores in the high 90s. For most inn, B&B or hotel sites we look at good scores seem to range from the 40s to the 60s. If your site scores below 40 (and definitely if it scores below 30), you should be looking to make some improvements to your inn or B&B’s website.

Take the tests and let us know in the comments section what your scores are.

How Do I Interpret the Google Analytics Reports I Get for My Website?

One of the extra services we provide to all of our customers is to set up Google Analytics on their website. Google Analytics is a powerful way to track your website’s activity: traffic, visitors, sources of traffic, and your visitors’ engagement and use of your site.

This is something anyone with a small business website can and should do. But it can be complex (you need to setup the Analytics account and then add some HTML to your site). But SiteValet does all of that for you.

  • First, we add the necessary code to your site and set up a profile in Google Analytics. This lets Google start tracking the activity.
  • Next, we set up automatic weekly emails to you, of an overview report.

Over time, we’ll write more on some of the key things you should be looking at in your Analytics data. For now, you might want to look at a handful of brief presentations that are available on Google Analytics’ Conversion University:

Note: these presentations show the reports from within the Google Analytics website. You’ll be receiving yours in a PDF report. Some things will look a little different, but the website analytics concepts apply.

What's Wrong with Your Website – Stop Using Flash

Flash is evil. Aaron Wall, SEO Book

Like Aaron, we don’t like Flash and we don’t think you should have it on your website!

I look at a lot of inn, B&B and hotel websites and many of them use Flash. There seem to be three main reasons (excuses?):

    Adobe Flash

  1. Slide shows
  2. Fancy navigation bars & menus
  3. Splash pages (which are a complete waste of your visitors’ time and clicks!)

Why is this important to me or my visitors?

Flash has four big problems. The first is technical, but still impacts your site visitors. The other three impact your ability to reach as many people as possible.ipad.png

  1. Flash has some technical problems that create headaches for your visitors. It consumes a lots of computer resources (memory, CPU) for your site visitors, which can slow down and destabilize their computers. And it’s probably the leading cause of browser crashes. You don’t want your customers cursing you because their browser crashed while they were viewing your website.
  2. Flash doesn’t work at all on some devices and platforms. Most importantly: Flash does not work on iPhones and iPads. Apple have picked a fight here and have made it clear that Flash doesn’t work on these devices and will never work on these devices.
  3. Flash can negatively impact your websites search engine results (SEO). Aaron Wall, one of the leading SEO authorities on the web, says the following in his SEO Book: “Search engines struggle to index, navigate, and classify flash. Flash typically offers little descriptive content, so even if engines could index it, most won’t care to.
  4. Because of #1, more and more people are using tools in their browsers to block Flash. Some of these tools include FlashBlock for FireFox and ClicktoFlash for Safari. I use these and this is what I see when I visit a site with a Flash “splash page”.

Here’s what I see on a couple of sites that rely on Flash (click to enlarge):

What does SiteValet do about this?

Our sites don’t use Flash … at all. We achieve the same sorts of effects using CSS and Javascript. Right now we might not achieve all that can be achieved with Flash, but we continue to find and implement new tools and effects. And our customers rest easy, knowing that they’re providing a good user experience for all their website visitors.

The only exception to this might be video. Embedding video from sites like YouTube and Vimeo still relies on Flash. But even these sites are beginning to offer ways to deliver web video without Flash.

Further Reading:

What's Wrong with Your Website – Code … the Techie Stuff

On of our goals at SiteValet is to take care of the technical stuff so you don’t have to worry about it. But you should at least understand why this stuff is important.

Why is this important to me or my visitors?

You need to make sure your site has been properly coded and that it uses certain technical best practices. This is critical for two big reasons:

  • It ensures your site displays properly on different devices (think iPhone, iPad, Blackberry) and in different browsers. This is becoming more and more important as more users visit your site from mobile devices. This is especially true as travellers are making last-minute, on-the-road travel planning decisions with their smartphones.
  • It’s one of the key steps in optimizing your site for search engines (SEO) like Google.

To put it as plainly as possible: There’s a good chance your website looks weird or doesn’t display at all on smartphones and other devices. And there’s some very low hanging fruit in terms of what you can do to improve your placement in search engine results!

OK. Tell me more.

First, there are a number of coding standards that your site should adhere to. Without getting too technical, here are a few :

  • The code of your site should be well structured. By using using various levels of headings, your site can convey the relationships between pieces of content and their relative importance. This helps search engines understand your site better.
  • There should be a clear separation of content (HTML) and formatting/style (CSS). Older sites (5+ years old) will fail in this regard, as this is a (somewhat) newer practice. Even today, some web developers aren’t diligent in this regard.

Next, there are a few additional files or features your site should have:

  • 301 Permanent Redirect. This tells Google and others that a website at one URL can actually be found at another URL. The most common example is redirecting mysite.com to www.mysite.com. Without this 301 redirect, search engines treat those two URLs as separate sites. This can dramatically reduce the SEO impact of multiple links to your site from other websites. For example, if you have 50 sites linking to you using the URL www.mysite.com, and another 50 sites linking to you at mysite.com (no www), Google will only give you “credit” for 50 inbound links. But with a 301 redirect, Google knows and credits you for 100 inbound links. And inbound links are the single biggest driver of search engine optimization.
  • sitemap.xml. This file gives search engines information about the structure of your site and also lets them know when parts of your site have been updated.
  • robots.txt. This file give instructions to search engines like Google about what they should and shouldn’t add to their search engines. It’s primarily used to tell Google to ignore particular directories of files on your site that don’t include actual content that you want showing up in searches. The robots.txt file can also be used to tell Google that you have a sitemap.xml file and where to find it.

What does SiteValet do about these things?

  1. SiteValet websites use well-structured, valid HTML and CSS. We properly separate content (HTML) from style (CSS). We test our code on multiple browsers and devices to ensure your website displays properly.Valid CSS
  2. We automatically create a 301 Permanent Redirect for the www.mysite.com and mysite.com URLs of your site. We’ll also create additional redirects for any other domain names you may have registered that you want pointing to your main site.
  3. We automatically generate a sitemap.xml file for your site and we submit it to Google and Yahoo. The sitemap.xml file is automatically updated anytime you make changes to your site.
  4. We automatically create the robots.txt file, with all relevant entries.

Further reading:

  • Blizzard Internet Marketing’s 5 Invisible Things. Trent mentions some other best practices, too. We cover them, too, but I’ll write about them in separate posts.

Coming Up: What's Wrong With My Website

Or, “What To Look for When Creating a New Website”

Stay Tuned

Over the next couple of weeks, I’ll be posting a series of articles detailing common problems with inn, B&B and hotel websites. We hope that these articles will help you understand some of the problems you probably have on your existing site and why they matter to your business. More importantly, we hope to arm you with some good information that should help you if you’re planning a new website.

Stay tuned.