SEO and SEM Tips for Your Bed & Breakfast or Hotel Website

As owner or manager of a small hotel or B&B, your website is an important part of your marketing strategy. But if you’re like most small business owners, web design is not your expertise. Here are a few tips on how you can increase the productivity and traffic of your website, with some minimal effort. And, you don’t need to turn yourself into a web tech expert. Search Engine Optimization (or SEO) is a skill that can be learned. There are many ways for most novice website managers to get improved search engine rankings, and secure a high search engine listing.

Linking is an important part of your SEO strategy. You want to get as many independent, 3rd party websites to link to your site as possible. Sites of any type linking to you are beneficial, but the more authoritative and respected sites are preferred. While linking is important, good on-site SEO is also necessary.

Obtaining a good listing on Google or any of the other search engines is not as difficult as some consulting firms may tell you. There are rules and standards to follow, and if you play the game properly then the end outcome should be in your favor. The tips we’ll offer are not really secrets. Some consultants who offer their services for a price offer to divulge incredible secrets to you. But, this information is available freely on the internet, and for free. You might want to spend a little time reading some Web SEO or SEM (Search Engine Marketing) Blogs. Just type “Web SEO techniques” into your search engine search bar.

So here are some so-called “secret” tips on getting an excellent position for your website in Google, and improving your search engine ranking. You may know about meta tags, and have been informed that most meta tags aren’t used by search engines. The most important search engines, Google, Yahoo, and MSN Live do not divulge all there search listing methods. They withhold a lot of their ranking methods as secret. After all, they don’t want to let each other know how they do their magic. Nevertheless, don’t let anyone tell you that many top search engines do not use meta tags like the Description tag, because they do. It is very important for your B&B, inn, or hotel website to have a well written and complete description meta tag. This tag may not be used in its entirety, however, what you write here will definitely have an impact.

The keyword meta tag is another feature that has been in use since the humble beginnings of the internet 15 or more years ago. The most authoritative search engines like Google won’t be so impressed by what you tell them your keywords are. After all, anyone can post a list of their most important keywords. However, they decide for themselves the relevance of the page from the real content text and “Alt” tags on the page. Google no longer seeks keyword repetition to understand what you are writing about. They have an algorithm called LSI, which will determine the meaning of your page from various unique character strings it contains.

To maximize the potential for your hotel or bed & breakfast website to reach top rankings in search engine listings, the Description meta tag is important. But, there are some other HTML tags you should use. Although little used, the Keywords meta tag should not be ignored. It is a trivial matter to enter it, and cannot do any harm. There is evidence that some search engines still use it. The rest of the meta tags are of no consequence.

We’ve only touched upon the surface with some basic tips, including on-site SEO using Meta tags. Stay tuned for our next article, which will include other important HTML tags you should be focusing on in your B&B Hotel website to maximize your search engine potential.

Contact BedBreakfastTraveler.com or Instant World Booking for more on how to market your bed and breakfast, inn, or small hotel on the internet.

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How to Keep Occupancy Rates High – Attract more International Customers

The economy weighs heavily on everyone’s minds. Many of us are wondering where our businesses will be in a few years, if not in the coming months. Travel and tourism are closely linked to economic trends. Travel has grown at a declining rate, and is even down in some areas. Resort areas are showing declines in business this season. What about small hotels and bed and breakfasts? There’s strong demand still in U.S. urban areas, but other less concentrated regions are experiencing a slowdown.

Nevertheless, North American room rates are still rising, bolstered by the weak dollar, which has been attracting more overseas travelers. What does this mean for small hotels and B&Bs? Prepare to draw in more international clientele. Not only is the domestic population growing more culturally diverse, but the international travel population is where the future of tourism is at. U.S. and Canadian bed and breakfast innkeepers should be prepared to cater less to the home crowd, and attract more culturally diverse guests.

So how do we keep occupancy rates high during a downtrend in travel? How do we keep the beds filled night after night? The answer rests in your marketing strategy. Be prepared to start leveraging the internet as a more important part of your marketing gameplan. Beef up your website, and be prepared to take calls and bookings from more overseas customers. Sign up with more than just one online marketing provider.

Today’s online marketing providers for bed and breakfasts, hotels, and small lodgings of all kinds are uniquely suited to take your marketing plan to the next stage. Not only do you gain online exposure quickly, but online marketers focus on multi-national customers. If you’re online marketing is limited to the handful of U.S. bed and breakfast marketing sites that focus primarily on the North American market, be prepared to look elsewhere for marketing support. An increasing number of travelers will be coming from Europe, Central and South America, and even Asia. You want to make sure you are using one or more online marketing sites that focus on a global audience, not only in their hotel population, but also in guests.

So often I hear from innkeepers and hotel managers that they’re frustrated with one or another online booking/marketing service. They say, ‘I haven’t received a booking in several months. Why should I stick with them?’ The answer is that you want to maintain your exposure in more than one online venue. Even if you’re not getting bookings today, you’re still building web recognition. Your property’s name is being spread more rapidly with more than one service. It’s like a geometric equation. When you double the number of sites you’re exposing your bed and breakfast on, the traffic doesn’t double, it grows at much higher geometric rates.

Look for online booking sites with strong marketing campaigns on Google and Yahoo, which together cover about 80% of global online searches. Only a few sites, including BedBreakfastTraveler.com will actually advertise your unique property in pay-per-click campaigns. Also, look for sites that don’t charge you annual membership fees. Large sites that need to keep charging you for a declining return in their services are going the way of obsoletion.

If the bookings don’t come today, don’t worry. Be patient. They will come at one point, and may surface in waves. The internet is like a vast, turbulent ocean, and you need to be persistent with your online marketing. It’s the persistent presence of your property on the various sites you use that will collectively gain you the exposure you need over time. Bookings may come one month, and then disappear the next. But, little by little, you will be growing along with the best online booking sites. But, you must get in on the game early and stick with it. As far as online bookings, as they say, if you build it, they will come. But, patience is the key.

BedBreakfastTraveler.com is one of the few leading online marketing and booking services these days that are offering a free telephone consultation to bed and breakfast and hotel managers. A little intelligence goes a long way to winning the online marketing game, and BedBreakfastTraveler.com is backed by the know-how and authority of Instant World Booking, a respected global provider of online marketing solutions for B&B’s and hotels.

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Paying Too Much for Online Marketing? Lower Your Costs

The Intelligence for Bed and Breakfasts Blog promised to bring you the most valuable online advice for B&Bs and small hotels, as well as controversial intelligence that you won’t find on other websites. Let’s talk about what matters most to your business: Value. When you shop support services for your bed and breakfast, what’s the most important factor? Price. Let’s face it, we’re all looking to keep costs down and compare for the most valuable services at the lowest price.

There are a number of big online marketing services out there, offering online booking and advertising of your property. You know who they are. In the Bed and Breakfast market, they’re charging you an annual fee to list your property. Do you really need to pay annual service fees for online listings year after year? Many B&B’s list with multiple services to maximize exposure. Costs can quickly add up. These fees are not insignificant. The biggest player in this online marketing game charges annual fees ranging from $99 to $559. Then they take up to 25% commission on any online bookings they send your way. Use their booking engine on your website and pay 30% commission. Add this to several other online services, then your membership in a professional innkeepers association, and you have a serious online budget to contend with.

Why do they charge so much? Didn’t they know that the internet is the most efficient value distribution system available today? Perhaps they’re taking advantage of the fact that the North American B&B population is by and large behind the curve with online technology. Many of these service providers do not even offer there services outside the US or Canada. How does one B&B booking engine justify a 30% commission for a booking engine on your website? To paraphrase, they claim that “70% profit on a booking is better than no booking at all”.

The good news is that you don’t have to be captive to services that charge large fees and commissions. It’s true that a correctly executed internet marketing strategy can increase your net profit by at least 20% in the first year. Don’t throw away your profits with high service fees. You internet spend should only be a fraction of what these companies are charging you.

Let’s remember that we’re in the 21st century now. Many online booking providers are offering tools adapted from 1980’s style tourism industry technology. Beware especially of services requiring you to install software on your desktop computers, and pay periodic fees for updates. None of this should be necessary with today’s online technology.

And what about the big question. What should I be paying for online bookings and marketing on the internet? The answer is you should pay nothing at all to sign up for online listings. The most advanced online booking and marketing services are offering membership for free. BedBreakfastTraveler.com is one of the services in this category. Look for firms that list properties globally, not just in the US and Canada. Global services are the ones with real experience in offering advanced booking capability. As for commissions, throw out companies charging more than 15% (including the 25% example above). The best services today are offering commission rates of only 8 – 10%, providing advanced booking technology and allowing you to increase your profit margin. Finally, what about booking engines for your own website? You should be paying no more than 15% (compared with 30% for the provider mentioned above) if the provider is collecting the entire booking amount up front. If only a small deposit is collected at booking, you can expect to pay only 2-3% commission. BedBreakfastTraveler.com offers an industry-low special price of 1.9% for this service.

Don’t be held captive by booking and marketing services with annual membership fees and commissions. They’re just not worth it, and you can get the same and better service for almost free in today’s advancing marketplace. If you’re using a service that you like today, but think you may be paying too much, post your arrangement here for comments. Or, contact Instant World Booking directly. Instant World Booking stands ready to beat any price for a competing service offering, and will offer superior technology in the process.

One final tip. If you’re using one of the several major “booking by request” engines for your bed and breakfast website, this is not real online booking. These are services that pretend to offer online calendars or rudimentary availability to guests, while requiring you to manually confirm every booking. You may only be paying a small monthly fee for the service, or no commissions at all. However, with “booking on request” services you are losing business. There are many B&B owners in North America who desperately hold on to this form of booking. But, there is no doubt that this form of booking loses you business. Many guests seeking lodging online today refuse to book with this method because there is no instant confirmation.

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The Most Important Business Tool for your Bed and Breakfast: Email

Want to know what’s the most important business tool you’ll use for your B&B or small hotel over the next 5 years? Email. That’s right. Well you might think you’re reading an article left over from the 1990’s. Not so. We’ve been getting a lot of comments and questions in recent months about email and it’s proper use in a small business. It’s really quite elemental, so if you don’t get it (it = email) right, you’ll kill your online busines.

One of our collaborating expert authors wrote an excellent post recently at the Instant World Booking Blog: Email Do’s and Don’ts for your Business. For bed and breakfast managers, this is required reading. But, I feel the need to add a few comments of my own.

If you have a website for your bed and breakfast or small hotel, email is the lifeline of your online business (you do have a website don’t you? If not, please get one. It’s extraordinarily cheap). The first rule of using email is that prospective guests and business partners need to be able to reach you. Don’t make excessive use of spam filters or other devices you feel are going to protect you. The basic concept of email is that you want as much contact as possible. If you’re easily annoyed by unsolicited spam, get over it. It’s a fact of life, and neither you nor I are going to solve the big problems of the internet. So, if find yourself sacrificing legitimate guest reservation requests or business solutions by erecting electric fences around your inbox (e.g., excessive spam protection tools), or threatening legal action against every sender of an unsolicited email, then you’re in the wrong business. Remember, we’re in the hospitality business, and we need to remember the old time-tested theory that out of every 10 marketing contacts, there’s one that’s going to pay for the rest.

Here’s a tip to help weed out meaningful business emails from the junk mail. On your website, use a “mailto” anchor link to publish your email address. The html for this looks something like:

<a href=”mailto:no-reply@bedbreakfasttraveler.com?subject=I want to enquire about a reservation”>no-reply@bedbreakfasttraveler.com</a>

This will create a link that, when clicked, will open a new email window with “I want to enquire about a reservation” pre-populated in the subject line. Of course you would replace the email address in the code above with your own. If you don’t know how to edit HTML on your website, your webmaster can do this easily for you. Then, you create a filter in your email address to automatically highlight all incoming emails with the words “I want to enquire about a reservation” in the subject, or place them in a separate folder. This is an excellent means of quickly scanning important incoming emails from the spam, and in many ways is more effective than a spam filter, which may eat many of the “I want to enquire about a reservation” emails.

This is just one example of simple tricks that can make your own email system a more powerful tool than any junk email filter. But remember also, that your business email may be used for a whole array of functions that you may not be aware of. Unless you take the time to learn about how powerful your email is, don’t get frustrated or even annoyed when you receive email you didn’t ask for. Receiving an unsolicited business email is not like receiving a prank call on your personal phone. In some cases, receiving an unwanted email can even be a positive thing, signaling that the world can actually reach you from far-flung places, and your email is working properly. So relax. If you find yourself urging to send angry responses or threaten legal action, then you’re probably in the wrong business.

I recently heard of a case in which a B&B in Virginia complained about receiving unsolicited email from an online service that they subscribed to. The B&B submitted their email for a service to communicate reservation requests to them. In the process, they failed to mark the service as a safe sender in their email system. When reservations started coming in, the B&B never received them, nor responded. Eventually the online service began sending reminders to the B&B to check their email, update their system, and various other advice. When one of these reminders finally got through, the B&B owner was insulted and tried unsubscribing the service’s emails. In this case, “unsubscribing” was not the appropriate step, since they weren’t subscribed to any mailing lists. The B&B owner contacted the online service, and claimed that they were sending accusatory emails. Accusatory? They were obviously embarrassed that they didn’t understand how to use their own email. Again … probably not in the right business.

For more tips and services for your online marketing effort, check out www.BedBreakfastTraveler.com.

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Update to Bed and Breakfasts in Europe – Ahead of the Online Marketing Game?

I just read the comment that was posted to our previous Blog entry, suggesting that Instant Online Booking is not for everyone. While this is an important topic that will be addressed in future blog posts, I think it is useful to comment at this time.

Let me emphasize that Instant Online Booking IS for everybody. There are many arguments I’ve heard to not using instant booking — I only have a few rooms, I can’t check availability daily, I can better allocate my rooms otherwise, etc.

Know that Instant Online Booking can be used by everybody, and adapted to your own specific needs and circumstances. Unless you can say that you are willing to pass by over 80% of the online travelers who consider booking your property, either on your own website, or a service like BedBreakfastTraveler.com, then instant online booking is for you. For example, if you only have a few rooms to play with, putting one or two rooms in online availability is always better than not having any. If you don’t have time to monitor all your availability online every day, then only put a subset of your availability online. This will help avoid double-bookings.

This concept is so important, you need to understand it. The number one goal with online bed and breakfast or hotel marketing is to maximize the number of online guests considering your property. By not offering at least some instant availability for booking, the vast majority of guests who find you online will inevitably pass you by and book elsewhere.

This is Online Booking 101, and if you use it properly, online booking is for you. Don’t be fooled by the old way of working. We are entering a new world of online tourism technology, and the whole paradigm for online booking is evolving in exciting new ways.

Please look forward to our future blog posts on the important topic of Instant Online Booking.

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Bed and Breakfasts in Europe – Ahead of the Online Marketing Game?

I have visited many bed and breakfasts around the world, and have had the opportunity to speak with many innkeepers about their marketing efforts. Not that there’s any competition from one region to the next, but I’ve seen a definite advancement in Europe in the use of online marketing techniques over the U.S., or North America for that matter. Of course there are no favorites in the online marketing game, but I’m seeing is that innkeepers in Europe have been willing to embrace internet technology more openly than in North America.

For North America’s $3.5 billion bed and breakfast industry, there is a tremendous opportunity. True, the number of B&Bs in the U.S. has increased 20-fold in the last twenty years. But the opportunity for growth in marketing capability, especially on the internet, is overwhelming. European bed and breakfast owners have been more than willing to take risks, and embrace online marketing technology. While 95% of all U.S. B&Bs have their own website domain, only a small percentage take advantage of the latest online booking capabilities. In Europe, a much smaller percentage of B&B owners have their own domains. But, they have taken advantage of using regional and global online reservation services. They have begun to use marketing through subdomains offered from many ISPs like AOL, and they are in the lead with regard to offering online booking directly on their own websites (where they own their own domains).

European B&B’s are hungry to take part in the growth in travel and tourism that their countries have experienced in recent years, particularly in Eastern Europe. To share in this growth, they are most interested in exploring any and all ideas about enhancing their marketing strategies online. Let’s take for example the concept of online booking. In today’s online B&B marketing world, online booking means taking advantage of a service provider that offers online availability calendar capability and instant confirmed bookings 24/7.

However, let’s recall that a significant portion of online travel industry marketing still reverts to 1980’s style technology. This is why most bed and breakfasts in the U.S. that grew up since this period still use online booking services that do NOT offer instant confirmation or online availability checks. To be clear, online booking does not include any service that doesn’t offer the capability to maintain availability online, offer real-time availability checks to guests, and instant confirmed reservations 24/7. Some services pretend to offer real online booking, and are used by many B&Bs in the U.S. But what these services offer is really just a glorified form of request-service. Some offer the guise of instant confirmation, only to prompt the innkeeper to check their availability within 24 hours to provide a real confirmation. This is not real-time instant confirmation. This is just a step above email or telephone.

Bed and Breakfast owners in Europe have realized that travelers searching for reservations on the internet do so precisely because they can book in real-time. Online purchases are frequently quick and impulsive. Travelers booking online demand instant gratification. Because of this they have embraced much of the latest online technology offered for such purposes, including online credit card processing. It seems like we are now in the perfect environment for American innkeepers to play catch-up, and to embrace the latest online technology that can now lead to increased profits. Many innkeepers have convinced themselves that their guests don’t want them to delve into new technologies, and expect them to stay in the backward days of manual bookkeeping. This is a fallacy that some have repeated to themselves, only to sacrifice profits. Travelers are staying closer to home, gas prices are up, Euro currency rates are up. There is a big opportunity for B&Bs and small hotels and hostels of all kinds to gain a bigger slice of the tourism pie.

For the foreseeable future, I look forward to seeing how Europe’s bed and breakfasts continue to innovate and use the internet to advance their businesses. But, equally, I look to see how North American B&Bs can take advantage of the huge opportunity lying before them.

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Fake User Reviews – Do They Really Hurt Your B&B Hotel Business?

When we began BedBreakfastTraveler’s Intelligence for B&B’s Blog, we committed to bringing you indispensable advice and guidance for marketing your bed and breakfast or small hotel online. We also will bring you advice on some quite controversial topics. Yes, these are the topics that most marketing experts hesitate to mention to their clients. But, there are some very controversial topics out there that everyone wonders about, and a few worry about.

So, we’re kicking off this blog with a very controversial topic these days — Fake User Reviews. Yes, these are traveler reviews that hotels may write about themselves, or that competing hotels may write about their neighboring properties. Sometimes they’re even written by guests who have never stayed at the B&B they’re reviewing. Some are written for personal gain, or for the detriment of others.

One thing in common for all fake user reviews is that they’re WRONG. Not only are they ethically wrong, but writing a false review breaks international rules of commerce and violates the terms and conditions of every online service that features online reviews.

The real questions likely to be on your mind are (1) why are fake reviews written, (2) do they really hurt my business, and (3) can I do anything about them?

There are any number of reasons why people write false reviews. The whole premise of online user reviews is that people like to have a voice, and communicate with an otherwise anonymous audience. When websites feature a product or service, and then ask the public for their opinions, the result is often an instant flurry of comments. Let’s face it, people have strong opinions about things, and like to be heard. Entertain these inborn human characteristics with a simple online interface allowing anyone to reach thousands or even millions of readers, and you have instant success.

Going hand in hand with the instant success, you have the negative side of human nature. People begin to figure how to game the system, to enhance ratings for their own product or service, and drag down that of their competitors. Enter the fake review. As an online marketing expert, I’ve seen virtually every form of falsified review being published on the internet. These fall into basically two categories, basically others (guests and competitors) who want to see you fail, and reviews you may solicit (or write yourself) for personal gain. Bed and breakfast and small hotel managers should never participate or encourage this activity. Marketing time and efforts are best spent elsewhere.

The biggest reason for not participating in fake reviews is that, 9 out of 10 times, false reviews are usually recognized as being false. In fact, most fake review attempts are so blatant, it’s almost ridiculous. When a B&B has only 1 or 2 reviews written, and these have 100% ratings, readers discount them as false. When excellent reviews sound like marketing proposals, they’re discounted as false. When reviews for international hotels are written by guests from English speaking countries, and are written in broken English, the review is discounted as false. Participate in any false reviewing activity, and risk being banned by the host services.

But do fake reviews always hurt your business? Not really. If it’s true that falsified positive reviews never help business, it is equally true that fake negative reviews usually don’t hurt either. In fact, there is a theory that negative reviews can have an equally and offsetting positive impact on the popularity of the subject B&B or hotel. Consider the person with a grudge that signs into several websites to write negative reviews. While the impact of the actual review comments will be watered down over time, the mere mention of you property in these new online locations will tend to boost your search engine popularity. This is especially true if your website’s URL is included in the review text. Combine this with the fact that online review readers have learned how to decipher false and true comments about bed and breakfasts, and there’s not much to really worry about.

So, can you really do anything about fake reviews and the minimally negative impact they may have on your B&B business? Yes. Our primary advice is to simply not participate in any false reviewing activities, whether negative or positive. This is a waste of time, and will only reduce the credibility of your business. You’re also more likely to get banned from some of the valuable online marketing services you subscribe to. Secondly, if you suspect any false reviewing campaigns being carried out against your B&B or small hotel, don’t worry. These are not likely to have any large or lasting impact. Simply contact the host services that are publishing these reviews to report the suspected violations. A positive step you can take to promote positive and accurate reviews is to simply ask your guests to write reviews on their experience. Ask them to write their reviews on reputable host services like BedBreakfastTraveler or Trip Advisor.

Finally, how can you find out if there any reviews being written about you on the internet? That’s simple. Use a popular search engine like Google or Yahoo, and enter your property name followed by the word “reviews” (or “traveler reviews”) in the search bar. You are likely to come up with any recent comments being published about you.

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Introduction

Welcome to BedBreakfastTraveler’s Intelligence for B&B’s Blog. Here, our renowned contributing travel and tourism writers will bring you the latest intelligence for running and marketing your bed and breakfast, small inn, or B&B hotel. You will find indispensible advice and guidance on marketing your B&B online.

At Bed Breakfast Traveler, a leading service of the Instant World Booking network, we lead in providing services that increase the security and convenience of online booking for both guests and bed and breakfasts. Through our central service website, bedbreakfasttraveler.com, in addition to over three dozen additional network sites, an extensive affiliate program, and services for B&B-owned websites, we lead with excellence, offering one of the best and most reliable online reservation services available anywhere in the world today.

Along the way, we’ve also discovered excellent travel advice and recommendations from our travel partners far and wide. We’ll also share this intelligence with you in the hopes you’ll pass it on to your valued guests and customers.

We welcome your comments and opinions, so please feel free to share back with us. Happy Blogging!

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