By Scott Thomas
As innkeepers we receive solicitations from online directories almost daily. In addition, there are many well-known directories that we feel we should (perhaps we must) be on. It seems that everyone wants your money, yet there are no guarantees of any return, just a lot of salesmanship about how important it is that you be on this directory. Which should you be on? Which can you ignore? Is it a question of cost, alone? What’s an innkeeper to do?
On the innkeeping forums, the question of which directories to subscribe to, or whether it is “safe” to drop a directory that doesn’t seem to be performing, is a frequently raised topic. Sometimes other innkeepers provide good insights, and other times the answers are more emotional, based on a positive or negative experience with the directory in the past.
What is needed is a consistent, objective way to to evaluate the directories, so a better decision can be made about where to spend precious resources. This first article will discuss evaluating features and costs of directories. Part Two will discuss other selection criteria and measuring the results of a directory subscription, and Part Three will discuss measuring the return on your investment (ROI).
Cost vs. Features
Most directories have a variety of membership levels and rates. Because of this it is important to be sure that you are comparing equivalent features when comparing directores. For example, the “gold” level of one directory may include features that another has at a “silver” level, or a “platinum” level.
The easiest way to compare features is to make a list of the features at the level you are most interested in. You can do this on a piece of paper, but it may be easier to use a spreadsheet like Microsoft’s Excel or OpenOffice.org’s Calc (free) or Google Documents.
In the first column, second row, enter “Price”. List all the features from each directory in the first column (starting at the third row). Directories may use different names for some features, so make sure you don’t duplicate entries.
Next enter the names and levels across the top row (such as “BedAndBreakfast.com Gold” or “BnBFinder.com Mid-Level”).
Now you’re ready to fill in the details. If an item a “yes or no” item (the directory offers it or not – like a link to your website), just put an “X” if they have it, and leave it blank if they do not. If it is a numeric subject (number of photos, for example), put the number in the cell. Don’t forget to enter the cost of each in the “Price” row. If there are additional cost items to make the directories comparable, be sure that is also reflected in the price. An example would be a directory which charges an additional fee to add a link to your availability calendar (some do, some don’t).
A sample spreadsheet for comparing directories is available online at Google Documents.
The first step in comparing directories is to be certain you are comparing like information. If you are deciding whether to subscribe to a new directory, it may be helpful to evaluate the cost of the directory and its features against other directories. Make sure you are including features at the same price level, or make sure the features are similar and look at the difference in cost.
Next time we’ll look at reasons one directory with similar features to another may be priced higher or lower than the other one, how to measure performance, and why you may want to choose a directory on a basis other than cost and features.