Most Bed and Breakfast owners realize they need to list their property on more than one directory, so this series (Part One can be found here) does not intend to present a magic formula for finding the one listing that will solve all problems. The objective is to present some guidelines to help evaluate any directory in determining whether to begin listing with them, or to continue listing with them.
Some things to consider will apply whether you are deciding to try a new directory or keep a current listing. Others will apply only once the listing is in place.
Some basics to consider
The first thing most of us would consider is the cost of the directory, and that would not be a bad idea. However, it is important to make sure that if we compare the cost of Directory A with Directory B, that both are giving us the same features and value, or that we can see the reason for higher or lower rates.
Consequently, when comparing rates (and most directories have different membership levels, with different features offered at each level), it is important to compare features, exposure via search engines, etc. Here are some of the things to consider:
- Base cost for the listing
- Cost of any additional items (such as a link to your availability calendar, extra photos, videos, etc.)
- Whether the directory provides links to your web site and availability listings
- Whether there are opportunities to post photos, videos, and other media
- How many photos and/or videos you may post
Another consideration is how visible the directory is for the searches your guests will use. Imagine yourself in the position of a guest searching for lodging in your area. Search just as the guests would. How well does the directory show up in the search results? Check at least the three major search engines (Google, Bing and Yahoo!). If you have access to AOL, you could also check there. Directories that do not show up well in the search results for your area are not likely to send a significant amount of visitors to you. This is true for national and international directories as well as regional, state or provincial directories, or local directories.
**Beyond the basics: Visibility
Visibility can be evaluated by performing a series of searches on at least Google, Bing and Yahoo! to see where the directory appears. Here are some suggested searches to try (substitute province or other regional description for city, state, etc., as appropriate):
- city, state, “bed and breakfast”
- city, state, bed breakfast
- city, state b&b
- “bed and breakfast”, city, state
Search Engine Usage
Try all variations of the above, plus adding “inn” as well as any regional terms (mid-coast, southern california, etc.). Bear in mind when using search engines, that while Bing usage has been increasing, both Bing and Yahoo! are far less widely used than Google. The current (as of this writing) market utilization is shown in the StatCounter image at right (click the image to visit the web site and see a larger version), where the red line is Google, Yahoo! is yellow, and Bing is the lighter blue.
For your search engine optimization (SEO) or search engine marketing (SEM) tasks, you may already know other terms to use. To find relevant search terms use one of the keyword research tools (many are free), such those from Google’s AdWords, Yahoo!’s Advertising, or one of many other tools (hint: try searching for “keyword research tools“).
If a directory is not showing up well, they may not be a good investment, unless they provide value in some other way.
Beyond the basics: Reputation
A directory has a reputation, just like any other business. Part of that reputation is the cost vs. benefit other innkeepers have experienced with it. Consult other innkeepers in your area, as well as those on various innkeeping forums, such as the PAII forum, so see if there have been prior discussions of the value of a particular directory.
Another part of the reputation is to see whether or not other properties in your area use the directory. We are aware that some guests have expressed concerns when several properties appear on a directory and one does not, that the missing property may be out of business. Visit the directory (or several directories) and see which properties (and what proportion of the total properties in your area) are listed on that directory. That may help you decide how important it is to be listed on that directory.
Beyond the basics: Performance
Tracking performance of directories is one of the most difficult things to do well. The simplest, but probably the least accurate, way is to simply ask guests where they found you. We are aware of instances where online analytics software proves a guest found a property via one directory, but the guest claimed to have found them via another. Add to that the truism that guests generally make several searches, often visiting multiple directories, before making a booking (whether they book online or by phone), and you have a recipe for inaccurate reporting.
The internet provides great opportunities for tracking, but with that comes another word of caution. There is a great inclination to accept computer generated data as accurate, but it isn’t aways the case. Like any data, computer generated data is only as good as the system that generates it.
Most systems use a cookie on your computer, created when you visit a web page, to determine where you have been. Most analytics software used to track bookings (as well as visits to your web site, etc.) stores only the most recent site visited which referred the guest to your site. In other words, only the last directory visited, or the last site visited with a link to your site, gets credit for “sending” you the guest.
Some would say that this is appropriate tracking, as the last directory visited is the one that “closed the deal.” However, when there is an opportunity to see better data, as some systems can provide, it becomes clear that the last directory does not necessarily deserve the credit, or at least all the credit, for the booking.
Tracking tools include:
- Google Analytics
- Super Statz
Google Analytics is the only system mentioned that is free, and it is very powerful. Intell-A-Keeper uses a proprietary system to track historical referrals, so that more than just the last directory gets credit for a booking.
Make certain your analytics software properly tracks the source of bookings (in Google Analytics, for example, this would mean properly setting up a Goal for the creation of a booking, and tracking the referral sources of the bookings). Once you have that information, you’re ready to track the performance of the directories you subscribe to.
Part of the measure of performance is the number of visits a directory sends to your web site. Most analytics software will allow you to simple create a filter of the referral sources, showing only your directories. That gives you some idea of the value of spending money on the directory.
A more important measure for your bottom line is the return on that investment (ROI). For our purposes we’ll define the ROI as the cost of the directory subtracted from the money earned from that directory, divided by the cost of the directory. Or, in arithmetic terms (revenue – cost)/cost.
At left is a sample spreadsheet with several directories, the number of room nights booked and attributable to the directory, the total revenue represented by those bookings, the annual cost of the directory, the cost per dollar earned, and the ROI.
Looking at the last two rows, there is quite a cost difference between two national directories. Yet, the amount of revenue they produce is not that different. The ROI tells the tale, as the less expensive directory has an ROI of 27, while the more expensive directory ROI is a far smaller 5.9.
The two regional directories have similar ROI’s, even though they are very different in cost. As we can see – each produces an appropriate amount of revenue for the cost.
The local directory seems out of line with the others, with its ROI of only 4.
Now that we have some real data, it is tempting to consider dropping both the Local directory and National Directory 1, as both have relatively high costs and low ROI. We would do well, however, to remember that there can be more to the story than these statistics reveal.
The first thing to consider is whether or not you are utilizing all the features of the directory to maximize its ROI. It would hardly make sense to drop a directory for not performing well, if you have not availed yourself of all the ways you can make the listing work for you. Do you have lots of high-quality photos? Videos? Do you have a well-written description of your property? Are your rooms, rates, availability and specials prominently mentioned? Should you try a higher (or lower) listing level? If you lower your listing level to a less expensive level and your revenue does not change, your ROI will be higher.
The other significant consideration in evaluating a directory with a relatively low ROI is whether they provide value not reflected directly in bookings (revenue). This is especially true with local, state, or regional directories, but can also be the case with national or international directories. For example, a local or state directory may also do marketing for the state or city, bringing awareness to the potential guest, long before they begin to search for lodging. Or perhaps they publish print materials bringing people to the area. They may also provide information and/or political clout to help the industry, as well. National or international directories may provide you with publicity opportunities that go far beyond the revenue reflected in the ROI.
If it is possible to deduct the amount of the directory fees that is attributable to the non-revenue-producing areas, you should recalculate the ROI with those figures deducted. If not, still keep in mind that it may be worthwhile to tolerate a lower ROI in exchange for the added value these other services bring.
Once you have considered all the added value items, you can then add that to the mix in determining the true value of the directory to your business.
Do you have any experiences to share about evaluating B&B directories? Please post them in the comments.