Amid all the frenzy of keeping up with Twitter and Facebook and now Foursquare and YouTube and Blogging and sorting out which directories to list on, and responding to the never-ending flow of emails from directories telling you to hurry and post your latest specials for this month, your latest photos, your latest hot deals, your best recipes and oh, yes, did you remember that you actually have a business to run? sometimes it is nice to … just … take … a … step … back, take a deep breath, and remember what it is we’re trying to do here.
Now, that’s better.
What we try to do
All the different things we’re called upon to do, and sometimes we think we’re required to keep up on, can get so fragmented, that they can pull us in too many directions and keep us from our real job. Recently there was a thread on a B&B forum (I’ve seen the same series of questions and comments on several different forums – the topic pops up every now and then) asking, quite appropriately, how to decide which (pay) directories to list on. The discussion evolved into a discussion of the value of directory links for search engine ranking. Innkeepers must be experts in search engine optimization (SEO) and in statistical analysis of directory listing results, you see.
Meanwhile, every so often there is another blog post about measuring return on investment (ROI) from social media (meaning Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, etc.). Some say it is worthless. Others find value in social media. Innkeepers must be experts in determining ROI in the newest, cutting edge media, too.
And, of course, all innkeepers must be great copywriters so they can blog regularly, post to their Facebook page, and also keep the website up-to-date, post tweets on Twitter, check-in on Foursquare, and, between breakfast, cleaning, shopping and check-ins, run off a couple of quick inn videos and post them to YouTube.
But there’s a secret. We tend to think that everyone else is doing all of these things successfully, so we must do them, too. The secret is, they’re not. Most are only doing a few of these things, if any. Most are not doing them all that well. A few are doing several of them. Even fewer do them really well.
Don’t misunderstand: All these things that we busy ourselves about – social media, blogging, seeking the best bang for the buck on directories, etc. – are good things. What we sometimes lose sight of is that they are part of a much bigger picture.
Perhaps as a result of the sheer volume of new information, and the detailed information we must master, we have turned to “experts” to tell us what we need to know. The result is that we have a lot of detailed information on relatively narrow subjects. Only rarely, however, do we put these subjects together into a larger picture.
I will admit at the outset that I am not a trained marketing expert. Consequently, I may not use “correct” marketing-speak. I may miss some things the trained marketer may know. Mea culpa. However, both for our Freeport Maine Bed & Breakfast, and for our other businesses and elsewhere, marketing has been a significant part of my experience.
Much as I dislike the term “heads in beds”, that is the bottom line for most small lodging properties. Some are thrilled to have any guests, any time. Others seek to attract a particular segment of the traveling pubic. But at the end of the day we all need to count the revenue from those guests to pay the bills.
The level of detail provided by the “experts” (some are truly experts in their area; others are most definitely not), seduces us into a “bottom-up” approach to marketing. We examine each individual directory, social media site, etc., and try to see if it is worthwhile.
If we step back from this a bit, we’ll see that what we are really doing with that approach is letting each of these small contributions create our overall marketing plan, with no real objectives or strategy. It becomes an ad hoc plan.
Wouldn’t it make more sense to start at the top, and see how all these things can work together to accomplish your objectives?
Starting at the Top
1. Setting Objectives
Begin by defining your objectives. It is fine to have big, general objectives (I want to make a profit), but the more specific you can be, the easier it will be to measure your progress. For most small properties, it will be selling a certain number of rooms in a year (or month, etc.), or increasing revenue (or profit) by a certain amount.
Whatever you may set as your objectives, translate them into both money and bookings, so that, based on your average booking value, you know how many bookings you need, as well as how much money you need, to achieve your goal.
Set narrower objectives, too. More visitors to the web site/blog/Facebook page (how many more?). Longer average visits to the web site (how much longer?). You get the idea.
2. Create a Strategy to Accomplish Your Objectives
All the things we started out mentioning (directories, blogs, social media, video, your web site) plus the more obvious, paid advertising, are your tools to accomplish these goals.
If blogging once a week brings you X bookings per year, and blogging twice a week brings you 30% more, will that help you reach your goals? If so, then you should be blogging twice a week.
Similarly, if adding a new directory can add 3% to your annual bookings, and you think that is worthwhile, then you should add that directory. How do you know if a directory will add 3%? That isn’t easy to determine, and results will differ by directory, by your geographic region, and, in some cases, by the membership level you purchase on the directory. Our article on evaluating directories covers many of the considerations. Be wary of claims by the directories that they can produce a certain number of bookings. While these may be based on their click-through rates, they are, at best, averages and, at worst, an effort to sell you something. Higher levels may help, but there will be no guarantees.
What about Facebook, Twitter, etc.? Most of the debate centers around the difficulty in attributing booking results to social media. In this internet age, we are accustomed to relating clicks on our web links with bookings to determine the source of a booking. Social media isn’t that straightforward. It usually requires more time and attention than a simple web page or website, and bookings don’t always come with technical data to show they originated with Twitter or Facebook.
In addition, as with directories the value may lie in more than just matching bookings to the source. Directories can provide value through their reviews, or through publicity they generate for you, despite never sending you a booking directly. Social media is relationship building. If you make friends through social media, and the friend refers another friend, you may have bookings you will never be able to identify as coming from social media, yet the investment of time has paid off.
As mentioned at the outset, discussions of directories (and other potential referral sources) often leads to a discussion of placement in organic search results. However, this is really combining apples and oranges. Listing on directories should be viewed as having value (or not) on their own merit, not whether they help your site place well in organic search results.
Why would we say that? Google’s official view is that paid listings (like paid listings on directories) do not enhance the reputation of your site. We have seen exceptions – most likely where Google has not discovered that the listing is a paid listing – but generally paid directory listings do not help you place well in general search results. It does appear that they can be of some help in local search results, however, so don’t dismiss directories as not helping at all with search placement.
One of the best summaries of the factors that help your site place well in search is Google’s own SEO Starter Guide (pdf).
3. Measure Your Accomplishments
Use a tool to help measure your results. A web-based statistics program such as Google Analytics will help you see where the visits to your web site are coming from, how long the average visitor stays, how many pages they view, etc. If you configure ecommerce tracking you may also be able to track some of the revenue to the source (this is very difficult to configure correctly using online booking systems, but can be done). Other systems, such as Intell-A-Keeper make no effort to trace web site visits, themselves, but track booking sources.
No online tool is perfect. At the very least, it is very tricky to track bookings attributable to social media. Even Intell-A-Keeper can not track a booking source if the guest last visited the referral source too long ago for their computer to have retained the information.
Consequently, you’ll need to create your own record of the things you are trying to measure, and how they are working.
Most likely you’ve already begun using some (or even all) of the tools mentioned. If so, you only need to set your objectives and begin measuring the results. If you need to adjust your use of the tools, to better meet your objectives, or to aid in measurement, what are you waiting for? Do it!
If you haven’t begun using the various tools, or some of them, don’t just dive in! Set up your objectives, and think carefully about how each tool fits those objectives. Decide which social media tools are right for you. Decide which directories are likely to pay off (considering all the different areas of value they may bring), and be sure you are signed up for only those who will help you reach your goals.
If you don’t have the background or the skills to do some or even all of these things, don’t despair! There are a number of bed & breakfast-centered companies (several of whom are mentioned above) who can provide help with some, or all, of these services. Others, including PAII, provide training in using these tools, to help you learn to do it yourself.
Most important of all, however, is measuring the results so that you know when you’ve accomplished your objectives!