Recently we posted about a very significant decline in the amount of referral traffic we had observed coming from BBOnline.com. Several innkeepers posted in the comments, some noticing similar drops. Some, like ours, have been enormous, while others have been “only” 40-50% (during a time when referrals from most other directories have increased!). We have not heard from anyone who has observed anything other than a significant drop in referrals.
As we had mentioned, we had written to BBOnline to ask if they were aware of this, and if they were doing anything to rectify it. Since the article appeared we have received a reply, which scares us all the more.
[pullquote]To say that the reply from BBOnline is disappointing is an understatement.[/pullquote]To say that the reply from BBOnline is disappointing is an understatement. Since we have no desire to be seen as attacking BBOnline, and we do not intend to embarrass the writer of the email, we’ll only share excerpts of the reply.
Our original email to them was simply a report of our Analytics, showing the huge dropoff in referrals dating from the time of their website update (December 7, 2011), and asking if they were aware of it, and asking for assurance that they were working on a solution. Disappointingly, the reply was more notable for corporate sales-speak than for content.
BBOnline’s Response, Point-by-Point
1. We have taken many steps to improve the SEO of the site.
BBOnline states that their “brand new features”, constant changes of the way listings appear, and tracking of user behavior has improved the SEO. Wow, where do you start? It is true that many articles on SEO best practices will talk about keeping your content fresh, but other than that, where is the genuine SEO work? Are title and meta tags being optimized? Is there an effort at building quality inbound links? A quick search of “SEO best practices” or even “Getting started with SEO” reveals a huge resource of articles on steps to be taken other than “brand new features” and “constant changes”.
If BBOnline was a significant referral source for your property in the past, make sure you are not logged in to any Google service, then do a search for “bed and breakfast your area” and see where BBOnline.com comes up today. In the past, for our area, at least, they were usually right behind BedAndBreakfast.com. For us, they now come up after most of the individual properties, near the bottom of the first page.
2. We have asked numerous Bed and Breakfast Associations for suggestions.
I hope so, and I hope they have received good advice, and take it. During their “beta” for the new site design, last November, we received an email asking us to try the new owner’s management tools, and provide feedback. We tested things out, noted areas that were broken, and sent a lengthy and detailed email complimenting the good things and suggesting changes. We did not even receive the courtesy of an acknowledgement that the email had been received. We did not get the impression that feedback was welcomed.
3. Listing URL’s have changed, so statistics are inaccurate.
Wait, what? There are multiple problems with this comment. First, my (or your) Google Analytics report doesn’t care what URL on the BBOnline site sent the visitor – it just counts BBOnline.com as the source. So, while internal statistics on the new site may not be valid when compared to the old URLs, this has nothing whatsoever to do with the referrals we see on our sites. The biggest problem is that the URLs have changed, at all.
There is a good reason that one of the cardinal rules of updating a website is that you do not change the page URL unless it is absolutely necessary. Every page that has been indexed carries with it some measure of page authority. Although Google discourages using it today, Google Page Rank is a common and quick way of approximating the authority of a page. If you change the URL for a listing, any authority (Page Rank) of the old page vanishes and the new listing starts life with a page rank of zero. If you must change it, you should redirect the search engines to the new page in a way that preserves the page authority – usually with a 301 response code to tell the search engines the page has moved permanently to its new URL.
Did BBOnline put 301 redirects in place for all of its old URLs? Who knows? Unless you know the old URL for your listing, type it in your browser and watch to see that it is redirected to the new URL, you can’t verify whether there is a redirect in place or not.
[pullquote]Our stats are inaccurate, please use them.[/pullquote]The email from BBOnline also suggests that looking at their stats (you know, they ones they say are inaccurate because of the URL’s changing) for our listing will give more accurate information than using Google Analytics. I don’t think so. Their stats actually show fewer clicks to our website than we show in our own analytics. The only way that is possible is if their stats are seriously wrong. Not that GA is perfect, but it can’t register a visit that doesn’t occur.
4. You can add more content to your listing
Finally, the writer suggests we build the value of our listing page by adding more content. That is certainly a good suggestion. We will do so, and we suggest that anyone else dealing with this issue do so as well. However, adding good content to a page deep within the BBOnline architecture is not the solution to their visibility problem.
One Bright Shining Hope
Checking BBOnline in Compete (a search marketing competitive analysis tool) shows a significant uptick in traffic to BBOnline in the past month. While that is not yet matched by an increase in our GA referrals, which remain dismally low, perhaps there is a ray of hope here, since the uptick seems to be stronger for BBOnline than for its competing directories, indicating that this is more than just a seasonal improvement.
Let’s hope they are getting back on the right track, for the benefit of all their customers.