Some years ago we had a conversation with a BBOnline staffer who indicated that a website redesign was being planned, but it could be quite some time before it was completed. At the time, BBOnline was one of the most significant sources of traffic referrals to our Freeport Maine Bed & Breakfast, so we were anxious to see the site updated, and also to see some more modern features added, such as innkeepers uploading their own photos, changing their own text, etc. Be careful what you wish for.
A New Website
Last fall we received an email indicating that the site redesign was nearly complete, and inviting us to try out the “beta” version and provide feedback. Pleased that this was finally looking like a reality, we uploaded photos, changed text, and generally did most of the things other directories have allowed for years. There seemed to be a number of quirky features, and broken items, so we dutifully made a list and emailed it off, in hopes that the items could be corrected when the site was released.
The first clue that all was not well at BBOnline was when there was no response to our feedback email. Not even a “Thanks, we got your email.” Nothing. Oh, and when the site rolled out, most of the glitches we had identified were still there. Now that gives you a special feeling, doesn’t it?
Regular readers will know that we’re a bit committed to analytics (OK, obsessed, then!), so it will come as no surprise that we checked our analtyics about a month after receiving the December 7, 2011 email from BBOnline announcing that the new site had been rolled out, to see how the new site was doing. That was an eye-opener!
We were looking at maybe 5 referrals from BBOnline in a month. Now for some directories that has been the norm, but BBOnline has always been up near the top of our directories, with at least 10 times that many referrals in the off-season, and much more in the busy summer months.
So we took a look at some comparisons. First, we looked at the year to date (January, 2012 through March, 2012) compared to the same period of the year before. BBOnline’s referrals had dropped by 96%! Then we checked the past 12 months (April, 2011 – March, 2012) compared to the prior year. BBOnline had dropped only about 1%. In fact, looking at the calendar year 2011 compared with 2010, BBOnline’s referrals were up 20%.
Is the 1% drop OK?
Without knowing more, you might assume that a 1% drop is no big deal. In this case, at least, you would be wrong. According to the announcement from BBOnline, the website went live about December 7, 2011. That means that the loss of traffic in the last 3 weeks of the year was enough to drop the annual traffic by 1% over the year before.
Let’s put that in perspective. How did other directories do? Looking at the calendar year 2011, and comparing it to 2010, referral traffic from B&B directories, as a whole, was up nearly 80% in 2011 over 2010. BBOnline was up only 20%. Now, granted, if all directories went up 80%, some were higher and some were lower. But 20% is way behind the curve here.
It gets worse
What about 2012? For 2012 year to date (Jan 1, 2012 – April 8, 2012) compared to the same period a year ago, all the B&B directories were up 8.8%. BBOnline was down – by 95%!
Recalling that BBOnline announced the new site design on December 7, 2011, we checked the analytics from September, 2011, through early April, 2012. Since our season winds down in late October, we expect a significant decline as we move into November and December, and that is what we find. What we don’t expect is that at December 7 we hit bottom and stay there! But that is exactly what happened. While other directories picked up again after the first of the year, here we are in April and BBOnline is still floundering at the bottom, sending only a few visitors a month.
To be certain this wasn’t something only affecting our B&B, we checked and found that several other innkeepers had complained of the same symptoms. We have attempted to contact BBOnline to see what can be done, but have not yet received a response. Other innkeepers have contacted them, have found them responsive, but no information or solution has yet been seen.
What could be causing this?
Without access to information behind the scenes at BBOnline, it is difficult to identify the cause (or causes). However, there are some observations that may provide clues. First, the pages of the new site seem to load quite slowly. That was our perception, and we verified it by running the site through a page speed analysis site. Trying several options, we found that the pages consistently took over 4 seconds to load, and sometimes as many as 6 seconds. By contrast, Google, the foremost advocate of improved page loading time, considers load times greater than 1.5 seconds to be slow.
Some have expressed the impression that users may find that searching for properties on the BBOnline site is confusing and difficult, and perhaps guests are simply moving on to another directory. That certainly seems like a possible explanation for some of the decline. Trying to search like a consumer, the first steps were simple and straightforward, but changing the location to a nearby area, not listed by BBOnline as a nearby area, proved to be quite difficult without returning to the home page to start over.
Another possibility is that they didn’t take precautions with the new site design to make sure to minimize the SEO impact of the changes.
There are also technical issues that could be preventing us from seeing visits from BBOnline in our analytics reports. While that seems unlikely, we can’t rule it out without information from inside BBOnline.
Whatever the cause, we certainly hope that BBOnline will be able to resolve this, and quickly!