Web Marketing for Guesthouses and B&Bs

Every once in a while I check the pages I link to, just to see which sites have changed. This not only serves the purpose of keeping the house clean to provide you with a better experience; it often also recalls nice memories. Yesterday was again link checking day, and to my horror I realized that a number of links had changed, or -even worse- had become obsolete. And I started to wonder – why is that? Why would anyone (in the year 2008) drop an existing website?

We typically link to small businesses (e.g. guesthouses, B&Bs, or small lodges), because this information helps with trip planning. Good, reliable links are extremely useful. Also, we think that directing some free traffic to these sites helps the owners with their ongoing struggle to get new customers, and ultimately to stay in business. Some of these small houses simply can not afford online advertising campaigns which can be quite costly (then again, we do not mind inquiries for paid advertising on our site). :-)

Anyway, I find it strange to see websites for established houses disappear. Take Kellys Hotel in Dublin, Ireland, as the perfect example. It’s a good, affordable hotel, that is conveniently located next to Dublin’s popular Temple Bar quarter. We liked it very much when we stayed there, and I remember that they had an Internet site up and running back then, operating under the domain of kellyshtl.com. The Internet Archive confirms this: here is a snapshot of December 5, 2006. But then *poof* something happened, and the site was gone. At the time of writing, the site is registered with New Venture Services, Corp., a Tortola, VG, based business specialized in acquiring “expired” domains, i.e. domain registrations that have not been prolonged for whatever reason. Today, they serve ads on the site. All the links on homepages, all the business cards and flyers, that have been paid for and distributed by Kellys Hotel, all this now directs traffic to a domain that belongs to someone else who rakes in the benefits. Not good.

Key learning # 1
If you are running a website for your business today, never let your existing domain expire!

Or take The Mount Whitney Motel in Lone Pine, CA. Another small and very nice establishment. They did not run their own web site back in 2003, but they had a full-fashioned entry in a Californian business directory that was operating under the domain ca-biz.com at that time. For years I happily linked to this entry until now the entry was gone (and with it the whole directory). Again, the domain is showing unrelated ads today. The motel owners were smart enough to create their own web site, though: www.mtwhitneymotel.com.

Key learning # 2
If you want a reliable presence on the Internet, go get your own domain! Do not rely on pages hosted with business directories. Such pages can disappear anytime.

And then, a final tip for your web presence: try to keep your site as intact as possible, even when you are introducing massive changes to the content or site structure. Yes, you may be tempted to just delete an outdated page. After all, the content is not up-to-date any longer, so why keep it? But think again: there may be some valuable traffic coming in, for example from sites like zanzig.com who happily link to your pages for free. But when a visitor clicks on a link to a page that does not exist any more, he gets an error message, and may just hit the “back button” on his browser. Another potential customer is gone.

I recently saw this when reviewing the links of Namibia’s National Wildlife Resorts Ltd., the company that runs the Namibian National Parks. They switched from plain HTML to PHP, which made a change in the file extensions necessary, from .htm to .php! They just deleted the plain HTML files, resulting in an error message for anyone accessing any of the old documents. Customers now have to awkwardly look for a way to the new .php page. If you want to keep them, why not make it easy for them and simply point to the new page instead?

Key learning # 3
Be smart about site changes! Try to keep the old site structure intact, and show visitors a way to easily access the originally requested content.

Really, try to not lose any visitor who hits your site. If you make it as easy as possible for him to find the information he is looking for, then your chances are very good that he might indeed become a customer.

Good luck!

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