Make your website work for you

The internet has revolutionised the way people source information on which to make purchasing decisions and thus has brought about a revolution in the way products and services are marketed.

Nowadays, having a website for your property is not an optional extra. To put it bluntly, if you don’t have a website you’re losing business and nobody can afford to lose business. The point of this article is thus not the importance of having a website, but rather the importance of making the website you obviously have, or are planning to invest in urgently, work for you.

The domain name

Do you have a website with your own domain name that closely resembles the name of your establishment? If you don’t, it gives the impression that you are not serious about being in the tourism industry. If your guest house is called ‘The Elephant and Buffalo’ then your web address should ideally be something like ‘www.elephantandbuffalo.co.za’. This means that your email address would be This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and it conveys a far more professional image of your establishment than if your email address were This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

The Costs

Your website is, in effect, your online brochure. As you no doubt know, a printed brochure needs to motivate a potential guest to choose your establishment above another. At the same time it needs to convey the ambience, the very nature of your establishment, in such a way that reasonable, realistic expectations are created. Just like a printed brochure, a website should have a number of pages. A printed brochure could be a lavish affair with a separate page or double page spread featuring every room separately, or could be a simple Z-folded double-sided A4 with only one panel covering your whole accommodation range. The most significant difference between the two is what it costs to produce them.

The same applies to websites. A simple website with a few pages is not difficult or expensive to produce. Adding extra pages shouldn’t cost all that much more, especially not if they are simply “flat pages” using the same template with just a content change on each page. A sophisticated website, the “lavish” option, will contain all sorts of fancy functionality. This could include search functionality, dynamic pages where page content is generated off a back-end database, animation, automation, secure payment gateways or real-time reservations linking into a GDS or in-house inventory system, to name but a few. The more coding (programming) is required to make the fancy functionality work, the more your website will cost to set up. A small establishment like a guest house or B&B would be well served with a basic, entry level site consisting of 4 – 6 pages.

The Design

The home (landing) page is the first page people see when they come into your site. This is equivalent to the cover of a printed brochure.
This page should show signature photographs of your establishment and a general, catchy introduction to entice people to look at the other pages and see the detail. The background, the font and your logo will help to convey the ambience or nature of your establishment. More sophisticated sites may feature an animated banner using either flash or animated gif technology. Clickable menu items will then lead website users to other pages on your site. Whatever you have on your landing page, make sure it loads quickly. In this day of instant gratification you don’t want to be caught perpetuating the world wide wait.

You are likely to have a page describing your rooms or units (with well-written copy and stunning photographs, of course), another for your public areas and perhaps another for recreation facilities or activities in the surrounding area.

Very important is the page containing your contact details and information on how the guest should go about making a reservation. A simple website would most likely have a link which opens an e-mail window. There are quite a few online reservation systems serving smaller establishments that offer a simple interface that is “skinned” so that your web designer can insert the functionality into your template without having to code it from scratch. This is a useful feature which again addresses the “instant gratification” culture in which we now find ourselves.

Another page to consider is one containing directions to your establishment, possibly featuring a graphic map that is downloadable and printable. Some smaller establishments prefer not to publish their physical address on the internet for security reasons. If this is true in your case, then be sure to have an offline document in a popular format like MS Word or Adobe PDF readily available to email to guests once a reservation has been confirmed.

How will your website be found?

There are a number of ways to drive traffic into your site. This is the online equivalent of brochure distribution, with one major difference – you don’t have to lug heavy boxes around!

Just as you wouldn’t go to the expense of printing brochures to let them sit in a box in a storeroom, you cannot just let your website sit on a server somewhere hoping someone may stumble across it.

The search engines:

Search engines like Google, Yahoo and MSN are like libraries on the internet. To find the information one requires, you need to enter keywords that will help the engine identify sites that potentially have the information you are looking for.

Search engine “spiders” trawl through the content on the World Wide Web, taking note of the content of websites, the keywords, meta tags and cross links.

Being found on a search engine by ‘accident’ is equivalent to getting some free editorial coverage in a newspaper. It’s great if you get it, but you cannot bargain on it happening all the time. In today’s competitive market, one needs to actively (and sometimes aggressively) market your product. On the internet, this means that you need to embark on search engine optimisation.

Search engine optimisation has become a science in itself and today there are many companies that charge a lot of money to ensure that your website stays up top in the search engines. Unfortunately very few establishments can afford to pay for an ongoing search engine optimisation campaign. Below are a few things you can do to increase your standings in the search engine race.

AdWords Campaigns

If, for example, you were a guest house in Kakamas, you could bid to come up in the paid ads section of the search results for the keywords ‘Kakamas guest house’ For these keywords you will probably pay US$0,30 per click through to the search engine company but if you want to do well in the advertisers list for ‘Cape Town Hotels’ US $1 per click may not even be enough to get you high on the list.

Cross Links

Another essential exercise is to identify sites which could be interested in establishing cross links with your site. This means you should have a links page and on that page you have links to other sites and in return they will have links to your site.

Page titles, page content and keywords

If you go into a web browser like Internet Explorer and open a website, the page title is what appears at the very top of the screen. Make sure that the page title and the heading or title that appears in the body of the page (in text format) correspond closely or are identical.

You home page’s title, for example, could be “Welcome to Elephant and Buffalo Guest House” – then the first words appearing on the page should be the same. Your website designer should also enter keywords in the “invisible” part of your page design and these keywords should also correspond with the content of the page. Logical keywords would include things like the type of accommodation, the location and activities that you offer that are likely to be search criteria. For example, you could put “Guest House”, “Kakamas”, “Quadbike Tours”, “Hiking”, “Health Spa”.

Don’t use too many keywords as this will dissipate the relevance of search results, which determines the order in which they appear.

Site Maps

Having an accurate site map is almost as good as giving the search engine “spider” directions on where to go. It’s a good idea, so ask your developer about this.

Critical Mass

It seems these days that for the major search engines to find your site you should have certain features of the site optimised for search engine friendliness and you need a critical mass of pages – this number is closer to 15 – 20 pages rather than just 4-6. Consider adding a gallery or two, pages featuring your most important activities and maybe even a page of guest comments.
When you select a developer you need to enquire very carefully as to whether he knows what the techniques are in order for you to have a search engine friendly site. We wish you well and hope we’ll see you on the world wide web!