Increase Direct Bookings – Website Foundations

Increase Direct Bookings – Website Foundations

This article forms part of a series teaching you how to increase direct bookings. If you run a B&B, guest house or hotel, this is for you. Sign up for the free newsletter.


I apologise for this technical post, but I want you to build a solid foundation.

If you don’t have a website, follow these guidelines to get a good start. If you have a website, but it’s doing nothing for direct bookings, tag along. You might glean some valuable information.

Let’s dive in.

Get your own website

If you don’t have a website, get one. Another well executed sales channel can only be of benefit.

Someone recently told me that websites won’t be around in five years’ time. It doesn’t matter. They’re still in use today. There are plenty of direct bookings to get in 1,825 days.

Here are some free pointers for getting a website going.

The free subdomain option

Free subdomain web hosting abounds. There’s Wix, WordPress​.com and myriad others.

These systems offer free hosting. Your website URL looks something like this: capetownbnb.wordpress​.com.

(Don’t confuse WordPress​.Com with WordPress​.Org. WordPress​.Com is hosted; WordPress​.Org is self-​hosted. You do all the work with the self-​hosted WordPress. I tackle that in this article. Read on.)

Notice that the domain name doesn’t belong to you. You’re piggybacking on WordPress hosting.

It’s unprofessional.

It’s like using a Gmail address when you can afford a branded email address.

And to whom does the content belong to that’s added to such a website?

Use this option only if you cannot afford anything else. It’s better than nothing, but it’s not that good.

Upgrade if you can afford to

Most of these platforms allow you to upgrade to a paid version where you use your own domain name. Make the switch if you can afford to. This allows you to get a branded website up and running in no time.

Some of these services allow you to add a blog. Some allow you to customise the look.

If you do upgrade, make sure the package contains these elements:

  • The ability to brand your site.
  • The ability to blog.
  • Offers Control over meta titles, meta descriptions, headings and social marketing info.
  • The ability to add contact details and a contact form.
  • Newsletter or the ability to add one.
  • Analytics or the ability to add analytics.
  • The site is mobile friendly.

Make sure of what you’re buying. Compare the different options.

This is the easiest and quickest route for you to get your website up and running.

Another option

Squarespace is like Wix, but they don’t have a free option with a subdomain.

With Squarespace you get a website with your domain name for as little as $12 per month.

Squarespace, Wix and WordPress​.Com offer the quickest route. If you have the money, take this path. Spend your time marketing, not building websites.

If you find this option unattractive, read on.

The technical route

What follows is advanced stuff. Don’t attempt these things without the help of a web professional. I know you’re not stupid. But you need to decide whether you want to build a website or a business.

If you use a web professional, the following info should give you a good understanding of what to expect of him.

Get a good domain name

Your domain name is crucial to success. You don’t want a horrible domain name.

Let’s cover the do’s and don’ts of a domain name.

Don’t overspend

Get a standard .com domain name. (If you’re in South Africa, a .co​.za won’t hurt.)

There’s a slew of other extensions available: .direct, .ninja, .rocks, .social, .dance, .pub, to name a few. The .com is still the most popular.

Don’t buy a domain name if it’s already registered. In other words, if someone else has already bought the domain name you want, move on. They might try to sell it to you at a fat profit. Don’t go for it.

Although I applaud capitalism, I also applaud common sense. It’s not necessary to spend more than a handful of dollars to own a new domain name. Renewing a domain name should also not cost you more than a few dollars per year.

I buy domain names through name​.com. There are many other fine domain name registrars too.

Make it short

Short domain names are easier to remember. But don’t get a short domain name if it’s not sensible.

As short as possible does not mean, confuse potential guests.

Do the phone test

Phone a stranger. Start a discussion around anything that interests them. Once they’ve explained who they are and what they do, work your way towards their website name. How you get there is up to you. Do they have to explain to you how to spell it or that it contains a dash between the second and third words?

Then give them your website name and listen to their response.

If you have to explain your domain to someone over a phone, you’ve lost a great deal of the battle.

Don’t-use-dashes

Steer clear of using a dash in your domain name. It might work for some, but it causes confusion.

It ties in with the phone test. If you must explain to someone that it contains a dash, it’s not optimal.

Don’t do keyword spam

Some years ago I owned a 100 domain names consisting of good keywords.

Example: fivestaraccommodationcapetown​.com.

I was going to get rich from these domain names.

In those days Google placed importance on the domain name. Tests revealed that they performed well in search, despite thin content.

But Google changed things and my keyword-​laden websites tumbled down the search results. The game was up. They caught me out.

I let my 100 domain names expire and started focusing on creating quality content.

Use your establishment’s name

Bake your brand into your domain name.

Google ranks a website based on the quality of its content, not on the quality of your domain name. But, for the sake of brand building, use your establishment’s name.

Get hosting

If you don’t want to use Wix, Squarespace or WordPress​.Com, you’ll need hosting.

Ample Hosting offers a great package for R40 per month. Hetzner, a phenomenal company, has a package for R100 per month. I use both. They’re great.

What to look for in hosting

A good host offers SSD hosting. SSD hosting is faster than standard hosting. Why it’s faster is beyond the scope of this article. But it’s faster.

They also offer quick rollback. This is essential for those times when you break your website. I’ve broken my sites many times. It’s great to know that the host can press a button which rewinds your site to a working state. Ample Hosting and Hetzner both offer this option.

Hetzner’s support is exceptional. They’re available 24 hours per day. Their email support is fast and courteous.

Ignore the extras

Some web professionals will tell you that you need extras to rank well.

Extras cost money.

If you can afford to, add HTTPS to your website. They sell this as a security product, but it’s not secure. The sole reason for using HTTPS is to rank better.

Be careful of free HTTPS certificates. They sometimes give warnings when you click through from a Google search. Google makes it look like your site is spam. This could turn visitors away.

Don’t stress if you can’t afford HTTPS. Keep adding marvellous content and watch your site rocket up the natural rankings.

Another unnecessary extra is a unique IP address. I’ve outranked popular websites without a unique IP address. Not having a unique IP had no negative effect. The content was too compelling to rank low.

Get a CMS

CMS stands for Content Management System.

A CMS consists of two parts: the public facing website and a back office where you add content.

Why a CMS?

A CMS allows you to add new content or change old content on your website yourself. You don’t have to run to a web developer to have changes made.

When you log into a CMS, you’re greeted with a dashboard from where you can add new pages and new blog posts. You can also check visitor stats. There’s more. We’ll cover it in a future post.

Use WordPress

I’ve used a countless number of CMSes over the years. I’ve come across some remarkable systems.

I settled on WordPress for my websites.

It’s not the best CMS in the world. If I had to go into all the negatives of this system I’d spend weeks blogging.

But the positives outweigh the negatives.

WordPress allows you to have a website up and running in no time.

That’s the key. You need to get going now.

WordPress’ SEO is great out of the box. With an extra plugin or two it’s phenomenal. You have everything you need to optimise for direct bookings.

Some people like Joomla. I can’t stand it. It’s byzantine and the SEO is appalling. There are other great systems, but they’re complex. WordPress is great for your needs.

How to install WordPress

Be distrustful. That adage has gotten me far in life.

Approach your WordPress install with the security-​through-​obscurity mindset. Make it difficult for hackers to get your details.

If someone wants to hack you they’ll do it, no matter how secure you make your website. But don’t be lackadaisical. Put up a fight.

Install to a subfolder

Install WordPress to a subfolder. This is where your back office should be. Your public facing website should sit in the root.

An example URL of a WordPress backoffice: http://​myaccommodationwebsite​.com/​t​h​i​s​i​s​m​y​s​u​b​f​o​l​d​e​r​/​w​p​-​a​d​min

That same website’s public facing URL would be http://​myaccommodationwebsite​.com/.

This approach allows you to complete the building of your site at http://​myaccommodationwebsite​.com/​t​h​i​s​i​s​m​y​s​u​b​f​o​l​der. Once it’s finished, you move the public facing side to http://​myaccommodationwebsite​.com.

Here’s a tutorial that shows how to move your WordPress site from a subfolder to root.

Use a strong password

12345 or your surname are not strong passwords. WordPress now offers a strong preset password at install. Use it and save it somewhere.

Use a strong database name

Don’t use the default setting for a WordPress database. Change it to something obscure and save the name somewhere for later reference.

Must-​have WordPress plugins

Get these plugins if you want WordPress to be even better.

Yoast SEO

Yoast SEO gives you page-​level control of your content’s SEO elements. It also gives control of social marketing elements. It’s a must-​have plugin.

In a future post I’ll share how to use Yoast SEO to optimise your web pages.

AMP & Accelerated Mobile Pages

Google dreamt up AMP. It’s one of their less intelligent moves; a necessary evil.

The gist: Google stores your website in their cache and serves that cached website to someone who clicks on a Google search result on a mobile device.

These pages are faster than a sailfish in a sea of steroids. It strips out many of a web page’s elements, leaving only the essential. Use with care. We’ll tackle it in a coming article.

I cringe when I talk about this topic. They’ve taken us back ten years, to the pre-​responsive website era.

Even so, not implementing AMP puts you at a disadvantage.

Two plugins, AMP and Accelerated Mobile Pages, simplify AMP-​ing your site.

Comet Cache

Comet Cache serves static copies of your web pages to website visitors. The alternative is your site making a call to the database and connected files every time a page is opened.

A cached website is speedier than a non-​cached site, if your site runs off a database. WordPress does, so this is a good plugin.

Jetpack

Jetpack is a free WordPress plugin with these tools:

  • Contact form.
  • Visitor counter.
  • Social sharing buttons.
  • Related posts.
  • Comments.
  • Photon image cache.
  • Photo carousel.
  • Custom CSS.

Jetpack has other features too, but those are the most important.

Imsanity

Imsanity resizes images to a size you tell it to. You’ll never have to worry about oversized images and wasted hosting space.

WordPress themes

A proper WordPress install makes use of a child theme for customising content. A child theme allows you to make changes to the look and feel of the site without breaking WordPress.

Also, when the main theme or CMS system receives an update, nothing breaks.

Great WordPress themes and child themes

My favourite WordPress theme and child themes are Genesis and Dynamik. They’re not free, but they’re amazing.

Dynamik requires the Genesis theme to work, but Genesis does not need Dynamik.

Dynamik is not the only child theme available for Genesis. Genesis sells a range of child themes. If you don’t like Dynamik you’ll find something to your liking.

With Genesis and a child theme (such as Dynamik) you can have a beautiful website in hours.

In conclusion

This article builds a foundation for increasing direct bookings. If your foundation wavers, your marketing efforts will fail. Get the right tools and you’ll do well.

If you can afford it, get a Squarespace or Wix website going. Or if your funds allow it, get a web professional to build you a WordPress website.

If you can’t afford any of those options, use a free Wix or WordPress​.Com package.

If you don’t like WordPress, choose something else. Don’t let indecision tank your efforts to increase direct bookings.

In coming posts I’ll share how to set up a website to perform well in search engines. I’ll also show you how to market on social media. Sign up for the free newsletter.