Careful with adding TripAdvisor widgets on your accommodation website

TripAdvisor website

Adding TripAdvisor widgets to your website? Think carefully.

TripAdvisor is one of the most popular and influential travel websites. Many accommodation  managers have embraced the TripAdvisor concept, and actively monitor reviews that guests post. This allows them to view feedback and provide a “management response” to any reviews that deserve another point of view, so that prospective guests can make an informed decision.

TripAdvisor allows you to implant “live” widgets on your website. There are a range of different types – some simply show that the accommodation is featured on TripAdvisor, while others go into more specifics, such as showing how many travellers gave a 5/5 rating.  The one you really need to watch out for is the “review snippets” widgets as it shows the last (5 by default) recent reviews.

One of our clients has embedded the “review snippets” widget by TripAdvisor on their website. They are an acclaimed B&B – one of the top ranked their area. 90% of their reviewers have given them an overall “excellent” or “very good” rating. However, at this exact moment in time, this is what their “live” TripAdvisor widget is showing:

TripAdvisor widget

TripAdvisor review snippets live widget

That widget is displayed prominently on every single page on their website for everyone to see.  2 out of the last 5 reviews are unfavourable.  After seeing the phrases “didn’t live up to expectations” and “terrible and over priced”, you can imagine some people won’t spend a second longer to delve any deeper, and they will simply look elsewhere. That means lost bookings.

The problem here is those reviews have been taken out of context. While 2 out of 5 bad reviews are showing there, if you look at the bigger picture, that accommodation establishment has a total of 30 positive reviews out of a total of 33. In fact, half the reviewers gave the accommodation the highest possible score of 5 out of 5. Now that’s a pretty impressive achievement. Delve a little deeper, and each unfavourable rating has been followed up with a management response which casts significant doubt on the version of events described by the guests in question.

It’s a big risk implanting the TripAdvisor recent review snippets widget on your website. Any bad reviews from the 5 most recent really stand out and contain no explanation other than some derogatory catch phrase which is sure to put some people off, no matter how good all the others are.  If you want to implant a TripAdvisor widget on your website, you’d be much wiser to choose one of the safer ones that don’t show the leading catch-phrase of guest reviews up-front. That way, if people want to see your reviews on TripAdivsor, they can go in and see the whole picture.

Tips on dealing with freelance web designers or developers

asleep

Is your freelancer asleep at the job again?

When you’re in the travel business, having a good website is very important as most people use the internet to research and arrange their holidays. Therefore travel businesses find they will require the services of a web designer or developer to create their website initially, then in the future to extend, enhance or completely redevelop it.

Web design or development can be an expensive business. If you choose an organisation with a street office and reception desk, you will certainly feel comfortable about dealing with an organisation that has a solid presence and reputation.  However, a significant part of the fees you are charged will have to pay the rent of the premises, the wages of support staff, and of course the upkeep of that colourful tropical fish tank and fancy espresso coffee machine in the foyer.

A significant amount of money can be saved by getting the work done by a skilled freelancer. They typically work from home, and thus don’t need to rent an office or pay wages to support staff. You would generally interact with a freelancer via the internet or phone, perhaps meeting in a public place if there needs to be face to face contact.

Like with all industries, there’s good and bad, and the freelancers of the world are no different.  You’ll find some really responsive, talented, hard-working people, and equally, you’ll find some lazy ones whose sole aim is to get as much money out of you as possible, and deliver as little as possible.

It is highly recommended that if you hire a freelancer, you do so through a respected freelance online employment platform such as Elance, Odesk or Freelancer. These systems allow you to track a freelancer’s progress and only pay when the job is completed to your satisfaction. There is also a comprehensive dispute resolution system in place to ensure that at the end of the day, everyone should walk away happy with the job outcome.

Another option is to deal with a freelancer directly. You’ll typically find them by searching on Google and ending up on their website.

When selecting a freelance web designer using the internet, ensure that you:

  1. Look at their website.  If they can’t design their own website, what hope do they have of doing yours?
  2. View their portfolio. See if you like their style of work. Take particular note of the dates of the items in their portfolio to ensure you aren’t dealing with someone that’s not done much work for a long time.
  3. Check the web designer’s social profiles. Look at their Facebook and Twitter streams to gauge their character.
  4. Do an internet  search of the web designer’s business name, personal name, website address and ABN. Then re-do the search followed by negative words such as “problem”, “scam”, “fraud”, “untrustworthy”, etc. This may uncover any unfavourable dealings people have had with this person.
  5. Check if the web designer is an active contributor to popular technical forums. Someone who regularly contributes to such a forum will typically value their reputation in public and will be likely to do the right thing by their clients.

If you’ve taken the plunge and chosen a freelance web designer from the internet, here are some important tips on dealing with them.

  1. Only do business with freelancers from your own country. It makes things easier if you’re both in the same or similar time zone when it comes to communications. Also, if something does go wrong, it is much easier to resolve disputes when you’re both operating under the laws of the same country.
  2. Never, EVER, pay up front for the work. After all, what stops the freelancer then disappearing with your money, never to be seen again? If the freelancer does insist on a payment to kick-start the project, ensure that the payment is done in such a way that you can reverse it. For example, pay with a credit card, so that you have the option of disputing the transaction if the services you’d paid for aren’t provided. Alternatively, use an escrow service such as Australian-based Escrow Angel so that your funds are held by an independent third party and only released to the freelancer once everyone is in agreement over the work completed.
  3. Draw up a clear contract for the project. This contact must stipulate exactly what work needs to be done, any intermediate milestones, and a final delivery date. A clause should also be included to specify that you (and not the web designer) own the intellectual property created for the website. The contract should also state what is to happen if milestones or the delivery date is not met. Do NOT treat an invoice from the freelancer as a contract. Invoices for services are generally vague, lack delivery dates, and are non-binding.
  4. Keep in regular contact with your freelancer. Don’t be afraid to phone, text or email them, requesting details of their progress. After all, you are employing them, so you have every right to know how they are spending the time you pay them for.

There are a number of warning signs to watch out for that can indicate you are dealing with an unreliable freelancer.

  1. Unrealistic promises. The freelancer promises the impossible when taking on the project.  Telling you that their work will be so good that you’re bound to win awards galore for their stunning website design may simply be nothing more than hot air to secure your business which they wouldn’t normally have any hope of getting otherwise.
  2. You caught them in between large jobs. The freelancer tells you that normally they are so busy, but by pure chance you’ve approached them at the exact instant that they’ve completed a massive project for a high-profile client. Are you really that lucky? More likely it’s a freelancer that’s been out of work for a while, and they are just trying to create an impression that they are in high demand and that you’re extremely lucky to hire them.
  3. The “too good to be true” quote. You may think that you’ve been very fortunate in receiving an unbelievably cheap quote for your project. However, this may be part of a freelancer’s plan to lock in as many jobs as possible so they have a steady source of work and income during quiet times. There are some freelancers who have serious issues with time and money management. So if they have bills to immediately pay, then any work that has been pre-paid or not due to earn them income for a while, will simply be put on hold. You will be given a smorgasbord of excuses for the delay in your project in order to string it along into the future when they do eventually find they have the time and financial freedom to do some work on it. Keep in mind that if you think your project has been under-quoted, then it will be first in line for being put on the back-burner indefinitely.
  4. Lack of communication. While the project is underway, the freelancer keeps losing your emails or never receives your text messages. If this is happening on a regular basis, it may indicate that they are just stringing your project along while they are doing other things that are earning them more money. Depending on the circumstance, a project that should only take a a few weeks to complete may end up taking months or even a year if the freelancer manages to dodge most of your communication.
  5. Requests for progress payments in advance. Progress payments are exactly that – payment after a certain amount of work has been completed. Be very cautious of a freelancer that not only wants a hefty deposit up front before they even start their work, but also demands progress payments in advance for work they are yet to complete. Would you really pay someone that you’ve not met before for something they haven’t supplied yet?
  6. Fake discounts. Watch out for those so-called “discounts” offered by a freelancer during the course of the project if they’ve failed to reach a milestone or project delivery date. While it may seem like generous compensation, you need to keep in mind this is not the same as handing you a cash gift. They are simply offering to take a little less of your money for the project in order to cover up their incompetence. Everyone would much prefer their project to be completed on time rather than receiving a slight discount if the work is delivered months or even a year late. This could all be part of their ploy to string your project along while they attend to more profitable work.
  7. Would you like a free set of steak knives with that? If your freelancer isn’t offering you a “discount” in order to compensate for missing deadlines, another trick is to offer a bonus package of services that you didn’t order and probably don’t want. Be prepared to be showered with offers of free SEO (search engine optimisation) and other services to enhance your website, which you’ll be told are worth thousands of dollars, but which you’ll receive for free. All this is simply part of their plan to string the project along and keep you happy for a bit, without them having to do any work in the short term.
  8. The “I’m a perfectionist” excuse. It’s reverse psychology at work here. Instead of the freelancer confessing they have fallen way behind in their work, they buy almost infinite more time by telling you they are a perfectionist and are putting in so much extra effort to produce something so awesome and amazing for you. In cases like this, you’re made to feel that you should be apologising to the freelancer for pressuring them over the delay, rather than them apologising to you.
  9. Playing the sympathy card. Like most people, a freelancer may have personal problems or situations they have to deal with that can impact on their work. Because you’re employing just one person, any problem a freelancer has will cause the whole project to grind to a halt as there’s no one else to take over. As human beings, we naturally sympathise with others that are enduring personal hardships. However, if the freelancer says they are an only child and have to care for their sick mother this week, how do you know they aren’t in fact down at the beach every day as the weather forecast promised ideal surf conditions?

Using a freelancer can potentially save you a lot of money when it comes to website projects. However, like with all industries, there are a few incompetent freelancers out there, so choose one carefully.

Make sure your website’s drop-down menus work on an iPad

Apple iPad

Getting those drop-down menus on your website to work on an iPad

By the end of 2011, Apple had sold more than 55 million iPads worldwide. In many markets, sales of the iPad represented over 70% of tablet computer purchases. Therefore it is important to make sure your website is fully functional when used on an iPad.

If you don’t have an iPad, one of the first things you can do is to view your website using the Safari web browser which is what iPads use by default.  Safari is available for Windows, Linux and comes standard on Macs.  You can download Safari for free.

Unfortunately, using Safari on your PC or Mac isn’t quite the same as using it on an iPad.  One of the reasons is that “hover” events in HTML/CSS cannot be performed on an iPad. A hover event occurs when you hover your mouse over something, without clicking, causing an action, such as a menu to drop down. Interestingly, Android-based tablet computers emulate the hover action by allowing you to tap on the area which would cause something like a menu to drop down. This tapping is ignored on iPad and other Apple mobile devices.

So if you have a website which uses a standard HTML/CSS drop-down menu (constructed using HTML list elements such as <LI>) and it relies on the “hover” event to make the menu items reveal themselves, then it probably won’t work on an iPad.

There are many solutions which make the iPad behave like an Android-based tablet whereby clicking on a button will emulate a “hover” and display the full drop-down menu. Some solutions use JavaScript while others use code to try and detect if you’re using an iPad and work around it. There are many ways to accomplish this, however we began a quest to discover the quickest and simplest method of getting those drop-down menus to work on an iPad, and the solution ended up being trivial.

To make a drop-down menu appear when someone taps on the menu button, all you need to do is add

onClick=”return true”

to the “A” tag within any list item (such as <LI>) that triggers a menu to pop up. This works for cascading menus as well.

This simple workaround has no affect on people using web browsers on desktop or laptop computers – it just forces the menu to pop up on an iPad when someone taps on the menu button, which is equivalent to a click.

We have verified this all works on a couple of websites we manage that use HTML/CSS drop-down menus:

  1. Beach Stays
  2. Dogs on Holidays

Originally, the drop-down menus on those sites failed to operate on an iPad due to the missing “hover” functionality, making it impossible to access the hidden menu items and forcing people to go through the tedious routine of returning back to the home page to access an index of the website’s contents. Once we explicitly defined a click action to emulate a hover, suddenly those drop-down menus began working (when you tap on them) just like on a desktop computer!

Due to the popularity of iPads, it is important to make sure all parts of your website work correctly on them, including those HTML/CSS drop down menus which are becoming quite popular nowadays.

 

Are you wrongly assuming all your website visitors use Internet Explorer?

Internet Explorer

Internet Explorer may not be No.1 for too much longer

You’ve got a great website – either created by yourself or by someone else – but can everyone actually see it as they should and use it properly?

Some PC or Windows users may be forgiven for thinking that the only way to visit websites is using Internet Explorer. However, there are in fact more than 50 different web browsers that people could use. While it is impractical to test the operation of your website fully in each one, you should consider how widely used certain web browsers are to ensure compatibility with your site for the vast majority of users.

Over the last year, Internet Explorer has lost almost 10% of the overall market share of desktop web browsers, seeing its penetration drop to 52.6%. Mozilla’s Firefox and Google’s Chrome browsers now command a combined total of 40.1% of the desktop market share. See Net Market Share for current web browser rankings.

Based on the fact that nearly half of those who visit your website won’t be using Internet Explorer, it is important not to ignore Firefox and Chrome. Test your website in those browsers, both of which are available for use at no cost. Compare font styles and sizes, page layout, interactive menus and the general appearance of your website. If you’ve designed your website to certain standards, there should ideally be no difference between them.

It’s not just web browser software that’s the issue. Almost one in 10 desktop computers accessing the web is not a Windows PC, but a computer running an alternative operating system such as MacOS or Linux. So if your website has features that require a Windows PC to make use of it (such as special plugins only available for Windows), you may be excluding 10% of your visitors.

You’ve gone to a lot of effort to create a great website and get people to visit it. Don’t alienate them by making your website incompatible with browsers other than Internet Explorer.

Do you really own your website and its contents?

Copyright

Who really has copyright over your website and its contents?

A few years ago, we had a rather eye-opening experience with some holiday property owners in a popular Victorian coastal town who were advertising their accommodation with us. They originally requested that we use text and photos from their own dedicated websites to create their advertisement. They were photos the property owners had taken themselves and wording they’d supplied to their web development and hosting company (let’s call them “Sneaky Internet Promotions“) to set up and maintain their website.

Imagine our surprise when “Sneaky Internet Promotions” threatened to sue us for multiple incidents of copyright infringement for re-using material on their clients’ websites!

What was happening here is that unbeknown to the poor property owners in this town, whenever they hired “Sneaky Internet Promotions” to create and maintain their website, they signed over complete ownership and copyright of all their material to this company. This meant that when the accommodation owners in this town took photos of their properties and gave them to “Sneaky Internet Promotions” to update their websites with, they lost all copyright of the photos and any information that appeared on their website.

Why any web development or hosting company would want complete copyright ownership of its clients’ text and photos is something we’ll leave to your speculation, although it’s pretty obvious.

The lesson here is that if you pay a web development company to create and/or maintain your website, ensure that the contract specifies that YOU own the resulting product and that the copyright for all material you supply (even if it is modified by them) remains with you. Otherwise you will run into problems galore if you instruct other websites, newspapers or magazines to copy text and photos from what you believe is “your” own website to create additional advertising for you.

Design your website for people, not computers

Computer - no humans

Is your website designed for computers or for humans?

We get the opportunity to view many websites for accommodation properties due to their details being listed on the Travel Victoria website. There’s all different types we see – some spectacular ones, some fairly run of the mill, and the occasional one which is just plain odd.

One website we came across recently was for a bed and breakfast in country Victoria which was simply not designed for people like you and I to view, but structured in such a way to appeal to search engines like Google and absolutely nothing else.

Upon browsing the contents of the website in question, we went away with an infinitely greater knowledge of every possible way of rephrasing the words “bed & breakfast”, “romantic escape”, “luxurious property” and “boutique accommodation”, without learning very much about what they were actually offering to their guests. Navigation of the site was provided using menu items which were bursting with superfluous strings of words where just one simple word would have done. And to make matters worse, information on the local area was provided in the form of slabs of text copied directly from Wikipedia, despite the fact the B&B hosts would have been in a much better position to write their own unique description of the town and its attractions from first hand experience of running the property and living in the district for years.

Now comes the crucial bit. It’s quite possible this attempt at search engine optimisation (SEO) may in fact encourage Google to rank that property’s website highly for many varied search terms, and thus deliver a good stream of visitors looking for B&B accommodation to that site. However, you can be guaranteed that most of those visitors will be so put off by being confronted by a site which appears dedicated to rephrasing every word in existence related to “bed & breakfast”, that they will simply move onto another site rather than trying to extract any useful information that is buried deep within what it little more than a smorgasbord for search engines.

So, is it really worth building a website which ranks highly in Google if it only provides very little useful information and results in visitors clicking off to another website almost immediately?  Wouldn’t it be better to build a website with content that is interesting for humans to read and spend time on, even if you don’t get quite the same number of initial visitors as a site designed only for search engines?

This is not to say that websites shouldn’t be optimised for ranking by search engines However, if such optimisation is done, it should be done in subtle ways so as not to ruin the experience for the website visitors.  After all, the ultimate aim is to get people engaged in your accommodation and make a booking, not showcase a scoreboard of how many people visited your website.