Categories
Business Costs Web hosting Websites

Data limits on your website can affect your travel business

limited
Your web hosting data limit – is it killing your business?

In this day and age, the number one source of travel information is the internet, yet some businesses just don’t get it.  They pour thousands of dollars into making sure their brochures and other print promotional material are 100% perfect, yet they skimp on the reliability of their website.

We recently discussed website monitoring, to ensure website owners are notified almost immediately if their website becomes unavailable.

An issue which affects some websites during busy high-traffic times of year, such as the summer and Christmas holiday period in Australia, is data transfer limits. Many website hosting plans have limits on how much data a website can send and receive. This data includes uploads people make to a website and any downloads they make, including viewing web pages.

So what happens if a website gets really busy and exceeds its allocated data transfer quota?  Some hosting companies ensure a website’s service is not compromised and automatically bill the owner an excess data fee. This is similar to the excess data usage that users of mobile phones may encounter after browsing or downloading in excess of their allocated monthly allowance. Other web hosting companies simply block access to websites which consume data beyond the limits of their plan, taking the site off-line until the next data allowance cycle arrives. This is similar to pre-paid mobile phone plans – if your credit runs out, your service stops.

An example of such a website being blocked has happened today with a popular caravan and holiday park on Victoria’s famous Great Ocean Road, whom we won’t name to protect their privacy.

data limit reached
Bandwidth Limit Exceeded – your website is now off-line right in the middle of the busy travel season

Summer in Victoria is all about warm weather, long days and of course the beach. For those managing a caravan park overlooking one of Victoria’s most famous coastal areas, you simply cannot have your website off-line just before Christmas.

Having your website go off-line periodically due to data transfer limits is detrimental on your business. Ensure that:

  1. Your hosting plan includes a generous data limit, well in excess of what you’d ever expect to be used. Some plans even have unlimited data allowances.
  2. Your hosting plan has automatic provisions for your website to continue running even if you exceed your data limit. Never allow it to go off-line or your business will suffer, usually at the worst possible time.
  3. Regularly monitor your website’s data usage to ensure you haven’t out-grown your existing web hosting plan.
Categories
Business Web hosting Web technology Websites

The importance of website monitoring

Out of order
If your website is down, will you promptly know about it?

Many people assume that their website automatically remains up and running 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  This is usually the case with reputable web hosting organisations that have staff monitoring the services they provide around the clock. However, if you’re hosting your site with a small organisation that only provides support during limited hours, the onus is on you to ensure your website is running every minute of the day.

As an example, let us relate what happened earlier today – this Saturday morning – which is outside of traditional business hours.

As a complimentary service to all those that advertise accommodation on the Travel Victoria website, we provide a monitoring service that checks each day at 6am to see if an accommodation provider’s own website is up and running. If there are any issues, we are emailed a report for further investigation.

This morning, our monitoring service alerted us to 6 accommodation provider websites which were not up and running. As it turned out, all were hosted with the same organisation in the regional Victorian city of Ballarat which we won’t name to protect the privacy of themselves and their clients. That organisation provides website design for small businesses and they also offer web hosting on web servers they manage themselves.  It sounds like this business provides an ideal combination of services – a one stop shop.  However, when you realise that web design is the delivery of an end product, and web hosting is a hands-on 24/7 service, then those two operations are incompatible with a business operating from 9am to 5pm weekdays and not on weekends or during holiday periods.

We sent out notices to our 6 clients about their web services being down.  We couldn’t email them as all were using email services tied to their off-line web hosting services, so notices were sent out via SMS and FAX.

At round 12 noon, web services to our clients were restored.

The important point here is that if wasn’t for the complimentary monitoring service that we at Travel Victoria provide, some of our clients wouldn’t have been aware that their website and email services were not working from 6am this morning as they had no other website monitoring in place.

All this illustrates the importance of having some sort of website monitoring.

If you’re with a large, reputable website hosting company that operates every hour of the day and every day of the year, they will usually be quickly on top of any general and widespread downtime with their clients’ websites unless it relates to the specific configuration or traffic flow to your own website. But if you’re with a smaller organisation that does not operate around the clock, particularly one whose primary service is something other than web hosting, then it is wise to have some third party website monitoring in place.

There are many organisations that specialise in monitoring of websites.  We only do it for our clients for free, and only a simple once a morning check in order to detect extended periods of downtime.  One example of a more fully-featured service is UptimeRobot – they can check your website every 5 minutes.  Their service is free and they’ll notify you by email if your site goes down.  There are more upmarket monitoring services that can do quite in-depth checks of your website’s status and they can even send you alerts directly via SMS if you prefer.

Your clients or customers expect your website to be up and running every minute of the day.  But your web hosting provider may not be monitoring it 24 hours a day.  Therefore, it’s recommended you have a third party monitoring service looking over your site, alerting you promptly when something goes wrong.

Categories
Business Costs Professionalism Web hosting Websites

Penny pinching can drive your customers away

Cost cutting
Schemes that cut your costs could also cost you customers

One of our busy local restaurants has been implementing a number of cost saving measures in order to eliminate what they perceive as dispensable expenses. Their latest idea has seen all EFTPOS and credit card facilities removed, requiring customers to pay cash only, thus saving them fees on the EFTPOS terminal and their credit card merchant facilities.  If you don’t have enough spare cash on hand to pay your food bill, they have a non-bank ATM outside their door which you can use for a $2 fee.

In the grand scheme of things, a busy restaurant like this is not going to save a huge amount of money with this cost cutting idea, especially when you compare the savings to their good income levels. However, this scheme may in fact cost them business in the long run.

What is starting to happen is that people are thinking twice about eating there, particularly if they don’t carry enough cash on them or they are paying for a family or group. Not only are they then inconvenienced with using the ATM outside the door to get money to pay their bill, but they are being slugged $2 to do so.

The actions of this restaurant might save a small amount of money in the short term, but it is unlikely to off-set the business they lose by imposing such a restrictive scheme that is guaranteed to alienate some of their customers.

The are many examples of other businesses adopting harsh cost-cutting schemes. You only need to look at some budget airlines that charge you fees well in excess of their actual expenses if you pay your fare by credit card. Then there are those airlines that make you pay a hefty surcharge to select your seat at booking time rather than when checking in at the airport, which surely can’t make any more work for them, but is simply used as a method of raising additional revenue at no cost.

When you look at our website advertising rates, you could well be forgiven for thinking that Travel Victoria is also a low-cost, penny-pinching operation, intent on slashing to the bone any expenses and trying to extract the most money out of our clients. In fact, we are quite the opposite, as we know that the best way to alienate your clients is to hit them with additional fees and charges on top of what they expect to pay.

  • We do not charge fees to pay accounts by credit card.
  • We do not charge a fee to have renewal invoices printed and posted out rather than emailed.
  • We do not charge fees to update any advertisement with us. We make updates for our clients as often as they like, at no cost.
  • We use one of Australia’s fastest and most reliable web hosting providers on their highest level of service plan, thus paying a premium cost to ensure any business listed with us has the best web presence possible.
  • We do not outsource any work related to running Travel Victoria to people or organisations outside of Australia in order to cut costs. Everything is done locally.

It can be quite easy to identify areas where your business can save money. However, it is very important to keep in mind that the effect of implementing such savings could actually drive customers away, thus costing you significantly more than the actual savings you make in the long run.

Categories
Advertising Business Tourism Web hosting Websites

An off-line website implies you’re closed for business

closed
People may assume if your website is down then you’re closed for business

It’s remarkable that in this day and age of the internet, where information about virtually anything anywhere in the world is available online, that some businesses in the travel and tourism industry regard a reliable web presence as something of little importance.  This is particularly relevant to those businesses whose operations pre-date the internet – some simply don’t appreciate how many travellers nowadays expect to instantly find information on the internet, at any time of the day or night.

Consider this example we experienced with a tourism business in Victoria.

A river cruising company (which we won’t name specifically), has operated on one of Victoria’s great scenic rivers for many decades.  Up until 2009, they had a simple website detailing their cruise schedule, what you’ll see along the way and a photo gallery. They let their web hosting expire (cost cutting in the height of the global financial crisis perhaps?), and since then they have had no dedicated web presence.

Many travel websites gave free exposure to this cruising company, (including us here at Travel Victoria), inviting people to click on the link to their website for further details about their cruises, their timetables and contact details. However, because the cruise company abandoned their web presence in 2009, these links went nowhere, and many people were simply left with the impression that the company was no longer operating. And if people think a business is not operating, they will just try elsewhere for what they need.

We cannot emphasise this enough – if your website goes off-line for an extended period of time, people will simply assume you’re no longer in business.

And if people think you may still be in business, you really cannot expect them to take on the role of a web detective, trying to piece together bits of information from various sources, in order to find out what should have been on your website.

As an experiment, using ONLY the internet, we attempted to find out the cruise timetable of this Victorian cruise company which took their website off-line in 2009.  Many websites where this company was mentioned simply provided a link to the off-line website for further information, so that was useless to us.  Others detailed prices and timetables that were dated from many years ago, as they obviously couldn’t get up to date information from the web.  This raised questions as to how accurate the information was, given it was years old.  We even tried the website of the local visitor information centre where the cruise company is based, but alas, they had few details other than a link to the off-line cruise company’s website. So we ended up emailing the visitor information centre asking for details about the cruises. We got a reply back two days later as they probably had to try to contact the cruise company to get the latest information, although to be fair, we did email the visitor information centre on a weekend. But still, one may ask if someone planning their trip is willing to wait two days for information that they could have in seconds if the cruise company continued their web presence? Many people would have probably tried another business in the area or maybe somewhere else in Victoria. That’s tourist dollars lost to that business and also to the town.

We then decided to email the cruise company directly and advise them that their website was off-line to see their response. To begin with, this became another intensive web detective crusade as we tried to find out their email address and we had no idea if the email address they published 3 years ago was still the one they used.  As it turns out, they did get our email, and said they said they are working on a new website. We can only assume they’ve been working on it on for the last 3 years!

Of course, one has to wonder why they didn’t just let their old website continue to run beyond 2009, update only the most critical information as needed, and then replace it once they’d finalised their new site?

With web hosting by reputable Australian companies at very affordable prices, many offering plans of less than $90 per year, there is simply no way to justify a cost-cutting exercise of having your website off-line for 3 years when you’re in the very competitive tourism industry and one in which people expect instant access to information when planning their travels.

Categories
Advertising Professionalism Search engine optimisation Web promotion Websites

Monitor the results of outsourcing of your website promotion

outsource
Be careful with outsourcing your web promotion.

Outsourcing the job of promoting your website is becoming an attractive option for business owners who either don’t have the time or know-how to do this promotion themselves. However, you really need to keep a careful eye on what your promoter is doing, as if they are not professional about it, their work could end up damaging your business’s reputation rather than enhancing it.

The people at Jensen Windows & Doors (www.jensenqld.com.au) appear to have employed someone from overseas to promote their website in what appears to be a less than professional way. How do we know? Someone based in the Philippines (as determined by looking up the submitter’s IP address) filled in our free listing form for tours and activities in Victoria in order to get their business and website displayed on the Travel Victoria website.  They specified that Jensen Windows & Doors, who are manufacturers of doors and windows in Queensland, conduct tours and activities around the Great Ocean Road coastal town of Aireys Inlet in order to trick us into approving the listing and displaying the website link. With their link published, they would have gained exposure by people clicking on the link and viewing their website.  Also, web search engines like Google would notice the link and treat it as a vote of popularity for Jensen Windows & Doors, thus possibly boosting their website’s ranking when people conduct searches for window and door manufacturers.

While we obviously didn’t publish the free listing as requested by the person from the Philippines that Jensen have hired, it has however left us with a negative view of this Queensland-based manufacturing company that resorts to hiring people from Asia to get their business listed in inappropriate places.

Promoting your business and website is serious stuff.  If you don’t have the time to do it yourself, ensure the person or organisation you outsource this task to is of a reputable nature.  Also ensure that the methods they use to promote your website are appropriate.  They should not spam and they should definitely not try to trick others into listing your website by misrepresenting your business.

Categories
Advertising Web promotion Websites

Don’t put all your eggs in the one basket with Google AdWords

Number one
Your accommodation at number one on Google, but at what cost?

For those marketing accommodation on the internet, Google Adwords is the easy way to get your website to the top of the page when people search for somewhere to stay. But the cost can be significant, and could you achieve similar results for considerably less cost?

Firstly, most people searching on Google trust the unpaid (or “organic”) listings more than the paid listings, according to reports by Forrester Research.  After all, even the dodgiest business can get to No.1 on Google for a few dollars through paid ads, while a number one ranking on the organic listings is something that is based on hundreds of important factors, including your website’s content and the number of other websites providing links to it.

Secondly, the cost of Google Adwords is significant and it is constantly rising as people bid higher and higher amounts to appear the top of the paid listings.

Appearing at the top of the organic (unpaid) page rankings in Google for very generic accommodation terms is often beyond the power of a single accommodation provider’s website due to the very specific content they are presenting. So the next best option is to list that accommodation on the No.1 site that people click on. That provides access to an unlimited source of visitors, and they aren’t being charged for each one.

Here is a specific case example. Say someone is looking to stay at Orbost, which is located half-way between Melbourne and Canberra (or about a third of the way to Sydney) if you’re driving via Gippsland along Victoria’s east coast. Orbost is an ideal place to stop overnight to break up that long drive. So a traveller would typically search for “Orbost accommodation” in Google, and at this precise moment in time, the results of that search are shown below:

Searching for Orbost accommodation
Searching for Orbost accommodation on Google

Notice that “Orbost Motel” (at www.orbostmotel.com.au) is paying to have their accommodation at No.1 in the paid section. Using the Keyword Tool in Google AdWords, we estimate that to appear at No.1, and keep above the booking.com and wotif.com ads, they need to be prepared to pay up to $3 if someone clicks on them. Even if they only get one click per day, Google AdWords is costing them almost $1,100 per year. And there’s no guarantee that they’ll even get a single booking from that huge outlay.

Now, what if Orbost Motel simply listed their property on the No.1 unpaid (organic) ranked website for Orbost accommodation, that being us here at Travel Victoria?  As soon as someone clicks on “Orbost accommodation” link, they would see the motel listed.

The cost comparison is remarkable. Their AdWords campaign will cost a minimum of $1,100 annually – it could be even 2 or 3 times that amount depending on how many clicks they get. On the other hand, a fixed $69 annual listing with Travel Victoria gives them unlimited exposure/clicks gained from an audience that would more trust the page Travel Victoria has on Orbost accommodation than the paid listings at the top of the page.

One of the accommodation properties listed on Travel Victoria in Orbost, Longhorn Ranch Units, had over 2,000 people looking at their full page property listing during 2011. At $3 per click in AdWords, those results would have cost them over $6,000 last year – a huge difference from the $69 they actually paid to achieve those results by simply listing on the No.1 website in Google’s unpaid section for Orbost accommodation.

In summary, Google AdWords has its uses, but sometimes, depending on your circumstances, you can get a much better value from appearing on the website of a page that is ranked at No.1 in Google’s unpaid listings.

Categories
Advertising Search engine optimisation Web promotion Websites

Your accommodation property’s website – who’s looking at it?

www
Low-cost ways of getting travellers to visit your website

An accommodation provider may typically spend between $1,000 and $5,000 getting a website developed for their business. A professional image is created, all facets of the accommodation are on show, but who is looking at it?

The next step many make is to then market their accommodation on commission-based travel websites, such as Stayz, Take-A-Break and Wotif. While you’re generating good business from these popular and high-traffic websites, your brand new shiny website sits there, unused.  This is because most high profile travel websites that market your accommodation do so on a commission basis (i.e. they take a percentage of the revenue you earn from each booking), and thus won’t allow you to display your contact details or a link to your elaborate website, otherwise they may lose a sale if you contact the property directly.

So how do you get extra people to find your website when they are on the internet?

  1. Pay-per-click search engine advertising. Use a search engine like Google, and you’ll notice ads appear related to your search terms. Sign up to Google AdWords and pay for your website to get listed in these advertiser sections. The problem is that unless you’re going to target niche search terms, then buying ads that appear when people search for things like “accommodation in Ballarat” could cost you several dollars per click. Do the sums and unless you’ve got deep pockets or get a lot of bookings, this can be quite an expensive option.
  2. Search Engine Optimisation (SEO). You employ an SEO expert to make changes to your website such that search engines like Google will rank your site highly for search terms of your choice.  To see results, you may need to wait months or years, and still there can be no guarantees as per our recent article on ranking high on Google. SEO alone is not enough as the wording on your website is just one of hundreds of points Google considers when ranking websites for certain search terms.
  3. Listing your business and website on a popular travel website. While there’s not many, there are a few travel websites which will happily advertise your accommodation and allow you to display your phone number, email address and a link to your website. They typically charge a fixed fee (like a newspaper advertisement) as they cannot collect commissions or track bookings while all your details on show to prospective guests. By choosing a travel website that ranks well in Google for general search terms related to your accommodation, you’re effectively getting items (1) and (2) listed above for a modest fixed fee.

Given that the cheapest and easiest way to get exposure for your website is to list it on a travel website, you may wish to consider:

  1. Travel Victoria – that’s  us!  For a small annual fee, you get a full page listing of your accommodation property, complete with phone number, email address and link to your website. In January 2012, our most popular listing by far, Lorne Caravan Park, was viewed by almost 2,000 people, with over 500 of them clicking through to the caravan park’s website. Generating those clicks using advertisements on Google, assuming $2 per click, would have cost the caravan park $1,000 compared to just $5 for their listing in January. Our average click rate for all listings in January 2012 was 31, so that’s still an expected $62 cost in Google AdWords versus $5 on Travel Victoria.
  2. Weekend.com.au. Whether you get a free listing or a paid listing, your website link gets displayed, allowing you to funnel traffic to your website.
  3. Great Places To Stay. If your accommodation is “special”, a listing on GPTS includes all your contact details and a website link, directing people to fully explore your offerings on your own website.

So don’t ignore the low cost and high value method of giving exposure to your website by listing it on a popular travel website. For a fixed fee, the visitors you attract can be endless.

Categories
Holidays Reviews Websites

There’s more to accommodation reviews than just reading the review

review
Don't just read the accommodation review - ask yourself how it got there

When deciding on a place to stay while on holidays or away on business, many people turn to guest reviews published on the internet for a more realistic picture of what to expect.

When looking at reviews, there’s a bit more to them than just the actual contents. You need to give weight as to whether they have been verified as being written by confirmed guests, and if there’s been any censorship of reviews. So let’s look at some of the more popular websites used by Australians for finding accommodation which publish reviews.

TripAdvisor (www.tripadvisor.com.au)

  1. Reviews are accepted for any accommodation property without the property owner’s knowledge or permission.
  2. Anyone can submit a review without actual proof of staying there.
  3. Property managers cannot remove reviews, just respond to them once only if they are registered with TripAdvisor.

Wotif (www.wotif.com.au)

  1. Only guests who booked through Wotif will have the ability to submit a review for the property they stayed at.
  2. Reviews only include numerical scores for specific items such as location, value, facilities, service and cleanliness. No comments are permitted.

Take A Break (www.takeabreak.com.au)

  1. Only guests who booked through Take A Break will have the ability to submit a review
  2. While all reviews are published, a property manager can get Take A Break to remove a review they demonstrate is unjust

Stayz (www.stayz.com.au)

  1. Anyone can submit a review without proof of staying there
  2. Property manager controls which reviews are displayed in their listing, effectively “censoring” all reviews

What is interesting here is that reviews on TripAdvisor cover very wide ground, from glowing accounts of superb accommodation and impeccable service, to reports of appalling conditions and disgraceful service – often relating to exactly the same property! This is expected, since anyone can submit a review – although TripAdvisor claim they can detect most fake submissions. Those reviews are published independently of the accommodation property, so there is effectively no way for a review to be removed.

At the other end of the scale is Stayz. While anyone can submit a review without verification, the property manager will only release for publication reviews of their choice. As they are unlikely to allow bad reviews to be published, the general public effectively gets to see only the very best reviews and no others, similar to the cherry-picked testimonials that businesses tend to publish on their website. You may get the impression by reading the reviews that every stay at every property listed on Stayz will simply be perfect.

So when reading a review for an accommodation property, also keep in mind how the review got published, who may have written it, and what (if any) censorship may have occurred.

Categories
Scams Search engine optimisation Web promotion Web technology Websites

Beware of those promising to get your website to No.1 on Google

Number 1
Have you been promised a guaranteed No.1 ranking in Google for your website?

As a website owner, you will no doubt be regularly bombarded with offers from SEO (search engine optimisation) experts who guarantee to get your website to No.1 on Google’s search pages. They claim that for a modest fee, they will alter some of the text, rename files or adjust the layout of your website which will cause it to appear at the top of Google’s results for search keywords of your choice, such as “luxury accommodation in Daylesford” or “Ballarat motel”. Sounds too good to be true?

Keep in mind that while SEO experts may have an idea of some of the workings of search engines and how they rank pages, promises of guaranteed No.1 rankings are typically fanciful. This is simply because SEO experts have no control over Google and can thus cannot command Google to rank web pages in certain ways.  All they can do is influence the ranking of your website. Google is regularly altering their ranking algorithms to improve their search results, so even if they do manage to get you to No.1 for the keywords of your choice, it may only be short-lived glory.

Here at Travel Victoria, we regularly monitor where some of our web pages rank in Google for some search terms.  We have seen big fluctuations on a daily basis in how some of our pages are ranked, while other pages have remained rock steady for years. Today, a Google search for the town of Mansfield actually has us at No.1, but tomorrow we could be at No.5 or even lower. We just don’t know what tomorrow will bring, simply because we do not have direct control over the order in which Google will display web pages.

Another thing to consider when confronted by offers of SEO is who you are dealing with. Most of these SEO offers come via email – typical of people or organisations using the cheapest way of contacting people rather than telephoning or physically posting you something. And many of these emails are sent by people claiming to be senior experts in large corporations which specialise in search engine optimisation.  So why are they coming to you from a generic Gmail.com or Hotmail.com email address?

Remember that SEO professionals can offer services which may benefit the ranking of your website, but the best they can do is influence search engines like Google – they cannot make guarantees that you’ll attain a certain ranking and then retain it forever.

Categories
Domain names Websites

Shop around for your website’s domain registration or renewal

Cash register
Shop around for the best deal when registering a domain name

People shop around for the best deal on groceries, petrol, goods and services to save money. Sometimes the savings can be enormous.  The same should apply when purchasing or renewing your website’s domain name registration.

There is a list of accredited registrars for Australian domain names, so ensure you only select from that list.

What is interesting is the wild variation in pricing between registrars, partly due to the fact that some offer different levels of services and products bundled into their packages. And it goes without saying that some registrars have a higher profit margin which is reflected in their pricing to you, which is a good reason to shop around.

As an example, at this moment in time, Melbourne IT charge $140.00 to register a .com.au domain name for 2 years, although they bundle in a free one page website hosting package, a free search engine starter pack and provide 24/7 phone support with that offer.

In comparison, ZipHosting offer you a .com.au domain for 2 years for just $20.96, however there’s no freebies, and support is limited only to email.

Your level of technical expertise and the functionality you require needs to be considered when comparing registrars, as there’s more to a deal than just the price alone. However, for example, if you already have your own web hosting organised and know what you’re doing, you could potentially save about $120 over two year period by choosing your domain name registrar carefully.

Don’t forget that if your domain name is already registered, you can always switch to another registrar at any time and still keep your domain name, much like taking your mobile phone number with you when changing carriers.  So you need not let history dictate who you renew with.

There’s savings to be made – just do a little research!