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.

Why you need a real-time online booking system

Booking your holiday online
Guests want to book online, so let them or miss out!

You’ve just spent a few great days at Mallacoota and enjoyed the natural beauty of the beach and surrounding national park. You and the family are heading home tomorrow morning, but just before going to bed, you check out the latest weather forecast on the internet – sunny and 30 degrees for the next few days – perfect beach weather! Everyone agrees the holiday should be extended by spending a few nights at Lakes Entrance for some more great beach fun.

But the problem is that school holidays are on, so many places may be booked out. It’s too late in the night to telephone accommodation managers direct, so you head to the internet looking to secure a place to stay.

Searching for Lakes Entrance accommodation reveals some brand new holiday apartments just across the road from the beach and right in the town centre, which will be perfect for the family! Oh no, the only way to make an enquiry is to telephone or email them. There’s no availability calendar or online booking system. You could wait for the morning to phone them, but in the meantime others may get in before you and snap up the remaining apartments. And if you wait till the morning, other vacant accommodation at Lakes Entrance might be taken.

You keep looking and find some more holiday apartments. They are older style, situated one block back from the beach, and a fair walk to the town centre. However, they do have a real-time online booking system and they have one family unit remaining for the next two nights!

As you’re determined to stay in Lakes Entrance, you make the booking. It’s not where you would have wanted to ideally stay, but you can’t risk waiting until the morning to contact the manager of those apartments with no online booking system.

The question for managers of accommodation properties is how many bookings are you missing out on because people can’t instantly check availability or book online 24/7? How many people are instead staying at places that do offer the convenience of online bookings?

It’s not just last minute bookings which you may lose out on. Some people may have a list of places they want to stay in, but to spend time and money making long distance telephone calls, or being prepared to wait a day for email responses to be answered, would put them off booking with you unless they can check availability instantly and then reserve that room in the process.

In this increasingly busy, impulsive, unpredictable and digital age, more and more travellers are expecting to instantly reserve rooms, any time of day or night. Which is why you really need an online booking system.

The best online reservation systems are those which don’t charge you a fee for every booking made (i.e. commission-free bookings), making the booking directly between and you and the guest, and are fully under your control. Some which you may wish to consider that are administered in Australia are:

  1. Web Reservation Systems. Their system gives you total control over pricing, availability and conditions. The bookings are secure and guests can provide credit card details to you through this system. Implant the booking button on your website and on other sites you have your property listed with to allow customers check availability and/or book.
  2. The Booking Button. An intelligent and fully-featured online booking facility which you can use on your website or others you’re listed on. There’s no lock-in contracts, you pay monthly, and pricing varies depending on the number of rooms your establishment has.

If you don’t have an online booking system for your accommodation property, not only is it costing you guests, but also time. While guests organise their accommodation online instantly, you can attend to other tasks instead of being tied up on the phone or answering emails.

What are you waiting for?

Putting TripAdvisor reviews into perspective

TripAdvisor
Putting TripAdvisor reviews under review

There’s no arguing about the powerful influence the world’s most popular travel review website, TripAdvisor, has on travellers planning where to stay when away from home. There’s nothing more compelling and revealing than reading about first-hand experiences by independent guests as opposed to the slick and sanitised marketing material on a property’s website. However, some of the reviews may leave people even more confused than when they first started their research.

One of the confusing aspects of reading reviews is the sometimes huge variation in experiences and ratings. Someone may submit a review saying a particular hotel was the pinnacle of luxury, offering unsurpassed service and facilities that were second to none. Yet the next review, perhaps written by a traveller only a few days later, criticises the property as being akin to “Fawlty Towers”, with serious faults in their room, incompetent staff and being the hotel from hell.

How do you make a reasonable judgement in light of such conflicting reviews? There are a few things to keep in mind.

  1. There are two sides to every story and somewhere in between is the truth. Look carefully for any “management responses” to reviews guests have made. Some bad reviews can simply have their roots in basic misunderstandings between the manager and guests, simple booking errors, conflicting expectations, or once-off incidents that were beyond the control of all involved.
  2. Compare apples with apples. There’s usually a range of room which are appointed to different standards at an accommodation property, and you should ensure that when assessing the actual room, you only read reviews that pertain to the standard of room you intend to book. If you’re booking an apartment penthouse, the scathing reviews of the small budget rooms are not a good guide as to what to expect. Similarly, reviews of a hotel’s refurbished presidential suite are not very useful if you’re planning to stay in the hotel’s older and cheaper basement rooms.
  3. Some people expect too much from where they are staying. You don’t book into a cheap 2 star hotel in a city’s back streets if you’re expecting a king size bed with luxurious linen, a marble ensuite and silver service meals. Some guests look for the cheapest accommodation, expect it to be as good as 5 star, and when it of course isn’t, unload their frustrations on TripAdvisor.
  4. Fake reviews do exist. While TripAdvisor has methods in place to detect fake reviews, no method is ever 100% fail safe when it comes to dealing with huge numbers of contributions by the general public. There’s around 50 million reviews on TripAdvisor and that figure is growing phenomenally. For a start, TripAdvisor doesn’t verify if guests actually stayed at the place they are writing a review for. Secondly, there is no verification of the unfavourable incidents people report, unless a management response has been posted. And thirdly, given the huge influence TripAdvisor has, the temptation of some property owners to post a few bad reviews of their competitors or glowing reviews of their own establishment may be too great to control.
  5. People are more likely to submit reviews of extreme experiences.  Think about what motivates people to write reviews for TripAdvisor.  Some believe their stay was so horrible that they want to tell the whole world about it and get revenge back on the establishment for ruining their time away.  At the other end of the scale are people so impressed and pleased by their whole holiday experience that they want to provide glowing feedback to the management and tell the world about how wonderful everything was. Yet in the middle of all this are people that have fairly normal experiences where things going smoothly and there is nothing noteworthy to report other than they checked in okay, the room was what they expected, and the staff were pleasant. Not strong motivation for rushing onto TripAdvisor to tell the whole world about, is it?

Consider those points when looking for reviews about where to stay on TripAdvisor.

A worthwhile bit of advice that’s been floating around for a while in regards to TripAdvisor reviews is to ignore the very best and the very worst reviews, and give most weight in your decision-making process to those reviews in the middle ground.

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.

 

Why showcase your internet provider in your business email address?

Email address
Your business name or Telstra in your email address – you decide

Say a business has their own domain and website. How many times do you encounter businesses that publish their email address as being the one they were allotted by their internet service provider?

For example, let’s say “Melbourne’s Best Apartments” has a website at www.MelbournesBestApartments.com.au. On their website, they advertise their email address as being melbapart33@bigpond.com.au.  They receive enquiry emails okay, so what’s the problem?

  1. Portability. Not every business sticks with their same internet service provider for life. In fact, changing the company you use to access the internet should be a simple process when you decide to look for a better deal or extra features. Imagine all the extra work you’ve made for yourself in terms of updating your email address if you’ve been publishing the one supplied by your internet provider. There’s changes to make on your website, reprinting of stationery, contacting everyone that’s ever emailed your business to advise of the change, updating listings on other websites which display your email address, and so on.  It’s a mammoth task, fraught with the real risk of neglecting to make changes somewhere. Yet it’s a task that can be easily avoided.
  2. Professionalism. It looks a lot more professional to display your email address as something like bookings@MelbournesBestApartments.com.au than an email address that your internet provider has given you. After all, why would you want to advertise an organisation like Telstra Bigpond in your email address rather than your own business?
  3. Flexibility. By using email addresses based on your business’s domain name, which you directly control yourself, you can then create email addresses with meaningful names, and as many different ones as you like. This adds to the professionalism of your organisation if the manager can be reached by emailing manager@MelbournesBestApartments.com.au rather than the address allocated by your internet service provider, such melbapart33@bigpond.com.au.

Keep your business looking professional and be independent of your internet provider by publishing email addresses based only on your domain name.

If the only reason you’re using the email address supplied by your internet provider is because you can’t rely on your web hosting company to provide rock solid service for receiving and managing email, then you really need to look elsewhere for your web hosting services.

Does your website really need a version designed for mobile phones?

Mobile phone
Is the smartphone outsmarting mobile-friendly websites?

Back a few years ago, as people started acquiring mobile phones that could access websites, there was a push to create a separate mobile versions of websites, suitable for display on those small devices.

The idea was to create a scaled down version of your website which was fast to load, given that at the time, internet access via a mobile phone was slow. Pages would be stripped back to just the basics, and they’d be structured to be narrow enough for a phone screen’s width, with high contrasting colours to work with the limited colour depth on mobile screens. Java and Flash content would also be removed, as would anything else more complicated than simple HTML elements.

Fast forward a few years, and there are now reports that smartphones have penetrated 50% of Australia’s mobile market, with 60% of Australian mobile users expected to be using a smartphone by 2012.

So given that smartphones feature high resolution screens and virtually fully functional web browsers, plus access to fast communications networks, does that spell the end of mobile-only websites?

If your website is of a fairly standard design, like Travel Victoria, then you can probably save the effort of duplicating and stripping back your website to make it mobile friendly, as the original website should work fine with any smartphone. A smartphone’s web browser software will allow people to magnify pages that are too small to read on the phone, and there are options available to allow the phone to automatically optimise the way pages are displayed to fit the geometry of the phone screen better.

However, not all websites are simple and mobile friendly. If your site makes use of Flash content, be aware that it is currently not supported on Apple’s iPhone, so you may consider making non-Flash alternative pages. If your site uses Flash extensively, or each page is simply overflowing with pictures, embedded videos and other complicated content, then maybe a mobile-friendly version of your entire site is still required so people can find out the information they need quickly without being confused with so much content on a small screen.

With smartphones now easily handling most web content, we return back to one of the original concepts of the world wide web, which is to create websites in such a way that they can be viewed independent of the device being used. Creating separate mobile-friendly versions of existing websites goes against this philosophy.

If it’s free, is it really worth it?

You know the familiar saying, “you only get what you pay for”…but does it always apply when you get something for free?

Yes, it's free!
Yes, it's free, and it's worth it!

Here at Travel Victoria, for many years we’ve been offering free listings for tour or activity businesses within our tourism pages for locations throughout Victoria. There’s no catch, just a brief listing with a link to your website, providing a stream of visitors who are interested enough to click the link and find out more.

Importantly, the free listings offered by Travel Victoria aren’t buried deep within our website where few people will see them.  They are placed on pages which are directly linked to every page published about that location in Victoria. That’s one click to get there, not 10. We’ll let the results speak for themselves by examining how many views of the 5 most popular tour and activity pages have occurred during 2010:

  1. Lakes Entrance – 11,694
  2. Apollo Bay – 8,083
  3. Echuca – 7,086
  4. Mount Dandenong – 5,795
  5. Daylesford – 5,533

So if you were one of the businesses listed on our Lakes Entrance tours & activity pages, your business listing (the name and brief description) would have been seen by 11,694 people in 2010.

Now here is where it gets really interesting. Even if only a tiny 5% of people looking at the page your business was listed on actually clicked the link to your website, you would have gained 585 free visitors to your website. And those are people who clearly had an interest in your business to bother to click on the link. Try getting that same number of targeted visitors by using something like Google AdWords. Depending on the keywords selected, bidding amounts and competition, it could cost you $500 per year or even much, much more, just to achieve the same results as a free listing with Travel Victoria.

Sometimes you do get what you pay for…but other times, you really do get much more. Advertise for free in selected categories on Travel Victoria today.

Good ideas that go nowhere

Web domain names
The domain name you registered – it seemed like a good idea at the time

It’s big business at the moment for companies that register internet domain names for you. Apart from the fact more businesses than ever are seeking to create an internet presence, there’s many people out there who come up with catchy domain names that they later plan to turn into killer websites. So they register them for “future use”.

Unfortunately that’s the easy part of the whole colossal plan – registering a domain name. The rest of the plan requires lots of hard work and usually plenty of money, with the fruits of labour often not ripening until years later.

It’s interesting to observe the daily list of expiring Australian domain names – that is, domains people have registered but eventually give up on renewing years later, and are about to become available for someone new to register again. Some grand plans you’ll find in there.  Someone obviously mapped out the creation of a kingdom of Australian holiday rental websites by registering holidayrentalsaustralia.com.au, aussieholidayrentals.com.au, and a whole swag of other similar domain names. Websites were never created, and for whatever reason, the domains are about to expire for the current owner.

Speaking of visions, we at Travel Victoria had one last year when, quite by accident, we saw the domain beachstays.com.au was about to expire. A website was never ever created during that domain’s many years of ownership. So we decided to build a website dedicated to accommodation that was very close to the beach. We officially launched it in May 2011. So go and have a peek at Beach Stays – someone’s idea that went nowhere, now has life breathed into it by a new owner.

Hosting your website in Australia? Read the fine print.

Australian flag
An Australian based web hosting company doesn’t always physically host websites in Australia

The merits of hosting a website within Australia, for an Australian business that expects most of its web traffic to come from Australia, are well known. Hosting in Australia has become much more affordable in recent years, so the question about where to host is now a no brainer.  However, do you know what you’re really getting?

While you may choose an Australian-based web hosting company, your data and the server that makes it available to the world, may in fact be located overseas, possibly somewhere geographically distant from Australia, such as the United States.

There’s an interesting comparison by Netregistry of some Australian web hosting companies for their popular business grade hosting packages.  Interestingly enough, Melbourne IT, with a name that geographically cements its base in Australia, hosts its business packages on overseas servers, which may be an issue for you if most of your traffic comes from Australia. See the comparison table (you’ll need to click on the tab “NR vs the Rest” towards the bottom of the page).

Keeping comments on Twitter informal but professional

One of the things people love most about Twitter is its informality. Post a question to say one of Australia’s most affluent companies that have a presence on Twitter, and the response back may be more akin to that you’d expect when chatting to friends over dinner.

Just say no to twitter personal posts
Just say no to personal postings and rantings from your business Twitter account

Some small businesses may take this a little too far and post strong, personal opinions, which may actually offend the very clients they are trying to attract. This is quite relevant to accommodation providers who are inviting travellers to stay on their property.

One example is the wonderful lady who runs a bed and breakfast which we advertise for her on the Travel Victoria website (we won’t identify her personally!). She’s quite a social media butterfly, however her political preferences are strongly conveyed in comments she makes using her business’s official Twitter account. As it so happens, the political leader she trumpets is currently “on the nose” with voters in recent surveys, so chances are more people will disagree rather than agree with what she’s posting.  And for those people who live and breathe politics, staying at an establishment where the outspoken manager is clearly coming at you from the other side of party lines may actually be off-putting!

The best practice here is to have two Twitter accounts – one for business, and one for you personally. If the Gillard government’s carbon tax is the bane of your existence and you need to get that off your chest, then do so using your personal Twitter account. Use your business’s Twitter account for responding to queries, making announcements and commenting on the weather. That way, you won’t offend anyone or harm your business.

All staff here at Travel Victoria that have access to our business Twitter account are advised that if they wish to indulge in general social commentary or get on their soapbox to the world, then they must do so using their own personal Twitter account. Maybe your organisation should adopt a similar policy.

 

Thoughts from us at Travel Victoria. A range of content for either travellers or visitors to Victoria and Melbourne, and for those working in the tourism industry.