If I Knew Then What I Know Now: Lessons in Digital Marketing From a B&B Owner in Vermont
Last week I was pleased to be a guest panelist on Leonardo’s webinar, “How to Build a Mobile Website That Converts.” It’s a topic my wife and I, as owners of The Heart of the Village Inn, have been focused on in 2016, and I’m pleased to say it has been paying off. The following article is a brief recap of what I discussed during the webinar and what our experience has been building a mobile website for our property.
A bit of background
We took ownership of The Heart of the Village Inn in Shelburne, Vermont in May 2015. Since then, it’s been a very steep learning curve for us both, and we wish we’d known a lot more then than what we know now. One of the biggest things we had to tackle was how to modernize our property in terms of technology, to make it more attractive to the 21st Century traveler.
The Heart of the Village Inn is a 19th Century Queen Ann Victoria House with 9 guest rooms. It was converted into a Bed & Breakfast in the mid-90’s. As a classic B&B, we had a classic B&B approach; relying on a lot of walk-in traffic to fill our rooms. But we knew if we wanted our property to succeed we had to do more. As Darlene alluded to in the webinar, by the end of 2016 over 50 percent of online travel bookings in the US will come from mobile devices. We knew we couldn’t ignore this trend any longer. One of the biggest opportunities we saw was our website, and more specifically, mobile. We needed to reach more travelers online, and we wanted to capture more bookings from those searching for accommodation on the whim.
Where we started
We started by overhauling our main website, which was very text-heavy and not user-friendly. Our website didn’t “wow” people and entice them to book online. It also wasn’t optimized for mobile. We’d often receive phone calls from people saying they were on our website and confused. While of course it was great to get those phone calls and make bookings over the phone, it wasn’t under the most ideal circumstances, and it wasn’t efficient for us. An Innkeeper’s day is very busy!
As a small innkeeper I can attest that you don’t always have the time to do the research, and in retrospect, if you don’t know what you’re looking for you won’t find it. We weren’t really sure what solutions were out there to “fix” our website, so we hired some college kids to help us build a simple, more visual one. It wasn’t top of the line by any means, but it worked at the time.
Where we’ve landed
Since then, our website has gone through several iterations. But since finding Vizlly, I believe our website is the best it’s ever looked. It’s visual, clean, intuitive, and showcases our property beautifully. Most importantly, it’s optimized for mobile, which is what we wanted. I look at our website as our business card, and believe it makes a great first impression.
With Vizlly, we could choose from two different mobile websites – optimized or responsive. As a smaller property, we decided to go with a responsive mobile website because it fits our needs. That means our mobile site is very similar to our desktop website, but adapts to the mobile device being used to ensure everything displays properly. We are big proponents of telling a consistent story, across desktop, mobile, visually, textually, etc. If a traveler finds us on a desktop, and then comes back to us on a mobile device, we don’t want any discrepancies. I believe our mobile site achieves this.
I believe it’s also important that a mobile website be sales-driven. By that I mean travelers can book on their mobile device, call you right away, or send an email in the moment. We know there’s a lot of competition in our area, so when travelers hit our mobile site, we don’t want to give them any excuse to leave and not complete the booking.
Since launching our mobile website, we’ve noticed a huge uptick in traffic. In Google Analytics, when we compare desktop vs. mobile traffic, our mobile visits are up 50 percent. This in turn has improved our direct bookings, and we’ve received good feedback about the website from our guests. Interestingly, we’ve also noticed a shift in our clientele, with a lot more younger travelers now booking. I really think our mobile website has a lot to do with this. Young people live on the Internet, they research on the Internet and buy on mobile devices. You have to fish where the fish are and for many, if not all accommodation providers today, that means having a mobile presence.
My advice for building a mobile website
As I mentioned, I wish we’d known a lot more about digital marketing when we first took ownership of our property. So here are some of my own learnings from creating a mobile website, which may help you too:
- Don’t ignore mobile. It’s here to stay and younger travelers now expect it
- Consider when travelers are accessing your mobile website, and what kind of information they would be looking for
- Tell a consistent story across mobile and desktop
- Make your mobile website sales-driven – connected to your booking engine, with click-to-call functionality, or a tap-friendly email address on your homepage
- Use a booking engine that’s compatible with mobile to facilitate last minute bookings
- Test your website on a range of different mobile devices and operating systems
- Have a second set of eyes look at your website. Does it make sense? Is it intuitive to use? Can you contact the property easily or book directly?
About the author
Anatoly Polyakov is the Owner and Innkeeper of Heart of the Village Inn in Shelburne, Vermont. Together with his wife, Rose, they took ownership of the 9-room property in May 2015. The Heart of the Village Inn has a 5 star rating on TripAdvisor, and received their Certificate of Excellence in 2015.