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  • Writer's pictureMichael Fox

How to Prep Your Website for Direct Online Bookings

Owning a direct booking website is an incredible investment and opportunity for vacation rental owners outlined below are a few tips for preparing your website for direct website booking online.

Although demand for vacation rentals has been steadily increasing for over a decade, it catapulted into life during the pandemic as leisure travellers flocked to home rentals, local stays and the existing supply of available vacation rentals has not kept up with demand.

However, solely listing homes on OTA's like Airbnb and Vrbo is not a sustainable marketing strategy. Travel behaviour is cyclical when demand compresses and supply catches up, simply listing homes on Airbnb and Vrbo will not bring in enough revenue to support current business models and importantly owners must reduce dependency on single source booking outlets (don't have all your eggs in one basket!). Building direct online booking model for the small business is critical and complimentary for long-term success.

But how do you attract these guests that you would usually expect to come through the major booking platforms, (OTA's?)

Marketing your vacation rental business through website & mobile is the future and right way to help build your authority, increase your direct bookings, foster repeat bookings, and grow your revenue to new heights.

So let's delve deeper into how the small hotel entrepreneur starts the process?

Modern website design with direct booking engine installed.
Book Smart, Book Direct with Wix Hotels.

Marketing Strategy for Direct Bookings

Below are key areas of focus when preparing a marketing plan to engage in direct bookings.

  • Develop your hotel website

  • Identify your target market/s

  • Create an SEO plan

  • Conduct an effective keyword search (online presence audit)

  • Claim your Google my business listing

  • Create guest initiatives

  • Develop your own customer database

  • Social media marketing

  • Utilise marketing technology

Develop your website & mobile presence

The key to success is to prepare your hotel website to appeal to guests booking off your website & mobile making sure you have your own online booking engine installed that is easy to use and displays your suites in an enticing manner.

Be honest with information, promote your properties amenities and website imagery with good concise copy to appeal to your target market, you will convert far more travellers to guests than a generic offering and make guest booking easy and simple navigating towards check out.

Don't clutter your site with reams of unwanted text but train the visitors eye to good quality HD images and the facilities on offer.

Any inducements you deem necessary to book should be prominent and copied all over your site at every opportunity.

Location is a great driver for guest making booking decisions so highlight the local area and its facilities to point out things guest can do if they book with you.

Modern Editor X hotel website design
Hotel Website Design with Direct Bookings in Mind

Identify your target market/s

Remember, not every traveller is going to be your target audience for your hotel, however your hotel is going to be the ideal location for specific market travellers.

Location is high on the customers wish list therefore, identifying your target market is an essential cog in the mechanism of marketing your direct booking website.

Think of who you are targeting. Are they families, couples, business travellers, or digital nomads? Are your guests retired, millennials, or Gen Z? Then dig even deeper. Is your property pet-friendly, good for walkers, or a unique experience maybe?

Once you have identified your target market you can build your direct booking website around what appeals to them.

Create an SEO Plan

A lot has changed in the world of SEO over the past few years not the least the importance of search engines finding your beautiful stunning website site online (search engine optimisation) SEO. After all it's no good designing a stunning website if search engines can't find you, right!

Get control of your SEO
Search Engine criteria explained in detail

What is SEO.

Search engine optimization is the process of improving the quality and quantity of website traffic to a website or a web page from search engines. SEO targets unpaid traffic rather than direct traffic or paid traffic.

With the release of Googles "core web vitals" many believe this is a real game changer and is the predominant factor that will impact SEO from now on.

In today’s world, company's turn to search engines like Google to find the answers to pretty much all of our questions. So it’s no wonder that business and website owners everywhere do what they can to make their information findable on Google. Which is exactly what SEO is—the practice of optimizing your content to appear higher within search results.

Forget trying to rank for high ticket search queries like ‘Paris Vacation Rentals’. The OTAs will win every time. Instead, focus on less common ‘long-tail’ keyword phrases with greater intent and focus like ‘pet-friendly hotel Montmartre. Whilst the search volume is far less, the chances of higher search engine ranking and booking conversion are greater.”

Specifically, think about details like your site’s URL, keyword search phases, optimise page load speed times, compress images, reduce paragraphs, write meaningful title tags and meta descriptions, (they send out strong signals to search engines), implement alt text, create internal & external links and make sure your site is mobile friendly.

Implement a search on your primary competitors, check their ranking and search phases then check your rankings and see how you compare to what you consider a success.

Take note: SEO success is not guaranteed it takes time and patience, so be sure to hang in there until you achieve your goal.

Conduct an effective key word search

According to Search Engine Journal’s 2021 State of SEO Report, SEO professionals think on-page SEO has the most impact on overall website search results, ranking it higher than organic user behaviour (such as bounce rate and time on site) and the depth and accuracy of page content.

On-page SEO refers to optimizing the basic elements on a webpage for search engines, such as the meta title and description, headings, internal links, and image alt text, and incorporating relevant keywords and content strategically.

Man searching the Internet on mobile device
Google search engine is the largest in the world

Here are some ways to elevate your on-page SEO:

  • Be strategic about your keyword choice. The most effective keywords will align seamlessly with their content topics and their target audience’s search intent. Use longtail keywords with low to medium competition, as these will be more relevant to their specific audience and help them outrank competitors. Don't try to compete with the big OTA's you will come second everytime. Identify key words that reflect on your service offerings and USP property values.

  • Perform a competitive audit before creating content. Research the top-ranking content for the primary keyword and craft a strategy to outperform competitors. For instance, if the top-ranking content features five tips, include at least seven, or offer a “complete guide” on the subject.

  • Integrate keywords into the meta & tag content naturally. As a general rule, use the primary keyword in the content’s first header (H1 tag), at least one of the H2 tags and within the first 150 words of the copy. Then use secondary keywords in the H2 and H3 tags and in the text as much as possible, avoiding keyword stuffing.

  • Optimize for featured snippet rankings. Score prime real estate with Google by tailoring content to answer the featured snippets ranking for their primary keywords.

  • Take the time to craft clickable metadata. Their meta title and meta description should be keyword-optimized, grab readers’ attention and drive clicks.

Googles CWV endorses the importance of SEO so time out to understand the impact of CWV and initiate an online presence audit of your current website.

Claim your Google my listing

Google My Business, also known simply as GMB, is an online business directory and a crucial element of local SEO. In fact, research suggests that 46% of all Google searches are looking for local information, and that 88% of consumers who search for local businesses on a mobile device end up calling or visiting the business within 24 hours. This makes Google My Business an essential tool for businesses of all kinds and its free, just type Google my business in the search bar and follow the onscreen instructions.

nexdesignagency Google my business listing
Google my business listing example

The platform allows you to include a long list of detailed information about your business, which increases your chances of appearing on relevant searches. Furthermore, your Google My Business listing may appear in Google Knowledge Graph, Google Local Pack and Google Maps, all of which offer high online visibility for local searches.

Create guest initiatives

Customers aren’t just buying products and services: they’re paying for experiences with your brand. Customer service is an integral part of offering the best overall customer experience and profoundly shapes how customers view your company.

Investing in your customer service makes good business sense. 68% of customers say they will pay more for products and services from brands that offer good customer service. Customer expectations are high and your business must strive to meet them.

Individual components that endorse customer services
Customer service quality guide

Apart from the essential and must have onboard facilities that are a god given in 2022 you should consider offering additional inducements to encourage the potential guest to signup to your online room booking.

Below are some positive ideas to attract guests to book

  • Guarantee the best available rates

  • Discounts to recommend a friend

  • Complimentary upgrades to repeat bookers

  • Repeat booking loyalty reward programme

  • Welcome gifts

  • Discount arrangements with local businesses

  • Fast check-in late check-out

  • In house vouchers for bar, restaurant and facilities

  • Curated Classes

The big OTA players will be unable to match localised guest initiatives therefore with a little imagination hotel owners with their own online booking engine will be extremely competitive in attracting a fair share of the holiday bookings market.

Develop a customer database

These days, collecting data associated with your visitors and customers on your website has become a standard marketing practice. Using this data, you can improve the customer experience, refine your marketing strategy. Collecting this information, however, comes with a few attached strings: as consumers become more protective of their data, governments increasingly regulate how businesses can gather and use it. For example, the European Union now requires such privacy policies by law, as do some American states.

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How to build a customer database

A customer database helps you to organise communication with your clients to contact and inform them about new services, special seasonal offers, hotel developments and notify them of your strategies for the coming season, it also keeps your customer base updated.

Once your direct bookings start flooding in at the point of sale your booking engine will automatically gather vital information and data about your bookers.

With modern database formats you begin the process of defining and understanding your customer database functions. An effective customer database system should perform the four basic functions of customer relationship management (CRM):

  • Buying patterns

  • Personal details like emails and phone numbers

  • Demographics

  • Details of last interaction

The database format does not need to be complicated for the Hotel owner. Just operate a simple visual hierarchical database to organise customer-related data, but remember gain customer permission to store their data so as not to infringe on their privacy under the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) the legal framework (its a law not a recommendation) that sets guidelines for the collection and processing of personal information.

Social media marketing

Global internet users spend an average of 2 hours and 27 minutes per day on social media. This number is growing as new social channels such as Tik Tok increase in popularity. And as more consumers spend time online consuming content, brands and businesses can increase their reach and interactions to get in front of those users.

Icon images of social media outlets
Social media definition means facebook, twitter, tiktok, instagram etc

Social media marketing allows you to build an organic presence and communicate with your audience differently than traditional online advertising. While ads can sometimes turn off a consumer from a brand, organic social allows meaningful interaction through relevant conversations, thought leadership and educational content.

Today, users expect companies to be present on social media and even offer customer service on those channels, reports McKinsey. “Poor service is no longer resolved in private through traditional call centres and email channels but laid bare on social media with far-reaching reputational consequences—and opportunities—for companies,” explains Avinashi Chandra Das, an associate partner at McKinsey.

These free social media platforms offer the hotel owner the opportunity to boost online visibility, brand awareness, drive leads and conversions and actively promote the business at scale.

To continually work on your social media branding, you should also aim to post content that goes beyond self-promotion. While you can announce the occasional sale or product launch, the majority of your content should focus on sharing industry news, giving shout-outs to customers and unique tips and tricks and customers good experiences.

Utilise marketing technology

Having a direct online booking website is an incredible investment and opportunity for hotel owners, however as you read this article you quickly realise that the path to success is pathed with numerous tasks to manage and actions necessary to launch into the world of direct guest booking. These actions are necessary to realise your big thoughts, big dreams, big opportunities and big achievements. You need to build and maintain your website, manage and educate your team members, keep your clients happy (around the clock), build an impressive social media plan, and so much more. These responsibilities seem to accumulate to an endless daunting list which requires adequate organization to even wrap your head around.

Customer relations management
Wix provide the complete marketing and management suite of tools

What if all of your tasks could be achieved from one central location, without having to juggle with several accounts and passwords? Or better still, what if you had access to extremely sophisticated marketing capabilities that you thought only multinational corporations could afford?

A system so sophisticated with new features corresponding to the latest industry trends that not only enables you to automate selling processes, but also to perfect your SEO strategy, marketing campaigns, automatic data collection, tracks consumer behaviour and so much more like Ascend by Wix. for example

In Conclusion

Hotel owners will probably have many of the above elements installed on their websites that are functioning effectively, the big change is integrating a true direct online booking system that allows owners to keep 100% of the room rate revenues generated.

There are many false declarations about booking direct that actually attract booking fees so don't be mislead, dig deeper and make sure all transactions are carried out through your own booking engine off your website. Be sure to think design mobile first as the trend is gaining massive momentum and popularity with the cell phone fraternity.

Like all added value projects owners face a change of direction that creates the need to re-educate so be proactive in setting up a direct booking system that eventually will produce huge rewards, satisfaction and importantly puts you in total control of your business.

Take advantage of technology like all in one business solutions because they make administration of repeatable menial tasks an automated process and are easy to manage.

Work with OTA's and include them in your overall marketing strategy they are not going away any time soon and will provide additional sales outlets for selling your rooms.

Focus on preparing your SEO plan to get found by search engines, this task is key to a successful online direct guest booking system.

Finally think long and hard about your pricing policies and guest reward offers for guests booking direct off your website, they are extremely tech savvy these days and will relentlessly search the Internet for best value and services.