Do you ever feel like you’re putting so much effort into your website, but not seeing the direct booking results you want? You’ve probably been told to work harder and figure it out, but the more you try, the more frustrated and stuck you feel. It’s time to stop the cycle of ineffective actions and start making real progress. Let’s break free from the pain of not getting results and find a better way to optimize your website for increased direct bookings.

All of our websites, every single year, and we do this for all of our clients, we go through, and we update the titles of the website to say book direct because you want people to know that they can book direct before they’ve even clicked on the link. – Bart Sobies

In this episode, you will be able to:

My special guest is Bart Sobies.

Bart Sobies is the founder of iBooked Online, a company specializing in website optimization for direct bookings. With over four years of industry experience, Bart has honed his expertise in creating effective and visually appealing websites tailored to the accommodation sector, including hotels, motels, and short-term rentals. His deep understanding of property managers’ challenges in establishing and maintaining an impactful online presence has positioned him as a trusted authority in the field. Bart’s strategic focus on enhancing website functionality and design to drive direct bookings has resulted in tangible success for numerous properties across various scales. His commitment to remaining at the forefront of technological advancements underscores his dedication to providing property managers with cutting-edge solutions for increased direct bookings and improved online visibility.

Connect with Bart: 




More information: https://www.ibooked.online/

*Mention the DBS Podcast for a $200 savings on the set up of your website. Offer ends May 19th, 2024.* 

The key moments in this episode are:

00:00:08 – Introduction to Booking Success Podcast

00:01:47 – Introduction to iBooked Online

00:07:56 – First Impressions and Website Review

00:09:16 – Aligning Photography with Booking Seasons

00:11:20 – Optimizing Website Photography

00:12:45 – Creating Emotional Connection through Visuals

00:14:03 – Crafting Clear and Concise Descriptions

00:15:51 – Utilizing AI for Description Refinement

00:17:18 – Focusing on Guest Experience in Property Management

00:18:18 – Testing and Streamlining the Booking Process

00:38:19 – Planning and Execution

00:39:00 – Search Engine Optimization

00:41:20 – Image Optimization for SEO

00:42:24 – Reviewing Book Direct Strategy

00:47:57 – Special Offer for Listeners

FREE GUIDE: 10 Ways to Drive Guests to your Website instead of Airbnb: https://directbookingsuccess.com/10-ways-to-drive-guests-to-your-website-instead-of-airbnb/

Show notes are available at: https://directbookingsuccess.com/podcast/

Follow Jenn on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/directbookingsuccess

Join Jenn’s free group – the Marketing Hub Free Facebook Group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/marketinghubforholidayrentals


00:00:08 - Jenn Boyles

You are listening to the direct booking success podcast, bringing you all the information you need for your short term rental to stand out from the crowd. I'm your host, Jennn Boyles. As an owner and manager myself, I know how hard it can be to navigate hospitality and history. I'm here to help so you too can have direct booking success. Hello and welcome to another episode of the direct booking success podcast. So grateful to have you here with me today. I'm Jennn Boyles, your host, and today I have Bart Sobies of iBooked Online all the way from down under with me today. Welcome, Bart.

00:00:51 - Bart Sobies

What an absolute pleasure. Yeah, on the other side of the world where I'm hailing from, Melbourne in Australia, 08:00 where we are. I think it's a bit late for you. Absolute pleasure to get on here and talk about all things book direct. It's something that I'm really passionate about and every time I get to talk about it, it's a real pleasure. So thank you for having me.

00:01:13 - Jenn Boyles

Oh, well, you're welcome. Thanks for coming. Now, Bart was on the show way back, episode 42, and we spoke about AI and Chat GPT. So I'm not going to go too deep into who Bart is today. If you want to know more about him, you can head back to episode 42. However, I want Bart to tell us a little bit about iBooked Online. We'll get deeper into it later, but I'd love for listeners to know where you're coming from. So can you tell me a little bit about what iBooked Online does?

00:01:44 - Bart Sobies

Yeah. Awesome. So we set up the company roughly about four years ago, understanding that there's a real lack of knowledge around book direct in the accommodation industry, and everyone knows that book direct is an important part of their business. And I'm not saying that people don't know that. What I'm saying is that people might not have the skills or the tools to get it sorted properly. Because if you go to an agency and you ask for a website, it's a massive rabbit hole that you start to go down. Because the first question they'll ask you, Jenn, is they'll say, what do you want on the website? And then you turn around and go, well, I guess I want a contact us page. I need a blog. And then as an owner, you might not necessarily know what the best book direct website should look like, how it should function, and also what your consumers and what your guests really expect. So that's where we sort of pitch the company or position the company in a place where we take care of that for you. Where we are the experts in direct bookings, we only build websites for hotels, motels and short term rentals. And by doing that, we know what works and we know what doesn't work. And therefore we can provide a solution which is within your budget, depending on how big you are. So even if you've got one property or if we just did a hotel website that's got over 500 rooms, it doesn't matter where you are on that spectrum, we'll be able to give you advice that we have seen work for everybody else and then apply that to your business. So we build amazing book direct websites that work really well with the one core theme and idea is for it to look beautiful and for you to get direct bookings. As long as we've achieved those two things, then we're away. And then after that, we help you with all the marketing and figuring out the best way to pitch your website.

00:03:33 - Jenn Boyles

No, it's so important. I think a lot of people get it wrong at the beginning when they're like, okay, I need a website. Oh, my brother's best friend's dog's uncle's boyfriend is going to give me a website. Yeah, you're doing yourself a disservice if you don't go to an expert. Great. Yeah.

00:03:54 - Bart Sobies

The reality is that there are so many free tools out there to book a website, to build a website. Right. You don't need to get a developer or you don't need to get a specific company to do it. Like with anything. Right. You can fix your own car. If you go on YouTube for long enough, you can fix your own car. You can go to the car, repair the shop and get all the different parts. But for one, you don't know if you've done it right, but two, you don't know what to do if it goes wrong, and three, you don't know if it's going to work in the future. So yes, you can do it all. Absolutely. But do you have the time and also do you have the skill set to learn how to do it properly for it to really work for you? Because as an entrepreneur, and this is what we're talking about, people that are running these businesses, you have so many different things to think about. You've got about to think about your guests, you got to think about your cleaners. If you're a property manager, you've got to think about the owners, you've got to think about your branding, you've got to think about your email, Chase. You have so many things to worry about and the last thing you can be worrying about is whether your website is going to go down, whether it's going to stay up. I just need to add one more thing to that. It's changing so fast. Technology changes all the time. So for our platform, we're updating probably every week with some sort of extra feature, updating, some sort of a plugin. There might be some sort of a security issue. Google might change the way that it actually works. And each time you have those changes, you need someone that's on top of it, that's doing those changes, that's aware of what needs to be done and that's planning for the future. So it's not just about building a website. It's actually about creating something that's going to work really well kind of forever, and somebody to work on that and to manage it for you. You can't do it yourself and you'll know that very well because you'll go to some websites and you say, oh, this is three years old. And they become very apparent very quickly that they're very old websites because there's things that are broken on them.

00:05:53 - Jenn Boyles

Yeah. Well, okay, let's get right into it because we want to give them help today and we're going to talk about looking ahead to the next year, the next 365 days. So, Bart, tell me, in your opinion, what are the fundamentals property managers should be making sure that they look at in relation to their book direct website for the next year?

00:06:20 - Bart Sobies

Yeah. And look, this is a great exercise to do every single year. So it doesn't matter when you're watching this episode, if you're watching it at the start of the year, the middle of the year, the end of the year, if you're watching it in ten years time, it should all still be relevant because the information that I'm going to give today, it's all about the review process and going, am I doing this as well as I should and is it going to work for me and what are those key fundamentals that I need to review? And that's, I think, something that I'm quite passionate about is actually getting people to look at their website and go, what do I need to fix and what do I need to change? So what I'm going to do today is I'm going to take you through a bunch of different tips that I give to everybody that I work with and things that we do ourselves. And actually, it's something that we genuinely, Jenn, last week we actually reviewed these things for our business website. So if you go to iBooked Online, we've just done a whole bunch of updates, reviewed it and I'll be honest, we haven't done it as often as we should. But boy, oh boy, were there a bunch of things that we knew we needed to fix and change and we changed and we're like, oh my God, I can't believe it was so terrible before. But you need to know what parts to look at and what you're actually changing. Right. Because it's not good just to go to a website. I know there's things I need to do and then you kind of go ad hoc and start to do things. So what we'll do is we'll run you through those different steps and those different things that you need to change on your website.

00:07:38 - Jenn Boyles

So what's the first subject that we're going to tackle?

00:07:42 - Bart Sobies

Right. So the first thing is just reviewing the website overall. So we're going to talk about the whole book, direct strategy and review that for the next 365 days. But the first step of it all is making sure that your website works and that it's doing what it should do. Because if it doesn't, then you can drive as much traffic as you want to it. But people just aren't going to book. So the first thing that you're going to look at is your first impressions matter. So when we talk about first impressions, we need to make sure that the website is absolutely beautiful. It's the first point of contact that people have with your business. It's the first thing you're going to see. It's kind of like washing the windows. If you have a shop, you want to make sure that they're clean. So you want to make sure that it's visually appealing. And that's the number one thing. Make sure you go to your website. Does it look good? Now you might be in a position where you're like, you don't know whether it looks good anymore because you've been looking at it all the time. So one of the best things to do is to look at it yourself. But also enlist the help of maybe two people, five people, as many as you can find and say, hey, can you have a look at my website? Just let me know. Do you think it looks nice? Yeah.

00:08:52 - Jenn Boyles

Because it is subjective. People are going to come back with different opinions and some of them you can disregard. That's not a problem. But you will know too much about photography and it's making sure that you're showing your property off in its best light, isn't it?

00:09:12 - Bart Sobies

Correct. Absolutely right. That's right. So you want to make sure that it's all up to date. Right. So any references to any particular year, any references to any particular event, any references to any time of the year as well. So quite often people will have pictures that don't align with the season, for example. So this is actually something good to do a few times a year as well. If you've got pictures in the snow but it's summer or you're pitching to clients that are booking for the summer, then you want to make sure that pictures reflect that.

00:09:40 - Jenn Boyles

Yeah. Look at where you need those bookings. Right. So if it's summer and you're wanting winter bookings, then, yes, promote those winter pictures, but make sure that it aligns with when you need your bookings filled.

00:09:53 - Bart Sobies

Yes. And so that leads really well. It's kind of like you're taking my notes off of me and just reading them back to me without even knowing what they are. But that was the second point.

00:10:03 - Jenn Boyles

No way.

00:10:05 - Bart Sobies

Seriously. So when we're talking about first impressions matter, the website needs to be up to date. So that's the first thing. Make sure that everything is up to date. And you might think, oh, it is up to date, but you'll read it. Just read through it thoroughly from top to bottom, every single page. And I mean that every single page, each accommodation page, you're going to read through and say, does this make sense? Is it up to date? Once you've done that, the next thing you're going to do is the easiest one is the pictures. Right? Because we know we can look at them and they kind of visually you're like, oh, they're there. You're going to look at your pictures. When you look at your pictures, you're going to think back. You're going to think, when did I take these photos? Now, stylistically, photos change, or people's appeal for photos change with time. In the past few years, higher contrast photos have been a lot more appealing, things that really catch and draw the eye. So that's something that you can do, if you can actually increase the contrast, increase the blacks in your photos, and then things will start to pop out more, really pop out of the screen and catch their attention. And that's what you want to do with your main photos. You're going to review all of your photos. And when you review your photos, the first thing you do, rather than focusing on the good ones you're going to find the ones that you're like, is this doing anything for anyone? What is the purpose of this photo? And I talk about this with my team all the time because we're uploading thousands of photos for clients a month. Thousands. And then quite often the team will get it wrong. They'll get the wrong photos in the wrong spot. And then I'm like, it's very hard to convey what are good photos? What is it that makes it appealing? And quite often what we do is we try to show everything in our photos.

00:11:44 - Jenn Boyles

I have seen that.

00:11:46 - Bart Sobies

Yeah. So we try to show that one of the recent ones was a client. We had outdoor photos, we had pictures on the patio. We had pictures of cocktails, of people talking on the balcony, that sort of thing. A few tips. One, you want to make sure that within your first few photos that you show that there's a bed, because you might assume people know that they're an accommodation website, but people don't necessarily know that this is. They can book. Right. So you've got these different messaging points. Right. Book direct accommodation. You want to show some sort of bed. Okay, cool. There's a bed. Now, how many bed pictures do you think you need in the first few, Jenn?

00:12:30 - Jenn Boyles


00:12:31 - Bart Sobies

One. Absolutely right. It seems obvious, but you only need one. We're not showing them every single bed in the place. No one wants to see all of that. They want to see that there's a bed, but they also want to get a feel for what it feels like. What's the emotional connection? How do we create an emotional connection? We do that by having pictures in there. They're going to incite a response. And generally you do that through colors. Right. So if you've got really nice blues, really nice greens, really nice reds, sunsets, that sort of thing, then straight away that's going to draw their attention. They're going to go, that looks really nice. Oh, there's a bed. So I can probably book accommodation. And those are the first few things that you're going to put on your website. So the order of your photos is important. Getting rid of all the photos that are unnecessary, that don't really tell the story, and that are sort of fluffy photos that don't really do much. You don't need to have 40, 50, 60 photos for people to get the idea. Having a range between sort of 15 and 30 is roughly about, is good if it's for each accommodation, but no more than that. So reviewing your photos is the second thing that's on my list, all right?

00:13:46 - Jenn Boyles

And I really don't have your notes, so I don't know what you're going to say. I just want to clarify that I'm not reading your mind or anything, we're just on the same wavelength. Okay, so what's next?

00:13:57 - Bart Sobies

So then we're going to go and make sure that our descriptions are clear and concise. We want to think about our visitors and what our target demographic is. So for those of you that haven't done any sort of formal training, one of the best things you can do is look at your avatar. If you don't know what an avatar is, pop it into Chad GPT, pop it into Google and build out those avatars. The best way to figure out your avatars and an avatar is basically looking at the people that are most commonly going to book with you. So you're going to figure out who those people are and you're going to have a look back at the past year. Sorry, you're going to look back at the past year to figure out who those people were. So who stayed with me, what was their age bracket? And we get into this false sense of thinking that we know who's staying with us, but until we actually analyze the data and we look back and go, actually it's changed. We now have a lot younger people staying with us. That's where the demand is coming. Our last ten bookings, it just happened to be couples that were visiting us, or before they were coming from interstate and now they're local, or before they were local and now they're coming from interstate and international. We've been in periods where international travel was really weak and that's changing. So as people constantly ask questions like what's going to happen in the future? You have to be on top of that, figuring out what's coming next so that you're prepared for that. So within your descriptions, you need to cater to those people. So you need to be saying, this place is perfect for a family traveling with a kid, as well as couples, as well as a business traveler. If you need a visit, insurance, or booking, you can put that in as well. Don't try to cover all the different avatars, but find the ones that are most appropriate to you and then improve those descriptions. To improve the descriptions. To make sure they're clear and concise, you can use tools like Chat GPT and Bard has had unbelievable updates over the past little while. I know this might age a little bit, but you can use an AI tool to then help you refine those descriptions. And with those tools, it can make a job which might take days into a job that takes half an hour or 20 minutes for you to go. What we would do is we'll take all of the content, copy and paste it into the AI tool and say, hey, can you please adjust this, make sure that it's clear that it's concise. And then can you also put a few keywords in there for Google and SEO, which we're going to come back to in a second and we're going to make sure that it caters to the demographic that's visiting. I'll give you another example, Jenn, which is really useful on your website, generally at the very top, people put in a fluff paragraph, and I call it a fluff paragraph because they go, hi, welcome to Mary's accommodation, where we do this and this and this. And they haven't really talked about the guest, they've talked about themselves. We are great at this. We are located in the Highlands and this and that. Welcome to our accommodation, where you're going to have an unbelievable holiday or unbelievable experience. Experience. Local cafes, bars. Don't talk just about the accommodation. Talk about what their whole experience is going to be like.

00:17:08 - Jenn Boyles

Talk about the location. Yes, the experience. Yeah. Sorry to cut you off, I just got excited. No, yes, that's exactly it.

00:17:17 - Bart Sobies

Yeah, that's absolutely right. Now, if we are a property manager, it's a bit different. Okay. Because once again, with property management, we kind of get carried away and we say we're one of the best property management companies in the world. Come and stay with us. It's not the right way to do it in terms of the guest experience. They want to get on there and they want to see. Oh, because you might have different locations. Right. So on that landing page, you can't talk about one specific location and you're not going to talk about all the different locations you cover because who cares, right? They're only looking for one spot. What they want to know about is that it's clean, that you guys are very well trusted, that they're going to get into their property, that they are going to have an unreal experience, and that you as a company are going to do everything possible to ensure that their experience is going to be what they need holistically. You're looking at all the descriptions and all the text and looking after that first paragraph is really important as well.

00:18:13 - Jenn Boyles

Yeah, great. No, I think there's some really good tips there. Okay. Should we move on to the next one?

00:18:21 - Bart Sobies

Sure. Streamline the booking process.

00:18:24 - Jenn Boyles

I love this one because you just think. You think it's easy. You do, but you don't know until you actually test it yourself and go through it. Like pretend like you're a guest and go through it. That's when you find that there's a hole, that there's things that aren't so easy. And going back to what you were saying about getting a couple of people that you trust to look at your website, this is another area, isn't it, that they can test it out for you.

00:18:53 - Bart Sobies

So you're 100% right. And once again, everything you've said is pretty much bang on to where I was going with this. One of the things that we talked about at the start of the episode was the idea that as someone that's not a professional in space, you might not know what you're looking for. And a really good example of this is mobile versus desktop. People will take this idea of looking at how their booking process works, and they'll test it out on a desktop, they'll have a look, they'll send it to their friends. Works great, perfect. But yet they haven't checked it out on mobile. And it's not because they didn't want to, it's just they didn't know. They didn't know. There's something that's important. Maybe people do know. And they're like, yeah, of course. When Bart said check out the booking process, he meant check it on those two platforms. Yeah, but hold on a second. I didn't even mention that. You should also check it out on a tablet. And it's like, oh, what? You got to check it out on a tablet as well? Yes, there will be roughly around 10% of people that are sitting there on the couch that will look at it on a tablet. So you want to check these things on those different platforms. So with streamlining the booking process, the first thing you want to do every single year, if not a few times a year, is actually try to get all the way through to payment. If you want to get through to payment, the way that you do it is that you set up a rate, which is maybe a dollar for the particular booking. It's very unlikely that someone will book at exactly the same time and catch you out. There are ways that you can do testing, but if you want to do it yourself, you set up a very inexpensive rate. Or you could just pay for it and then get the money in the bank, but then obviously you pay your fees and stuff on top, but you set up a low rate, then you'll go through and you'll do the whole booking process from start to finish. How does it look? How does it feel? How does it work? And then to your point, Jenn, when we think about people testing it or when we test it ourselves, quite often we're very, very good at testing our own stuff because we know where all the buttons are and we know how it should work. So enlisting the help of somebody to actually go through it can be incredibly beneficial. And when you're asking for someone to check how it works and if it's working well, you need to incentivize them. Even if it's a friend, you've got to buy a beer. Hey, do you want a free bowl of wine? Yeah, sure.

00:21:20 - Jenn Boyles

What do you want me to do? Going to give them a stay?

00:21:23 - Bart Sobies


00:21:24 - Jenn Boyles

Get away with the drink. I don't know.

00:21:28 - Bart Sobies

Should be my friends out there. Anything for free.

00:21:30 - Jenn Boyles

All right. It's the Aussies. That's the Aussies? Yeah. Okay.

00:21:34 - Bart Sobies

And then you think, okay, a bottle of wine. But then you go, okay. Hey, do you want a $50 Amazon gift card? And you might think $50 for someone to test it. One, it's a business expense. Two, you're going to get more engagement from that person. They're going to give you better feedback because now they've got something in it for them and they don't want to take advantage of you. So they're going to do it properly all the way. Chances are by the time they finish the whole thing, they'll forget about the card anyway. But then you, as a good friend and a great operator, you're going to give them the gift card. They're going to remember you and probably make a book a stay and that supports you and your business. And a good trade off. When you do ask them to do those steps, you're going to give them instructions as to what kind of a booking you want them to make. Hey, can you try and make a booking for this location on this particular date? The feedback that I'm looking for is parts that don't really make sense, parts that go wrong, whether there's any issues along the way, things that you think that we could improve as well. And then you're going to get some very good feedback. The less data you give them as to how to do it, the better off you are. So you're not giving them how to do it. You ask them the end result of what you want them to achieve and that's going to get you to the answers that you need and you'll find it invaluable to do every year to go through that process. If you can't do all your friends and you're like, that sounds like extra work, but do it. Just go through yourself. Just go through each of the steps and go, was this easy? Was this hard? Is it working? Isn't it working? What makes sense and what doesn't make sense? And then you'll find every single year, and every single year we do it, we find improvements. But as a company that we are, that's something that we're doing probably every few days. We're actually going through checking the process all the time and improving on it. That's number three. Number four, booking process.

00:23:21 - Jenn Boyles

Okay, what's next?

00:23:23 - Bart Sobies

Customer reviews and testimonials. One of the key things is there's two ways that people will display reviews on their website. One is they'll copy and paste, which is absolutely fine. They'll take the reviews and put them on there, take the top five, the top ten and put them on their website. It's an absolutely fine way to do it. It can be tricky, though. So from a user's perspective, if a guest is coming, are they going to believe those reviews? If they all say the same thing and they're all, this place is amazing, it's great, and you haven't left any downsides, then is the value really there? If you're like me and you're looking at a place or you're looking to buy a product online, I generally go to the negative reviews first to figure out what's wrong and figure out whether I'm prepared to live with those downsides rather than looking at all the positive ones, because I know that they're all kind of a gimme. I personally look at the negative ones. So from your perspective as a host, you want to have a look at all the different reviews that are there. And like I said, there's one way of doing it that's the copy and paste method, and the other one is you can actually get widgets that will pull reviews from all the different platforms. And generally you have some control over which ones you display on there as well. We actually have that. So if there are reviews we just don't want to display on the website, we can do that as well. And you can go through and you can actually grab all the reviews from Airbnb, from TripAdvisor and all that. You can display it on your widget so that then people can do it. Now, some people say, oh, I don't want to show Airbnb reviews because that's going to lead them back to Airbnb or to booking.com or Vrbo and that sort of thing. I wouldn't worry about that too much. It just adds more credibility to your operation to say, yes, we are on across those platforms. And also because you're ultimately using their data, you want to be kind of giving back. You're not just taking it without showing the source and you're showing the source, you're leaving the traffic back to them. So hopefully they don't get too upset about you using their reviews. That's kind of one way that you can do it.

00:25:24 - Jenn Boyles

It's a trust signal, isn't it, that you're on these other platforms and it's much better than saying, having plastered all over your direct booking website that you are a super host on Airbnb. That's just people who go to Airbnb, in my opinion. But having views there and I love widgets and the plugins that are used to bring in these reviews because it's keeping your website updated and people are seeing guests that have just been there when they that review, the newest ones are on there and you don't have to worry about it, which is, I think, a major plus.

00:25:57 - Bart Sobies

Yes. I actually had one of our colleagues within the industry reach out to me say, hey, bar, you fix up your reviews? I was like, well, my reviews are fine. Everybody loves us. And the reviews were good, but some of them weren't as relevant as they should be to potential people buying book direct websites. So they were reviewing us for some of the training that we did. Like, okay, great. It's good that you got all those positive reviews, but make sure that on your website you focus on the ones that are the ones for the website reviews. So that's what I mean by review. Look at your reviews. So you want to make sure that they're relevant and that they make sense so that people see them. And it's a very quick task to do. And it's very important because like you said, it's the trust signals. If people see something that they don't trust, then they'll quite quickly just drop off and go, oh, you know what, it's a bit too hard. I'm not certain anymore. And you want to avoid the uncertainty by making sure that they've got the right data. Yeah, good. Number six is mobile responsiveness. So what we're doing is we're going back through the top of all these different items. We already talked about it for the booking process, but we're also going to look at mobile responsiveness. So how does the website play on a mobile phone? How quick does it load? One of the things you can also do, if you go back to photography, we can compress our images. There's a lot of new tools out there to compress images down to make the website load way faster. So that's number six.

00:27:25 - Jenn Boyles

What percentage are you seeing these days of people using the mobile phone? Because I. It was more like 50, 50 now. I thought it was more like 60, 40 years. What is it now?

00:27:36 - Bart Sobies

It's interesting because it's actually location based. So every country has got different traffic that comes from different amounts of mobile users. In Australia, where we are, mobile phones are huge. Then abroad it can be a bit less. So if you talk in the states, it's a lower number of mobile users looking at accommodation websites. So roughly around about the 60% mark is what it is in terms of people doing that. However, the actual bookings, people placing bookings, it changes and it goes more towards the web. And the reason is this for books directly? Yeah. And the reason is this, Jenn, is because on a mobile phone for most people or for most accommodation owners, the experience of trying to book is clunky and hard. It's too hard to chuck in all your details, you have to update them and that sort of thing. If you're using an OTA website, generally all your data is already pre populated, so it's a lot easier. You can check out within a few clicks, it'll kind of make sense. It's a lot more holistic, you'll find what you need. Whilst for book direct, we're still not there from a technology perspective, actually, to make it easy for people to book, so therefore there's that drop off. So you'll have a lot of traffic coming in, but it's just not going to convert as high as people that are visiting on a desktop.

00:28:49 - Jenn Boyles

And I shouldn't be really that surprised. It's exactly what I did on my mobile and then I will go to my desktop to actually book or buy or whatever it is. I do it all the time, so I shouldn't be surprised.

00:29:06 - Bart Sobies

But he won't.

00:29:06 - Jenn Boyles

So we have been able to keep them. So if your experience on mobile still has to be good, even though if they're not going to book, you want them to then go onto the desktop and book, you don't want them to break that journey.

00:29:17 - Bart Sobies

Yeah, 100% right. And by that point you would hope that they've got enough impetus to do that switch. Ideally they would go all the way through, but going back to the mobile responsiveness, what I would like everyone to do in this is that once a year you're going to go through and you're going to look at all your pages on a mobile phone. And things that you're looking for is, how does a logo display on a mobile phone? You'll actually find that it looks really nice on a desktop than on mobile. It just looks terrible. You'll find your images might not look quite right on a mobile phone. You'll find the buttons might not be the right size or might be the wrong position. You might find more of a sort of infinite scroll type format. You don't want people clicking around too much. You've got to appreciate that when someone's on a mobile phone, for them to click on one of those little burger menus, find what they're looking for, click on it, get through and then go back. It's really hard. So you want to try to give as much data in the one on that landing page, on each accommodation page, so they can see everything they need without having to click around. It's a bigger challenge and a bigger task, but I don't want everyone to panic and be like, oh, my God, I've got to redesign everything. I've got to create this one page that he was talking about. That's not what the goal of this exercise is. The goal of it is to see if it's working. And if it's not working, you're losing potential bookings and potential traffic. And what you're doing is you're actually effectively damaging your brand because people go, well, if the website is a bit crappy and I can't really use it on my mobile phone, what is this host like? What is it going to be like when I get there? The sheet is going to be clean. How much do they care about that business? So you want to be careful not to send the wrong signals through your website. Yeah. That's mobile responsiveness.

00:30:56 - Jenn Boyles

Yeah. What's next?

00:30:59 - Bart Sobies

Review all your special offers and incentives. So if you've got any special deals and that sort of thing, once a year, definitely look at them quite often and we'll get 10% off. If you leave your email address, should it still be 10% off or should it be $100 off? How effective are those offers and incentives? Okay, we've had that offer on our website for the whole year and nobody's taken us up on it all right. It's a shit offer, but if I can say it doesn't work, change it.

00:31:27 - Jenn Boyles

Yeah, put something else in there.

00:31:29 - Bart Sobies

It's not working. If it's not working, you've still got it on there. One of the biggest arguments I ever have with clients is the newsletter. They put a newsletter on the bottom of their website and nobody signs up. I'm like, well, why is it there? Remove it, get rid of it, or change the way that it's pitched to people.

00:31:46 - Jenn Boyles

Yeah. You're not giving them an incentive to sign up. I'm not going to give you my email for nothing, correct?

00:31:53 - Bart Sobies

Yeah, that's right.

00:31:55 - Jenn Boyles

But yeah, no, yeah, this is where.

00:31:58 - Bart Sobies

When we're looking at the end of the year or the start of the year, that's something that we should review and have a look at all those incentives, those offers, and see how effective they actually are. If we're doing one day free, if they book for two days, is that working? Isn't it working? Conversely, if we do have some offers and deals that people might not know about, do you think people are taking you up on it? Is it communicated effectively? Like, people have all sorts of deals, but we haven't really pitched it correctly on the website to those as a whole to review your offers and incentives. The last point before we move on to, I guess, a bit of a bigger couple of bigger topics is just make sure that all your plugins are updated and that it's maintained. Updating plugins is incredibly important because there's vulnerabilities that can develop over time. And those vulnerabilities, especially if you're using WordPress websites, they happen all the time. So you need to make sure those plugins are up to date. And my best advice is, if you're not using a plugin, get rid of it, because that's an extra risk, which is in your business if you're not really, really using that plugin. And also check when the last time is that they updated that plugin. So if it's been four or five years and that plugin hasn't changed, you want to make sure that you're using it correctly and that it is up to date. So that part there, when you're updating your plugins, a lot of people love to just press, click and update, and they update it all and they find that website breaks. And we get so many calls, not from our clients, but from people saying, hey, Bart, can you fix my website? I just broke it. At that point. It's already too late. We don't really play with that. We don't really want to do that work because you should have gone with us in the first place.

00:33:40 - Jenn Boyles

Love it.

00:33:41 - Bart Sobies

That's bad, isn't it?

00:33:42 - Jenn Boyles

You are bad, but sometimes they just don't play nicely with each other. You update one and then another one gets upset and then something's bright. So sometimes it can be a quick fix. I'll just say that. But a lot of the time, if you're not paying attention on the maintenance, and this is why you pay like you get a website, but you pay for that ongoing maintenance with a company like yourself, a hosting company, and it's their job to be looking at these things and making sure that things are up to date and that keeps your website safe too, because we don't want people targeting our websites. All right, so we've covered all of those amazing tips. What else should people be looking at at the start of this next sort of year? You got 365 days coming up. What should we be reviewing or looking at?

00:34:34 - Bart Sobies

So the next thing, there's kind of two of them and I don't know which one I prefer as a first one, but I think one of the most underutilized or under sort of looked at strategy for direct bookings is the email strategy and the email marketing and everything that you're doing on there. Every year you should be going back and looking at all the emails that you're sending to guests. So what are they getting before they check in? What are they getting as soon as they make that booking? What is our overall strategy in terms of those yearly emails? So I actually created a calendar recently and it's a full 365 days, one calendar on the bottom of it. I've got months of the year. And then each month we put in sort of higher level tasks that we need to do. So we need to review all of our emails or these are the times of the year that we're going to send these particular campaigns. So that's something that you want to do, if you want to look at all your emails, you want to make sure that one, they're still accurate. I mean, that should be a given. But also, can we improve the language? Can we improve what's on there? Can we give a better experience? Should we increase the number of emails that we send so that people can understand more about the local area? So if they've booked in an area, oh, you can go and do this and this and this. So we want to make sure that the email is working effectively and there's two sides of it. So one is people that have booked, but then also your strategy overall for people that you're trying to engage with in the future and that every 365 days you should look overall your whole strategy and go, how much time do I want to spend on email and how often am I sending them? And I would hazard a guess that roughly around 90% of owners don't have a great email strategy or they don't have one at all. And it's very ad hoc. If you put a bit of planning at the start, then you're good to go. If you want some tips around a plan, jump onto your favorite AI tool. I need an email plan for my guests for this particular conversation. You could throw in your website as well and then it will do it for you. He'll guide you in the right direction, but get that strategy sorted, do it once a year. It's the biggest influence of you getting more direct bookings through the year is using that email strategy.

00:36:52 - Jenn Boyles

And you're giving such wonderful advice and practical tactics and tips for people to go and actually do very actionable advice. But I want to say that if you're thinking, oh my goodness, I have to do all of this, this is going to take weeks of work, all this stuff. You don't have to do it all in one go, you could have your website for the next year and then maybe next month go, okay, that's the month I'm going to do email marketing for the next year and then look at a different subject. So each month you're looking at one part of your direct booking, marketing or strategy and looking at that for the next 365 days. You're not having to do everything all at once.

00:37:34 - Bart Sobies

Yeah, 100%. So we've run a training and what we do is we actually give people a day to do each of these different tasks. I think that the overall website stuff, there are quite a few different elements, but most of it you could do within a day. So maybe 1015 minutes thinking about it, learning about what you have to do, and then you're going to spend another half an hour to an hour working on that particular task. Within half an hour to an hour with your email, in terms of a strategy, you're going to get really far, you're going to get way further than you think you are. And we're not talking about doing all the emails, exactly what you just said, we're talking about the strategy. What are we trying to achieve through the year? And then once you've got that down, you've got it listed there, then you're accountable today. Like, okay, these are the things I've committed to doing. And if things aren't working the way that they should, you're like, why did I plan that? And then I want to execute on it. So all of these little things, I would suggest breaking them down, doing them one day at a time until you get through the list of those different tasks. But email is definitely one of the ones for next year. You just need to go and sort out and on to the next one. Yeah, and we've got quite a few, so I'm conscious of the fact of time as well. So I'll kind of go through these a little bit faster. But search engine optimization. So every year you should be looking at it and the top things that you can do, one is look at your titles. So on all of our websites, every single year, and we do this for all of our clients, we go through and we update the titles of the website to say book direct, because you want people to know that they can book direct before they've even clicked on the link. They. All right, cool. This is the official website. Official website, book direct, either or. And then 2024 or 2025 or 2026, whatever the year is, put the year in there. Funnily enough, we recently updated our group, our Facebook group, with the current year. We saw a huge influx of new members. Wow, just put the year. Yeah, good little tip for you. So that makes a huge difference. And people will know that it's current.

00:39:42 - Jenn Boyles


00:39:43 - Bart Sobies

When they click on it. Right. Because the worst thing you can do is you can turn up to a website, you're like, oh gosh, it doesn't have the right information, it hasn't been updated. And quite often people put copyright at the bottom, that sort of thing. That's good. That's all good and well, but when people are doing a search, you want to make sure that it's got the year in the title so that they know that you've paid a bit of attention to it and that you've updated that particular year. It's a really hot tip. So the titles you want to potentially also look at doing some more optimization. So your descriptions now with tools, all the AI tools, it's a lot easier to do. So those are the meta descriptions. That's what you see when you Google, you've got the title and under that you've got all the descriptions and you can use those AI tools to help you improve them, refine them. Just look at them. You look at them and you'll go, oh my God, that doesn't make sense at all. And then you just update them. And then the last part is to decide whether you want to blog or not to blog. And that's a bigger overall arching strategy, which we're not going to go through today.

00:40:43 - Jenn Boyles

No. Here for hours. Yes.

00:40:46 - Bart Sobies

And the last one for SEO is we actually have a tool which we've built out, which actually you guys will get in the show notes later on, where you want to make sure that all your images have got their descriptions, alt tags and everything done so that you rank higher on search engines because your images optimize SEO and it's something that most people hate, absolutely hate doing. How am I going to describe my property when there's ten pictures of it? How do I describe it in different ways? That actually makes sense. It's just a picture of a green landscape. How do I describe that? And what most people will do is they will try to talk about what it is. So, green scenery, what it should be is relaxing with an amazing view whilst you're drinking a glass of wine, you're talking about benefits, not the features. And to get into that brain mode, to be able to write like that, it's a huge skill set. But once again, AI will get you there. So those are the top tips for SEO, the top three things you need to do. So site titles, descriptions and sort out your images.

00:41:58 - Jenn Boyles

Right, what's the next one that you were going to?

00:42:03 - Bart Sobies

Yeah, the next one is our wrap up now, actually. And the wrap up is every year it's worthwhile reviewing your overall book direct strategy. And what I mean by that is, how valuable are direct bookings to you and your business? How important are they? How much are you going to actually get out of it? Because if you've got one property and you're on the otas and you're fully booked, and let's say you're earning $100,000 a year, and let's say if you could get all of those bookings to book direct, you'd get $15,000 saved in commission. Right? That's kind of roughly the number. Okay, that's worthwhile. That's good, let's do it. Let's charge for book direct. But the reality is you're not going to get 100% of direct bookings unless you switch off all the otas. That's the first thing you need to do. Then you need to drive all the traffic to your website. You want to think about what the financial reward is for putting the effort in. So that's the first step. And you're going to do this by looking at your overall numbers for last year. And you go, okay, we did half a million dollars, and right now we're getting 20% direct bookings. We could probably move that needle and add an extra 50% there. So we're going to get an extra 10% book direct. 10% of 50,000 is 500,000 is 50,000, and then 15% of 50,000 is seven and a half, $1,000. All right, so that's roughly my budget or every month, how much effort I want to put into it. And you've got to remember, it doesn't give you seven and a half dollars to spend on book direct. What it does is it gives you seven and a half, $1,000 away because you don't want to spend all your money just to achieve the same result. Right. You put all this effort in, you're not getting extra profitability. So you might say, well, I'll use half of that budget to then create my book direct strategy. And then you can roll into things like pay per click and things that we didn't cover today. But the overall strategy for the year is something you got to get the calendar, you gotta get out. What are we going to do with our email marketing for the year? How much effort do we need to put in? Do we need to do more on our social media? Do we need to do pay per click campaigns? And you're just going to map it out. And doing that once a year will help you be successful with the strategy. There are so many ancillary benefits to getting this right beyond just a direct booking, because you're building your brand, you're building your business into a stronger business overall. So it's not just financial, but there's all the other benefits that come from it. But I want people to go through and to plan out what the goals are for the next year. What are the goals of the book direct strategy? We want to increase it by 5% or 10% or 20%. How are we going to get there? Then you do your plan and you're good to go. So first thing is you pick out your goals based on your previous performance, and then you map out a whole year's worth of this is what we're going to do to try to get there. That's the number one thing that you have to do, is look at that strategy for the whole year.

00:45:07 - Jenn Boyles

Yeah, I think that's it. Yeah.

00:45:10 - Bart Sobies

Those are my top tips for tidying up your bookmark strategy for the following 365 days.

00:45:17 - Jenn Boyles

And so we're all actual advice. So thank you. Thank you so much for coming on. I need to ask you, with all of your expertise in direct book websites, the direct book movement and the accommodation industry where you are in Australia and worldwide, what does direct booking success mean to you?

00:45:41 - Bart Sobies

I love it. So I think you asked me this question before. I can't remember my exact answer, but the one thing that has changed for me with this answer is book direct success is actually more about the team because we're successful, not because of my individual actions on helping people with their book direct. It works really well when you've got everybody working together towards making it happen because you can't have a great book direct strategy unless you've got great people helping with your marketing. You can't have a great book direct strategy unless you've got a great team on the ground that is making sure that there's good QR codes and good branding within the properties. That kind of ties back into your book direct strategy. So everybody needs to be involved in building the business and the brand and therefore that then builds into your book direct strategy. So for me, team is one of the most important, fundamental things that has really changed over the past four years. I've been doing this a lot of the time. People are like, oh, get a new website set and forget it doesn't work. You need to have the infrastructure and the team supporting you in your vision and in your goals to make sure that it's working the way that you want it to, because it's an ongoing thing, like with everything else in your business. But that team is really important to help you there. Now, you might think, oh, I'm too small to have a team. What are you talking about? Look, you create a budget. Like if you get iBooked Online to help you, we're part of your team now, so working together towards common goals. So having the right team in place to achieve those goals, that people that understand what they're doing will really help you derive a successful strategy in the end.

00:47:28 - Jenn Boyles

Yeah, I love it. Absolutely love it. Now, I'm going to put some links in the show notes of where listeners can connect with you, but you also have a special offer that you want to make.

00:47:39 - Bart Sobies

Yeah, absolutely. So it would be remiss of me to come on here and not offer a special for listeners. If you do listen to this episode and you do want to get in touch with us, then we are going to give you a $200 off of your setup fee. Now, you might think, oh, why is there a set up fee? Because it takes us roughly around about 40 to 80 hours for each setup, depending on how complicated it is. And because there's a lot of moving parts that need to happen to get it going, be it moving domain names, figuring out your email, figuring out your pictures, optimizing them. It's a whole bunch of work to make sure that it's working the way that it should be. That offer is only open for three months from when this show is broadcast. To find the offer, you'll go to iBooked Online and then there, not only will you find that offer, but you'll find other resources as well that we have, like our AI training. We've got training about what we've been through today and all sorts of other different bits and pieces, or if you want to be involved in our community as well. So iBooked Online, and then looked for the offer button and you clicked on that. At that point, what will happen is they'll send an email off to us and then myself, one of my team will get in touch and we'll take you through how it all works. And if you're happy at that stage, you get your discount and then we get you going with your website.

00:48:58 - Jenn Boyles

That's great, Bart. Thank you so much. Thank you for the offer. Thank you for coming on. Thank you for all the actionable advice. Thank you for allowing me not to talk so much so I could just wrap here and enjoy it. No, honestly, thanks, Bart. Thanks for coming on.

00:49:14 - Bart Sobies

My absolute pleasure. And Jennn, you're doing amazing things in the industry and for listeners. If you're listening to this episode, we'd love to get your feedback. Let us know what you think. If we've got any comments. I want to know what you're doing for your book direct strategy for the next 365 days. What did we miss? And make sure you like and subscribe to it as well so that Jenn can keep on doing what she's doing and provide finding extra value. Because I've been listening for a long time and following the work that you're doing and it's absolutely incredible. So well done and thank you so much for having me on. It's an absolute pleasure and I'm looking forward to hopefully coming back.

00:49:48 - Jenn Boyles

Yes. No, you definitely will be coming back. And the check is in the post there, Bart, so don't worry about that. All right, thanks so much, Bart.

00:49:56 - Bart Sobies

Have a fantastic day.

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