Do You Own Your Web Site? Caveat Emptor - You May Be Surprised.
By Neil Salerno
Friday, 5th January 2007
When something happens once - it can simply be chalked up as serendipity; but if it happens over and over again it's time to stand-up and bear notice. The rarely discussed issue of hotel web site domain ownership appears to be popping-up more and more as initial domain name registration terms expire or as hotels create new web sites. 

The question of site ownership is becoming a serious issue. Your web site's address or domain is very much like a piece of real estate; it has an owner. Once created, a web site domain is registered to that owner, who is empowered to make all decisions for that domain. Of course, the registered owner is the hotel or hotel owner, right? Well not necessarily; do you know that many site designers have registered client web sites in their own company names?

Now this doesn't sound like a big deal, but it can be. The consequences can be serious.

Why does Site Ownership matter?

How about this true story; the names are omitted for obvious reasons. A year ago, a hotel commissioned an employee to create a web site; the first step was of course to buy a web site URL domain, its web address. The hotel was unaware that the employee had registered the site in his own name instead of the name of the hotel. This detail can be easily overlooked since the cost of this process is just $8-10 per year; not enough money to draw anyone's scrutiny.

Everything went well until the employee began to have work productivity problems and was consequently dismissed. Sometime later, upon expiration of the of the initial domain name registration term, usually a year or two, the hotel attempted to renew its web site registration, and, guess what; they couldn't… only the site's registered owner can do that. To make a long story short, the past employee, the site's registered owner, demanded $10,000 to transfer domain ownership to the hotel. He didn't get it, but the lesson here is simple; you need to own your own property.

Now in case you still don't think this can be serious, imagine this; a disgruntled or otherwise evil person has the control and the means to disable your site or do something worse such as directing it to a porn site. Now that hotel web sites are producing more than 40%, 75% or more of hotel total room revenue, this can be devastating.

Your first thought might be to start from scratch; simply get a new URL address and a new web site developed, and it will be alright…well, not quite. You still lose the ability to have the old site address point to your new site; losing all the loyalty and traffic you built with the old site; this means loss of business.

When I first heard this problem, my first thought was that this had to be extremely rare… but I was wrong. Upon some investigation, it appears that there are many unscrupulous site designers that have done and continue to do this very same thing. Creating ownership of a web site domain is as simple as typing a name and contact email address. Some site designers have taken ownership of client domains and, ironically, they probably paid for them with their client's credit card. 

Because it is so easy to create and register a domain, many unknowing employees and site designers, have done this without understanding its future ramifications. "Innocent" errors can happen, but the important question remains "who is the registered owner of your domain name?" If you are not sure, you need to find out.

This process is relatively simple. Go to www.register.com, enter your hotel's domain name and follow the directions.

At this point, I would be remiss if I didn't mention the most ridiculous situation; site designers who claim creative ownership of a web site just because they designed it. They quote "creative content ownership". Assuming, like the rest of us, they accepted a fee for designing a site, does this mean they can sell their creativity and expertise…and still retain ownership of it? Anyone interested in buying a book or a painting under this premise? Be careful when reviewing site development contracts.

Now I'm not an attorney, so I'm not recommending legal remedies, but the delays and potential problems erroneous registration can cause are many. The registered owner receives notice of renewals and all major changes to the account must be approved by the owner. If you are not the owner, what happens?

Poor Web Site Design can be cheating too

Unfortunately, web site design errors are by far the most common problem among hotel web sites. Design errors are sometimes subtle and not readily recognized, but they are critical to its production capability. Why shouldn't your site designer be held responsible for your site's ultimate production?

The task should be to design a hotel web site that produces reservations. Are you holding your designer to a lower standard; simply to produce a pretty web site?

The absence of properly composed text content, the lack of an appropriate link strategy, poorly created navigation strategy, and improperly researched Meta tags/key words are the most common errors. Knowing how and why people select a hotel is a function of hotel marketing; that's why hotel marketing experience is critical to your site's success.

Many site designers believe that the job ends when the site is published; actually it is just the beginning. Having a web site with no follow-up marketing strategy or search engine optimization plan is like buying a shiny new car and leaving it in the garage; it's pretty, but few people will ever see it.

But, getting visitors to see your site is only half the job. Many site designers love to dazzle their clients with reports of the thousands of unique users who visit your site as proof of your site's effectiveness. How many of these users actually make a reservation on your site? It amazes me how many hotels that do not track the number of reservations their web site captures.

Most hotel sites convert only 3.4% of visitors into reservations; anything less is terrible. If the answer is not five or more out of every one hundred, your site needs improvement, plain and simple. Web site optimization, first; search engine optimization second.

How easy is it to make a Reservation on Your site?

Did your site designer recommend the best and most efficient booking engine to power your site; if you have an independent hotel, a good booking engine is an absolute necessity. We still see many hotel web sites which leave people high and dry with no means of making an online reservation. In 2007, 54% of all hotel reservations will be made online, according to PhoCusWright, an Internet authority.

What your site content says, and how it says it, is the most important factor in site design. Content is King. Don't be fooled into thinking that your site simply has to look nice.

Neil Salerno, CHME, CHA
Hotel Marketing Coach
Email: NeilS@hotelmarketingcoach.com
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