Editor’s Note: This post originally appeared on the blog of the hospitality digital marketing company, buuteeq, prior to its acquisition by Booking.com in June 2014. The opinions expressed here are specific to buuteeq, though many of the technology insights remain relevant to customers and admirers of our new business, BookingSuite, a unit of Booking.com. Visit suite.booking.com for our latest thought leadership in the hospitality digital marketing space.
WordPress is a wonderful CMS for blogs, but it was not designed for hotels. The best thing hotel owners can do for their web presence is choose a service designed specifically to encourage more direct reservations for hotels. While WordPress is a versatile blogging platform, it is costly to design a quality website with it, the learning curve is high and it degrades over time.
WordPress comes in two forms—the subscription-based WordPress.com that acts like many other web-based blogging platforms like Blogger, and the free WordPress.org that is more flexible but harder to use. Since we’re talking about WordPress in its application towards creating a fully-functional hotel website, I’ll focus on WordPress.org for this article since it is the more robust option.
WordPress for Hotels
The Hidden Costs.
Even though WordPress is a free, open-source software, there are plenty of costs involved in getting your WordPress-powered hotel website online. You have to host it, buy a domain, buy themes, buy plugins and invest a substantial amount of time into keeping it healthy. Here is my cost-breakdown estimate:
- Dedicated Hosting: $200 a month (or $35 a month if you opt for virtual dedicated hosting, which makes your website slower).
- Domain name: $12 a year
- Premium WordPress Theme: $90 (prices vary wildly depending on quality but usually if you want a theme you can use commercially, you have to pay around $100)
- Premium WordPress Plugins: $300 (many booking engines also take a percentage of every reservation you get)
- TOTAL: $602 up-front and out-of-pocket, plus $200+ a month. This doesn’t count the thousands of dollars you’ll lose every year to a booking engine that takes a percentage of every reservation, or the money you spend each year buying new themes, purchasing more bandwidth and disk space and other site maintenance needs.
What can’t be listed here is the cost of your time. As much as I personally love WordPress, it is huge time sink. Outside of work, I run four different WordPress websites—a web community, a blog, an eCommerce site and a professional portfolio. Trying to keep all of them healthy and up-to-date takes up the majority of my free time outside of work.
Hotel Websites on WordPress
Why they are huge time-sinks.
There are three major time sinks those who host their own WordPress powered hotel websites must invest in: updating the CMS, updating and repairing plugins, and updating themes.
The WordPress CMS. WordPress is constantly being updated and improved. On one hand this is a great thing, because it means that, like buuteeq, WordPress is constantly trying to be on the cutting edge of new technology. However, unlike buuteeq, WordPress’ constant updates often break websites due to incompatibility with outdated plugins and themes. Additionally, many web designers will hand-edit core WordPress files in order to accommodate themes and plugins. When you update WordPress, you lose all of these customizations, and you have to go back into your code editor and replace them.
Plugins. One of the things that makes WordPress so versatile is that it supports hundreds of thousands of user-made plugins. Think of plugins as ‘apps’ for WordPress. You can install free or paid plugins that perform functions that do not come native with WordPress—a pretty image slideshow, for example, or a hotel booking engine. The problem is that, since other people not affiliated with WordPress create these plugins, these authors very often lose interest in their projects and abandon them. This leaves the vast majority of plugins incomplete and riddled with bugs. Additionally, as WordPress updates itself over time, it often becomes incompatible with older plugins. In practice, this means that if you update WordPress but it is incompatible with one of your older plugins, your hotel website breaks.
The only way to fix a website that breaks is to roll it back to a previous version, which you can only do if you have been meticulous about keeping backups—a practice that often requires its own plugin that could also break with any update.
To compare, buuteeq takes snap-shots of your hotel website every time you publish it, making it easy and painless to backup and restore older versions of your content. Additionally, since buuteeq makes all development in-house, buuteeq’s BackOffice never breaks, and our technology advances flawlessly over time.
Themes. Like plugins, WordPress supports thousands of user-made themes, which define the layout and look of WordPress hotel websites. You can find many free themes (which are often poor quality), but most themes cost money and can be expensive.
One of the major drawbacks of WordPress is that WordPress themes and WordPress plugins often conflict with each other. Since the typical WordPress user usually has dozens of plugins installed, made by dozens of different people, using a theme also made by someone else, these plugins and themes often come into conflict with each other, breaking the website. Users have to be very careful before installing a new plugin to make sure that it wont break their website. If their theme doesn’t support the plugin (as is often the case, because theme creators can’t write-in accommodations for the hundreds of thousands of plugins in the world) hoteliers will often have to hand-edit the code of their themes in order to get the plugin to work, which is a laborious effort for non-web designers.
Additionally, themes are often abandoned by their creators, which, like plugins, can make them incompatible with later versions of WordPress. This means that, unless all of your themes and plugins are supported by their creators forever, your hotel website will eventually become outdated and, worse yet, it might break altogether.
WordPress for Hotels on Mobile Devices
WordPress was not built to be mobile optimized out-of-the-box. Over time, independent developers have created plugins that attempt to produce a mobile optimized version for WordPress. I have personally tested all of the major plugins that claim to do this, and while some have a modicum of success, every single one has errors that often poorly display your hotel content. For example, many of the plugins you install to customize your website will not work on mobile devices, and yet the mobile plugin won’t know to turn them off. This can break the mobile theme. These mobile plugins will attempt to compensate for this by shutting down portions of your site, which produces a mobile website with few images, garbled text, broken links, broken frames and navigation and, at best, a boring experience.
WordPress and Hotel Web Design
The Weight & Architecture of WordPress.
WordPress is a blogging platform, designed for bloggers. For the hotelier, this means that WordPress comes with dozens of built-in functions that hoteliers don’t need and simply clutter up the interface and add ‘weight’ to the website. One problem WordPress has had to fight ever since it was created is its weight. It is naturally a slow-loading CMS. The more plugins and themes you install, the heavier it gets. There are solutions out there that you can use to lighten it, including caching plugins, but often these are very hard for the casual blogger to understand and perfectly implement.
This also means that your hotel website’s navigation and information architecture are designed for bloggers, not guests looking for a hotel room. As we discussed in our video on IA, buuteeq has invested millions in creating web design perfectly suited for the hospitality industry. We know how guests browse and what information they are looking for to make their purchase decision, and we place that info right where they want to see it. WordPress doesn’t do that. It is trying to be a one-shoe-fits-all product, which is capable, but not as powerful as a product designed specifically for hotels.
Hotel SEO for WordPress
Or ‘How to Make SEO As Complicated As Possible’.
There are a few great plugins for WordPress you can find for improving SEO. However, in order to take advantage of them, one must either be trained by a WordPress guru, or do weeks of research in order to get it just right. WordPress out-of-the-box is not optimized well. Their URL structure is filled with numbers, page references and other garbage that looks horrible on search engines and encourages poor rankings. In order to fix this, one must change the permalinks structure, decide whether or not to show categories and tags in the URL, and so on.
While experts can make WordPress do almost anything they want in terms of SEO, learning all of the steps necessary and then developing the skills to do them are steep hills to climb for the hotelier.
buuteeq started from the ground up when we designed our product, and we designed it with hotel SEO in mind. Hoteliers don’t have to worry about tweaks they they need to do here and there, or whether or not their .htaccess file is written correctly and so on. buuteeq takes care of it all.
WordPress vs. buuteeq for Hotels
The long and short of it.
WordPress is impressive, and it is one of the best blogging solutions out there. But when it comes to hotels, buuteeq is the best choice for creating a modern, constantly evolving, stable website that is mobile optimized, built on the shoulders of outstanding SEO and integrated with Facebook. It was crafted specifically for gaining more direct, online reservations for hotels and putting more heads in your beds.