Caro, Michigan Bed and Breakfast Website Review

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himelhochbb's picture
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Hello I just opened a bed and breakfast right in Michigan's Thumb in Caro, MI! I was looking to get your opinion of my the website I've been working on! Can't wait to hear your opinions and make this the best experience for all potential guests.

Himelhoch Bed & Breakfast in Caro, MI | Historic Victorian B&B in Heart of the Michigan's Thumb

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Westcoast, it was nice of you to understand where we were all coming from. Join in any time, the water's fine. cool  All the best with your plans to find the perfect B&B!

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dumitru's picture
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Sweet Mother of Jesus, that was quite harsh.

Personally I think that some parts of the "review" are mostly things that only devs care about, things that have value only on websites that get thousands of daily visitors, and not 10 visitors / week.

And to be honest, I did expect a sales pitch somewhere in the middle or at the end of the "review" Smiling

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Hi Dimitru,

I agree with the consensus responses here that my post was inappropriately harsh and detailed. I would remove it if the forum allowed me to. I don't agree that what I mentioned were "mostly things that only devs care about" or that matter on high-volume sites. Can you give an example?

I'm not a vendor. I am on this forum to research my wife and I's interest in purchasing an Inn. My "review" was intended to be helpful in an area I have developed expertise in over many years. It was ham-handed and inappropriate in how I presented it, but which point would you not want to address as the business owner?

WestCoast

dumitru's picture
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Hi WestCoast,

1. This looks like this is your live website. It shouldn't be "live" in its present form.

A: It can be live whenever the owner wants it to be live. If they have a phone and a map on the website, boom, it will get the job done.

2. If you aren't systematically and regularly testing your site on different browsers and screen and monitor sizes, you should have only a very bare-bones site with bullet-proof HTML. Any browser update can break your site, so testing is an ongoing chore.

A: It really depends on how often they do anything with the website. WordPress websites are generally quite stable. This is why you can see websites still running on WP 3.1 - 3.4 and the owners are fine with that.

3. You've got some poor design choices that I assume happened because you used a template, versus developing your own wireframe and calls to action for your target visitor personas.

A: Most of the people you will find on this forum don't have the gold for custom development, this is why WordPress themes are so popular in the first place: accessible. 
Telling a person that he/she should spend $2000 on a website instead of spending $45 on a WP theme, well, it is redundant.

4. Those drop-down menus are a distraction. They should be taken out in a redesign.

A: Yes, research and tests show that drop-down menus reduce usability and comfort of visitors, but it is not one of the 7 deadly sins. 

5. The content and writing shouldn't be an afterthought to be added to after launching the website. It's not OK, for example, to raise expectations that you will have some history of the property on the homepage but not have anything about that when you click through.

A: Knowing how most small hotels and B&B owners promote their websites, it is quite safe to assume that this new website will see visitors only from this forum + friends & family. Organic visitors won't end up there on the day of the launch, so in this case it is cheaper and easier to do everything live, instead of maintaining two installations: live + staging. 
This is not something that a mom & pop business would be able to handle easily.

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Anyway, I'm not saying that your points are not valid, but in the case of a new B&B, with no traffic on the website, some "faults" are not so urgent to fix.
If you worked in a web development company you should know quite well that you can test and verify the staging installation 100 times, move it to live and then start spotting problems and errors Smiling

Peace!

seashanty's picture
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 no sorry - i just looked at it on my own without reading the reviews.  

 but i did notice the very very long review in here and felt the need to comment -

seashanty's picture
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 hi and welcome. i'm not even going to read west coast's review ... my goodness! 

 did you notice that in some of your room photos you can see the picture taker in the mirror? - i would go through the photo's and retake those or blur the mirror if you can do that. 

 it takes TIME to perfect a b&b and a website and innkeeping.  and is one ever perfect?  don't get discouraged.  i love all the wood throughout the place especially the stairs.

 

Flower's picture
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Sea shanty

Gee didn't you notice I said the same thing on Thurs. His pictures reflect him in the mirror? He also had said he was going to take new photos.  I guess the old saying great minds think alike.

I THINK HE HAD A a lot of good HELP FROM WEST COAST.

 I sure could of used some of that help when I was getting a new web site up and running. Darn caps so sorry this key board is going wonkers. Time for a new one. again so sorry please for give caps.

West coast I had a problem with my rez but through reading all that you said we had a chance to check it out for that I thank you.  Now I have to find an apple computer to see if all works with it. 

Some of what you said I had no idea . But now I am a wee bit wiser. Thank you

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into the pool we go with a canonball and massive splash!

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devil

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It appears you have a beautiful property from interior photos of the common area and the main guest room. However, I think this website needs a lot of work before it can live up to the care you put into the interior rooms. You clearly thought about the visitor's experience entering and navigating those rooms. I don't get the feeling that you gave the same careful thought to each navigational feature your website visitors would encounter and each word they would read.

I'm going to be blunt and I am a very picky reviewer. My career since 1999 to present has included development of more than 100 websites in many industries. At times, I was an executive responsible for my employer's websites or my company's clients' websites (I hired web design firms to do major development and had internal employees doing ongoing work keeping the sites current and monitoring effectiveness). Other times I was hired by various companies to write content, develop a web strategy, or perform user testing. I'm an aspiring innkeeper and have been looking at a lot of BNB sites over the last few months (I am not offering or selling services).

This looks like this is your live website. It shouldn't be "live" in its present form. If you have a professional web person working for you and you are paying them reasonably, you should reassess the relationship. I clicked through to your site from a couple different lodging sites, so I'm thinking you intend this site to be live now.

I was able to "break" the website quite quickly in testing the reservation system. It is doing some incorrect caching of the number of guests. I tested it from two different computers, running Windows 8.1 and three different browsers (Chrome, Internet Explorer and Firefox) as well as an Apple IPad. All had caching problems that would have led me, as a potential guest, to give up trying to book. If you put in three guests, two children, for example, it will keep that value in when it searches even switching browsers, clearing temp files, and restarting my computer. In that case it returned no availability. I switched computers, searched for two adults and then changed it to one. Nope, two was cached. Then oddly, when I switched to the iPad and did an initial search, a different value than I input went in.

In another functional error, the site let me book the "Add-on room" by itself (I just took it to the quote stage).

A third functional problem was on an Apple iPad, the site didn't continue the booking path past the "select room" stage for a "multi-room booking." It just refreshed to the "select room" page after I submitted a room request.

All of these functional issues should have been caught when you did your testing across platforms and devices. If you aren't systematically and regularly testing your site on different browsers and screen and monitor sizes, you should have only a very bare-bones site with bullet-proof HTML. Any browser update can break your site, so testing is an ongoing chore. Microsoft, Apple, Google (Android) regularly make significant changes to their operating systems that affect display in browsers and apps.

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You've got some poor design choices that I assume happened because you used a template, versus developing your own wireframe and calls to action for your target visitor personas.

There are several usability problems with the navigation choices. For instance if you are on the web browser version and you use the homepage drop-down menu to look at one of the rooms, there is no easy way to click to the other rooms (you have to go back to the drop-down menu). Those drop-down menus are a distraction. They should be taken out in a redesign. Notice how they are gone in the mobile version and use of the site just feels easier. The "about us" and "BNB history" (when finished) should be on the left, and the contact and directions on the right side of the choices with a single click to get there. The "book now" or "make a reservation" option should be a button on each page--preferably in the same place, not buried in a menu.

______

The content and writing shouldn't be an afterthought to be added to after launching the website. It's not OK, for example, to raise expectations that you will have some history of the property on the homepage but not have anything about that when you click through. You should have a staging site to preview pages. (I don't think its OK to say it's a "historic" property but not describe why, either. A link to a brief explanation can be a quick builder of credibility.)

The "Location" page is put together without thought for what the visitor clicking there wants--they don't want the Google map in the most prominent spot. The headline on the homepage about Michigan's "Thumb" gives better information than the "Location" page as to where you are. You are asking the visitor to do his own research on what you are close to--not acceptable for many visitors. The directions oddly assume everyone is coming from one of three cities. Those are likely the reference points you use and would use for someone from Scotland or California, for example, "Are you coming from Detroit?" but it's just odd not to have a brief description of "Michigan's Thumb" and Caro and your location within or in proximity to Caro or the other locations that visitors come to your area to visit.

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On the images, I love the interiors--care and high quality come through with a little stiffness. But would at minimum correct some of the angles so the viewer flipping through them quickly isn't disoriented by some being askew. It looks like there is some interesting wide-angle lens work being doing, but it's a little off--as if the photographer is documenting a renovation, versus the art of photography that accurately shows property but also evokes the sense of people being present.

The second guest room bathroom looks like the poor relative of the main guestroom bathroom. I would be disappointed to not get the better looking room with such a small price difference. I am not recommending giving an unrealistic view of the lesser bathroom. You want to set expectations appropriately. However, the difference is a problem, in my opinion. If you can upgrade the second room's shower fixture for not a lot of $$ or find a cute cabinet to use as a sink vanity, that might make the pictures more visually equivalent.

I would cut the shot of the back of the property with the spiral staircase. One, there are too many photos of the full building--I think that is why I get a real estate listing vibe. Two, it looks bare to me--a tiny table. Am I supposed to sit out there with my wife? If that's the point, better maybe to replace with a shot of people sitting there and a shot showing them and the view they are looking at, if there is a view. Three, the spiral staircase, if noticed at all, is going to raise questions for a few visitors. Is that how I get to my room?

In the same way, I'm a bit thrown by the picture of the back garden. I don't see paths or sitting areas with the view I'm given. I do see a lot of fence and a lot of filler with the bark and little use of plants in the landscaping. That may be a wonderful place to sit, but that picture doesn't get that across to me. I see the potential for a very pleasant space, something out of Sunset Magazine, but sorry to be harsh, that picture makes me think miniature golf course. The lighthouse doesn't help. That beautiful wood and the finishes inside your BNB shows me you have wonderful taste and sense of place--so I'm hoping it's just bad photography.

Despite feeling that there were too many photos, I wanted a better picture of what it was like to be on those balconies--what are the views, how private are they? I also wanted to see the game room and the hot tub.

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I'm going to be harsh about the writing. I don't know anything about your area or why I should choose to stay at your BNB, and I'm afraid I still don't after visiting your website. It looks like the content was designed for someone who already has decided to stay in your area and they just need to be convinced by views of the property.

Each item mentioned on the homepage needs to map to an item on a list of goals for orienting the visitor and establishing your brand. Each word choice, each phrase needs to map to those goals. The current homepage description doesn't show you've done the work of identifying your visitors' needs and deciding on a brand identity.

Throughout the website, the writing needs to be tightened and rethought carefully as to its literal sense. There are superfluous words and questionable claims. Is the balcony of the main guest room really "breathtaking" and not just breathtaking, but "the most breathtaking" feature, implying we've barely been able to breathe since we entered the room? Does the BNB really offer "all the amenities of a modern hotel"? I take it you mean a similar level of comfort, but I'm thinking the amenities of a modern hotel are items such as a flat-screen TV, room service, concierge, fitness room, business services and office. Your BNB offers the TV and hot tub, but it's not comparable to a hotel (it's different and better!). Your text continues that all the modern hotel amenities are offered with "a blend of Victorian elegance." Sorry, but what does that mean?

The little writing missteps add up. For example, the word private is oddly applied in the room descriptions. It is used one time too many, I think, in calling the main guest room's sitting area a "private" sitting area. The bed is right there--I hope the sitting area's private! I'd cut that use of private and just say the room has a sitting area. Then the mentions of the main guest room's private bath and private balcony work better for me as having the sense of "not shared." But then we find in the description of the second guest suite that its bedroom is called "private" but the sitting room isn't called private, only "separate." Does that mean the sitting room is shared? Otherwise, why call the bedroom private? Are there shared bedrooms?! The bathroom is called "en suite," while in the first bedroom's description, the bathroom is the "attached private." For visitors flipping between the two room descriptions trying to decide which they want, it looks like one is "private and attached" and the other is "en suite." Using different terms implies the rooms are different--maybe the en suite bathroom is in the room, a visitor might think. Are these non-private bedrooms part of those blended modern hotel amenities being offered, he wondered hopefully?

These may sound like quibbles, but the writing needs to be worked over to smooth out multiple bumps like this--they all add up to losing the visitor's trust in a vague way they can't quite put their finger on. Get out your Strunk and White. Cut superfluous words. Don't overwrite--the guest suite doesn't "feature" two separate rooms. It has two rooms. Or three, I think, with the bathroom. All private. I think, but I'm not sure.

One last example... the website description has "For those guests staying in the Myer & Rosa or Gold Mae suites that need additional sleeping arrangements, the Coral Himelhoch room offers the perfect accommodations."

There's a much clearer way of saying what you want to say. The word "those" is unneeded. The words "guests... that" should be "guests... who." "Perfect accommodations"? Really? Most important, what in the world are "additional sleeping arrangements"?! If the guests are "staying" in the other suites, why do they need "sleeping arrangements" in the Coral Room? Is this more of that modern blended non-private bedroom hotel amenity stuff they offer in Michigan? My tongue-in-cheek point is that no one applied the "Do real people talk like this" test to the words here. And sadly I don't have clear information on how the rooms connect physically with the other suites and whether I need to rent one of the other suites to rent this additional bedroom. But I know it is a "perfect accommodation" for my needs. I think.

Also, I would drop the Himelhoch at the end of the names of the rooms, unless you will always say the full name each time you mention the room (which would be interesting -- would that come up in TripAdvisor reviews, I wonder?). In the explanation you can provide the information about Myer & Rosa being Himelhochs.

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Well, I am embarrassed at myself for posting this after seeing the long-time forum members respond. Sorry for being so lacking in awareness of what I was posting.

If the moderator agrees this is an inappropriate post in tone at least, which I think it is, I hope it can be removed and this apology inserted in its place.

I appreciate EmptyNest's advice to privately email people, Madeleine and G's advice to give smaller bits at a time, and all your "Wow" responses that told me I'd way overshot the expectations of civility of the forum. 

I wouldn't want my post to dissuade other innkeepers from taking the risk of asking for advice about their websites. Please remove it if that is what is called for.

Best,

WestCoast

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The problem with removing your post is what we call "swiss cheesing". All of the later comments remain and the reason for them is gone.

I think you've done a fine job of letting the assembled know you got the point and that you won't be as wordy all at once next time the situation presents itself.

And when your site goes live we won't gleefully attack it. Eye-wink

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Holy cow!

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dear westcoast, 

i too think you went a bit overboard with your critique. This innkeeper I assume is a novice and you have certainly taken the wind out of his or her sails! But, on the other hand, if this was done for them by a web designer, then they definitely need to see some corrections for their money.

I have over 100 web clients too, but I would never go so far as you have with a total stranger who came here looking for help.

 

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Hi EmptyNest,

I appreciate your perspective both as a Web professional who has worked with clients and as a longtime contributor to this forum. I tried to email my review privately to the innkeeper, but I use a yahoo address for the forum and the innspiring platform blocked it. If I was working for this person, I would have done a series of meetings to cover the functionality, content and navigation fixes needed. It may not be pleasant to get negative comments but it isn't a service to the business owner to say everything is OK when it isn't. This is a live site that has programming errors that stop visitors from completing reservations. I've been in the position of having errors show up after launching a web or mobile site. I don't like that I make mistakes, but it's much better to know what they are and be able to fix them. 

You know this forum better than I do, of course. I agree that there's a risk that the innkeeper can't benefit from my review because of how much detail I gave and how I presented it. What would be the best way to convey this information on this forum? Or should it just be done privately. I know you've often stepped up and helped innkeepers with their websites behind the scenes, so to speak, of the public forum. Would you have just sent a private message and not done a public posting? 

Best,

WestCoast

 

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West Coast,

I think putting all that out there was inappropriate. Yes a behind the scenes contact would have been good. We all gave some type of critique which was asked for, but the lengths you went are best done privately.

Thanks for asking my opinion Smiling

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As a non-techie, pacman bites is better than lamming with the whole magilla all at once. Give a chance to fix one problem then go back with another. I would be devastated and overwhelmed to have been on the receiving end of what makes it seem that what I have is a lump of trash rather than pointing out what is good but this needs help. I could not even finish reading what you wrote - and it was not my web site you were talking about.

Madeleine's picture
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Hi there WestCoast!

Your in depth analysis may have been a tad too much for a novice website builder to take in all at once.

Perhaps taken in pieces over the course of a week it might be easier to work on the issues.

I haven't looked at the site so not sure everything you're saying is spot on but it is overwhelming in its scope.

I sincerely doubt most innkeepers check the website every week to verify that all the code works with every update of a browser. (Which is why many of us have switched to templates that are managed by people who know this stuff and make the changes as needed.)

Maybe it's a professionally done site and the web designer should have known better about some of your comments but most people here are DIY'ers.

 

Breakfast Diva's picture
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The testimonials at the bottom are flashing too quickly. No one's going to read that fast. Can you slow them down?

You have a lovely place!

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Do you know the average wait for a web page to load is 2 seconds? It took way longer than that for the first image on your home page to load..at least with my DSL connection. That would be my issue. It took forever to see photos of the rooms too...the little wheel just keeps on spinning. Did you resize and compress your images before you uploaded them?

I also don't really like plain black and white for a B & B site. But that is my preference. Looks like you pretty much used the theme template out of the box which is ok but I would like to see more personality for your inn.

Suggest you get a CAPTCHA code for your contact page or you will be getting lots of spammers. Did one come with the theme? You can download a plugin.

himelhochbb's picture
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Thanks great advice, keep it coming!

I have noticed that a lot of Bed & Breakfast websites aren't responsive and don't have built-in reservation systems so I think I am step ahead on that front! Now just need to add some more content and start collecting the reservations Smiling

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himelhochbb wrote:

Thanks great advice, keep it coming!

I have noticed that a lot of Bed & Breakfast websites aren't responsive and don't have built-in reservation systems so I think I am step ahead on that front! Now just need to add some more content and start collecting the reservations Smiling

I see you don't ask for credit cards, is this for now, or is it live? Or do you have to go through many pages to make a reservation at the end add the cc details?

If so you have stepped back, not forward with your booking program on your website.

The reason most are not built into the site is you will have great pains and expense to show you are PCI compliant. This is not something a small inn should have to deal with, this is something we hire out. Accepting credit cards, and making a reservation with a credit card are paramount.

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Yup after they input their personal information it takes them to a paypal based portal where they can either pay with a paypal account or if they don't have a paypal account they can pay with any major credit card. After payment is complete it redirects them to a reservation confirmation page back on our website. So since all of the payment is ran through paypal it is in fact PCI compliant.

First step they select the dates, second step they select the room, third step they input their information (name, phone, email), fourth step they place their payment, and fifth step they receive confirmation the room has been booked. I believe this process mirrors that of any other hotel booking website.

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himelhochbb wrote:

Yup after they input their personal information it takes them to a paypal based portal where they can either pay with a paypal account or if they don't have a paypal account they can pay with any major credit card. After payment is complete it redirects them to a reservation confirmation page back on our website. So since all of the payment is ran through paypal it is in fact PCI compliant.

First step they select the dates, second step they select the room, third step they input their information (name, phone, email), fourth step they place their payment, and fifth step they receive confirmation the room has been booked. I believe this process mirrors that of any other hotel booking website.

Okay I wasn't sure, so that is great! I didn't want to go so far as to book a room to find out. That is great! PCI and all! Well done. Smiling

and how do you say the name, as it looks? Curious how to say it. Have fun with all the newness, that is the best part of opening an inn!

Flower's picture
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06/19/2011

It looks great.

I notice in your GM room the bathroom has a picture of the person taking the picture of thee bathroom. You may want  to take that picture again?

himelhochbb's picture
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06/26/2014

Thanks! Some of the furniture has been upgraded so I plan on taking new pictures this weekend. Stay tuned Smiling

Bed and Breakfast Rooms in Michigan Thumb (Caro, MI) at the Historic Victorian Himelhoch B &B

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06/24/2008

Welcome! 

You seem to be moving along well.  My best advice is to look at some other B&B's websites and mark what you like and do not like about each.  Then see how you can incorporate what you did like for your place. 

Read everything as if you were reading it for the 1st time.  OR better option is to have someone you know but does not know your place read it to make sure it is understood by all.  

FYI - I don't quite understand the wording in one of your room descriptions - 2 room suite, states for 2 people but in description mentions additional sleeping options - but I do not see another bed in the seating room.  I am sure you are not wanting someone to sleep on that beautiful sofa.  Or to think that they can bring a third person because of the wording. 

People READ into what they wish.  Be as clear as you can! 

You also need to make a policies page (if you haven't already). 

Good luck!   

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Welcome to the forum! A beautiful B&B!

Maybe you can have a play on the name of the inn so people know how to say it somewhere on the about us section. Really until you get the website finished it all looks great right now, just fill in between the lines a bit and add a little personal touch to it and of course more nice photos and I think it is a winner! All the best. 

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