Inngenious B&B Web Site Promotion

If we live in a small town near a bigger city, should we get a PO Box in that city so we can list that as our address to get more B&B traffic?

This was a pretty common practice several years ago when the leading Bed and Breakfast directories only listed the major towns. The theory was that if you listed yourself in a major town rather than a smaller town, you would get more traffic. And for a long time that was true. It isn't quite the case any more and in general this practice is a bad idea for the following reasons:

Major B&B Directories List All Towns
The major Bed and Breakfast directories now list all towns in a region and connect them so nearby listings are seen. Quite often the small town listings will appear in several larger towns or cities if they happen to be in between two or three of them, so you actually increase your exposure by being listed in the smaller town.
PO Boxes for a B&B Can't Be Mapped
The internet has developed some major mapping power with the advent of mapquest, mapblast (MSN), Yahoo Maps, and Google Maps This has been the preferred method of getting driving directions for many years. Its just too easy, despite the occasions when the directions are less than perfect. If you list a PO Box as an address, visitors can't enter your address into a mapping website and get directions to you. Nor can they even look to see where your Bed and Breakfast is located. Location matters. As realtors say, "location, location, location." The same is true for travelers. If your website or travel directory listing gives a PO box, at best, they can't find you. At worst, they end up with directions to a post office.
Local-Search is Powerful
You should have noticed in the list of mapping web sites above that three of them are tied directly to the three major search engines. They have also been tied to a relatively new development called local search ( Yahoo! Local, Google Local, MSN Local). Local search combines ordinary search results with maps. For example, if you do a regular search for "Filtches Glen NY bed and breakfast" (without the quotes and yes the town name is made up) you get links to pages that have those words appearing somewhere on the page. There is no guarantee that the pages that appear will actually be in Filtches Glen. However, if you do the same search on the Local-Search you get results that actually have addresses for Filtches Glen and on top of that, pointers appear on a map of Filtches Glen to show you where the places are. If your web site lists a PO Box, the address that is assigned to your B&B is one that can't be mapped. That means that you don't show up on the map, and if you don't show up on the map, you don't get listed in the top results. In fact, it is quite likely you won't show up at all.
It's not nice to fool Local-Search
Local-search (especially Google's current version) is pretty smart. It realizes that it can be fooled, so it looks for corroborating evidence. It looks to see how many web pages it can find that have your address listed on them and compares them. The fewer that it finds that agree, the lower it ranks you, and if too many conflict, it just rejects the listing. This means that you don't show up for either the big town you so desperately wanted to be a part of, and you don't show up for your small town.
Misleading Guests is a Bad Practice
Not everything is about the internet and traffic. More so than nearly any other business, we have to be honest with guests and potential guests because they are sleeping in our homes. Visitors to a region can't make good decisions if we give them bad information.
Here's an interesting B&B case study
I've changed the names to protect the unaware. John has a bed and breakfast in a little town of Slip Stream, which is just outside of the bigger more popular town of Filtches Glen. John is either ashamed of Slip Stream or just thinks he'd get more traffic if his address were listed as Filtches Glen. So he gets a PO Box in Filtches Glen and uses that address on his web site and several directories he is listed with, but he also has a few other listings he forgot about and those list his Slip Stream address. Using Local-Search on all three major search engines, his B&B can not be found for a search for "bed and breakfast" in either Slip Steam or Filtches Glen. He currently gets no traffic from local search. Ironically enough, the only other B&B in Slip Stream (who is not ashamed to claim Slip Stream as her real address), shows up first for Local-Searches for Slip Stream and shows up 4th for Local-Searches for Filtches Glen. That's because Local-Search is "smart" enough to look to nearby areas like Slip Stream if there are not enough results from Filtches Glen.

My general advice is to list your actual location on your web site. If you actually have a PO Box because that is how you get your mail, list it as such on the contact page of your website. Clearly differentiate between your physical address and your mail delivery address. From a search engine optimization point of view, you should have your Bed and Breakfast's physical address listed on every single page. I will caution that Local-Search is relatively new and will likely undergo changes that may solve the problem of PO Boxes, but I envision that will take a long time.

-Steve Wirt

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