Answers to questions from PAII Forum

Happy to answer any and all PAII questions

Hi PAII members,

[Update April 17 + 19]  I’ve had requests for a short exec summary here at the top of this post, so here it is:

  • We continue to address 100% of questions that are expressed to us via phone and email.  As always, I welcome hearing from any innkeeper personally via email at forest (at)buuteeq.com, or by phone at +1 (800) 734-1769.
  • An  overview of our company’s position and approach to SEO, and my own  personal thoughts regarding segmentation of the SEO vendor community, and a similar guest post by me on Lodging Hospitality’s site, and another perspective from a SEO vendor who’s approach is commendable.
  • For more information on what Wandari is, read here.  For info on how to edit/modify/delete a listing on Wandari.com read this article. We will address all requests within 1 business day (usually in 1 hr or less).
  • For those that have asked, here are our company’s Mission and Values
  • There are no “unauthorized sites” or content of any kind that needs to be “de-indexed from Google”–we have received ZERO inquiries or requests regarding this subject and any posts anywhere to this effect are disingenuous.  Anyone with a honest concern over their own property of those of their customers would of course, as a basic rational step, first contact us directly to discuss.  This has yet to happen.  On the other hand, someone trying to execute a FUD campaign (spreading fear-uncertainty-doubt) as a “customer retention effort” within the B&B community is perpetrating real harm to innkeepers who are needlessly alarmed and confused by such actions.  As several of you have put it to us in email and by phone “we see this for what it is”, as do we, and we will continue to ignore.
  • Onwards to the original post (below):

My name is forest key, i’m one of the founders of buuteeq, the ceo, and the guy who came up with the idea for our product and have been working on it for 2.5 years and loving every minute of it.  For those that don’t know my bio, here it is in 1 sentence: father of 2 boys age 9/10, passionate about travel and seeing the world (i’ve lived extensively on 4 continents), i worked for George Lucas and hollywood film industry for 10 years, and for Adobe and Microsoft in web technology for the last 10 (so i’m a mixture of film-web-technologist who likes digital marketing).  I’ve stayed in over 50 b&bs and counting over the years and hope to visit yours someday and take some low-light pictures with my new Canon 5D camera i bought used on ebay earlier today (i like photography)!

I’m writing this blog post because many of you have asked to hear from me in the last few days regarding several issues that have been raised in the forum, and i and Brandon (our marketing manager, known to many of you in the forum and to the hundreds of you that have listened in on his webinars) and Karen (who runs our customer success team, also on the webinars) have been trying to speak with many of you directly over the phone (those that have reached out to us via email, our help desk, or called us at the office or on our cells which we have posted in many places as we want to be accessible).  However, I know that some of you would prefer a more direct and centralized way to hear from us at your leisure so i’m aiming to capture and answer the variations of the questions here in this blog post, where it can be easily found and referenced from different sources.

Let me start by apologizing for our communication (“lack thereof” is perhaps the better description) on these questions raised the first week of April 2012.  I think there are 2 phases where we blew it: (1) we should have documented what our Wandari project was about much earlier in its life, and (2) i should have responded sooner to go on the record with our perspective regarding the various technical questions being raised in good faith on the forum. By letting the forum run its course we may have inadvertently sent the message that we didn’t care, or worse for us, that some of the accusations of malicious behavior were true.  What I don’t regret and which I’ll continue to ignore are the bad faith snarky voices–i’d rather read a book, sleep, or see a movie with my kids than get into that kind of banter–sorry sports fans!   (BTW and while we are on the subject, for those that like their forums bloody, i recommend the Hunger Games movie–both my boys read the book(s) and we went as a family earlier this evening, greatly enjoyed!)  buuteeq’s going to be here for a while and our performance serving members of your community is what is ultimately going to inform your opinion of me and my team, i look forward to proving ourselves through our actions.

I’ll try to go through all the questions and please email me if you would like others answered here or privately 1:1 with you either by phone or email.  My email is forest (at) buuteeq.com, and you can call me at +1 (800) 734-1769.  Like you, i stand behind my business (i always enjoy reading about innkeepers on their websites and seeing photos of them and their families)–that’s me on the left, my wife Cristina, and our two boys Carlos and Caetano during our Oregon river rafting trip last summer.

Forest Key and family

Wandari

Wandari is a directory that we put up 6+ months ago (no changes have been made since it went live back in September of 2011).  We called it a “beta” as it was a experiment project and has not been actively developed or meaningfully evolved.  It is however very functional and tied in with our broader content management tools (see below).  The intention of the directory is to provide a geographic survey/interactive map to identify where properties are located (something we thought would be useful to consumers) and to provide a high quality back link to each property’s website (the stuff that SEO is built on as any and all legitimate links of this type are positive for the property).  Prior to this week we’ve had no complaints of any kind.  As several folks in the forum thread have pointed out, there are dozens of other similar directories, nay 100s, and there are no systematic copyright issues or technical faults in the system.  If your particular listing is not to your liking we (a) apologize (b) would like to hear from you to understand your concern (c) will provide you with satisfaction to either edit or remove the content in the listing.  Almost every aspect of buuteeq’s software system has been designed and released with very close collaboration with property owners–I designed buuteeq v 0.1 to meet the specific goals of the LiAn Lodge (my favorite inn in China) and Elquimista Cabins (lovely new age retreat up in the high Andean Desert in northern Chile), two lovely small inns that I stayed at while writing the business plan; I struck up a conversation with the owners over breakfast and one thing lead to another… In the case of Wandari, we did NOT have that same level of engagement–good teachable moment for me, as just reading the forum and seeing some of your questions/concerns is telling me post-fact some things I should have investigated earlier!

To clarify further: there are two kinds of listings: raw listings which comprise name, address, phone number, email contacts, and back link button that directs to the property’s website.  This data was gathered from a collection of sources that pre-existed on the web and were intended only to form a foundational list of properties.  This data is innocuous, but clearly if it contains factual errors (wrong phone numbers, etc.) then it is less useful to all involved.  It was our intention to offer a “manage my listing” for these entries, including a “remove my listing”, we will look carefully at your feedback in the next few days to decide whether to implement such a feature, to manually remove those that request, or otherwise extend the features in this area.  The other kind of listing is a “premium” (in so far that it looks one hell of a lot better, but does not cost anything or confer any rights or otherwise require any commitment) which is tied to the content that is created and managed by each of you who have signed up and published our free Hotel Information App for Facebook.  For these users, you can log into our back office, edit rooms, photos, location, contact information, and when you hit the View in Facebook button those changes are propagated to both your Facebook page as well as to Wandari listing.  In this regard, yes, our Facebook application and Wandari are intertwined, positively!  This was the main intention of Wandari (and we have other plans to do even  more along these lines) all with the intention of putting your property’s core marketing collateral in front of more guests.

Wandari and our free Facebook App are providing meaningful, measurable value to the approximately 3000 properties in 35 countries that are using them.  If you’d like to schedule a 1:1 discussion with us to review the traffic that has been generated from this content (back to your existing website and booking engine of choice) we’d be happy to show you the analytics data that our servers have captured and which is available within a tab in our interface for you to see.  I would ask you to otherwise consider suspending your anxiety raised by the uninformed assessments of folks who do not have a Facebook application to offer you and thus are in a poor vantage to speak about what our application does, or anyone that tells you that you shouldn’t be significantly considering ways to use Facebook to drive awareness and incremental bookings for your property.  Nearly 1 billion people are using Facebook–i believe it will be a PRIMARY channel for attracting guests and turning your departing guests into advocates… we are just getting started and the next 5 years will be absolutely fascinating in this area (those of you that were running your property in 1997 when the internet took off, get ready for a similar wave of change!)  Far from claiming to know what’s going to happen in this space–all buuteeq and I promise is that we are going to be tinkering and building and innovating and we hope to come up with ever more useful tools for your business.

Update: As of April 9th 2012 AM we have put several new processes and resources in place to make sure everyone gets a much more immediate response to their requests regarding Wandari listings, whether to delete/purge, amend, or take full control of your property’s listing.  I’m putting that information in a separate blog post here.  We will process all requests within no more than 24hrs from receiving, business hours in USA.  For those of you that have already emailed us wishing to edit your listing we will follow up with instructions; for those that have contacted us requesting we delete your listing, we will email you confirming the deletion has taken place.  As always, please reach out to us directly for anything further on this subject

Preview Websites

This was a bug that has been fixed, i will explain here in detail what happened and how we have resolved (always best practice with bugs that have customer impact).  Our Cloud DMS is a big database sitting on 16 servers in several countries, within Amazon’s Web Services data-centers.  Normally the way the system works is that users (owners, staff, marketing teams that work for the owners, etc.–those that log in and use our product to control their marketing) edit content using our back office, then view a “preview” website to see how the changes they’ve made look, before “publishing” to make that content go live to the www.my-b&b-or-inn-website.com address (whatever the property’s website URL is).  When a new account is configured, it starts off as a tabla-raza and the preview site can be quite ugly until the user (sometimes with our assistance) has set up a series of style guides/colors/etc. that make the site come to life.  All of our paid customers go through 1:1 training with our customer success team, and obviously before going live everything is checked over and looks great before publishing.

However, we had a bug that was affecting some of our free customers, which led to some seeing “unsightly ugly preview websites” which may have been crawled and showed up when very specific (not natural language) search queries were made in google.  This bug was fixed earlier this week, the day it was reported to us, and the impact of the fix is propagating on the web now (google refreshes its index every couple of days, sometimes a full week, so there are still some lingering evidence/remains out there but they will soon abet).  The bug was had two components: when our free Facebook users were being deployed live with the assistance of our team, our own team was incorrectly (needlessly) hitting the publish button which led to a preview site that was google crawl-able (that’s the 2nd part of the bug, as they should have had code in them that told google to ignore them–but our engineers hadn’t expected anyone to ever publish–a classic software bug for those of you that have software industry backgrounds).  These published dummy sites collectively received a trivially small number of visits in aggregate from non-bots–but we understand how this was distressing and confusing–our sincere apologies.  The system has been fixed and these preview websites are no longer crawl able (they have the “no-follow” tag so google will ignore them).  As with all software there are always possibilities of additional bugs/scenarios, and we appreciate any and all feedback and reports of these type of clear system malfunctions.

Our own SEO campaigns 

Last year we ran some “aggressive” SEO programs to drive traffic to buuteeq.com.  These were not targeted at any specific vendor or competitor, rather, they were a broad class of loose word amalgams that we ran.  We ourselves were learning about our keyword space for “B&B website design” and “B&B mobile marketing” and related terms, and this was a learning stage for us as a company and as a marketing culture.  We were finding our own voice and getting to know the ecosystem.  These campaigns were a mistake.  They didn’t create a lot of traffic (failed as a marketing tactic) and they created some bad karma with some folks who felt targeted/demeaned by the tactic.  Four companies reached out to us to complain–at first we didn’t feel like changing anything because we had previously verified with our attorneys that we were using fair use on marks and content… and the competitive streak in us didn’t like to be threatened with vague legalese; however, as Adam (my co-founder) heard the angst in the voice of one of the owners of a small agency, he reflected that it really just wasn’t the way we wanted anyone to think of our business or about us and our team.  We took all the content down and it has been gone since.  We will not use these tactics again.  We have learned from the experience and it has made us better.

Furthermore, it is our stated corporate values to treat our competitors with integrity; if you don’t think we are achieving this goal, please share your feedback with me so we can listen and learn (another of our core values).  We’ve reached out previously to many of the agencies that historically have served PAII members and have tried to establish some sort of cordial (if not warm) direct communication–things have gone increasingly icy in the last few months, but I sincerely hope we can find some safety words to encourage civility?

Unique content and SEO

I categorically disagree with any and all claims that I’ve seen so far in the forums regarding technical issues and “unique content”.  This is shameless “FUD”–fear, uncertainty, and doubt.

What I like most about our culture here at buuteeq, and what i’m personally constantly striving for in life, is to “know what you don’t know”.  Knowing what you don’t know offers you limitless potential for learning and still growing.  In the case of SEO, we know *exactly* what we don’t know, which is pretty much EVERYTHING there is to know about SEO (that is to say–we know that we know almost nothing!), because the very nature of google’s monopoly of the search market worldwide predicates that it is *impossible* to know anything meaningful about how their algorithm works.  When anyone talks in detail about causal relationships between certain activities on the web, and claims that they are directly causing a gain/fall in SEO score, they are revealing themselves to not know what they don’t know–which is the worst kind of logical framework to get trapped in.  When you don’t know what you don’t know, everything you say on a subject can discredit you, and the comments in the thread about duplicate content, wandari, and drastic SEO shifts are completely false.  Here are two writings on this subject, both long, but for those that care i think you will enjoy the perspective and I look forward to comments or feedback.  Our company’s position and approach to SEO, and my own (provocative i hope) personal segmentation of the SEO community on my personal blog.

Also, for a concrete set of positive steps everyone can and should take, here’s something I just wrote to an owner who was particularly concerned about this issue:

“A common misunderstanding that many business owners have is that they can check/monitor their SEO performance by doing a daily/weekly search themselves, usually on the same computer(s) or from the same IP network connection.  Google provides dramatically different results to a search query based on what computer and where that computer is, and particularly, if that computer has regularly made that same query.  So, for example, if you regularly were doing the query “Miami bed and breakfast” and were seeing your own site appear as one of the top 3 results, that is actually NOT indicative in ANY WAY of your “neutral” seo rank that a new guest might see from their computer or phone surfing from their home or office clear across the country.  For example, when I do a search for “b&b website design” buuteeq’s website and blog come up in the top 3… but that’s because google knows that it is me, a guy that visits those sites almost every day, and as such it is being helpful in suggesting that those results might be highly relevant.  What may have happened here is that your cache was cleared at some point, or google made some change to their algorithms and behavior (which they do several times a year).  There is a handy modified string that you can add to the end of the URL for the search string, which is “&pws=0″, this will then tell google “treat my query as if it was being done by a neutral/new person, and not based on the search history of this particular computer”.  So, for your query of “miami bed and breakfast” paste the following string into your browser and you’ll see the results:

https://www.google.com/search?aq=f&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8&q=miami+bed+and+breakfast&pws=0

A much better way to measure your “SEO performance” is to ignore your “listing rank” and focus instead on what the end goal is–traffic to your site.  Do you look at month over month changes in your organic traffic/visits to your site, and importantly, how that traffic is engaged and then converted into reservation requests?  This is the real goal of SEO; do you have a sense of the quantative trends in this area?

 

Our policies regarding copyrighted content

I had a detailed conversation by phone Saturday with an owner on the east coast who helped me to understand that in creating a About page for B&B X our team had copy-pasted verbatim about 3 paragraphs of lovely text that had been authored and placed on the Association Page of the association of which B&B X was a member.  This was not OK with the author, which our team member understood and we made an immediate change (in collaboration with the owner of B&B X) and republished the content.  The website for B&B X no longer referenced the page via any direct links within just a few hours of the phone call–however, to the dismay of the author, her repeated checks throughout the week to see if the content was still online kept coming up showing that the content appeared to still be online and this understandably upset/concerned her.  I discussed with my product team and we identified a feature gap–although the content had been “turned off” it had not been fully “purged” from the server cache.  With the author’s help we’ve tracked down this issue and will manually wipe the content for now, while we build a more draconian “purge” feature into the system.

Now: i hope reasonable people will agree with me that in *many* associations and guilds within the B&B industry, the content that might describe the region, the guild, the concept of the B&B, or other general interest copy/text might be welcomely shared and replicated across various member site’s pages.  In many cases this is in fact best practice from a branding perspective.  So in my mind this is not a black/white issue of content use, but more of a case by case basis where we need to be better at receiving the feedback that a misuse of content is being reported (per the author’s complaint) and have a quick and clear process to remedy.  This reminds me of the many articles i’ve read in the past about User Generated Content (commonly called UGC) on sites like Flicker, YouTube, and other sites where many people upload content and copyright issues can arise.  In this case it was a buuteeq employee that had made a copy-paste and for that reason we are going to do a series of trainings with our team this coming week to review some dos and don’ts regarding content, and we will implement a formal policy for how to handle complaints for customers claiming copyright concerns.  I will post documentation of these processes and link to them from this entry, once we have them created/documented.

Update 4/9/12 AM: we are working on a formal policy and procedure for handling future requests for evaluation/removal of User Generated Content and other copyright claims.  I will link to that new policy once we have finalized and posted.

Update 4/24/12: we have completed our copyright notification and review policy and have posted our Copyright Policy on our website.  We are conducting team training this week on the policy.

The Cloud – slayer of the old agency model

When Facebook made a radical change last week by introducing Timelines for Business Pages our team had already developed an updated version of the application and we rolled it out the same day that Facebook shipped Timeline.  The product continues to be free and we plan to add more features and capabilities to our free offerings in the year ahead.  We’ve seen some almost laughably bad attempts by some agencies in different countries at cloning our Facebook app, in the form of 1-off static pages built in reaction after customers asked their agency “why can’t you make me a nice Facebook page like the buuteeq guys”–in the time that it takes an agency to build 1 custom Facebook page, our team can make changes and improvements that scale instantly to 100% of our live customers… this is the inherent advantage of Cloud Software as a Service.  Yes, we believe this model is superior, yes I believe in 5 years 90%+ of the industry will be using cloud marketing platforms (there will be many vendors, and I suspect that many of the agencies that now serve you will themselves develop these type of cloud solutions).

Cloud SaaS is cheaper, faster, better.  You are already using SaaS systems–perjaps wordpress for content management, google analytics for analytics… it just doesn’t make sense to have a web development team custom build things like booking engines or email system or a credit card processing system for each and every customer.  These are modularized building blocks that are assembled into systems.  buuteeq is building a higher order wrapper on the collective pieces to form a cohesive system for Digital Marketing.  Agencies will still exist, to provide valuable services–it just won’t be to custom build websites!  Our approach to digital marketing through the cloud is the same approach being taken by dozens of innovative companies serving automotive dealers, yoga studios, hair salons, spas, restaurants, law firms, e-tailers… take a look at Cobalt Systems or Hubspot or StyleSeat or the grandaddy OpenTable for some examples.

That’s my vision, and that of *many* thought leaders in technology.  I don’t have to be right, but as a CEO i have to have that conviction.  We can disagree and have different visions of the future, but the great thing is that in 5 years we’ll know–and this blog post will be up, and if I’m wrong you can remind me of my craziness :)  5 years ago there was no iPhone… today more than 100m americans have a smartphone and in 2 years more people will use their smartphones to discover your property than today use a computer.  Things change fast.  SaaS is already a 10 year old business model, and buuteeq is 2 years into engineering.  We are excited.

Our Culture – who are we and what do we believe?

A few of you have asked me more about buuteeq, myself, and what our core values are and how we live them at the office.  I did a blog post friday here on our Mission and Values in which i copy pasted some slides that we have had in place since January and that hang in our office in Ballard (come and visit us if you are ever in seattle, we have great coffee!)  I’m accountable to my team and they are conversely to me and Adam (as the founders) to live these values every day.  When we come up short, we learn from it and double down.  Adam and I care deeply about people: our customers, our team, and our investors and shareholders (in that order).

While we are a young company i don’t think we can keep calling ourselves a small company–with over 40 employees in 3 offices on 2 continents (we have a big team in Santiago Chile that serves our Spanish and Portuguese native speaking properties) and $7m in venture capital raised to date and some of the technical and human capital resources that come with that kind of funding, we are perhaps the biggest company currently serving the PAII community? As the big guy we are going to be perceived very differently than a mom and pop company, and need to behave professionally and always with your best interests (our customers) in mind.

We are proud to have created over 30 full time jobs in 2011 during a tough economy.  We have a bunch of great young people, some of whom are entering the job market for the first time, a few veterans who have served our country, and incredible diverse mix of cultures, religions, languages… I love this company and this team, it is the culmination of my life’s work to date.  My kids go to karate across the street twice per week and come by the office to play ping-pong and surf the internet.  We do 5-6pm training EVERY DAY of the week to review technology, customer service, sales, and other content that we know will make us better every day.

To our competitors–we will be very resilient and forceful competitor, leading with innovation, then layering on heaps more of the same.

Thank you to our many fans and supporters within PAII, we’ve loved hearing from each of you this week with your words of encouragement and advice.  We continue to encourage you to share your thoughts about buuteeq directly with other PAII members who will greatly enjoy hearing your perspective.

PS: Please consider that neither I nor my team are reading or otherwise tracking “troll comments” in any forums.  As with any media, consider the source and agenda of those posting.  And if you have a question about buuteeq–ask us!

PPSS: my blogging voice intentionally eschews several basic grammar/punctuation rules–i like run on sentences, m-dashes, ellipsis, and hybrid words (eg: ones that will soon be in the Oxford but haven’t quite made it yet); for example, this sentence–which is intentionally running too long…  That, and have you seen wordpress’ spell checker!?  Please don’t blame my 9th grade English teacher!


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Answers to questions from PAII Forum by

About Forest Key

ceo and co-founder of buuteeq. I love technology and travel, buuteeq is a convenient way for me to combine those each and every day of the year.