Peter Matthews – Site Seeing: Easter cottages

Time to book an Easter break. But having already flown too much for my conscience this year, I’ve decided to stay in the UK. While Sophie, my travel-writer wife, and I have offset our 2007 carbon trail by planting numerous hardwoods in deepest Dorset, with six children to take away on family jaunts, the Matthews’ family flying footprint is becoming a Sunday lunch discussion point…


So it’s Cornwall for Easter and a holiday without baggage carousels and – following an hour’s wait at Heathrow returning from Nice last week – that’s definitely no hardship.


Finding the right Easter Cornish cottage provided the basis for some pre-departure site seeing and a chance to compare results from different search engines. This was an intriguing experience that provided some unexpected results.


Firstly, you would expect the bigger ‘Cottages-for-rent’ websites to feature prominently in the search engines’ natural results – but they don’t. Instead they have to pay for their profile in the pay-per-click column. Secondly, some cottage websites that you wouldn’t expect to be well-optimised achieve top rank results. Thirdly, each search engine fielded entirely different results, with MSN and Yahoo more influenced by the domain name rather than content.


These are the top results when you type ‘luxury cottage cornwall’ into the three main search engines:



  • Google: Kirkhouseholidays.co.uk
  • MSN: Luxury-cornwall.co.uk
  • Yahoo: Kernockcottages.com

So, for this review I took a look at two of these and then threw in a PPC result to see what one of the big boys could offer.



Kirkhouseholidays.co.uk


Surprisingly, this was Google’s top match. Kirk House is described as “a lovingly converted 19th century chapel offering spacious and stylish luxury cottage accommodation for the truly discerning visitor”, located in the heart of Polperro, Cornwall. The site states that “the website has been designed to supply you with as much information as possible about this unique luxury cottage and its beautiful setting”.


Design
Unfortunately, the website is certainly not “lovingly converted”. I found many dreadful holiday cottage sites during my search, but this one’s greatest flaw is the dearth of easily accessible images – a fundamental component for even the most rudimentary cottage-for-hire website. A picture really is worth a thousand words.
Score 10/25


Usability
The primary navigation contains an unorthodox combination of internal and external links, giving it the feel of a mini-portal. This constant cross-linking becomes irritating, especially given the small size of the site. Again, the difficulty in finding images of the property is a major usability issue – rather than appearing on the home page they are contained in the clickable floor plans in the ‘Virtual tour’.
Score 11/25


Content
Despite containing some useful features, the core pages of the site feel thin. There is a well-edited video of the house and the Virtual tour comes in handy, once you figure out how to use it (although it doesn’t work if you use a Mac).
Score 14/25


Revenue generation
The booking engine is slow but fairly straightforward to use and also contains an instant availability bar. However, at large, the website makes it hard work to understand the property, alienating all but the ultra patient holidaymaker.
Score 13/25


Verdict
This is in pole position on Google, but is a website that fails to get the basics right. A wasted opportunity…


Overall score 48/100



Luxury-cornwall.co.uk


This website offers a ‘luxury self-catering cottage and bed-and-breakfast accommodation in West Cornwall’ with the reassurance of Enjoy England accreditation. Boskenna comprises a one-bedroom luxury cottage and two  B&B suites in the Coach House and Stables.


Design
The design of the site makes the most of high-resolution photography, which illustrates the quality of the accommodation. The consistent template brings an air of professionalism, although this is somewhat spoilt by the stretched call-to-action graphics and some awkward image cropping.
Score 17/25


Usability
There are clearly marked tabs that allow visitors to navigate to specific areas of the site, including searches for luxury cottages, B&B suites, tariffs and availability, specials and to make bookings. There is also an ‘Out and about’ tab that provides visitors with information on local activities and tourist sites. The mechanics of the website are fine, but the distinction between the B&B suites and the luxury cottage is not altogether clear. This is particularly the case on the tariff and availability page, where there is potential for confusion.
Score 16/25


Content
The site features clear directions to the properties but there could be more information on the facilities, both in the home and in the local area. There is a whole page devoted to ‘special offers’ but, at the time of this review, it contained one, out-of-date promotion for Valentine’s Day 2007.
Score 14/25


Revenue generation
There is no online booking, simply an enquiry page, but this is presented clearly enough. The prominent phone number adds to the score for this category.
Score 16/25


Verdict
A visually interesting site that sets a good semi-professional standard and should convince many to make the trip to Land’s End.


Overall score 63/100



Cottages4you.co.uk


This huge website contains ‘more than 15,000 quality-assured holiday properties’ throughout Europe and further afield. Despite its status as one of the leading cottage portals, it does not appear in the ‘natural’ search engine listings for my chosen search term.


Design
Aside from the Flash on the home page, the design is simple. Users who arrive via ‘luxury’ search terms may be put off by its utilitarian appearance, plus the absence of a luxury section (there’s merely a price selection field).
Score 14/25


Usability
One of the site’s greatest assets is its ability to only show the cottages with availability during your travel dates. Yet this functionality is not altogether obvious. Other than this, the site is easy to browse but can be slow when opening the support pages such as ‘View more images’ and ‘Check price and availability’. I also had difficulty getting the ‘Region’ drop-down menu to work on my Mac, and when you do you can’t search for specific locations – just broad regions.
Score 15/25


Content
There are hundreds of Cornish cottages on offer and, unlike many other regions, they’re broken down into three areas – north, south and mid- Cornwall. Given the size of the site there is an impressive consistency to the standard of the content; every entry I viewed had a decent description of the area, property facilities and a good range of images. There are no regional guides but don’t forget to click ‘Additional information’ for distances to local amenities.
Score 20/25


Revenue generation
The sheer amount of choice is compelling, plus the availability and booking engine is easy to use. This site is worth considering for booking continental breaks – if you’d prefer to see Mont St Michel rather than St Michael’s Mount, there is even a cross-channel ferry ride included in the price.
Score 22/25


Verdict
A consistent, generally well-conceived site that would benefit from an injection of creative panache and an in-region search facility.


Overall score 71/100

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