There are 3 ways to book appointments; you take phone calls, emails etc. and write down bookings in a diary. Old-school but it works. You can sign-up with one of the Appointment Booking Apps like Fresha, some are free (sort of) and clients can can book with you through their account. Or you can get your own bespoke booking system on your own website, your clients can book with you from each service page, they have their own client account with you, and you never have to send clients off your website.
Which is best? Well, that depends on the type of business you run. Some businesses require the personal touch and some sales techniques, so phone booking makes sense, bridal wear for example. If you run a business without a website (I can’t think of a reason why that’s a good idea, but anyway), through Facebook say, then Fresha is an excellent option. They will even process payments for you, at a lower fee than PayPal.
But in most cases; hair, nail, and beauty salons, spa, massage and other in-person treatments, gym and personal training, tattoo and piercing, even weight loss, native on site booking systems are 100% the way to go. They maintain much of the personal touch of phone or email if they are done right, and they function in a similar way to external Appointment Booking Apps without sending your hard earned clients off site.
Why, you are asking, would I pay a web developer to build a booking system for my website, when I can use a free, or low cost, service? Good question. That’s the question I hope to answer in this post. Some may not apply to your business, but some apply to all businesses, and there are issues with bookings that business owners need to be aware of when they are deciding on what route to take.
Not Everyone Trusts 3rd Party Appointment Booking Apps
Some people are familiar with online booking, and they trust 3rd party app providers. These customers are in the bag, no need to worry about them (until later). But there are people, I would say most people in fact, who are not digital natives, and can be very nervous of entering any personal information online, especially banking info. All your hard work, building trust in your website, and your business, can be lost when they click on button that says BOOKING and suddenly they are on a different website they don’t know or understand, with a form in front of them asking for personal data.
Instead of Appointment Booking Apps, I encourage my clients to either keep a traditional diary, and book clients over the phone or book clients through their own website, using a bespoke system developed specifically for the requirements of their business. I work exclusively with WordPress for web design, and it’s perfect for developing a system like this. The trust issue never comes into play because you control their customer journey; service pages, appointment booking and payment funnel.
Appointment Booking Apps Steal Your Web Traffic
The reason I’m writing this post is that I’m currently dealing with an SEO situation created by Fresha, one of the most popular Appointment Booking Apps. I’ve been working on a large re-design contract for a client in Dublin. They have been using Fresha for some time, and they really like it, because it saves them time and organises their diary for them.
My issue: The screenshot on right shows a Google search for the business name, Fresha is in spot number 3. Clients never have to visit the website in order to book a treatment, and from an SEO perspective that’s really bad. Traffic and interaction sends signals to Google that a website is trustworthy, high quality and popular with users. A booking is the best signal there is, and all of that value is being lost, given to another website.
In the next section we will go into more detail about the SEO of individual pages, but let’s image an example of a customer journey first. “Katie” wants a hot stone massage, so she Googles it, up pops a link to your profile on one of Appointment Booking Apps.
She clicks, creates an account and books an appointment (never having visited your website). “Katie” gets her massage and is super impressed, books 2 more appointments, and over the next few years spends thousands of euros with you on various treatments. She has never visited your website, not once. All of the positive data; clicks, time-on-page, low bounce rate, transactions etc. have all been lost.
Appointment Booking Apps are an SEO Timebomb !!
The SEO damage is the worst aspect of using Appointment Booking Apps, but it’s also the most technical and difficult to explain, I will do my best. Let’s try to understand a little about how Google ranks web pages. There are more than 200 data points that Google includes in the ranking algorithm. Most are to do with page quality, relevance and links, but some are to do with what people do when they are on a page, and how they leave.
What is Bounce Rate?
Bounce rate is the percentage of sessions with a single pageview. Bounce rate can provide top-level insights about the performance of your content. For example, if you want people to travel on to view a subsequent page on your website, then you can aim to lower your bounce rate.
Someone does a Google search for one of the services you provide and you appear on page 1 of the result… Great !! They click on your result, read the content, and they are really impressed with your business. They want to book an Appointment with you so they click the button that says bookings. What we’ve seen above is that they may be less likely to follow through with the booking using a 3rd party provider, but there is more damage done than this.
Google views this as a “bounce,” a user who landed on your website and clicked away without viewing another page. A high bounce rate is a negative ranking factor, and even though this is a positive interaction with a potential client, Google views it in a negative light.
What is an Exit Page?
Link a Bounce, an exit page is the last page a user views before leaving (but they may have viewed other pages previously). Google records the percentage of users who leave via each page. It’s not always bad, but a high exit % can be viewed negatively by search engines.
The same rules apply to pages that are not the landing page of a particular user. Google records the number of visits that end on a particular page, this is known as the exit percentage rate. If a lot of people leave your site after viewing a particular page, Google may see this negatively and down-rank the page accordingly. Your service pages are some of the most important pages you have, you use them to target the search terms that matter most most to your business. You want to do everything you can to promote them and Appointment Booking Apps inflict significant damage to your SEO efforts.
I'm Fully Booked !! What do I care about SEO?
Fair point. But what about the long term. SEO is about establishing you and your business as a trusted authority in your industry, the go-to expert in the field. All kinds of PR and secondary income benefits flow from a website that scores highly in expertise, authority and trustworthiness. the first step on the road to “industry leader” is to rank your service pages, and to do this you need to do your own bookings, it’s that simple.
Email marketing is huge right now, has been for a while. A website booking system, if it’s designed and implemented correctly, will not only grow your email list, but will generate repeat business while you sleep. Emails can be scheduled for 2 or 4 weeks after a hair appointment, they can be scheduled to be sent on birthdays, they can be tailored to the type of service, location, age, any data point you have about your client. None of this is possible unless you book your own clients.
In my experience apps, especially business apps, always increase their prices. What they want to foster is a situation where you “need” them to run your business, your rely upon their service, and it’s free, so you love them. Then they change their pricing model, reduce what you get for free (or bin the free plan all together) and you are left in what can only be described as a blackmail situation.
I could legitimately be accused of bias. I’m in the business of selling my services as a web developer and a site-wide booking system is a high ticket item, but I can’t help that, these are the facts. Long term, if you book appointments with clients, the move away from Appointment Booking Apps and toward an on-site custom booking system, is a good move. It may cost money today, but will reap huge benefits tomorrow, and very day after that.
I’m working with a number of clients right now who book appointments, both in a web design and an SEO capacity. It’s what put this topic in my head. If you are one of these clients I hope I have managed to explain the things I’ve been talking about in more detail. If you run a business that takes bookings, I hope this post has given you all the facts you need to make an informed decision about the best way to interact with your clients.
Phone & email may be the best option for you, I often recommend this to my clients, but if you decide that your bookings should be done online you need to know that even free Appointment Bookings Apps come at a cost, and your website pays the price.