Is anybody really making money on the Internet?

When Jim Rhodes set up a Web site in September, 1995, for the small Vicarage Hotel in central London where he works the site wasn’t exactly high-tech.

It accepted bookings only by mail. It didn’t even have a fax machine.

But Jim got lots of other things right and the hotel received “a pleasant surprise when the bookings started flooding in”.

“Now we’re getting 20 emails from the site every day, 99 percent of them asking for a room,” Jim says.

“We’re permanently full . . . we have a suite of standard e-mails, and the most used one says we’re full up! It still amazes me.”

Take a look at the Vicarage Hotel Web site and you’ll see what attracts customers. It’s not one of those arty-looking Web sites designed to impress a big-spending client.

Instead, it is neat, clean, easy to understand and navigate, and provides heaps and heaps of useful information on the hotel and on places to visit while staying there.

“We eliminated ‘Frequently Asked Questions’ long go by answering them right there on the site,” Jim says.

The Web site has lots of photographs of the hotel, and one of Jim and the rest of the staff, to give you a good idea what staying there would be look like.

In case you have a slow connection and are browsing with images switched off, Jim considerately warns you about the size of each graphic.

A major selling point is Jim’s chatty, friendly approach. He does all he can to make you feel at home, and does it very well, considering that the person he is talking to is sitting at a computer perhaps half a world away.

For fellow Web site designers, there’s a bonus. If you take a look at the HTML coding for the page (using Netscape, click on View/Document Source), you’ll see what I mean. Hidden in the HTML is a welcome message which immediately made me feel so welcome I wished I was planning a trip to London – and staying in the Hotel Vicarage. A lot of other Web site visitors obviously feel the same way.

Like all good webmasters, Jim doesn’t under-estimate the intelligence of his customers. “Graphics are great,” he says, “but SEO content is king”.