Monthly Archives: April 2019

Cathy Backus photo

Resort Trades Says, “We Are Huge Cathy Backus Fans!”

As many of my readers know, I am the publisher of Resort Trades, as well as ResortTrades.com, and Resort Trades Weekly (our award-winning B2B eNewsletter distributed to resort and vacation industry executives). All of us at The Trades Publishing Company admire and love our friend Cathy Backus, the founder and president of the philanthropy, Send Me On Vacation (SMOV).

When we learned Cathy had taken early retirement from the travel insurance company, Vacation Guard, we were eager to speak with her about joining our team. I am super-excited to announce that when I made the offer during the recent ARDA World convention in Orlando, she accepted the position of Associate Editor for The Trades!

A highly respected travel and tourism industry professional, Cathy became a Certified Travel Counselor in the ‘80s when she worked for Club Med. After leaving the company, she began working with resort developers and managers as a supplier of owners’ insurance products.

During this time, Cathy watched as her best friend grappled with emotional and economic challenges on her way back to health and serenity after twice combatting breast cancer. Cathy was moved to see her friend virtually left adrift after her ordeal. When she saw how much her friend needed a break from the day-to-day realities, Cathy crafted a plan to reach out to her contacts in the travel and timeshare industry to donate unused inventory to send survivors on a much-needed vacation. Inspired by her friend’s tenacity, and aided by her husband and “partner in giving” Gene Backus, Send Me On Vacation (SMOV) was granted 501 (c)(3) status after filing in 2011.

Send Me On Vacation is an all-volunteer organization and raises funds for survivors to become thrivers through events such as galas, a High Tea, and an annual poker tournament held prior to the annual ARDA World convention. Each time an event is held, SMOV sends local survivors from that state away for exotic vacations. This concept allows the charity to support the communities which are supporting their state’s survivors. The organization brings together travel industry professionals to contribute resort accommodations, airlines, cruises, entertainment, and dollars to change the lives of breast cancer survivors “one vacation at a time.”

For years, Resort Trades has gladly supported SMOV, as well as Christel House, with monthly, donated advertising space for the purpose of soliciting support for these fine organizations. We are honored beyond measure to be able to have Cathy join our editorial team. For more than ten years we have witnessed her abundant energy and talent as she writes compelling articles each month about the courage and fortitude of survivors as they overcome the challenges of picking up the pieces of their lives.”

“While philanthropy will be her principle ‘beat,’ she is being given free reign and is at liberty to cover any other topic of interest,” says Resort Trades Founder & CEO Tim Wilson. “We are simply delighted to have on-board such a gifted, energetic, and charismatic person.”

Could what you don’t know about SEO hurt your resort?

Recently, SharonINK, was acquired by The Trades Publishing Company, From now on THE TRADES INK will be utilizing our Content Marketing capabilities with our parent company’s array of media, which includes two of everything: Two magazines, two websites, two eNewsletters, and two social media programs.

Our first client represented a resort’s marketing department and led us on a merry chase when they refused to recognize that managing their SEO would be their primary tool. We don’t claim to have all the answers but we do recognize that the very first thing an individual does when planning a vacation is to start making plans using Google.

Once upon a time and long, long ago, you researched your trip to Disney World by going to your local AAA office and asking them to customize a set of maps and destination information, called a “TripTik.” And as far as that once-in-a-lifetime vacation in Honolulu, you would write the visitor’s bureau and wait for them to send brochures. Today, the first thing someone does when planning a vacation is turn to Google. If our new client was to be responsible for attracting leads to visit his property, he needed to place a high priority on getting his property on Page One of a Google search. In the case of this resort, our first priority was to chisel out a list of keywords and make plans for a sound SEO strategy.

Maybe, like me, you’re not a SEO professional. But tremble as we might, we know the buck stops here. We need to be aware of some common misconceptions about how Google’s algorithm works and learn all we can about how to make it work for us. Whether or not you’re doing the actual hands-on work, or entrust these activities to an expert, understanding the world’s most prominent search engine is just about the most vital thing you can do to make sure you lead that race to the top of the ranks.

In the case of our new client, we offered to assist them in reviewing their online strategy and help their webmasters improve their ranking on Google. The first step would be to identify their optimal keywords. Gone are the ‘90s when you could cram keywords into a page of copy. These days, keyword stuffing’s about as passé as spats and suspenders. Various Google updates since those early days have introduced penalties for trying to beat the system.

Today, Google algorithms are looking for 1) authority in the form of your site’s overall strength in the market; 2) trustworthiness, as in hosting high quality content and backlinks from reliable sources; and 3) the relevance of your site to your product and your users.

According to SEO 2019: Learn Search Engine Optimization with Smart Internet Marketing Strategies, by Adam Clarke, Search Metrics (https://www.searchmetrics.com/glossary/google-keyword-planner) provides the following short list of the top Google ranking factors:

  1. Overall content relevance
  2. Click-through rate
  3. Time-on-site
  4. Bounce rate (lower is better)
  5. HTTPS – security certificate installed on the site
  6. Font size in main content area (larger is better)
  7. Number of images
  8. Number of internal links
  9. Total social media activity
  10. Number of backlinks

These factors are from a study released in 2016. After its release, it was announced that Search Metrics would no longer publish their rankings whitepapers. But odds are good that the above factors remain in effect with the notable addition of mobile support. In fact, we’re constantly hearing about more emphasis being placed on the need for sites to be mobile-friendly.

The Internet and Your Resort’s Marketing Mix

Prospective customers are learning about the world around them through the Internet every day, whether consciously or otherwise. Your challenge is to educate them about the value of your resort and how it will benefit them.

As we discussed, the foundation of an online strategy begins with effective list of keywords. Buying a Google Ad campaign is the easiest way to access the data behind its search box, which enables you to use their Keyword Planner tool.

Next on your to-do list would be to ensure your site is readable to Google’s spiders through on-page SEO. Among other tactics, this entails using search engine-friendly URLs. Your URLs should accurately reflect the content of your page. Next, make sure your site’s easy to navigate. “For an additional SEO boost, include links to pages you want visible to search engines and visitors on the home page,” adds Clarke.

If your site loads like you’re waiting for a red light to turn green, this could hamper your search engine results. Plus, beware of duplicate content that might cause you to be penalized. Other tricks of the trade include controlling your site’s snippets, building backlinks, and maintaining an active and consistent social media campaign.

Content and Your Online Success

In her book, in her book, Own Your Niche: Hype-Free Internet Marketing Tactics to Establish Authority in Your Field and Promote Your Service-Based Business, Stephanie Chandler notes that the number one tactic to build your audience and establish your authority online is to produce a lot of content. “This includes writing on blogs. And today you have to not only have your own blog – so that you can publish whatever you want, whenever you want to – but you must also guest post on other blogs.”

A first step is to begin by producing and distributing content: press releases, feature-length articles, and blog posts. It may be that your local chamber has additional tools at your disposal, especially if you are a member. One of our clients, located in Tennessee, has access to that state’s tourism site, https://www.tnvacation.com, for example. The client’s sales team can use the site in various ways, such as helping visitors plan their vacation and promising free tickets to events.  

How about having your satisfied customers tell their story through personal testimonials in the form of Case Studies to use as articles and blog posts. Once these are posted on your own blog site, they can be offered to prominent (and not-so-prominent) travel bloggers to use as free content. Don’t forget about curating content for your blogging and micro-blogging from other sources.

Build media relationships. Put together a proprietary database of media contacts for your local media as well as media in your target markets. An extension of this effort would be to build backlinks to publications’ and organizations’ websites and connect with editors and publishers through LinkedIn. Using a media CRM such as Cision comes with a $2,000-plus price tag, but is great if you can swing it.

Learn from competitors. Utilize Google Alerts and other means to track online activity of your competitors. Chandler writes, “You don’t have to contact competitors to learn from them.” She recommends reviewing their on- and off-line materials, studying their services, and paying attention to how they promote themselves.

“Pay attention to where they advertise and what kind of media coverage they have received.”  She mentions that being aware of your competitors’ strengths and weaknesses will also help you respond to any questions you might get from prospective clients.

Social Media. “Many of the independent studies on Google’s ranking algorithm show a large correlation with high-ranking pages having strong social media activity,” says Clarke. “While the official stance from Google is that they do not directly use social signals in their algorithm, the SEO community pretty much agrees it is certainly a factor in achieving rankings.”

Blogging and Other Secrets

As I wrote in my May 2018 Resort Trades article, “4 Reasons Why Blogging is Still Relevant” (https://resorttrades.com/4-reasons-why-blogging-is-still-relevant), blogging helps you 1) optimize your website, 2) connect with the right customers and connect more frequently, 3) maintain archived content that continues to work for you, and 4) connect with customers.

Remember to focus on quality, not just volume. In my September 2018 Resort Trades article, “Online Lead Generation: Pipe Dream or Full Pipeline?,” I discuss ideal article lengths by referring to an article in Forbes written by John Rampton in 2016 (forbes.com/sites/johnrampton/2016/05/05/7-seo-trends-every-small-business-needs-to-know). Rampton says, “Searchmetrics, for instance, found that the top 10 pages contained an average of 1,285 words. serpIQ, on the other hand, has found 1,500 words to be a good target length.”

Another article suggests the number may eventually change as more readers sign on with mobile devices. According to a post by snapagency.com, (snapagency.com/blog/posts-2018-whats-best-length-seo), “In the past couple years, the best post length for SEO was around 2,000 words. Longer blog posts ranked better, but evidence also seems to suggest that readers don’t typically want to read posts this long.”

The Be-All/End-All

“One of the most powerful on-page SEO strategies is adding more unique, fresh content to your site,” observes Clarke. “If you consistently add new pages to your site, you are going to receive more traffic. In fact, not only can you increase your traffic, you can receive an exponential traffic increase as you publish more content.

“It’s a no-brainer when you think about it. This is why blogs, publishing, and news-type sites consistently get good results in search engines. More contact means more rankings, more visitors, and more sales.”

Finally, a word about quality: If you’re planning to handle the creation and distribution of content, yourself, you may wish to reconsider. Are you going to be able to produce and distribute quality materials consistently? You may well have the intellectual capacity to research, write, post and follow through with the various tasks to optimize your blogging activities. But, before tossing a new, and fairly weighty, additional burden into your in-basket, make sure you have the time to make it a priority. Otherwise, you may be better off outsourcing your company’s online content production.

Sharon Scott Wilson is Publisher of Resort Trades and Golf Course Trades magazines.  Her firm, SharonINK – providing clients with B2B and B2C content – recently became a subsidiary of The Trades Publishing Company and is now called SharonINK/THE TRADES.

SharonINK Joins The Trades Publishing Company

By Sharon Scott Wilson

Jack Richardson at The Trades Publishing Company gave me a call in 1993 to ask if I would begin writing a monthly column for its publication Resort Trades. I had met Jack and his boss, Trades Owner/Publisher Tim Wilson, in 1989 while I worked for ARDA (or, ARRDA at that time). Jack passed away several years later; Tim and I continue to remember him fondly.

After I established my PR and content marketing company, SharonINK in 2006, I continued to write for The Trades. Tim and I married in 2013 and in 2017 Tim asked me to take over as publisher of The Trades’ two publications, Resort Trades and Golf Course Trades. Resort Trades’ audience consists of vacation providers, including timeshare resorts, travel companies, membership clubs, and rental companies. Readers of Golf Course Trades are course owners, operators, and superintendents interested in staying current with their industry.

With the advent of digital media, both titles began to explore the opportunities inherent with the ability to offer a full marketing mix. Because The Trades can now offer a multi-channel approach to help vendors use both the power of print and the reach of the Internet to promote their products, it made sense to add another feature – Content Marketing – to the company toolbox. Engrossed as I was by my duties as publisher and media director for Tim’s housing development, I decided to fold the writing and promotional services from SharonINK into The Trades as THE TRADES INK with its access to a fine team of writers, copy editors, graphic designers, and digital experts.

Perhaps the most significant initiative of THE TRADES is our investment in search engine optimization (SEO). We recently promoted Carrie Vandever to the position of Digital Media Manager. She will be in charge of managing and leading content for the company’s various digital assets including ResortTrades.com, the Resort Trades Weekly eNewsletter, GolfCourseTrades.com, the Golf Course Trades Supplier Directory, the Golf Course Trades Weekly eNewsletter, and all social media platforms. She will also provide leadership in directing the development of The Trades’ search engine optimization (SEO) activities.

The Trades’ SEO Initiative

At our home headquarters, we have been passing around a game-changing book by Will Coombe entitled, 3 Months to No. 1. Resort marketing and human resource professionals who excel at ranking at the top of Google searches are finding the effort to learn this craft extremely useful.

Coombe appropriately bills his masterpiece as “the ‘no-nonsense’ SEO playbook for getting your website found on Google.” Besides recommending it wholeheartedly to our readers, we’ve made the book — particularly his step-by-step, week-by-week “SEO Blueprint and Checklist” — our new corporate user’s manual.

The reason we’re giving this so much of our attention should be evident: We want to serve our readers, to give them enough value that they’ll keep coming back. As they continue to review our material, we receive our reward — higher Google ratings. And as Resort Trades receives higher ratings, so do our advertisers…. Win-win!

I don’t know why it took me so long to fully appreciate the value of SEO; to ‘get it.’ But since I’ve been through my Great Awakening, I’ve taken on the mantle of evangelist. I find myself talking about it to everyone I know!

 My message is perhaps being preached to the choir: In online marketing — whether you’re appealing as a vendor to professionals in the resort/vacation/resort rental business, or you are marketing a resort product to consumers, for example — you can compete virtually with any competitor. It’s just a matter of appearing higher on a Google SERP (search engine results page) than others.

When resort marketers or vendors become complacent and feel their reputation is well established and they are being followed by loyal customers: Bang! Along comes a disruptive interloper. And these days, more often than not, the obtrusive intruder grabs your customer’s attention by appearing above you on a SERP!

Try This at Home:

First Step: Keyword Research. You’ll want to use Google’s Keyword Planner Tool whether or not you are buying an ad. It’s free, but you have to work around a pretty persistent series of landing pages insisting you sign up for an advertising campaign. Visit Joshua Hardwick’s blog post https://ahrefs.com/blog/google-keyword-planner/ for a step-by-step guide to avoid the expense. Another really helpful site is Neil Patel’s blog, https://neilpatel.com/ubersuggest/

How important is Content Marketing? It is 100 percent, absolutely, totally vital. There is a delicately balanced mixture of art and science involved in pleasing the Google algorithm deities and one of the major offerings you must present at its unholy altar (no offense, Google…just trying to make a point) is a consistent, intelligent, and keyword-clever volume of content.

If perhaps you’re wondering where to start, my advice is simple: study the blogs and books coming from the most notable SEO gurus and, meanwhile, start building a volume of work in the form of blogs and posts.

Just a few tips:

  • Be likeable; show you’re human. People buy from those they know, like and trust.
  • Create a sense of belonging. Resorts are often very good at making their guests feel they are part of an exclusive group. Wine and dine them, woo them like a lover.
  • Use storytelling whenever possible. Your blogs, your collateral and your social media will be most effective when you tell a story featuring people. Storytelling is the most compelling promotional tool you have.
  • Use events whenever possible. Ask a car salesman or a realtor. They will tell you that the words “Grand Opening” or “Super Sales Event” draws a crowd, even though the prices and offerings are the same on a non-event day.
  • Being different is better than being better (unless you get weird). Here’s where having a sizable volume of good, solid content can set you apart.
  • Focus on leads, not sales.

Blog Away, Oh Pilgrim!

How do you build content? Blog! Here are some more tips:

  • Pay careful attention to writing attention-grabbing headlines in your blog and social media posts. The best headlines create surprise, ask a question or create curiosity.
  • Use your keywords in headlines and the text whenever possible. Use pictures everywhere. Pictures and videos with people telling their own stories, your story…any story…are hot these days.
  • If you’re studying this post, you are probably a perfectionist seeking to produce highly researched and well-written materials. While it is important to create as grammatically correct and accurate posts, try to not procrastinate. Experts say, get it out there..
  • We didn’t have a chance to discuss cross linking in this post; I guess that’s worth a post all by itself. All of your online efforts are intended to drive traffic to your website.

It has been suggested you should add a landing page to every URL.I confess to be behind the times when it comes to adding these to my own sites. (Do as I say; not as I do!) Offer some special information in exchange for contact information. People are accustomed to being asked to give something to get something. But provide a landing page as an option for viewers to fill out, whether it’s gated or open.

All in all, remember that SEO is a lifestyle change, not a diet. Make it your marketing priority and don’t assume you will ever catch up totally with All Knowledge. Things are happening too quickly out there; just do your best. And good luck!

Sharon Scott Wilson is Publisher and Managing Partner at The Trades Publishing Company, a media and digital content marketing company located in Crossville, Tennessee. The Trades produces multi-media channels supporting resort and rental marketing professionals, golf course owners and superintendents, and a niche community of luxury homes with attached, fully-enclosed RV garages. GardensRV.com; ResortTrades.com; GolfCourseTrades.com.