Category Archives: writing

4 Reasons Why Blogging is Still Relevant

(Reprinted with permission from the May 2018 edition of Resort Trades magazine.)

By Sharon Scott Wilson

When someone first came up with the use of blogging as a marketing tool, the business world practically swooned. Here was a low-cost solution for connecting with your audience and building relationships. The concept originally surfaced in 1994 when a college student created a website in order to get his writing online. In a few years the term “web log” was shortened to “weblog” and, eventually to just simply “blog.” By 2002, blogging had arrived, complete with its very own search engine, Technorati. (The website stopped indexing blogs and assigning authority scores in May 2014 after its creators launched a separate online publishing and advertising site.)

During the following 16 years, blogging became a veritable Fourth of July celebration. You couldn’t stop the fireworks as ever-greater advancements set an increasingly higher bar. Clever marketers were adding video, introducing landing pages, and floating advertising in front of the viewer, with increasingly more complex gimmicks. But lately, social media is the new darling in online marketing.

It begs the question; is blogging the dinosaur, the buggy whip…the Princess phone? It seems now we are being told to dedicate our best fireworks to our social media platforms. We’re expected to expand our presence on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and Twitter. Exhausted content providers are beginning to wonder. Given the fact that we are operating at top speed and actively using the most current social media tools, are our blog sites really all that useful? Are they relevant?

You bet! And here’s why:

  1. You will optimize your website.

In the mid-90s, I remember being advised that I could outwit Google and boost my search result ranking by adding a lot of descriptive tags and metadata to a website. At the time, we would cram keywords into our copy like a contestant at a hot dog eating contest. Today, that technique would create a blackball situation for your brand, not to mention angering impatient readers unwilling to wade through layers of unnecessary, extraneous copy. True, I still advise you to use keywords when possible, particularly in headlines. The idea is to avoid using nonsensical and obvious ploys.

Instead, today’s SEO experts have learned their lesson: go for quality, rather than quantity. The ideal blog garners a loyal audience, which values your content and will, therefore, share it with others in their community. If instead you use an inauthentic, disingenuous approach, they’ll drop off the radar faster than UFO sightings in Phoenix…which brings us to our next point.

  1. You will connect with “the right” customers more frequently.

It may be argued that creating connections and building a community of followers is what social media is all about. But even the most ardent suitor would need more than 280 characters to properly woo a mate. In order to position yourself as an expert, you need good, solid content. Plus, it’s important to be consistent. You’re not going to build much of a loyal following if you let months go by without communicating. On the other hand, a reader will drop you in a New York minute if you are dishing out self-aggrandizing, boring or purposeless drivel. We’ve all been there: We wait until the last minute and throw up a quickie post that might possibly turn people off, rather than add value. The best way to avoid slamming out a loser post like this is to create a list of topics and put together a schedule for when you’ll post them.

  1. Your archived content continues to attract visitors to your website.

Your blog posts remain on your site and are available to search engine web crawlers, conceivably, forever. You may be creating a ton of content each week for your social media platforms. Hopefully, your Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest “Likes” and “Friends” have led viewers to click through to visit your website. Good for you! But for continued longevity, you must build on that by creating an archive of material that lives forever and ever.

Your job is to continue to ‘feed the beast’ so people will find your posts on Google and click to your site to learn more. Not only does this decrease the likelihood of users getting distracted by their Facebook feed or extraneous Tweets, but it also increases the amount of time they remain on your site and comb through your pages – a huge factor in the working of Google’s analytics machine.

  1. Your blog can promote interaction with customers.

Don’t worry if you don’t get a lot of comments at first, or your blogs are only getting comments from spammers. This doesn’t mean you’re not getting read by prospective customers. After all, do you always leave comments after reading an article online? Most people don’t, even if they are keenly interested. Depending on your audience and subject, however, you can hope to get more comments as your audience grows and your SEO rankings increase. Naturally, when those comments do start coming in, you will want to get that two-way street going by responding quickly.

Google Is Our Friend!

Speaking of SEO, I’d advise you to use the web stats tool, Google Analytics. It’s the industry standard when it comes to measuring your website’s performance. It’s free and literally takes minutes to install. Over time as you add more posts to your blog, it will give you a clearer picture of how people are finding your blog and, most importantly, which of your posts are popular so you will learn what kind of content your readers like the most.

Another useful tool to finding effective keyword phrases – those which influence ‘click-through’ rates and are being entered into Google by your prospective customers – is the Keyword section on the site, adwords.google.com. Once you’ve typed in your email address and website on the AdWords home page and clicked on “continue,” you’ll be sent to the “your first campaign” page. On this page under item #2, “choose a target audience,” click on the edit button in the keywords box. Here, you’ll be able to input as many as 20 keywords to gauge their popularity. Use this free feature to help create ‘findable’ titles and content for your posts.

At the risk of appearing self-promotional, I do have one final comment. If you’re in a position to direct your company’s marketing activities and think you’ll handle the blogging, yourself, you may wish to reconsider. Is it going to be worth your time and are you going to be able to do it consistently? Perhaps you have a staff with 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 their in-basket, make sure they have the time and interest to make it a priority. Otherwise, you may be better off outsourcing the planning and performance of your company’s blog.

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Sharon Scott Wilson is a professional writer creating blog posts, feature-length articles and other content for both B2B and B2C readers. Her interests are travel, vacations, RVing and vacation ownership. She manages the PR firm of SharonINK and is publisher of Resort Trades magazine, Resort Trades Weekly (an eNewsletter) and ResortTrades.com. Visit SharonINK.com for more information.

 

Saving Money on Your Orlando Vacation

orlando vacation meal planningReprinted with permission from Bay Tree Solutions: Meal Planning Can Save Money on Your Orlando Vacation.

A visit to Orlando without a day spent in one of the area’s amusement park seems out of the question to many families. But others who have ‘been-there-done-that’ may decide to skip the park and choose, instead, to lounge by the pool, play a round of golf, or visit one of the city’s many attractions.

Whatever entertainment you may select, an Orlando vacation can be a pricey undertaking. One travel expert recently observed, “How much money will you need in Orlando? $236.00 is the average daily price for traveling in Orlando. The average price of food for one day is $50.00 per person. The average price of a hotel for a couple is $216.00.”

Something may be off with my math, but when I add $100.00 for food for two, plus $216.00 for a hotel room, the daily price for an Orlando vacation appears to start at $316.00 just for room and board! Realistically, you’re going to need to plan on spending more than that if you’re to take advantage of visiting America’s biggest playground. How can you shave a few hundred off these initial basics, you might ask?

For starters, you can greatly reduce the cost of a hotel room by acquiring a vacation ownership, or timeshare, unit. This comes with the added bonus of affording you dining and kitchen areas, which leads us to our next tactic: Make a detailed meal plan for each day of your trip.

One couple writes, “We would often have a big breakfast, snack for lunch and then sit down for a nice dinner. So, we really had only two full meals per day.” Since most Americans typically have lighter fare for their midday meal, this routine would not be a sharp departure from their norm.

Judy S. from Syracuse says, “We own a week at the Sheraton Vistana Resort. It’s just my husband and me, so we’re very flexible. We’ve used our exchange privileges to visit several of the other Vistana properties in Hawaii and Arizona. So we learned that before we go, it helps to put together a shopping list that includes items for a full breakfast to have in our condo each morning and an easy one-dish dinner for most of the evenings. That way we can grab a quick sandwich on the road for lunch. When we stay at the Orlando Vistana, we’ll typically dine at one of the onsite venues a couple of times during the week. Sometimes we’ll just order a pizza or a burger from the Tacky Tiki Bar & Grill and have them deliver it.”

“We’re a family of four so we plan our budget down to the penny,” says Sarah E. from Columbus, Ohio. “We’re owners at Summer Bay Orlando by Exploria Resorts, in Kissimmee. We just love it there! For one thing, the apartments are huge and very modern, with trey ceilings and bright summery colors. But the kids love it here because there’s so much to do. There’s a lovely lake where they can go out on paddle boats or go fishing. There’s every kind of entertainment including canoeing, swimming, miniature golf, tennis, a fitness center and a game room, which is great for those rainy days. Our little one is still in diapers, so it’s great to have a washer and dryer right in the unit. Because the kids are little, we don’t go out to restaurants very often. I feel right at home in my huge kitchen at Summer Bay and can keep our expenses really low.”

“Each summer we get two units close together at Parc Soleil by Hilton Grand Vacations Club for our annual reunion,” says Marge K. from Bad Axe, Michigan. “Having a kitchen while on vacation is perfect for us. The kids can eat whenever they are hungry, without the hassle of leaving the resort or even leaving our condo. Plus, there’s plenty of space in either unit for the whole group to gather each evening. We find it’s much more affordable and comfortable to stay at a timeshare resort, rather than at a hotel. Without our kitchens, there’d be eleven of us eating pizza on a bed. Yuck!”

Sarah observes that she ordinarily visits the nearby Publix supermarket on the way to the resort. “We are usually a little tired from traveling by the time we get to Orlando. So, for the first night we pick up two rotisserie chickens, a ready-made salad and maybe chips or a potato salad. That way we’ll have an extra chicken the next day. We’ll buy cold cuts, bread and mayonnaise to tide us through lunches for the first few days. My children are content with cereal for breakfast, although, lately, I’ve been treating them to French toast. So we add that to the basket, plus drinks and desert treats. After a few days, we get into a rhythm of playing outdoors or participating in an activity in the morning, grabbing a sandwich for lunch, and then spending the rest of the afternoon in the pool. We wait until the fifth or sixth day before visiting Walt Disney World or Universal Studios. I think part of the fun is the anticipation.”

“Because we have such a large group, we make a pretty detailed plan,” says Marge. “We have some teens in the family and, boy, can they chow down! So before we even pack a bag, my sister and I sit down together and plan each and every day. This helps us justify adding a few more excursions during our week. For example, one year we visited Ybor City, which is a colorful, historic village full of art deco appointments. It was founded in 1885 as a base for cigar factories and you can still watch through a shop window as an artisan works his craft.”

“We don’t really plan too far in advance,” says Judy. “We’ve come to the Sheraton Vistana Resort for several years and we’ve worked out an easy-to-follow routine. Right before we leave home I make up a shopping list of easy-to-prepare things like frozen entrees, veggies and deserts. Publix has a wonderfully convenient delivery service. They’ll even deliver liquor so my husband and I can have our ‘Vacation Margueritas’ in the evenings. I have to admit it; I am really lazy when I’m on vacation. The Publix is located right there, but I don’t want to waste time grocery shopping. So I place my order online and they’ll deliver it to the unit.”

The ability to stay in a condo with all the appliances and conveniences of home gives you a head-start when it comes to saving money on vacation, wherever you go. And with a little planning ahead or, even with not-so-much planning ahead, you can cut reduce your dining expense by as much as 50 percent or more! After all, more money in your pocket means more opportunity to explore and experience adventures with your friends and family.

4 Easy Tips to Stay Fit on Vacation

(As published on Bay Tree Solutions blog: https://www.baytreesolutions.com/blog/2018/03/28/4-tips-to-stay-fit-on-your-next-vacation.)

A vacation should be a means to restore your vitality, as well as to enjoy the company of those with whom you travel. For Americans, this usually includes lounging by the beach or pool, enjoying a cocktail while gazing at a perfect outdoor scene at sunset and enjoying leisurely meals and …oh yes!…sampling deserts! According to an article in Eat This magazine, “It might come as no surprise that vacation days can cause weight gain, but it’s not just the alcohol that’s doing it. Between skipped workouts, lazy days by the pool, and extra-indulgent restaurant meals, there are plenty of vacation mistakes that are wrecking your body goals.”

My theory is just the opposite. If properly planned and executed, I believe these four tips will help keep you fit on your next vacay. So, read on!

Tip #1 – Stay Active & Engaged.

Fortunately for those of us enjoying our vacation at a timeshare resort, we’ve got options. Many resorts are actually famous for their activities, such as the award-winning ‘INSPIRED FOR YOU’ program at the Welk Resort in Escondido. There you can try your hand at one of their championship golf courses or enjoy one of the five recreation centers and a stunning new 6,000 square foot fitness center featuring spin and yoga rooms, state-of-the-art strength and cardio machines and a two-story climbing wall.

Typically, a resort’s activities director will host poolside activities. For example, Disney’s Saratoga Springs Resort and Spa features several pools. One of these, High Rock Spring Pool, is the resort’s hub and includes a Donald Duck-themed splash area for tots, plus a 126-foot waterslide zipping past a waterfall. For grownups, there are two whirlpool tubs nestled on a rocky hill overlooking the pool. Monster’s Inc., G-Force and Enchanted are just a few of the poolside movies offered at night.

Tip #2 – Save Your Restaurant Outings for Special Occasions.

One blogger advises keeping a fairly consistent diet. “It helps maintain weight better than being erratic.  Even when you’re on vacation, aim to eat roughly the same amount and kinds of food as you usually do. Your body will thank you.” Consider stocking your fridge with plenty of easy-to-fix ingredients. We especially like keeping packages of precut veggies and fruits on hand to tempt the kids instead of having them load up on sugary snacks or begging to go to a fast food joint. Most evenings we will serve a simple meal like a salad, canned or frozen veggies and a rotisserie chicken or a broiled steak. There’s nothing like having a home-away-from-home with a dining area and kitchen facilities to make this possible!

We especially like the way Marriott Vacation Club timeshare condos are designed in this respect. Marriott’s Grand Chateau in Las Vegas has one of the most spacious and commodious suites we’ve encountered, yet. Located within a short walk of the Strip a block south of Flamingo Road, you can stroll over to one of the casinos to try your luck. But with the marketplace and restaurants, fitness center, rooftop pool and spa facilities located in-house, you may never wish to leave this luxurious palace!

Tip #3 – Get Out And Enjoy the Sites.

Maybe it’s time to be adventurous and try something new. Challenge yourself to try something different while you’re away. Break out of a workout rut and use vacation as an excuse to try rock climbing, sailing, zip-lining or parasailing. Or maybe you’d be more comfortable on the golf course or at the bowling alley. How about a walk on the beach, a hike through the foothills or a stroll through a colorful village?

Whatever you choose, staying active is a great way to keep your mind young and your body in shape. My husband and I enjoy studying history. So whenever possible, we love to visit sites such as Williamsburg, Virginia, where we can get our exercise in while learning more about the life and times of colonials. In addition to historic attractions, there are world-class roller coasters in Busch Gardens and other theme parks and theaters presenting Broadway-style shows, not to mention tours such as a sunset voyage on a pirate ship. Aargh!

We found King’s Creek Plantation to be a great location. The resort is fairly new and we like the roomier accommodations and more modern layout and fixtures. When you get tired of tromping around the historic district, the resort has all the amenities you’d expect and then some. It has a delightful Aquatic Center with a beautiful junior-size Olympic swimming pool for year-round enjoyment. Plus there are three outdoor pools.

Tip #4 – Enjoy Your Travel Companions

Keep work away. It’s a vacation, remember? Resist the urge to check work e-mails and focus on having fun. It will keep your mind clear and allow you to decompress. Free your mind. Meditating for just a few minutes each day can help relieve anxiety and stress. Bonus points if you can find a beautiful space to do it in.Most of all, enjoy the company of the people around you.

When we take a vacation, it’s like meeting one another for the first time in years…I mean, really getting reacquainted, connecting and communicating. Getting away to a resort with living areas separate from bedrooms is about the only way to truly do this, in my opinion. We play games, talk about school and work or just sit together reading or watching TV. There’s a closeness in this that we just can’t get at home and certainly can’t get in a starchy hotel room.

Plus, we always seem to meet fun people at resorts each and every time we go. The atmosphere is so relaxed; people are at their most serene and friendly.  The most current belief in the health community is that people who connect with friends and loved ones actually live longer and have greater health.

A vacation doesn’t have to mean you’re going to gain five pounds. If you make the most of your time away, you can return refreshed, renewed and invigorated. And who knows? Perhaps you will have added precious time to your lifespan!

One Top Travel Secret: Kennebunk, ME, in the Off-Season

(Published on Bay Tree Solutions’ blog, https://www.baytreesolutions.com/blog/2018/02/15/one-top-travel-secret-kennebunk-maine-in-the-off-season)

As a recent article, “What the Travel Industry Needs in 2018,” posted by Robin Amster on TravelPulse.com mentions, “the line between ‘high’ and ‘shoulder’ season has blurred as travelers head out to explore destinations year-round.” The author prognosticates that this year’s travel trends will be punctuated by “New Seasons for Traditional Destinations.”

This is particularly good news for timeshare resort owners who might wish to optimize their week by using their week(s)’ exchange value or points. You can really stretch your vacation ownership privileges when you explore resorts in the off-season.

How about a visit to Kennebunkport, Maine? Long an elite vacation spot for well-heeled patricians, this is the site of the summer home of former U.S. President George H. W. Bush, father of former U.S. President George W. Bush. During his presidency, George H.W. Bush would occasionally host world leaders here, including Margaret Thatcher and Mikhail Gorbachev. Later, George W. Bush found it the ideal setting for a less formal get-together with Vladimir Putin.

While you are not likely to run into a member of the Bush dynasty outside the summer season, you can still enjoy having an entire beach to yourself if you visit from September through May. Located nearby is the small (with only 10,000 or so inhabitants), historic town of Kennebunk, where you can enjoy the full range of condo amenities in “84 Maine,” a cozy timeshare resort in the heart of town.

84 Maine is part of the popular Capital Resorts Group Vacation Club points program; allowing owners to exchange to any Capital Resorts location worldwide, in addition to Interval International’s network of more than 3,000 resorts in over 80 nations. Located in the town of Kennebunkport, 84 Maine offers eco-friendly one, two, and three-bedroom units with hardwood floors, gourmet kitchens, and private patios overlooking the town’s charming Main Street. Browse Capital Resorts timeshares for sale at 84 Maine at low ‘for sale by owner’ prices!

The Brick Store Museum is located just down the street and is worth visiting several times during your stay. Founder Edith C. Barry amassed a large number of family heirlooms and art during the beginning years of the Brick Store Museum, beginning in 1936. Today, the Museum houses close to 70,000 artifacts and archival materials.

Ms. Barry’s great-grandfather, William Lord, began constructing the main part of the museum as a dry goods store in 1825. At the time of Lord’s death in 1873, he was one of the wealthiest men in town. “Initially known as Lord’s Store, it was unusual for its time by being constructed of locally-kilned brick, a far more expensive alternative than constructing from plentiful Maine timber,” we are told by the website. “Although the brick exterior of the building remains relatively unchanged from the 19th Century, the interior has been altered significantly. Evidence of the building’s past as a store still remains upstairs, however; a windlass (or pulley system) used to hoist heavy goods is visible through a skylight.”

How fortunate for us that Lord took such pains to erect a building that has lasted almost 200 years! Edith Barry acquired three other buildings, all dating from the 1800s and expanded the museum’s footprint considerably. “These buildings date from 1810 to 1860. The initial core of the Museum’s collections came from the Lords and related families, but the Museum today is a regional history, art, and archives center.

“While many items can be found on display in rotating exhibits, most of our items are stored in a secured area of the Museum. Objects in our collections are used for exhibitions, educational programs, and research. The number of artifacts grows every day with new donations relating to the history of our community in the Kennebunks and southern Maine.

“Imagine quilts with secret pouches and handwritten inscriptions. Or a rare chest dating to 1685. Even a painting found floating at sea of a Kennebunkport ship captain. Examine pieces salvaged from area shipwrecks. Peek inside a Civil War drum for a real surprise. View the largest collection of World War I and II posters in all of Maine. Witness paintings created by Thomas Badger, John Brewster, Jr., Abbott Fuller Graves, Louis Norton, and Hannah Skeele.”

After a morning spent surveying how the typical ‘Maineiac ‘ lived during the Nineteenth Century, you can virtually remain in the past with lunch at the picturesque general store, H.B. Provisions. In 2002, an enterprising couple took over this 1865 building, turning it into a popular meeting place for the town’s community and where visitors can find a variety of unique gifts from Maine, as well as wine, beer, liquor, made to order deli breakfast and sandwiches, fresh baked goods, specialty coffee and more.

Those interested in the Great Outdoors may wish to visit the Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge. It was established in 1966 in cooperation with the State of Maine to protect valuable salt marshes and estuaries for migratory birds. A few of the activities to be enjoyed — particularly during the warmer months — include hunting, fishing, shell-fishing, kayaking and more. “Located along 50 miles of coastline in York and Cumberland counties, the refuge consists of eleven divisions between Kittery and Cape Elizabeth. It will contain approximately 14,600 acres when land acquisition is complete. The proximity of the refuge to the coast and its location between the eastern deciduous forest and the boreal forest creates a composition of plants and animals not found elsewhere in Maine. Major habitat types present on the refuge include forested upland, barrier beach/dune, coastal meadows, tidal salt marsh, and the distinctive rocky coast.”

With easy access to beaches from Kennebunk, here are some ideas one writer at www.weekendnotes.com/visit-the-beach-winter offered:

“You might think I am bonkers for mentioning going to the beach during the coldest season of the month, but I’m not crazy, I actually have a lot of good reasons for you and your family to visit the beach and things you can do there in Winter.

• Go shell collecting. The sand won’t be hot like it is in the Summer so it will be easier to walk around and dig up old shells. Lots of fun, my boys seem to really enjoy this activity – they paste the mini shells onto paper using glue.

• Take lovely photos of the beach. It will be less crowded and easier to take some really nice landscape shots. Kids at the beach also make for really good photos too.

• Watch the sunset and the waves crashing while there is no one around, most likely the beach will be empty. It is the perfect time to sit on a blanket or pier and watch the waves rolling in.

• Eat some hot food on the beach, if it is slightly warm or a bit cool it will feel nice eating hot food like fish and chips on the beach. You can even eat it from inside the car, but still watching the beach.

• Go for a run along the beach, much easier to do than in Summer because there isn’t a lot of people.

• I love the beach during the Winter, I think it is more beautiful and more fun to enjoy. My favorite part is that there is hardly anybody there, and if there is you can always make friends.

• I have noticed tides can be quite rough in the Winter time so always be careful and make sure your kids do not fall into the water.”

If beaches are your ‘thing,’ then check out gokennebunks.com/pages/visiting/beaches to read reviews and select your favorite. Regardless when you visit or how you like to spend your holiday time, however, this vacation destination is a great spot for anyone interested in beating the hustle and bustle of the city. Plus, you’ll fall in love with 84 Maine!

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