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:
- Overall content relevance
- Click-through rate
- Bounce rate (lower is better)
- HTTPS – security certificate installed on the site
- Font size in main content area (larger is better)
- Number of images
- Number of internal links
- Total social media activity
- 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.”
“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.