The first 5 topics have been focused on giving people a remarkable experience, encouraging people to talk about it, and give resulting interested consumers access to your website to close the sale.
And how will people find your website if there’s mention or link to your website? A Search Engine of course. Travel planning starts with a Search Engine. People don’t even bother remembering URL’s anymore (in the Japanese subway, they now advertise Search Terms instead of URL’s). You need to be found in Search Engines. The art and science of making sure you have good placement in Search Engines is called Search Engine Optimization (SEO). Paying for those little ads on the side of the results is called Search Engine Marketing (SEM).
The most important thing is when somebody searches for the name of your business, your website has to show up high. Start by testing this out. Just search for your name and check if you’re in the top results. Make sure you also check for other ways people might search for your name. Also search for your name plus the name of your city or community. Unless you have a common name, your business should be #1, #2 or #3.
If you don’t show up at all, you have a big problem. And if you don’t show in the top 5, you still have a problem. In most cases it means your web professional hasn’t considered Search Engines when building your website. For a list on how to make your website Search Engine Friendly, check our these guidelines from Google’s Webmaster Central (or send the list to your web professional). Start there, and in a later post I’ll share what else you can do to improve your SEO. If you can’t wait, check Search Engine Watch.
The second thing you can do in Search Engines is pay for placement. Create an ad in a Search Engine for specific keywords and you pay each time somebody clicks to your website (Pay Per Click, or PPC). Managing PPC campaigns is a specialist skill, but if you stick to the basics, you can experiment with this yourself. You can manage you Search Engine Ads in Google, Yahoo and MSN through self service and a credit card. There are four core tactics to consider; the keywords you target, your bid, the copy of your ad, and your landing page.
My recommendation is to start very specific and slowly broaden things out. Start with very specific keywords. If you are ACME Golf course in Someville. Target the keywords “ACME Golf” and “Golf Someville” for example. Don’t target “Golf”. If might drive a lot of traffic, but it will also drive up cost and it’s unlikely they will convert into a visitor. Choose the geographic area where your ads will show carefully. Where does your typical visitor come from? Start there. Be carefull how much you bid, and set limits so you don’t blow through your budget. And most of all, monitor the results. What’s working, what’s not working, and adjust frequently.
You probably realize that it can get complicated and time consuming quickly. So think twice before you engage in this and consider hiring a professional to manage your SEM. It’s worth it.
Previous entries in this series:
While looking for a cool Japanese t-shirt last week I came across this touch screen interface at Tokyo’s UT store. This store is awesome. They sell designs for only a month. The shirts are sold in tubes and the store layout and artworks are replaced every month as well. This touch screen allows you to browse the store inventory in a very cool and interactive way. Their website is pretty interesting as well.
In my last post in this series I wrote about encouraging your customer to share their experiences online. Now lets take that concept one step further. You can participate in the online discussion. Some call it “joining the conversation”. By joining, you can make new people aware of your business, but also learn a great deal about your target audience. You might even get a new idea about how to make your business more remarkable.
This is really part of #3 Monitor and Respect Tripadvisor. But I consider Tripadvisor a must-do, while this is a nice-to-do. I understand that the operational side of running a business takes up time enough already so you’ll have to monitor if your efforts are paying off. Maybe there’s a creative way. Use a family or a staff member. Starwood Hotels has somebody employed to answer questions on Flyertalk, a frequent traveler community.
An important aspect of engaging in online communities is that you can’t use traditional marketing tactics. In most cases it’s completely inappropriate to advertise your business. And in Europe, there’s talk about making it illegal. Here’s an bad example from the Lonely Planet Thorn Tree forum:
This sound like a group who are looking for some people to travel with. No, it’s not.
It’s very easy to destroy your reputation and credibility. Don’t be tempted but play by the rules. The risks of getting caught and getting a bad name are too big.
It’s a very delicate line. The best thing to do is to be genuinely helpful. The opportunity you have is to be seen as an expert. An experts of the area where you live, and the secor you represent. If you run a eco touring company in Parksville for example, become the eco expert of the Parksville area in a relevant online community. If you’re helpful, people might seek your services over others as a reward. If you do say something that’s related to your business, stay in context of the conversation and offer full disclosure. The best thing to do is add your website URL in a signature and let people decide for themselves. Here’s a good example:
So find the right community for you and join in. It’s fun, you’ll learn a lot, and hopefully drive some customers your way.
As I mentioned before, word-of-mouth has always been the best marketing vehicle in travel. But unlike mass media, it has been invisible. Not anymore. People are now sharing en-mass on message boards, blogs, review sites and social networks. So this is part where we’ll save you some time and money by encouraging your customers to share their experiences online so you can reap maximum bennefits generated by word-of-mouth.
In #1 Be Remarkable I explained that you first need to give somebody something worth talking about. In #2 Get your website in order we gave consumers a place to go after they hear about you. In #3 Monitor and Respect Tripadvisor we took care of Tripadvisor, the most important place for you to invest your time. Now let’s encourage consumers to share and save you some time.
Tripadvisor is also the obvious starting place to ask your customers to share the great time they had at your business. And when I say ask, I don’t mean ‘bribe’. In the transparent online world, unethical behaviour will get caught (and punished). Some ideas are to mention Tripadvisor on checkout, or add a simple “Share your experience with us on Tripadvisor” on an invoice or receipt.
Tripadvisor is used at the end of the purchase cycle, when a consumer is close to a purchase. It’s the last check to validate what they’ve learned about your business against consumer reviews. That means a consumer found out about you someplace else, earlier in the purchase cycle. In traditional marketing, this can be a newspaper article or a guidebook. There are social networks who tailor to consumers earlier in the purchase cycle, allowing you to use your past customers to create awareness among others.
In the 21th century, this might be a specific special interest website where your target audience shares experiences, based on the business you run. There are also destination specific websites. Our HelloBC Blogs section for example. How do you find the networks most relevant for you? Ask you customers, and see if you can find a pattern. Or Google around and see if you can find a place where your target audience ‘relive and recommend’. And when you find it, encourage your customers to share.