i. Long-Term Strategy
ii. Creating Valuable Content
iii. Authentic Content
iv. Blogging: Why, How & What to Write About
v. Other Types of Content: eBooks, Video, Podcasts & More
vi. Email Marketing: Increase Sign-ups, Types of Campaigns & Going Mobile
The fickle world of SEO continues to change each year. Instead of putting your business in the hands of Google, Bing and Yahoo, your SEO strategy is now your content strategy.
Creating and publishing valuable content regularly is an SEO strategy that can withstand any changes search engines may make in the future that is out of your control.
i. Long-Term Strategy
Content marketing is generally meant to be a long-term strategy. Stacked up against other forms of direct advertising it can take a lot longer to gain traction. But the ROI is typically higher in the long run when compared to other forms of advertising.
The biggest thing to remember when working on your content marketing strategy is that you shouldn’t be focused on selling directly in your content pieces. Blogs, travel guides, eBooks, trip itineraries and other forms of content are created to build trust, brand familiarity and value to your visitor first and foremost. When they are ready to purchase it’s your business they may turn to if you helped them in the past.
ii. Creating Valuable Content
Why should someone read your content? Will it make their lives better or help them in some way? It isn’t all about SEO, which is a big worry on many of my client’s minds.
“If search engines didn’t exist would you still write what you were about to write?”
Before you worry about SEO, your visitor’s needs should come first. The quality of your website traffic is much more desirable than the quantity. Higher conversions come from qualified and targeted traffic.
The content your organization creates should address the problems, questions and curiosities of your target audience. To understand what these are all you have to do is ask or listen as you work with your customers on a daily basis.
“I’ve learned to spend more time understanding my customers than worrying about my competitors. There’s no power like knowing what your customer really needs. It’s amazing what you can learn from a half-dozen phone calls with customers or a single web survey. We don’t create any new content now without first having a very specific customer in mind. Especially in a world where others are now churning out ‘content marketing’ by the dozens, having a deeper understanding of your customer will become the new competitive currency."
–Bob Kaufman, Alaska.org
Sending a simple email survey is an excellent way to ask your current visitors what they are interested in and what questions or suggestions they may have.
Consider crafting an automated email marketing campaign that asks all new subscribers what they are hoping to get out of your newsletter, service, website, etc.
You can spend hours upon hours creating content, but without really knowing if it’s what your target customers want, it’s wasted effort.
iii. Authentic Content
Proving your authenticity with any marketing campaign is a big challenge to overcome. Consumers are smart. Banner ads are becoming less and less effective. Paid spots in top ten lists, in advertisements and flyers don’t win the hearts of travelers. Consumers would rather hear about a destination from a trusted friend then from a brand with deep pockets. Part of why content marketing is so successful is it gives your brand a way to be transparent and authentic.
Consumers can see through the marketing jargon and fluff content. They want real, helpful and brutally honest advice. If that means being somewhat opinionated then it’s your job to provide those opinions without segregating your partners.
If you’re hoping to push your sales pitch in your content consider distributing it throughout your content in the form of helpful links that don’t scream “I’m trying to sell you something”.
The top reasons most organizations have a blog is to increase their web traffic and to build brand awareness. Providing a place to publish fresh content on your website on a regular basis is key to increasing traffic and giving visitors additional value in return. A blog also provides you with content to share on social media and in email campaigns.
Blog posts are often the first website entry point for your visitor. You’ll want to make sure you’re taking full advantage of that key fact. If your blog is a part of your main website your new visitors can easily explore all that you have to offer them, beyond your valuable content.
Top 3 Blogging Tips for Travel Professionals
1. Determine Who Will Write
It can be challenging to find the right person for the job. Some people may struggle with writing or may not want to do it. Others may want to do it, but won't have the time. Find a person that wants to do it and who has the capabilities. And give them ample time each week or each month to do the research and writing (and sharing).
2. Create A Blogging Calendar
Sit down every quarter and brainstorm content ideas. Look for questions your target reader is asking in relation to your industry. Answer the questions with posts. Also provide commentary on industry news. Give your target reader information they want. Creating a calendar separates the brainstorming of ideas from the research and writing.
3. Use Headings And Link To Content
Break up your post with headings. Long blocks of text make people not want to read. Normally you'll have topics with your main topic. The main topic is your title. The subtopics should be separated with headings.
Link to sources you use, articles you mention, brands you mention and people you mention. Linking out gives credibility to your posts and it can entice the people you mention to share your article. Don't worry about people leaving your site. They'll stay and come back if you're writing gives them value.
I definitely think there is opportunity for travel companies and travel professionals with blogging. Travelers have tons of questions about the industry and they're looking for answers. Provide those answers with blogging and you'll get more exposure for your brand and traffic to your website from a variety of sources. It's a long-term strategy, but a great strategy.
Publishing posts consistently can be difficult without a plan and limited time or staff to do so effectively. Here are 5 tips to help you stick to a schedule and make blogging less of a hassle.
5 Tips to Hassle-free Blogging
- Post regularly and on a schedule so your audience knows when to expect new content. If you have something timely to share, do it in addition to your regularly scheduled posts so your readers don’t get disappointed when there isn’t a post to read.
- Develop an editorial calendar so you or your writers know what to publish and when. You can also use it as a place to jot down new post ideas as they come to you or your team so there are always ideas in the hopper. One of the biggest excuses I hear is “I don’t know what to write about.” Keep a list of topics in your editorial calendar so if you’re stuck you can refer back to the list to help spark something.
- Choose post types - Determine the types of posts you will write. For example a hotel or bed and breakfast might do something like this:
- Mondays: Inspirational post on travel or how-to tips on planning a great trip
- Wednesdays: Feature a complimentary business (nearby restaurant or attraction)
- Fridays: Shameless Promotion (Events, new hotel offerings, specials/discounts)
- Schedule Posts in Advance - Most content management systems (such as WordPress or ExpressionEngine) allow you to schedule posts to be published in the future. I recommend trying to work at least a week in advance so in case anything comes up you still have content ready to be published.
- Answer Questions - Not sure what to write about? What questions do your visitors ask most often? Use their questions as topics for your blog posts. You are providing value by answering their questions and potentially saving your staff time from having to answer them repeatedly. These types of posts work really well to share in an email newsletter too!
What Should I Blog About?
- Restaurant Blogging Tips
- 11 Blog Topics and Ideas for Hotels and Lodges
- 6 Types of Blog Posts That Will Bring New Traffic to Your Website
Catchy Titles: The Magazine Technique
If you’re struggling to create catchy titles spend some time looking at the magazine rack at your local grocery store. Take note of the titles on the cover. Those are the ones that the editor is hoping will pull readers in and sell the magazine.
Or bring up your favorite gossip magazine online and look at some of the titles they are using. Take one of those titles and create your own title based on the structure of it.
Example: 9 New Foods That You Are Going to Be Obsessed With in 2015
Your version: 3 New Desserts You’re Going to Be Obsessed With
Example: 5 Things Every Woman MUST Know Before Getting a Haircut
Your Version: 5 Things You MUST Know Before Hiking Mt. Hood
It’s a really great way to generate a new idea too, even if it has nothing to do with the original title.
Quality comments are not easy to receive. Don’t get discouraged if you haven’t received any comments and you’ve been publishing blog posts for some time. Comments are an excellent way to add additional value to your blog posts. Commenters might want to share their favorite restaurants or things to do beyond what you’ve published or correct you if something isn’t 100% accurate.
How you respond and interact with readers is another avenue for you to show your organization’s personality.
Commenting isn’t right for every organization. It can require a lot of moderation, depending on the amount of traffic you receive. If you don’t think you’ll have the staff to manage it, don’t offer it. Nothing is more unprofessional than a comment section filled with spam or inappropriate comments.
Here are a couple guidelines to help with comment management:
- Have someone respond to comments as often as possible to show your audience you care and to encourage more dialogue with your brand.
- Negative comments can be turned into positive ones. Thank them for their comment and provide helpful information or anything that can turn their negativity around. If negativity still persists or the commenter becomes abusive or uses poor language consider deleting it. It’s good to show a mix of comments but inappropriate comments need to be managed.
How Are Other Brands Handling Blogging?
TripTales from Made in Tennessee use blog posts to share trip ideas in an authentic fashion
"One of the most powerful ways to attract new business is to help your prospects even before they become customers. Doing this sets you up as an authority in your industry, keeps your name in front of prospects, and develops warm fuzzy feelings toward your brand. My favorite ways to help people is through publishing free ebooks and writing insightful blog posts. Both of these options deliver a lot of bang for your buck and, in fact, you can repurpose your blog posts in your ebooks and vice versa. Just make sure whatever content you are giving away is valuable, free from grammatical errors, and well designed to reinforce the quality of your brand and the user experience."
–Christine Anderson, Copywriter for Grand Pacific Resorts
v. Other Types of Content
Aside from a blog there are a number of other ways to provide valuable content to your visitors.
Trip Ideas, Itineraries & Travel Guides
Keyweek’s Travel Guides give visitors information on surrounding areas to visit while staying in one of their luxurious vacation homes.
LasVegas.com shows visitors how to vegas with trip itineraries focused on a variety of interests
Create a local walking tour that features nearby attractions, historical sites, restaurants and other places of interest. Take advantage of GPS and build an interactive walking tour a visitor could pull up on their phone. Consider the business traveler as well as those visiting for pleasure. Provide ideas for activities based on the time it takes to do them. Printed maps like the one below are a great companion to a smartphone version to make the experience a breeze for any type of visitor.
Alaska.org offers interactive day drive itineraries mapping out each stop along the way
This Lake Hood walking map is shared by a hotel to help guests explore the area
Want to get your guests talking while promoting nearby partners? Offer a scavenger hunt. You can offer this type of content online and offline. Make a list of instructions that takes your guests to a variety of locations. Have them visit parks, historic sites, nearby restaurants and other points of interest by giving them clues to get to each spot.
Talk to your partners and see if they’ll be willing to participate. An example of using a partner could be to have your guests mention a code-word at a location that is staffed. Once mentioned your guests will hear a story or unique fact about where they are and a clue for their next location.
Learn more about Scavenger Hunting: Treasure Hunting: How To Use Mobile Devices To Score New Travel Business
An easy way to push sales for any edible product you may sell is to create a recipe section. The recipes could incorporate products you sell your guests such as homemade jams, syrup, wine & beer, etc. Edible take-home items are also a good way for your visitors to share their experience with friends. This is word of mouth marketing at its best (pun intended).
Stories from Past Guests
This method of content marketing has been around for sometime. Reviews are the most commonly used and trusted form of content marketing. Stories are similar but take content marketing one step further.
Carnival provides Q&A content on John Heald’s Blog, allowing guests to submit a question or ask right in the comments. Publishing questions and answers publicly not only helps the person asking but also provides a benefit to other readers wondering the same thing. John’s blog also hits home what it means to be authentic and connect with visitors on an emotional level. In this case, humor.
Using Photos to Guide Visitors
Project 543 by Visit North Carolina
Photos are one of the keys to selling an experience online. Make sure if you have a photo gallery that it serves a purpose beyond looks. Project 543 shares a collection of attractions and unique facts about their destination using photos and short descriptions. The content is linked so that readers can learn more about the destinations featured in the photo. This makes trip planning a breeze for the visitor and in turn can help increase business for the attractions presented.
Video, Podcasts and Audio
I hate Thailand
After a horrible incident and political conflicts that led to bad publicity in 2014, Thailand needed to do something to turn it’s tourism outlook around.
This particular campaign, controversial or not, is a telling sign of the value in video marketing. It also shows how successful storytelling and emotional content can move us.
Australia’s campaign for #RestaurantAustralia hits just about every content distribution channel possible. They’ve incorporated video, social media and other types of content to sell tourists on the experience of Australia dining and cuisine.
Discover Wisconsin has the longest running travel television show in the U.S.. Beyond television, they are also taking advantage of multiple channels including radio and blogging.
The Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center uses audio to enhance their visitor’s experience, allowing them to learn about each animal using The Alaska App. Audio guides are also quite popular for museums and walking tours.
Utilizing smartphone technology can be a more cost-effective way to distribute audio content than other devices you may have to purchase and maintain for tours.
You don’t necessarily need to start your own podcast to take advantage of audio. Many podcasters interview guests. Consider contacting a relevant podcast and suggest why you’d make a great guest. When researching who to contact make sure you check their podcast feed for recent episodes to ensure they are still producing content. You don’t want your outreach efforts to be a waste of time.
vi. Email Marketing
Email is one the most cost-effective and best ways to reach your audience online. Your subscribers ask to receive your newsletter so they are already telling you they want to hear from you. No other online advertising method (aside from travel guides) is as effective because the visitor didn’t request it prior to being shown it.
Increasing Email Sign-ups
It’s the chicken before the egg debocial. You don’t want to put effort into creating campaigns before you have a decent amount of subscribers. But you also want to give value to the subscribers who have signed up already immediately. There are a number of ways you can grow your email list. Here are a few…
Give Something of Value
One of the best ways you can increase your email subscribers is to provide something of value in return for their email address. For many of you it might be a free travel guide or related trip planning content.
Prove to your subscribers that your list was worth signing up for. Make the thing you giveaway relevant and useful to your target audience.
Contests can also be a good way to generate new email subscribers. But don’t be too subtle about the newsletter in your contest forms. Make sure your customer knows that they are being added to your list and that they can choose not to sign-up for it. You’ll be more likely to receive spam complaints (which can lead to future deliverability trouble) if they don’t remember signing up to your list.
It’s important to think long-term about the quality of your list vs. quantity of subscribers. Remember every subscriber will cost you money.
Read Chapter 2 for more best practices on pop-ups. Here are some other examples of what a few popular restaurants have been doing to gain email subscribers…
Email Acquisition Examples
Olive Garden wastes no time in blasting a pop-up offer to increase their email subscribers and uses a free appetizer (with additional purchase) to encourage sign-ups.
Grizzly’s Restaurant displays their email sign-up at the bottom of each page. They also use a free appetizer to encourage subscribers to sign-up.
There are many software options on the market for creating a optimal opt-in process on your website. You could also have it custom designed and developed if you have very specific needs or design requirements. Some great choices for pre-built solutions include: Hello Bar (directs visitors to a landing page or sign-up form), Drip (automate your email marketing & opt-in process), OptinMonster (for WordPress users) or SumoMe’s Scroll Box (WordPress App) and MailChimp (offers free customizable pop-ups with their accounts).
Other Places to Test Out Email Sign-up Forms
Throughout your website you may have a sidebar on some of your pages. You’ll commonly find email sign-up forms, social media mentions, as well as advertising. If designed carefully, they can be a great place for your email sign-up form. A blog or other content that appears at the first points in your sales funnel is the best place for a sidebar. If your customer isn’t quite ready to purchase or visit, getting them signed up for your email newsletter will give you the chance to convince them.
In-line with Content
Since many people are prone to ignore places commonly infiltrated with ads, placing your email sign-up in-line with your main content is another great spot to test out.
Remember results may vary depending on your specific audience. Be sure to try a few different strategies and find out what works best for you. There is no single magic answer unfortunately. What works for you might not work for the next organization.
Types of Email Campaigns
If you’re providing something to your subscribers in return for signing up it’s crucial to deliver it immediately after they subscribe. A welcome email is a great place to do this and gives the subscriber immediate value.
You may also want to address some of your visitor’s questions. Having answers to common questions on your website (to link to) is important. Include snippets instead of the full text so you can track what content is more compelling than others to improve your welcome emails in the future. This is done by tracking the click rate percentages on each link in the email.
Chances are the reason your subscriber signed up for your emails is they are interested in solving a problem. If they are planning a trip they might be looking for help on picking restaurants, lodging and activities. Or perhaps they are almost ready to buy from you but won’t be booking for another month and are investigating all of their options.
An autoresponder series is a set of triggered emails that begins once a subscriber signs up. The first email in the series will usually be the welcome email. Beyond that you may have 3 or 4 other emails in the series. Depending on your email provider, you can usually set these to send at specific days and times. I recommend at least 3 days in between each email. You want to be timely, but not bombard them with too many emails at once.
Each email should help solve your customer’s problem in some way.
If you’re helping a visitor plan a trip provide them with suggestions of great things to do nearby in the second email. In the third, tell them about all the great restaurants in the area. In the fourth you could provide your own advice about visiting based on certain times of the year such as what to pack and where they can find some of the best photo spots. In the final email you should pitch your own service or product again, complete with benefits and reasons to why going with you would solve their problems.
Personalized Email Campaigns
“Hotel emails with dynamic content in the subject line have 25% higher unique open rates and 38% higher unique click rates.”
The more relevant and personal you can get with your email marketing the better the results. Localization has been proven to be particularly effective in subject lines.
Best Western launched a three-part email campaign with impressive results using highly targeted content. They adjusted their content based on the user’s location and device to provide the most relevant information to that person at a specific moment. Timing really is everything when it comes to email. Catch a user at the wrong moment and your efforts could be trashed before it’s open.
Something as simple as inserting a customer’s first name into your emails can make them more personal and successful.
Subject Line Best Practices
- Length: 50 characters or less
- Don’t: Use the same subject line for all of your newsletters. Users care more about the contents of the email (is it worth opening?) than they care about your cute newsletter name
- Do: Encourage opens by including the value of opening the email
When to Send Emails
“The best months for email open rates in the travel industry are January – March.”
Pay very close attention to the type of content you’re sending during different buying phases. If your customers are more inclined to plan a trip months before visiting make note. Figure out what times of the year are best for purchasing or planning and adjust your marketing accordingly.
Times of the day and week are also important. There isn’t a set day or time that works best for everyone. Try a few different days and times and see what performs the best. Again don’t forget to consider the time of year. Certain times and days may work great in Spring but fail to perform as well in Winter.
“48% of emails are opened on a mobile device. That percentage is likely even higher for the travel industry.”
Litmus, an expert in email marketing, ran a study which led to impressive results: Responsive Design A/B Testing Leads to a 130% Increase in Clicks
“Desktop users click more than mobile and tablet users combined for email.”
If you can provide a better email experience for your customers the chances of them clicking will increase on mobile. Take some of the lessons discussed in Chapter 3 about proper sizing for touch targets into consideration. Make sure the links you’re including are taking your user to a mobile-optimized website. A disjointed experience might look good when it comes to click results, but if the end goal is conversions the web experience must be solved on both ends.
Explore More Email Articles
- Email Marketing Ideas for Hotels
- Restaurants Get Real About Your Email Marketing
- Travel Email Marketing Guide Part 1: Website Sign-up Forms
- Travel Email Marketing Guide Part 2: Autoresponder Series
- Travel Email Marketing Guide Part 3: Weekly Email Content
- Work Less and Get More Traffic With An Automated Email Program
Now that you have ideas on how to build your content marketing strategy let’s discuss where and how to share it. Chapter 5 will help you make the most of social media or as I like to call it your content distribution channels.