Pelland Blog

From Conventions to Camping Shows

December 9th, 2015

The fall campground industry convention season has just passed, when industry vendors from around the country – and beyond – make an effort to introduce you to their products and services, explaining how your business might benefit from what they have to offer. From old standbys to the latest innovations, you owe it to yourself to stay on top of the supply curve. Following a holiday respite, the convention season is soon followed by a full schedule of winter camping and outdoor shows, when it is your opportunity to shine in the spotlight. From Fort Myers and Tampa to Quebec and Montreal – and major cities in between – there are shows where your presence is desirable, if not a necessity.

Two key issues that I would like to address are:
1) How to choose the markets for shows to attend.
2) How to stand out from the crowd once you are there.

Which shows make your final cut?

When it is time to choose which shows to attend, there are many factors that come into consideration. First and foremost, there is the expense. Nobody can afford to be everywhere, and the expenses are far greater than simply the costs of exhibition. Secondly, there are the logistics of overlapping schedules and the necessary transportation and travel time. Finally – and not insignificantly – the camping shows are primarily being held in your off-season, when you really deserve some time off from those 60 or 80 hour weeks that you probably work throughout your prime season. Clearly, you cannot afford to select shows based upon random choices, and you do not want to continue attending shows without seeing measurable results. It is time to turn to Google Analytics for validation.

Rather uniquely, the contacts that you make with prospective guests at camping shows are generally going to be vaguely measured as “direct traffic” in your overview of website traffic acquisition. Most of these people will be typing your Web address into their browser while reading it from your brochure, rack card or other literature handouts. Some, on the other hand, will enter your campground name into a search box. Either way, the most important measurement for our purposes will be found in Google Analytics under Audience > Geo > Location, where you can then click on the United States (or other countries) to get a more detailed breakdown of states and even cities. You will also want to choose a custom date range to show the entire previous year of traffic, rather than the default range of 30 days, then also set it to compare to the same previous period (in this case, the previous year). That comparison allows you to view year-to-year trends.

Looking at the analytics of one of our clients, a large campground in the Northeastern United States, I see some remarkable increases in international traffic over the past year, particularly from the Western European countries of Portugal, Spain, Italy, France, Ireland, Netherlands, Sweden and Norway, along with similar increases from Mexico and the South American countries of Brazil and Argentina. Those are interesting statistics, but let’s look specifically at the United States, with the objective of choosing camping show locations. Start with the realization that you are more likely to find additional people who are interested in traveling to your destination if they are living in areas that have already demonstrated that interest, particularly if it shows an upward trend.

In this instance, I am looking at measurable traffic over the past two years from all 50 states. What we want to look for is a significant volume of traffic, so that we have a valid sampling from a viable market when looking at year-to-year trends. Percentages alone are unimportant. For example, a 113% increase in traffic from Montana that is the result of an increase from 37 visits to 79 visits is insignificant; however, a 17.5% increase in traffic from Florida, based upon an increase from 2,134 visits to 2,508 visits is a very significant upward trend that suggests that additional marketing efforts in the state of Florida might well prove to be productive.

Google Analytics will even allow me to break down Florida into 348 distinct locations, showing that the highest volumes of traffic with the most significant upward trends were from Orlando, Miami, Tampa, Miami Beach, Bay Lake, and Gainesville. On the other hand, the major markets with significant downward trends were Jacksonville, Fort Lauderdale and Fort Myers. Now, armed with the knowledge of where you have concentrated your marketing over the past two years, you might very well be witnessing a payback for your efforts. Clearly, this is the type of information that will help you to make more educated marketing decisions. Leave it to your competitors to throw darts at a map on the wall.

How to make a positive impression

When you attend a convention and trade show such as the Outdoor Hospitality Expo, you are more likely to enter a booth space with a bright, colorful display; cushioned flooring; promotional handouts; new product or service introductions; quality promotional items; and – most importantly – friendly and engaging booth personnel. People sitting at a table, more interested in making eye contact with their cell phones than with you, with booth furnishings that consist of little more than the sign provided by the convention management company and a bowl of leftover Halloween candy, simply have not demonstrated that they deserve your business.

When you attend one or more of the conventions this season, take some notes about the factors that drew you into some booths and that drove you away from others. In addition, compare your show presence with that of your leading competitors at the camping shows that you attend or where you exhibit. Is your booth up to par? An album of snapshots and that sign made by your talented twelve year old daughter is simply not going to persuade people to stop, particularly if you are working from a booth on the perimeter of a hall where the main attractions are campers and motorhomes that look like they just rolled off next year’s assembly line.

To make your camping show presence as effective as possible, allow me to offer a few absolute rules and a few added recommendations. First the rules:

  • Leave your cell phone in your pocket. If you get a call, let it go to voice-mail, then check your message away from your booth, when the time is appropriate. When you are speaking with a prospective camper, he or she is the most important person in your life at that particular moment. Everyone else can wait, and you never want to give that person any other impression.
  • Leave your frown and bad attitude at home. Even when you answer your office telephone, where your image is not visible to the person at the other end of the line, a smile can always be detected. Would you want to consider spending your valuable vacation time with somebody who comes across as some sort of grouch?
  • Make friendly and direct eye contact, always at eye level. With the exception of the occasional person using a scooter or wheelchair, the people approaching your booth are standing. You do not belong in a chair behind a table. Either stand (taking breaks from your booth as needed, again when the time is appropriate) or sit on a stool that positions you at eye level. The importance of standing, incidentally, is a strong argument in favor of that investment in cushioned flooring, particularly for a multi-day event. In fact, I have even witnessed people specifically entering a booth with cushioned flooring, hoping to rest their feet and giving the booth attendants an opportunity to engage them in conversation.
  • Gather contact information. Encourage people to sign up for your newsletter or enter a drawing for a prize with recognizable value. Ask them to identify specific areas of interest that relate to your business. Somebody who is interested in possibly spending a weekend in your area is an entirely different prospect than someone who is looking for a seasonal site. Keep your information gathering to a minimum. If you plan on following up online and have no intention of ever doing a direct mailing, there is no reason to ask people for their mailing addresses. The more intrusive your efforts appear, the more likely that people will decline to provide you with their contact information.
  • Do not leave your booth unattended. If the show hours are from 9:00 to 6:00, get there well in advance of the opening and never, ever leave (or start breaking down) early. The person who stopped by to look for you when you were not there may not return and could very well be a lost customer.

Now the recommendations, the subtleties that can make the difference between generating acceptable results and generating exceptional results:

  • Invest in a professional booth backdrop, with lighting, then take the next step and invest in professionally designed graphics. Exhibits themselves are relatively inexpensive these days, with some great deals to be found online and on sites like eBay. Forget about the textured panels and Velcro tabs that might come with the backdrop. Professionally designed graphics are intended to whet the appetites of passersby, providing an opening for you or your booth staff to tell the rest of your story.
  • Plan in advance, and be prepared with the little things. Of course, you would never forget your business cards at home. You will also want to remember water bottles, pens and paper, even a bottle of aspirin or acetaminophen. Despite a headache or a potential backache (see, you should have gotten that padded flooring!), the show must go on!
  • Always engage the people who enter your booth space. In fact, work the aisles and encourage them to enter! Listen to what interests them, and go through a process of discovery to best determine why they should choose your park over any other. Be prepared to get the conversation back on track if it goes on a tangent, spending too much time on small talk that is unrelated to your business.
  • Have some great giveaways available, with your branding imprinted of course. Put them aside for your most qualified prospects or to reward existing customers who stop by. Whatever you choose, the item should be useful and reasonably high quality. Do you want your company to be identified with an item that is defective, useless or quickly breaks? A highly visible promotional item is far more desirable than something that gets dropped into a bag or put into a pocket, out of sight.
  • After the event, follow up with your new prospects as immediately as possible. If you have asked them – and they have provided – their preferred means of contact, use that avenue for your follow-up.

There you have it. Attend the fall conventions, take notes to best prepare for the winter camping shows, do some basic research to choose what are likely to be the most productive venues, be prepared for your booth space to stand out from the others, then be prepared to engage people in the friendliest manner possible. Give them your literature, gather their contact information, and follow up. Taken all together, this is one of the best formulas for success when it comes to increasing your occupancy rates next season.

This post was written by Peter Pelland

Wait! No! I Did Not Want to Send That!

June 24th, 2015

Have you ever sent an e-mail, then moments later wished you had a way of “unsending” it? Of course you have. We all have done this. We accidentally hit the “send” button, realize that we sent the message to the wrong person, or think that maybe we should give more thought to the message before actually sending it. It is one thing to send an e-mail like that to your Aunt Clara, but it is something else entirely to send that e-mail to one of your business correspondents.

Many people use Gmail to host their e-mail accounts, and many of those people send and receive their messages using the Gmail Web interface. If you are one of those people, you are now in luck in those instances of “sender’s remorse”.

Most people are not aware that Gmail includes a setting called “Labs”, which they describe as “some crazy experimental stuff” and “a testing ground for experimental features that aren’t quite ready for primetime.” One of these has been the “Undo Send” feature, a setting that has been hidden away since 2009 but is now ready to be broadly introduced as a mainstream Gmail feature, although you must manually install it. The feature is also a component of Gmail’s new “Inbox” app. Want to give it a try? Follow these steps.

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Click on the down arrow next to the little gear in the Gmail interface to enter the settings. In the settings, choose the “Labs” tab, all the way on the right. You will then see a list of available labs, along with any labs that you may have already enabled. They will be listed alphabetically. Scroll down to “Undo Send”. Click the “Enable” radio button, then scroll down to the bottom of the page to “Save Changes”.

UndoSend_Step3

The Undo Send feature will then appear under the “General” settings tab, where you can set the cancellation period for anything from 5 to 30 seconds. (I suggest the 30 second option.) Basically, what this is doing is caching your message for a brief period of time before it is actually sent, giving you an opportunity to have second thoughts and cancel the sending of your e-mail.

UndoSend_Step4

Now, when you actually send an e-mail, after you hit “Send”, you will see an “Undo” link. Click on that, and the message will be cancelled and sent to the Gmail drafts folder.

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You can then recompose yourself, recompose your message, and continue through the rest of the day without further panic.

This post was written by Peter Pelland

Mobilegeddon?

May 13th, 2015

No doubt you heard the cries of alarm a few weeks ago, when so-called experts warned of the end of Internet search as we knew it, effective April 21, 2015. Perhaps you have also noticed the eerie silence since the uneventful passing of that date.

This past winter, the national news media spent two days ignoring real news events to warn of the impending “storm of the century” that was headed toward my home base in Western New England. We were in the bullseye of the forecast map, with a prediction of 30 or more inches of snow. After all was said and done, I believe that we received 6 or 7 inches. A few local meteorologists apologized for the inaccurate forecast that was fed to them by the National Weather Service. Other than that, the “story” was dropped – for obvious reasons – like a hot potato.

I am embarrassed that so many of my peers jumped on the sensationally-named “Mobilegeddon” bandwagon. It was particularly disturbing when the dire warnings were used by companies that were in a position to exploit the fear that was generated by the spread of this misinformation. Let’s face it: If his midnight ride was based upon unconfirmed rumors that “the British were coming”, Paul Revere would be long forgotten as a little-known Boston tinsmith.

As I pointed out at the time, many self-proclaimed “experts” cited a Google blog post, a comment reportedly made by a Google employee, and a speculative article that had appeared in Entrepreneur Magazine as the bases for a warning that was an outright exaggeration. What the new Google algorithm means is that sites that are mobile-friendly will gradually gain an edge over sites that are not mobile-friendly, being flagged as “mobile friendly” alongside mobile search results. This rise in the ranking of mobile-friendly sites will come at the expense of sites that are not deemed mobile-friendly, but it does not mean that those latter sites are suddenly going to be dropped from being indexed. Mobile-friendliness is only one – although a very significant one – of over 200 ranking signals that Google employs to determine the best search results.

Using historical – and factual – Google Analytics data that I drew from actual client websites, I was able to draw the following conclusion: If we presume that 35% of the traffic to a website comes from search engines, and that 50% of that traffic comes from Google, and that 50% of THAT traffic comes from users of mobile devices, it would mean that a site that was not mobile-friendly would lose approximately 9% of its traffic if the website was totally dropped from mobile search results on Google (something that was not going to happen and did not suddenly happen on April 21, 2015.)

According to statements made in a live stream on Google’s Webmaster Central on May 8th, the search giant realizes there are “small businesses who (sic) don’t have the time or the money (to have built a mobile-friendly site yet) … that are still fairly relevant in the search results, so we need to keep them in there somehow.” For example, if you run one of the leading campgrounds in Sturgis, South Dakota, Google is not going to drop your website from mobile search results just because your website is not deemed mobile-friendly. That would run totally contrary to the delivery of accurate and comprehensive search results, the overall basis for Google’s commanding success in the search market. A non-mobile site will still rank highly if it presents the content that users seek.

Mobile search rankings have always been different that desktop search rankings, and that gap is going to gradually but continually widen over time for sites that are not mobile-friendly. According to a recent report by digital marketing agency Merkle|RKG, fully 46% of Fortune 500 companies and 29% of the Internet Retailer 500 businesses do not yet have mobile-friendly sites. Even among the Top 10 of the Fortune 500, there are companies that do not yet have mobile-friendly sites: Phillips 66 (# 6 on the list) and Valero Energy (# 10 on the list). On the other hand, Google reports that there was a 4.7% increase in the overall number of mobile-friendly sites that were introduced in the two months leading up to the April 21st algorithm update. You can expect the numbers to increase, along with the volume of mobile-based Internet access, by less proactive companies that slowly embrace the inevitable.

As of May 1, 2015, Google has confirmed that the new search algorithm has been fully rolled out, although the differences that have been measured by both major online marketing agencies and the people who earn a living by monitoring the inner workings of search engines have been almost immeasurably lackluster. This was not the “storm of the century”; however, to use another weather-related analogy, neither the presence of that storm nor the lack thereof would represent a reason to deny long-term global warming. In other words, the mobile-friendliness of your website is in the ultimate interest of your business. Just don’t panic.

This post was written by Peter Pelland

The Sky Is (Not) Falling

April 6th, 2015

Chicken Little was well-intentioned when he hysterically warned of impending disaster. The only problem was that his predictions were based upon conjecture rather than facts. Back at the turn of the millennium, modern-day Chicken Littles mongered fear over the impending “Y2K” disaster that, of course, never happened. More recently, there has been more than a bit of press about the implementation of the next round of Google search ranking algorithms that will only begin to be rolled out on April 21, 2015. Without doing any research of their own, many self-proclaimed “experts” are citing a Google blog post, a comment reportedly made by a Google employee, and a speculative article that recently appeared in Entrepreneur Magazine as the bases for their warnings of dire consequences for today’s typical website. Like grade school students spreading rumors in the schoolyard, it is time for some people to take a “time out”.

TheSkyIsFalling

Like the news networks that love to exaggerate stories and develop sensationalist headlines like “Stormageddon” and “Blizzard of the Century” (and, of course, the aforementioned “Y2K”), the new buzz word amongst the uninformed is “Mobilegeddon”. People using this type of terminology remind me of those who blindly share urban legends on Facebook, without taking a moment to first check the facts. The stories may generate excitement, but they lack credibility.

The fact is that Google will be rolling out a new set of search algorithms starting on April 21st; however, this does NOT mean that a website that is not deemed mobile-friendly will suddenly drop from the results of Google searches made from mobile devices. That is an outright exaggeration. What the new algorithms mean is that sites that are mobile-friendly will have an edge over sites that are not mobile-friendly, being flagged as “mobile friendly” alongside those search results. This rise in the rankings of mobile-friendly sites will come at the expense of sites that are not deemed mobile-friendly, but it does not mean that those latter sites are suddenly going to be dropped from being indexed.

Chicken Littles have suggested that half of a site’s traffic is suddenly going to disappear effective April 21st, if the site is not mobile-friendly. This is patently untrue. Using historical Google Analytics data that I have drawn from actual campground websites, let’s presume that 35% of the traffic to a website comes from search engines, and that 50% of that traffic comes from Google, and that 50% of THAT traffic comes from users of mobile devices. Do the math. That would mean that, if a website was totally dropped from mobile search results on Google (which is NOT going to happen at this time), that site would lose approximately 9% of its traffic. That is the reality, rather than conjecture and misguided speculation.

There are plenty of valid reasons why every business should be moving to replace a conventional website with a new mobile-friendly site, and to do so sooner rather than later. However, the people who are suggesting panic are doing a tremendous disservice by encouraging the jerking of knees rather than the exercise of a careful plan for execution that includes properly methodical planning and budgeting for the long-term investment in mobile-friendly technology.

In years past, many businesses were advised to buy into expensive mobile apps or separate mobile websites, in an attempt to capture the market for users of mobile devices. In retrospect, those dollars were generally not well spent. Today, the dust has settled and responsive website technology has taken its place as the mobile-friendly solution that Google and the other search engines prefer, with one site presenting full content that is optimized for every device. If your site is not currently mobile-friendly, make plans for the transition – as I have said, sooner rather than later. In the meantime, don’t panic. The sky is not falling, and the world is not about to end on April 21st.

This post was written by Peter Pelland

Mobile Is Not Just a City in Alabama

February 4th, 2015

Nobody needs to be convinced these days that their business needs to have a website. What surprises me is how many people think that the website that was built 4 or 5 years ago, before the commanding surge in the use of mobile devices, could be adequately serving their needs today. Let me simply say that times have changed.

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Statistics compiled by Google, based upon the Google Analytics software that is running on websites around the world (and probably including your own) demonstrate that 50% of all website traffic is now mobile. In fact, this past holiday season, 22.5% of all online sales came through mobile devices (which are defined as either phones or tablets). Those numbers are impressive.

Google is now warning website owners if their sites fall short of being mobile-friendly … what they refer to as “critical mobile usability errors”, with the presumption being that these sites will soon be penalized in search results. Google is reportedly ready to begin downgrading those sites that are not configured for proper display on smartphones. The impact of that upon an older website could be tremendous, since the #1 source of new traffic to most websites is generated through organic searches on Google.

Taking steps in that direction, if you currently perform a Google search from your phone, the search engine results page will now label sites that are deemed to be mobile-friendly. Sites that fail that test typically display text that is too small to read on a phone, links that are too close together for fingers to navigate, or the lack of a mobile viewport (requiring users to pinch and zoom in order to view content). A site that is not mobile-friendly is not only at risk of losing out in its search ranking, it is losing its owner business today.

Let me demonstrate. I just performed a quick check of the Google Analytics on the conventional website of one of our clients, confirming that within the past 30 days, the lion’s share of the site’s traffic came from the users of mobile devices. The breakdown was 47.56% of visitors using smartphones, 14.98% using tablets, and only 37.45% using either a desktop or laptop computer. Keeping in mind that this is not a mobile-optimized site, the smartphone users visiting this site were spending only 60% of the amount of time on the site as the dwindling numbers of users of conventional computers. The bounce rate (the number of visitors who arrive at a site, then leave very quickly) was about 64% higher for smartphone users. Users of tablets, with larger displays, were somewhat more tolerant.

Nobody would have imagined this scenario a few years ago. Considering the fact that there is a direct correlation between the amount of time spent on a website and the likelihood of the user taking the intended course of action (in the instance of a campground, typically this means making a reservation request), these numbers are foreboding.

Before You Panic, Check Your Site

Fortunately, Google has provided a quick online test that will let you know whether or not your site is mobile-friendly. Go to the following link, where you may enter your URL:

https://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/mobile-friendly/

If your site passes the test, congratulations are in order. If it fails the test, it is time to at least think about budgeting for a replacement. The next question involves what type of mobile solution will best suit your needs. For all practical purposes, there are three choices.

  • Responsive Web Design: This is the option that is recommended by Google. A responsive website serves the same site content to all devices, with a fluid page layout that adapts to each device. These sites are easy to maintain, but they may be expensive.
  • Separate Mobile Site: This was the preferred option prior to the onset of responsive design. It involves the construction of separate mobile content. User’s devices are detected and shown content that is specifically built for that device, or they are redirected to a mobile-specific URL. These sites are more difficult to maintain (because content is duplicated among pages) and they do not present consistent content across all devices. For these reasons, this option is falling out of favor.
  • A Mobile App: This is a separate application that is built for mobile users. It must be downloaded and installed by the user, and it is often used in conjunction with a website. An app has a usability advantage for smartphone users, but the costs are both prohibitive and unnecessary for most small businesses, both upfront and when it is time to maintain and update content.

The bottom line is that, if you are concerned about mobile traffic to your site (and you should be concerned!), there are decisions to be made, and you probably do not want to indefinitely delay making those decisions. Your new site should adhere to a specific set of best practices. These include the avoidance of software that it not supported on most mobile devices, particularly Flash. (There are alternate ways of presenting animation, using CSS or JavaScript, that are mobile-friendly.) Your site should also not include text that is unreadable without zooming, content with a screen width that requires horizontal scrolling on small devices, or links that are not far enough apart for fat fingers to navigate.

There are new websites being launched every day that are based upon old methods. Investing in one of those today is roughly equivalent to going out to buy a new car but coming home with a horse and buggy instead.

This post was written by Peter Pelland

Four Quick and Easy Ways to Boost Your Website’s Search Engine Ranking

October 7th, 2014

One of the most common questions I hear from the owners of campgrounds and other small businesses is, “How can I improve my site’s search engine ranking?” There is a long list of answers, most involving steps that should be taken by your site’s webmaster. Unfortunately, if you are your own webmaster or you hired a local person who lacks expertise regarding search engine optimization (SEO), you may be in for a rude awakening. On the other hand, if you hired any of the industry’s established website development companies, your site should be in good hands. To be certain, let me guide you through four tips that will allow you to check the status of your site.

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– 1 –
The Open Directory Project

The Open Directory Project was formed as an open-source alternative to the Yahoo! Directory’s paid site submission process, back in the days when Yahoo! was an online directory, not a search engine. Years later, you can still pay $299.00 to submit your site to the Yahoo! Directory, and you can submit your site for free to The Open Directory Project at http://dmoz.org. There are three good reasons that your site needs to be listed in The Open Directory Project:

  • Inclusion of a website in the Open Directory has a positive impact upon your site’s Google PageRank.
  • The Open Directory Project licenses its content distribution through hundreds of small search engines.
  • The Open Directory Project data is included in the directory services of major search engines, including Google and AOL Search. That’s right: Your search on Google will often reference site listings from the Open Directory.

The submission process is simple. First, check to see if your site is already listed. Go to http://dmoz.org and enter your business name into the search box at the head of the page. A business can only be listed in one category. If your site is listed, fine (unless you strongly believe that the listing should be moved to another category). If you are not listed, you can drill down through the hierarchy of categories to find the right place to list your site. For a campground in the United States, that category will be Recreation > Outdoors > Camping > Campgrounds > North America > United States > [Your State]. When you reach that page, you will also be able to confirm whether or not your site is listed. Do not be surprised if it is not. For example, there are 155 campgrounds listed on the Ohio Campground Owners Association website, but only 27 Ohio campgrounds listed in The Open Directory Project. There are also 200 campgrounds listed on the Campground Owners of New York website, but only 81 New York campgrounds listed in the directory. (Keep in mind that the actual numbers of campgrounds are probably higher because not all campgrounds belong to their state associations.) If your site is not listed, click on the “Suggest URL” link to go to the site submission page for that category.

Enter the following information on the submission page:

  • Your site URL. (Check the Regular option.)
  • Your site Title (taken from the Title tag of your site’s Home page).
  • A description of your site in 25-30 words. Try to write this as objectively as possible. The more that you embellish the text, the more likely it is that your description will be edited.
  • Your e-mail address.
  • Enter the captcha script at the bottom of the page, and hit Submit! You are on your way.

Total cost: $0.00

– 2 –
Use a Permanent Redirect

This tip will need to be implemented by the company that is hosting your website, and there should be no charge for them to do so. Most people do not realize that their website’s URL, with and without the ‘www’ subdomain prefix, counts as two sites and splits what should be the combined impact of the site’s traffic upon its search engine ranking. Since the ‘www’ prefix is not necessary, some people will type your address using the prefix and others will not. What you need to ensure is that – either way – the visitor will be taken to one version of your URL … the version without the ‘www’ prefix.

The solution is to implement a permanent redirect (known as a 301 redirect), so that any traffic to www.YourWebsite.com will be redirected to YourWebsite.com. It is easy enough to check to see if this is being done. Go to a browser and in the address bar (not a search box!), type in your site’s URL with the ‘www’ prefix. See if the ‘www’ remains in the address bar or disappears when the page is loaded. Then type in your address without the ‘www’ prefix, and confirm that the site also appears. If so, all is well. Much to my surprise, I often see sites that are incorrectly set up on their server so that they will ONLY appear if the ‘www’ prefix is used … a major error!

Total cost: $0.00

– 3 –
Find Unlinked Online References to Your Business

If there are websites that mention your business by name but do not include a link to your website, those mentions are providing little benefit. Particularly if your Web presence is relatively new, or if you recently changed its URL, there could be several sites that mention your business without a link or that provide a link to an old URL. Either way, you want to discover those and try to get the listings updated. Generally speaking, this is a two-step process.

The first step is to do a Google search for your business by name. Hopefully, your website will be the first search result! Go down the list of the first 50 or 100 search results. If there are sites that you do not recognize, click through to see if any of these appear to be legitimate sites that are lacking a link. In those instances, you will probably find a link that says “Claim this business”; otherwise, look for an “update listing” or “contact” link. Following those links is the second step.

Keep in mind that there are many local listings sites (often some sort of variation of the old yellow pages phone directory concept). Unless there is a very low, one-time fee, I generally advise against paying a site to add a link to your listing. A chamber of commerce, travel site, or camping-related site that provides specific information about your campground is probably a worthwhile listing; however, many of the sites that charge a fee for links are sites that generate low levels of traffic and probably zero searches for your businesses. They are little more than link directories. You want links on as many sites as possible that are legitimately capable of sending traffic to your site.

You might also want to search for the names of competitors or other nearby businesses, in an effort to discover any sites where your business may not even be listed by name but where it could be added. If you would like to stay abreast of any new listings that might materialize, set up a Google Alert for your business name, and you will be notified.

Total cost: $0.00, in most instances.

– 4 –
Consider SSL

Google recently announced a new HTTPS ranking signal, indicating that SSL throughout a site will give that site a slight SEO advantage. Up until now, SSL was typically used only by sites that were engaged in online commerce or the transmittal of sensitive information, but an argument may now be made for broader implementation. SSL provides a secure protocol, where exchanged data is encrypted rather than being written in plain text. It provides levels of data integrity and authentication that are lacking in usual data transfer.

If your site is handling transactions that involve the entry of users’ personal information (such as if you are selling merchandise or accepting payments through an online gateway), it should be using SSL. If a site uses SSL, there are sound reasons for the SSL to be used throughout the site, not simply on payment pages. If your site is purely informational (which applies to the typical campground website), there has been no reason for it to use SSL – at least up until now.

Do not expect the use of SSL on your site to push it to the top of search rankings. That is not going to happen. However, use of the https protocol is one of 200 or more signals that currently influence Google search ranking.

There are complications involved when converting a site to use SSL, and some of these cons may offset the pros of making the switch – not the least of which is the added cost of secure hosting and the annual SSL certificate renewal. Discuss these with your webmaster to determine whether the benefits outweigh the costs in your instance.

Total cost: Varies.

When it comes to SEO, there are no easy answers and no one-size-fits-all solutions. Establish a trusted working relationship with a knowledgeable webmaster who makes the best interests of your business a top priority.

This post was written by Peter Pelland

Finding It on Google Does Not Mean It Is Yours to Use

July 23rd, 2014

It’s late at night, a tired driver pulls up in front of your house, walks in your unlocked front door, and proceeds to enjoy a sound night of sleep in your spare bedroom. How would you react? Confronting the stranger, he tells you that an unlocked door is an open invitation to guests. Another night, your door is locked, and another stranger climbs in through a window. This one brings his entire family, redecorates, changes the locks on the doors, and wants to know what you are doing in his house.

You might think that these stories are crazy, and you would be right; however, have you ever done an image search on Google when you were looking for a certain photo or illustration to use in your own promotional materials? Unless it is specifically marked as “freeware” or “open source” by the original artist, you are probably just as guilty as one of those uninvited guests.

Most people know that just about any image or text that is ever posted online will be shared, re-posted, and indexed by search engines. Even embarrassing personal information has a life of its own. In fact, it took a May 2014 ruling by the European Union’s top court to enforce the new “Right to Be Forgotten” policy that affects Google search results that are based upon an individual’s name. In the first month, according to The Wall Street Journal, over 40,000 removal requests were filed; however, the removal process is a slow and tedious procedure that is currently in effect only in EU member countries.

When it comes to that image search on Google, when you click on an individual image, the only disclaimer is the “images may be subject to copyright”, wording that is intended to relieve Google of liability, not to protect either you or the rights of artists. It is safe to assume that any use of an image found in this manner is a copyright violation and inherently illegal.

Put yourself in the shoes of an artist – or an author, in the case of text – and try to see the situation objectively. Nobody has a right to stay at your campground without paying a fee. Your campground is your livelihood. Well, the same thing applies to artists, illustrators, authors, and other people engaged in creative pursuits. They earn a living, put food on the table, and clothe their children by selling rights to their work.

One of our clients was mildly chastised recently for using a piece of artwork that he found in a Google search on one of his Facebook posts. Google did not clearly warn him that the artwork was copyrighted, but the artist did. It was a simple matter of apologizing and deleting the image; however, if the image had been used on printed materials, it could be another story with an entirely different outcome. Fortunately, most artwork found online is low resolution and unsuitable for use in print. Using artwork found online in printed materials could actually lead to a cease and desist order that could require any materials containing an unauthorized image to be recalled and destroyed.

 

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Another of our clients, Baker’s Acres Campground in New Jersey, has a very distinctive raccoon logo that we hired an artist to design on their behalf back in the 1980s. It is the campground’s registered trademark, they paid to have it created, and the original artwork is in our files. I just discovered that another campground has been using this artwork as its own logo, simply adding a feather to the back of the raccoon’s head. I spoke with the owner of the campground, and he sounded like a very nice individual who had no ill intent. He simply thought that he had used a piece of art that was in the public domain and then modified it. It apparently appears online and on his brochure, although I advised him to stop using it. Other instances may not result in such a friendly outcome.

If you require artwork for any purpose, there are two options. Either hire an artist to create custom artwork or buy usage rights to royalty-free stock images. Artists or illustrators can be easily found online through various resources such as www.elance.com; stock photography and illustrations are also readily available online through various resources such as www.shutterstock.com and www.123rf.com. Prices are remarkably affordable, and it is difficult to put a price on peace of mind.

The bottom line is that a Google search for images might be fine to provide ideas regarding what is already being used, perhaps helping you to avoid using something that is too similar to existing art; however, it should not be used as a resource for finding unique images that are free for the taking. In other instances, the search results might include watermarked stock images, with a link to the site where usage rights may be purchased.

Think about it: the reason that Google is indexing an image is because it is already online and being used, almost certainly by a business that has paid for that privilege. You do not want to act like that uninvited guest who is looking for a free place to spend the night.

This post was written by Peter Pelland

Get the View from the Street

November 6th, 2013

There are so many tools available from Google that it is almost difficult to keep track of them all, with new tools being introduced on a regular basis. In general, these tools enhance the Web experience and make it easier than ever for people to find information online, including information that relates to your business. In many instances, these tools provide opportunities for your business to save money, replacing existing paid services with free alternatives.

Google Maps Street View

Are you familiar with the Street View component of Google Maps? This is the feature where you can zoom into a map beyond what is otherwise the most detailed level, and then drag the “pegman” icon onto a mapped roadway to view panoramic photos of a neighborhood. Introduced in 2007, Google Street View started as a complex process involving vehicles with 9 directional cameras, GPS units, and laser scanners that captured a 360° view of stitched panoramic images. By June of 2012, Street View had covered over 5,000,000 miles of roads in 39 countries.

Less accessible areas (initially places like national parks and ski resorts) are mapped using Google Trikes and snowmobiles. Now Street View Treks has introduced portable mapping where the equipment is worn like a backpack, producing everything from treks into the Grand Canyon to climbs up the Eiffel Tower to descents to the Great Barrier Reef. The current generation of cameras uses 11 lenses and is producing high-definition images and 3-D renderings.

Get Your Campground Mapped

Did you know that you can ask Google to create a street view of the roadways on your property? For a campground, this means that you can ask Google to create what is essentially a free virtual tour site map that will tightly integrate with the other features of Google Maps.

Many campgrounds have included site maps on their websites that allow visitors to view specific sites by hovering over or clicking links on the map. An expensive and time-consuming process to create, especially if a campground has a large number of sites, it is a far cry from panoramic 360° views. Like so many paid services that have been rendered obsolete by new free services from Google, if you are willing to wait your turn, it may no longer be necessary to invest hundreds or thousands of dollars into a 360° virtual tour of your campground’s road network. Google will now do the work for free. Several added bonuses include integration with Google Maps, the ability to embed the content into your website, and no hosting or recurring fees. Weather is taken into consideration, and your mapping will not be done on a rainy day.

According to my conversations with Google associates, there is no guarantee when – or, in fact, even if – Google will get around to mapping your campground; however, it is unlikely to happen unless you get the ball rolling from your end. Currently, most college and university campuses are waiting to be mapped, and I would expect that those would be considered a higher priority than the typical campground. (For example, in the entire state of Pennsylvania, I am told that only Penn State’s main campus has been mapped so far.) That said, there is nothing to lose. Google is quietly expanding this program, and I highly recommend that campground owners sign up using the following link:
https://services.google.com/fb/forms/streetviewinterestedpartner/

More Extensive Virtual Tours

Do you want to include virtual tours of your cabins, store, or rec hall?  Entirely separate from its Street View mapping project, Google now maintains an extensive network of Trusted Photographers who you may hire to produce virtual tours of facilities within your park, at competitive rates. There are over 100 Trusted Photographers based in California alone. They are all professionals with the equipment that is necessary to photograph tight spaces under difficult lighting situations. They are using conventional digital SLR cameras, shooting stitched panoramas of high-definition images that you own and that may be used on your website, brochures, or any other purposes.

Google retains usage rights to the images taken by people in its Trusted Photographers network, meaning that your photos will appear online in searches, generally a positive feature, since many people perform searches based upon images. One limitation is that Google will not deal with releases and will not allow these photographers to include people in their photos, somewhat counterproductive from a marketing perspective. If you can deal with that restriction, I would suggest that you search for photographers in your area, visit their websites to view their portfolios, then contact them to discuss (and negotiate) rates. Start at the following URL:
http://maps.google.com/help/maps/businessphotos/get-started.html

The bottom line today is to get on board with Google before you decide to commit hundreds or thousands of dollars on a virtual tour of your campground. Weigh your options. One step at a time, Google is changing the way that we view the world, the way that the world views your business, and the way we run our businesses. Take advantage of these tools in order to maximize your competitive edge!

This post was written by Peter Pelland

Google Places for Business: Make the Most of Your Listing

October 16th, 2013

You may have noticed that the search results on Google have continued to evolve over time. While many people labor endlessly over their position in organic search results, they miss other opportunities to maximize their overall exposure. One of the most important tools, often overlooked, is Google Places for Business.

When you perform a Google Search, results appear in a variety of manners. As an example, I just performed a search for “campgrounds near Gatlinburg, TN”. The organic search results (which are localized for my search location and which may appear differently in your search) start with the campground page at the Gatlinburg Convention and Visitors Bureau website, followed by the Great Smoky Mountain Jellystone Camp-Resort, Smoky Bear Campground, Good Sam Club listings for the area, and the Pigeon Forge / Gatlinburg KOA. Above these organic search results (which are SEO-based) appear three Sponsored Search results (paid search engine placement) for the Adventure Bound property in Gatlinburg, Riveredge RV Park, and Bear Cove RV Village.