Pelland Blog

Build Your Campground Website’s Traffic in 10 Easy Steps

August 6th, 2014

The best website in the world is ineffective if nobody sees it. It is a fact today that too many people obsess over search engine optimization (SEO) and the employment of a wide variety of tricks in an effort to outsmart Google’s search ranking algorithms. The bottom line is that nothing is more effective or easier to implement than links to your site from established websites with related, relevant content. Referring sites will send you direct traffic. More importantly, the presence of your links on those sites will also enhance the ranking of your own site, due to its direct association with sites that are already deemed to be “important” by Google.

The most important referring sites will be travel-related sites like TripAdvisor, and industry-related sites like Go Camping America. Once you have the big players covered, it is time to get your website listed on the “B list” of referral sites, and I will save you some work by presenting the following list of 10 websites that include online directories of campgrounds. Nine of the ten offer free listings. Check each site to see if your park is already listed, or if an existing listing might require corrections or updates. If your park is not listed, follow the links to get your site added.

Although every valid link is helpful, links from highly ranked sites with heavy traffic are the most valuable. For that reason, I am including the Alexa ranking and the StatShow traffic estimate for each site. The Alexa ranking is a metric that presents the site’s overall ranking against all other websites. The lower the Alexa ranking number, the better. StatShow indicates the average number of users and page views per month, where the higher the numbers, the better. As an example, the Alexa ranking of Amazon.com is 10, with a StatShow ranking of 220,280,520 visitors and 3,150,011,700 page views per month.

  1. RV Points. This is a relatively new site, launched in early 2012, that looks like it is trying to be the Groupon of campgrounds. Listings are free, although there is a fee to be listed as a featured park. You do not have to present a special offer to participate. Go to http://rvpoints.com, then follow the signup link. Alexa ranking: 10,821,800. StatShow ranking: 1,320 / 2,940.
  2. Leisure and Sport Review. This site provides a state-by-state listing of events and lodging, including both campgrounds and cabins. Find it at http://www.lasr.net, with a signup form at http://www.lasr.net/addBusiness.php. Alexa ranking: 222,547. StatShow ranking: 64,350 / 141,570.
  3. Mile By Mile. Nothing fancy in this directory of resources, including campgrounds, that is designed to help families plan road trips across the United States and Canada. http://www.milebymile.com, with edit listing / add listing form at http://www.milebymile.com/update.php. Alexa ranking: 477,532. StatShow ranking: 29,970 / 65,970.
  4. RV Resources. Nearly 15 years old, this site presents everything that has to do with RVing, including a directory of campgrounds. http://www.rvresources.com, with a listing form at http://www.rvresources.com/addsitenew.php. Alexa ranking: 530,214. StatShow ranking: 27,000 / 59,430.
  5. RV Zone. One of the oldest RV-related sites on the Internet, this site offers listings that are quick and easy to submit. http://www.rvzone.com, with the “suggest a site” link at http://www.rvzone.com/SuggestASite.cfm. (No stats currently available.)
  6. WorldWeb.com. This is an international travel directory that includes both the United States and campground listings, representing a useful resource for international travelers to find your park. Go to http://www.worldweb.com, then follow the Add > Business link in the upper right of the page. Alexa ranking: 26,275. StatShow ranking: 544,920 / 1,198,860.
  7. The Modern Outback Adventure Travel Guide. Based in British Columbia, Canada, this site presents comprehensive listings of campgrounds, resorts, wilderness lodges and destinations in the United States and Canada. Find it at http://www.modernoutback.com, then add your listing at http://www.modernoutback.com/addlisting.html. (No stats currently available.)
  8. RVNetLinx.com. This site lists campgrounds, campground associations, RV repair services, employment ads, and more. http://www.rvnetlinx.com, with a “submit your site” form at http://www.rvnetlinx.com/wpsubmitsite.php. Alexa ranking: 3,080,156. StatShow ranking: 4,620 / 10,200.
  9. RV Mechanic. This is an online directory of everything that relates to RV repairs. It also includes a directory of campgrounds, with an easy form to add your listing. Find the site at http://www.rvmechanic.com, then, to add your listing, go to http://www.rvmechanic.com/company_register.html. Alexa ranking: 560,380. StatShow ranking: 25,560 / 56,250.
  10. RV Park Hunter. This one is not free, but costs $25.00 per year on the 1 year plan, or $10.00 per year on the 5 year plan. http://www.rvparkhunter.com, with a listing form at http://www.rvparkhunter.com/listing.asp. Alexa ranking: 2,883,568. StatShow ranking: 4,950 / 10,950.

As you can see from the statistics, some of these sites might actually send some significant traffic to your site, which you can track and verify if you are running Google Analytics. In other instances, the greater value will be in simply having the search engine robots visiting the sites and catching the outbound link to your site.

This post was written by Peter Pelland

Some Common Sense Thoughts on SEO

May 29th, 2014

In the business world today, there seems to be no greater obsession than SEO – Search Engine Optimization. If website traffic falls short of an owner’s ever-increasing expectations, it is an all-too-common practice to blame SEO that is somehow not up to snuff. It amazes me how many people think that the same three letters can be either the reason for their success of the reason for their failure. In reality, people have far less control over SEO than most of us would be led to believe.

Because of that common misperception, there is an entire industry that thrives on exploiting small business owners and their belief in a silver bullet. Have you ever gotten an e-mail from a self-proclaimed SEO expert? I got spammed just this morning by somebody with the message, “Want more clients and customers? We will help them find you by putting you on the 1st page of Google.” There are no listings on the “first page of Google”, a page that only contains a stylized Google logo and a search box!

In addition to those e-mails, you have probably also gotten telemarketing calls from people who claim to hold the key to the pot of gold at the end of the Google rainbow. Sometimes the caller ID even says that the call is from “Google” … something that is easy for anybody to spoof. Trust me when I tell you that Google is never going to call you and they are never going to call me. Think about it. Have you ever been able to call Google and even speak with a receptionist?

The people who claim that they can get you that elusive prime search engine placement are – almost without exception – skilled con artists who will put the average used car salesman to shame. I recently met with the owner of a small campground who had been spending $300.00 per month for alleged SEO services with a company that was accomplishing nothing on his behalf. When he tried to cancel the service, the salesperson tried to convert him to the company’s $75.00 monthly plan. When he told me the name of the company, I did a Google search for the company name followed by the word “complaints”, and there were 755,000 results!

Search today is localized to the computer performing the search and is based upon a user’s previous usage patterns. It is relatively easy to make it look like your site is appearing near the top of broad search results, but this does not mean that your site is going to appear anywhere for somebody doing a search in Peoria or Wichita. Google has built its reputation upon providing the most highly relevant search results for any particular term and any particular user, and no self-proclaimed SEO expert can outsmart Google at its own game.

I have a friend who likes to say that his website comes up in the # 1 search position on Google for long, convoluted phrases that would never be used in an actual search. If his business was a campground, his website would appear at the top of the search results for the search phrase, “full hookup pull-thru campsites with free wi-fi on Lake Winnipesaukee in Meredith, New Hampshire”. See what I mean? Unless a business holds an international monopoly or trademark on a certain product or service, it is not going to appear at the top of the search results – on its own merits – for either a broad or highly specific search term. If you search for “iPhone”, you will be taken to Apple Computer; if you search for “2014 Mustang”, you will be taken to Ford; and if you search for “Cheerios”, you will be taken to the General Mills Cheerios website.

On the other hand, if I search for “oat cereal”, at least based upon my browsing history, Cheerios does not appear anywhere on at least the first 10 pages of search results, except for the paid “sponsored search” ad at the top of each page. Do you see my point? If I was not already familiar with “Cheerios” and specifically searching for that well-known product, it would not appear in my search results. In the case of your campground, the total number of websites in the world is expected to exceed 1 Billion by the end of June 2014, according to InternetLiveStats.com, and there are over 13,000 private campgrounds in the United States alone. Can you understand how easy it is to get lost in those numbers?

A person searching for the broad term “family camping” is unlikely to be looking for your specific campground. If your campground’s website appeared at the top of the list – outside of localized content and the user’s established usage patterns – Google would lose its credibility and its dominance in the search market. Beyond localized content and usage patterns, search results are based upon relevance (primarily found in the text on pages), a site’s relative importance, timeliness of content, and a site’s general volume of traffic. Yes, the odds are stacked against the website of a small business, particularly if that Web presence is either relatively new or if it is old and static.

The old days of keyword lists have long been replaced by today’s intuitive and content-based search results. Content is king. Most importantly, it is essential that your website delivers the type of quality experience that will ensure that, once people find you, they will be more likely to stay than leave.

With a better understanding of how search results are delivered these days, you are now better prepared to ignore those phone calls and spam e-mails from people who are in the business of selling false promises and victimizing the uninformed.

This post was written by Peter Pelland

Advantages of Multiple Websites & Multiple Domain Names

April 15th, 2014

These days, the domain name of a business is nearly as important as the business’s name itself. In a process referred to as a “type-in”, customers expect to be able to enter a business name followed by the .com extension into their browser’s address bar to be brought to the proper website. Stories abound about businesses (and even the White House!) that were asleep at the switch and found what should have been their domain names grabbed up by competitive forces. Of course, as time has progressed, many first choices have long ago been registered by businesses with similar names. For example, there appear to be more than a dozen parks name Shady Oaks Campground throughout the United States alone. The campground by that name in Maine registered the first-choice ShadyOaksCampground.com back in 1998, and the even more desirable ShadyOaks.com was registered by a nursery by that name in Minnesota two years earlier, back in 1996. Everyone else since then has faced the need for creativity in choosing an alternate domain name that might make sense.

When looking for the best available domain name, the rules of thumb are to keep it intuitive (in other words, having an obvious relation to your business), as short as possible, easy to spell, and ending in the .com extension. Some people persist in believing the myth that a long domain name that contains multiple keywords (even including words that do not relate to their business) will somehow enhance a website’s search engine ranking. In fact, I recently came across a campground in Georgia with a domain name that is made up of a combination of 9 words, for a total of 43 characters ahead of the .com – absolutely absurd! While it is true that an Exact Match Domain (EMD) name – such as the aforementioned ShadyOaksCampground.com – might offer a slight edge over less intuitive domain names in a list of search results, the general rule is to find the best available domain name that will make sense to your customers, particularly new customers who are not already familiar with your business.

Up until now, I have been referring to the best choice for a primary domain name for your business, but what about multiple domain names? Do they make sense?

Multiple Domain Names

Domain name registration fees are relatively minor in the overall scope of things, and many businesses like to explore the advantages of multiple domain names. These secondary domain names are typically setup as domain aliases that seamlessly redirect traffic to the primary domain. They are often based upon appropriate keyword phrases and are considered Phrase Match Domain (PMD) names. Whether or not these influence search results is open to debate; however, they may have value simply from the “type-in” perspective. My own research, based upon Google search results for keyword phrases that represent actual domains registered on behalf of our clients, suggests that domain aliases have very little influence upon search results.

Even in instances where these domain aliases are quite intuitive and directly relate to a business name or location, a search for the keyword phrase contained within that PMD typically produces surprisingly dismal results. My conclusion is that registering multiple domain names strictly for their search engine value is probably a futile effort that cannot even justify the relatively minimal expense. The exceptions are:

  • If an alternate domain name protects your name or trademark from potential infringement (or even confusion in the eyes of consumers). For example, if your business name was Willow Shores Campground and your domain name was WillowShores.com, you might want to register WillowShoresCampground.com as a domain alias.
  • If the alternate domain name points to unique content, rather than simply redirecting to another URL.

This last point is important. Although you do NOT want to have multiple websites for the same business competing for search engine ranking and confusing your customers, if you can justify building a secondary website that showcases unique content that represents a facet of your business, that website will appear in appropriate search queries and it will enhance the SEO of sites (including, of course, your primary website) that are linked to that secondary site. Note my emphasis on the word “unique” – search engines will typically penalize all of the sites involved when one or more sites simply mirror the content of another.

Examples Where Secondary Websites Make Sense

When justified by content, secondary websites make a great deal of sense. They can also help to generate search engine rankings and, subsequently, business. As an example, one of our clients is a large tea company with a long list of alternate domain names. Some are domain aliases that represent variations of their business name and protect their trademark from infringement. More importantly, there are separate, small websites for several of their flagship products. These sites appear at the top of search results for those products, while also directing significant traffic to the company’s main online commerce website.

Another example is the website for our client, James Kitchen, a prominent New England sculptor. His primary website provides all the information anyone might need – from finding the locations of installations, viewing a schedule of upcoming exhibitions, or watching a short documentary film on the artist. A new, smaller website showcases the artist’s contribution to a major Steampunk exhibition that is being hosted by the city of Springfield, Massachusetts from late March through late September 2014. This site will generate SEO and traffic within its own right, while also enhancing the SEO of the main James Kitchen site.

What works for a tea company and an artist can also work for a campground. Many campgrounds benefit (or could benefit) from a secondary website that showcases their canoe rental operation, adjoining restaurant or lodging, or miniature golf course that is open to the public. Others could benefit from a secondary website capitalizing upon their proximity to nearby attractions such as rail trails, fishing, or hiking. If your business has more than one profit center, there is no reason to limit your reach to a single website.

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.