Pelland Blog

Referring Sites Bark Up Some Traffic

August 4th, 2015

The challenge of any website is to convert traffic into buyers who take the site’s prescribed call to action. Whether it means putting an item into a shopping cart, signing an online petition to save the whales, making a charitable contribution, or reserving a campsite for the third weekend in August, if a site lacks traffic it has no chance of converting those numbers of visitors into buyers. Fortunately, there are many ways to drive traffic to your site.

Many businesses have become convinced in recent years that the key to traffic is strictly a matter of search engine optimization (SEO). In desperation and out of confusion, they fall prey to a host of companies (who often initiate contact through spam or from a telemarketing boiler room operation) offering so-called guaranteed search engine placement or keyword analysis services that usually run automated software. Some other companies act like they possess a uniquely secret talent, with one recently proclaiming itself to be the “official SEO company of the campground industry”. The claims can get pretty preposterous. I actually received a telemarketing call a while back from an outfit in India called “BS SEO”. The name says it all!

With the decreasing role of search engine traffic, the role of referring sites becomes ever more important. The cumulative impact from established referring sites is not only measured directly by the traffic that they generate but also from the listings and their positive influence upon search engine rankings. With that in mind, one of your goals should be to ensure that your website is listed in as many online resources that are relevant to your business as possible. More importantly, check to confirm that the listings and links to your website are correct and unbroken.

Where to List

The best way to start is to compile a list of resources where your business should already be listed as one of your benefits of membership. Never assume that these listings are correct and up-to-date. Check them individually, and you will often be surprised by outdated content that could be negatively impacting the effectiveness of your listing. Start this list with your membership listings on any local, regional, or state chambers of commerce and tourism boards to which you belong. Check for details like current e-mail addresses, as well as your correct Web address, ideally including a direct link to your website.

Next on the checklist for campgrounds and related businesses are the state, regional, and national associations where your business maintains membership. These include National ARVC’s Go Camping America website and your state association website. When checking listings recently on three of the largest campground state association websites in the United States, I was shocked by the number of broken website links that I encountered. Most of those were the result of programming errors within the sites, a few were the result of spelling errors, but others were the result of updated information that was never passed along to the association by the owners of the individual campgrounds.

There were also several instances of campgrounds that had lost the domain names that were listed, even though they had new websites built under new domain names. Rather than sending people to their new (and presumably improved) website, visitors encountered either a “404 file not found” error page or a page indicating that the old domain name was for sale – either way leading many people to conclude that the campground is out of business and permanently closed. In one or two other instances, I found campgrounds with new domain names and who had not lost control of their old domain names, but did not provide redirects from the old to the new.

I should also mention that I encountered many websites with e-mail addresses that were invalid, making any attempt to contact the businesses bounce faster than a basketball. I have also encountered phone numbers that go to voicemail but that are either not set up to accept voicemails or have mailboxes that are full. Why not just lock your doors and find another line of work?

Each of the state associations has a member services website, usually password-protected, where you can enter any listing information that may be incorrect, incomplete, or entirely missing. Check your listings, and get ensure that they are as complete, correct, and up-to-date as possible.

Those are some of the most obvious resources where your campground would expect to be listed. Next, it is time to get listed in any of a wide range of specialized directories that relate to your business. Be sure to include performers who are scheduled to appear at your park. Almost all of them have their own websites, where they list their upcoming performance schedules. Provide links to them on your website’s activities schedule, then insist that they provide reciprocal links to your site. Many fans of these performers follow their schedules and could become first-time guests at your park.

Dog-Friendly Online Directories

There are many websites that list campgrounds that cater to specific types of camping. Some, for example, list campgrounds with yurts. Others list campgrounds with free wi-fi service. Others list campgrounds that are pet-friendly, and I will concentrate on these. Pets are indisputably the new family members. If your park is pet-friendly, there are many online resources that will help you to spread the word. Some of these sites even offer free listings or free trials. To save you time in researching these resources, I have compiled a comprehensive list of sites that cater to pet-friendly travel. I have excluded any sites that appear to be down, list only hotels, or are tied into another paid service.

In each instance, I am listing the website’s URL, its number of yearly visitors (as shown at StatShow.com), its annual listing fee, and the cost per thousand yearly visitors. This last number is an apples-to-apples way of comparing the cost-effectiveness of each site.

URL

Yearly Visitors

Annual Fee

CPM

GoPetFriendly.com 280,320 Free $0.00
DogFriendly.com 1,540,665 $119.00 $0.08
BringFido.com 1,177,855 $249.00 $0.21
PetsWelcome.com 592,760 $150.00 $0.25
PetFriendlyTravel.com 598,965 $199.00 $0.33
TakeYourPet.com 77,745 $129.00 $1.67

Somebody searching for camping accommodations on one or more of these sites is an excellent prospect to become a guest at your campground, probably a camper who has not stayed at your park before and would be unlikely to choose your park without this referral “nudge”. Since most people probably refer to only one of these resources – rather than searching through multiple resources – listing your park on more than one site is probably going to significantly expand your reach.

Building your presence on referral sites is only one of many ways to attract new guests. Now that you have this information at your disposal, put it to use!

This post was written by Peter Pelland

10 Questions to Ask Your Next Webmaster

October 29th, 2014

This past week, my company received an RFP (Request for Proposal) regarding website design and maintenance services. Although state associations and larger organizations often follow this formality, this instance was unusual because it came from the owner of an individual campground. Although we submitted a bid on the project, it reminded me how most people do not know the truly important questions to ask a prospective webmaster. With that in mind, let me outline a few of the questions that should be asked, along with some of the answers that should be anticipated.

Q&A_118069030_300x187_24

  1. Who is going to be the lead person on the project, and how will I contact that person throughout the course of production … and afterward? What is the background of that person, and are your work philosophies compatible? There may be a “team” of individuals working on your project, but you should expect to be in contact with the team manager, not the water boy. If key aspects of the project will be subcontracted or outsourced to an unidentified company or individual, you may want to look elsewhere.
  2. How many projects have been completed for similar companies that are comparable or larger than your own? How long has the company been in business, and what is its track record? Portfolios are always going to show a company’s best work. Campground review sites show both positive and negative reviews, and they help to present a more complete story. With this in mind, you might want to ask the company for an example of what it considers its own worst work.
  3. Will you provide an outline of the site’s proposed content and structure? Know what you want the site to accomplish, but let the developer propose the specific means to attain those goals. If you hire a painter, you need to tell that contractor what color you want on your living room walls, but it is probably best not to tell him what brand of paint to buy and what kind of brushes to use. Let the painter determine what will work best and what he prefers to use, based upon his experience. If you tell your webmaster how to do his work, you might very well be demanding the use of outmoded technology.
  4. What will be our respective roles in the ongoing development and maintenance of the site? Do not be obsessed with infrastructure, particularly presumptions regarding any particular CMS (Content Management System) platform. Too many people are determined that their new website should be built in WordPress or another specific CMS platform, simply because somebody told them that this was the way to go. The important question to ask is, “Who will be maintaining the site – you or me – and what will it cost over time?” In most instances, you want somebody who will stay on board to offer ongoing assistance to one degree or another, not somebody who expects you to sink or swim on your own.
  5. How will the initial content be provided, and who will edit that content? Typically, you will be expected to provide the basic text and photos that will be used on your site, but how are those supplied materials taken to the next level? Will photos be professionally enhanced in Photoshop? Will the text be proofread, edited, and professionally rewritten … then sent back to you for further revisions and final approval? What you do not want is somebody who does little more than copy and paste. Even the best photos need to be optimized, and even the best text can be improved, keeping in mind that the text on a website must be written for two audiences: a broad audience of human beings and a smaller but equally important audience of search engine robots.
  6. Speaking of search engines, will basic SEO (Search Engine Optimization) components be included in the cost of the project, or are those add-on services? Will Google Analytics be installed on your site at no charge? What additional SEO components will be included? Often, if you do not ask, services that might otherwise be provided at no charge will be absent from your project. Beware of extra charges for important services (such as Google Analytics) that are available at no charge and simply need to be setup and installed.
  7. Will the new site be expected to work on the full spectrum of devices and operating systems that are currently being used to access the Web? Specifically, is the new site designed to be fully functional on any and all of the latest smartphones and tablets? Older sites may have been built when compatibility with Internet Explorer 6 was an important consideration. Today, when people wait in line to be the first to buy the latest iPhone, backward compatibility is not nearly as great a concern as forward compatibility. Things like use of Flash animation (no longer supported on iOS and the newest Android devices) or separate mobile sites are old-school technologies. Be certain that you will be investing in the latest, solidly established technology. Avoid throwing money away on either old technology or planned obsolescence.
  8. What other services can the webmaster provide in-house? A new website should be a key component of an overall branding strategy. If the website development company has an understanding of and experience in orchestrating overall branding strategies, that is a big plus. If not, you could find yourself in the position where the graphic design that has been incorporated into your new website cannot be transitioned into the high-resolution demands of other formats such as print advertising and signage.
  9. What are the projected up-front (first year) costs of the project, and what are the anticipated long-term costs? I have seen “bargain” websites that needed to be scrapped and replaced a year later, and I have seen companies that charge outrageously overpriced, recurring fees for alleged SEO services. Expect to make a financial commitment when a new site is built and launched; however, beware of excessive long-term maintenance costs, particularly for intangible services.
  10. Can I find your business online if I type your business name followed by the word “complaints” in a Google search box? Needless to say, you perform this actual search yourself, rather than asking the prospective webmaster this question! If there are relevant results, read through a few. You are better off being forewarned now than putting yourself into a situation where you will be writing one of those reviews yourself a year from now!

You might have other questions in mind that you feel are important. If so, ask them! The important thing is to let your webmaster do his or her job, but to ensure that when that job is done it will be consistent with your own ideas and objectives.

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

Let’s Debunk 8 Website SEO Myths

August 8th, 2013

Maybe you are familiar with the concept of urban legends, plausible but untrue stories that are perpetuated by people who blindly accept and share this misinformation when they read it online. In the old (pre-Internet) days, these were often referred to as “Old Wives’ Tales”, and included nonsense such as how it takes swallowed chewing gum seven years to pass through a person’s digestive system or how you will drown if you go swimming less than an hour after eating. Some of these tales still persist, although most of us have smartened up to the newer wave of wealthy Nigerian widows wanting to share their fortunes and the alleged family members stuck in an airport with an urgent need for a loan.

When it comes to websites and what it takes to attain top search engine rankings, the myths seem to be never-ending, and new scams surface (and older scams resurface) on a regular basis. The fact is that quality content, well-written text, and incoming links are all important factors when the Google or Bing search engine robots are evaluating your website, but the following bits of frequently espoused advice are purely fiction.

1)    Companies can provide top search engine placement. Those telemarketing calls that we all receive, with a pre-recorded message about your website’s poor search engine placement and how the caller’s company can remedy the situation, are sheer rip-offs. First of all, you are only being called because you have a business telephone number that is on a telemarketing list. The caller has not looked at your website and does not even know if you even have a website. They DO know that you probably have money in your bank account. Most of these callers imply that they are affiliated with Google, but they have no connection whatsoever.

2)    Hyphenated domain names are better for SEO. In reality, long domain names and hyphenated domain names should be your last choice, and they have no impact upon SEO. Which example makes more sense – SpaceCenterCamping.com or The-best-campground-near-the-Johnson-Space-Center.com?

3)    The .com extension is ranked higher by search engines. Not true; however, the .com version of a domain name should always be your first choice because many people subconsciously think of .com when they think of domain names. If your domain name is WonderlandCamping.biz, it will be ranked just as highly as WonderlandCamping.com would be by search engines, but many users might inadvertently type in the domain name with the .com extension, usually bringing them to the website of another business (which beat you to the .com), making the .biz extension less desirable.

4)    An older domain name is more valuable than a newer domain name. An older domain name with a high existing search engine ranking is better than a new domain (which spends time in what is referred to as the “Google sandbox” before it gains traction), but there are also older domains that – due to their former content – have actually been delisted by search engines. Typically, the people making this argument are ones who have a domain name that they are trying to sell. The point is that the age of the domain name, in itself, has nothing to do with search engine ranking.

5)    If you register your domain name for the maximum 10 years, it shows the search engines that you have a serious business, so they will rank your website more highly. I actually sat on a roundtable a few years ago where one of my competitors made this outrageously incorrect statement. The fact is that this myth was intentionally started by GoDaddy, in an attempt to get people locked into their service for a longer period of time. It has zero effect on search engine ranking.

6)    Buying sponsored search advertising will influence and improve your organic search engine ranking. This is patently untrue. One has nothing to do with the other, although significant increases in the amount of traffic to, from, and within your site could be a contributing factor in a search engine’s ranking algorithms.

7)    Link exchanges and reciprocal links will improve your search engine ranking. This is also usually untrue, unless the other businesses have something in common with your business, such as serving the same niche of customers. If you own a shoe store, and your website has a page of links to the websites of the major airlines, this is going to do nothing to enhance your search engine ranking.

8)    Load time is no longer important because most people have high-speed Internet access. Actually, load time is still important. Faster loading pages have lower bounce rates (representing the numbers of people who reach a site but leave almost immediately) and their rankings will be higher. This does not suggest that a page should be all text and no graphics, since that type of content is unlikely to persuade visitors to follow the intended call to action.

All in all, it helps to exercise a bit of common sense before concluding that anything and everything that you read online is reliable and true. Even if something sounds plausible, get a second opinion. Either ask somebody whose knowledge you trust, or do a Google search for the claim to see if there are either differences of opinion or a downright disproval.

This post was written by Peter Pelland