Holiday Shoppers Favored Mobile during Thanksgiving and Cyber Monday

Wednesday, December 20, 2017 Listrak 0 Comments

We’re rounding the home stretch and heading toward the holiday shopping finish line. The results from Thanksgiving and Cyber Weeks are in for 2017 and eCommerce retailers and marketers should be thrilled. Online sales in the U.S. reached a record-breaking $6.59 billion on Cyber Monday alone, according to Adobe Analytics; this, along with a 16.9% increase in dollars spent online on Black Friday compared to 2016. There has been a shift toward online shopping for some time and now consumers are increasingly favoring mobile devices (smartphones and tablets) for their shopping needs, this year more than ever.

It’s no surprise because we’ve seen steady growth in both mobile site traffic and online revenue during the holiday shopping season the past several years. But, this year truly reached new heights as online sales from Thanksgiving through Cyber Monday set the record at close to $20 billion, up 15% year-over-year YOY from 2016, according to Adobe Digital Insights (ADI). Mobile sales represented 33.1% of that revenue, up 22.2% YOY.

Why are we turning to our phones and tablets for our shopping needs? To me, the answer is simple – it’s easier. Mobile shopping is efficient and convenient. Shoppers already know what products they want and where to find the best deals for them, and can do so quickly without firing up their desktops.

"Consumers are now savvier and more apt to do their own product research. Comparison shopping is more convenient than ever before with smartphones. Mobile internet finally has a solid foothold in the digital landscape. Companies are realizing that it’s no longer an afterthought— it's a primary driver and delivering on a seamless user experience across channels and devices is crucial.” said Zach Trimble, Listrak Product Manager.

From a personal perspective, I rely on my favorite retailers to offer mobile optimized sites-- sometimes apps-- and more than ever, SMS coupon offers and discounts. It’s convenient for me and truly only as far away as my pocket. Companies such as Target, Macy's, Kohl's and Nordstrom have all been seen making investments in their mobile apps.

Convenience was key for me this year as I became a mother in September. With my brand-new baby in tow, I headed out for a shopping trip to Kohl’s for their pre-Thanksgiving Day sale to use a $10 coupon which was only redeemable in stores. I didn’t bring my stroller (I guess I skipped that day in New Mom 101) and had to lug baby around a crowded store and subsequently wait in long lines. After that, I decided to finish the rest of my shopping online-- from my iPhone that is.

It seems a lot of shoppers made the same decision I did this year. Kohl’s reported that its website had a “record-breaking” Thanksgiving, with roughly 16 million online visits that day, while JCPenney said online traffic had increased by “double digits” the week of Thanksgiving, with consumers using mobile devices to shop for gifts.

On Cyber Monday alone, mobile-driven revenue tipped the scales at $2 billion. So, what phones are shoppers favoring? The average order value for an Apple iOS user was $123, with Google Android users coming in at an average order value of $110.

Overall, more than half of Thanksgiving weekend’s online purchases were placed on mobile devices, according to data from Adobe Analytics, which measures online transactions by the 100 largest U.S. online retailers. Visits to physical stores dropped off as many retailers offered the same deals online as they did in-store.

I’m happy that retailers are realizing that in an age where we are all busy and looking for any little way to save time and energy, offering the same incentive online and in-store will please those of us mobile shoppers.

As the last big push for holiday shopping commences this week, it’s not too late to offer SMS incentives for your last-minute shoppers who may be turning to their mobile device to purchase those last few gift items on their lists.

If you’re new to SMS marketing, take a look at Listrak’s SMS State of the Industry infographic to gain a clear understanding of the current state of SMS. Listrak clients, take advantage of Listrak’s SMS offering by contacting your account manager today.



Lauren Eisenhauer
Marketing Manager

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Next Level SMS Marketing Strategies: iOS Previews and Google Analytics Tracking

Thursday, December 14, 2017 Listrak 0 Comments

There is no denying mobile’s dominance.
comScore found that the average American adult spends 2 hours, 51 minutes on their smartphones every day. And eMarketer expanded that report to include tablets and found the total time spent by mobile users is 4 hours, 5 minutes per day. Mobile now accounts for 65% of total digital media consumption. While the majority of our mobile time is spent in social networks, Informate reported that the average American smartphone user goes through 32 texts and 6 phone calls per day, accounting for a total of 26 minutes and 21 minutes, respectively.

An even closer look by eMarketer shows we spend 10% of our time interacting with email on mobile devices compared with 22% of our time texting.



The Importance of SMS Marketing
85% of consumers want to receive text messages from their favorite brands. Yet only 38% of businesses have adopted SMS as a way to reach their customers. When done correctly, SMS will increase engagement and revenue. And the fact that it is delivered directly to your customer’s most personal device provides new opportunities for marketers. For example, you can use SMS to re-engage subscribers who have become disengaged with email or you can reward your most loyal customers with exclusive offers. With Listrak’s SMS platform, you will be able to segment specific target audiences to create highly-personalized messages while coordinating SMS with your email, paid social and other channels. Best of all, because you are sending to a targeted list, your carrier CPM rates will be much lower. You’ll spend less but will drive even more revenue.

Whether you are considering adding an SMS marketing program or if you’re already sending messages, below are some tips that you need to know.

iOS Tap to Load Preview
Nearly one-third of mobile devices run on Apple’s iOS mobile operating system. Of those, 92% are running iOS 10 or iOS 11, which means you a large percentage of your mobile subscribers will benefit from this tip.

If your SMS messages include a hyperlink, an update to the iOS 10 operating system and carried over to the latest update automatically updates links that appear at the beginning or end of a message to a preview.



To get this to work, there are a few requirements you need to follow:
  • The link must be the first or last text in the message. If the hyperlink is placed in the middle of the text it will show up as a clickable link without the preview. Even one word placed before the link if it’s at the beginning or one word placed after the link if it’s at the end will eliminate the preview from being shown. However, you can place a period after the link, but nothing else. 
  • A preview will not be included if multiple links are included in the message, even if one of the links is the first or last text in the message. 
  • To show the preview, the link must begin with http:// or https:// but the domain (.com, .ly, .io, etc) does not matter. If the link begins with www or anything other than http.// or https.// the preview will not appear.· The preview feature removes the hyperlink and replaces it with a “Tap to Load Preview” image either before or after the text message, depending on if the link was at the beginning or end of the message. Subscribers must click the image in order to load the preview. Even though it looks like two messages, you are only charged once. Clicking on the “Tap to Load Preview” image does not count as a click. Subscribers must click on the actual preview to visit the website in order to count as a click. 
  • It’s important to note that even though the link looks like it was removed that it still counts towards your 160 character limit for SMS messages in the U.S. and 140 character limit in Canada. 
  • It’s also important to note that the preview only includes the host name of the domain and not the domain path. When the subscriber clicks the preview, the title of the website appears along with the host name of the domain but not the domain path. The minimum character count in the title is 54 characters with the maximum being 72 for vertical images, and 109 characters for horizontal images. 
  • You can control what image to show in the preview using an Open Graph og:image tag. If an image is not set using that standard, then no image will be displayed. If you don’t have an Open Graph image on the page you’re linking to, iOS 10 and 11 will display the favicon for the page. You can test og.image tags here: https://developers.facebook.com/tools/debug/ and you can test to make sure your page has a favicon here: http://seositecheckup.com/tools/favicon-test. A favicon is displayed in the image below:
      
  • Image sizes – if you want the image to be vertical, use a 400x542 pixel image, which allows for 53 character website page title. However, we recommend using horizontal images at 1,200 x 628 pixels, or 560 x 292 for smaller graphics. This allows for 109 characters in the page title. Because Facebook also prefers horizontal Open Graph images with the same dimensions, it should help streamline design time while keeping images consistent across channels. Keep in mind that Gifs aren’t supported in iOS 10. 

Note that iOS 11 on the iPhone X defaults to hiding text previews for all of your apps, automatically. Users can unlock that feature with Face ID. If you have any questions on this tactic, reach out to your Listrak Account Manager or Listrak support.

SMS Tracking in Google Analytics
Campaign tracking is one of the biggest challenges with SMS marketing. Listrak’s SMS platform fills in a lot of the gaps, giving you the ability to track short code level subscriptions, message volume, broadcast campaign metrics, keyword opt-in metrics, revenue attribution, contact management and integrated Google Analytics campaign reporting.

Including SMS as a traffic source in your Google Analytics reports is one of the most accurate ways to track the efficacy of your SMS campaigns. Using Google Analytics UTM tracking parameters, this is easy to do. For example:

Tracked URL:
https://www.mysite.com/black-friday-offer/?utm_source=[insert source]& utm_ medium=[insert medium name]

…And filled out with information:
https://www.retailsite.com/black-friday-offer/?utm_source=Listrak&utm_medium=sms

The bold text contains the parameters and their values. This would tell Google Analytics that whoever entered the website via this link has come from the source ‘Listrak’ and the medium ‘sms’.



The good news for Listrak users is that the Listrak application will take care of adding Google Analytics tracking code automatically for you by creating the utm parameters and append them to your links. By default, Source is Listrak and Medium is sms, but this can be updated in the Short Code settings:



Listrak will also automatically add the Campaign Name and Campaign Content based on the Google Analytics fields when creating a new SMS campaign:


Additionally, Listrak will add the utm_term parameter using the link URL so that activity in Google Analytics can be tracked to a specific link.

Adding the UTM to the URL will provide the ability to track SMS as a source in Google Analytics. However, it adds a lot of characters to the URL. And when you’re already limited to 160 characters, every character counts. Listrak’s SMS platform includes a URL shortener to minimize the character count of your links and will hide the UTM parameters as part of the redirected URL so that they are hidden from the message and do not count against the character limit. 

Whether you have been sending SMS messages or if you are just getting started, these two tactics will take your campaigns to the next level. Questions? Reach out in the comments section.



Megan Ouellet
Director, Product Marketing


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7 Ways to Use Transactional SMS Messaging

Tuesday, November 28, 2017 Listrak 0 Comments


Research reveals that it takes an average person 90-minutes to respond to an email but only 90-seconds to respond to a text message. Today’s consumers have come to expect personal and engaging messages. To meet these demands, marketers need to develop a mobile strategy that enhances marketing efforts with messages that reach consumers in the most direct way – on their personal devices.

In fact, 75% of consumers want companies to text them for anything from appointment or payment reminders, offers, information, etc. — yet currently only 30% of companies are fulfilling.

This is a massive untapped opportunity for marketers.

Traditional promotional SMS messages focus on marketing efforts - such as one-day sales, product launches, or weekly broadcast campaigns that serve an informative role.

Transactional SMS messages based on triggered events add value for consumers because they are personalized, relevant and timely. They are designed to increase loyalty, prevent lapsed buying behavior and re-engage consumers that represent the most value to your brand.

Some examples of how transactional SMS messages can be used include:

Account Activation/Verification (Identity Verification)

With the use of SMS, you can enable an account activation or verification feature to increase security for your customers. When a customer signs in or registers, they will be sent a unique code and will be required to verify their account by clicking an activation link or entering a verification code on their mobile device. By adding this extra step, only people that should be allowed access to accounts are given that access. Confirming identities through SMS is an inexpensive yet highly reliable and convenient way to increase security, as well as peace of mind.


Shipping/Delivery/Pickup Notifications

After an order is placed, real-time information about shipping, delivery and pickup can be shared with your customers via text messages. A simple delivery update, shipping confirmation or pickup notification will allow the customer to know where their shipment is, and can notify the customer of changes, status and delivery right on their mobile device. This creates a sense of trust and helps to build and maintain a good customer relationship.

Order Confirmations

Similar to shipping, delivery, and pickup notifications, order confirmation text messages also serve an important purpose. They verify that the order has been successfully placed, reducing post-purchase anxiety and reinforcing your brand’s reliability. Order confirmation messages are a good opportunity to not only reassure your customers about their purchase, but also provide ways for them to extend the relationship with your business whether it is through another sale or even signing up for your email updates.


Time-Triggered Reminders

Missed appointments mean missed opportunities for sales. That’s why it’s so crucial to cut down on no-shows. With the use of time-triggered text messaging, you can make sure customers don’t forget when they’re meeting you by reminding them the day or even an hour before.

Moreover, you could automatically reach back to customers that purchased consumable products when it is time to replenish their merchandise. The benefit of a text is that it will remind them even if they’re on the go, so it’s right at their fingertips.


Real-Time Alerts

Text messages are the best way to keep customers in the loop, especially if the message is urgent. Phone calls and emails are easily missed, and because only 22% of emails actually get opened, customers don’t always act on notifications in a timely manner. Text alerts deliver important information with immediacy, so customers can act on it right away. Alerting customers with a real-time text of a flight change, a table being ready, their credit card activity or their data usage, helps them feel valued and informed, ultimately improving their satisfaction and increasing the likelihood that they’ll call on your business again.



Opt-In Requests

After a customer signs up for an email or mobile list, they expect a confirmation of their request. One example of an opt in request message would be a welcome message that can simply thank subscribers for signing up or can deliver the discount or offer promised that was used as the opt-in incentive. Make the most of this opportunity by personally engaging each subscriber with content curated to their interests that keeps subscribers interacting with your brand. Another example of an opt in request text message is a birthday message. Sending a short and sweet birthday text accompanied by an exclusive offer, discount or freebie is more than enough to win over a lifetime customer.


Product Alerts

With a product alert text message, you can automatically notify shoppers when inventory levels change. This allows customers to sign up onsite to receive the alerts when the inventory is replenished and keeps an ongoing conversation alive with customers. Being able to leverage product alert text messages allows you to connect with first-time and returning customers on mobile devices.


Permissions and Opt-ins

When using SMS, it’s important to understand the regulations about communicating with customers through text messages. A customer that opts-in means they are giving you the right to be targeted by marketing communications via SMS. Transactional SMS requires opt-in, the same as broadcast SMS messages.

Benefits of Transactional SMS Messaging


Timely

Transactional SMS messages are time sensitive, meaning they are triggered to a consumer based on a specific time or event. Because of this, it is critical for marketers to utilize mobile channels that naturally allow for the fast, almost instantaneous delivery of messages to consumers. Unlike a personal email account where daily activity is limited by how much time consumers spend in their inboxes, consumers frequently access their mobile phone’s texting application. This presents a prime opportunity for companies to deliver time-sensitive messages that will most likely be opened and read by consumers.

Enhanced Engagement

Transactional SMS messaging keeps your brand top of mind with your customers, reducing your reliance on marketing messages to maintain a connection. For new customers, service-based messages can help establish initial mobile relationships without the need for marketing messaging. It also allows you to opt-in net new subscribers to your mobile database, which can be used for marketing purposes.

Loyalty

Transactional text messaging is 1:1. This close customer relationship allows an enormous marketing opportunity to increase loyalty and boost revenue. By keeping consumers engaged after a conversion, you can establish a direct connection between your brand and your customers, build customer loyalty and drive sales while creating a consistent and seamless experience.


Transactional SMS messaging offers marketers a quick, easy way to send important information to customers. This streamlines communications dramatically, and can lead to a much better customer experience. Although they are not marketing messages, customers value the availability of this information so much that it increases the likelihood that they’ll become loyal customers and continue to purchase. By incorporating the tips above into your strategy, you can increase your revenue and build a better brand in as little as 160 characters.

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It's Time for Cross-Channel Campaigns

Tuesday, November 07, 2017 Listrak 0 Comments


The holiday season is upon us. Many retailers have already started to ramp up their email deployment schedules, which is a key tactic to making your Q4 revenue goals. However, it's important to remember that just sending more emails alone isn't a strategy - you need to consider when and what to send - and which channel to deliver it to.

We looked at the email sending patterns and online traffic for over 1,000 retailers during the 2016 holiday season, and we put together an infographic that shows you the best time to send multiple messages on Thanksgiving, Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

But first, it's important to understand how additional email sends impact revenue. We found that adding just four emails per month will greatly impact sales. With a low CPM and high return, our clients are seeing $59.26 for every dollar spent on average, an 18.5% increase over the $50.00 return they average on their regularly scheduled campaigns.


Holiday Deployment Schedules
On Thanksgiving 2016, email volume spiked at 10:00 am and then drastically dropped off until 4:00 pm. There was a small bump in evening email volume. However, when compared to site traffic, which remained strong from noon through 10:00 pm, you can see that shoppers would have benefitted from receiving an additional email after dinner when they're online.

Tip: Send at least two email messages on Thanksgiving - one in the morning and one in the evening. While many retail stores will remain closed on Thanksgiving this year, consumers will still shop online and eCommerce revenue is expected to increase over 2016.


The numbers for both email and site traffic looked similar to Thanksgiving on Black Friday, but with morning email volume spiking at 9:00 and steadily dropping throughout the day. But, again, site traffic peaks early afternoon and remains high throughout the afternoon and evening.

Tip: Send at least three email messages - one in the morning, one in the afternoon, and one in the evening to ensure you are at the top of the inbox.



Cyber Monday 2016, as expected, had email volume spike at 8:00 am and 11:00 am, and again at 8:00 pm while site traffic steadily increased from 7:00 am, spiking around 9:00 - 10:00 pm.

Tip: Don't be afraid to send three or more messages on Cyber Monday. Consider offering different deals throughout the day to keep messaging fresh.



Email Volume
The NRF found that 27% of consumers begin shopping for the holidays at the beginning of December, and with Cyber Monday falling in November this year, it's important to keep your campaigns going strong that whole week.

Tip: Create a deployment schedule that will keep customers engaged throughout Cyber Week. Monitor your site traffic and send during the traffic spikes.


Other things to know

  • The NRF projects holiday sales to increase 3.6% - 4.0% this year
  • There are 32 days between Thanksgiving and Christmas this year, one more than 2016. Christmas falls on a Monday, meaning there are five full weekends in the holiday season
  • We are expecting email volume to increase as well. Email volume during the 2016 holiday season increased 38.5% over 2015, and we're expecting another double digit increase this year
  • Customers want messages that are personalized to their needs and experiences. Product recommendations onsite and in emails help customers make purchasing decisions and will increase engagement and sales. In 2016, 54% of shoppers utilized the personalized product recommendations they received from retailers, and we expect that number to increase this year.





Conclusion
Email volume is expected to rise this holiday season, but that doesn’t mean that every shopper will receive the same message. We expect marketers to send more sophisticated campaigns, including segmented messages, product recommendations, predictive content and more. We also expect to see more integrated campaigns as marketers implement SMS, display and social marketing into their holiday strategies. Are you ready? Talk to your Listrak Account Manager or contact us for more details.



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SMS State of the Industry Report

Friday, November 03, 2017 Listrak 0 Comments

With roughly 97% of Americans age 18-44 owning a smart phone, mobile marketing is now viewed as a significant solution for businesses to reach their customers in the most direct way – on their personal devices. As brands continue to put major emphasis on creating great experiences across all touchpoints, marketers should take advantage of the time consumers spend on their mobile devices. According to comScore, the average American adult (18+) spends 2 hours, 51 minutes on their smartphone every day.

Because so many people are using mobile devices, businesses that take advantage of SMS are finding it an effective way to drive conversions. With 75% of customers preferring offers delivered via SMS and a 97% read-rate, SMS is becoming one of the most compelling marketing channels out there. By adding SMS to your cross-channel digital marketing strategy, you can establish a direct connection between your brand and your customers, build customer loyalty and drive sales while creating a consistent and seamless experience.


Our Research
In order to find insights on the industry’s best practices, we monitored over 500 brands for four months to understand how SMS is being used to engage customers and drive sales – including online and offline promotion, short codes and keywords, text to join campaigns and number of SMS messages received per month. For each brand that incorporated an SMS promotion, we took note of its onsite acquisition point, its placement in the email, what keyword the brands chose, and if the short code was unique. We also went through every email we received to see if brands promoted SMS in welcome messages or ongoing marketing messages. After we searched each site and email, we turned to field research to look for in-store data. Our goal was to see if stores offered SMS online and not in-store or vice versa. With that, we combined our research with some industry statistics to give you a look at the current state of the SMS industry, expert tips and best-practices to guide you on the path to a successful SMS campaign. 

Here are some of our findings - be sure to download our SMS State of the Industry Infographic for even more details.

  


We also monitored industry stats to provide a full picture of the state of the industry:



                                      Download our SMS State of the Industry Infographic


If you're considering adding SMS to your digital marketing mix, here are some tips to keep in mind:


Create Urgency
In addition to its broader reach and the fact that it is the preferred communication channel for consumers, one of the most attractive things about SMS marketing is its immediacy. This makes it ideal for messages of urgent nature such as a “one-day only” sale, a flash sale, or any limited-time offer because it is one of the fastest ways to get in touch with your customers.

With 97% of your messages opened within three minutes of receipt, your objective should be to reach your subscriber just before they make a buying decision. Think about when your customers are likely to make decisions and try your best to get your messaging to them right then. By adding a sense of urgency to your SMS messages and timing them correctly, you can yield better results while encouraging your subscribers to respond right away or act faster.



Think Cross-Channel Acquisition
SMS bridges the gap between your online and offline worlds. And, with Listrak's platform, you can speak to your customers through other channels, such as email or social audiences, based on their SMS acquisition source to provide a highly personalized message.

In-store signage promoting SMS campaigns


According to industry stats, 2/3 of consumers shop in more than one channel, and consumers who do so are typically a brand’s most valuable customer as they have a 30% higher lifetime value, on average. With that, adding a mobile marketing solution to your digital marketing mix will give you a direct connection to your customers and a competitive edge. Plus, it works really well with your email campaigns, offering that extra touch to enhance engagement with your eCommerce-only shoppers. One study shows that integrating SMS into a campaign can increase email open rates by 20%. Moreover, when in-store shoppers subscribe to SMS, our clients are seeing 92% of  those SMS subscribers also opt in to email. In turn, 6% of SMS and email subscribers convert.

Following the SMS path to purchase can be challenging, but we can help you report on SMS conversions and revenue attribution within Listrak's SMS analytics dashboard.

In-store signage promoting SMS campaigns / SMS text-to-join email list

Combining SMS marketing with your email campaigns results in a powerful strategy for your business. The relationships that are developed with current and future customers are the foundation of your success online, and combining email and SMS begins the conversations that lead users to your sales funnel. Email and SMS create a personal line of communication that supports the needs of your customers and allows you to acquire new subscribers in their preferred channel. And, the fact that new subscribers contribute to a 3-6% increase in overall email channel revenue proves that SMS is the perfect complement to you email marketing campaign.


 
Email messages promoting SMS campaigns


Establish Exclusivity
Everyone wants to feel like they are part of an exclusive club, and you can make that happen with your SMS marketing campaigns. According to Vibes, 26% of people subscribe to SMS to receive exclusive content. Just like email, you can let potential SMS subscribers know that when they opt-in, they will get special alerts, sales, and deals that can’t be found anywhere else. By sending information that isn’t included in your email campaigns or print ads, you are creating an exclusivity to your promotion. Through this, you can reward your loyal customers by starting an insider SMS program with “first to know” content about big sales and new arrivals that they can only get if they subscribe to your SMS campaign.





You can also promote your mobile marketing program through your on-site popup - but follow best practices. Don't just ask shoppers to enter their mobile number as they aren't opting-in to the mobile messaging. Instead, share your keyword and short code and let them initiate the conversation.

 



SMS practices are an efficient way to reach today’s consumers and the most relevant way to engage with them, build brand trust, and acquire new subscribers. If you’re not already engaging with customers through SMS campaigns, it’s time to go mobile. For more information about SMS statistics, check out our infographic, or visit our SMS resource center.



Megan Ouellet
Director, Product Marketing

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6 SEO Essentials for Travel & Hospitality Industry

Saturday, October 28, 2017 Listrak 0 Comments


Consumers are increasingly taking a self-serve approach when it comes to making purchase decisions, and it’s no different in the travel and hospitality industry. In fact, nearly half of all travelers start their planning with a search engine.

So it’s no wonder that Travel SEO has become a buzzword of it’s own. Ensuring that your travel or hospitality website is setup to be more visible on the search engines can help to capture these consumers when they begin their research, and throughout the travel planning journey.

Travel SEO require continual monitoring and optimization to ensure you’re building visibility and authority for your website. But if you are just getting started, here are six essential areas that you should focus on. 


1. Destination Optimization

When people search for travel, they’re using the destination in their search query. They search for “flights to hawaii” not “flights from denver” or “Paris hotel deals” not simply “hotel deals.” This seems like a no-brainer statement, but it’s crucial to your entire SEO strategy. It affects everything from site structure and keyword selection to content development and link building. So it’s important that destination is at the heart of your SEO efforts, regardless of whether you have a single destination (i.e., a hotel, tourist attraction, restaurant, etc.) or are marketing for travel destinations around the world.

Here are the key places that you should be using destination optimization:
  • Select keywords for each destination
  • Create geo-targeted landing pages/site sections for each destination and optimize meta data (more on this later)
  • Create value-add content about the destinations (e.g., “Family-Friendly Things to do in Nashville,” “Top 10 Beaches in Bali” or “3 Days in Mexico City? Here’s What You MUST Do”)
  • Optimize local and social profiles (more on this later, too)

When researching and selecting destination keywords, don’t simply focus on popular terms like “Vancouver hotel.” These shorter phrases only account for about 30% of all searches, and are extremely competitive. Consider the “long tail” keywords that present a better opportunity for ranking, and continually look for new keyword opportunities based on online behaviors, news, culture trends, language trends and seasonality.


Creating blogs focused on long-tail search queries creates new ranking opportunities while reducing competition.



2. Clean, Well-Organized Site

A website’s architecture dictates the way search engine crawlers find their way through your site. The goal is to get users to the most important content in as few clicks as possible. Pages that are easiest to navigate to will typically be the pages that are crawled first, which are usually the URLs linked to from the header and footer.

The search engines use URL structure to understand content found in websites. When pages are found “under” other pages as a subdirectory, it becomes more clear what they are about and when they should rank.

This is especially important for localized sections of your website. If you’re marketing multiple travel destinations, create a section for each destination with sub-pages for additional information and ranking opportunities. For example, site structure could be:

www.travelsite.com/new-zealand
www.travelsite.com/new-zealand/hotels
www.travelsite.com/new-zealand/restaurants
www.travelsite.com/new-zealand/things-to-do

Additionally, be sure to create both an XML sitemap and an HTML sitemap. The XML sitemap allows search engines to crawl and index all pages on the site. This should be submitted to Google and Bing through their respective webmaster tools platforms.

The HTML site map is for human visitors not so much search engines; however, it does create internal links to each page on the site, which is useful for the search engines as well.

3. Meta Data Optimization

Page titles are one of the most important areas to optimize for keywords as they have a strong impact on organic visibility and are the first thing the searcher sees in organic results. You have limited space to work with in the page title tag (about 55-65 characters, or 512 pixels to be exact) so use it wisely. Include two to three relevant keywords and avoid using your brand name--the search engines are sophisticated enough to know your site should rank for your brand. If you must include your brand name, put it at the end.

A page’s meta description is important for organic click-throughs from search engine results. While it is not a ranking factor, it is a display factor, and it should be used on all indexable pages to capture searcher attention, explain page content, showcase a bit of brand flare and, ultimately, drive clicks. Meta descriptions should be no more than 156 characters.

Image alt text is another area where you can add keywords for increased relevancy, and for potential ranking on image searches.

4. Schema

In the not too distant past (yet nearly a lifetime in internet years!), when we talked about SEO, we were only concerned about the ten blue links that took up the bulk of the search engine results page (SERP). Today, however, the search landscape is much more complex and crowded. There are images, videos, answer boxes, knowledge panels, reviews, news articles, local panels, local “top sights” recipe cards, and even tweets. SEO software company Moz tracks nineteen major search features, yet there are other smaller features and Google is continually adding new ones and removing others.



Google’s Flights search feature.



 Google’s Top Sights search feature.


Google’s Hotel Cards search feature.

Many of these search features can be influenced by adding schema (a.k.a., rich snippets) to your website. Schema helps to better organize your site content for the search engines to “read” and index, and can result in more visible and variable placement in organic search, such as some of the features mentioned above. 

Facebook’s Open Graph Protocol is another form of schema used on the social networks. Similar to the search engines, Facebook and other social networks use Open Graph to organize your site’s content, and to create more robust posting on the social networks.

As a travel or hospitality brand, you should have the following schema implemented on your site at minimum:

Place/Local Markup

Review Markup

Organization Markup

Open Graph

Be as specific as possible with the type of schema values you use based on your business (e.g., you can choose hotel, resort, tourist attraction, golf course, ski resort, flight, etc.). Find more information on implementing schema and a full list of all types here.

5. Quality [Destination] Content

Search engine algorithms are extremely sophisticated. They can tell the difference between good quality and bad quality content based on length, word usage, reading level, in- vs. outbound links, frequency of posting and loads of other factors.

Developing high-quality content--content that will provide value to your audience, establish you as an authority, create opportunities for organic ranking on relevant terms, and pass the search engine’s sniff tests--takes skill, creativity, knowledge and, of course, time. You can’t rush quality.

Make sure that each page on your site has at least 75-100 words of text. This gives the search engines something to “read” and thus index, helps to avoid duplicate content issues, and provides more informational and compelling messages for human visitors.

As mentioned, creating geo-modified content for each destination creates ranking opportunities for these keywords. This content can be placed in separate destination sections on the site and/or can be used in a blog or resource section.

When coming up with topic ideas for blog content, a great place to start is your organic keyword data. Identify if any “question” keywords (e.g., “how to…,” “where...,” “what...,”) are driving impressions but have low positions and/or click through rates. Create original content to answer these questions and optimize the articles throughout for the keywords.

 


Create value-add, destination-focused content to increase visibility on and drive traffic from relevant keywords.


6. Link Building

Having a technically sound site with strategic, quality content merely sets the stage for the most important SEO factor there is: inbound links. A successful link building program today requires two things: 1. developing quality content that people will want to link to and 2. building relationships and contacts with sites that will be interested in linking to your content.

There are many different tactics to go about building links to a site. Following are some of the most common and successful methods for travel brands:

Local & Travel Directories - Submit business information on key local and travel sites, such as Google Maps, Yelp, Superpages, TripAdvisor, Expedia, Lonely Planet, Roadtrippers, etc. Take care to be consistent with the business name, address and phone number you submit.

Competitive Link Acquisition - By analyzing links your competitors already have, you can quickly identify immediate opportunities to acquire some of the same links.

Brand Ambassadors/ Influencers - Leveraging your super fans and people with large social followings can not only help to increase awareness and drive sales, but it can also result in links. Research relevant influencers (e.g., travel bloggers) and begin establishing relationships to determine how you can work together to obtain links. Consider offering free trips or travel credit in exchange for articles and/or reviews. Always take care to follow FCC guidelines when working with bloggers, which require a disclosure of the relationship and any exchange of goods or money.

Contests/Giveaways - Hosting a contest to win a trip or giving away a travel adventure can be a great way to not only increase awareness and collect email addresses, but it can also help obtain links, as bloggers and online publications frequently post announcements about these offers.

Trip giveaways and contests like this one can help to drive awareness, obtain email signups and generate links.

Ongoing Social Media Presence - Continuing to maintain active and engaging social media profiles will help generate traffic and build up brand recognition.

Travelers begin their planning journeys with search engines and use them throughout to book accommodations and find fun activities, making SEO an important part of any travel or hospitality brand’s digital marketing efforts. Starting with these six essential efforts, and continuing to monitor and optimize your site can help to drive traffic and increase bookings.


About the Author

Angie Pascale is a partner at Interstellar where she leads channel strategies, helping brand partners to increase visibility, engage customers and drive sales through search, social, email, paid and content initiatives.

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