There are many marketing approaches and today the online avenue is perfectly suited to small tourism businesses. Trying to decide an approach that will work for you can be the difficult part. Whatever approach you decide to pursue just remember to plan ahead and hopefully some of our tips here may help.
I am writing this based on my experience of running a UK self-catering business that took all it’s booking through it’s online presence and also as the owner, designer and developer of the UK Beaches Guide.
Lets first look at the website itself.
I am not going to go into how to create a site but just bring to light a few important topics that if missed will reduce your impact.
How many times have you visited a web site and clicked straight off? Think about what turned you off – too busy a layout, hard to scan read, no contact details, confusing navigation,not display on a tablet or mobile, ugly graphics or just unprofessional?
Your business brand and unique selling factor should be seen from the start. The site should flow with consistent look and feel. Imagine your web site was on a high street and every other shop sold exactly the same product, the internet is just like this and visitors to the high street will not look in every shop, you have to quickly create interest to bring the visitors in.
Some general things you need to consider:
- Have clean and clear pages with lots of space.
- Go for a simple background and colour scheme that reflects your brand.
- Tourism websites are not like business websites and they need to be fun and colourful.
- Good use of space – you don’t want too much content that makes it hard to scan read, if in doubt split pages.
- Use good quality images and compress them for web pages.
- Make your text a readable size and colour.
- Consistency is key, each page needs to obviously belong to the same website.
In today’s world where more and more people are using tablets and smart phones, any website needs to adapt to the screen design. It is no longer good enough to just display a small version of your site on a mobile as this is not expected by consumers today. This is the most important point to me and is known as creating a responsive website, that is one that adapts to the screen size.
As an example if you go to out home page for UK Beaches and then resize the browser window by dragging the corner in and out you will see the website adapts.
Trying to find your way around a website can be very frustrating, if it is too difficult or confusing visitors will just give up after a few seconds. It is crucial to make your website easy for users to navigate and find things. Remember that you understand your site but a visitor is seeing it for the first time and so don’t assume anything.
Good navigation techniques will also help you to rank higher in the search engines such as Google. Search engines will be able to more easily find and understand your website if it is well organised and the navigation is logical.
Website content needs to be created specifically for your online presence and should include text, photos and videos. It is no longer good enough just to copy your paper brochures. There are lots of organisations that say they can create your content but you know your business better than anyone, so it is advisable that you write your own content. Also, how can someone in lets say the Philippines understand why it is good to stay on a beach in St. Ives, Cornwall.
Some useful points:
- Write for your customer, for example, you wouldn’t write in the same style for a family accommodation website as for a theme park website.
- Put ‘must have’ information at the top of the page, this is known as above the fold, and then work your way down so that the least important information is at the bottom. Again, most people scan and decide instantly and don’t navigate to the bottom.
- Don’t write essays as it is hard to read on a screen.
- Titles and headings help scan reading – these make it easier for visitors to find information quickly and easily.
- Don’t exaggerate; instead use testimonials to showcase your business and link to other useful sites.
- Engage your visitors by talking to them in an easy to understand way designed for your target visitors.
- If you want the visitor to do something then make this call for action obvious and clear.
- If possible write more personal articles on the area and your experiences, this provides fresh content and shows people you are a human.
And above all get a second opinion and don’t be afraid to change.
Search Engine Optimisation
So you have a website and interesting content but how do you compete on the internet, remember the internet is like a high street and every shop sells exactly the same product as you. Search engine optimisation (SEO) is the process of improving the visibility of a website in the search engines via the natural, organic or un-paid search results.
In simple terms this means that when someone enters some search text into a search engine like Google, if that text is something you want to be found via, then you need to be as near to the top of the results as possible. With each lower position your click through rate radically goes down.
This then leads to two questions:
- Picking the correct search engine term to target
- Making sure that the search engine value your web page for that term above other websites
I would recommend to go after no more than two search terms per page and to concentrate on one primary term. To pick a term you need to think about:
- Relevancy to your business and the web page. There is no point in hiding a page behind an unrelated term as a visitor will just exit and then never trust your site again.
- Don’t go for another’s brand or a generic term. There are other websites that spend a lot of money on SEO and so no point in trying to compete. If you identify one then adjust the term to something not targeted by the big brands.
- Set realistic goals and don’t be too greedy. If you have 10,000 unique visitors per month then set a target of 11,000, small increments allow you to experiment, often when trying to make a massive jump you may well go backwards.
- Ask your friends and customers what they would enter into a search engine to find the service/product you supply. You will be surprised that a searcher will enter completely different text to the owner of the business, this is in part due to the owner knowing more about the service/product and making assumptions that everyone else will also.
In any SEO work concentrate on your customers and not the search engines as ultimately ranking high on a term not relevant will not bring you as much business as ranking lower on a business relevant term.
The first thing to remember in optimisation is that this is not a one off task but a continual exercise. If you do this once and succeed those businesses you have just jumped will be investing in getting back above you.
Some things to consider:
- Page titles to clearly match the primary targeted term to let the search engine and customers know what the page is about.
- Descriptions in the page ‘meta tags’, usually one paragraph should be clear and targeted to your primary term.
- The page address (URL) ideally should include the primary term, for example – http://ukbeaches.guide/things-to-do/Europe/UK/Norfolk clearly talks about Norfolk things to do.
- Make your website easy to navigate by using tools like ‘breadcrumb trails’ that allow visitors to understand where they are and quickly jump back, for example a breadcrumb on the Norfolk page above:
- Your content should be easy to read, friendly and relevant.
- Don’t stuff the search terms into the text, it must be targeted at the human reader an not the search engine.
- Use alternative words to describe the term, for example coast, seaside, beach, sea, cliffs.
- Use blogs to help keep your content conversational and current.
- Get your business on local and national listing services, e.g. Google business listing.
- Images should have a relevant name and descriptions.
- Don’t worry about linking to other sites and losing a visitor, for example if you are an accommodation site then link to local things to do and places to visit. If the visitor found it interesting they will come back to you.
- Plenty of opportunities exist to advertise your business but make sure wherever you describe your business you include your website and email addresses.
As this is a continual exercise then make sure you have good analytics through free tools such as Google Analytics and use the data to continually evaluate and tune your SEO efforts.
Be very, very careful about using someone to optimise your website:
The key to remember here is nothing comes for free unless you do it yourself. If a plumber turns up to fix your pipe leak and under charges every other quote by half you would ask the question why. This is the same on the internet in that everything takes a person some time and so if someone is charging £10 vs. £50 they are not going to put the same effort and care into the task at hand.
Search engines are always on the look out for people trying to cheat the system and if a website is thought to have broken some rules then they will all but disappear from search engine results that can be devastating. This will not impact the SEO Company who broke the rules but the website that employed them, i.e. your business.
Social media gives a great opportunity to promote and create a conversation around your business. Often people want another opinion on the business and having people talking about you is a great enforcement of your reputation.
The key here is to pick a brand name and then use the same term across all social media channels. I would suggest getting:
- twitter account
- facebook page
- google+ page
- youtube channel
- instagram account
- pinterst account
Get an account for them all but at first concentrate on just a couple, and keep the others ticking over. Remember to do a small amount well rather than a lot badly.
When using social media do remember that people don’t always want to see sales pitches. The idea is to show the personal side of the business and talk about related items. Doing this will build an audience that you can then promote to.
How UK Beaches can help
UK Beaches was set-up and is still designed, developed, optimised and run by just one person. I started the website for a number of reasons but one of them was because I had my own self catering cottage and needed to fill the winter months. Lots of people wanted to take the cottage for the whole year but I could always rent out the main months but no one could guarantee the winter months. There was no way I was giving away a percentage on my summer booking for a chance of filling the winter months.
The UK Beaches Guide (originally started as Coast Radar) is really here to help small tourism businesses compete with the big companies. The site and social media channels are only about one thing and so all our visitors are actively involved. Our charges are really only set to an affordable yearly amount that cover my costs of implementing your listing and helping to promote your business.
I put the same level of effort into my big customers like the hotel and cottage companies as I do the independently owned B&B or beach side cafe. Get in touch as I love the UK coast and have done this for my own business and want to promote the UK beaches, coast and associated small businesses. I also only have to please myself and not account to any managers or shareholders for my actions, thus, make a suggestion and I will probably give it a try.