Ensuring your Search Strategy gets the Attention it Deserves During an Economic Downturn

With a countless number of conferences and articles are discussing the pros and cons of joining the social media race, one could be forgiven for getting caught up in the euphoria of starting a social campaign.  However, during this era of social media, podcasting, life-streaming, tagging, uploading, etc, etc. it is crucial to maintain focus on a few of the ‘older’ pieces of your online marketing plan, in this case, search.  Additionally, as so many DMOs and CVBs face budget reductions or at minimum, a careful use of funds, they find themselves reviewing interactive expenditures.  What better time to evaluate your SEO and SEM programs.

First, some new research from the Pew Internet & American Life Project on the adoption of search by internet users.
etourismsummit_pewinternetc1
As shown by the chart above, search has become one of the most utilized online tools in a typical day, second only to email.

An excerpt from the memo:

With this increase, the number of those using a search engine on a typical day is pulling ever closer to the 60% of internet users who use email, arguably the internet’s all-time killer app, on a typical day.1 Underscoring the dramatic increase over time, the percentage of internet users who search on a typical day grew 69% from January 2002, when the Pew Internet & American Life Project first tracked this activity, to May 2008, when the current data were collected. During the same six-year time period, the use of email on a typical day rose from 52% to 60%, for a growth rate of just 15%.

Not only do these statistics highlight the clear importance of search in online marketing plan, they also show how quickly search has become a central and ubiquitous part of the internet.  Users have learned and adapted to the search process.  As the report later states, advancements in search and search results have increased the user’s trust in the search tool.  Plus, having Google as one of the largest and most publicized corporations on the planet certainly does not detract from the public’s knowledge of search.

Additionally, the report highlights the demographics of the search user:

Those who are using search engines on an average day are more likely to be socially upscale, with at least some college education and incomes over $50,000 per year. They are more likely to be internet users with at least six years of online experience and to have their homes wired for fast internet connections. Younger internet users are more likely than older users to search on a typical day. Men are more likely than women to search on a typical day.

For DMOs and CVBs looking for that upscale consumer with the disposable income to continue traveling, even in times of economic hardship, these statistics should make a strong case for a SEO or SEM campaign.

Before we move on, let’s look at the numbers in depth:

Education:
College graduate+ 66%
Some college 49%
High school graduate or less 32%

Income:
$75,000 + 62%
$50,000 – 74,999 56%
$30,000 – 49,999 34%
<$30,000 36%

Age:
18 – 29 years 55%
30 – 49 years 54%
50 – 64 years 40%
65 years and older 27%

So, how do you begin a SEO or SEM campaign?  And which one should you focus on?  SEO or SEM?

While most experts agree that using an SEO and SEM campaign in tandem will provide the best results, the value of a long-term SEO campaign should NOT be overlooked.  The short-term gain of a quick SEM campaign can produce solid results, particularly for a specific time period…such as a winter promo / sweeps…however you are, in fact, simply ‘renting’ those returns.  Once you stop spending, you stop receiving that ROI.  On the other hand, a SEO campaign should be looked at as a long-term investment in your search strategy.

For most small tourism organizations, having an external company manage a SEO / SEM campaign could prove to be a budgetary challenge.  Having your advertising agency could be another option, but for most, managing a SEO / SEM campaign either in-house or via an online vendor is the likely solution.

In the most basic terms, an SEO campaign would require less day-to-day management than a modest size SEM campaign.  Which furthers the argument to focus on natural search prior to a PPC campaign.

Easy said than done, to be sure.

Where to start?  To say there are a lot of factors that go into a SEO strategy is a massive understatement and certainly more than we can cover in a reasonable blog post.  Luckily, Google provides a complete help section on how to start, manage and optimize a SEO (and SEM) campaign.  Everything from creating a XML site map to keyword stuffing your pages (not a good thing).

http://www.google.com/support/webmasters/

Think of the site this way, here is the search company that owns 60%(ish) of the market and they are telling you how to optimize your site for their product.  Worth a quick look for you or your webmaster.

Additionally, be sure to look at Google’s Webmaster blog (http://googlewebmastercentral.blogspot.com/) and the Google Webmaster discussion group (http://groups.google.com/group/Google_Webmaster_Help?pli=1), both excellent sources of information and help on setting up, starting and managing a SEO / SEM campaign.

So, prior to setting up your Facebook Fan page for your destination, take a moment and review your search engine strategy.  In this time of increasing competition and decreasing budgets, a solid SEO / SEM plan is a must for every CVB and DMO.

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Filed under DMOs, Google, SEM, SEO, Travel Industry, Travel Statistics

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