Is Your Rural Tourism Business Website a Marketing Asset or Liability?

by Joanne Steele on April 22, 2010

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Remember when you bought your first computer? Most of us figured we were set for life only to discover that the whole system was obsolete in 2 years!

The same can be said for your website.

Sorry. That static outdated website that you try to get someone to update for you every few months is probably doing your business as much harm as good.

If people find you, they look at the outdated information and probably never return.

But, the time has never been better to get a website facelift. I’ve just finished listening to a podcast with Alan Hayes and Lucy Whittington on this exact subject.

Here’s a rundown on some of the things they said about websites, that I’ve also been saying for years. (I love it when experts agree with me):

1. Keep your website simple and able to be updated by you.

We’re in the midst of a huge shift from static websites designed by webmasters in html coding language to CMS sites that should be able to be updated by anyone. The problem is that webmasters who love complexity may try to steer you into a system that is still too complicated to manage yourself.

My suggestion: Switch to a WordPress site using the Thesis theme. If your webmaster can’t make this switch for you, call or email me, it’s our specialty. Most small tourism businesses get a new, beautiful optimized site for less that $1000 US. And you’ll be able to update all the content yourself.

2. Focus on your perfect customer

Your website is a conversation with your perfect customer. The way the web works, they’ve come to you because you popped up at the top of the heap in a search. When your perfect customer arrives on your site, they’re already interested! It’s like old home week between you and someone whose needs you know. Don’t waste the opportunity with a dry, canned, suitable for anyone message. Talk to them. Connect with them using everything you know about them. They’re your perfect customer!

Here’s an example. Go to http://riverdancers.com. They’re a client, and they’ve done a great job of crafting a site to speak to their perfect customer. Do they want to attract thrillseekers? Risktakers? Nutcases heading over class 5 rapids in a kayak? If you’re a family person looking for a great vacation opportunity, you probably connected instantly with what River Dancers offers: safe, affordable, memorable family river trips. Do they offer some class 5 trips? Yes, you’ll see that if you surfed around the site, but it’s not the focus of their business.

3. Offer a limited number of clear options

The biggest mistake I see rural chambers and visitors bureaus make is to give visitors too many choices. For most small towns, you’re known for maybe three things. There are surely more than three things to do, but it’s those three things that get people to town. Move people quickly from your home page to information about your major three things, then give them the links to your lodging and dining and then offer other things to do while their in town. It’s hard, but vital if you want to keep people from backing out of your site and going somewhere else.

In my little town, we’re known for our world-class fly fishing and great dining. We’re in the process of updating our website to reflect that. While you’re here, you’ll love our botanical gardens, waterfalls, river trails, shopping, and a dozen other things. Those things might KEEP you here, but they’re not going to ATTRACT you in the first place.

4. Focus on great content

Remember that you’re not writing a lure brochure, you’re providing information to help people who are already interested make a decision to take action.

Cut the adjectives and increase the action verbs. Let people decide for themselves if something is glorious, stunning, amazing, magnificent or beautiful. Describe how they can ride, run, hike, gallop, wade, swim, climb or fly when they get there.

Tell them what to expect, what to do, what to bring to enhance their experience and how to proceed with reservations, planning or buying. This is your ideal customer. You know him well! Get her excited enough to take action.

5. Make a reasonable search engine optimization effort.

Our customers are way ahead of us as they craft their searches. If we write focused content answering the questions and needs we know our ideal customers have, SEO is taken care of.

People are crafting amazingly detailed searches these days using 4 or more search terms. There is no way we can keyword stuff our content to reach these folks. It just takes honest, enthusiastic, focused wordsmithing.

Also, it doesn’t hurt to use a system that works behind the scenes for you. For that reason, I recommend WordPress with the Thesis Theme. If you use another theme with Word Press, install the All In One SEO plugin. If you use Thesis, All in one is unnecessary.

Here are two other posts I’ve written about creating a great website:

Small Town Motels, RV Parks and B&B’s! You Need More Than a Static Website to Compete.

Why Blogs are Important on Rural Tourism Business Web Sites

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