Building a Destination Website

In past issues of The Wanderlust Report, we’ve carried on a discussion of travel search trends and what consumers are searching for from their travel and destination brands. In this issue, we will share with you today’s best practices for building a destination website that both travelers and search engines will love.

Considering the maturity of the travel and tourism industry’s online presence, compared to most other industries, I’m continually amazed at how few resort, destination and attraction websites follow best practices for site design, content strategy and search engine optimization. It’s as if they (or “the experts” building and maintaining their websites) are stuck in a mass marketing mindset. Don’t get me wrong: at first glance, many of these website look great. Unfortunately, when you look under the hood, you find that the dancing bologna isn’t performing as graceful as it looks. All flash and no substance simply won’t cut it in a Web 2.0 world.

The Times They Are A Changing

In the old days, marketers used websites as “brochureware;” a place to point campaigns in other media, a place to close the deal. But things have changed. Today, it’s perfectly reasonable to expect your website to attract travelers early in the buying process through inbound links, organic searches [preferred] and paid searches [often necessary to gain traction], and at the same time, to help nurture consumers until they’re ready to buy. To accomplish these aggressive goals, websites must offer content that is compelling – not just to humans seeking travel information at all stages of the buying process, but also to search engines on a quest for relevance.

Why cater to two such diverse audiences? Upwards of 70% of all travel planning begins online. The place most people start? Google. The position of Google as the de facto search engine of choice rests squarely on the company’s ability to deliver the most relevant search results. They go to great lengths to evaluate every page on every website, indexing and ranking each based on its relevance to a particular search term.

Try This Simple Test

When you search for “family-friendly resort in the Poconos,” Google wants to make sure that you get what you’re looking for, so the search engine carefully screens sites for content that matches your keywords. Unfortunately, the resorts aren’t doing their part to facilitate successful searches. On the first page of results from this sample search, only two in ten listings are actually resorts. The other eight are aggregators and repackagers who make my search more difficult and commodify the resorts competing for my business.

Clearly, developing a successful and attractive travel website for today’s sophisticated Internet marketplace requires more than a flashy interface or a repurposing of resort collateral. It requires an understanding of what consumers are searching for and how you can leverage Internet search technology to maximize site traffic. The effectiveness of your site hinges on the strategies and decisions you make right from the beginning.