Niagara Falls Tourism Web site gets flood of visitors after marketing makeover

Until a couple of years ago, the Niagara Falls Tourism’s Web site didn’t do justice at all to the awe-inspiring mangnificence of the destination it was meant to promote.

Googling the natural wonder didn’t even bring up the association that acts as a gateway to the bevy of tourism services, activities and products available at Niagara Falls.

Being absent from the search results wasn’t acceptable to Victor Ferraiulo, administrator with Niagara Falls Tourism. He wanted the Web site to be at the top of the list for searches related to the region.

“There was a real desire to become the main, reliable source related to Niagara Falls.” Search engine optimization (SEO), Ferraiulo says, helped achieve that goal.

So Niagara Falls Tourism called in A Couple of Chicks e-Marketing to help.

Once his Mississauga, Ont.-based e-marketing strategy consulting firm started filling the site with relevant content, honing in on the right key words, and paying close attention to site traffic, things really started to flow.

After a year, the site sat atop the Google search results for “Niagara Falls” and was linked to by nearly twice as many Web sites.

Daily site visitors nearly doubled from 2,800 to 4,300, and the site went from index obscurity to a high-profile placement.

Now the group is further capitalizing on its success, having launched a fresh design Aug. 1.

The new look is based on data collected on how visitors use the site, and the focus is on putting relevant content front and centre.

After all, just as humans need water to survive, Web sites need content to stay afloat says Alicia Whalen, co-founder and CEO of A Couple of Chicks.

“Once we determine where we want to be indexed, we fill up content to make sure that happens,” she says. “It can’t just be key word stuff — you have to engage the consumer as well as the search engine.”

Whalen and her team started with the obvious key words for the group (such as”Niagara Falls”) and then moved on to targeting different niche groups of key words. These included key words used to search for hotels, attractions, and food in the Niagara area.

Not only was readable text optimized around these key words, but the video and pictures on the Web site were also groomed with meta data tags. The campaign was based entirely on organic search results instead of paid search advertising, Whalen says. The group didn’t want to compete with its own members for the same key words – which were also quite expensive. Focusing on the organic search paid off.

“For every target key word, we’re maintaining ranking above the fold – in the top four organic search results,” she says.

Finding the right key words to focus on for a business can be a challenge, says Cheryl Sylvester, chief brand coach at Yourbrandcoach.ca. Thinking like your customers and experimenting with the tools found at Google for Advertisers can help.

She says you’re probably best served by finding a mix of frequently searched keywords and those very specific to your business. “The high frequency key words mean your business may not show up in the top rankings, but if your keywords are too obscure, you won’t be found either.”

Quantitatively, unpaid search traffic to the Niagara Falls Tourism Web site was up by 78 per cent after one year. That data was gleaned from Google Analytics, a free Web traffic measurement tool that A Couple of Chicks recommends to all clients.

“It’s a great way to benchmark success of your Web site,” Whalen says. “You can set goals for your campaigns and understand the geographic breakdown of your visitors.”

Google Analytics offers valuable data that helps Niagara Falls Tourism confirm their intuitions and make marketing decisions, Farraiuolo says. The group expected the number of tourists coming in from U.S. border states to drop after a change to border security rules required Americans to display a passport to gain re-entry to their country. When a dip in Web traffic from those regions occurred, it was a sign they were right.

“It raises a red flag to adjust our marketing efforts accordingly,” he says. “Before, those visitors could be spontaneous and decide to come to Niagara Falls, but now you need to get that document for your whole family before you plan that trip.” So those markets can’t be tapped the same way.

The analytics data also helped Niagara Falls Tourism in its Web site redesign project.

Created by 180 Marketing, a full-service marketing firm based in St. Catharines, Ont., the new look is still being ironed out, Ferraiuolo says.

There’s a blogger featured on the main page, and content that is segmented to address different types of consumers. Whether it’s couples looking for romance, families keen on a fun trip, or seniors scoping the Web site, tourism facilities and offers are made easy to find.

Offering this sort of content will hopefully get visitors to stick around for longer, Whalen says. And the longer someone hangs out in a store, the more likely they are to make a purchase at the cash register, even if its online.

“If your time on site average is anywhere below two minutes, I’d say your content is not engaging enough for your audience,” she says. “You’ve got to keep people interested to turn browsers into buyers.”

For Ferraiuolo, one goal is to inspire even casual visitors to the Web site to visit the Niagara Falls area, spending on members’ services and products. More eyeballs on the site also mean more advertising revenue and better services for members.

“Everyone appreciates the new look,” he says. “As the site becomes more successful, it can generate more dollars. That money is fed right back into the Web site to benefit our members.”

For 2010, A Couple of Chicks is planning to take Niagara Falls Tourism marketing out into the social media world. That might involve a Facebook fan page amongst other things, but metrics will remain an important part of the strategy.

“If you have a Facebook fan page, there is an insights feature that tells you how many people are looking at your page,” she says. “You can also see how much traffic Facebook is referring back to your Web site.”

If the Web site’s presence continues to grow at the same rate, it might finally live up to its namesake after all.

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