Here is the scenario: You’re part of a visitor destination as a Chamber of Commerce, business, Destination Marketing Organization or State office. You have a website that is designed to showcase your destination as the place to spend a vacation. It has “something for everyone,” “unique businesses,” and plenty of “outdoor recreation” to make even the most avid enthusiast satisfied.

Sounds familiar, right? Well, it should. With the latest economic downturn, cities and towns from all over the United States needed to diversify their local economies. The low-hanging fruit? Tourism. Visitors come, they spend and they leave – the perfect equation for stretched municipal budgets and small business owners’ pockets.

For all the businesses and brands out there that have been doing this awhile, you know it takes a lot of time, money, time, innovation and time to get vacationers to come to your town — and there isn’t a silver bullet. Mobile applications, traditional marketing and public relations will all be part of a successful equation, but a website is where the highest return on investment resides with the easiest methods for tracking goals. And guess what? Everyone else competing for your visitors has figured out that, too.

Luckily for brands and businesses, not all websites are created equal. There are good destination websites and there are bad ones. There are websites that look beautiful, but users can’t figure out where to click. The key is to find a happy medium with functional design.

Find Your Niche

I can’t even tell you how many travel sites I’ve seen that try to be all things to all people. I learned early in my tourism marketing career that EVERY destination has “something for everyone.” Don’t believe me? Do a Google search for the phrase “something for everyone” and see what comes up (after the Angela Lansbury movie filmed in 1970).

If your brand has something that no one else has, it needs to be front and center, not buried in an inner website page filled entirely with text. Tell me why I should do it, tell me how to do it, tell me when to do it and tell me what else I can do while I’m there. Is there an itinerary or vacation package? The easier you make this process for me, the better chance you’ll have of me converting to a real, live visitor – not just a browser on the web. Because, at the end of the day, it’s about how many heads are in beds and buying tickets – not how many visitors your website got in June.

Use high-quality photography

This is a pet-peeve of mine undoubtedly left over from an incomplete graphic design minor. There are so many travel websites that use pixelated photography, with bad composition or lighting.

Your destination is competing worldwide for visitor dollars. It is imperative that your assets, from hotels and shops to whitewater rafting and golfing, are showcased in the best way possible.

Take a look at the two photos below. Which one makes you want to take a trip to go golfing?

If you don’t have the skills or time to take hiqh-quality pictures of your assets under the best lighting, make a deal with a local photographer. There are always aspiring photographers who will trade services or photos for a link to their website or photo credit for recognition. If your organization has membership, doing a trade for photos in exchange for a complimentary membership is a great way to ensure that your photo library will stay updated.

To take it to the next level, use high-quality photos that include people. Those beautiful landscape shots are just that, beautiful. While potential visitors may look at them and think, “What a beautiful place” the key to really sealing the deal is to include people having a good time in the setting.

Again, take a look at the photos. Which one really makes you want to take a trip to go golfing?

Of course, photos should include your target demographic. Here, the Omni Mount Washington Resort (featured by SilverTech clients, www.visitnh.gov and www.nhgrand.com) chose to picture middle-aged males to convey a business retreat.

Rethink homepage real estate

A beautiful, edgy and just plain cool website is what everyone wants, but if the user doesn’t know where to click, your investment goes out the window. Additionally, if your most important assets aren’t on your homepage, what is the point of even having a homepage?

When was the last time you looked at your website’s analytics? Are people viewing certain pages more than others and are those the pages you want them to view? If your organization or business’ main goal is to get website visitors to sign-up for an email newsletter or book rooms, do these items have prime real estate on your homepage?

The eye naturally reads from left to right in a clockwise fashion, which is why the business logo is always in the upper right hand corner. But after that – what are you looking to show?

When we redeveloped the website for SkiNH, (www.skinh.com), SilverTech worked to the organization to determine what the top three goals for the new website. First, SkiNH wanted to make sure that www.xcSkiNH.com was equally highlighted and that both sites were given a similar look and feel. Next, the organization’s social media is a huge component of their business. Having a direct feed to Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, contact email and Text Message alerts was key. Finally, that the cool features, such as the SkiNH Photo Contest, Interactive Resorts Map and Lift Ticket Pass were front and center on the page to achieve better conversions.

Of course, other items, such as the video of the week and upcoming events are important and were given homepage real estate, but the top three goals received prime locations.

What are the top three items on your homepage? Are they what you want/need to be there? If not, rethink a bit of the layout.

Track Everything

When was the last time you really looked at your visitor destination website without the rose colored lenses and without excuses? Do the callouts on the homepage entice you to delve further into website? Are they well designed and is the content engaging?

How many brands/businesses know how their website is really doing? Sure, Google Analytics has allowed us to see how many visitors to the website, their page views and average conversion rates – but do you know how many website visitors become actual visitors?

Be Fun

Vacation is all about having a good time. As the digital extension of your business or brand, your website needs to give the appropriate look and feel. For an older couple doing a winery tour, “fun” would be a completely different definition than a family vacationing in Disney World.

What is your target audience? Is it families? Is it couples? Is it a certain interest group like hikers, cyclists or skiers? What is the income level of the visitor you are targeting? Are your guests looking for a more sophisticated vacation spot or a place to kick back and relax?

For example, if catering to families, do you have coloring printouts or interactive games built into your website tying back to your brand? For the winery tour, is there an interactive map with interesting information or cool features? Is there a feature that allows your visitors to engage with your brand after the visit is completed? And no, QR codes don’t count. Think outside the box – and don’t go straight to QR code. Ironically, like the word “unique,” everyone has them.

Bonus: Find an Experienced Partner

You can’t take a better first step into bettering your digital marketing than partnering with an agency that’s done it all before. If you’re looking to earn your brand, community or business more recognition (and visitor dollars) then consider contacting SilverTech.