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A Resort Website Without SEO is a Car Without Gas: Dave Gibson Interview

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Filters are everywhere. They’re on Google, they’re on Facebook, they’re in your email inbox. So this week we’re talking about resort optimization to work with these filters to get your content the most visibility possible.

There aren’t many agencies that both work with resorts and also offer SEO as a service. Propeller, however, does so and does it well. I’ve fallen behind in my SEO skills during the last few years, but they’ve stayed ahead on top of this dynamic field.

Wondering his take on both the state of the art and how resorts can capitalize, I reached out to Propeller’s founder, Dave Gibson.

Gregg: Dave, let’s start with the basics. What is SEO and what is the current state of this art?
Dave: At the most basic level, SEO aligns with one of the most basic principles of marketing: placing your brand with a relevant offer in the right place and the right time. That place is a search engine when a potential customer is searching for what you have to offer. I don’t think you can find a better marketing opportunity.

To answer both questions better though, let me compare yesterday’s SEO with today’s. SEO used to focus primarily on figuring out what terms people were searching for the most and optimizing page elements and content to match. Search engines were more simple so methods to trick them worked and were therefore abused. People got results that didn’t match what they were looking for and nobody was winning. Search Engines got smarter. Specifically, Google made it clear that their mission is to match the intent of the query with content that is both relevant and valuable, and websites that conflicted with their mission would be penalized. So today, instead of focusing so much on writing content search engines like, we focus on content that is true to the offer and which living people will Like and Share. And there lies the “art” of today’s SEO. And as hinted, the future is going to be increasingly affected by social media interactions.

Gregg: So, what are a few of the biggest factors that impact search rankings?
Dave: In the eyes of search engines, entire websites and individual page have “themes”. So its important to structure your website and SEO program to provide clear themes that cover your full range of products/services. I’ve made sure that my favorite resource has always done this without fail. It’s also important to demonstrate that your pages are relevant and valuable.

Gregg: With those in mind, what are some of the more common methods used to apply those principles?
Dave: Establishing themes starts with keyword research to learn what users are searching for AND what your site and pages are all about. Although SEOers love to talk about content and social love, you still need to follow the basics of standard page optimization. URLs, page title tags, strategic heading tags (H1, H2, H3), alt tags and more… the meat and potatoes stuff that we’ve been doing for years.

Then, how can you demonstrate relevancy and value? Traditionally this involves more off-site SEO efforts – such as back-link strategies. Careful though, Search Engines are smart so buying links off non-authoritative sites will be a waste of money and can hurt you now. So look to earn links from other resort bloggers, industry trade sites, travel sites… as well as social media channels now that share themes that matches yours. While there is debate over whether Likes, Shares, and Followers are actually influencing search results now, I think its hard not to assume they are or will soon. After all, what better way of showing value to a person than to publicly declare that I Like it.

Another role that Social Media plays in SEO is to not just get better ranking for your primary site, but to also take up more space on the search engine results page. Not only is it an offensive move to take more real estate, but your also blocking out competitors. Blog posts and videos can be particularly effective. I’ll add one quick point on video too… if given the choice between watching a video about an epic powder day or reading about it, which would you choose. Google knows that too.

Gregg: I know some resorts are putting some time into SEO, but what do you think prevents most resorts from taking this seriously?
Dave: Great question. I have no idea. If I start to speculate, I’ll insult people.

Gregg: When you look at resorts and SEO, do you see any opportunities or low hanging fruit?
Dave: Absolutely. The standard on-page optimization is the place to start. The lowest fruit are page title tags, and I’m always surprised at how many resort sites lack relevant terms like… [State] Ski, Golf and Spa Resort | [Ski Resort Name], and instead have [Ski Resort Name] – Home. When I look at any site with my SEO hat on, I check this first and can tell right away whether or not a page is optimized or not.

Gregg: So, let’s say I’m a resort that’s done very little SEO and just don’t see the light yet. What are a few simple steps I can take to get started?
Dave: First ask yourself whether you’d buy a sweet new car but refuse to buy gas. Of course you wouldn’t, so wake up. Your potential customer is out there typing in “Ski resorts in [Your State]” right now. That’s a person searching for exactly what you have to sell them, so decide whether you want a shot at that lead or not. If you do, don’t be cheap. Hire a professional with references and do not hire anyone who claims they will “get you first place on Google”, because if they say that, then they can’t.

About Gregg & SlopeFillers
I've had more first-time visitors lately, so adding a quick "about" section. I started SlopeFillers in 2010 with the simple goal of sharing great resort marketing strategies. Today I run marketing for resort ecommerce and CRM provider Inntopia, my home mountain is the lovely Nordic Valley, and my favorite marketing campaign remains the Ski Utah TV show that sold me on skiing as a kid in the 90s.

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