George Zimmermann, VP, Travel Michigan, the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, and his team generate leads for 13,000 tourism and hospitality businesses by marketing the state as a destination.
For several years, Travel Michigan’s primary conversion channel has been a website – Michigan.org. It highlights the state’s attractions to potential visitors and provides links to hotels, restaurants, and other services.
“One of the challenges is -- how do we get more prominent placement for the Michigan.org website?” says Zimmermann. “We’re the big pipe, so obviously our private sector partners want to get as much traffic from us as possible.”
Search marketing is a natural fit for his team, but the tactic presents two significant challenges: How can they drive traffic that benefits all the private sector partners on the site? How do they coordinate campaigns among those individual businesses so they don’t compete against themselves for popular search terms?
The travel sector is competitive enough. They don’t want efforts by one group of businesses offsetting campaigns by others.
The team developed strategies that any marketer who manages multiple search campaigns for a single organization can use. They combine SEO and pay-per-click campaigns that don't compete with each other and lift all boats under the same umbrella. They also use market analysis to find the best search terms and have a campaign management process that prevents keyword overlap. Here are their top five strategies: Strategy #1. Analyze market to find best opportunities
The team analyzed the world of travel-related search to benchmark its competition and find opportunities for high-impact campaigns.
Among the factors they analyzed:
- Organic position and PPC strategies for major competitors.
Travel Michigan competes with travel agencies from large states, including California and Nevada. They saw that those sites were ranking highly for industry terms, and used travel-related content and multiple links from industry partners.
- Search terms that generated the highest traffic volume and conversions for Michigan.org.
Conversions could be clickthroughs to a partner’s website or a signup for a Michigan.org email newsletter.
- Search terms that were too competitive or expensive to bid on.
Travel Michigan’s limited budget made it unlikely that they could win top ad positions for generic terms, such as “travel,” “fishing,” or “skiing.” These words are often targeted by larger information aggregators and travel sites, such as Travelocity.com.
- Search terms that were more competitive for Travel Michigan.
The team figured these were search battles they could win.
- Their top geographic markets for potential customers.
Zimmermann’s team knew which geographic areas were major feeders for tourism, such as larger cities in the Midwest. They used those feeder markets to test the impact of geotargeting on specific search phrases.
A non-travel site that doesn’t have a strong geotargeting opportunity could look for other differentiators among their customer base, such as demographic or psychographic profiles, or most loyal customers. Strategy #2. Build SEO campaigns around terms deemed too expensive for PPC ads.
The team targeted its organic search strategy around high-volume terms that were too competitive for a profitable PPC campaign. Here’s how they targeted improvements for organic search rankings.
- Looking for two or three word phrases that were more targeted to Michigan tourism, such as:
o Michigan travel
o Michigan beaches
o Michigan skiing
- Testing potential SEO terms in limited PPC campaigns.
Historical search data is no match for live search results. When the team had a list of potential terms to use for SEO, they conducted two- to three-month-long PPC tests to find the ones that delivered the best traffic and conversions.
- Analyzing existing content that could be rewritten for SEO.
Michigan.org had a lot of informational content that the team could systematically rewrite to include the key terms identified as their best organic opportunities.
- Encouraging an ongoing publishing strategy with partners.
The team helped partner sites plan new content by suggesting topics for articles and key terms to use in copy that would match the overall SEO strategy.
The same technique could be used within a business or organization by working with product managers or divisional marketing teams to coordinate content creation strategies. Strategy #3. Create PPC campaign partnerships
The team expanded an existing cooperative broadcast advertising strategy with travel-industry partners. Individual businesses or groups of organizations, such as a collection of visitors’ bureaus from beach towns, could pay for a search advertising campaign and receive matching funds from Travel Michigan.
Coordinating PPC advertising from in-state tourism businesses helps Travel Michigan avoid bidding wars between entities. Here’s how they managed the campaigns:
- The team met with each new partner to analyze their existing search strategies and goals. They examined:
o Key phrases they used in their own marketing
o Site architecture and content
o Existing lists of keywords for PPC campaigns
For marketers coordinating campaigns among divisions or business units, this may mean coordinating among different search agencies that represent each division.
- Existing lists were augmented with additional terms, which the Travel Michigan team vetted for potential volume while the partners vetted them for relevance.
- They analyzed competition, including non-Michigan sites and other state tourism partners that might bid on similar terms.
- When they found overlap among search terms used by Travel Michigan partners, they developed strategies to prevent intra-state competition.
Tactic #1. Analyze which terms were most advantageous to a specific group of partners.
This could be done by testing campaigns and monitoring traffic and conversions, such as clickthroughs to partner sites from Michigan.org. If one group of partners generated the majority of clicks and conversions, they could ‘own’ that term. The team then worked to identify alternatives for the group with lower results.
Tactic #2. Rotate campaigns for the same keyword list.
If certain terms proved equally beneficial to two groups, the team would create schedules for rotating campaigns between them. For example, one group might use those terms for one month, then turn off its campaign to let another group use the terms for a month.
This strategy also helped partners with limited resources stretch their PPC budgets.
- Point PPC campaigns to the appropriate landing page on Michigan.org.
For a single partner, Zimmermann’s team would typically link those ads to that partner’s listing on the state travel site. For groups of partners, they would create a new microsite that provided relevant content and links to the partner group.Strategy #4. Study additional media buys and events calendars to identify situational terms.
To continually optimize SEO and PPC campaigns, they monitored ongoing marketing activities, such as broadcast advertising and events, to find additional terms. The looked for:
- Major travel industry events where Travel Michigan was planning attendance, to add terms related to those events to their search campaigns.
- Phrases used in offline marketing campaigns that potential visitors might use in a search. For example, all Travel Michigan marketing uses the tagline “Pure Michigan,” so the team monitored use of that phrase in users’ search activity.
- With enough advanced warning, such as for travel events planned for the coming year, the team could develop SEO strategies around key terms related to event marketing.
- For events on the near horizon or sudden trends in search activity, which made SEO changes impractical, the team could design PPC campaigns to capture that search activity.Strategy #5. Monitor results and use data to make changes.
The team continually monitors its search results and visitor behavior to optimize campaigns.
- Every partner who maintains a link on Michigan.org receives a quarterly report detailing the traffic they received through the state’s website.
- They monitor the navigation paths users take through the site to find pages with high bounce rates, typical navigation habits, or paths that are most likely to lead to conversions. Those results helped target website changes that would make the most of traffic being generated through search.
- Data for PPC campaigns was passed along to partners to demonstrate ROI, or settle any potential disputes between partner groups about representation in search marketing. So far, Zimmermann says, partners have been receptive to marketing strategies designed to prevent overlap between PPC campaigns. The team can demonstrate with data why certain decisions are being made about keyword usage and campaign rotations.
The boost in overall traffic to Michigan.org is paying dividends to all partners. Here are the results:
o 142% increase in overall traffic to Michigan.org, making it the top state tourism site in the country
o 114,000 additional pay-per-click visits to Michigan.org each month
o 1,500% increase in traffic to partners’ pages on Michigan.org
o 1,770% increase in clickthroughs to partners’ websites
“The more traffic we generate to Michigan.org through search engine optimization or pay-per-click or other outbound marketing, the better for everyone,” says Zimmermann. “We are generous in redistributing that traffic. We make links on our property prominent. We want them to get traffic.” Useful links related to this article:
Creative Samples for Travel Michigan's SEO and PPC campaigns
Fluency Media designed and manages the SEO and PPC campaigns: