January 24, 2009

The Critical Mission of Internet Marketing in the Cayman Islands (With a Special Focus on the Tourism Industry)

The Problem

I was driving in my car the other day and listening to the news. Coincidentally, I was passing by the Waterfront and seeing three cruise ships on port. On the radio, the news was saying that the badly beaten Global Economy would further dampen the tourism business in the Caribbean as a whole and that some hotels in St. Lucia were closing. It was all very surreal as I almost ran over a tourist when he decided to cross the street when the traffic light turned green. Don’t worry though; nobody was hurt as of writing this article. It was then that I decided to do my part, as an Internet Marketing Professional, in assisting the Cayman Islands Tourism Industry.

This article is about the Critical Mission of Internet Marketing against the greatest Economic turmoil of our generation. It will discuss how the Internet can be used as a tool to generate more business and how Search Engines can play a major role in helping your business stay afloat, if not succeed in the coming difficult years.

The onset of the US Credit Crisis and the succinct downturn of the World's Global Economy poses a threat for businesses in the Cayman Island. I cannot think of a single industry that is not being affected by what is going on in the International Business Community. For the purpose of this article, I am going to concentrate on the Cayman Islands Tourism Industry, which in effect, affects all else. By focusing on our biggest industry, this article hopes to bring about possible solutions to a burgeoning problem.

Some facts that can help us provide an online solution:

According to the Google Adwords Keywords tool, in 2008 there was over 7.5 Million searches for the words, "caribbean" and "the caribbean" as an approximate monthly average. That is a total of over 90 Million searches in 2008 alone.

Here are more interesting keyword searches that may and could possible assist us in achieving a more comprehensive online exposure:

In the same timeframe there was only less than a million searches done for "grand cayman", "cayman islands", "cayman island" (Note: there was a million searches done for the keyword, "cayman" but is it difficult if not impossible to determine how many searches were done for the porche-made car or for the islands. If we compromise and split that figure in half then there was approx. 1.5 Million searches done for the Cayman Islands, but that is a guesstimate)

Searches for Caribbean destinations are shown in the table below:

It is important to note that these searches were performed on Google and the Google Content Network. I have not even included searches done on other search engines such as Yahoo and MSN as well as the many other minor search engines.

Critical Mission #1 – Bring more tourists into the Cayman Islands

When someone goes online to search for a general keyword such as "caribbean" or "vacation" or "travel" it is easy to conclude that they do not know where to go and have not made up their minds on which destination to choose - thats why they are using such a general keyword. Someone who knows where to go will generally search for something specific and use a phrase instead of just a word.

An example of this is someone who has already decided to go to the Cayman Islands. He or She will then go online to search for something specific like, "grand cayman condos on seven mile beach"

Search funnels usually start from the very general and end at decision making using very specific keyword phrases.

So the Cayman Islands Tourism Board should really focus on getting the DOT website to the first page of the general keywords to help in the decision making process of undecided individuals.

With approximately 90 Million people searching for "caribbean" and "the caribbean" - if the online campaign manages to pull in 1% of that audience then that could translate to an additional 900, 000 visitors to the islands per year.

But (and isn’t there always a but) as a general rule, it is up to the website to transform 'hits' into 'conversions' and that's where solution #2 comes in handy.

Definition of HIT: A user that finds your website and clicks on it.

Definition of Conversion: An action that is done by the user within your website. For the DOT website, and for the purpose of this article and because we want to create solutions, let us define a conversion by a user booking a vacation.

Please note that if you belong in the tourism industry – the same rules apply to your website. If you optimize your website to show up for general keywords or compete in sponsored listings then chances of increasing your hits are high. But, again, it is up to your website to convince users.

An example of this is instead of just showing up for “cayman islands scuba diving” – start looking into showing up for “caribbean scuba diving” and competing head on against other destinations for scuba diving enthusiasts.

Because we are competing for the same tourism market – I would even suggest that the more prominent businesses start competing head-on against other destinations. When a user searches for “Bahamas Scuba Diving” and your website shows up as a sponsored listing – you might just be able to change their minds to experience Scuba Diving in the Cayman Islands.

Critial Mission #2: Improve Website Experience

I have been working in the Cayman Islands for a little over 3 years now and I have to say that a lot of business folks really don't care about their websites. There are typically two kinds of business owners.

The first kind wants to have a website that looks amazing and has all these moving photos / rotating banners / embedded videos or a flash website. They spend thousands upon thousands of dollars getting it to look as amazing as possible without thought or consideration to its users.

The second kind just wants to have a website and doesn't really care how its done as long as he can say he has a website. "Yeah, my son did it and I think it looks great!" - nevermind the fact that it receives no hits and no one can ever find it.

When you develop your website with a focus on user experience this translates into more traffic, more repeat business, fewer bounce rates and higher click through rates.

Jakob Nielsen, who according to the New York Times is "the guru of Web page usability" mentions that a homepage is the most valuable real estate in the world.

For the purpose of this piece, let us dissect the homepage of www.caymanislands.ky - If you were a tourist looking to vacation in the Caribbean what would differentiate the Cayman Islands tourism website from all the other destination tourism websites? Take a look at the other Tourism websites of our neighboring destinations – Bahamas, Jamaica, Aruba… What would it take for a user to choose the Cayman Islands over any of those destinations? Does the DOT website address this or is it merely a photoslide show?

We are all selling basically the same photos – the same crystal clear azure waters and amazing beaches.

Other noticeable issues on the DOT homepage:
  • Poor site navigation – someone in the DOT decided to be creative by using unfamiliar menu items. Is it not a fact that what is familiar is what will engage a user to click-through?
  • Poor site visibility – I have 20/20 vision but I still need a magnifying glass to see the menu items of the website. Also, lets face it – our target market are older, successful executives and they already wear glasses. Web usability studies have also shown that younger people with 20/20 vision prefer larger fonts for easy browsing.
  • Using graphics that look like ads instead of links – when it is a link – make sure it looks like a link instead of graphics or else users will just turn a blind eye. Check out the link “Discover the Cayman Islands” and you will know what I mean. How much money was put into this section of the site and how much money has it generated in bookings? I bet I know the answer to that.
  • Too many photos not enough descriptions – Web usability studies since the beginning of the World Wide Web have clearly stated that users prefer photos that have descriptions. No matter how pretty the photo is a call to action and/or short description would have made a huge difference between someone clicking-through or someone clicking-off. Yes a photo is worth a thousand words but… it is words that help decision making on the Internet.
  • Using photos that are as generic as all the other Caribbean destinations – that is self explanatory.
  • Aside from the Tourism Website not being user friendly, it is also not Search Engine Friendly.

The DOT Website as an Internet Marketing Tool for your business

As an Internet Marketing Professional, I can tell you, that if your website had a link from the DOT website, it would help it rank so much higher for your industry keywords. It can’t just be any link though – it has to be a html link using anchor text for it to be effective.

The DOT should provide this service to businesses who can help promote our islands. But at the same time they should create guidelines on how to achieve these much sought after links and not just because you can pay for them upfront.

Critical Mission #3: There is no right time but right now

Because we are working with third party initiatives, ie. Google – it is impossible to just call them up and ask them to put us on the first page for the searches that we choose. Not even if we had a million dollars to boot. Or… hmm… maybe. I have never tried to bribe Google, so I wouldn’t know. But I can’t imagine anyone turning a million dollars down, especially in this economy where hard cash is fast becoming a commodity.

The good news is that you won’t have to spend a million dollars to get your website into major keyword searches for your industry. You won’t even have to spend 10% of that much money.

So what would it take for your website to start earning its keep?

First, learn the lingo, here are some basic definitions of two major Campaigns that can help you increase your website presence:
  • SEO or Search Engine Optimization – is the process of naturally increasing your position in the SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages). This is a two-step process:
  1. On-Page SEO – deals directly with developing websites on Search Engine Friendly platforms and creating content that complement your products and services
  2. Off-Page SEO – is the process of linking your website to relevant websites
  • PPC or Pay Per Click Campaigns – is a campaign on any of the Search Engines for your website to appear in Sponsored Listings. This is when you pay the Search Engines for every click-through or for X amount of views. Google enables users to learn this independently but if you have no time to truly understand how to manage a campaign – it is best left to experts who can manage your bids, minimize your bounce rates, increase your click-through-rates and increase your conversions.
Second, when you have decided to engage in either SEO or PPC – it would be best if you consulted an SEO Professional. Make sure the consultation is FREE as it should be on the first meeting. There are quite a few Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Companies in the Cayman Islands. My company, Easywebsites.ky being one of them.

I truly believe you should hire a local company to do your SEO or PPC Campaigns for you. The reasons, I have blogged about before and can be found by following this link:

Whether you hire me or any of the other local SEO companies, do it now – the time to act is right now so that your business will stay above the competition and be able to compete in this flagging economy. Also, SEO is not an overnight campaign. It takes atleast six months before you can see results.

In Summary:

(If you were too lazy to read the entire piece, here is a quick rundown of the fundamentals of the Critical Mission of Internet Marketing for the Cayman Islands Tourism Industry)

  • There are many keywords/key phrases that people are using in the Search Engines in searching for your industry – saturate them all, if and when possible.
  • Catch the attention of possible/prospective target markets at the very beginning of the search funnels
  • Don’t just compete with internal markets – broaden your target base and go head on against companies in other destinations (but before you do that – make sure your website is up to par)
  • Ensure that your website is User friendly AND Search Engine friendly too
  • Find out if SEO or PPC is right for your business

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