Tips for Website Development
The number one marketing communications tool is an integrated database-driven website. For consumer marketing, website usage statistics consistently indicate the importance of an effective website.
For effective online results, communities must consider website development and Internet marketing. Both are distinct but interrelated.
The primary objective of the tourism component of a website is to promote the destination as a desirable place to visit. The secondary objective is to provide administrative support for the community organization that will utilize the site for administrative functions; as well, the site serves as a resource for the community.
The website needs to be consumer-focused, assisting visitors throughout all stages of the purchase cycle (Awareness, Interest, Evaluation, Purchase, Experience, Loyalty).
In the tourism sector, an effective website is the most important asset a business or community can invest in. With technology today, features that were limited to large corporations are now available for small organizations, and options continue to improve year by year.
Functionality must serve both visitor needs and the needs of the host organization. An integrated online database with content management software technology can be utilized for both the consumer side of the website and for communications, administration and research for the administration side.
Website technology utilizes open source content-management software allowing the user to access the site over the Internet through security passwords. This allows authorized users to change the content without the cost of third-party web masters. In addition, the website function must include an integrated database. This combination of features is the single most efficient solution.
The online database is an integrated component of the content-management system software and as such creates a powerful system to manage the content, communications and reports for the host organization.
The database can be classified for multiple outputs such as online reports, exportable raw data in Excel format, page displays (selected criteria of sub-categories) throughout the website (e.g. accommodation businesses on the accommodation page) and email communications. A variety of major categories is required, such as businesses in the study area further defined by business type, sub-type, tourism organization stakeholder status, services, amenities, etc.; services or organizations (e.g. medical services); car/RV repair, etc.; media contacts; industry contacts; and, in the future, consumer tracking from initial visitor inquiries with permission to contact in the future.
Maintaining an inventory of local businesses, natural and built features and organizations will be essential in assisting with competitive positioning for marketing, partnerships, product development, packaging and communications. The contact list of operators and contacts supports the internal communication system that distributes information, as well as allowing the ability to conduct primary research of the local industry. In addition, media, suppliers and industry contacts would also form part of the database.
Features include industry partners having online access through a log-in component for the purposes of data maintenance, receiving communications, news, and participation in programs. It will also allow those undertaking travel planning, and visitors already in the region, to conveniently plan their stay. A robust database system will allow users to search and explore their travel options by any number of dimensions. Destination visitors will most likely want to view information by activity, whereas visitors en route to other destinations are more likely to be interested in information that is grouped geographically by specific service centres along highways. Accommodation, products, activities, towns, parks, itineraries and circle tours could all be tailored according to visitor needs and expectations.
The approach for design, navigation and content should be influenced by consumer web-usage statistics, not by personal opinion. This will ensure the website will create a competitive advantage over other websites with similar or competing content. Engaging a tourism web marketing firm is critical at the initial stages of conceptual development to ensure key search words and web-usage patterns are considered. As well, a competitive analysis of key sites will determine how your website will stand out.
a. Identify key functions required by the system to serve both visitor needs and administrative support for users of the site. (Refer to list in the next section.)
b. Develop a Content Outline to summarize the key areas that need to be included in the site. (Refer to the list in the next section.)
c. Develop a Creative Brief that summarizes the key products, markets and unique selling features and competitive environment of the study area. (This would form part of the Situation Analysis/Tourism Plan.)
d. Develop an Expression of Interest or Request for Proposal process for qualified web development firms and a web marketing firm.
e. Hire professionals who have a thorough understanding of tourism and understand the unique aspects of the visitor experience and the current stage of destination development to create the website concept, database, communication system, copy and graphic design, and to supply commercial-grade software capabilities and production ability to achieve the objectives for the end product. Website marketing for the initial stage of web development differs from the launch of the site and subsequent promotional phases. Ensure you have conducted a “back-end” demonstration of the site infrastructure before selecting a supplier and ensure the evaluation criteria is based on current technological criteria.
f. Review existing websites for best practices.
g. Develop the structure, content outline and, finally, the site map.
h. Develop the database.
i. Produce content (copywriting, editing, image selection, graphics).
j. Incorporate the community brand or a consistent design theme throughout the design.
k. Design and populate the database.
l. Populate the site.
m. Develop test site online.
n. Launch website.
o. Launch website marketing and Search Engine Optimization programs.
p. Maintain website updates by set schedule classified by the site map sections.
Evaluate the following industry standard key features for inclusion in the website.
- Advertising Module (optional / can be used as a design tool for editorial content, not just for advertising)
- Automatic notification of news information posted
- Automatic content display timer feature on any page or section of the website
- Availability Matrix (for accommodation and/or tours)
- Broadcast email communication by select groups in both branded tourism organization newsletter header artwork and basic email messaging styles; tracking of email sent, encoded to prevent email address harvesting
- Broken link reporting
- Business Directory by category and feature page with summary description, display options and content-management options
- Calendar of Events module
- Category and sub-category assignments to identify users or data records
- Content management features include ability to view, create and edit content and review before final posting to site (administrator function)
- Contact Us form
- Database for business directory for public display / user list for communications
- Design feature: ability to change colour schemes with existing artwork
- Email forwarding through domain name series, e.g. firstname.lastname@example.org to “any email address” — hosting service feature
- FAQ module
- File-management system for digital documents (loading, sorting, describing, viewing by category and authorized users, storage, retrieval, content page automatic viewing)
- Form set-up ability for gathering information or registering for events
- Forum option to allow identified users to communicate within a secure area (e.g. Tourism Advisory Committee)
- Hosting firm services (third-party and compatible with web firm / confirm off-site backup system and confirmation)
- Image bank management system (Classification, search, storage and retrieval for both low res and hi-res)
- Licensing, ownership of software and upgrading costs, copyright fees and policy, including exit strategy
- Log-in feature
- Maps (Google and custom, static or GIS link)
- Management services for tourism organization stakeholder database
- Meta tags: ability to edit
- Navigation management features including full flexibility to add pages and sections to the site without additional service costs
- News section (module)
- Newsletter branded (integrated with the website and associated with database, not third-party software, avoiding the need to maintain multiple lists) and archive capability
- Online database with multiple layers of categories, report functions and export capability
- Online survey capability (polling vs. third-party software or use Survey Monkey http://www.surveymonkey.com/ and link back to local web page)
- Online system with access to the website domain via the Internet 24/7
- Open source code
- Page set-up (ability to create new pages and sections with timer or restricted view feature)
- Press-release module
- Printer-friendly page outputs
- Reservations capability (accommodation and/or tours)
- RSS Feed
- Search capabilities (word search, accommodation by type/cost/feature, etc., PDF files)
- Search Engine Optimization (design features, word use, word placement features, etc.). To “optimize” a website means to build it so that it will be discovered by search engines, and to design each page in such a way that the site’s contents will be thoroughly mapped and indexed to key words that potential customers employ when seeking your products or services. Inquire as to services your provider can supply or consider a third-party firm.
- Security features allowing controlled access to viewing and updating the site and protection of access to the site by unauthorized users
- Site map
- Slide show capability
- Standards compliant code that can validate
- Tracking and Evaluation — Determine whether the system has its own tracking of page usage and reports vs. Google Analytics or your hosting firm’s report features
- Unlimited categories for defining a registered user on the system
- User database for inventory, business links displayed on pages throughout the site, email communications, list displays by category and authorization for viewing select areas of the site
- User database log-in feature (for users to update their feature page and to view secure areas)
- Video capability
- Virtual Tours
- Weather icon with link to forecast
- Website design, content and domain owned and operated by the tourism organization or “client”
Other features can be determined based on consultation with the web firm(s), which will depend on programming capability, software selection and advances in technology.
Evaluate the following industry standard key sections for inclusion in the website content outline.
Main navigation, site structure and the site map can be developed from the following list. Each main item has its own page with content written for the awareness stage in the purchase cycle. Detailed pages follow as a sub-set of the main category. Break out each main category based on the classifications of products and services that are market ready.
- Home page (text-driven with links based on Search Engine Optimization strategy)
- About Us — Tourism organization or host organization(s) if community cooperative
- Tourism Industry (Industry support / resource centre, database and email communications / industry newsletter)
- Chamber of Commerce (dedicated sections for Chamber use or link)
- Economic Development (dedicated sections for economic development or link)
- Local and Regional Government (dedicated sections for local government(s) or link)
- Accommodations (search feature, availability matrix and/or reservations system booking)
- Adventure and Recreation
- Business Directory
- Contact Us
- Events and Festivals
- Food and Beverage
- Getting Here / Getting Around (access, transportation, circle tours, routes and itineraries)
- Health and Wellness
- Heritage, Arts, Culture
- Our Story
- Parks and Trails
- Photo Gallery
- Site Map
- Things To Do
- Tours and Rentals
- Visitor Services (including call to action for Visitor Centre)
- Weather Link
Establish an online tourism industry database as part of the website.
Content to include: all tourism businesses, organizations, key contacts, tourism products, unique features and natural features of the area.
a. Update the data no less than quarterly.
b. Design and produce annual reports that summarize the composition of the tourism industry, providing a baseline for trend analysis over time.
c. With technology, the inventory project can be merged with the website system, which integrates the database for communications and program management. As part of the web strategy, this integrated solution provides the most efficient and effective solution for the collection, storing and dissemination of information. Web access through security pass codes allows various users to access the system remotely. Having multiple databases creates duplication of effort; alternatively a database can be maintained through third-party software if the technology supplier for the website does not offer an integrated system.
d. Develop an online broadcast email communication system using one database to target various sectors. The contact list of operators allows the opportunity to communicate with the tourism industry directly by sector or as a group. This can be achieved through email software or database software (integrated online or third-party).
e. Conduct primary research of the local industry through online surveys, targeted by groups, from the database. Free software from the Internet can be utilized and enhanced surveys can be conducted for low cost from suppliers such as Survey Monkey. http://www.surveymonkey.com/
f. Use industry standards for inventory classifications.
g. Database content considerations include the following types of information:
i. Businesses classified by the eight main tourism sectors (sub-classify by product features)
ii. Area features and natural resources
iii. Unique features and recognition
iv. Event and meeting facilities
v . Sport and recreation venues
vi. Heritage, Arts and Culture inventory
vii. Media contacts
viii. Tourism organizations (local and regional community DMOs, select BC community DMOs, Tourism BC and Canadian Tourism Commission)
ix. Government and economic development organization contacts
x. Key community associations as they pertain to the tourism product mix
xi. Visitor inquiries with permission-based system
Establish and maintain a website optimization and web marketing program. Internet marketing is highly specialized and requires expertise to be effective. Key recommendations include an initial launch campaign when your website is complete and a follow-up campaign after six months. With countless studies and references indicating continued growth in Internet use for information gathering, travel planning and bookings, the web is a valuable way to reach the consumer. Without investing in additional costs, through a variety of text content throughout the site itself, rankings on Google can be in the top ten. Having the local tourism businesses link to the community site will also increase rankings with Google. In addition to strategically planning for content and structure for search engine optimization, an effective website will need to be marketed to drive traffic to the site.
Internet marketing will raise the profile of your community by being higher in rankings by key search criteria. Web marketing is specialized and ever changing and can consist of press releases, paid and non-paid links, listing ads and banner ads where appropriate, social media, mobile media, among other options.
It is recommended the Internet marketing plan be developed by a specialized web marketing firm that understands tourism marketing and can work along with the website design team producing the site.
Resources for industry standards for web marketing can be found online at the E-Marketing Association http://www.emarketingassociation.com/, the Canadian Marketing Association http://www.the-cma.org/?WCE=C=47%7CK=224875, Association of Internet Marketing and Sales http://www.aimscanada.com/
Be sure to check out Canadian tourism e-marketing specialists: A Couple of Chicks http://www.acoupleofchicks.com/ who have released their book “Online Marketing Revealed.”