Mount Rushmore, Badlands, Black Hill — South Dakota brims with natural history, modern cityscapes, and some of the best food in the Midwest.
Despite all of this, South Dakota is the sixth least-visited state in the United States, with just 13.9 million annual visitors. (Florida, on the other hand, welcomes 67 million.)
There, in part, lies the problem. With many traditional industries on the decline, Midwest states like South Dakota rely on tourism.
And it's the job of Travel South Dakota — the state's official tourism board and destination marketing organization — to get more people to visit. Here's how they're driving increased visitor numbers and repeat visitors with a compelling website, a focus on user-generated content and a close watch on website performance metrics.
Website Design and the Right Visuals
For many domestic and international visitors, Travel South Dakota is their first destination when researching a trip to this part of the US. (The website sits at the top of Google's search rankings for the keyword, "South Dakota.")
Travel South Dakota's site does everything it needs to. Using parallax scrolling, the site features bold images of local landmarks and groups the state's most popular attractions into four categories — national and state parks, Native American, family fun, and caves.
"Our website is a great way for us to expand our regional footprint," says Mike Gussiaas, Director of Global Marketing & Brand Strategy South Dakota Tourism.
The site also leverages user-generated content as galleries — helping to boosts conversions and moves prospective travelers through the marketing funnel. In fact, research shows that 48 percent of customers think that UGC is a great way to discover new products.
Travel South Dakota features user-generated galleries with photos from people who have used the #HIFROMSD on Instagram. These photos feature real experiences from real people who have visited locations in the state. Unlike stock photos, user-generated content is authentic and could provide you with a significant return on your marketing spend.
"Ultimately, the big thing is to get people to get excited about visiting us in South Dakota," says Gussiaas.
The Elements of Great Websites
If you want to optimize travel marketing, it's not just Travel South Dakota you can learn from. Other travel brands use the right website elements at the right time for more click-throughs, and customers.
Take Active Adventures' website, for example. With its conversion-driven design, it incorporates customer ratings and testimonials right beneath the fold, as well as destination-specific call-to-actions — "View Our Bolivia Trip!" — for more conversions.
Like Travel South Dakota, Visit Bothell's website emphasizes authentic experiences with user-generated galleries. Plus, you'll find a search bar in the middle of the page, which improves the customer experience. Soft call-to-actions capture customer intent, too.
Visit Bothell's website design works — the DMO experienced a 30 percent increase in new users and an 8 percent decrease in bounce rate in the first month after implementation.
To optimize your own travel websites, consider the following:
- 35 percent of DMOs use landscapes in their homepage header; 31 percent use outdoor activities, according to research.
- 35 percent of DMOs use a single image in their homepage header; 27 percent use a single video.
- Use a call-to-action, like the DMOs above. Currently, 50 percent of DMOs have no CTA at all.
The KPIs You Need to Track Web Performance
Tracking web performance will help you gauge the success of your most important marketing asset, as well as the effectiveness of your marketing campaigns. How you measure success will depend on your individual goals and objectives. Success, for example, might be the number of people who download one of your guides or eBooks. Or the number of direct hotel bookings.
"There's a lot to track," says Gussiaas. "We use a lot of different dashboards and spreadsheets and find out what we can use to make decisions."
Gussiaas uses a combination of different website performance metrics to track the success of Travel South Dakota, as well as software like Salesforce, Arrivalist, Adara, and Google Analytics.
These programs help his team measure page views, visitation, engagement, average time on site, conversions, bounce rates, sign-ups, page speeds, social sharing, content engagement, and other valuable metrics. This mix of software helps him influence and track bookings, transactional value, and ultimately, the economic impact of his marketing campaigns.
"We measure visitor interactions across our pages and, ultimately, what drives visitation," says Gussiaas. "It sounds like a lot (and a lot of different tools), but we take a little bit from each platform."
But, is there one golden website metric that trumps all the others?
"We're doing a study on personalization and conversions. We'll focus on behavior, intent, and impact — the things that we can only make educated guesses about."
And which metric is the most difficult to track?
"We could be more vigilant tracking influencers. After an influencer campaign, we say "That's great," or "That went well," but it would be nice to have some numbers that we could share in a spreadsheet."
Travel marketers need to optimize their visuals to improve engagement, but how can they track these visuals?
"We don't tend to use A/B testing," says Gussiaas. "We use a 'gut check' that comes from our team working together. We look at what people are engaging with. Is it Native American culture? Is it Badlands National Park? Then we find photos to match that engagement. It's more of an art than a science."
Travel South Dakota wants to attract more visitors to their state, and they use a combination of strong visuals and website elements to turn prospects into returning travelers. Follow the success of this DMO by enhancing your website content, using the right KPIs, and optimizing visuals.
Image credit: @Luca Bravo