To SEO or Not SEO…..That is the Question

From a recent article in Campground Industry E News (June 10th issue)

The snake oil of the Internet age is search engine optimization, commonly known by its acronym: SEO……..In a recent phone call with the former president of one of the world’s leading e-commerce companies, I was struck by his advice to “never hire an SEO agency.” Wasting time trying to find a legitimate SEO company is like trying to find a “good” fortune teller, used car salesman, or payday loan company. They are all truly good at trying taking your money. SEO is nonetheless big business. Be suspicious of companies that offer SEO reports as a means of getting their fool in the door, offer to fix your website so that it will “start ranking higher on the search engines” or show you Google Analytics charts and graphs with misleading annotations that allegedly document their expertise.

In the same issue Campground Industry E-News, just a couple of pages later:

……Google has raised the bar and developed sophisticated search tools that enable the company to sort the stagnant websites from websites those that are constantly being loaded with fresh content…….(name omitted) provided participants with search engine optimization reports which enabled them to see how well their websites were optimized and what needs to be fixed. “We will run search engine optimization reports for anyone who wants one. These reports will provide operators with information on what’s working on their website, what needs to be fixed and where they rank on particular keyword searches.

…….offers SEO services, which enable park operators to not only update their websites, but to develop content strategies that can help them achieve higher rankings on Google searches. This company, the article states, is the “official SEO company of the campground industry.”

Given the disparity of opinion on the value of SEO from these two long time industry experts, I thought I’d turn to my expert, Evanne Schmarder. Evanne is the architect of the industry-first Digital Marketing Benchmark Study for Outdoor Recreation, and co-author of Unconventional Wisdom Works – the industry’s premier digital marketing handbook, and has been active in outdoor recreation marketing for over a decade. Schmarder is an international digital marketing speaker most recently addressing audiences in Germany, France, Australia, and RVDA in the US, and a go-to resource for online marketing in outdoor recreation.

Here’s Evanne’s two cents on the SEO: Yes or No? question.

Regardless of what SEO camp you belong to — snake oil, significant tool, or somewhere in between — appearing on the first page of search engine results still matters and search engine optimization still plays a significant part in online success. Keyword stuffing, non-relevant links, and multiple pages of meaningless content among other tactics are no longer effective. Instead longtail keywords, specific title tags and H1 headers, video and social content, and mobile functionality rule today’s SEO world. Smart businesses take advantage of analytics, researching how a site is being found, how visitors are flowing through the pages, and the entrance/exit pages. They stay on top of relevant, valuable content (including curated content), are active on relevant social sites, optimize their YouTube videos, optimize their site speed, and review their competitor’s SEO strategy. It is in these small but critical details that businesses can benefit from hiring a web-aware SEO practitioner, all the better if they are familiar with the outdoor hospitality industry.

RV Park Development Heating Up

As I’ve written in earlier columns, as RV sales continue on a 6 year run up and as RVing and camping continue to gain popularity in the press, soc ial media and product marketing (see the recent series of ads being run by Expedient about credit scores that take place in an RV), developer and land owner interest in building new RV parks is heating up. there is certainly a need for new parks in many areas of the US, I think a word of caution is called for at this point.

In my opinion, developers should exercise extreme care in evaluating opportunities for new RV parks. With the recession of 2007 – 2009 still fresh in mind, very conservative planning is how I am approaching clients with an RV development in mind. In fact, in recent months, I’ve discouraged several developers from moving forward when my analysis of property or location caused concern and raised a red flag of caution and higher than acceptable risk.

I’ve recently reviewed several development prospectuses and have been surprised by some of the plans I’ve come across that are being touted as sound investments by some of my consultant colleagues.

*I continue to be amazed at a projected $100 million RV park project that is planned to be essentially a time share or membership park in St. Augustine, FL. What are they thinking and what industry are they looking at as a model?

*A proposed high end luxury RV park with over 400 sites located midway between Phoenix and Los Angeles anticipates selling 100 sites prior to construction. Is there any park in the US that has ever sold 100 sites prior to development or was even able to keep up that pace of sales over 4 years? If one park exists that has been that successful, I must have missed it. This projection is being circulated to potential buyers or partners who to get into this deal. I’m on the sidelines on this

*On another project, I recently saw a fundraising or feasibility study prospectus that used a property appraisal from 2007 to justify today’s valuation.

*And one of the industry’s long term condo developers whose successes go back to the 1970s, is back at it again in Jupiter building a new park with sites proposed to sell into the mid-$250,000s. And he’s back to the class A motorcoach only model that severely limits the market and to be successful has to be located in the best of the best locations – Naples, Hilton Head, Napa, Aspen, places like that where the rich and famous like to hang out. Jupiter’s nice but the location of this project is a sizeable drive to the beaches, is not waterfront and is not on the higher end Jupiter Island.

While the time is surely right for new park development, conservative planning is the key word. Take it easy, plan carefully, study and know the market and innovate in small increments with small risk.

What Are the Industry Associations Up To?

The three leading industry associations involved in RVs and camping are the RV Industry Association representing the RV manufacturers, the RV Dealers Association representing exactly what their name says, and the National Association of RV Parks & Campgrounds representing that group.

To some degree with some more or less openess, each organization reports in some form to its members what it is up to in programs and activities, how much money the collect from each source of income, how they spend the money on salaries, programs, tax-exempt activities and on non-exempt activities.

Members and others who want to know the real scoop on how the associations are operating can access the annual 990 Tax Return each organization is required to file with the Internal Revenue Service. These returns are supposed to be available upon request to any member or to the public. The returns are also available at Guidestar.org, an organization that tracks non-profits and their subsidiaries.

A quick look at the three organizations returns provides one interesting finding……..RVIA is of course the big cahoona with an annual budget in excess of $15 million. The surprise is that ARVC has surpassed RVDA in the number 2 position among our industry organizations. ARVC reported revenue of $2.284 in 2014 while RVDA reported $2.075 million.

Lots of other interesting facts and tidbits are available on these forms for those interested in learning more.

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Big Move for the Park Model Business

It takes a lot these days to get me excited about something in the RV industry, but a recent announcement about what I think is a major move in the park model business really caught my attention.

For years the park model business has been trying to capture the public’s attention – the RVing public as well as the general public. And now comes a big announcement from the most recognizable brand in the RV world – Winnebago. The company has signed a licensing agreement with Champion Home Builders for Champion to build Winnebago park models! Champion owns park model builder Athens Park Homes and is a major player in the manufactured housing arena.

The fact that Winnebago sees park models as an extension of the Winnebago brand should come as welcome news to the park model community although it no doubt will be a major competitor in the market.

What might come next? A Fleetwood Park Model? A Jayco Park Model? Maybe Fleetwood? The move of a main line RV manufacturer directly into the park model business certainly helps solidify the position of the park model as a main line RV that deserves all of the recognition accorded to other Winnebago and other brands.

Be interesting to see how the sales of park models goes in the coming year or two. Sales seem to be trending upward month by month as reported by RVIA and this new Winnebago/Champion partnership should give the numbers a boost.

Sales Event Selling Coming to the Park Industry?

Most readers of this column are probably familiar with the big glossy postcards that arrive in your mail or the full page newspaper ads promoting 10 acre mountain land parcels with streams and great mountain views for just $29,000 (or sometimes even less)! The adsprovides a day and date for this once in a lifetime opportunity to buy mountain land for you and your family to enjoy forever. Usually the roads and utilities are in the development and the land is surveyed and staked for each parcel. All you need to do is call to set up an appointment for the day of the sale so you can be among the select group who will take advantage of this great opportunity.

Sound familiar?

Well, maybe it’s time for this sales method to be adopted to the RV park industry and used to pre-sell RV sites in some great locations.

I recently had occasion to spend a day with a client in the Smokey Mountains who has successfully used this technique to sell RV sites at an RV park that had been trying for a number of years to sell the sites as RV condominiums. Some sites had been sold but a majority of the sites remained unsold.

Well, this client of mine used what he refers to as a land sale event to sell out most of the remaining sites in one day at prices that were very acceptable to the seller and in line with the prices of the few sites that were sold earlier.

Check out this You Tube video to see what the sale event looked like: https://youtu.be/sR_iYmS-QEY.

The client is now preparing to execute a sales event to sell RV sites on a beautiful tract of land right on Douglas Lake in the Smokey Mountain area of Tennessee. The property will have about 190 sites on a peninsula into the lake – these sites will have boat dock possibilities and direct lake access. And additional 100 or more sites will have lake views and access. Clubhouse, pools, and recreational amenities will be part of the development. Using the land sales event technique, the seller will sell 3000-4000 square foot lots suitable for a camping, RVing or park model site. The lots are sold unfinished and the buyer can improve the lot at their own pace and as they feel it best suits their needs.

The lot prices will be at a level that makes them available to just about any middle-class couple or family that wants to have a lake front recreational site that can grow with them as they wish. Imagine starting with a pop-up or even a tent, and over the years moving to a travel trailer, 5th wheel, motorhome and then a park model cabin.

Will it be successful? We’ll have to wait and watch to see how the event goes but if it is successful, it may well be a technique that can help expand the number of camping and RV sites available in some great scenic, cultural, historic and recreational places in our country.

If you’re interested in learning more about this land sales event technique and the company that is pioneering it in the RV park business, give me a call (703 448 6863) or drop me an email to david@davidgorinassociates.com

I fully realize that there may be some skeptics out there wondering if Gorin’s going to far or if he’s lost his mind by advocating this type of sale. I can assure you that neither is the case. My client is a well-respected developer and marketer who has a great track record of conducting these sales in a no pressure, 100% ethical and legal manner. He’s not selling swamp land or selling land that is inaccessible.

Recognizing Two Long Time Industry Friends

There was a recent announcement that came across the online news wires that Jo Ann Mickelson has been awarded the Jack Denton Memorial Award from the Arizona Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds. As a friend of both Jo Ann and Jack, I know he would have been thrilled that Jo
Ann has been recognized with an award in his memory. Jack and JoAnn were colleagues, friends, neighbors and I suppose competitors in the Flagstaff, AZ market where Jack owned the Flagstaff KOA and Jo Ann and her husband Harvey own J & H RV Park in the same town.

In the probably 25+ years I’ve known Jo Ann, she has been a stalwart leader of the AZ park industry serving over the years as President of the state association, a board member probably for all those years, and probably as an office and committee chairman. And now, Jo Ann continues to serve the association as its Executive Director. In a state association comprised to a great degree of large mega RV parks, Jo Ann has represented and been a leading spokesperson for the smaller parks in the state