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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