When it comes to providing valuable information on local hotels, attractions, restaurants, and events; no one does it better than the local Convention and Visitors Bureau websites. However, as you’re probably aware, most people don’t start their search on these sites. Instead, they go straight to Google and do searches on “hotels in San Diego,” “golf courses in Miami,” and even “things to do in Austin.” Unfortunately, what often ranks first in Google is NOT the official Convention and Visitors Bureau website for the city being searched. Instead, what ranks is an assortment of websites that want visitors to either book a hotel, purchase a golf package, or click on AdSense ads.
Why Does this Happen??
Having worked with such a website in the past, I understand the confusion and pain Convention and Visitors Bureau site owners have in understanding why they don’t rank as high as they should. They often have the better content, but often have trouble ranking. In most cases, the reasons are 1) lack of basic SEO elements utilized throughout the site and 2) stiff competition that has been around for a long time and is highly optimized.
A Real-life Example
Let’s take a closer look at a real-life example where a Convention and Visitors Bureau website is being outranked by other sites. The specific example is the Austin, TX site http://www.austintexas.org/  and the term “things to do in Austin”.
Here’s what ranks:
- A search arbitrage site obviously aimed at making AdSense revenue. This website is part of a larger network of arbitrage websites aimed at getting traffic and AdSense revenue from “things to do in CITY” terms (they have other sites in their network such as a http://www.thingstodoinatlantaga.com/  and http://www.thingstodoinlosangeles.net/ ).
- An old domain registered back in 1998 that’s part of the larger http://www.touringtexas.com/  network. It looks like this website has been around for a very long time (based on their extremely dated design alone) and undoubtedly has a lot of age credit and backlinks.
- A familiar face in the travel space, TripAdvisor.com provides travel tips and advice from travelers. Although TripAdvisor.com is not an Austin-specific website, it does offer Austin-specific content with user-submitted reviews.
- A page on the University of Texas at Austin website. Although this is just one page focused around Austin and things to do, it’s a page on an Austin TX.edu site, so it gets a bonus for being part of a local education website.
- This is Yahoo. They have a lot of value and a specific Yahoo Travel section which also provides tips and ratings. Google loves ratings because they offer a reason why they’re recommended “things to do”.
So where does the Austin, TX Convention and Visitors Bureau website http://www.austintexas.org/  rank? They rank #10
They’re on the first page, but are the very last result on the page.
Is this fair? It sure doesn’t seem fair…especially since the Austin, TX Convention and Visitors Bureau website has some amazing content and the sites that are beating them are either outdated or obviously using SEO tactics to get ad revenue for the term “things to do in Austin”.
So what can the Austin, TX Convention and Visitors Bureau website (and other Convention and Visitors Bureau sites) do to improve their rankings?
Here are some general things that a Convention and Visitors Bureau site can do to better optimize their website and improve their rankings for terms they should rightfully rank higher for:
Optimize Website Structure/Content
- This involves doing keyword research and ensuring the right keywords are used and aligned with the right pages. There’s no black magic or questionable activity involved here. The goal is to research what people are searching for, make sure all content elements are leveraged, use these terms effectively, and ensure the search engines can easily crawl and find content pages.
Surface Valuable Content
- In most cases, the local Convention and Visitors Bureau website has better content than what other websites can offer. However, they don’t always make it easy for the search engines to find this content (i.e. they have to crawl 4 pages deep before they get to valuable content). The key is to create crawl paths to deeper content so the search engines have an easier time finding high-value content.
- Google loves reviews, ratings and other types of user-generated content. It adds validity and uniqueness to content as well as specific references in regards to how other people think about local restaurants, events, attractions, etc. Integrating reviews and ratings can give Convention and Visitors Bureau website content a boost, especially if the reviews and ratings are unique to their website.
- In many cases, the Convention and Visitors Bureaus have partnerships with local government, colleges, and city-specific organizations that also have websites. The search engines view government (.gov), educational (.edu), and hyper-local websites (e.g. www.aclfestival.com ) as high-authority websites. By leveraging these partnerships, a local Convention and Visitors Bureau can start to build a closer and more noticeable association with these organizations (through mentions on and links from the .gov/.edu/hyper-local sites) and increase the search engine-perceived authority of the Convention and Visitors Bureau website. Most of the competition won’t have these types of relationships and won’t be able to create such close association with such high-authority sites.
By doing these 4 things, a Convention and Visitors Bureau website will be able to better align their content with actual terms people search on, ensure the search engines can find and surface their content, and provide validation to their content through reviews/ratings and educational/government website backlinks.
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