Note to the Branson Chamber

When my readership was quite a bit smaller I made some critical comments about the Branson Chamber of Commerce. It's very easy to be critical when you have a "small niche" that you specialize in.

An article came out yesterday in the Springfield Business Journal regarding the Branson Chamber's online budget....

Online ads boost Branson CVB's Web traffic
By Jill Slack-Henry
Springfield Business Journal Contributor

The Branson/Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce and Convention & Visitors Bureau Web site has seen a 49 percent increase in visitors through November compared to last year. The increase was due in part to the chamber's increased online advertising budget, said Dan Lennon, vice president of marketing and public relations.

The online advertising budget for 2005 was more than $200,000, triple what it was three years ago.

Lennon said his organization elected to spend less on paid search placement because the Branson Chamber/CVB was coming up relatively close to the top in organic searches for free. An organic search is when key words are randomly typed into a search engine such as Google.

Relying on organic searches has freed up money for placing online banner ads on sites in the Branson Chamber/CVB's key markets: Kansas City; St. Louis; Tulsa and Oklahoma City, Okla.; and Little Rock and Fort Smith, Ark.

Other area businesses are slow to catch on to the idea of using advertising specifically to draw clients to a Web site.

Brent Atterberry, owner of AdBuilders, a full-service advertising agency, said few clients are asking specifically about online advertising opportunities to drive Web traffic.

"Most people have the 'Field of Dreams' attitude about their Web site: 'If I build it, they will come,'" Atterberry said.

Ron Marshall, owner of Greenleaf Marketing LLC, said local agencies haven't really embraced using online advertising to boost Web traffic.

"I don't mean to say I'm not going to keep my eye on it and it won't change but, frankly, when people go to a Web site they're on a search mission, kind of browsing things, and they don't click through too much to the ads," he said.

Darin Codon, an independent consultant in Branson, disagrees. He conducts research for his clients and creates and implements online marketing strategies.

"I think what (business owners) realize is … tourists are more sophisticated than a lot of the owners themselves," he said. "They see the value and they know that it's important."

That value includes determining the best keywords for clients to bid on in hopes of luring clicks by Web surfers interested in their products or services. Clients then pay the Google Adwords program for each click that generates a visit to its Web site.

Such diversification is best, according to consultant Codon, rather than using just one method, such as banners or paid search placement such as Google Adwords. He suggests allowing a Web designer or consultant to optimize a Web site so that it will rank high in an organic search.

"Optimization is the only thing that I've seen really be effective," Marshall said. "You pay to be one that comes up on the first few pages of the search...

Budgets and results

Herschend Family Entertainment's online advertising budget is small, said Janet Eller, marketing manager, who declined to share figures.

"We're taking a walk-before-we-run approach," she said, adding that results seem favorable. "We know that we've sold more tickets. Every year, we sell more tickets online. Next year we're hoping to get a gage of whether it's incremental and if it's coming from online sales. This year we really don't have those numbers."

Web lingo

Organic search engines are the well-known traditional search sites that use automated programs called "spiders" or "robots" to index (reference) a Web site based on its content. The information indexed goes into large databases – effectively an Internet roadmap. Position cannot be bought, but it can be influenced via search engine optimization. Almost all organic search engines now include pay-per-click listings. Example organic engines include Google, Yahoo!, AskJeeves/Teoma, Mirago and InfoSpace.

Search engine optimization is the ongoing restructuring of online content through which content is carefully rewritten from the search engine's point of view. Following search engine optimization, the search engine will rank a page higher for relevant searches.

Source: Search Engine Professionals