Three tips for creating engaging virtual tourism experiences.

May 25, 2021

An opened box of Taza Chocolates shows items available in the virtual tasting kit, including bars, discs, nibs, and pouches. These help provide an engaging virtual tourism experience for participants.

As the pandemic fades and travel resurges, you may be wondering…will virtual travel experiences stay relevant?  The answer is YES, and if you’re a tourism provider, here’s the number one reason why you should continue to invest in creating engaging virtual tourism experiences:

They’re a highly effective marketing tool.

Virtual tourism experiences can play a key role in the trip planning process for consumers.  If done right, they can lure people into your sales funnel, upsell services and amenities, and – a critical benefit – provide rich, engaging texture for your various content channels.

Moreover, the pandemic has made people really comfy with online interaction in all aspects of life, business and personal.  This means a turnkey, willing audience now exists…whereas before the pandemic, virtual experiences were much less of a mainstream opportunity.

“Virtual tours” have been around for a while, but largely in the form of online 360° tours and pre-recorded videos.  These can also be helpful marketing tools in a tourism provider’s toolbox… but nothing beats live interaction for making strong connections with guests.

The pandemic has catapulted such virtual, interactive experiences onto a global stage and into the norm. It’s not that they didn’t exist before.  It’s just that the labor and budget resources required to do them justice felt like a heavy lift for a possibly elusive audience.  Now, all that has changed.

If you’re seeking to up your game (or get started) in the virtual tourism arena, here are three tips to help you create effective, engaging virtual tourism experiences that are both memorable and shareworthy:

1.  Include live human interaction.  A live host can create the kind of dynamic experience essential to establishing bonds with guests.  And let’s face it…this gives guests as close to an in-person experience as possible without leaving their computer.  Participants can ask questions – vocally or in a chat function – and converse/interact with the host in various ways as the experience unfolds.  The most effective hosts are vibrant, charismatic storytellers who are quick on their feet and extensively knowledgeable about the subject at hand.  One of the greatest examples of this online right now is WildEarth.tv.  These daily live safaris do an extraordinary job of broadcasting with guides in multiple locations to ensure viewers can always go where the action is.  And the more you watch, the more you get to know (and love) the guides.  They are passionate, funny, experienced, and inspiring.

2.  Optimize real-life elements for virtual settings.  Nothing sabotages a virtual tour like being reminded it’s not as good as the real-life experience.  You never want your host to be forced to say things like “if you were here, you’d be able to see…” or “you can’t see it that well through your screen, but…” or “when we do this in person, we…” A virtual experience shouldn’t be a substandard, repurposed version of your real-life ones.  Even if it’s based on an experience you offer in real life, it needs to be built from the ground up AS a virtual experience.  Also, your hosts should be fully trained on the virtual technology being used (or else you have an experienced crew running point).  And further, they should be specially trained on how to deliver this experience virtually, especially if it’s one they’re used to hosting in person.  Organic, stone-ground chocolatier Taza does a spectacular job of this with their factory-tour-turned-virtual-tasting. Sign up for one to get some inspiration…plus get a delicious virtual tasting kit (pictured above).

3.  Create visual assets that enhance (and guarantee) effective content delivery.  Virtual experiences can’t rely on the rich immersion of real life, nor the chemistry that emerges organically when groups are brought together.  People sitting at a screen need substantive visual interaction to keep them engaged.  It complements the host’s vocal delivery, punctuates the session with visual texture, and underscores memorable moments within the experience. Further, it helps blend education and entertainment, which is one of the best ways to forge connections.  These folks – Airbnb hosts Lucie & David – created an absolutely brilliant online tourism experience taking people on a walking tour of Prague, Czech Republic that follows in the footsteps of a 17th century plague doctor.  The Redpoint gang took this tour together and afterward, every single one of us said “I want to go to Prague.”

All types of tourism and hospitality providers – hotels, resorts, inns, attractions, DMOs, restaurants, cruise lines, tour companies and more – can do this…and continue to do it as part of their marketing efforts.  Tour the area, do interactive kids programs, host cooking demos with chefs, tour grounds and gardens, meet and greet with local businesses, explore nooks and crannies of a lodging property… whatever.  Think of things your guests could experience and bring that to life virtually.

Does this require more logistics and is it more labor intensive than just producing a pre-recorded experience to slap up on your website?  Yep.  But the live, interactive experiences can be more powerful, more shareworthy, and more effective at generating conversions than a recorded video.

Think you don’t have time to do all this?  You do.  Read why here:  Marketing…It’s About Time.

And as a parting gift:  here’s some inspiration to help you in creating and cultivating your own engaging virtual tourism experiences:

Footprints of London does a beautiful job of presenting a blended calendar of in-person and virtual tours, showing how these can sit side-by-side and complement each other.

And the incomparable Laura Begley Bloom created this stellar list for Forbes of some of the best virtual tourism experiences available today

Three major changes coming to digital marketing.

April 20, 2021

There are three major changes coming to digital marketing in the next nine months and marketers are rightfully wary.  Actually…scratch that.  Most digital marketers are actually freaking out and scrambling for solutions, and it turns out there’s no easy fix.  All three changes will in some way dramatically upheave habits and strategies that digital marketers have relied on for ages.  And more importantly, they will negatively impact marketing results…from conversion data and targeting options to website speed and search engine results page ranking.

Did I just make you freak out too?  Sorry.  But ignoring these three major changes and/or hoping they don’t apply to you is not a smart move.  Ignorance may be bliss, but when your sales tank…believe me, you’ll be feeling anything but blissful.

Here’s a clear overview of what’s coming.  It’s not EVERYTHING, but it covers the critical highlights and offers links to more in-depth information about each one.  It should be enough for you to check in with your webmasters and marketing folks to be sure you’ve got a plan to address them.

iOS 14 Update – Coming Spring 2021

Biggest headline:  At some point soon (likely with the iOS 14.5 update, and likely the week of April 26), iOS will require all third-party apps to offer an opt-in prompt (see above image) that allows users to choose whether or not they agree to being tracked.  Also, the conversion tracking window is dropping from 28-days to 7-days, which will make your conversion metrics grossly inaccurate.  Hotel decision-to-book processes are not often contained within seven days.

Impact on your marketing:  This impacts Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and more.  Facebook is the biggest worry, especially if you’re using the Facebook pixel or doing any type of targeting or retargeting that relies on tracking in some way.  The wide swath of iOS (iPhone) users who opt out of tracking will now be an unreachable audience for tailored marketing.  This will reduce your advanced targeting options, as hyper-personalization and targeting lookalike audiences won’t be possible.

The iOS update will also result in inaccurate conversion data.  A large portion of your audience will now be untrackable, both because of the opt-out AND reduced conversion tracking window.  Note:  you likely won’t see the impact as instantly as flipping a light switch.  People update their settings on their own time – many take months before doing it – so expect this to feel like a quick slap and then a slow burn of increasing opt-outs over time.

Learn more here:

 

Google Page Experience Update/Core Web Vitals – coming Summer 2021

Biggest headline:  Page speed, which measures how fast your website loads and is ready for interaction when a user first tries to access it, will play an even greater role in a website’s Google search engine ranking.  A new suite of metrics called Core Web Vitals (CWV) will measure the elements of your site that are impacting its speed (see the three CWVs in the image above).  If things are out of whack, the report on your Google Search Console (also available at PageSpeed Insights) will tell you precisely what needs to be fixed in order to pass the CWV assessment.

Impact on your marketing:  Google plans a staggered rollout of this update starting mid-June 2021, with full completion by the end of August.  This is important, and you absolutely should correct any issues that are causing your site to fail a CWV assessment.

However, if you don’t have this done by June 15, the world won’t end.  Page speed is definitely a prominent factor in how Google ranks your website (because page speed impacts user experience, which is of top concern to Google), but it’s still just ONE of many factors used to determine that ranking.  Your site won’t get buried instantly because of a CWV fail.  In fact, Google has made it clear that relevant content still beats page speed in terms of ranking.  So even if your CWV are subpar, if you have excellent, interesting, unique, and effective content for searchers, your website can still rank high in search results.

However… do pay attention to your CWV because Google makes it crystal clear what you need to fix if you don’t pass.  Why allow fixable items to drag your page speed down?  Pro tip ->  check your CWV after you do any major content update to be sure nothing uploaded knocked your CWV out of whack.

Learn more here:

 

Cookies Changing to FLoC on Google Chrome – coming 2022

Biggest headline:  In 2022, Google Chrome will no longer allow websites to use third-party cookies, and it intends to replace them with a new approach called Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC).  This means you’ll be able to track individuals ONLY while they’re on your own website.  When they leave and go elsewhere, you can’t follow them around and lure them back with retargeting ads.  Instead, you’ll be able to target “cohorts,” which are interest-based groups (sorted as such by Chrome) sufficiently large enough to maintain individual anonymity.

Impact on your marketing:  If you’re doing any sort of tracking and retargeting on Google, this will impact you greatly.  Google hasn’t released any information yet on how FLoC will work.  We don’t know what advertising tools will be available, nor or any specific details that would help you gear up for the tactical change.  But at the very least, this is going to force you to learn new methods/tools, upheave your conversion patterns, and disrupt formerly reliable marketing channels.

Google says its preliminary trial data shows that using cohorts leads to similar results and advertisers can expect to see at least 95% of the conversions per dollar spent when compared to cookie-based advertising.  But so far, they’ve shown no proof and leading digital marketing authorities are rightfully skeptical.  So basically…we don’t know much but we know it’s coming.

Learn more here:

There’s only one article here because concrete info isn’t available yet, but here’s the most up-to-date overview (at the time of this posting) of what’s going on with FLoC.

 

OK, that’s a lot to absorb. These three major changes coming to digital marketing are a BIG deal and can be daunting to consider.  So if you need a quick palate cleanser for your brain, check out our past blog posts about the marketing power of biscuits and bunnies.

Why you should care about your website’s bounce rate.

April 7, 2021

Your website’s bounce rate is something you should care deeply about, and here at Redpoint we call it “the sneaky little stat” for two reasons:

  1. It’s one single metric that gives clues to a ton of things that could be out of whack on your website.
  2. Google doesn’t actually LOOK at your bounce rate, yet it’s a supremely important factor in your search ranking potential.  (note: for brevity, I’m just saying “Google” instead of “Google and other search engines,” but this blog post applies to all of them.)

First, what’s a bounce rate?  It’s the percentage of visitors who come to your site and leave after visiting just one page with no interactions.  So, if your bounce rate is 87%, that means 87% of the people who came to your site basically opened the door, peeked their head inside, and then turned around and left <sound of door slamming>.  This ain’t good, folks.  In this example, 87% of the people you lured to your door (and you probably spent some marketing dollars to get them there) weren’t interested enough to come inside your house and get to know you better.

Acceptable bounce rates can vary by industry, type of business, and purpose of website, but here are some general benchmarks to help measure yours:

  • 26-40%:  Excellent
  • 41-55%:  Average, with potential
  • 56-70%:  Definitely room to improve
  • 71%+:  Something’s wrong, fix it pronto

But why should you care about your website’s bounce rate if Google doesn’t actually look at it?  Because your bounce rate is influenced by many critical factors, and those factors are things Google DOES care about…a LOT.  Here are a few important things that can negatively impact your bounce rate:

  • How fast the pages of your website load.  We’ve all been peeved by websites that take sooooo long to load that we leave before the first page even finishes loading.  Google uses site speed among its ranking factors…it likes websites to be fast.
  • The amount of time people spend on your site.  There’s no magic number (i.e. 5 minutes) that Google wants you to hit.  But in the simplest of terms, Google sees people staying on your site longer as an indication that your website delivers a satisfactory experience for users.  And Google’s entire goal is to return relevant and satisfactory results when people are searching.  So let’s say a lot of people searching for “charming country inns that allow pets” spend a lot of time on your site after they click through on the search engine results page.  Ultimately Google will say “hey, this website is a really good match for people searching for that topic, so we’re going to keep showing it higher in the search results.”  So on the flip side, if people searching for that topic get to your site and leave after just one page…Google will see that as a sign your website is NOT a satisfactory match for that topic and will NOT rank you higher (or ultimately, at all) in those search results.  And if you’re a charming country inn that allows pets, this is a bummer.
  • Content irrelevant to your main purpose.  Let’s say you’re a hotel that does a blog post with advice from your housekeeper about how to properly fold a fitted sheet.  It’s a common task that stumps many folks, so it’s likely people will search for it and find your post.  But if all those folks want is folding instructions, and you don’t put anything in the post to seduce them to click through to other areas of your site, they’ll probably leave after just looking at that post.

And of course, broken links, pages with missing data or incomplete text, or anything else that’s frustrating or annoying to users will negatively impact your bounce rate.  Nothing makes a visitor want to leave faster than trying to click (repeatedly, and with great irrational force) on broken links.

Here’s a handy visual that shows the whole “circle of life” for the website experience, with “they stay & engage” as the part where bounce rate would enter the equation.  If they do indeed stay and engage, it keeps the circle of life intact.  But if they leave at that juncture, it breaks the circle.

diagram showing the path visitors take from search engine result through to your website, and how the "stay and engage" moment determines bounce rate

Your bounce rate is easily found in Google Analytics, and if you discover it’s too high, here’s a practical guide for ways to reduce it.

And now that you know bounce rate is so important to your Google ranking… wait ‘til you see how alt text impacts it.

Your new year’s resolution? Better alt text.

January 13, 2021

OK, so this may not be the sexiest or most popular new year’s resolution, but here’s why it should make your list.

First, let’s be sure you understand what it is.  We’ve found through our consulting and digital marketing work that very few people DO understand it, even those that are responsible for writing the alt text on their own brand’s website.

Alt text – short for alternative text – is the text description applied to images on websites (and social media, but that explanation is for another day).  This isn’t the same as a caption, which can appear on your website with the image so that anyone can instantly see the words.  The alt text is hidden from the front-facing website and doesn’t appear unless it’s needed.  Think of it like writing a description on the back of a real-life photo that’s sitting in a frame.  When you look at the photo you can’t see the description, but if those details are needed, you can get them.

Now… when would such additional hidden details be needed?  Because if you’re looking at the photo on a website, you can clearly see what that photo is about… right?  Nope.  Not always.

The hidden text is vital in these three ways (all equally important):

  1. It gives search engines a full description of the photo, which makes it easier for search engine algorithms to see and understand images.  Using alt text on your website images means that a search engine can more easily find your photos and then show your website and/or images to people searching for relevant things you offer.
  2. When images on websites don’t load properly – when there are connectivity and/or internet strength issues, for example – the alt text will appear instead, so at least visitors know what you were trying to show.
  3. For those with vision impairment issues, or those who use screen readers for any other reason, the alt text is essential because it describes photos that the user physically CANNOT see.  A screen reader, if you didn’t know, is a program that reads content on a webpage aloud, and the alt text allows the screen reader to give information about the visual aspects of the page.  And by the way, ADA Compliance actually requires this of websites, so you might as well do it right.

Now, why won’t a caption suffice for all this?  Technical aspects aside (and there are some), the biggest reason is because a caption isn’t necessarily a proper description of a photo.  For example, here’s me trying to decide between my top two vices (since we’re talking about resolutions and all):

Chris Miranda holds prosecco bottle and coffee cup while deciding which to drink while giving a webinar.

The caption for this photo might be:  Chris decides between two vices.  But the alt text would be something like:  Chris Miranda holds prosecco bottle and coffee cup while trying to decide which one to drink while hosting a webinar.

So that takes us back to your new year’s resolution about committing to better alt text.  When you’re ready to dive in, here are nine brief but helpful tips for writing effective alt text.

And you can drink prosecco OR coffee while you read that article… no judgement here.

Looking for other ways to make your website easier to read and more accessible?  Choose your font and typeface wisely.

Words matter, but so does the font you choose.

November 5, 2020

A graphic of the word typeface using a magnifying glass.If you’re not a graphic designer or branding specialist, your experience with choosing typefaces is likely limited to the little dropdown box at the top of your screen, where you select from fonts like Arial, Universal, Comic Sans, and the whimsically-named Wingdings.  You may not even realize that a typeface is a design of lettering (i.e. sans serif), and fonts are variations within each particular typeface (i.e. Arial or Calibri).

Further, you probably choose your font for documents and emails based on your own personal preference of what you think “looks good.”  Is it pretty?  Professional?  Strong?  Does it reflect your personality?  Does it set you apart?  Or is it just the default font used by Word, Outlook, etc. and you never give it a second thought?

But in marketing and branding…typeface and font matter A LOT, and they can’t simply be based on your personal preferences.  Therefore, it requires a bit of knowledge to make wise choices.  Why?

First, because accessibility and legibility are essential in marketing, and not just because laws and the ADA say so.  There’s a large group of folks out there with poor vision, learning disabilities, and reading/comprehension issues, and you’re ignoring that entire audience if they don’t have access and the ability to comprehend your messages.

But second – and as importantly – the world is full of clutter and speed, which has reduced people’s attention spans to mere milliseconds.  Why would you risk wasting a precious point of contact using a typeface or font that’s even a tiny bit difficult to decipher?  You’ll lose ‘em, fast.

So here are eight super-smart tips for choosing your typeface and fonts wisely when designing your logo, brand identity, website and more.  This articulate gent Gareth Ford Williams succinctly details – in an easy 10-minute read – what you should consider.  And if psychology bores you, just skip right to the list of eight things you need to know:

A Guide to Understanding What Makes a Typeface Accessible

I guarantee after reading this, at the very least, you’ll forever beware of the mischief that “imposter letter shapes” cause.  Sneaky little buggers.

Got your typeface and font all sorted?  Now try these Four Quick Tips to Strengthen Your Writing.