Behind the Making of TravelOregon.com
Travelers are making crucial trip decisions in front of a web browser (or mobile & tablet device). What kind of content do they need to make these decisions? What are their information gathering goals? What do we need visitors to learn about Oregon while using our website? And what is the role of a Destination Marketing Organization (DMO) in the trip inspiration and planning process. These are just some of the questions we set to answer when we embarked on an effort to completely overhaul TravelOregon.com and meet the brand objective of becoming the most trusted resource for Oregon travel inspiration and trip information.
The first step in radically transforming how we talk to potential visitors in the digital space began with the launch of the revamped TravelOregon.com a few weeks ago. The following is an examination of our journey thus far.
Grounding Ourselves Through Research
We grounded the project by taking a critical look at ourselves at the onset in 2010. We studied our sites—we had five—and examined the good, bad and ugly (using both a usability study and focus group) and pondered about how the new site should address the changing landscape. We also poured through existing research (PhoCusWright and others) to examine how travelers consume content from DMO sources and others when they plan travel and when they’re on the ground at a destination.
The following concepts are key recommendations that emerged from research and the foundation upon which the site was built.
Consolidating Inspiration & Information
“…Organic search is a critical source of traffic; keeping a single consolidated content site is recommended…”
Two years ago the TravelOregon.com network was fragmented; we had five sites and inspirational content (videos, blogs, and itineraries) and informational content (tourism listings, maps etc.) were spread across the network. Moreover, since TravelOregon.com owned top search rankings for a vast amount of content, new content added ranked well just by association while content on other sites took over six months to get good search rankings.
The ability for the editorial team to combine inspirational content (Oregon stories, videos, itineraries, seasonal features, and Scenic Byways) with specific travel information that people can use to plan their trip is one of the core content functions of the new site and ultimately supports the brand objective of being the most trusted source for Oregon travel and trip planning.
Inspiration fails when people can’t act upon it, so a primary goal on the new site was to provide actionable information around inspirational content. Almost all content on the site (original or curated blog posts) cross-references to additional content in order to provide pathways to more information and/or inspiration.
Content Surfacing & Every Page is a “Home”
“…Pages must always be constructed as though they are the gateway into the site (i.e. first page). Always guide the user to the action you intend them to take.…”
Since just 25% of traffic to our old site came through homepage, it was really important for every interaction and experience with TravelOregon.com to be a “gateway” into the site. Elements that support this include:
Content lenses: An important part of the new Travel Oregon site structure is what we call a “Content Lens”. Content lenses are essentially topic pages that allow us to tell a richer editorial story by assembling all associated content—videos, itineraries, stories, and listings—on a single landing page. Sample content lenses include: “Beer”, “Cycling” and “Oregon Trail”
Mega-Menus: The three primary navigation categories (See & Do, Trip Ideas, Cities & Regions) feature an “editorial mega-menu” – a place where editorial content is featured in the rollover state for the primary navigation. By placing editorial content in the mega menu, we’re again able to tell richer editorial stories (around seasonality, featured events, activities, etc.) across the entire site. Having this content persistent in the mega menu helps promote a variety of hand-picked stories from across the site.
Fixed footer/header: For screens that are more than 700 pixels tall, the top and bottom navigation of the site is locked (if a browser is smaller, the top and bottom navigation scrolls in-line). It’s noteworthy that while the fixed footer and header has been remarkably successful in funneling folks to targeted content, we’ve also had anecdotal feedback from users who’re annoyed at the reduced screen size. Based on this feedback and analytics, we’re increasing the fixed header and footer to screens that are larger than 800 pixels tall.
“…Increase site search prominence in interface. Quality of visit by site searcher is higher than site average…maximize use of search “promotions” by keyword. For top 100-200 searched terms, create a promoted result directly guiding visitor to most relevant page; create city pages because 15% of site searches are looking for specific destination content…”
Ensuring that search was a useful piece of navigation for people was critically important to the success of the site. The first aspect for search is providing “suggestive” search terms where letters/words typed into the search field are queried against content on the site to help people find what they thought they were looking for.
Additionally, much of the site content can have additional editorial keywords applied to it and can be presented as featured search results. When someone is searching for “Portland” in the search field, we can make an assumption that they’re either looking for the city or the region, so we provide those two results at the top of the search results. Similarly, if someone is searching for “Goonies,” we provide the “Astoria” city page and “Movies Filmed in Oregon” content len as a featured search result, as well as the “Goonies House”.
Trust & Credibility
“…results not as robust as people expected… some restaurants resulted in little to no content, no reviews, and no ratings. People make decisions on where to eat based on peer advice…”
DMO’s cannot and should not relinquish the role as the as the preeminent and trusted source of information. But in vast sea of travel information, how does a DMO distinguish its content offerings and ensure that we give travelers content that they believe, and is up-to-date and relevant on what is great about our destination? Elements in our approach to support this include:
Going Wide & Deep: From business listings to stories and video to maps, the site features more than 13,000 pages of content. When it comes to stories, the content team oversees the development, production and distribution of a wide breadth of content—nearly 30 feature stories, video stories and itineraries every quarter— that brings the Oregon experience to life and hopefully evokes an emotional response and ignites the desire to travel to Oregon.
In addition to these branded stories, we actively curate and feature stories from external authors, Oregon personalities and content partners using their independent voice to enhance and support our content efforts (additional 20-30 stories per quarter).
Finally, the site features informational content—attractions, events, trails, restaurants, outdoor guides, and more—that is managed locally by DMOs and statewide trade groups via the Orb, a centralized collection of Oregon’s tourism assets assembled collectively and distributed freely to tourism partners.
Reviews/Ratings/Badging:In response to consumer demand for genuine travel advice, we incorporated real-time (updated nightly) Trip Advisor reviews into every attraction and lodging listing and added the ability for visitors to rate all Oregon places and leave unvarnished reviews on the site.
In addition, since stewardship is core value for tourism in Oregon, business who have made a commitment to sustainable practices (through the 37 Global Sustainable Tourism Criteria) and those identified by National Geographic as sustaining or enhancing the “geographical character of a place – its environment, heritage and the well-being of its residents”, are designated by a special badging system and featured in search results and in a “Sustainable Tourism” lens.
Advice from Locals: Finally, we started an ambassador program—Ask Oregon—to humanize the site and connect potential visitors with passionate Oregonians. Our fifteen volunteer ambassadors are passionate Oregonians who have deep knowledge about relevant destinations and/or niche activities like cycling, family travel and wine. To receive personalized, unbiased recommendations, visitors can easily contact the Ask Oregon ambassadors by tagging questions with #AskOR on Twitter, inquiring on the Travel Oregon Facebook page or posting simply posting a question on site.
Responsive Design & Mobile
“…Build for Mobile.…”
It goes without saying but mobile devices are a game-changer in the industry. Mobile traffic to TravelOregon.com is significant; mobile traffic is currently 16% and climbing and most surprisingly, 55% of these visitors are not in Oregon. It is also noteworthy that iPad traffic is significantly up since Christmas and these visitors have a starkly different use-case (they spend twice as long on average on the site, and view twice as many pages).
Since we didn’t want to create custom applications for a variety of tablet and smartphone platforms, we made sure that the site was responsive in nature. Depending on the browser size (large desktop, small desktop, tablet horizontally, tablet vertically, small tablet, smartphone), the site layout, navigation and content adjusts to provide an appropriate, relevant browsing experience.
We’re continuing to make adjustments and improvements to the responsive design as we see how and why people are using different devices to interact with the site. Furthermore, we’re also in the process of planning a mobile specific site that can help travelers in location who are looking for things to see and do near-by.
An undertaking of this magnitude can never be accomplished without the perseverance and passion of a gifted team. We had the good fortune of having many of these talented folks in Oregon. Substance, was involved in the concept, architecture, design and development of the site; Swift Collective grounded us with research; Wieden & Kennedy provided brand/style advice; MEDIAmerica, our publisher, was integral in helping shape our content and advertising strategy; Sparkloft Media helped concept our social and “Ask Oregon” game plan while Ten Bridges constructed the Orb, hosting and advertising platforms.
Last but not least, I can honestly attest to the fact that nearly every single one of my fantastic cohorts at Travel Oregon was involved in the 20+ month process. From story contribution to section curation and coming up with a global tagging convention to managing listings content, this was truly a labor of love for the entire team.