Blizzard University – July 24 & 25, 2014

Blizzard University - Glenwood Springs, July 2014 - Get signed up today!

Doesn’t a trip to the beautiful mountain town of Glenwood Springs, Colorado this summer sound like a wonderful idea? Why not make it a learning experience as well! Join us July 24 & 25, 2014 for another Blizzard University Workshop. Learn from the internet marketing specialists in this 2-day informative workshop geared toward beginner to intermediate internet marketers and vacation rental managers. Book Today or visit our workshops page for more information.

Why the Miley Thing Mattered

Miley during the VMA's

Miley Cyrus

I think Miley Cyrus taught us all a valuable lesson on Monday. Your eyes aren’t fooling you. You read that right.

Miley Cyrus lit up the social world with her antics on MTV’s Video Music Awards. When led their news with the Miley story on Tuesday (a day when a new war is on the brink, fires are out of control and more) some questioned CNN’s judgment of newsworthiness. Meredith Artley, Managing Editor of, explained the decision in simplistic fashion and her reasoning aligns perfectly with what we tell our clients about their posts, contents, and traffic drivers.

Simply put, Artley explained that we as media consumers don’t click on stories about fires and wars. We do click on stories about our celebrities though – especially when there is a picture of Hannah Montana in lingerie. In order to get the click on the web, you have to get the reader’s attention. It doesn’t have to be risqué like the Miley thing, but it should be valuable. For instance, if you want to get people to spend more time on your website, you need to provide content for them to navigate through.

In the news world, the main goal is just to get people – and it doesn’t matter who – to spend time on a website and get you to view a bunch of pages so they can sell advertising. To advertisers, each set of eyeballs is another cheeseburger, pair of shoes, car, etc. In general, any traffic is good traffic in the retail world. All this traffic is driven by:

Content, oh content! We’re not saying to post photos of scantily clad women all throughout your website. That’ll get you traffic, but it won’t be the kind you want. Those visitors aren’t interested in booking a room or a tour, they’re interested in skin. You need to have relevant content about things to do during a stay, tour information, neighborhood information, descriptions of the area, places to eat, where to rent a boat or skis, or a service you’re providing your guests that your competitors are not. Spend some time to make your content more interesting than your competitors. That content will get people to spend time on your website.

When people spend time on your site, people spend money on your site. That’s a proven fact and that’s why McDonald’s and Nike are what they are and why they don’t care if the content is about Miley (or Britney or Bieber or Boo Boo…). They care about getting eyes on their advertising – and you should too. Your job is much harder because you need to make sure those eyes are interested in your product, but the right content will get you the eyeballs.

See, now you can’t say Miley hasn’t taught you anything.

DIY: 3 Great Website Tools to Check the Speed and Health of Your Pages

With the dawn of the mobile revolution, it has become more critical than ever to have a website that is not only responsive by design for multiple devices, but also fast and mobile friendly.  Statistics show that in the hospitality world 30-40% of users are increasingly using mobile devices to research and book vacation rentals.  It is clear that Google rewards websites in both organic and paid search placements with higher rankings when a user does not use the back button after getting to a landing page.  While this is only one small factor in consideration, it makes a big difference from a usability standpoint when a customer is using a phone or tablet to open a website over a cellular network.  Gone are the days of testing page speed with your desktop computer as T1, T3, Cable, and Fiber connections are much more commonplace in urban areas.  So how can I really tell if my website will open fast for all my users?  How do I isolate the cause of those problems?

If I were you, I would not rely on just one tool to test my website.  Keep in mind, you will get varying results depending on server locations, bandwidth being used, time of day, etc.  So make sure to test a couple of times and get an average.  As well, in this example we will only test the homepage of a website.  I strongly encourage you to test new landing pages used for your AdWords campaigns as well as any that may have extra functionality, forms, widgets, or just a lot of pictures…All of these below are free tools!

1.  WEBSITE OPTIMIZATION For many years, I have referenced this tool as a starting point to get a quick glimpse of how the different objects on my webpage are being seen by crawlers.

The 2 main things I look at are:



Check out the red highlights in the analysis tool then ask your webmaster how they will address these items.

2. Pingdom Pingdom is great in many ways as you can sign up to get alerts when your website goes down via email or text message.  I use to get even more in-depth with what objects are slowing my website down in addition to THE ORDER that they load.  Sometimes just having some objects load at the end allows a user to see the important stuff and gives time for the other secondary style sheets and .js calls to load.  You can drill down to see specifics, get a “performance grade” and it will also keep a history so you can see how well you have improved over time.


 3.  Google Page Insights - Lastly, I will check Google’s Page insights to see what score they provide.  It is out if 100 and theoretically the higher the better.  The nice thing about Insights is that they break down all the links, server calls, and objects and let you know where your biggest opportunities are for optimizing for page speed.


Remember, most times you can tackle 2 or 3 biggies – usually image size, caching, and order in which objects load to make a dramatic difference in your website’s page speed time.  In the end, the effort is worth it because it will result in a lower bounce rate, higher rankings, and a better overall user experience.  Many have said for years…you only have 8 seconds to make that first impression!  Now go OPTIMIZE!

Where to Stick that Nav: Best Practices in Website Navigation

Confession: my colleague Julia and I are left-leaning web designers.

That’s not a political statement; it’s a best practice in design that acknowledges what scientific research has learned about how readers view your website.


This hotspot map shows the F-shaped eye movement pattern. The color is generated by heat – where people looked longest, the color is hottest. The pink hot spots are concentrated in the top left-hand corner of the page. Image courtesy of, a US government website devoted to internet usability research.

Eye tracking research has revealed that visitors scan your website in an F-shaped pattern like the one shown at right. That’s not surprising, considering that since the time of Gutenberg, publishers have laid out their text moving from top to bottom and left to right. (Nay, it was earlier! The monks who hand-transcribed English, Germanic and Romance language scripts during the Dark Ages were following this already-established cultural pattern.)

What is surprising is how fast readers’ eyes track through these patterns. The majority of people leave a web page after about 10-20 seconds. Given that people read about 250 words a minute, or four words a second, that means that you are going to be able to communicate only 40-80 words.

If you’re trying to make sales, they had better be good words, and they had better be in the right place. So what’s the right place? Eye-scan research by the Nielsen Norman Group found out that:

  • Web users spend 69% of their time viewing the left half of the page and 30% viewing the right half.
  • Only 1% of viewing time was spent on content to the right beyond the initially-visible 1,024 pixels on a standard monitor.

As designers for Blizzard Internet Marketing, we design with these findings mind. We use best practices such as those below to keep visitors on your website longer, communicate better, and ultimately, improve your website as a sales tool.

Best Practices for Locating Navigation

  • Locate your main navigation horizontally, near the top of the page.
  • Avoid horizontal scrolling. Keep the type big enough to read (at least 14 pixels high) and not more than 980 pixels wide.
  • If you need secondary navigation — or insist on having your main navigation in a vertical orientation — place it on the left side of the page.

Best Practices for Locating Content

  • Keep the main content near the left, indented from the main navigation.
  • Showcase your most important content between one-third and halfway across the page. This is where readers focus most.
  • Keep important content “above the fold” – high enough on the page so that people don’t have to scroll down to see it.
  • Have a clear center of attention. (If you try to make everything important, nothing will be.)
  • Place less important content to the right.
Telluride Rentals website by Blizzard Internet Marketing

Best practices of navigation and content are applied in Blizzard-designed websites such as the one shown above for Telluride Rentals. Although the website is “responsive” and resizes to fit huge monitors, as well as tablets and smart phones, the main navigation is about 980 pixels wide. The main navigation and secondary navigation form the F scan pattern, and the important quick search button is located on the viewer-preferred left side of the page.


Navigating the Frustration of “Not Provided” Search Data in Google Analytics

If you’re using Google Analytics for website tracking, you’re certainly aware of the privacy policy changes that resulted in a huge selection of keyword data becoming unavailable. In October 2011 Google implemented a new privacy policy that resulted in “not provided” keywords displaying in the organic keyword list. Keyword search terms for visitors who perform searches while logged into a Google account have since displayed as not provided. This was Google’s attempt at protecting their user’s privacy; however, the changes have sent traffic analyzers for a loop. In addition to steadily increasing numbers in the “not provided” category, we have also noticed a decrease in organic traffic share in year over year comparisons. This decrease can be partially attributed to a glitch in Google Analytics which attributes visitors using iOS 6 (most Apple devices) as direct visitors even if they came through a referring site or search engine. Branded search phrases have also shown notable decreases in year over year comparisons, but the not provided terms have increased dramatically.

Frustrated with the volume of “not provided” keyword data you are seeing in Google Analytics for your site? We certainly were and we have taken action to look deeper into the source of the mystery keywords. Thanks to the helpful tips presented in a Search & Analytics article by Carrie Hill, we have implemented a custom filter that shows us where our not provided organic search visitors are landing on the site – in turn giving us tremendous insight into the keywords our not provided visitors are using. There are a variety of new filters and ideas on the web to help combat the not provided black hole and we encourage you to take action to grab a hold of the data available to you.

Not Provided Filter

*Bonus Tip: Make sure you’re reviewing your data in Google Webmaster Tools. We like to look at Traffic>Search Queries and then select Top Pages. Click on the page you are focusing on and drill down to see top search phrases used for the selected time period. This information helps in gaining a broader picture of top keywords for a particular page.

Google AdWords Remarketing Campaign Best Practices – Part 3 of 3

A remarketing campaign, when set up well, can cost less than a regular pay-per-click campaign. Here are some best practices to follow for remarketing campaigns:

  1. Know your remarketing campaign’s objective. Is it for general branding or to facilitate a purchase? If it’s for a purchase, remarketing ads are ideal to offer special pricing to customers who have already visited your site and to motivate them to take action now and buy! Also, we recommend using cost-per-click bidding for most campaigns, except for the most generalized branding campaigns, which could use cost-per-impression.
  2. Set up specific bids.  Use the features in AdWords to segment or target your display campaigns based on interests, remarketing lists, or demographics.  In the case of remarketing, you’ll want to set bids based on specific audiences, it increases the chance of your ad displaying properly. Each audience segment will have a specific bid assigned to it that you can manipulate in order to accomplish your goals.  Follow your campaigns and adjust bids as necessary to achieve conversions on your website.
  3. Use remarketing tags. Remarketing tags are specific Google analytics scripts that when implemented, allow you to target website visitors that have been to specific areas of your website.  By using a single code throughout the website, you can build lists within Google analytics based on actions, pages visited, and goals, and use them in AdWords to build your target audience.    When putting together the audience, you will have the ability to exclude people who have completed certain goals or have already purchased from you.  
  4. Use contextual targeting. Contextual targeting matches your ads to those sites on the Display Network that are relevant based keywords or topics, among other factors.  You have the ability to allow Google to choose these sites for you with Automatic Placements or you can manually add websites or pages by using the Managed Placements option.  After your campaign has run for a while, you also have the ability to block sites that aren’t performing or don’t match your goals. 
  5. Limit the frequency that your ad is shown. Don’t be creepy or annoying.  Put a frequency cap on how often your ad is shown to certain users.  We suggest capping your ads at 3 views per 24 hour period.
  6. Measure what works. Review your placement reports and nurture the campaigns that perform the best.  Follow your statistics and keep your goals in mind.

Remarketing can be a very successful endeavor for many goals in your advertising campaigns.  It sends a highly targeted message that should result in a substantial ROI.  Following these basic standards will help you to achieve your goals.

Reduce the Overwhelm! Tips from Minimal Marketing Efforts 2013 VRMA West Roundtable

When I hosted the Minimum Marketing roundtable at the 2013 VRMA West conference in Denver, I said that I would type up the notes of what we discussed and send them out to everyone who gave me their business card. It was a lively discussion and I heard from a few people that it was the highlight of the conference to hear from their peers about what they do in their markets.

I am sharing it here too so that you, also, can have a chance to reduce your everyday overwhelm and focus on what is most important in your business.

At the roundtable, I started by highlighting 4 guidelines to streamline your marketing efforts:

  1. Know your target market well. The more that you focus on a specific type of person to go after, the less marketing you do, and the more efficient you can be with your time, money and energy.
  2. Make sure that you treat your existing customers well. This reduces the energy you need to spend getting new customers.

    • This goes for both homeowners and for travelers. If you can keep your existing homeowners happy, it’s easy to grow. If you delight each traveler that uses your services so much that they wouldn’t think of booking anywhere else, you minimize the number of properties that you need to fill with new travelers.
  3. Branding is easy when you know your target market and you listen to them. Branding tells you what channels you need to focus on, and reduces and the number of decisions you need to make.
    • On a side note: Google rewards consistent branding. The people who have chosen you will tell you why they chose you. They will tell you what you have to offer that your competitors don’t. The more that you know what you have to offer, the more you can get the word out to your target market. This is your brand. With regard to the online world, research shows that if you rank well for a keyword phrase on your website, your Pay-Per-Click ad campaigns perform better. This also carries through to the messages and posts you do in social media  channels. The more consistent you are in your messages and to whom those messages are relevant, the better your website will perform in Google.
    • Another note is that your branding should produce an emotional response in those who come into contact with it. Your goal is to pay attention to the feelings that your advertising, reservationists, and customer service employees evoke in the people that they touch. Branding is not about reality; it’s about what perception that people have of you and your company.
  4. Pay attention to your competition. None of us operates our businesses in a vacuum. Identify your competitors based on your target market. You don’t need to watch all companies, just the ones that provide services to your target market.

Next, we took a poll to decide which of the 2 markets, travelers or owners, that you wanted to talk about. Every VRM wants to get more owners, so we decided to focus on marketing to get more owners.

We discussed that marketing for any specific market often has 2 main channels that are the most effective for that market. We went around the table asking each person to identify their most successful marketing channels to get owners. The winners, by an overwhelming  margin, were:

  1. Marketing Channel #1: Referrals from real estate agents. (It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.)
    • Find out when the brokers’ meetings are taking place and ask if you can go and speak to them.
    • Bring donuts! Anytime!
    • Know where your owners are coming from. One person marketed to real estate agents in other states like Texas because so many Texans were coming to her area to buy vacation homes.
    • Give incentives to realtors for owners that sign with you. The referral price range mentioned at our table was a referral fee of $250-$300 for an owner.
    • Some VRMs provided an estimated rental income analysis for their area. This is good to share for any homeowner you want to sign with you; don’t forget to share this information with realtors as well. A realtor can possibly sell a home quicker if it includes a rental analysis at the For Sale sign. If it’s got your logo and contact info on it, that’s free marketing for you.
    • We discussed how all realtors want more leads and you have leads you could give them. However, it’s a double-edged sword. You don’t want to alienate any realtors because you didn’t send them leads. If there are ways to do this in a fair way so that you ruffle as few feathers as possible, do it that way.
  1. Marketing Channel #2: Direct mail.
    • Go to the title company and tell them who are you are targeting.
    • Do you know what homes rent well in your market? Send out mailers with valuable content to all of the homes in the best areas. Keep sending mail to those areas even if it’s a basic newsletter or tips every so often about how to “winterize your home” or other important information that people need to know.
      • If you include a landing page on your website for your direct mail piece, you can track how well your mailing did, and possibly find out who you should call. However you do it, the more you pay attention to the results of your marketing, the more efficient you become.
      • In any case, if you write it for the direct mail piece, share it on your website! This allows you to keep your website content fresh, which is important in ranking well, and also provides targeted relevant content, which is equally important for Google. Also consider sharing it with:
        • Realtors
        • Other partners of yours
        • Facebook
        • Google Plus
        • Twitter, if you tweet.
        • Email marketing
          • The most efficient marketers have this set up as a system so that they create content and blast it out in many channels. Talk about simplifying your efforts!
  1. Other marketing ideas to consider, if you find that the top 2 marketing channels do not work well enough for you.
    • Events. If you know where your target market is going to be, be at those events. You may even want to host your own events, such as a wine and cheese reception that tells all of the clients of your favorite realtors what you have to offer.
    • Your reputation. Everything you do is marketing, because everything you do builds your reputation, whether good or bad. Pay attention to how well you are doing things, and you will grow your business in the most sustainable and fundamental way.

If you remember anything, just remember this.

 You don’t need to do it all.

 If you can only do one thing, do this:

 Set up a distribution system to get your messages and value-added tips

out to as much of your target market as possible.