Ask the Expert: A new series of podcast episodes that features practical and actionable advice for tour operators
How do I promote my specialty tours asks an Edinburgh based tour operator?
At A Glance
In this special Ask the Expert edition of Tourpreneur, Shane Whaley brings together tour operator, Olga the owner of Cobble Tales and a digital marketing expert and tour operator Ben Oliver of Drinking History Tours to tackle tough marketing questions. With practical and actionable advice any tourpreneur can implement, this hour is packed full of value.
When I started the Tourpreneur podcast, I wanted to include a question and answer style episode where tour operators could receive expert business coaching on the podcast. Listeners can then learn from the session.
In this episode, we explore some of the fundamentals behind building an exceptional tour operator website that performs in harmony with smart marketing.
Ask the Expert: Practical and actionable business advice with Olga Gogoleva, Ben Oliver and Shane Whaley
Marketing specialty tours in an area where tourists do not typically expect or look for such a tour. How does a tour operator promote specialty tours to potential guests?
Tour Operator: Olga Gogoleva is the founder of Cobble Tales in Edinburgh where she offers Edinburgh’s only public architectural history walking tour.
The Specific Problem: How do I promote my specialty tours?
Despite the fact that many visitors come to study Edinburgh’s rich architecture and history, being the only public walking tour like this has posed a challenge. People simply do not realize that Cobble Tales exists. Olga’s company is on Google and they receive some guests from that, however, reaching more interested people is always the goal. As Olga’s company offers daily tours and they can be conducted in multiple languages, she can accommodate guests from all over.
The Specific Question: Olga asks, “How do I reach people who do not know that there is an architecture tour in Edinburgh?”
The Universal Questions:
For all tour operators no matter where they are, a question similar to Olga’s exists. Some examples:
- How do I let people know I even exist?
- What can I do to get noticed over other tours, especially big tours with big marketing budgets?
- My marketing budget is pretty small. What should I focus on?
- My tour is unique. How do I impact my target customer?
A smart combination of tour website optimization, copy refining and paid advertising.
Expert: Ben Oliver, a digital marketer and the owner of Drinking History Tours in Melbourne.
The Specific Answers:
- Optimize and refine your website
- Focus your marketing
Ben outlines numerous recommendations and improvements to optimize a tour operator’s website first. This is a critical step before any paid marketing.
“Before you invite people to the party, [you] want to actually build the house. I think the website optimization stuff is so important before you go out there and spend any money on paid ads.” — Ben Oliver
STEP #1 – Focus on FREE marketing first: Optimize and refine your website and SEO to drive organic traffic
Otherwise, you’ll just be throwing money away on paid advertising.
Areas to address:
- Website headline
- Website copy
- Website imagery
- Website SEO and optimization
- Website Headline:
In viewing the Cobble Tales website, Ben noted that, perhaps part of the difficulty is in the terminology used. The website seemed to position Olga’s tours as specifically about architecture, rather than as history tours through the lens of architecture.
This subtle yet crucial difference may be reducing the number of interested patrons. Ben recommends Olga make impactful changes to her website’s headline (the top, first large text on a website that a viewer sees).
“[The] headline you have when you first land on a website, that’s your most valuable real estate… it’s also a bit tricky, [but] it should ideally present a problem and a way to solve it,” Ben advises.
PRO TIP: Your website, especially the header, should tell the visitor not just the how but the why. Find a way to present your tour information almost like answering a question. In other words, what need are you meeting for your tour guests?
To help you accomplish this, you need someone to view your website with fresh eyes. To be frank, business owners are too close to their own operations to suss out potential issues and gut reactions. After all, you know exactly what you do and what you mean to convey. That makes it difficult to see how others might not “get” what you do.
Engage someone outside your organization to help you think objectively about how your tour(s) are described and how your website functions. What impression are potential guests getting from your website? Especially, what is the very first impression from your headline?
- Website Copy:
- Evaluate the strength of your “ask”. Are you being clear in your call to actions? Weak calls to action result in weak booking numbers.
- Does your website copy, especially your description of your tours always answer the question, “Why?” As in, why should people take your tour? If not, refine them. In addition to presenting a strong why, your website copy should handle or address common objections to booking.
PRO TIP: For great advice and examples on refining and presenting your why, as well as addressing objections right in your website copy, Ben recommends the podcast, Marketing School with Neil Patel and Eric Siu.
- Add the Tripadvisor widget if you have a lot of positive reviews to showcase. This increases your trust factor.
- Use icons to break up text and pull out important tour details quickly for guests. Specifics like how long the tour takes and from where it departs are recommended.
- Match and promote your brand. While refining your website copy, be sure it matches your brand and presents within your framed brand. If you’ve not hammered out your exact branding, on paper, do that first.
- Optimize and increase your keywords to match what potential customers are already searching.
3. Website Imagery:
- Add imagery, especially video of your tours. If you need help with tasks like this, consider freelancer sites such as Fivrr or Upwork.
- Highlight hotspots and the most sought after points of interest in your area. Don’t hide the tourist “must sees”. Make customers want to see them in person, with you!
- Your videos (sizzle reel) should be dictated by your tour offerings. If you have one tour for very niche guests and one that is more generalized, don’t demonstrate them together. This will only muddle your message and potentially foster disinterest from both groups. Create and display appropriately focused videos for each customer avatar.
PRO TIP: Videos geared toward specialized groups, as opposed to all tourists, can be highly effective in targeted marketing.
- Leave no doubt why it’s worth a visitor’s limited time and travel funds to book a tour with you.
4. Website and SEO Optimization:
- Know your baseline stats. Before making any changes, it’s crucial to know your current website analytics. Ben reminds business owners that they should be running Google Analytics. This will reveal data such as conversion rates, average page views, average time spent per page per visit, and much more. Without a starting baseline, it’s hard to tell if changes are having a positive impact.
- Determine visitor patterns and track behavior with tools like HotJar and CrazyEgg. This provides solid data on which to base your website changes. You can even run tests to see which headline is best optimized for favorable results.
- Mention specific fields or niches on your pages, such as “construction” (as in Olga’s case). Doing so boosts SEO naturally. These keywords signal to Google that what you have to offer is relevant and will improve your appearance in search results.
- Group tours together, on front page “tiles”. Visitors choose the one matching their interest. That click takes them to the crafted information for that customer avatar.
PRO TIP: It’s advised not to have more than three options on any one page. Placing all the types of tours you offer directly on the front page can be very overwhelming. If you offer eight tours, group them into similar sets first, then break them out on subsequent pages. For example, you may start with only two tiles, one of which simply says “Tours for Travelers” and the other “Tours for Professionals”. Then you further divide guests on the next screen.
- Funnel website visitors into tailored pages. Starting from your marketing, create different paths for different visitors as they navigate the website. Doing so allows you to more specifically demonstrate the “why” for booking with your tour and not someone else’s.
Example: For Olga, one of her specialized groups of guests are construction professionals. These patrons may not be interested in a “history” tour. It’s important she demonstrates for those website visitors what her tour can offer, without distancing potential guests that aren’t interested in purely discussing architecture.
- Improve your website’s page load speed. Tools such as Google’s Page Speed Insights, JSON Metrics, Hummingbird and WP Rocket can all help. Various typical components on a tour operators website can actually be hosted elsewhere, speeding up the site loading time.
STEP #2 – Focus Your Marketing
- Go after low-hanging fruit first. Target people who are already in the market for tours.
- Use Google paid search (Google Ads). Currently, these are still the best ROI for your marketing dollars. Work on maximizing and refining your keywords. If you need personalized assistance, your Google Ad manager should be able to assist you.
- Bing paid search (Microsoft / Bing Ads). In addition to Google search, you can use Bing search and import the same settings and information you use for your Google ads. You can set it so any changes made in your Google ones are made automatically in your Bing ones.
- Add a plus sign + in front of your keywords. This will make them all a broad search term, increasing your results.
PRO TIP: “Make sure that all of your keywords are broad match modifier, which means you put a little plus in front of each of the keywords. You’ll get better results.” — Ben Oliver
- Don’t lump all your keywords into one ad. Divide up your ads and keywords so you can determine which are performing and which are not.
PRO TIP: Use negative keywords. This is the concept of directing searches that do not match your customer avatar away from your information. There are various forms of keywords and you can use them to achieve different results. Ben highly recommends learning about them.
- Create dedicated landing pages. Using these, you direct people best to what interests them for higher conversion. Plus, you can more accurately determine which ads and landing pages are performing.
- Minimize your cost per click. Google has the functionality to automatically produce the lowest cost per click combination when you input your various dynamic campaigns and copies. Take advantage of this feature to pay less for your ads.
- Learn from Google Academy for Ads. This FREE training and advice will help you create ads that convert at a higher rate.
- Outsource your social media ads – but only if you can afford it. If you can pass along the complex and time-consuming work of optimizing your ad campaign, do so. Just make sure it is not costing you more than running Google Ads on your own (for example).
- Scale your marketing with your budget. Obviously, you’ll need to follow what your budget will allow but the sooner you can scale, the sooner you’ll know which marketing efforts are working and which are not.
- Use Google Analytics Model Comparison. This tool tracks touch points and weighs your conversion models to reveal more accurately what ads are converting.
Realize that people will search or click on an ad, go to your website and leave. Then they’ll do it again. Rarely do people search, click and buy on the first visit. This makes it appear as though your Google Ads aren’t working. However, they may actually be performing very well. That’s why you need to employ the model comparison tool.
- Consider retargeting via Facebook and Instagram. One effective method is to offer a small discount to convert interested website visitors from merely considering your tour to booking. Another effective measure is positive reviews and videos showcasing the excellence of your tours.
- Reach out for partnerships with organizations and associations. Drive potential customers to you by fostering relationships with companies where like-minded members are. You might be featured in their magazine or newsletter or receive corporate bookings from these partnerships. Some recommendations are trade organizations, clubs, civic groups, professional groups, and training/coaching businesses. See who you might be able to connect with.
- Target future customers based on previous customers. Where were they from? How did they find you? If you can get that information from them, you can use it to adjust how you’re targeting new guests.
Words of Wisdom
Offer the ability to pay through PayPal. Even if you already can take international credit cards through another processor, the safety and familiarity of PayPal is worth adding that option. PayPal is designed to not fully reveal all of the financial details of either party to the other in a transaction. And that extra layer of protection for the customer can mean the difference between a customer booking or passing.
Links Mentioned in this Episode
Cobble Tales – Edinburgh architectural history walking tours owned by Olga Gogoleva
Drinking History Tours – Melbourne bar walking tours owned by Ben Oliver
Hotjar – website optimization tool to track visitor behavior and map visitor patterns
Crazy Egg – website optimization tool to track visitor behavior and map visitor patterns
Google Analytics – free website performance and analytics
Tripadvisor Widgets – to increase your trust factors
Fivrr – freelancer website
Upwork – freelancer website
Page Speed Insights – Google’s webpage speed analyzer and optimizer
JSON Metrics –
Hummingbird – widget to increase WordPress website speed
WP Rocket – widget to increase WordPress website speed
Marketing School podcast – with Neil Patel and Eric Siu
Chicago Elevated – Chicago walking tours owned by Margaret Hicks
Google paid search (Google Ads) – pay to improve your search results and increase your visibility
Bing paid search (Microsoft / Bing Ads) – pay to improve your search results and increase your visibility
Google Academy for Ads – learn how to maximize the performance and conversion of your ads, for free
Google Analytics Model Comparison – reveals the touch points and weighs your conversion models to reveal more accurately what ads are converting
Facebook Messenger – answer questions in real time to increase sales
WhatsApp – answer questions in real time to increase sales
Live Chat – answer questions in real time to increase sales
PayPal – accessible payment system that protects both customers and businesses