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Sunday, May 26, 2024

Destination Marketing: SEM Without Compromise

Question: Why does your website deserve to be #1?

  • Because I have the lowest prices
  • Because I have better customer service
  • Because I’ve been in business longer
  • Because no one does this better than me
  • None of the above

The correct answer is:

None of the above.

Actually, all of those things canbe a factor as to why a website might appear higher up in the search results, but none of them represent the real reason. What is that real reason which any site deserves to be #1? I think that can be summed up as this: It provides something unique, interesting, compelling or valuable that my visitors cannot find anywhere else.

This is what I refer to as “Destination Marketing,” which can be defined as: The act of developing a website to become a desired destination for people looking for the product, services or information that you provide. In other words, Destination Marketing is SEO and SEM without compromising rankings for conversions or conversions for rankings.

This brings us back to the question: Why does your website deserve to be #1? Is your website a destination desired by the masses who are seeking what you offer? If you suddenly received some exposure that brought thousands of new visitors, would they come back tomorrow? Would they buy from you again? Would they tell their friends about you? If no, why not?

For years I’ve been writing articles suggesting that SEO needs to be much more than just focusing on top search engine rankings. It’s been a pleasure to see the industry move in that direction over the past couple years. While most “SEO” firms are still focused on getting top rankings period, a handful have begun the migration to providing additional marketing services that go beyond top rankings alone. Services such as usability, conversion analysis, good marketing copy, viral marketing are becoming more and more popular and necessary part of a solid SEO effort.

Yes, a #1 ranking can still be achieved without any of that, but for how long? And why would you want a #1 ranking if your usability is poor, your marketing copy couldn’t sell air conditioning in Arizona, no one would ever link to you if they didn’t think that getting a “reciprocal” link would help them and your conversion percentages are in the toilet?

Bringing more traffic to a bad website is hardly the “fix” your business needs. What you do need is to convert your website into a user friendly, information-rich, unique destination that establishes trust and leaves a positive impression in the minds of your visitors.

Standing out in a sea of thousands

While many people want their website to be #1 (or even settle for first page) for their keywords, very few websites actually deserve it. The concept of Destination Marketing is about making your website better than the sum of its parts by combining strong SEO and strong on- and off-page marketing without compromising any of it. If your website is just another site doing the same thing that hundreds of others are and you provide no unique offerings, simply put, you don’t deserve to be #1. Period.

I believe that the art/science of SEO should ultimately be about developing and implementing a solid Destination Marketing campaign that gives people a reason to want to visit and/or buy from you. If you want to stand out in a sea of thousands of other websites, you simply have no other choice. If you don’t offer anything unique or present your offerings in a new and intriguing way, you’re just one of a million when you want to be one in a million.

There are many kinds of marketing strategies that can be effective in the short term, but Destination Marketing is easily the most effective and long-lasting. You can drive traffic to your site via commercials, link bait, ads or top rankings but traffic by itself, doesn’t create customers. Yes, an in crease in conversions usually does correspond with an increase in traffic, but are these one-time buyers or long-term customers?

Even improving both on-site usability and conversion issues—both of which can greatly improve sales—won’t necessarily bring people back time and time again. Destination Marketing does not creates a site that not only gets customers but keeps customers creating a continuous income stream from repeat purchasers. In fact, Destination Marketing is really the only way to make your site “sticky.” Being sticky means that after visitors leave your site they find themselves compelled to return. Low prices rarely create a sticky website. Good usability can help, providing something unique will certainly be more memorable, but creating a website that becomes a destination is what keeps people coming back time and time again.

All of these things can contribute to improvement in sales and conversions, but nothing builds a business like building a repeat customer base. Even if you sell a product that is only needed once every five or ten years, implementing a destination website campaign can create a loyalty that can span decades for a single customer.

Not only that, but each customer will undoubtedly refer many people to you over the course of the years, another great benefit of creating a destination website. A satisfied customer can produce a dozen more, but a customer that return to your website time and time again because you have created a “destination,” produces hundreds more.

Seven building blocks of a destination website

There are seven building blocks of a destination website. All of these are going to sound familiar and many are things that you might have already taken into consideration and implemented. While every one of these building blocks is valuable independently, together they create a website that is greater than the sum of its parts. They create a destination that visitors want to return to time and time again while also telling others about them, both verbally and through their own website and blog links.

Expert information

Many people underestimate the value of good information. Every day I hear excuses why less information is better. Sorry, I just don’t buy it. Sure, you don’t always want a 600 word article on every page of your website so it can be properly “optimized” for the search engines, but a good rule of thumb is that the more pertinent information you provide your visitors the more willing they will be to buy from you.

More information doesn’t always have to be sales/marketing copy either. In fact it is often beneficial to provide information on your website that doesn’t sell anything. Yes, you heard that correctly, non-sales related information can help increase sales. At the very least, non-sales related information is required to create a destination website because it provides information that visitors find helpful in researching their potential purchase.

Writing expert tutorials, helps, tips and even personal background information helps establish you (and your website) as an authority on your topic. The more information you provide the more your visitors can really see that you truly are the expert. You’ll also find that most people are willing to pay higher prices to someone they believe know what they are talking about than pay the “cheapest prices on the web” to someone who doesn’t. You might even go as far as setting up an “ask the expert” area of your website where you allow visitors to submit questions, then you post the questions and answers to your website. Do that and you’ll have no shortage of content.


Too many websites suffer from debilitating usability issues. Whether it’s a poorly constructed and implemented navigation structure, confusing site architecture, misplaced or missing calls to action, or not properly utilizing internal contextual links, bad usability ultimately creates a poor user experience.

Think of usability as a road. If a road is properly maintained with pot holes filled in regularly, that road is more likely to be used over an alternative that is not maintained. People most often take the path of least resistance. Careful consideration of your sites usability helps create a path that is easer and therefore more desirable to use.

Good usability helps your visitors find the information they need more quickly and guides them through a conversion process in as few steps as possible. Usability is the encouragement people need to either stay on your website and get more information or to buy from you rather than someone else. The more usable your site is, the more visitors will reach their (or your) goal.

Website design

Website design and usability go hand in hand, but they are two different things. A website can be very usable, but still have an ugly design. Your website should be, at the very least, as good as the worst website of your major competitors. But you really should not settle for not-quite-worst. In fact, you should not settle for anything less than the best.

The design of a website can convey a lot of information. If a visitor is comparing your site with a competitor, they’ll know who cares more about their professional appearance. Rightly or wrongly, an ugly website can tell a visitor that you’re not too serious about what you’re doing or that you don’t have the resources to provide the type of quality customer service they want.

Just as few people would trust a business executive who came to an important meeting in with an unkempt appearance, so too visitors trust a website that looks and performs poorly, especially when there are other, more professionally designed websites available.

Unique selling proposition (USP)

If you don’t have a USP, then you have no business being in business. Your USP helps answer the question every visitor invariably ask themselves, “why you?” Low prices are not a USP; everybody says they have low prices. The lowest prices on the web can be a USP, but only if it’s true and/or nobody else is claiming that.

So what is it that makes you remarkable? Do you provide unlimited customer support? Do you provide hassle-free returns? Do you provide a particular line of products? Do you offer free shipping on all purchases regardless of order size? Do you have more knowledge than anybody else in the industry?

All of these questions can help you establish your own USP. There are dozens of questions you can ask yourself until you find what it is about you that would make someone buy from you rather than someone else.

Time and presence

Not very often does an “authority” website pop up overnight. When this happens it’s usually because someone with an already established name builds a new site and brings a built-in audience with them. SEO Guru Danny Sullivan is such an example. When he moved from Search Engine Watch to the new Search Engine Land, his name alone brought credibility to Search Engine Land immediately.

Most business owners don’t have the luxury of having a well-known or trusted name at the helm. They have to earn that. But with time, one’s presence on the web can be established. Longevity on the web isn’t necessary to be successful as many businesses can start being successful in a short amount of time, but longevity certainly does help.

Unless you have thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of dollars to pour into your website, building a solid web presence takes time. Relationships must be built, business ties established, customers served, testimonials received, etc. All are a part of building one’s presence through time. And short of having a big chunk of money to invest, creating a destination website is built slowly.


Most destination websites have become that way because part of their USP is that they provide a distinct voice in the community. Your voice helps set you apart from the rest and, if created thoughtfully, can establish long-term customer relationships.

A voice is simply your content written from a unique and consistent perspective. It most certainly is not bland “corporate” type speak. A voice can be anything that a business wants. It can be humorous, serious, whimsical, snarky, flowery, down to earth, brutally honest, thoughtful, etc. Whatever voice you choose to go with, you need to be consistent throughout your website. It’s that voice that permeates into the readers mind and draws them back time and time again.

Developing the right voice for your visitors is not easy. You have to make sure the voice is professional enough to not turn people off, but interesting enough to make them want to return. Even if you have to go with a less obvious voice, you can also use altar egos in various places in order to give your text an extra punch. My company has done this with our own alter-ego we named Bob Loblaw. Bob appears once on almost every page to provide a unique and somewhat comical insight on the content of each page while also providing a way to drive the point home in a different voice. The main voice throughout the site is consistent and we have added the second voice for a little extra humor and “kick.”

Your voice needs to be yours and yours alone, but it also needs to be a voice that is interesting to the visitor. Sites with the most distinctive voices often find they have the most loyal following.

Trust and credibility

The ability to convey trust and credibility are absolutely essential to developing a destination website. In fact, you can have “expert” information, great design, usability, USP, developed presence, and your own unique voice, but if people can’t trust you then they come, leave, and never come back. Without credibility in your area of expertise, you really have nothing at all.

In the dotcom era many businesses spent millions establishing themselves only to flop. Why did this happen? For one, these businesses did not have a solid business plan in place, and two, they simply had not been able to establish themselves as a trustworthy destination. Many achieved instant success only to see that success disappear because these companies did not do what it takes to build a relationship of trust with their audience.

While all the other building blocks of a destination website are ultimately worthless without trust and credibility, all six other blocks actually help a business establish the trust and credibility that they need to be a destination website.

Becoming a destination website

Every year the online marketplace becomes more and more competitive. As each year passes, search engines get smarter and smarter about delivering results that are more than just relevant to a particular query, but they deliver websites that the searcher is actually most interested in viewing. Together, this makes Destination Marketing essential to a business’ success online.

With thousands of websites competing for a top 10 spot in the search results, only those sites that have set themselves apart from the rest as the best destination for that query will achieve first page status. That’s what Destination Marketing is all about, not achieving, but truly deserving a top ranking on the search engines.

So tell me again, why do you deserve to be #1?

Stoney deGeyter is CEO of Pole Position Marketing. The Small Is Beautiful column appears on Thursdays at Search Engine Land.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

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