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PR Power of the Web

In the world of public relations, the World Wide Web is like Rodney Dangerfield: Its motto could be "I don't get no respect." Too many PR counselors underestimate the Web's value as a publicity medium for their clients.

Never mind that, according to the Travel Industry of America, 64 million Americans use the Internet to plan trips and 70% of U.S. travelers do at least half of their travel bookings online.

If you're a Netskeptic, consider these points:

  • A Sunday newspaper article is likely to end up in the recycling bin on Monday morning. A magazine article gets very little readership after a month. In contrast, a Web article can be "evergreen," with readers finding it in search engines for months or even years after publication. (Example: A Viking Burgundy cruise review from November, 2003 has generated nearly 800,000 page views since it was published.)

  • An "evergreen" Web travel article provides decision support and decision validation to readers who search the Web for independent reviews of destinations, hotels, cruise lines, etc. before booking. (See testimonials from travel vendors and readers.)

  • Unlike a printed article, an online story can link to your client's Web site. The reader who's intrigued by a description of a city, a hotel, or a cruise can get more information instantly--just by clicking a mouse button.

First they read, then they click.

Let's look at some archived numbers from our own site, Europe for Visitors, when we were using a hosting service that tracked outbound link referrals. The first table represents a typical week during the spring travel-planning season:

TRAFFIC - ONE WEEK  
Editorial page views 218,455
Referrals to other Web sites 45,653

Now let's reduce those figures by 20% (to compensate for seasonal traffic variations) and project the resulting numbers over one year:

TRAFFIC PER YEAR  
Editorial page views 9,087,728
Referrals to other Web sites 1,899,165

The annualized traffic of nearly 9 million page views* is impressive enough. Even more impressive, from a publicist's viewpoint, is the "referrals to other Web sites" number. Almost 1.9 million readers clicked through to Web sites that had links from Europe for Visitors--among them, sites for tourist offices, transportation companies, hotels, guidebook publishers, and other travel vendors.

What to look for in a Web site:

Once you've shed your Netskepticism and decided to leverage the PR power of the Web, you should observe these simple rules when adding names to your electronic Rolodex:

  • Favor quality over pedigree. Offline media don't always replicate their quality or success on the Web. Also, an independent travel "content site" may reach more prospects for your client's product or service than most magazines and newspaper travel sections do. If a site looks professional, has quality editorial content, and is written for your client's target audience, the staff (even if it's just one person) is worth cultivating.

  • Take rankings from Alexa and Compete with a grain of salt. (They've been gamed by SEOs for years.) You're much better off asking for screen shots from Google Analytics, which show real traffic numbers instead of estimates based on proprietary toolbar data.

  • Look for sites that have a strong presence in Google and Bing. People who are actively researching their own trips (as opposed to enjoying other people's trips vicariously) rely on search engines to help them determine where to go, what to do, and how to spend their money.

  • Beware of sites that offer letters of assignment to writers in lieu of payment. Such sites may attract writers who are more interested in traveling than in writing.

  • Look at audience demographics. In the United States, Quantcast's "U.S. Demographics" numbers are the gold standard for publicly-available demographic data. You can see an example of an embedded Quantcast table on our Audience page at Europe for Visitors.

  • Match the message to the medium. If you're promoting short-term offers, pitch your message to news- or deals-oriented sites. If you're looking to build long-term awareness of a destination, cruise line, tour company, etc., look for sites that focus on "evergreen" coverage.

  • Focus on editorial travel-planning sites. When evaluating Web sites for PR purposes, look for sites that emphasize travel planning and not just armchair travel or community. Sites that focus on "travel how-to" will reach more prospects than personal blogs or social-media sites.

Recommended reading:

Working With Travel Writers
Daniel J. Marengo, editorial director of The Fontayne Group, offers tips on organizing and hosting press trips (including a distinction between "writers" and "riders").