With 21 million page views in 2012, VisitPhilly.com is the country’s best trafficked big city tourism site. It’s also been among the region’s most popular websites since rebranded with the catchier moniker in 2010 by its publisher, the Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corp, whom you might know as GPTMC.
So it might stand to reason that there is a lesson or two hidden inside the 20th floor of the 50-person team’s Center City offices, prompting Monday night’s Online News Association discussion.
Though the tourism agency, founded in 1996 and with an early website not long after, has other more niche verticals, its main web content strategy focuses on VisitPhilly.com, which is mostly used by visitors, and its popular events blog uwishunu, mostly used by locals, and the social media channels dedicated therein.
GPTMC is today funded with a percentage of the hotel sales tax. Consider a few of the clearest takeaways:
- Mobile is a resource — 2013 will likely finish as the first year that VisitPhilly.com, or its predecessor GoPhila.com, will have more web visitors from mobile devices than browsers, said GPTMC’s web strategy chief James Zale, who has been focused on mobile for years. It makes sense considering so many visitors refer back to the sites for addresses, timing and other details about attending events, restaurants, museums and the like.
- When branding trumps SEO — From 1997 to 2010, GPTMC’s website URL was GoPhila.com, not because of some grand strategy but because the phrase was used in an advertising campaign encouraging would-be tourists to call in for travel tips. The vanity phone number that GPTMC secured for the program was, indeed, 1-800-Go-Phila, somebody bought the domain and it stuck. By 2010, despite its beefed up search engine power and branding age, it was clear Visit Philly was a stronger brand. The team made the hard choice to flip the switch, forward GoPhila.com and prepared to bite it on search traffic. “It did have an impact,” Zale said, noting 2010 was the only year that failed to hit a sizable overall growth in traffic, but the numbers have since returned to leaps year over year.
- Let’s talk engagement — Popular entertainment blog uwishunu.com, which started as a two-year pilot program and has since grown into a must-read for locals looking for good fun, prioritizing driving action, both in its social media and blog content. The results are staggering: a reader survey of 1,000 plus last year showed 97 percent of those who responded “acted on uwishunu content,” meaning they went to an event, restaurant, museum or the like.
- Content that lives — Updated roundups of great brunch spots (26,000 page views from April to June), best places to see fireworks and other so-called evergreen content is consistently GPTMC’s best trafficked content, as they push it out so long as it’s still updated and relevant.
- Beautiful imagery — GPTMC puts a priority on the visual, calling stunning a photography a staple of their strategy and a driver of virality, according to social media director and geek favorite Caroline Bean.
- Cheesesteaks beat hoagies — Here’s a surprise, any content about good, new or favorite cheesesteak shops is well-trafficked. That’s not the case for all food. Even when the VisitPhilly.com team curated a thorough page on hoagies, hoping to brand wider bread-bound, quick-eat options for the local set, it never attracted anywhere near the attention recurrent cheesesteak items do.
- It’s in the data — GPTMC’s dozen-person content team pours over metrics of engagement and web traffic to devour what works and what doesn’t. “Analytics inform everything we do,” said Kristina Jenkins, the uwishunu editor. The team has twice-monthly editorial meetings and uses Google Docs to manage editorial calendars.
- Where do your readers live? — VisitPhilly has a different role than local-only outlets, in that part of its audience has a different time on its clock than we do. Foreign and other regional readers, who are potential tourists, need to be engaged at different times and in different ways, reminded Bean.
- Happiness drives virality — It’s something Buzzfeed already knows, people share what gives them joy and inspiration more than anything else. That means GPTMC’s positive boosterism is built for sharing. Look no further than the 12,000+ #visitphilly Instagram shares in the last six months.”We’re not a news organization, so we won’t sound off on the schools or poverty,” said Bean, “but we are mindful when there is troubling news in the city and try to balance that mood.”
- On social, give to your audience — One of the most retweeted and favorited tweets of August for @visitphilly was simply quoting something Chase Utley said about loving Philadelphia, said Bean. No link, no message about about GPTMC.
- Growing impact efficiently — GPTMC uses the phrase “concentrate and radiate” to describe its marketing strategy for the city, which means, as Zale described it, it focuses on core would-be visitors from the Northeast corridor not only because are they most likely to come but because they also spread the word to friends and family elsewhere.