Skiing is big business. Last year was huge for the industry across the western United States. In 2015, Colorado saw a record 13 million+ ski visitors. Resorts in California and Utah recorded strong visit numbers as well, coming off of several years of drought in those states. This multi-billion dollar industry is seeing record gains across the board wherever you look.
As with just about anything, with success comes competition. And nowhere is the ski resort competition more fierce than online.
Because so many ski visitors come from far away (not to mention what a big trip it is for people), they are willing to spend an enormous amount of time and energy doing their homework before booking a trip. Additionally, ski area visitors expect to see up to the minute snow totals, condition reports, and mountain information directly from the site. In other words, the content and presentation of a ski resort’s website could not be more crucial.
Therefore, in order to succeed with ski resort marketing (SEO, content marketing, or social media), resorts ought to be thinking very carefully about their overall online content strategy and content direction. With this in mind, we decided to explore what content development opportunities exist for the 2016/2017 season.
Evaluating the Competition
To generate ideas, we decided to evaluate a number of competing sites in the industry to see how they stack up from a content perspective. We wanted to get a sense of what people are doing, what sort of trends we are seeing, and what observations can be made when looking at the sites as a whole.
All of this research was done with a simple goal in mind: to see what content opportunities exist for ski resorts. We wanted to see what sort of content they have, how they organize it, what topics they are writing about, and how they compare to one another.
Or in other words: what can a site, which is dedicated to rising above the competition, do to differentiate itself not only in the eyes of its users (most important) but also in the eyes of Google (also super important)?
Initial Content Observations
One of the major themes which emerged is just how consistent some content is across all the competitors. No matter the domain, we found a lot of nearly identical themes, content groups, and pages featured on all sites. These elements included:
- Mountain Info: General information about the mountain such as maps, directions, weather, terrain updates, etc.
- Activities: For both the summer and winter seasons, a full listing of all the various activities and things to do on the mountain.
- Booking: Obviously this is core to all resorts, and unsurprisingly, every site had a lodging & booking portal featured prominently.
- Lodging: Separate from booking, all sites had information about lodging options.
- Plan a Trip: Not all sites, but most had a distinct trip planning console of some kind to coordinate dates, lodging, deals, activities, etc.
- Deals: Usually promotional deals are a prominent feature.
- Town: For resorts closely linked to a town (e.g. Breck or Vail), town information was always present.
- Groups & Weddings: Group & wedding booking takes center stage for all summer content.
- Summer / Winter Content: Nearly all sites have a distinct switch of content and presentation in line with seasonality.
- Active Blog: A vibrant, creative, active, and relevant blog was found for most sites. Resorts have gotten very good at this sort of promotional blogging.
Shared Content Lesson: It is important to realize that most of the sites have actually done a very good job of placing all of the required information out there for users. While the quality of presentation varies, the more important point (for now) is that each resort is covering its bases when it comes to core concepts. This is a unique trait, although perhaps not unexpected, of this particular industry.
The Top 10 Content Opportunities for Ski Resorts
Given the relative similarities amongst the competitors for core content, it becomes very important to think outside of the box. If Google is seeing “basically the same” site time and time again within the competitive set, small improvements in content breadth and quality can go a long way towards improved organic positions.
With this in mind, we brainstormed potential content expansion ideas. The list below is a set of ideas with a very brief explanation of what the content opportunity could be. We have also included some best in class examples for each.
#1 – Sell the Experience, Not the Stuff
Generally speaking, the sites take one of the following approaches: they are either trying to sell all the stuff that comes along with a ski vacation (i.e. things to do, logistics, lodging, etc.) or they are trying to think bigger and push the experience of a trip. When looking at the sites collectively, the approach of pushing experience overwhelmingly works better for content. It is more inspiring, more complete, and most likely better to convert. Furthermore, you can cover the same focus areas of the ‘selling’ sites while still pushing lifestyle. It is difficult to do the reverse.
Sites That Feel Like They Are Selling Stuff:
Sites That Feel Like They Are Selling the Experience:
#2 – Show Off Your Grand Environment
All the sites talk about the epic and incredible locations in which they are situated, but few actually show what they mean. A huge opportunity lies in letting people explore, get to know, and experience the areas in which they will be going. The mountains are an incredible place. Create content which provides information and resources all about the area where people will be coming.
This could look like any number of creative ideas: you could discuss the surrounding mountains or mountain ranges. You could talk about the geography of the area. You could write about the local history of the land and how people have engaged with it. You could highlight local nature spots that people love to visit and see. You could use creative media ideas to do all of the above. The more opportunities to show off the amazing areas to visitors in creative ways, the better.
BELOW: An awesome example of this effect.
#3 – Create First-Timers’ Guides
Most sites offer content to new visitors, but a few take it to the next level. Some of the best content we see exists in the form of comprehensive first timer’s guides. These are excellent content. We recommend all sites push a hard angle towards these new visitors. As much a resort can make them feel comfortable, informed, and excited ahead of time, the better. Plus, these should be relatively easy to put together as they consist of the basic info about a place.
BELOW: An awesome first-timer’s video, via the Get to know Aspen Snowmass first-timers’ guide.
#4 – Embrace Social Embedding
There are a few resorts which are doing embeds of social on their sites, but very few which are truly investing into shared content and making that a core aspect of the online strategy. An excellent content area to explore would be how to do more integration of social directly into on-site content.
Google loves showing current, up to date content in the SERPs. Users like seeing up-to-date reports from the mountain. The easiest way to do that is via social. A content strategy which strives to integrate these concepts would be very powerful.
- http://www.mammothmountain.com/winter (Social Pages Embed)
- http://www.jacksonhole.com/jhdreaming.html (Half-Hearted Example)
#5 – Leverage Stories & User Generated Content
A way to further expand upon shared social content is to take it a step further by actually featuring and exploring user stories.
It is no secret that we live in an age where people love to share, show off, and generally distribute the cool things they do. A ski trip or a day on the hill is a very cool thing for most people. As such, the opportunity to tell a story and feature the experiences of others is huge. This content already exists to a large degree, so the key is to harness it and find ways to make it a core pillar of the on-site strategy.
#6 – Lifestyle Content
Skiing is much more than a vacation for many, it is a lifestyle. As such, each mountain has its own unique feel, flavor, and vibe. A huge part of the appeal of any resort is the culture and lifestyle which it espouses. This is also a big selling point for visitors. There is a huge opportunity to tell a compelling story about your mountain lifestyle through your content pages.
There is, perhaps, no domain doing a better job of emphasizing lifestyle than Aspen. They are far and above the best at showing the ideals, principles, and guiding philosophy of their mountain. For example, nothing beats the ‘We Are Different‘ content silo on Aspen Snowmass. It encapsulates everything that they value. What’s more, the silo is not just a half-hearted tag-along piece of content. It is a core aspect of their content strategy online, just as the ideals are a core piece of who they are as a business. The combination is a powerful one.
#7 – Focus on Demographic-Specific Content
Most competitors naturally segment their content by activity or function (i.e. lodging, vs. tickets vs. mountain info, etc.) However, very few attempt to organize content based on the actual users coming to the site. This lack of demographic segmenting within the content is striking. It’s almost unheard of for resorts to think of their content in a manner of, “Ok… I’m an expert skier looking for a hard-charging weekend. What do you have for me?”
Thinking about content generation and segmenting from a persona perspective could be an incredible way to not only drum up new content ideas but also, to think about more effectively organizing content which already exists. The ski industry lends itself to fairly easily definable personas, so take advantage of this with custom-generated content generation.
Top Example: http://www.skicb.com/ (“My Passion Is” section of homepage)
#8 – Show off Your Environmentalism
For many, being on the mountain is about more than just skiing. In the face of mounting environmental, people, and legal pressures, the effort to protect and steward the mountains is growing. These pressures represent opportunity.
Environmental protection, altruism, and support of worthy causes can be a key theme for any resort and represents a major content differentiator. Many of the competing sites talk about these things, but few show an actual commitment. In a growing age of focusing on these values, expanded content in this area could represent an opportunity to be a real leader with regard to this content by highlighting it on the site.
#9 – Video & Imagery. Always!
Most ski resorts are investing heavily in video, but some are doing it much better than others. For an industry which is so heavily dependent upon visuals, stories, and selling the experience, it is difficult to argue that there is any better medium to do this than with video.
However, properly optimizing a video requires a whole lot more than just putting it on a page. There are many techniques and tips you can use to ensure that you are getting maximum visibility out of not only the video itself but also out of the URL on which it sits. Here is an excellent resource for the top 10 video optimization tips you can use for improving your video’s impact.
BELOW: When you have things that are world-famous in the industry, sometimes there’s no better way to show them off than with video.
#10 – Write About Events On-Site, Not Just in Blogs
Most sites have some form of an events calendar; it is all but essential. However, stopping there misses a major opportunity to really dive into the events with detail on the site. This is often done in blog content (and should not be neglected) but there is a space for evergreen content to feature and show events as well.
Good examples of when to do this are for things like recurring major events, events with large audiences or followings, or for things which are interesting or unique enough to warrant a more in-depth perspective.
#11 (BONUS!) – Tell All About the Specifics of the Mountain
Nearly every competitor has a silo dedicated to ‘Mountian Information’. Each set of content looks generally the same: it explains mountain stats, vital info, how to get around, etc. This content is useful from an informational standpoint and has its place. However, it is still missing something vital.
Once visitors understand the general layout of things, they want to then know the specifics. They want to know about the secret details and will seek out information that will give them a unique experience. There is a huge content opportunity for things like: where to go for the best powder, or the best blue runs, or the steepest runs on the mountain. Resorts should not forget that not everyone is a local. Much information that feels like it’s obvious can be hugely beneficial and interesting to site visitors.
Top Examples: Surprisingly, there are almost no resorts implementing this effectively right now. However, there are a number of independent online guides which are a good example of this, like this online guide to Copper Mountain.
Conclusion & Summary
Good content marketing in the ski industry can be tough. It is a very competitive, growing space. What’s more, the competition out there generally does an excellent job of covering their bases and offers a healthy set of core content. These core pages and content ideas can be found for just about any competitor. In light of these challenges, it is more important than ever to develop a comprehensive online content strategy.
We have just listed a healthy set of initial ideas, but there are plenty more. And regardless of how good an idea may be, the content still needs to be written.
The digital experts at Volume Nine are here to help. We have years and years of ski resort content marketing experience; working with resorts across North America, both small and large. If you are interested in learning more, give us a shout today.