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Site audit: Helping a vacation rental company get off the PPC treadmill

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The following is my gift to Kim  Kennedy of Vacation Broken Bow Lake in appreciation for her generous donation to the Leukemia Lymphoma Society. Thank you Kim!

Vacation Broken Bow is coming up in the back stretch!

Good news. I’m seeing some things I did not see a couple of months ago when I first peeked at vacationbrokenbowlake.com‘s rank in Google. Back then for their main keywords, they only showed up in the PPC (pay per click) ads. Today, they are in tenth position in the organic listings (free) for “vacation rentals broken bow lake.” For “broken bow lake cabin rentals” they are in position 9. And interestingly, if you switch that around to “cabin rentals broken bow lake,” Google sees that as a local query and returns Place pages where Vacation Broken Bow is in position C and fifth on the page. Looks like the owner Kim Kennedy has been applying some of the things she’s been learning by following the SEO pros in Twitter.  Or maybe she hired out some help. Whatever the case, congratulations, Kim! Nice to see the improvement.

A picture may be worth a thousand words, but not for Google.

Not having done an extensive audit before now, I can’t say everything that was done to make that improvement, but one thing I’m seeing is a big block of text on the home page that I don’t remember being there before. It’s very well written and includes a healthy dose of keywords that Kim’s customers might type in to find a vacation cabin on Broken Bow Lake, words like Broken Bow Lake, cabins, rentals, and vacation. Google still has a hunger for keywords since without them it’s pretty hard to tell what a web page page is about, and since this block of text is pretty long,  there are many opportunities to gently weave those keywords in in a natural way.

You can see how Vacation Broken Bow did that below. Keywords are highlighted in color.

Many businesses in an attempt to game the Google system overdo their use of keywords and Google is now coming down on them. So be careful that you don’t over optimize. How do you know if there is too much? You’ll know when you read it. How does it sound? Does it sound natural or like it’s trying too hard? This copy sounds a little suspect but perhaps not enough to send up a red flag.

What makes me really pleased is that as far as the message goes, it does a nice job of convincing the reader that a vacation there would be oh so nice. That’s good good marketing, the way SEO should be.

Don’t settle for #10.

I’m thrilled the site has made it to the home page, but as an SEO, I don’t feel I’m ever done until my clients are in the top 4, and even better, in position 1. Anything below that is not just good enough for me. So what would it take for Vacation Broken Bow Lake to climb?

Let’s look at the keyword results for  “broken bow lake vacation cabin rentals” where they are in position 10. They are also in position 1 in the PPC ad section. Since Kim is advertising for those keywords, I’m going too assume it’s because those keywords and that ad are capturing customers for her. If that is the case, I would recommend optimizing for those keywords on the website itself so that customers convert there where it’s free, and then Vacation Broken Bow can possibly turn their PPC dollars in the direction of other keywords they might be missing out on.

So let’s explore how to improve rank in organics for “broken bow lake vacation cabin rentals.” Since this keyword phrase is so similar to others they’d like to rank for, optimizing for one will quite naturally also help the site rank for others. But first…

Brand for your audience, not for Google.

Before we begin, I want to make a comment about the business name. I’m not sure why Kim chose this name, Vacation Broken Bow Lake, but I wonder if it’s because she was trying to get an exact match on keywords. Is that true, Kim? The reason I ask is that phrase is not commonly spoken in the English language. Instead we would say “Vacation at Broken Bow Lake.”

I have a new client who named their dance lesson business, “Ballroom Dance Bay Area,” and they admitted it was to get an exact match on their keywords.

But I want to say to Kim and others, you don’t need to do that if that’s why you are. You may see competitors ranking high for what appears to be exact match keyword business names and exact match urls, but you don’t need to go there. So strengthen your position in other ways instead. It’s more important that you have a brand name that is memorable and unique. If you want keywords in your title, add them in a tagline.

Enough diversion. How can Vacation Broken Bow climb in rank?

It’s not the purpose of this audit to tell you how to do SEO. There are plenty of books and blogs on that subject already. But I will provide some suggestions on items that I give put my attention to first if I were their SEO.

1. Fix the canonicalization

Currently the home page can be reached with multiple urls:

  1. www.vacationbrokenbowlake.com
  2. vacationbrokenbowlake.com

This is a problem because if links coming into your site point to www and some point to the other, the search engines will see those links as pointing to two different sites. That dilutes your link juice power, not something you want to do since inbound links are critical to  getting you to rank high. This is an easy fix. If you’re hosted on a Unix or Linux server, simply add the following three lines of code into your .htaccess file:

RewriteCond %{HTTP_HOST} !^www.vacationbrokenbow.com$
RewriteRule (.*) http://www.vacationbrokenbow.com/$1 [R=301,L]

2. Remove unrelated pages & fix duplicate content issues

I queried site:vacationbrokenblowlake.com to see how many pages in Kim’s site are indexed by Google. There are 3,050 pages! There were about 68 pages that were visible to me from the navigation and the sitemap. So what are the rest? Many are duplicate pages, at least in Google’s eyes, due to parameter urls like this:




Both those urls lead to the same page. The SID number at the end refers to session ID and is used to track a user through the site, but the pages are the exactly the same.

Another example of duplicate copy showing up is:




And I could go on an on almost 3,000 times. Most of what Google has indexed for this site is duplicate content so I would try to clean those out from the index. First step is to prevent those SID duplicates from being indexed in the first place. To do that, log into your Google’s webmaster tools and under site configuration, parameter handling, add SID to the list. Alternatively, you can add this to your robots.txt file. Your web dev1eloper should be able to do this for you.

Disallow: /*?SID=

Getting them out of the index is a bigger problem and it will take someone skilled in 301 redirects to do that for you. Talk to your webmaster about this. Is this a big problem for SEO? I don’t think so because I’m sure Google can tell these duplicates are not there maliciously to try and manipulate rank in any way, but I’d get them out of the index anyway.

Is this a cabin rental site or a restaurant site?

Of more concern to me, though, is that last set of duplicate pages mentioned above. Why are those there in this site?

It appears to me that Kim is trying to provide her visitors with information and resources about the area, and so provides businesses in the Broken Bow Lake area a page in her site. Kim might also be trying to capture keyword queries with that approach. While this is not a bad idea, I don’t like the execution. As it stands, there are 40 pages of relevant pages including cabin rental pages, and 38 not so relevant pages dev1oted to other businesses in the area. In that group there are grocery stores, fishing stores, horseback riding, restaurants, and more.

If you were Google, what might you think this website is about? If only 50% is about cabin rentals and your competitor’s site is 100%, which would Google think is more relevant to “cabin rental” queries?

How should we fix this?

I’d recommend making just one page with a list of local businesses. Then don’t give each business their own page. There is no need. Simply link out. Then make sure you take steps to get the unnecessary pages removed with 301 redirects as mentioned above.

Other SEO and marketing recommendations

Highly technical stuff aside, here are some other simple SEO recommendations for you with explanations and still more below the image.

seo tips for local business

  • On the home page, put your keywords closer to the top of the page. See how I suggested it in the picture above, where it says, “Find a Broken Bow Cabin Rental.”
  • By the phone number on the home page, add your address. Google wants to see that location keyword very visible on the page to add validity for that address, and it strengthens your relevancy for those local queries.
  • Add more cabins to the home page. This will not only help SEO, it will help business. As it stands, it looks like there might be only one cabin for rent and that could be a turn off  for people looking for more choices. Additionally, if you put more cabins on the home page, you have more of an opportunity to insert the important keywords.
  • Help people imagine themselves in one of your cabins by incorporating people into your photos. It can help them engage and then stay on your site longer which helps SEO.
  • Make sure each picture has a unique alt tag. Otherwise it may look spammy to Google since all your cabin slideshow images have the same alt tag with the same keywords. Google expects those alt tags to tell blind readers what those images are about.
  • A lot of cabin rental descriptions surprisingly lack keywords. Since they are so long, you have a lot of opportunity to weave them. Be sure to include the location whenever possible without doing it too much lest you sound spammy.
  • As you have linked out to other local businesses, can you give them a reason to link to you?
  • Put your social share buttons down in the content area on your cabin rental pages and add text to invite people to share. The buttons you have now at the top are hard to see.
  • Add your address in the right column on every page along with schema code.
  • Make sure you are geo-tagging your images in Flickr.
  • Add your url to the very beginning of the Youtube description here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PSs4x2yui4Q Take your home page description and add it here.
  • Add your Youtube video to your website.
  • Google recently merged Google Places with Google Plus. Claim your Google Plus page, optimize it, then invite your customers to leave reviews there. If you have collected email addresses from all your clients, separate out the ones with gmail addresses and send to them. Since they have a login there, it will be easy.
  • Look for guest blog opportunities in blogs about vacations. Write one about Broken Bow and leave a backlink on your keywords in your byline.

Kim, you have a beautiful site. I never knew Oklahoma was so beautiful. And your cabins are gorgeous. As far as presentation goes, you sold me and I’m sure you’re selling to many others who happen to land on your site. Hopefully, if you implement these SEO recommendations more will come and more will rent.

And hopefully, you can put that PPC money you’ve been spending into a vacation fund for yourself and come to see me in California! In case you haven’t heard, it’s beautiful here too.

Thank you again for your support of Team in Training and the Leukemia Society!




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Kathy (aka Kat) is one of the internet's original Digital Divas and freely shares her expertise in the fields of web design, SEO, Local SEO, social media marketing, content development, PPC, and conversion optimization to help businesses succeed online. Sadly, she's allergic to cats.

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