When almost anyone can start a website, how can an advertiser, public relations, or tourism person distinguish between a travel publication that is web-based and a personal or even a vanity site?
The Function of Travel Websites and How to Evaluate Themby Neala Schwartzberg, Editor, OffbeatTravel.com
Travel Websites and Travel Print Publications Serve Different FunctionsOne of the most important differences between print and internet is the way potential travelers use them, and their function in promoting a destination, hotel, or event. Print publications are like sprinters - they can reach a lot of people very quickly. They create a buzz, an awareness. With luck, people think to themselves "Hey, I want to go there someday." And that's generally the end of the effectiveness of a print promotion. But its purpose has been served. Folks know about the destination.
A few weeks, months, or even a couple of years later, that reader is now ready to visit the hotel, tour the city, enjoy a festival. But where to find out more information? The internet. When people are ready to plan a trip, they hit the internet, type their search terms into Google (far and away the best search engine on the internet) and find an article. Internet publications are in for the long-haul. They hold the information until the reader is ready, then put it on their screen.
Print and internet are not in competition, they work together beautifully to meet the needs of travelers, and the needs of destinations to get out their messages.
Determining Quality of a WebsiteThere is no easy way to evaluate websites. Most people are interested, naturally, in traffic. However, most estimates have serious limitations. Alexa rankings, probably the most often cited, are objective, and updated regularly. They have just announced changes (April, 2008) to the way popularity is measured. From their website:
When Alexa began displaying rankings in 1998 it was with the goal of showing Alexa Toolbar users how popular any given site was within the Alexa community. We generated the rankings through an analysis of Internet usage by people who use the Alexa Toolbar. Since that time we've been delighted to see that the Alexa Rankings have become a yardstick by which website popularity is measured. We are grateful to the thousands of people who come to Alexa.com each day to check the Alexa Rankings.
However, estimates are just that -- approximations. Another site Ranking.com also tracks the surfing habits of website users to create a ranking of website popularity.
The look and feel of a website can sometimes provide a sense of how often the site is updated. Look at the structure of the site. For example is it a travel information website or is it a booking engine that happens to have some travel articles. Look at the contributors. Are a few writers using it to publish their work? Finally, are contributors paid? Although websites make little money, paying contributors can indicate a commitment to a quality site.
Another potential short-coming, depending on your point-of-view, is the focus of some of the services on visitors from the United States of America. I can tell you right now, many of my visitors come from other English-speaking countries, and from countries in which English is not the dominant language but where many people are comfortable reading in English. And, through the wonders of translation programs, even read the article in their native language. Why aren't these people counted? They are coming over here to visit and making airline reservations, hotel reservations, touring the sights.
Finally, why the fixation on monthly visitors? It's a left-over from the days of print magazines. No one asks a newspaper about monthly circulation. It's obviously inappropriate because newspapers are published daily, or weekly. But no one blinks at asking that question about a website, and it is just as inappropriate. Websites are often updated more frequently, and visitors come more than once a month because they knew that there can be new content. And there are also many people who come to read a particular article because they are heading off to that destination, and won't come back until they are ready to go on another vacation. Instead of such spurious data, the focus should be on the average number of daily visitors, or at most weekly. This would be a much more accurate reflection of the traffic.
© Neala Schwartzberg, 2008