Several years ago it became imperative for a motorcoach operation to simply have a website. Now, that website and other tools available on the internet, including analytics and social media, are key to helping an operator market their operation in a way that is both relatively easy and cost-effective.  

METRO spoke to operators who have taken the technological challenge of understanding and utilizing Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and Search Engine Marketing (SEM), as well as updating their websites and increasing their social media presence, head-on, to help grow their businesses.

Web Glossary
Analytics: Information resulting from the systematic analysis of data or statistics.

Bounce rate: The percentage of visitors to a particular website who navigate away from the site after viewing only one page.

Landing page: The section of a website accessed by clicking a hyperlink on another web page, typically the website’s home page.  

SEO: Search engine optimization is a methodology of strategies, techniques, and tactics used to increase the amount of visitors to a website by obtaining a high-ranking placement in the search results page of a search engine.

SEM: Search engine marketing is a form of marketing that involves the promotion of websites by increasing their visibility in search engine results pages, primarily through paid advertising, which is commonly known as pay-per-click.

WordPress: A free and open-source content management system commonly used for blogs and websites.

1. Update Your Website
Remember that website you had built when everybody said that you needed a one? Chances are it could probably use an update, because like everywhere else, the technology has changed.

“If you are going to start this process, operators have to start with their website first, because it’s the first place a customer will visit once they have found you,” says Jodi Merritt, president for Rancho Cucamonga, Calif.’s H& L Charter.

Fortunately, the change in technology has made it easier for operations on the back end to add or update content on their websites.

“When I started here, we were using a website that was not backend-feature friendly, so when we began updating our website, we converted to a WordPress-based back-end system,” says Austin Arksey, COO for Wyandotte, Mich.’s Trinity Transportation. “The switch allows our sales and marketing teams to go in on the back end and create or update content very easily without having experience with platforms like HTML coding. It also eliminates the old way of doing things, where we would have to reach out to our web developer, tell them what updates we needed, and then wait up to 48 hours until the process was done.”

Because of the growing popularity of WordPress, and other content management systems like it, Gene Wright II, director, marketing, for Kalamazoo, Mich.’s B&W Charters Inc., explains that it also gives businesses flexibility when they want to update the overall look of the website.

“In the past, if we wanted to switch platforms, you would have to completely re-do the site because there was seldom any compatibility,” he says. “Now by using WordPress, it will be easier to update our platform because the system is widely used and hugely popular.
Another reason your site might be ready for an update is with the growing usage of smartphones and tablets to read emails, search for information, and consume content, it is now important to have a responsive design, which converts the look of a website based on what type of device is being used to view it.

“Everybody has a smartphone in their hand all the time, so we decided it was important to make the switch to a responsive website a couple of years ago,” Merritt says.

One important note on updating your website is that it is a relatively easy and inexpensive task that can be done by a local company, or even a student from your local college, according to our operators. The important point is that an operator has to know what they want the site to look like and what they’d like to add, delete, or change.

For instance, after Arksey and the team from Trinity found out that their site’s bounce rate was high, they adapted it to make it easier to request a quote.

“We found that most people are visiting our website to request a quote, so we made it very easy,” he explains. “We’ve now gone through three website redesigns and found that as we continued to make it easier for people to request a quote that our bounce rate actually went down.”

“We decided that instead of going after business in the larger cities in our area, including Detroit and Chicago, we were going to focus on the cities in our immediate area,” explains Wright II. “So, when we did our website redesign, it was important to us to have landing pages for each of the cities we were aggressively going after.”

B&W posts original content to generate organic traffic to its website.

B&W posts original content to generate organic traffic to its website.

2. Create Content for Your Website
After you’ve updated your site and it’s looking sharp on a desktop, smartphone, or tablet, the next step is creating content that is updated frequently and designed to both keep people on your site as well as help them find your company after doing a Google search.

To do this, it is helpful to have some kind of understanding of SEO versus SEM, as well as programs like Google Analytics, which tracks things like what keywords people are using to find you and companies like yours and how much time people are spending on your site.

Putting it simply, using SEM costs money, while SEO is generally free, therefore, while some of our operators have dabbled in SEM they have found that SEO is much less cost prohibitive.

“When we first updated our website, we went to a pay-per-click method and did see quite a lot of return on investment with it,” explains Merritt, adding that H & L more recently switched to an organic SEO approach. “We found that the money we were spending a month on the pay-per-click method would run out within 10 to 12 days, so we moved to an SEO approach, which essentially never goes away.”

Merritt adds that while she did see some drop off in website traffic after the switch, she has found the traffic generated through SEO has still yielded solid results for her operation.

“Recently, a potential customer called me from 100 miles away and said H & L was the first company to pop up on Google, so [SEO] works, apparently,” she says. “And by using it, you will not run out of a budget mid-month.”

The key to SEO is to understand what will help increase the possibility of somebody finding you online after performing a search. According to our operators, there are some simple things you can add to your site that you may not have already.

“We know that Google searches blogs pretty prevalently, so we added a blog,” Arksey says. “Also, when we make a video, we are sure to embed it on YouTube, because Google owns YouTube, so content on their site often appears after a search.”

Arksey and Merritt explain that video can be anything from a sleek, produced piece created by a third-party to simple things that  can be shot on a smartphone, such as customer testimonials or ride-alongs.

While not exactly video, Arksey adds that Trinity recently added 360-degree virtual tours of their vehicles, which have worked quite well.

“It allows our customers to see what a vehicle looks like without having to drive out to our location and physically get into one, which essentially saves them time,” says Arksey.

Another way to increase your chances utilizing SEO is to include stories that use the more popular search terms, such as “bus rental.”

At B&W, Wright II has written original content that includes the highlights of the city that he’s marketing trips for and is sure to mention the company’s name several times throughout the piece.

“It’s not just not writing a story, it’s about figuring how many times you mention the company or search terms like bus rental or charter bus; that’s the nick of it, so to speak,” he explains. “It just takes practice. I was able to basically teach myself by looking at other sites, picking out the good from the bad, and then making it work for our company.”

Again, much of this could be done pretty economically, with an operation’s biggest investment really being time and manpower. To that end, it may be a good idea for posting content, and for our next step, to identify a current employee that may have some free time during the week.

“If an operator doesn’t have the capital to spend and invest on a marketing person, then it is a good idea to look internally and identify any employees that may have additional capacity to at least do a couple posts a week,” says Arksey. “Doing something is better than nothing, because with each post your operation has the potential to grow, and ultimately, be able to support the cost of adding a marketing person to your staff.”

H & L Charter switched from a pay-per-click online marketing approach to organic SEO to maximize its finanical investment.

H & L Charter switched from a pay-per-click online marketing approach to organic SEO to maximize its finanical investment.  

3. Embrace Social Media
Like our first step, social media use has changed in the sense that it has become the cheapest marketing tool a company can use to generate traffic to their websites and grow their businesses.

“If you’re starting from nothing, my recommendation is starting with Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn,” says Arksey. “There are a lot of options, but those four are definitely where you should start.”

Once you’ve setup your social media accounts, it’s important to stay active, observing the idea that “something is better than nothing.” You also want to be sure to post stuff that is relevant to your audience and that makes your operation look like an authority on the services you provide.

“You have to keep your social media accounts fresh and current,” says Merritt. “You also have to be consistent about pushing your company’s brand. You can’t post a bus shot one minute and a picture of a cute cat the next — keep your business and personal accounts separate.”

“Really, the more platforms and the more posts you can put up the more opportunities you have to include links that will redirect potential customers back to your site, which will boost your organic traffic,” says Wright II. “It also becomes one more online tool that helps those potential customers know that you are a legitimate operation.”

Arksey adds that it’s important that an operation understands what types of posts work on each social media platform, noting that you can’t simply post the same thing on each platform.

As far as a time management tip, Merritt suggests dashboards like Hootsuite, where you can schedule social media posts several weeks in advance.

Finally, Facebook created a system in the last few years that allows businesses to boost their post so more people see it for a relatively low fee, depending on the amount of people that you are trying to reach. The system allows you to examine demographics and other key indicators to target with a boosted post.

The system is ideal for specific types of trips where you can easily select a demographic to target. For example, Arksey explains that Trinity uses boosted posts to promote a service that it provides, which includes travel and admission to a local amusement park.

The real benefit recently, however, is that by utilizing boosted posts, operations like Trinity and H & L have been able to fill their all-important driver positions.

“Because you want your job postings to go out to everybody in your local market and Facebook allows you to pick the demographics you want to reach, we typically will boost posts related to hiring drivers,” Merritt says. “Through these posts, we get a lot of shares and traffic to our page and it is much cheaper than advertising in our local newspaper. In fact, Facebook and Indeed are by far the two most popular ways we find drivers, today.”