At the end of 2015, Drake Cooper, along with Visit Idaho (Idaho Commerce – Tourism Development) launched the revamped VisitIdaho.org, one of the larger endeavors our agency has taken on digitally. We wanted to create a site that was remarkable and something that had never been done before, but most importantly, we wanted to create a space that made visitors feel at home in and excited about visiting Idaho. Much of our agency is made up of native Idahoans, which enabled us to infuse our love for the Gem State into every intricate detail of the site. Needless to say, this project holds a very special place in our hearts.
The U.S. Travel Association reports that tourism brings in $3.4 billion annually for the state of Idaho. Google reports that 31% of travelers will visit destination-branded sites during their online travel planning process. Together, this means the launch of the new VisitIdaho.org will have a direct impact on $1.05 billion of state revenue each year.
Crafting a well-designed website takes time, and we wanted to ensure that every aspect of the final product had been thought through, including the addition of inspirational content that was accessible the moment we launched the site. To make the most of every visit, we wanted to fill the pages with informative and captivating content from day one. To accomplish this, we hired a passionate content team that would travel the state, gather compelling stories and astonishing imagery, and share Idaho’s adventures with those who know little about why the Gem State is a vacationer’s paradise.
With these content plans in place, we were ready to get our hands dirty and start our research.
Doing What It Takes to Make Adventure Attainable
When we began working on the redesign and new digital marketing plan for the state, we conducted qualitative and quantitative research to gain insight on what would drive the project.
By starting with a Google Analytics audit of the old site, we were able to identify consistent user flows.
In doing so, we discovered that 90% of our audience was looking for things to do in the state, and this search was their very first action. This insight matched our national survey data that showed us that there was low awareness of what there was to do in Idaho.
Once we identified the user flows and content that was successful on the old site, we developed strategies for the elements that visitors would find most useful with the redesign. We tested our strategies through several rounds of user testing to ensure we were making navigation as clear as possible.
“We saw that many users were visiting from a mobile device, and we wanted to make the experience run smoothly. The design for the interface was conceived with mobile users in mind. We made sure that content was easy to use and accessible across all devices while still giving desktop users a significant and impactful experience.” – Steve Norell, Manager of Interactive Design
In preparation for our user testing, we identified a sample population in our target market, wrote investigative questions that users would answer during the tests, and then recorded each user’s screen as they navigated the site to answer our prompts and talked through their experience.
Once again, our research led us to one simple fact: people want to know what they can do in Idaho.
“Idaho is home to year-round, world-class outdoor adventure – but for a vacationer who is unfamiliar with the Gem State, planning a weekend getaway or vacation can be a daunting task.” – Josh Mercaldo, Account Director, Tourism
With a target audience of active families with kids 5-18 years old in the Western U.S., our challenge was twofold: make adventure accessible; and differentiate Idaho from other western destinations. Not only did we need to educate users on what Idaho has to offer, but we had to deliver trip-planning tools that were simple to understand and easy to use.
As we were planning the online experience and developing prototypes, we landed on the key insight that drove all site functionality – we needed to make adventure in Idaho attainable.
Visit Idaho’s 7 Major Features
With a focus on making adventure attainable, we developed the following features to help people plan their Idaho vacations:
1. Every Major Adventure in the State
When people visit VisitIdaho.org, adventure is accessible right off the bat. We encourage users to ‘Start Planning Your Idaho Adventure’, with a filter system that can sort adventures by category, location, season, budget, activity level, if it is family friendly, and popularity. This gives the visitor the power to browse all trips that suit their needs and vacation dreams.
2. Content Marketing
From day one, we’ve worked to have spectacular content offerings on the site through trip guides, itineraries, first-hand narratives, and more. Since launch, we’ve continued to cultivate content that resonates with users and is responsive to the search queries that we see on the site. We now have an endless list of highly-valuable Trip Guides available to every visitor, and each day this content grows. With an eye on analytics, we’ve been able to create ongoing content that consistently engages our target audience.
Trip Guides: Trip Guides are one of the most impactful components of Visit Idaho. These informative guides, or itineraries, give visitors a glance into what the state of Idaho has to offer. Capable of being filtered by region, season, budget, and activity level, Trip Guides provide valuable insight into trips that, before this website launch, people may not have known existed. Visitors can read about backpacking excursions, ski resorts, Idaho breweries, backcountry snowmobile and ATV trips, hotels, restaurants, scenic byways, and countless other adventures. See for yourself here.
Social: Social media has been key in the marketing of VisitIdaho.org. By sharing our Trip Guides and other Idaho adventures through Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Pinterest, we have been able to grow our audience exponentially.
SEO: Massive, complex websites such as Visit Idaho often face the challenging scenario of populating product-level (or item-level) URL’s to rank, and rank highly. Our team developed a robust SEO strategy which gave each page within the site keyword-rich SEO descriptions including Visitor Centers, Trip Guides, Places to Stay, Things to Do, Explore Idaho, and more.
In addition to SEO descriptions for each page, our team conducts keyword research for every bit of content that is added to the site. By infusing top keywords into our Trip Guides and other pages, we can boost the searchability of our content. This helps each page rank higher in search queries and makes them more accessible to those searching for vacations in Idaho.
3. A Partnership with TripAdvisor
Developing a trusted partnership with TripAdvisor allowed us to integrate robust lodging tools featuring communities across the state. When users visit the site and click on the Places to Stay icon, they can browse real-time lodging options, read user reviews and scan photos without leaving the site. By providing this TripAdvisor content within the site, we have dramatically improved data accuracy while saving users valuable planning time.
4. 360º Tours
One of the most innovative features of the website is the 360º Virtual Tours we offer throughout Idaho. Vacation destinations can be hard to imagine at times. With our 360º tours, visitors can transport themselves through their computer right into the middle of a mountainous winter landscape, look around in any direction, listen to the wind whistling by, and immerse themselves in the center of the real thing.
5. Email Segmentation
As a one-to-one follow-up tactic, the site’s ability to capture email addresses and user interests is second to none. Through segmentation, this data allows us to stay top-of-mind with vacation planners, regularly talk to them about activities that interest them, and help them plan their vacation. Our email segmentation helps Visit Idaho stand out from the crowd by providing tailored content directly to people’s inboxes and, by providing high-value content, generates maximum email interaction with consumers.
6. Responsive Design
Visit Idaho’s responsive web design adapts to the user’s behavior, viewing environment, screen size being used, and device orientation. To create an optimized and seamless user experience, our digital team crafted flexible grids, images, and layouts, then implemented inventive uses of CSS media queries.
What this means is, as users switch between their laptop, phone, or tablet, the Visit Idaho website automatically adjusts to accommodate for image size and resolution.
7. Advanced Search
With our advanced search features, users can narrow down results for complex searches due to the way we segmented the data. This data segmentation allows users to read recent Trip Guides related to the adventure they are researching. This makes planning a vacation easier for users because recommended content is readily available and the experience of studying one activity prompts ways for them to continue their research. This increases browsing time on the site and helps users get a broader view of what the state has to offer.
What’s Next for VisitIdaho.org?
With the help, support and guidance of a fantastic team at Visit Idaho (Idaho Commerce – Tourism Development), we are proud to say we have created a space that makes people feel at home and thrilled about visiting Idaho. We’re genuinely thankful to have such an innovative client partner, and as always with digital site development, we are never truly done. Now it’s time for us to look forward and develop new ideas for how to evolve the site even further. Big plans are on the horizon for Drake Cooper and Visit Idaho – as we plan to better reach the modern consumer and create an experience, unlike anything you’ve ever seen before.