New Study Supports Concerns about DMO Organic Site Traffic; New Strategies on the Horizon

Director of SEO & Insights
Published 9/19/17
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Last year, based on hearing from so many DMOs that organic search traffic to their websites was struggling year over year, Miles conducted a review of 26 destinations’ website traffic data. Though a limited sample size, the results indicated that there has been a downward trend in growth of organic website traffic since 2014.

Since then, we continue to hear a mix of success stories and concerns surrounding organic search traffic. Since we love a good mystery, we expanded last year’s review to include 36 destinations and added full data from 2016 and the first six months of 2017.

While I wish that the results provided an “ah-ha” moment to share with you – a clear trend or a solid answer – the data came out like this:  

Wow, what a mess! An organic traffic roller coaster of sorts. Some sites that were struggling in 2015 have made tremendous rebounds; some sites that were steady have taken a dip; and even sites that have remained positive have seen YOY organic growth stagnate. Thirty-six unique stories that lead to only one definitive conclusion: The struggle is real – destination SEO isn’t getting any easier.

However, if we consolidate the data into a few ranges, you can see that the number of sites that have improved YOY has decreased, and those that are flat (within 10%) or down have increased:

Organic search traffic growth is not the measure of success that it was three years ago. In fact, despite the tremendous investments destinations are making in content, the median YOY change for January to June 2017 is flat – year on year. Keep in mind there were losses and gains ranging from minus 43% to plus 71% in a fairly limited sample size. Overall, total organic traffic to these sites was 38.3 million sessions in the first half of 2017 – an increase of less than 1.4 million sessions or 4% YOY. 

What is clear is that DMOs are much less likely to have significant YOY gains in organic search as a measure of the success of their marketing efforts. 

We know that changing consumer behavior and changes in search results pages themselves are contributing to differences in traffic. Google coined the term “Micro-Moments” to describe when a consumer turns to a device – increasingly a smartphone – to address a need. Hundreds of micro-moments – searches, website visits, video views, OTA and review site visits – make up travel planning for today’s consumers. The “Hyper-Informed Traveler” is visiting dozens of places online where a destination is represented, whether that content is managed by the DMO or not. 

Google, in particular, is monitoring consumers’ changing behavior and responding with significant updates to how travel and destination content is presented in an effort to better meet their needs. As shown in the photos below, even on desktop, links to a DMO website (left) on the search results pages are dwarfed by the links to Google content about a destination (right). The fact that the majority of these moments take place on mobile means that there is less real estate available for the destination’s message, whether in search results or advertising.

What’s a destination marketer to do? In future instalments of this blog series, we will introduce the strategy of extending your SEO efforts beyond your website in order to expand the reach of your content beyond your owned channels to those you can also directly influence. This includes opportunities to enhance content across the Google platforms. 

Google has publically highlighted ways that DMOs can more directly review and influence local content in Google Maps, Google’s new Destination Travel Guides, the Google Trips App and more. In return, DMOs reach a far wider audience and receive reporting and recognition as an important content contributor, informing how their destination is presented online. The Google DMO Content Program was announced at a joint Google/Miles session at the Destinations International Annual Convention in Montreal this past July, and a number of DMOs are now working in early iterations of the program. We will cover more on this program in future blogs and DMOs can sign up to receive updates via this online form

About This Research

This evaluation is based on the Google Analytics data for 36 official destination travel websites from January 2013 to June 2017. Four of these sites did not have complete 2013 data available and are not included in the 2014 YOY measurement. The sample consisted of 16 state and 20 regional DMOs in the U.S. Their annual website traffic ranged between up to 1.5 million sessions (11 sites), 1.5 million to 3 million sessions (10 sites) and over 3 million sessions (15 sites). There were not outstanding differences in fluctuation based on total traffic or organization level.


Micro Moments: Think With Google Research & Analysis

2016 blog post analyzing changes in organic traffic to DMO websites

2017 blog post on the “Hyper-Informed Traveler”

Destinations International 2017 Session on Google DMO Content Program – July summary

Update on Google DMO Content Program (August 31, 2017, email update)

To receive updates on the Google DMO Content Program, sign up here