You see it everywhere this holiday season when Christmas advertisements dance in marketers' heads: Santa. He's the ultimate around-the-world traveler who puts frequent flying mileage junkies to shame.
I sat down with veteran digital strategist and travel lover Andy Crestodina of Orbit Media to find the answer.But how does he get there? And in this day and age, what is the role of maps for travelers, and therefore for travel marketers and their websites?
DMAI: Maps are often considered utilitarian widgets and add-ons compared to sexier content types like photos and videos. What’s the case for investing in maps on travel websites?
AC: Yes, photos and video are "sexy" and critical in getting visitors excited about a trip. But visitors also want the basic, raw information, as in Where exactly is Machu Picchu? Remember, a lot of visitors are geographically challenged - especially for a place they've never been. If there is one visual that makes the possibility of travel closer to reality, it’s a map - and that's why you’ll find one at the heart of every great travel website.
Maps are catnip for travelers. Maps are the fastest, most useful way to convey location information. Embedded maps are interactive, letting the visitor "play" with them within the site.
The cost of ignoring a map's potential is extremely high. If you don't include one, the visitor is highly likely leave the site to go find one somewhere else, and that could reflect poorly on a digital marketing manager's report card.
DMAI: What options can DMOs explore to incorporate travel maps into their web pages?
AC: Like any website feature, there are a lot of ways to add travel maps to websites. Google Maps, MapBox, and images are the most common. Best of all, each option allows you to embed the travel map right into the site, keeping visitors from leaving to find a map somewhere else.
DMAI: Can you tell us what you like or dislike about these options?
AC: Sure. First, local Google Maps are the road less traveled. The standard view for Google Maps is mostly for driving directions. But when the travel website is about life-changing teen service trips, the maps should match the design. They should be visually integrated into into the design’s layout and color, as the Dutch Caribbean island Bonaire has done:
Each program page includes a map on the right side near the photo gallery. The colors match the brand, and the pushpins show important locations for the trip. Visitors can zoom in and out with navigation familiar to anyone who uses Google Maps. When maps appear on trip pages, they convey information while building interest. The size doesn’t take away from the photos and text. They make the visitor feel like they are engaged in the trip planning process.
For a luxury travel company like R. Crusoe & Son however, a customized Google Map wasn’t enough. The high-end design called for a style that goes beyond the color changes that Google allows. Also, countries needed to be clickable, which is something Google Maps doesn’t do well.
A tool called MapBox solved all of these problems. The antique, painted style of the map matches the brand. And it’s interactive in a way that invites exploration, with rollovers, clickable countries, and syncing with the nearby dropdown menu.
The combined map lets visitors explore all the possible options in a visual way. It sparks the imagination and pulls visitors deeper into the site and closer to the lead generation form.
One last option that we don't want to overlook is highlighting specific points from a global perspective. For the Planeterra Foundation, the non-profit arm of the travel company G Adventures, the goal is to highlight the total impact on a larger scale at a glance, as they fund projects in communities around the world.
Their use of global Google Maps allows visitors to retain the option to navigate using the menu, but the map is so compelling and easy to use, and visitors are more likely to click the pushpins.
It’s also an easy map to update. Whenever Planeterra takes on a new project, adding it to the website (and adding a pushpin to the map) is easy and requires no programming skill. It’s all powered from a content management system. Put in the longitude and latitude, and it drops the pin.
DMAI: With travelers often taking control of their own mapping experience with geotargeted search, are there any other ways DMOs can help ensure that their best destination experiences are found?
AC: Yes! It's more important than ever to make sure that your Google+ business page is complete and filled with as much compelling content as possible. That means images, videos and reviews. If a visitor starts their research in Google Search or Google Maps, it's likely that the business page will be visible. This is especially true for visitors who are already in the vicinity of the destination, but these business pages also show up for people at home researching a region.
DMAI: Any final recommendations?
AC: The bottom line is that travelers need maps, and so do travel websites. Travel website maps may have different styles, features, and purposes, but they all let visitors explore, investigate, and join in the trip planning process. So put the destination on a map. Put it in context. Show a map, and show your visitors where they’re going. If your travel website doesn’t have a map, your visitors may look for one elsewhere, and then you both may be lost in the end.
Thanks to Andy Crestodina for his insights. Andy is the Strategic Director of Orbit Media, a travel web design company. He’s also the author of Content Chemistry, An Illustrated Guide to Content Marketing. You are welcome to connect with Andy on Google+ and Twitter.
If you have incorporated some interesting mapping technologies into your travel website, please share and feel free to weigh the pros and cons of those discussed here or from your experience with other solutions.