travel

Rick Steves and How To Correctly Build a Brand

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July 17  |  Brand Building  |   Ryan Clark

I’ve been a HUGE fan of Rick Steves for over 10 years now and it’s finally dawned on me that I love the man for more than his amazing Books, DVD collection and podcasts: Rick Steves has built an empire doing what he LOVES and, in terms of building a brand, he’s done just about everything absolutely right. Rick may be the dorkiest travel man in the business yet he can teach us all a lesson in personal branding at its finest. His digital and broadcast empire has been done so well that it provoked me to write this post to showcase how things should be done. While Rick Steves is the brand name, he is powered by an amazing team that includes family and friends who dearly respect the man.


Photo Credit: RickSteves.com

Do I secretly hope Rick will read this one day and consider hiring me to work with him? Yes. Am I sounding like the world’s biggest ass kisser at the moment? Yes. Either way, we’ll look at how Rick managed to transition seamlessly from Books and DVD’s to eventually taking over the web and building a brand that (I think) will be passed on for a very long time to come. Instead of regurgitating link building and social media marketing tips, I’ll be breaking down how the Rick Steves empire was built for the consumer in mind and why they NEVER have to worry about building links or tricking people into following them on Facebook/Twitter.

While you may not have heard of Rick Steves, he and his brand is “famous” within the travel industry. I’ve picked Rick to demonstrate what you should be doing here in 2012 and beyond. Over the years, so many brands have been duped or lead astray with lousy link building, boring social media efforts and no real long term branding strategy in play. I’m going to walk you through what it looks like when you put your love, effort and customers first and how that results in marketing gold. First up, for those who still don’t know who Rick is, check out this blooper clip from his show.

Video Credit: Rick Steves DVD’s

What Does A Natural Link Profile Look Like?

The main point I’m trying to get across is that doing amazing things and being active in your community/vertical will create the only truly natural link portfolio. The Rick Steves empire consists of a real world business first, and then the digital age takes over and his entire company adapts extremely well. Rick also does lectures and PBS specials, which, of course, lead to links and citations and, as you can see from the numbers below, it has done his company well!



Link Data via Ahrefs.com

That looks quite impressive; I’d hate to be his competition!

While not every company is going to be able to score this kind of a natural link profile easily, this should get your mind turning. Rick somehow manages to make the time to write for various authoritative sources and the rest of his links are seriously au-naturale! You won’t find Rick article marketing, socially bookmarking his content, spamming forums or blog commenting. I won’t completely break down Rick’s link profile as you can easily check it for yourself. I’d just like to showcase some of the goods and how being a leader in your vertical will draw in the links so well you’ll never have to build links.

Looking at the top links for Rick you’ll see he writes for The Huffington Post, NY Times Travel and USA Today Travel. This is one of the huge benefits of being a leader in your niche as you’ll be asked to write for the most authoritative resource available. First and foremost, he has grown his brand on his books and his television & radio shows have really propelled Rick to “celeb” status.

What does having those media advantages bring in regards to links? Well, to name just a few natural citations his organization has, the board of NORML, being on PBS, Wikipedia, Salon.com and way, way more. His website is truly a shining example of doing things right and I doubt the man even knows what link building is…

Another aspect besides TV and Radio I’d like to mention is something a lot of brands don’t do that they should: mobile and tablet apps. If you’re a major player in your vertical, or are trying to be, you should have something for the mobile crowd, or at least be in the process of getting something done. If not, you should give yourself a smack in the face and wake up to 2012; get in the game before it’s too late.

Ricks’ team has been on top of things and they have amazing audio guides for locations all over Europe. My friends who recently traveled the world used these and loved them while in Greece. You can nab the audio guides and apps for both the iPhone and the Android. This has lead to tons and tons of links both from the markets, app sites, travel news, travel blogs and press releases. This is another great example of creating amazing content that deserves links that are natural.

Social Media That’s Truly Social

By now you should know that having a Twitter and Facebook account is NOT partaking in social media. We have too many potential and current clients hooked on just seeing their follower numbers rise. Rarely do we have a client that is truly engaging with their customers, so hopefully Rick’s example empowers your efforts.

The post you see to the left is from the time I’m writing this article. Within 8 hours of being live, it has 700 likes and 35 comments. Can you imagine how many more eyes saw this in their timeline? This folks, is REAL engagement and a brilliant example of giving your social followers something they love. Not to bring up links in the social media portion, but imagine having those 200 radio stations all linking to your website. This is a clear indication that people absolutely love your brand and if you’re still getting 4-10 likes on your shares, it’s time to rethink your strategy.

I think the main problem for companies engaging in social media is that the beginning stages are quite slow and boring. The old saying that “all good things come to those who wait” couldn’t apply better here. It takes a while to build an audience, so hold in tight for the first few months and just do all you can to engage and entertain. Your amazing content is the key to success so make sure you actually have exciting things going on. Another important aspect is the design to match your branding across the usual suspects (Facebook, Twitter, Youtube). A visually appealing brand makes customers feel at home, comfortable buying and overall you just look damn good (3 piece suit anyone?). Just take a look at the Rick Steves Youtube Channel:

Rick truly loves connecting with his fans whether it be in real life or via the digital tubes called the internet. I always wondered how the man made time to do everything he does and I figured he didn’t do a lot of his social activities like blogging. I’m sure fans also wondered and here’s a great example of how Rick covered this and how it shows to connect to your followers. He made use of the Facebook Notes section of his business page to convey his message.

Some people have emailed us assuming that I don’t actually write these blog entries or read the responses. As my staff can assure you, I jealously guard my responsibility to personally write everything that we put on this page. Except for the rare guest blogger, I write every word you see. (I do have an editor proof my writing. The thinking among my staff: If you saw how poorly I spelled, you might think less of my guidebooks.) And I eagerly look forward to reading your responses. I rarely respond back, because that would suck me into an entire new arena — and I need to draw a few boundaries. (While my staff does make announcements for me on Twitter, I have little interest in tweeting.) One reason I enjoy this blog is that I can be unguarded, candid, and even reckless from a marketing point of view…and just call it fun. I feel like my traveling blog friends are a kind of special inner circle, and it’s refreshing to be able to call it like I see it. I hope you enjoy being part of it all.

This is what social media is all about folks! Engaging, discussing and educating your online friends will set your brand to be the leader in your vertical. The entire “stew” of what Rick’s brand has cooking has lead his website and videos to some of the hardest ranking positions in the entire travel industry. The whole point I’m trying to get across is that doing all the right things does lead to great rankings, boat loads of social followers and a reputation that puts forth trust within the consumers mind. If you can do all these you’ll be laughing all the way to the bank for a very long time to come. Your brand doesn’t build links to make money so do what it does, give your customers what they want and the links will come naturally.

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Travel SEO & Internet Marketing Guide

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February 26  |  Link Building  |   Ryan Clark

After posting my business startup marketing guide I got inspired to write something out in the similar fashion, but for the travel industry. I’ve spent a lot of my years affiliate marketing within the travel industry so I have a rather large list of places to market online. I’ve also introduced my new Travel SEO & Internet Marketing Services to the list of consulting I’m doing, so if you need help don’t hesitate to get in touch.

There are a lot of different avenues one can take when marketing online for the travel industry, and the tips provide below are just he tip of the iceberg. I’ve kept a lot of things for my clients only, but that doesn’t mean you won’t be able to find a plethora of options available to you. Another aspect about the online travel industry is fact that there are so many different keywords you can target. I hope you can get a lot of good use out of this post, and if you have anything to add feel free to add it in the comments below.

Travel Related Forums:


I’ve found over the years that getting heavily involved within the few major travel forums around your niche has paid off big time. I’m actually talking about becoming an active member, and not being there just for the signature link. Answering people’s questions about your destination and posting new and cool information can naturally lead a lot of clients your way. There are a lot of people using forums to plan their trip and gather some information these days, so make sure you’re not missing out. I’ll only be listing the major travel forum hubs, but make sure to check for ones within your area you’re marketing to. If there isn’t one, it would be a great asset to your company to start one up.

Virtual Tourist is one the of the largest travel and tourism sites on the web, and they also have one of the largest travel forums. The forum software used is perhaps the least web friendly I’ve seen, and I’m not sure why they didn’t go with something like PHPBB or Vbulletin. You can’t build links but you can help travelers out with their questions and post text only links to resources that would help them out.

The world famous Lonely Planet of course has one of the largest travel forums on the web, and like Virtual Tourist, has some less than desirable forum software running it. It is a tad bit better in respect to the ability to post dofollow links. Those links can only be related to the post, so don’t expect to get away with any sort of spamming.

The Travel Blog is one of my favorite places to read amazing and real travel stories, and they also have a huge forum that’s very active. It’s a great place to make friends and talk travel all day long, you can also get a blog here, share pictures and more. I usually will write blog posts on my personal blog on the site, and then link from the forum to it. You can have links within your blog posts so I just let the juice flow into them.

Travel Blog Hosts:

There are a huge number of travel specialized blog hosts that will allow you to blog your heart away. This is great because you can setup a niche blog network and pass in the Google link love from a few different sources. This is great in the long run because you’re not only getting links, but you’re getting them from travel related sites which makes them all the better.

TravelPod is the first free travel blog host I’ll mention because I used it to keep my family and friends updated on my last trip to Europe. TravelPod is a great free blogging resource that has been around a long time, and lets you get dofollow links within your posts. Since it’s so authoritative it also ranks well for a lot of longtail keywords, so if you write some great content you’ll see it go a long way.

TravellersPoint is another one of the largest travel sites on the web, and they allow you your own blog on a subdomain. This is a great place to write a great blog that can feed your main website once and a while. The content has to be good and you won’t get away with spamming for long, so don’t bother trying.

GetJealous.com is quite possibly my favorite travel blog host for both writing on, as well wasting tons of hours reading other people’s blog entries. This host lets you insert dofollow links into your post, as well pictures, video and maps. You can really create a great blog on here to use for marketing, or writing your own travel blog for fun.

RealTravel.com has been named one of the must read travel blog sites on the web and has huge numbers of users and excellent content. It is also another great free blog platform that allows dofollow links within your content. The platform also allows for a ton of easily implemented media such as maps, video and images.

Travel Social Bookmarking:

Well most of the normal social bookmarking sites will do in your case, there are a few travel related bookmarking sites out there that are worth mentioning. If anyone out there is listening, now would be a great time to make an amazing travel bookmarking site because there’s a need…badly.

Travel Mills is the first travel bookmarking site on my list and sadly seems to be overrun with spam these days. The other problem is that the links are masked so you don’t get any dofollow link love from the site, but it’s still getting a decent amount of travel traffic trickling in. My advice to you is to experiment with it and see if it brings in any traffic at all.

Voteitfly.com is another Pligg based travel bookmarking site that seems to have been run down by lousy submissions. I’m not sure if its just that spammers rule the web, or travelers don’t seem too interested in using social bookmarking sites. This site also has masked links so you don’t get any link love, but I will say there seems to be a lot more travel based links making it on here.

TravelBeen.com is perhaps the most promising travel bookmarking site that is also a social search engine for travel. This site has a lot of activity, void of spammers and you can submit your site for free. Your site does go into review, so if you have a quality site you shouldn’t have much to worry about. You can also add your own bookmarks as a user of the site, just check out your user profile after you’ve logged in.

Reddit’s Travel Section is perhaps the best kept secret to your travel marketing efforts. This is one of the best places to make a viral article to submit to. You’re best best is with pictures, videos, or a combination of both with a writeup. The links are powerful and dofollow, and if you get enough votes you’ll see a lot of traffic. This traffic won’t convert for any offers because it’s reddit, but that shouldn’t be your goal. Create very cool content and hopefully getting listed here will help it virally.

Classified Ads For Marketing:

As some of you may know this section is taken straight from my Business Startup Marketing Guide and I changed some of the wording around. All of these great resources have a travel section where agents can post travel deals and specials, so why miss out? I’ve had a lot of great traffic come from these sites over the years and they actually come back for more.

Craigslist.org is the obvious first and foremost place to advertise your travel deals and specials to local consumers. The reason it’s the best its of course its size, and you can take advantage of not just local classifieds, but hit up any city on the face of the planet. You’ll need an account signed up with your phone number, so you won’t be able to spam. I usually make a few accounts with my mobile number, office number and home number so it gives me flexibility in the amount of ads I can release daily.

Ilist.com is a budding classified system that has been dipped in the web 2.0 life pond and has seen some strong growth. This is one of the only new classified sites out there that seems to be filling up with a lot of users, oh and you can get a link as well. They also require a phone number to make an account, but that’s just a sign of quality.

Backpage.com is perhaps the second largest classified site online with a sub 1500 Alexa ranking, and a lot of growth in the past six months. The sign up process is like most others and does offer dofollow links within their ads. It’s a great place to attract business and I’ve personally had a lot of success in getting clients.

Jicka.com is a relatively new online classifieds site with a web 2.0 twist, but has not managed to attract a lot of users just yet. It isn’t easy to grow a classified site when there are so many others out there. Some cities have a small amount of ads, but this is also an opportunity to have your stand out. If the site does start to grow you’ll have your ad out front for a while.

Travel Directories:

This is just a small number of the huge amount of quality(surprisingly) travel directories out there. I’ll be naming a few, but I’m going to be doing a separate post soon with a list of all the biggest from around the world. I’ll only be listing the ones that are of top notch quality and don’t require you to pay to get in. Sadly, most of the directory owners still force you to do reciprical linking which is usually frowned upon these days. If you decide to recip, keep it to a minimum, only the quality sites and make sure they’re travel related.

Traveldirectory.org.uk is not just UK specific and has a ton of categories for world travel. It ranks in the top 3 for travel directory on Google, has a pagerank of 4 and seems to get a good amount of traffic. The site itself is very clean and well edited so you better have a quality site in order to get approved.

Travel-directory.org is an old and still somewhat authoritative travel directory that’s free to sign up to, although you have to sign up for an account. The site is a pagerank of 4 and has been running for just about 7 years now, so you know it has got some juice. This site is also clean in its layout and has mostly quality submissions.

Link Building With Travel Blogs:

There are a few methods I use either with a blog, or other people’s travel blogs on the web. These methods you have to go about carefully and make sure you’re in it to be involved within the travel community. I usually make my own list of related travel blogs and setup Google alerts for my topic to keep me on the ball.

The first tactic is none other than good ole blog commenting on quality related niche blogs. I never care about do/nofollow and always get involved with the topic. I make sure to me notified when I’m replied to and I’ve made a few dozen amazing contacts this way. This tactic should be done in most link building campaigns.

Second up only works if you own a review site or blog for a certain niche in the travel industry. For one of my sites which talks about travel in certain region, I contact a dozen owners of B&B’s, cottage owners and ski resorts to do reviews for them. I usually always get a link in their resources section and they have proven to be the most authoritative links in my profile.

If you own something like a B&B, mountain chalet or something within your region then you should be reaching out to bloggers. You should have no problem finding local travel blogs where you can either pay for a review, submit a guest post or email the owner for a link to your website. You’ll find that most people are more than willing to do one of the above three options!

Travel Social Networks:

There are a huge number of travel social networks out there, some have features like blogging, profiles and bookmarkin all built in. It takes time to sift through the vast list of them to find out the ones you can market with, so keep an eye out and take some time to discover hidden gems on your own.

GeckoGo is a unique travel social network with the works when it comes to content. Everything from bookmarks, traveler profiles, maps, videos, photos and more. My favorite features as a travel marketer is that you can add your travel desitnation with a dofollow link included! Do submit your travel business with their easy online form.

Trazzler is a really cool travel site that is full of the usual travel media and lets you become a site blogger. You have to own a blog or travel business, and once accepted you get a blogger profile and the ability to write travel guides for your area. If you get picked you’re in luck because the links are dofollow, but the content has to rock!

Trip Shake is a really cool social network that is mainly a travel questions and answers site. It’s a great place to help people out and look for people asking questions about your travel industry. You can answer with links which will bring in targeted traffic. The site has been taking off lately so I recommend giving it a try!

Thanks for reading this long post and remember this is just a really small dose of what is fully out there. I could write guides just as big for each smaller travel niche out there, so think outside the box and find your own custom online marketing guide. If you want me to handle your online marketing for travel then check out my Travel SEO & Marketing page for rates and contact information.

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