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Saturday, February 28, 2015

STILL Don't Have a Mobile-Friendly Website? G-Day is Almost Here

For Those Camp's Who Didn't Heed My Warnings About Making Your Website Mobile-Friendly, G-(Google) Day is April 21

Many camp directors are freaking out about Google's announcement that non-mobile-friendly websites are about to get hammered in the search results starting April 21.

This should come as no surprise. I've been preaching for years about the importance of building a mobile-friendly site. The reason why is because Google's #1 goal has always been to provide the most relevant search results and best user experience possible.

Well guess what?

If your website forces users to pinch their screens or scroll horizontally just to use your site, or widen it by hand just to tap a link, that means your website is not optimized for mobile...and THAT means you are making it difficult on Google to provide relevant search results and good experience for users. So consider yourself warned (again). If you don't make the appropriate adjustments to your website by April 21 you could get punished in Google's search results, end of story.

Why is this such a big deal and how do we know it?

Because Google has actually warned us about it and has given a firm 6-week notice to come into compliance. Google publicly said two days ago this update to its algorithm, which will reward mobile-friendly websites, will significantly impact its search results. Compare this to Google's hummingbird update, which they didn't even mention until a month or so after the fact; if Google is going out of its way to give advance warning now, you better take notice.

Don't say I didn't warn you. I've been telling you this day's been coming for years.


The list goes on. But even if you ignored my warnings, now that Google has spoken it's imperative you comply. Google prefers websites that work seamlessly across all platforms, and now they're officially doing something about it.

The Difference Between the Two Types of Mobile Friendly Websites

For the purposes of this article, there are two ways to make your desktop mobile friendly. You can make a "mobile website" or a "responsive website."

Mobile Websites

 If you decide to go this route, then you will end up with two websites, one that is optimized for desktop and one that's optimized for mobile. Since you will have two websites you will also have two domain names. For example, your desktop site's domain may be www.summercampexample.com, and your mobile website's domain will be www.m.summercampexample.com (the "m" stands for mobile.) When users log on to your desktop site, they will be redirected to your mobile website from a little script you add into your desktop's HTML code.

Going this route may be OK in Google's eyes, but probably not as good as good building a responsive website instead.

Responsive Websites

Google recommends responsive websites. A responsive site is adopts to any device of any size, no matter if it's a desktop, iphone, ipad, android tablet, anything. Mobile websites don't typically do that -- they generally only display correctly on phones. Bottom line, if you are short on time, money and other resources you may only have the resources to build a mobile website now and deal with a responsive site later as building responsive sites may entail an entire website redesign or overhall.

Bottom line, you are better off with a mobile-specific site than desktop-only site, and probably better off with a responsive site than either of the other two. Here's a good article on the difference between a mobile website and a responsive one. Bear in mind this article came out 6 months ago, long before Google's announcement last week.

If We Don't Have a Mobile Optimized Site What Should We Do Now?

Don't panic. You still have 6 weeks. That should be enough time to make any needed improvements to your website. But don't just sit around and do nothing. The writing's on the wall. If you are ranking highly in Google's search results now but your site isn't mobile-friendly by April 21, the punishment could be severe and you may lose the search result ranking you've worked so hard to achieve.

Obviously late winter and spring is not the ideal time for camps to undertake unplanned (and unbudgeted) projects like redoing websites. That's a fall project for us. But it's pointless to sit around worrying. You have to act fast, but not so fast you make a mistake. (In most areas in life I take the postilion that if you're unsure of what to do, do nothing and the right decision will come to you soon enough. Not this time though...) 

Here's what I suggest if you don't have the time or resources to retrofit your website: Increase your Google adwords budget (or open an account if you don't have one) and do a LOT more online advertising.  Even if your organic search result rankings get squashed, at least this approach allows you to buy yourself some time and bridge the gap between now and when you're able to address your mobile optimized website delimena while still showing up Google's search results anyway.

If you need ideas for how to prepare let me know in the comments.  Let me know if you need help. There's more solutions out there than you think or I've addressed here. Just take care of it before G-Day. Good luck! 

Thursday, February 26, 2015

3 Simple Content Marketing Tips To Help Your Summer Camp Stand Out From the Crowd

I came across a blog directory today which lists various summer camp blogs of note. I was glad to see Camp Marketing News included. Whoever compiled the directory described my blog as consisting of "no nonsense posts on camp marketing."

Damn right!

If you've been following my content a while, you know I don't go with the flow. And I don't want you to, either.

Seriously, how can you expect to make any marketing improvements, or get higher enrollment, or do better in search rankings, if you keep doing things the same way you've always done them?

And how can you expect to stand out in a crowded camp marketing field if you're promotional program is the same as everyone else's?

Seriously, take a look around to notice how other people market their camps. There's usually very little difference, if any, from the one to the next.

As I'm quite fond of saying, if everyone's doing the same thing, then many of us aren't necessary. 

I'm here to encourage you to think more creatively, quit being so safe, stop sugar-coating your marketing, step out of your comfort zone, be unique.

Otherwise you'll just blend in, get lost in the crowd.

That said, here are three ideas you can jump on RIGHT NOW to really make some noise and stand out from the crowd. Why not turn the common way you (and pretty much everyone else) market your camp on its head?

The following three ideas relate to content marketing -- you can write articles, create blog posts, make videos or produce any other kind of content you can think of based off these ideas:  

1. Figure out how to say, “We Make Memories that Last a Lifetime" differently. 

Let's face it, about 500 billion camps use this phrase, or a similar variation, as a selling proposition. And they've been doing it forever. In fact this very phrase -- "we make memories that last a lifetime" -- is now so common it's meaningless. If I'm a parent considering 10 different camps, and all 10 are telling me they make memories that last a lifetime, do you know what that really means? What it means is that none of the 10 camps are giving me a reason to choose them over the other nine. So why not try a new way of saying the same thing? How about changing the words up some? How about something like this: 

"Are You Ready For Your Child to Make the Most Ridiculously Awesome Memories They've Ever Made at Camp?"

NOW I've got a reason to look into your camp instead of the others. NOW you stand out from everyone else. NOW I'm gonna read your blog post!

  2. Figure out how to write a “Questions to Ask the Camp Director” article differently.

Here's the story on this one -- practically every existing article you can find on "what to ask the camp director" says the same thing. All the questions are the same, all the answers are the same. Go ahead, Google it and see for yourself. Read the the various articles that come up. How much difference do you notice from one to the next? Hardly any I'll bet. So why not get a little creative and do it differently?:

 "Top 10 Questions to Ask the Camp Director...And 5 Other Questions You Better NOT Ask..."  

Or this:   

"Just Last Week, 25 Parents Asked Us Some Very Surprising Questions About Camp. Would You Like to Know What They Said?"

Now I don't know about you, but I'd be pretty freaking intrigued, and if I'm in the market for a summer camp, you just got me hooked! 

3. Figure out how to write a "How to Choose a Camp" article differently.

Yep, you guessed it, almost every existing article on the subject says the same thing. But just as there's more than one way to skin a cat, there's more than one way to write a "how to choose a camp article" too, even though nobody's ever done it. 

Why don't you be the first one?

The thing is, though, I'm not gonna give you any examples on this third point like I did for the first two points above. I want you to use your own creativity instead. See if you can come up with a new way or two to teach people how to choose a camp. 

It doesn't have to simply be changing the headlines like I did for the two above. Maybe you could use an infographic instead...oops! I just gave you an idea when I said I wouldn't!

Now if I were you, I'd take these ideas and run with them. I'd also review my entire marketing program to identify the areas where my camp looks too much like all the others from a marketing perspective, then I'd get creative and change things up.

It might take a little time, but the benefits will pay off in spades.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

CampCoupons.com is back. Now you can market your camp with coupons!

As some of you may know, I used to run a website called CampCoupons.com where camps could market themselves with coupons and families could search the site to find offers and discounts from camps that appealed to them.

The site was quite popular from 2010 to 2013, with dozens and dozens (and dozens!) of camps listed was a pretty unique concept in summer camp marketing, if I do say so myself. It was basically a "one-stop shop" for folks to discover new and exciting summer camp opportunities and save money on summer camp too.

And camps really enjoyed participating. They got lots of new campers from it. There really was nothing else like it, and there still isn't. But I eventually got involved in other projects and let the website go.


Well, long story short, I'm happy to say the Camp Coupons website is now fully redesigned and ready to go for 2015 and beyond!

So if you're looking for a novel and affordable new way to market your camp and really call attention to yourself in a manner few other camps are doing, I hope you'll consider adding your camp to CampCoupons.com today.  The price is just $99 for one year -- a pretty reasonable sum compared to other online advertising strategies you might pursue and practically nothing compared to the work I'm gonna do on your behalf to promote the site like crazy.

I don't think it'll be too long before the site appears on first page of Google (for some queries it already does), and I'm also planning some serious PR and social media campaigns this spring too. All in all, I'm gonna go nuts marketing the site and those camps who are listed there will really benefit from lots of new customers and prospects. Of course, I can't predict the future, and everyone's results may vary depending on your coupon offer and other factors, but in general I think you'll be happy with your ROI.

Now I am very aware some camps may not be interested in marketing their programs with coupons. But the way I see it, anything you can do to acquire new kids while helping families ease the financial burden of paying for camp is a winning proposition for everyone.

So I hope you'll join me on CampCoupons.com. I've taken down all the old, expired coupons and I'm starting from scratch. My camp's coupon (Aloha Beach Camp) is listed there now, so you can use it as an example of what yours might look like.

Here's another link to the site for your convenience.

Let me know if you have any questions. Thanks for your consideration!

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

How Summer Camps Can Profit When Giving School Donations

If it seems like the number of requests you get for school donations increases every year, this post is for you.

I won't go so far to say getting so many donation requests is annoying, but it can definitely get stressful when you're bombarded by everyone and their brother who want one.

The problem is (especially for us little guys who operate "mom and pop" summer camps), giving away free camp sessions here and there is tough because the money we make from filling our camps with paying customers is generally how we feed our families. There's only a limited number of non-paying kids we can afford to accommodate because they take away spots from other kids who'd otherwise pay full price. In that respect, asking us to donate free camp is similar to asking an employee to take a pay cut. When you look at it that way, it's disconcerting.

And yet, undeniably, making donations to schools and organizations in need is the right thing to do. It generates goodwill, raises money for schools, and hopefully sends lots of kids to camp who otherwise might not get to go. If you're anything like me (and I assume you are), you want to help as many people as you can, so you end up donating camp sessions to just about anyone who asks. It's hard say no!

Well here's what I think. When people ask you to donate, you should do it as much as you can. At the same time, though, if you're gonna continue being as generous as you are, you deserve to get something back. You should never forget your job is not just to be a nice guy or gal, but also to get as much promotional exposure and new enrollment for your camp as possible.

To this end, I wanted to share with you what I've been doing lately in response to the numerous school donation requests I've gotten. Hopefully my approach inspires you to try something similar, but I realize this strategy might not be for everyone. Even if this appears to involve more of a "hard sell" than you're used to, please don't give up that easily! Try viewing the following scenario from the school's perspective instead. What you're doing is helping them raise money -- which is what they contacted you for in the first place -- but in this case you're helping them raise far more than they ever thought possible. In the end, you'll look like a hero in their eyes, and when you view it like that, this almost becomes a no-brainer marketing option for you to pursue. So here's the deal

When someone contacts me for a donation of a free camp session (which happens at least once a day), I generally tell them I'm happy to donate, but I'd like to do even more.

 Right away I've got their attention.

So then what I do is, I ask them if they're interested in hearing about our new fundraising program where their school can earn up to $5,000 or more to spend however they see fit, no strings attached.

Here's what I might say (and what you can say, too): 

"Well, you know what, Mr. Fundraiser Person? We'd love to help you out with your request for a free camp session, and we hope it helps you raise lots of money. But your request is for such a good cause, we're prepared to do even more. With your help, we'd be happy to donate an extra $5,000 or more to your school so you can really blow the lid off your fundraising goals this year. Would you like to hear more about this opportunity?" 

And guess what happens next? They're blown away and drooling, that's what.

Nobody -- especially not a summer camp -- ever offered them $5,000 before. They can't wait to hear more about it.

So then what I do is, I tell them I'd like to turn my camp enrollment process into a fundraiser for their school. I explain that I'll designate a one or two-week time period (the first two weeks of April, for example) during which their students should sign up for my camp. I go on to say I'll donate 10% of all camp tuition sales I receive from their students who sign up for camp during that time period directly back to their school. I make it clear there's no limit on how much they can earn, and offer very specific examples of what they can do with all that money. I generally say something like this:
"So, Ms. Fundraiser Person, here's what this means for your school. If $10,000 worth of camp enrollment comes in from your students during the two-week period we designate, we'll write you a check for $1,000. If $50,000 worth of new sign-ups come in, we'll donate $5,000. And by the way, there's no limit on how much we're willing to donate. And you can use the money however you want. I assume it could really come in handy if your students need new computers, or maybe some sports equipment, or the school needs a new lawn or a copier etc...etc..."
By this time they're so excited they can't stand it. One of the things these parent fundraiser volunteers want (in addition to raising money for the school) is to look good in the eyes of their peers. The bigger the donations they get, the better they feel about themselves, and the better they think they look in eyes of their friends and others on their fundraising committee.

At this point, your offer is so unbelievable to them, they ask you what the catch is..

"No catch at all," you tell them. "And no risk either."

But you do make it clear there's just one thing you'll need from them in order to get this program off the ground: You're gonna need as much help as they can possibly give you to spread the word about their new fundraising program to their entire student body and their families.

So now they'll do two things.

First, they'll go bat-sh!t CRAZY trying to sell your idea on the decision-makers.

Then, once they get approval, they'll run around their school, sending home flyers with students, trying ANYTHING they can to get kids to sign up for your camp.

You can't buy that kind of promotional exposure , that kind of word-of-mouth marketing.

And please don't forget what I mentioned about looking like a hero. Let's say the school got donations from 20 other camps besides yours. All 20 donated a free camp session, not too shabby. But you -- you just donated THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS the school never dreamed of getting. You're even BETTER than a hero in their eyes.

Now there's just a few more things I think you should know.

Before I wrote this post, I shared my ideas regarding school donations with two other camp directors this morning. Both enjoyed this idea, but were concerned 10% was too much to give away. But that's pretty short-sighted thinking if you ask me.

If donating 10% seems like a large number to you, it's really NOTHING compared to the amount you'd have to pay to get the kind word-of-mouth marketing exposure you're getting for free from all the school volunteers who are getting the word out for you. You could go broke trying to reach so many people among so many different schools.

Moreover, it's not like you're investing several thousand bucks in a marketing activity that might not even work. In this case, you're only paying for actual results in the form of actual enrollments. You're donating money you never even had in the first place -- and found money equates to a pretty nice ROI if you ask me. And truth be told, your reputation will skyrocket from doing this. What could be better than that?

Finally, just to revisit the idea of how stressful getting so many donation requests all the time can be, please don't let all those solicitation letters pile up in your inbox. If you don't have time to deal with them now, delete them. There's no need hang on to those requests too long. The schools will send you another one tomorrow! :)

In any case, whatever you do, don't forget that when you get hit up for a donation, giving one is almost always better than not. But don't just give away a free camp session and forget about it -- you and your camp deserve more than that. If you're giving something away for free, you should get something back in return.