“We might not get as much of the volume as with Google AdWords, but the volume of the traffic that we get converts really well at a lower cost.” — Scott Schult, Executive Vice President of Marketing, Myrtle Beach Area Convention and Visitors Bureau
Sometimes you just have to get away from it all. Unplug from the daily grind with a little “R and R” that brings you back to your youthful playfulness. Doesn’t that sound great? If only you knew of a place to go, somewhere with 60 miles of serene, sandy beaches. A playground where anyone could enjoy an endless stream of water sports, some of the best golfing in the country, a NASCAR speedway, fine dining and an amusement park to boot. Plus, of course, the pièce de résistance — a wax museum.
Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, truly has something for everyone. Every year, 17 million people make the trek to bask in the sun, fun and glory of this eastern coastal city.
With so many attractions, the area practically advertises itself. Only it doesn’t. Scott Schult, Executive Vice President of Marketing at the Myrtle Beach Area Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB), handles that. He and his energetic team of eight use search engine marketing (SEM) and pay-per-click (PPC) advertising with Bing Ads and Google AdWords to entice people online to come to the beach. The goal this year: 6 million (yes, million) hotel referrals through the VisitMyrtleBeach.com site.
“We're the largest and best-performing referral source for our partners,” Schult says. “But we should be since we know how to effectively drive online demand and deliver it to our local industry.” In other words, the Myrtle Beach area tourism economy depends on the CVB’s marketing abilities to drive business year-round.
Schult used to get his adrenaline rush as a defensive end pursuing quarterbacks at Purdue University. These days he uses his master’s degree in marketing and his digital experience to crush the tourism quarterback by helping fill upwards of 100,000 room openings each day. With almost two decades here and at the St. Petersburg/Clearwater Area Convention & Visitors Bureau in Florida, he knows what success looks like.
When Schult joined the Myrtle Beach Area Convention and Visitors Bureau eight years ago, he came in with a tunnel focus to raise the bureau’s digital game. At the time, about 10 percent of the marketing budget went toward digital. The majority of the rest went toward print, such as a 1-inch-thick "stay and play” guidebook mailed out to prospective visitors. “Everyone knew digital promotion was important,” Schult says. “They simply needed someone to lead the effort.” Enter Schult. Within a year, he upped digital marketing to fill half the total marketing budget. Today, it represents close to 70 percent. Most of that goes toward paid search advertising with Bing Ads and Google AdWords.
Schult works with a local digital marketing agency, Visibility and Conversions, to focus primarily on seasonal campaigns that attract vacationers — families in particular. “In our industry, we do a lot of niche advertising,” Schult says. “With digital advertising, we can efficiently align our destination experiences with the right audience segments and engage with them much more cost effectively.”
“Myrtle Beach in the summer is a big-time destination for family vacations,” says Corey Frankosky, paid search manager at Visibility and Conversions. “For example, we promote family vacations, deals and specials related to family attractions during that time on Bing.” Month in and out, he works to ensure that Myrtle Beach stays front and center with consumers during each step of their vacation planning.
Most anyone in sales and marketing could speak volumes about how PPC advertising has changed the face of marketing. “I think you need to be where you put your best foot forward and you have the best engagement with your customers to have that conversation,” Schult says. “With PPC advertising, we can cover effective ground reaching different audiences, and have more diverse messaging.” He also tends to get more qualified referrals deeper in the funnel.
A large part of his PPC success comes from Bing Ads. With the help of Frankosky, Schult discovered a marketing story quite different from other search advertising venues. “We might not get as much of the volume as with Google AdWords, but the volume of the traffic that we get converts really well at a lower cost,” Schult says. Frankosky concurs. “We find that lots of people on Bing are ready to convert and take action on the Myrtle Beach website,” he adds.
As a result of this success, Schult has been adding more of his budget to Bing Ads. At the same time, the lower cost lets him stretch his marketing dollars further. “Bing has been successful at helping us derive a better cost per referral on a seasonal basis and on some of our core keywords,” Schult says. “We will continue to increase it as long as it continues to outperform. It makes no sense for us not to be there with the results we have seen.”
Frankosky’s statistical analysis supports that theory. For a Myrtle Beach lodging campaign, Google AdWords averaged three times as many sessions as Bing Ads. But for all of that volume, Google AdWords didn’t provide as much reward. Bing Ads had an average user session almost twice as long as Google AdWords with a 5 percent lower cost per conversion of $2.03 versus $1.93. When Visibility and Conversions did a Remarketing in Paid Search lodging campaign for people who have visited the website before and shown interest, the numbers skewed even more in Bing’s favor with Bing Ads showing a 15 percent less cost per conversion at $2.42 versus $2.09.
With Sitelink Extensions for vacation rentals and spring deals within the main lodging campaign, a similar story emerged. Google AdWords had four times as many sessions, but Bing Ads had a conversion rate of 60 percent versus 47 percent from Google AdWords. The average Bing Ads user session also came in at twice that of Google AdWords. Sometimes less really is more, and more truly becomes less.
Schult leaves a lot of the Bing Ads feature choices to Visibility and Conversions. Frankosky finds that Remarketing in Paid Search is one aspect of Bing Ads he likes to use a lot. “We want to be front and center for the people who are further along in the decision process,” Frankosky says. “We don't want to lose out on that traffic.”
Frankosky also likes conversion tracking. “We use Universal Event Tracking so we know what keywords are tying back to the best conversions and what's performing best across campaigns, different ad groups, and so on,” he explains.
Frankosky’s ongoing strategy includes serving all the top keywords related to travel, dining and eating at restaurants and attractions. Really, anything from booking a vacation to finding something to do in Myrtle Beach. “If someone's typing ‘top boardwalks,’ we might want to target that keyword,” Frankosky says. “We want keywords that line up with some of the things that we offer so that we can be right in front of them.”
Schult feels that Bing Ads has had an immeasurable impact on the success of his website and that other companies can take advantage of it as well. “I always tell everybody to test them,” he says. “See if you aren't able to generate a lower cost per conversion than you do through any other channels. With our strategy performing better on Bing, we're going to make sure more of our dollars are spent there.”