When Martin Handford turned his love for drawing crowds into the "Where is Waldo" concept, he tapped into an idea that spread around the world. Whether Waldo is known as Wally, Walter, Charlie, Ali, Efi or Willy (depending upon the country and language in which the books are published), there's a great deal you can learn from the bespectacled Waldo about marketing your business.

Recognize the crowds of competitors can be distracting.

As distinctive as Waldo may be with his red and white stripes and pompom-topped beanie, the swirl of activities around him can make it difficult to find him. You're even encouraged to ignore Waldo in exchange for a set of other hidden objects.

The same is true for your business! Your business is Waldo. When your potential customers--tourists-- start looking for accommodations, places to eat and things to do, there are so many options available via the internet, your business could be harder to find than Waldo. Every search serves up information that could distract your potential customer from seeing you!

That's why you can't ignore travel giants such as TripAdvisor and Google Places. Your most important strategy for gaining exposure (including organic SEO results) is to get your tourist-serving business listed.

Claim your TripAdvisor business listing.

TripAdvisor is recognized as "one of the largest sources of hotel reviews available" to tourists, "with great coverage of even the smallest or remote hotels." TripAdvisor also connects travelers with restaurants and attractions. Its coverage is global, so tourists go there to research places to stay, eat and visit while they're traveling.

You may discover your business is already in the TripAdvisor database. Search for your business name at www.tripadvisor.com/Owners. If your search brings up your business name, a traveller has already entered some information about you. Just select your business name and click on "Claim Your Business."

If it isn't listed, there's no need to wait for someone to review your business. Request a listing by clicking on "Get listed now" right below the search box.

Proceed with filling out the forms TripAdvisor presents. Be as descriptive as possible. This ensures your business appears under the correct categories. Also, be sure your information matches what appears on your website. TripAdvisor will verify your information, and any mismatched info will delay your business going live.

Expect it to take about five business days before your information appears in TripAdvisor's search engine.

Set up your Google Places business account.

Google's Places is a relative newcomer to providing travel information. However, due to its association with the search engine giant, it has gained traction quickly as a travel aid. Both Android and Apple smartphone users can plan routes, search for accommodations, eateries and attractions through the Google Maps app.

On desktops and laptops, functions such as the "Book an appointment" feature appear in the "Knowledge Graph" populated by your Google My Business information. Through OpenTable and Google's partnerships with eatery sites such as Grubhub, listing your small business with Google Places gives travellers the option of making reservations directly from their mobile search.

Other functions, such as scheduling, are in testing. Don't worry about whether these functions bypass your website. They still bring business to your door.

Many people confuse Google Maps with Google Places. There is a difference. Google Maps concentrates on giving travellers directions to your business. Google Places focuses on connecting people with the services a business provides. If you're in Google Places, you'll be found on Google Maps. However, a listing on the map doesn't mean you show up in Google Places.

Google's crawl may find your business. If it does, it may create a Google Places listing. No guarantee. When it does, you have little control over how the information is displayed or its accuracy. Thus it's vital you claim your business if you want tourists and travellers to get an accurate picture of what you truly offer.

Now the Real SEO Work Begins.

Now that you've laid the foundation for SEO (search engine optimization), you're ready to concentrate on climbing to the first page of search results. Doing this is actually far simpler than most people realize. Just follow these easy steps.

1. Identify who you serve.

Even Waldo, as popular as he's become, is only desirable to those who love picture search games. Tourists and travellers are just the same. They reflect multiple demographics. Some prefer luxury accommodations. Others seek budget lodgings. Some hate the whole 'Waldo' thing and go for the first result.

If you're a hotel, resort, inn or B&B, focusing on the group that matches your price point will yield better SEO results AND higher conversions. The same holds true if you're a restaurant or an attraction. Knowing who you want to attract and who will find your business attractive is foundational to developing an SEO strategy that brings results. More on this later.

2. Identify additional sites your business could be listed on.

TripAdvisor and Google Places aren't your only options. Yelp is a non-travel specific site where every business should claim, at minimum, a free listing.

Each travel destination offers a range of options for local optimization. A vacation-oriented search will uncover additional tourism-oriented sites that may only be available in your local area.

These sites show up in global searches, so you want your business listed with them. Here's how to find them.

Imagine a family planning a vacation at Seaside, Oregon. You have a gem shop that you'd like to attract rock hounds into. At this writing, a search for "things to do in Seaside OR" places TripAdvisor results just below the four sites Google recommends. Then you begin to see other websites that could become your allies.

There's Coast Explorer Magazine. Ask yourself, "Do they know about my business?" If they don't, it may be time to hold a special event and write a press release announcing when and why you're holding the event. Then there's Virtual Tourist and Northwest US Travel. You'd want to explore listings on these websites.

Questions Your Customer May Search

The same process applies whether you offer lodging or food. The searches might differ slightly, yet the principle is the same. Think like someone planning a trip. "Where to stay in ___" or "Where to eat in ___" "Best places to stay in __" or "Best places to eat in __"

You'll get more ideas about the searches people are entering in Google by the suggestions Google offers you as you type in your keywords. Also explore what Google AdWords recommends.

Not only will these searches reveal local listing opportunities. They'll also tell you who is already optimized. You can learn a lot from your competitors' SEO strategies.

3. Become a 'Waldo.'

People want to locate Waldo amidst the crowd of other characters on the page. Become a business people want to find!

High ratings are something you earn. You'll move up in both Google and TripAdvisor positioning when travellers give you high marks. Highly rated businesses also move up in the list Google generates when a traveller uses Google Maps.

To make number one, you must identify any aspects of your service that don't measure up to your customer's expectations.

  • For overnight accommodations, spotless housekeeping and comfortable beds are essential. Guests also consider adequate hot water a necessity.
  • For restaurants, excellent service and perfectly prepared food are crucial--no matter how little they've paid.
  • For activity-oriented businesses, clear descriptions of what tourists can expect are mandatory.
  • For shops, developing the technique of watching customers without being obvious about it is indispensable. The hovering associate is a common turnoff mentioned in reviews.

4. Start generating content.

You know who you serve and where you need to be found. You're working on being the best at what you do. Now, it's time to focus on generating content.

Photo gallery style blog posts and videos offer the most benefit in the travel industry. However, you also want written content so Google can evaluate your content.

  • Add alt text and descriptions to photos.
  • Include a summary of what each video is about.
  • Write about things to see, places to eat, shops to visit.
  • Describe the amenities creatively, yet accurately.
  • Introduce tourists to your staff, whether they are famous or not. It says you're proud of the people who work for you, and they are delighted to be of service to each person who enters your establishment.

You might also want to explore starting a podcast that focuses on your region and things of interest to tourists.

As you develop your content, follow Randy Kirk's advice. "No matter how closely you watch the changing world of how to rank on Google Places, it is a major mistake to take your eye off the main prize, and that is being highly ranked on the everything search for keywords you care about."

You might wonder why choosing keywords isn't placed before generating content, when Kirk makes such a strong statement about their importance. Here are the main reasons:

  • When you know who you want to attract and where you need to be found, keywords tend to develop naturally.
  • When you place keywords in front of serving your target audience, they feel it and are repelled by the self-serving mentality it represents.
  • When you choose keywords through your demographic ideal and your location, you make better choices.

5. Engage.

Watch TripAdvisor, Google Places and Yelp for feedback from your guests. Respond to both positive and negative reviews. If you do get a poor review, respond to it graciously. Thank the person, regardless of how sniperish their comment was. It will show people reading the review that your business really cares about delivering a positive experience.

In addition to TripAdvisor, Google Places and Yelp, engage your past and potential customers through social media. Doing so is a major asset to any SEO strategy.

When your business is focused on tourism, the visual platforms are the best place to start. Instagram and Pinterest with their picture-orientation are naturals for engaging with customers as they're making decisions. They're also great places to be when your customers tag your business in a picture.

Its tagging features also makes Facebook worth the investment. Whenever a customer mentions your business, Facebook automatically recommends a quick insertion of the text. If your customer accepts the name match, their content will go to your Facebook page.

You can also invite your customers to post their content on your Facebook page. While their page may not be accessible to Google, you can set your page so it is.

The goal of using social media is to connect. Thank customers who post on your social media sites. Ask for feedback, and respond when you get it. You'll do more than build customer loyalty. You'll show other potential travellers what it's like to choose your business to meet their travel needs.

6. Stick to it.

SEO is an ongoing effort. There isn't a point where you suddenly attain success and can sit back. Your Waldo will shrink if you do.

So develop a routine. Implement it consistently.

Then evaluate whether you're getting the results you seek. If not, consider pursuing help from a firm that specializes in SEO for multiple industries. A cross-industry SEO company brings greater creativity to SEO than one who specializes in a single industry.


Tourists are potential buyers. It's fine to be Waldo if they're already looking for you. However, if you look like one of the large cast of characters surrounding Waldo, you must do something about it. You must differentiate your business from the competition.

Google Places and Trip Advisor are solid places to start. Yelp may help as well. However, these actions aren't enough. You also want to know who your customers are and produce content on your website that's attractive to them.

  • The pictures and video you share places the cap on your Waldo.
  • The blogs and conversations you have through social media puts the red and white shirt on your Waldo.
  • The stellar customer experience you provide turns your Waldo into a business tourists want to recommend and visit again.

Whether your business can be found in a "Where is Waldo" internet is up to you. Click the button below to get a free SEO review!

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