Conference call: Vail Resorts talks about its search efforts with agency iCrossing

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Last year Vail Resorts tapped iCrossing to develop and launch Snow.com, which serves as an entry point for all of the Vail Resorts mountain resorts: Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge and Keystone in Colorado; and Heavenly, on the California/Nevada border. The site, which launched last month, includes terrain status and weather updates, vacation planning tools and other resort information. Snow.com also drives users to each of the five resorts' own separate, more specific informational sites. The site is also being promoted through display media on travel and weather sites as well as sites within the skiing vertical. Elizabeth Lee, director of online marketing and sales for Vail Resorts sat down for a conference call with DMNews along with iCrossing's SVP and executive creative director, Stephen Thompson and natural search optimization strategist Bill Franklin.

How did Vail Resorts begin working with iCrossing?

Elizabeth: We have been working together for about 11 months, since last October. We issued an RFP and sent it to a lot of people, but we didn't send it to iCrossing because we thought they were just a search company. But when we saw their RFP, we saw immediately that it was noteworthy. It was really tailored to the business and it was obvious that they really understood our goals. When we met with them, we were focusing on Web development and customer experience and not really thinking about search. They looked at the big picture and they were the only agency we saw that took that approach.

Stephen: We wanted to keep the parent brand and the sub brands unique and let those really have their own voices. This is a great brand so the creative was really robust. I mean, who doesn't want to go skiing?

Bill: For us, the unique thing is using search in different ways. It's not just about site optimization. We used search insight to define five key archetypes, or types of people that would be coming to the site and then based our work around that. It was important to be well-informed, so we cover the entire gamut of consumers and create informed creative, generate leads and have measurable results.

What has changed since you started working together?

Elizabeth: Before working with iCrossing, we didn't show up in any search engines in paid or natural search! In natural search we would only come up in a couple very specific branded keyword terms. Being present in one specific keyword doesn't pay off. We then realized how important paid search really is. So we increased our search budget significantly and found that paid search terms were really making us money. The change was extremely effective. We also redesigned some of our other individual resort pages as well. This helped us widen our footprint in the space. Now we show up higher than other branded sites in certain terms. This happened in a time span of two weeks working with iCrossing.

What was the strategy behind the site development?

Bill: There were a number of things wanted to overcome. We wanted the site to be very dynamic and the key was to be visually appealing and interactive. We used heavy flash elements instead of a full flash site, which is less search-engine friendly. We looked at how people were searching branded terms and general vacation terms as well.

Stephen: Even when it comes to writing copy for the site, we write with search in mind. You've got to be thinking about that. Visuals and flash can still build a robust experience, but you also have to be working all the time for the search engines so this masterpiece you've created will even show up in search results.

Bill: Flash is predominantly used in the homepage where the user can access snippets of content without leaving the homepage while usable text is crawled by search engine.

Elizabeth: It's been very positive working with them and have a lot more to do. The Web site really looks fantastic and we're extremely pleased with how it's performing. We're very happy. We started out with simple web development and now they're doing display, paid search and technology. We have a holistic relationship that started with simple Web design and now we have something much bigger.

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