Best Practices

SEO tips for golf course operators

Search engine optimization secrets anyone can employ

For most of us, hearing the phrase SEO (Search Engine Optimization) makes our eyes glaze over. We get that it’s a critical element in marketing, but you’ve always thought understanding SEO and employing it for the benefit of business is the domain of digital savants. Metatags, backlinks, algorithms … the language alone feels like more than you want to take on, especially with the dozen other issues vying for your attention.

It’s true, SEO can be challenging. For those in competitive markets, maintaining a page-one rank on Google can contribute in big ways to the bottom line. So, perhaps engaging the services of an SEO professional makes sense. But for the bulk of the golf operations out there, getting started and improving your search engine rank does not require deep knowledge. In fact, you can take steps today that can improve your appeal to search engines, help you begin to climb in the search ranks and be found by customers in the buying mood.

The biggest mistake you can make in the SEO equation is doing nothing. “You may not see the importance of SEO, but I guarantee you that you have competition in your market that does,” said Mitch Lown, GOLF Business Solutions Senior Manager of Search Marketing, whose responsibility includes making sure GOLFNOW’s website is front and center in more than 100 markets across the country.

“It’s good to have an active monitoring system on which keywords are working in your area.”

“Here’s the good news,” Lown said of operations that have so far avoided SEO activities. “Go to Google and plug in the search phrase “golf courses” with the name of your market. Most likely, your course appears somewhere in the top 50 – and that will be out of hundreds of thousands of results. There are only 49 better than you. You’re not in a bad place. Now, it’s just a matter of optimizing and making adjustments.”

As mentioned earlier, that “optimizing” can occupy a person full-time for operations keen on reaping the benefits of high search rankings. But for this article, let’s concentrate on a handful of points and chores. The more of them you can employ, the better the results. But keep this in mind: This is a marathon and not a sprint. It may take weeks to see your rankings begin to climb. And you can’t rest on your laurels once the climbing has begun. You have to work to stay there. That said, here’s how to kick off your DIY SEO.

Understand a big component of Google’s algorithm is all about content and keywords. Golf course websites tend to focus on visuals more than words – lots of pictures of golf holes, clubhouses and events. That’s fine, but a key element is making sure that your website is easily understood by users and search engines. Having images is great for users, but it’s essential that you make sure search engines can crawl your website and easily understand the primary focus on your site. Utilizing your primary target keywords in your title tag, meta description, headers and content makes it that much easier for Google to understand what your site is about and, in return, Google will understand your page and website is relevant for your target keywords.

How do you know which keywords to use? Put yourself in your customer’s shoes. What are different phrases and keywords that one might use to find your golf course? You can also utilize free keyword tools to expand your list and begin to understand how popular each keyword is in terms of search volume.

Is there a specific quality of your course that makes it unique and attractive to golfers? Terrific greens, Nicklaus design, a Golf Digest pick … whatever it is about your course that makes it special, that’s another keyword or phrase. A third consideration is what your market tells you.

“It’s good to have an active monitoring system on which keywords are working in your area,” said GOLFNOW’s Justin Bolton, a Lead in the Business Services area, who helps smaller course operations on their SEO needs. “You can do this manually by visiting websites of the competition and seeing which keywords they are using. The GOLFNOW Plus service offers software programs that do all the work for you.”

Understand that Google resists that you be everything to everybody. It’s far better in Google’s world that you have a few keywords and phrases that are smartly deployed throughout your site. “If you try to jam 47 different things into your home page,” Lown said, “you won’t rank well for any of them. Know who you are and focus on that theme.”

Where to use the words? Headlines and sub-headlines matter more than body text to Google, but they are all important. Also important is how naturally you use your keywords. They should not seem shoe-horned into every sentence but rather flow naturally. Take the time to craft good, readable text because quality matters more than quantity.

Pro Tip: Type your keywords into Google search and see which courses rank at the top. Observe how and where your competitors are using the keywords. Model your usage on theirs.

Give Google more content. Generally speaking, eight out of 10 golf course websites are what we call “brochure sites,” meaning, just a few pages — a home page, an “About Us” page, course tour, scorecard, contact page and often not much more than that. Google crawls content. The more content you have, the more opportunity to get on Google’s good side. As you are able, add pages to your website devoted to your offering. Do you host events, weddings, business meetings? Do you have a restaurant, a bar, a pro shop? Give each one a page and, where it makes sense, integrate your keywords. But also follow the same keyword strategy you use for golf on your other offerings — meetings, weddings, parties, etc.

Don’t forget reviews and social media. When you respond to customer reviews (you are responding to customer reviews, right?) and when you post to your social media channels, consistently sneak in those keywords. Google notices.

“It’s a little time consuming but it’s important that your brand name is consistent everywhere,” Bolton said.

Get your name and details right. “Make sure the way you are listed online is consistent across the board,” he advises. “I have a client whose course name showed up three different ways from their website to Facebook to Twitter to Instagram. It’s critical that your name is the same, your phone numbers, addresses, emails, every asset is consistently the same everywhere online.”

Bolton and the GOLFNOW Plus team make it a regular routine to crawl the internet finding inconsistencies for their clients. “If you are Pine Cone Golf Course, you need to find all the Pine Cone Golf Clubs, Pine Cone Club and any other permutation and correct it. It’s a little time consuming but it’s important that your brand name is consistent everywhere.”

Bonus Advice: Do this if nothing else — SEO is not a one-and-done proposition. It has to become a routine you’re dedicated to in order to garner its returns, which may mean you’d prefer to let the experts at GOLFNOW Plus handle it. While you think about that decision, here is one piece of advice Lown offers every course. “Search for golf courses in your market and note at the top of the page that Google returns a map and the top three. Clicking on ‘more places’ at the bottom of the graphic reveals all the results. Find yours and click on it. The graphic that opens up is something called Google My Business and this is editable by you, as the owner of the business. You can add pictures, video, business hours, etc. You should own and control this very valuable space.”

Learn more about Plus service to help with your course marketing.