By Deby Snodgrass

The most recent numbers tracking consumer interest in Oklahoma as a travel destination are decidedly trending upward. Visitation to, our main information and marketing tool for Oklahoma tourism, is at an all time high. Brochure orders through the website continue to break all previous records.

These successes are the result of a strategic shift in tourism marketing initiated by our office.  A thorough explanation of this change was provided at our last Tourism Promotion Advisory Committee meeting.  I would like to dedicate this article to offer a condensed explanation.

The most noticeable change is the elimination of image driven television advertising from our 2012 tourism marketing mix and an increase in highly targeted online marketing through paid search, display banner ads and organic search engine optimization through

The Oklahoma City and Tulsa DMAs have been flooded with television ads from Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri, Louisiana and even Wyoming tourism departments. This may have caused concern about the fact that we did not purchase television for a spring 2012 campaign. Oklahoma has typically had a TV presence this time of year.  However, doing the same thing doesn't always produce the same results.

Cable and satellite television, the widespread use of DVRs and a number of other factors are making television a much less effective advertising medium.  Research is beginning to reveal some interesting data about television viewing habits:

  • In May 2012, Nielsen Research stated that last year, for the first time, the number of households with at least one television (and cable, satellite or antenna connection) declined. 

  • The number of TV households dropped to 114.1 million from 115.9 million, even as the population grew. Television is on more hours per day, but research is showing it is becoming “white noise.” A recent study by Ball University showed that TV is becoming an increasingly passive media. More than 20% of total TV viewing is regarded as a secondary activity.  In other words, the TV is on in the background, but the viewer is occupied with another (typically online) focus.

  • An increasing number of households are reevaluating the rising cost of cable and satellite services. Many are considering dropping their services and using the Internet as a primary source of video viewing.

No doubt, television is still the most widely used advertising medium around the globe and it will be part of the Oklahoma Tourism media mix in the foreseeable future. The key word in that statement is mix.  The days of industry dependency on macro-marketing, feel-good image ads are over.

This transition to a stronger emphasis on online advertising and marketing for Oklahoma Tourism is research based. According to the Traveler's Road to Decision 2011 by thinktravel with Google, the Internet remains the leading source for travel planning information in the U.S.  The report found 85% of U.S.  travelers (up from 79% in 2009) used the Internet as a travel planning source, compared to TV at 22%. predicts: “Online spending will lead in terms of growth in the U.S.: online is expected to grow by 6.7% this year to $27.4 billion, versus 3.7% for TV and 2.9% for other traditional formats. Print is expected to decline by 1.5%." 

Oklahoma Tourism’s primary marketing and inquiry response tool is the website. All advertising efforts are intended to drive traffic to the website where consumers can be converted to Oklahoma travelers by linking to attraction and tourism business websites and booking sites, finding contact information, mapping destinations and ordering brochures.  Therefore, metrics are the best source of empirical data on advertising effectiveness – short of fielding a conversion study. 

Our website metrics support the fact that we have, indeed, become more effective at driving traffic to the website over the past three years.  In 2010, we ran a full-blown spring campaign, complete with TV ads in all of our traditional in-state and out-of-state DMAs.  In 2011, the political climate and budget cuts forced us to delay the in-state portion of our TV buy until June.  Yet, we were able to achieve a growth rate of 75% in website visitation over 2010 by utilizing paid search.  In 2012, we have no TV running in any market and yet we have again increased website traffic with an 18% growth rate over 2011 and 105% growth rate over 2010, when we had TV ads on the air in Oklahoma and the surrounding states.  This is due in large part to improved efficiency in our paid search efforts, our new online display advertising campaign and improved organic search engine rankings.

Interestingly, our website traffic is stronger than competing states (Arkansas, Louisiana, Missouri, Kansas and Wyoming) whose TV commercials bombarded our residents at the start of the summer season. Although we are not running TV commercials in Oklahoma or in our typical marketing area of surrounding states, our website traffic is outpacing each of the states that have aired commercials in Oklahoma this year. This data comes from a third-party source,, and represents the most recently reported data.  In fact, consistently ranks among the Top 10 state tourism websites in the nation with rankings as high as sixth.

What have we done to make this powerful marketing tool even more effective in 2012? After determining paid search advertising was the most potent tool in our arsenal (as far as cost per referral and quality of lead), we have stepped up our paid search buy.  So far in 2012, our paid search ads have received almost 20 million impressions and 681,400 click-throughs at an average cost of just $0.67.  Users clicking on our paid search ads view an average of seven pages on, demonstrating they are interested in our content and are strong leads for us. For the first time, this year we’ve added banner ads to our online marketing efforts.  This campaign enables us to display banner ads of various sizes including squares, rectangles, vertical skyscrapers and horizontal leaderboards on sites across the Internet.  We are currently running ads on 12 diverse topics such as family attractions, state parks, wineries and Oklahoma zoos.  We are also working on additional ads for cities and more niche topics. The ads are targeted contextually, geographically and behaviorally to most efficiently reach the audience with the highest propensity to travel to Oklahoma.  So far our ads have been displayed over 409 million times on 32,337 websites and have generated 199,437 click-throughs to at an average cost of $1.21.

Organic traffic on is the most highly prized. It is free of cost to us and results from high search engine rankings and quality content.  By studying and implementing best practices for search engine optimization, our digital content team has been busy building our library of site content and constantly improving the search engine friendliness of our 17,000+ listings on So far in 2012, we have seen a 68% growth rate in organic search engine referrals over the same time frame last year and a 375% growth rate over 2010.

OTRD’s goal is to effectively manage the state’s tourism advertising programs to optimize economic impact. This requires a shift in both strategy and tactics.  While the agency’s mission is to advance and support the tourism industry, we are also accountable to the taxpayers.  Therefore, all of our advertising must produce measureable results to be sustained.  The results we are witnessing so far this year indicate we are on the right track.

(If you would like to see the entire PowerPoint presentation made to the Tourism Promotion Advisory Committee, please click here.  Please note that the numbers in this column have been updated since the PowerPoint was presented on June 14, 2012.)