Why Every DMO Needs a Homepage GIF

To get a sense of how videos are incorporated into tourism websites (and in particular the homepage of said websites) I’ve visited 100 Official DMO websites and discovered 6 reasons why incorporating a homepage background video just makes sense.

Disclaimer: Admittedly, the proper title of this blog should be “Why Every DMO Needs an HTML5-Optimized MP4 Background Video on Their Homepage” – but I’m sure you’ll forgive me for using a little shorthand. As it is, to the untrained eye there will be little difference between a properly-optimized MP4 and a GIF. Luckily for the more trained eye, the folks at Rigor were kind enough to create the Bible of GIF to explain exactly how much healthier for your website an optimized MP4 file is than a GIF (spoiler alert – there’s about a 95% improvement in page load time for those utilizing the former). 

Destination marketers seem to universally agree that video is the future of marketing communications for our industry. And it makes sense. When it comes down to it, few industries are more visual than ours – which is probably why RocketFuel was able to report in 2017 that travelers exposed to tourism ads were 6x more likely to book a hotel in a destination city than travelers not exposed to tourism ads.

So, having agreed that video is a powerful tool for destination marketing organizations, and knowing that an overwhelming percentage of DMOs have already created branding videos over the past two years, I think it’s time we discussed how these videos should be merged with your organization’s website. To get a sense of how videos are incorporated into tourism websites (and in particular the home page of said websites) I’ve visited 100 Official DMO websites and discovered 6 reasons why incorporating a homepage background video just makes sense.

1. Are you committed to telling a story?

I heard the term “storytelling” at every tourism and travel summit I visited last year, and even though it’s graduated to “buzzword” status by now, there’s no arguing that a personal narrative seems to be an integral part of most DMOs’ marketing strategy.  And one has but to visit the United Nations World Tourism Organization’s Tourism Video Competition (or the UNWTOTVC as no one calls it) website to see this trend in action. Whether through travel and tourism influencers (the theme Visit Israel calls upon quite directly) or through fictionalized stories (Wonderful Indonesia‘s video being an example of this), these stories permeate through each organization’s marketing strategies, but strangely are often absent from the organization-in-question’s website. Don’t believe me? Only one of last year’s UNWTOTVC award-winning videos are featured on the relevant DMO’s website.

There seems to be a general disconnect between how DMOs create video, and how they utilize them on their website (if at all) – but there are tons of exceptions. It is about a subset of those exceptions that we write this blog.

As a general reflection on the time I spent sorting through tourism and convention bureau sites, it seems that, of the DMOs that didn’t feature a video on their website, the majority were overburdened with content. In the course of pursuing mass appeal and/or SEO value (I’m hoping), the story line had been forgotten. Websites under this category featured dozens of links, and didn’t have a clear user path, opting for content inclusion, rather than defining a visitor journey.

That’s not to say that all DMO websites without a homepage video or GIF lacked a fluid theme on their website’s homepage – Visit Indy and Visit Austin are examples that come to mind. And that’s not to say that all websites featuring one form or another of video had a clear storyline, either. Several (Discover Columbia, for example) didn’t. Rather, it seems that a homepage video or GIF is simply a strong indicator that an organization may have committed to a singular story line.

I think Tim Ash of Clickz.com phrased it well when he described this lack of a unifying message as a “Lack of Editorial Responsibility”, concluding that “You need to prioritize importance of your content and edit or remove non-essential items.” As you visit some of the examples I show you in this blog post, I think you’ll notice that with a homepage background video or GIF generally comes “editorial responsibility”.

2. Because your other option might be a homepage carousel

If you have committed to a single story line for the visitors to your destination (or at least a single theme) then the next question is “What is the best way to tell this story?”.  Homepage background videos or GIFs are convenient solutions because in many cases the alternative to telling this story without using moving images is to use several static ones. (i.e. a carousel*). Having worked at a digital agency, I can assure you that these useless homepage barnacles are the things of UX Engineer nightmares.

For years, caring citizens like SearchEngineLand and ShouldIUseACarousel.com have been begging and pleading for this design feature to leave the programming lexicon, and for years they’ve failed. And sadly – it makes sense. Because homepage banners and carousels make for easily-updated website real estate – an elegant solution for the destination marketer when they need to be responsive to a short term need and appease a stakeholder. But as use of video and an understanding of HTML principles both become more widespread among destination marketers, editing video content for the purpose of accomplishing short-term goals will soon be standard practice.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t help the marketers of today, who are finding that less than 1% of visitors click to view additional banner images in rotating carousels. Some experts have gone so far as to say “rotating banners are evil and should be removed from your site immediately.”

*Of the 100+ DMO websites I visited in the process of making this post, the vast majority featured homepage carousels (most of which were set to automatically rotate). Other common layouts included use of a single homepage hero image (a la Banff & Lake Louise), use of homepage background video or GIFs (often with paralax scrolling), or in many cases a collection of images or content lacking any content that be described as a hero image/centerpiece (like Visit Britain).

3. Because Homepage Video Backgrounds Hardly Affect Your Page Load Time Anymore

Once upon a time it was generally accepted knowledge that homepage load times for sites with video on them were horrific, and in order to reach the unofficially-Google-certified load time of 2 seconds per page, one had to do without video.

Then 2014 happened, and HTML5 came along and saved the day. Now, video is preferable to GIF, the latter of which (as I mentioned earlier) are roughly 95% more bloated than their HTML5-optimized video file counterparts.

Now, that’s not to say that you shouldn’t keep an eye on your page load times anymore, nor that you should fill your website with videos. In fact, if you look at a lot of the more popular DMO websites that feature homepage video either embedded or in GIF-form, you’ll find that not all have optimized their home pages, and overburden the page with videos (or one unoptimized video file), overly-large images, gifs, or other bloated content:

Homepage Video: Load Time (seconds)
http://www.colombia.travel/en 16.1
https://www.visitnorway.com 6.75
https://www.newmexico.org 10.1
http://www.egypt.travel 32.5
https://www.bhutan.travel 16.5
https://visitgreenland.com 7.75
https://www.visitphilly.com 14.9
https://www.travelbelize.org 12.8
https://www.travelok.com 11.1
https://www.nycgo.com 9.59
http://discoveritallwv.com 2.5
https://www.visitdallas.com 8.59
https://www.travelwyoming.com 3.52
https://visitfaroeislands.com 27.6
https://www.louisianatravel.com 16.6
https://www.nycgo.com 14.2
https://www.visitdenmark.com 9.56
https://travelnevada.com/ 17.8
http://www.exploreminnesota.com 7.09
https://www.visitpittsburgh.com/ 6.66
Average: 12.61

So obviously there’s still some work to be done. If you comb through the above list you’ll find that only 45% of the relevant homepages I found were optimized to load in under 10 seconds, let alone the 2 seconds Google prefers. But we can only be so upset when some of these load times are side-effects of absolutely changing the game of how video is being utilized by DMOs (such as the Faroe Island’s Google Streetview Campaign).

Getting back to my point – thanks to globally-improved internet connections and the implementation of HTML5, video is now a more user-friendly piece of content for your website’s homepage than it’s ever been – and dozens of destination marketing organizations have found that out. Many even doing so quite efficiently (looking at you Jefferson County West Virginia!).

4. Because you want to capitalize on your video investment, right?

At the end of the day your video marketing budget will not just be a blip on the radar of your annual budget. It’s an acceptable expense because of it’s utility and long lifespan, but is generally a significant investment.

While we generally refer to collected video footage as residing in a “bank of footage”, I’d like to argue that a Build-a-Bear workshop metaphor might be more appropriate. Work with me on this one.

Build-a-Bears are relatively high-quality bears in the stuffed animal industry. But as soon as you’ve committed to buying your bear (or unicorn, or tiger, etc.) you’re not stuck with just a bear. There are derivatives or alternative uses that one small change in plan can account for. By stopping by the accessories table, your bear can be a fairy with a clutch. But for a mere $10.50 extra, your bear can change personalities completely and become a bikini-sporting beach bum bear. Or for $10.00 even you can shape shift your bear into a certified Girl Scout Brownie. Or for only $7.00, you can have a James Dean bear.

James Dean Next To A Teddy Bear

The point is that in Build-a-Bears as in video, after you’ve made your initial investment, it takes very little to prolong the utility and lifespan of your new investment, whether you want to make sure your video has captions for Belarusian fans of your destination, or if you just want your bear to fit in at ninja camp ($3.60).

Exporting a copy of your video that is ideal for use as a background on your website is generally not a hassle, and should be a fairly common deliverable with every new video project you undertake. And depending on your current marketing initiatives, it probably shouldn’t be the only derivative you receive. Some other fairly common secondary deliverables for your video project could be:

  • 30-second derivatives for advertisements
  • 30-to-60-second stand-alone social media pieces (often reformatted for Instagram or Snapchat)
  • Video stills/screenshots for use in photo galleries, banner ads, print pieces and other social media posts
  • Exported GIFs for banner ads
  • Audio exports for radio

…and so on, and so-forth. So, considering that you’ve already committed to making a video in the first place, why not double it’s use as a homepage background? Assuming that this video footage is in line with your strategy for “top-of-funnel” visitor contact, we can’t think of a single downside.

5. Because you’ll never ever ever make a better video CTA

Speaking of “top-of-funnel” outreach – an overview or campaign-specific video is excellent content to feature on your homepage. So, why not follow the example of these DMOs that brilliantly used a homepage background video to promote the larger video content, and guide visitors through the next steps of the buyer journey:

6. Reputation Management

Whether your destination is a modern metropolis or a historical landmark, you’ll want to position your brand as one that’s synonymous with safety, reliability, and quality. As a matter of fact, safety was listed by Destinations International as a top-12 concern in all non-North American markets in 2017. Managing your reputation is critical in this effort – and having a website that helps you to communicate this is of vital importance.

Whatever you say about homepage background videos, they are incontestably a symbol of a modern, thoughtfully-designed website. In fact, their cousin the Cinemagraph (see above example) was named by Hubspot as one of the 15 Web Design Trends to Watch in 2018. While most of your website’s visitors may not be able to vocalize this fact, they’ll have visited enough travel sites to know the difference between an outdated and modern site, and will likely draw conclusions linking those modern websites with a high-quality, organized, and safe travel experience.

“Video becomes the new currency of destination marketing and story-telling.” – Destinations International Top 25 Trends for 2017 List, #6

I’ll be the first one to admit that there are exceptions to this rule, but if video is truly the marketing communication tool of the future as so many in our field seem to believe (us included), then shouldn’t that be reflected in how you craft the first marketing piece so many potential visitors will see? Including video on your homepage’s background is a good first-step in putting your brand ahead of the curve.

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