Marketing Your Marina

A guide to attracting boaters online

Website Design and SEO for Marinas

Your homepage is typically the page on your website that generates the most amount of traffic. Because of the large percentage of traffic that your homepage is generating, it's the most effective tool that you have at generating customers online, and carries a lot of the weight of driving inquiries. Here are a few key elements to help steer your visitors in the right direction.

Most website visitors make their decision about what they're going to do next (i.e. click on a link, explore further, leave your site entirely, etc...) within just a few seconds. If your website, and most importantly your homepage, isn't configured to point someone in the right direction, then you're missing out on turning a prospect into a customer.

But website design isn't as complex as it may sound. The primary direction is to keep things simple, clear and compelling. Try to create the fastest route to action for any boaters coming to your site.

  1. A Clear Primary Headline - Let your website visitors know who you are and what you do.
  2. A Meta Description and Supporting Text - We'll cover the meta description in the SEO section below. The supporting text on the page gives more context to the headline and further sells the visitor on your location.
  3. A Clear "Call to Action" - Basically this is just a simple button or link that points your visitor in the right direction based on what you want them to do on your site.  Think "Make a Reservation" or "Seasonal Slip Information."  You shouldn't have too many call to action buttons on your homepage either, one or two max. Ideally you can take reservations through a form right on your homepage as described below.
  4. Clear Navigation - Providing a secondary means of pointing your users in the right direction is key in decreasing your bounce rates.  Part of having a great navigation is to make sure that you have a good site structure and page layout. Website structure matters a lot to search engines as we'll describe in the SEO portion of the lesson.
  5. Images - Marinas are lucky in that their "product" is quite often visually stunning. Choose images of your property that are appealing and instructional. You may also want to include images of surrounding landmarks or points of interest. Importantly, make sure that you images are the right size. Too small and they'll end up pixelated on your website. Too big and they'll take too long to load and slow down your site performance. The best image formats for web are JPG and a reasonable file size. We'll cover this in the Website Speed section below.

Taking Reservations Online

The most important thing you can do on your homepage is to take reservations or long-term inquiries right there. Dockwa, the most popular marina booking app and sister company to marinas.com, found that 45% of marina inquires happen after normal business hours. If you don't accept reservations on your website, you're likely losing a lot of that business, or at best, starting your day with a whole lot of voicemail and email busy-work to catch up. You can take inquiries for free by claiming your marina on marinas.com, or you can actually take reservations online by using Dockwa.

Website Speed

While your website may not appear to take long to load to you, it's important to remember that people are accessing it from a wide range of internet connections some which may be much slower than your own. The best way to see how quickly your website loads is to take a speed test over on Google's Page Speed Insights tool. Page speed matters not just for the visitor's experience as noted below, but also for your site's performance on search engines. Websites that take too long to load are penalized in search engine results.

The effect of page load times on bounce rates
Source: Google

Mobile Optimization

You may be surprised to find just how many of your visitors come to your website on mobile devices like cell phones. Over the last few years, mobile traffic has trumped desktop based traffic on the web. Your visitors may be looking up your website right from their boats, for example. Most website building tools (see below) will automatically optimize your website to be responsive on mobile devices, but there are choices you can make to ensure it's easy to use on a phone, for example. Keep your text minimal and your buttons clear and uncrowded. Make sure you invest in making the elements of your website load quickly as described above. If you're using forms, keep those form fields to only the most essential information. Most importantly, try it out yourself. Pull up your website on any mobile device you own and make sure it's easy to navigate.

Website Building Tools for Marinas

Many marinas already have some kind of website and merely need to optimize it through the above strategies. But if you're starting from scratch, here are some tools you can use to build your website from the ground up. All of these tools have a free version unless otherwise indicated by an ($).

Website building: There are a number of free tools you can use to build your own website. Though taking it public with your own URL or website address will cost you a small sum ($). If you want the easiest interface, Squarespace or Wix are likely your best bets. If you want more flexibility to add integrations or other developer elements, Wordpress can offer that flexibility.

Buying a domain name (Website Address) ($): If you are using Squarespace or Wix, you can typically buy a domain name right through their set-up flow. You can also buy a domain on an outside provider like bluehost, godaddy, or ionos. Just be careful as you check out because some registrars will include add-on services when you purchase a domain name, if you don't want those services you'll be paying extra.

Design and image resizing tools: Canva has a great free option for amateur designers. We use it all the time at Marinas.com. It includes a wide range of templates you can use to create or modify images for your website. In addition to Canva, if you simply want to resize your images so your website loads faster, you can use Adobe's free image resizer.

Website analytics: The best in the industry is still Google Analytics, not only for the free website analytics that it provides, but also because it comes with a ton of lessons and tutorials on how to interpret those analytics.

Want a quick diagnosis of where you should start? Submit your website address here securely and we'll email you a custom assessment of the most impactful changes you could make to your site to increase traffic, inquiries and reviews.

Email Marketing for Marinas

For marinas, an email strategy has really two components: 1) emails designed to ensure transactions and payments go through (We'll call these "transactional emails"), and 2) emails designed to improve the guest experience (we'll call these "customer emails").

Transactional Emails

Transactional emails serve the purpose of confirming that purchases went through or alerting you and the boater in the event that they do not. If you're using marina management software, these emails will be sent automatically and can be customized to better reflect your brand. Some software, like Dockwa, will not only send your boater confirmation emails, it will also alert you to any problems with payments or expired credit cards.

Customer Emails

While transactional emails are essential for running your operations, customer emails are where your reputation for guest experience can truly come to life. They're also where you can begin to cross-sell other experiences or advertise nearby partners. The best marina marketing strategies include the following email flow:

Pre-arrival email: Think of the pre-arrival email as your open-armed welcome to the long-term or transient guest. Sent right after booking, this is your opportunity to open your boaters' eyes not just to the services your marina offers, but also to events, restaurants, and other attractions near by. In fact, alerting arriving boaters to these nearby attractions could be a revenue stream for your marina. You could partner with local venues and charge of advertising or set up a referral fee for any boaters you send their way.

Approach email: The approach email is sent on the day of arrival and gives boaters all they need to know to find their spot, understand fueling options, and dock rules. You can include access codes, wifi passwords, and other common questions typically radioed into your dock staff. The goal of this email is to help your arriving boaters while reducing the amount of time your team spends fielding last minute questions.

Departure Email: True to its name, the departure email is sent shortly after departure. Its primary goal is to encourage your boaters to spread the word about your marina through social posts or reviews and to encourage rebooking in the future. You can point people in the direction of marinas.com to leave reviews for your marina and respond to reviews as they come in. We suggest offering a small discount in your departure email for any boaters willing to book ahead for next year or season.

Email Marketing Tools

Free tools: As long as your email lists are relatively small,  you can use a free email marketing tool like MailChimp or HubSpot, each of which allow you to email up to 2000 contacts a month. For more contacts or email sends, each of those also have paid ($) versions you can upgrade to. You don't want to send group email sends out of your gmail, yahoo, or other personal accounts because a) they may not get delivered properly b) you might risk revealing your recipients' email addresses and c) you lose all analytics on how your email sends did.

Marina Email Marketing Tools: While not free, using the email tools within a marina management software platform can help you automatically trigger these sends based on arrival and departure dates. Without them you'll have to hand scheduled each send in Mailchimp or HubSpot.

Messaging Tools: One often overlooked tool in the marina operator's tool belt is messaging. Messaging is a live 1:1 communication vehicle between marinas and their boaters that is most often used for quick, urgent questions. For example, a boater letting you know they will be late, or having trouble in the moment with their approach. Dockwa has messaging built right into their reservation app so that boaters can reach you on the same platform they used to book you. You can also look to website based messaging apps like HubSpot or Drift.

Digital Advertising and Social Media for Marinas

Digital advertising is one of the most efficient ways to spend your ad dollars because you can tightly target boaters in your community. There are two main companies and multiple sites through which you can advertise. Those two companies are Google and Facebook and they collectively cover Facebook, Instagram, Youtube, and Google Search. We've grouped social media and paid advertising together here, because whether you create organic (unpaid) or paid (ads) content, you'll go through the same account and process.

Facebook and Instagram Marketing

Start by creating a Facebook Business account here. The account page gives you step-by-step instructions for how to build out your Facebook page and start running ads. If you already have a Facebook page, you still may need to set up a business account to run ads. You can set up both a Facebook page and an instagram account from this setup.

Creating an Ad: When you're ready to create an ad go to Facebook's ad manager and follow their steps to create an ad campaign and target audience. The more targeted the better in this case, so make sure you're building an audience that is geographically targeted to your area and includes people "interested in boating". Set your daily budget. Even $20-30 can make an impact, but make sure you're comfortable with the full monthly allotment, because it will get spent.

Finding followers: You can find area boaters by searching for similar affinity groups (on Facebook) and hashtags on Instagram. You can also use ads to surface your Facebook page or Instagram account to a targeted audience in your area and collect followers that way. Finally, publish great local content as content with high engagement spreads further and can attract new followers without paying. Photos and videos of your marina and area do well, as do posts inviting viewer participation.

Search Engine Marketing

The biggest advantage you have as a marina is your location. You are far more likely to surface in search results and paid search ads for a term like "Boat storage [Location]" than "boat storage" alone. Use your location to your advantage and follow a local business Google strategy. Start by creating a free Google Business Profile here. Use your keywords and location in the description of your business so that you are surfaced in local results or when someone nearby searches for "boat storage near me".

Running Google Ads: Much like Facebook, search ads are great because you can target them to only relevant viewers and set daily spend limits. Google has really good step-by-step instructions on setting up your first ad here, so we won't go into that in too much detail here. They also have a hotline for businesses getting started.

Setting up a landing page for your ads: Part of how Google ranks the ads it runs is by relevancy to the search query. They determine that based in part on how well the ad copy matches the page to which the ad directs. To increase your ad's quality score, and to help you better isolate how well your ad spend is performing, it's a good idea to create a dedicated webpage on your website for ad-driven traffic for each ad campaign. If you are advertising long-term storage vs. transient bookings, but your homepage talks about both, you'll want a landing page solely focused on long-term inquiries.

Marketing Analytics for Marinas

Marketing analytics give you a sense of where your business is coming from and if interest is up or down. This can help you zero in on where to invest your marketing dollars or what to stop doing because it's not working. The tools we recommend for this are Google Analytics and a marina management software platform like Dockwa.

Key Metrics to Track

Website Traffic: This is a simple one and can be tracked using Google free analytics or any other website analytics software. Your website is often the default for boaters when it comes to booking a slip.  The greater your traffic, the more chances at reservations you have.  You want to keep your website simple, with obvious paths to booking a reservation or inquiring about a long-term contract right on the homepage.  If you use Google Analytics, visits to your website are called "sessions".  You want to track the number of sessions over time and compare your sessions year over year.

Incoming Reservation Requests: Marketers call this metric a "conversion metric."  You want to track how many reservation requests you get on a monthly basis and year over year.  This is a good proxy for how revenue is going to fare this year.  You can drive conversions by getting a booking form right on your homepage to remove steps in the process for boaters.  You can get this data right from your marina management software, like Dockwa, or track it yourself manually in a spreadsheet.  If you take multiple inquires like transients, long-term and storage, you'll want to separate this out by type. This one you'd track in your marina management software.

Reservations by Source: Looking at reservation by source will give you a sense of which marketing activities are the most productive for you.  Online reservations can come through search (also known as "organic"), through a referring site like Marinas.com, through social media, or through paid efforts.  You can view your website traffic by source in Google analytics and if you're using an online booking system you can see source there too. This metric is incredibly valuable, because it can show you where you may be wasting time and where the greatest opportunity and growth exists. Traffic and reservations by source gives you the levers you need to grow your business further.


Events and Co-Marketing Partnerships

Your basic marketing strategy will drive most of the business you need for a given year, but events or co-marketing partnerships can help you address gaps in demand in a given season. If you struggle to get mid-week bookings, hold a movie night on the water every Tuesday night. If you are having a tough time expanding your audience, partner with a local restaurant to cross-promote each other's properties and run a joint special. These kind of activities aren't sustaining, but they can give you a pop of attention to jump start your relationship with a new audience.

Directories and Review Sites

Even if you run the best SEO strategy possible, you'll still only own 1-2 results on the search engine page. Building out strong listings on Marinas.com, Yelp, TripAdvisor and other directory sites can help ensure you're covering more of the landscape across search behavior. You can use a similar template for each site, and work with each directory to get notified as reviews come in so that you can respond to them and drive more. Put thought into the images you choose and the descriptions you include. Look for niche details that would make your marina stand out, like being dog-friendly or offering free and open wifi. To drive reviews, it's best to incorporate an ask into your check-out or departure process as laid out in the email strategy section above. Don't worry about negative reviews. Even a negative review, if well-responded-to, can  be a good sign that your marina is responsive and caring to its guests. Here's how to get started on the top review sites:

Next Steps: Get Your Website Assessed (For Free)

You've made it to the end of our flash course! That was a lot of scrolling. Now you've earned a free website assessment from the team at Marinas.com. We know boaters. We know Marinas. And we know marketing. Since you've dedicated time to reading our course, we're happy to take a look at your website and send you a tailored report on ways you can optimize it more more traffic, inquiries, and reviews. You can request that assessment here.