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Success Story

Search is Key in Attracting Tourists to “The Great Waterway”

Stretching along the St. Lawrence River from Trenton in the west past Cornwall in the east, The Great Waterway region of Southeastern Ontario has a lot to offer tourists – everything from a World Heritage canal system, to award-winning wineries and fine dining, to year-round festivals and sporting events.

But the tourism business is competitive. Letting potential visitors know about The Great Waterway demanded a comprehensive marketing campaign. And that’s exactly what Ontario’s Regional Tourism Organization went looking for in 2011.

thegreatwaterway.com shows off one of its premier holiday events – Alight at Night.

Enter Alphabet Creative

The agency that won the right to create and deliver the campaign, and that has retained first-choice status ever since, was Alphabet Creative.

“It was a hugely appealing opportunity,” says Alphabet Creative Vice President Cathy Kirkpatrick, “because it meant building a brand completely from scratch.”

Doing that meant identifying the components of an effective multimedia campaign – everything from glossy brochures in traditional tourist kiosks, to newspaper inserts, to radio and television spots and eye-catching videos.

Or course, in an age when tourists turn first to the internet for trip ideas and information, The Great Waterway needed a web site. And to be effective, it had to be optimized for search and continually improved based on careful analysis of visitors’ metrics. For help with that, Alphabet turned to award-winning online marketing firm Search Warrant.

“In a highly competitive market like tourism marketing, SEO is crucial, so we needed to expand our team to ensure that we could meet out clients’ targets” explains Kirkpatrick, “so Search Warrant is basically a partner to help us ensure that we are using industry-leading techniques to build and maintain a top notch website for The Great Waterway.”

Partnering with Search Warrant

Alphabet involved Search Warrant early in the campaign.

“When we were deciding how to build and organize The Great Waterway site’s content,” says Kirkpatrick, “we realized it had to be based on search volumes of key visitor experiences. So, for starters, we turned to Search Warrant for high quality, search-optimized copy for the site.”

This helped ensure that The Great Waterway site would rank high in Google and other search engines’ results pages, where visitors would see The Great Waterway site and be more likely to visit The Great Waterway. But it was just the start of Search Warrant’s comprehensive SEO solution.

Phase I: SEO

Over time, Search Warrant refined its original keyword analysis to provide increasingly richer keyword content based on consumer demand, so that The Great Waterway site ranked even higher in search engine results pages (SERPS).

Based on ongoing analyses, Search Warrant continued to add strategic links between pages on The Great Waterway site, as well as links to the sites of tourist-oriented businesses and area attractions. They determined relevant topics to focus on in The Great Waterway BLOG. They continually refined the site’s structure, so that it was friendly for Google and other search engines and for people seeking information. And they crafted landing pages that would encourage visitors to download information, book accommodation, and take other action.

Search Warrant also ensured that The Great Waterway site was optimized for the growing number of mobile users. And they worked closely with Alphabet Creative to give The Great Waterway a strong presence on social media sites, such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest.

Phase 2: PPC

In addition, Search Warrant helped set up pay-per-click (PPC) advertising campaigns for The Great Waterway. By placing advertisements in search engine results pages and on other sites, Search Warrant and Alphabet were able to greatly increase the number of visitors to the site.

“PPC is a powerful traffic generator for us,” says Kirkpatrick, “so we’ve built a strategic approach where we have perpetual campaigns for things we know will generate good search volumes. We also build targeted PPC campaigns for specific events.”

Measurable Results and ROI

What are the results of these SEO and PPC efforts? Year over year, since its inception in 2011, performance of The Great Waterway’s marketing campaign has improved, largely based on Search Warrant’s analysis of intelligence gathered from past years. And this is clearly reflected in the growing number of people who visit The Great Waterway site.

The most recent statistics – those for 2014 – show a 45% increase in the number of visits over the previous year, with more than 200,000 people expected to explore the site by year end.



Ontario Regional Tourism




Potential tourists from the GTA, Ottawa, Montreal and beyond.

Search Needs

  • Build a brand from scratch, with an appealing, search-engine optimized (SEO) web site
  • Include pay-per-click (PPC) advertising campaigns
  • Continually improve site based on analysis of site metrics

Results 2014

  • 45% increase in visitors
  • 91% increase in outgoing clicks
  • 70% increase in organic search results
  • 100% increase in tablet user visits

The volume of organic search visitors grows each year as does the organic search’s share of total traffic.

In the same period, clicks on links from The Great Waterway web site to associated sites grew by 91%. Organic search results (those not associated with PPC campaigns) were up over 70%. And there was a 100% increase in visits from tablet users.

Notably, the cost-per-click of the site’s PPC campaigns – its top paid-traffic generator – has decreased by nearly 100% from 2011 to present. At the same time, the number of people responding to these campaigns has skyrocketed from fewer than 5,000 to more than 35,000.

Getting more for less: as ppc traffic to thegreatwaterway.com grows year over year, the price it pays for each additional click falls through continuous improvement

Alphabet Creative’s Kirkpatrick recognizes the critical role that Search Warrant has played in this success.

“Search Warrant helps us ensure that we are using industry-leading techniques and that our website continues to grow,” she says. “We see Search Warrant as a partner in a very collaborative program. It’s a really valuable relationship.”

Looking to the Future

In 2015 and beyond, Alphabet and Search Warrant will be dedicated to making the site even more effective at attracting tourists to The Great Waterway. Search Warrant will continue to monitor changing consumer demands. And the many new experiences, attractions, and events that The Great Waterway will have to offer tourists will be reflected on the site.

“It’s a constantly evolving world,” explains Kirkpatrick, “and search is an extremely important part of how we attract visitors to The Great Waterway. We expect our search numbers to continue to grow year over year based on our learnings. And Search Warrant will play a big role in that. They’re just a great organization to work with.”

About The Great Waterway

The Great Waterway (thegreatwaterway.com) is one of over a dozen regional tourist areas administered by the Ontario Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport (mtc.gov.on.ca/en/regions/regions.shtml). Each area is an independent, industry-led and not-for-profit organization that focuses on supporting competitive and sustainable tourism, generating economic activity, and creating jobs across Ontario.

About Alphabet Creative

Alphabet Creative (alphabetcreative.com) is a strategic advertising, design and new media creative agency. Founded in 2000 by Tony Lyons, a seasoned international advertising Creative Director, at Alphabet Creative we strive to create compelling and effective solutions through a clear and simple aesthetic. We take complex problems and turn them into simple, accessible solutions that achieve results. We make difficult look easy, and clients look good.

About Search Warrant

Search Warrant Online Marketing provides bottom-line results for online marketing investments with an obsession for rapid, measurable, and sustainable results. With offices in Ottawa and Guelph, Ontario, Canada, Search Warrant’s team of experienced professionals would be happy to help you transform your Web expense into Web revenue. Visit searchwarrant.ca or contact us directly.

What clients are saying…

Where we get the best results for our efforts is SEO. You have to improve it constantly, but it is a very powerful and honest form of marketing. If you truly have a site that prospects will find useful, Google will reward you.

Allan Wille,

CEO, Klipfolio Inc.

Search Warrant took our existing content and repositioned it for SEO. We just review keywords and discuss priority, and Search Warrant takes it from there. The process works really well.

Brendan Ziolo,

Sipera Systems

Search Warrant helps us ensure that we are using industry-leading techniques…We see Search Warrant as a partner in a very collaborative program. It’s a really valuable relationship.

Cathy Kirkpatrick,

Vice President, Alphabet Creative.

30 Burke, Guelph, ON, N1L 1J2, Canada