SaranacLake.com Needs New Management

Last March, the Regional Office Of Sustainable Tourism (ROOST) published its 2021 marketing plan for Saranac Lake. Being a professional content marketer, I gravitated toward the portion of the plan dedicated to content marketing and search engine optimization (SEO).

If this plan is indicative of the work ROOST is doing for the Village of Saranac Lake, it would be irresponsible for the village board to continue giving ROOST our tax dollars.

This website audit is timely, as ROOST recently made a presentation to the village board, presumably as a windup to them requesting another $12,500 taxpayer-funded contract. Let’s take a look at what we’re getting for that money.

What You Need To Know

  • The Saranac Lake Chamber Of Commerce owns SaranacLake.com, a website geared toward getting people to visit the village.
  • SaranacLake.com is managed by ROOST.
  • The village of Saranac Lake has a $12,500 contract with ROOST that expires on July 31, 2021.
  • ROOST’s 2021 marketing plan for Saranac Lake includes a “rebuild” of SaranacLake.com.
  • ROOST’s 2021 marketing plan for Saranac Lake includes outdated statistics and demonstrates a lack of understanding about current SEO and content marketing trends and best practices.
  • The only funding ROOST receives from the portion of Saranac Lake that is in Franklin County is the $12,500 from the village. ROOST does not have a contract with Franklin County.
  • The overwhelming majority of ROOST’s income is generated by the Essex County Occupancy Tax, which by law must be spent in the community in which it’s generated. Despite that, almost all of ROOST’s marketing efforts for Saranac Lake focus on the portion of the village that’s in Franklin County. It is unclear where the money for that marketing is coming from.

Analysis Of ROOST’s Content Marketing Plan

ROOST’s content marketing strategy begins on Page 29 of their marketing plan for Saranac Lake. The second bullet point under the “Authentic Stories” heading reads:

“Even with people reading less, and Google adjusting their algorithms to be mobile-first, the average content length for Page 1 search results is still around 1,900 words.”

There are several inaccuracies with that statement. Google began experimenting with mobile-first indexing in November 2016. Mobile-first indexing for all websites—including SaranacLake.com—began last September.

The “1,900 words” figure ROOST cites is based on a 2016 analysis conducted by Backlinko, a reputable and trustworthy source of information related to search engine optimization and content marketing. An updated analysis, published in April 2020 by Backlinko, says the average is now 1,447 words. It would appear that ROOST is citing five-year old statistic.

Regardless, John Mueller, Senior Webmaster Trends Analyst at Google, confirmed word count is not a ranking factor back in 2019. He reaffirmed this in 2021.

While ROOST highlights word count and mobile-first indexing, they make no mention of Core Web Vitals.

According to Backlinko, “Core Web Vitals are specific factors that Google considers important in a webpage’s overall user experience.”

According to Google, Core Web Vitals and other page experience signals will start to become ranking factors this June, around the same time ROOST’s “rebuild” of SaranacLake.com will be complete. Failure to improve their website’s Core Web Vitals could lead to a drop in rankings in Google, which would lead to a drop in traffic.

I decided to run a PageSpeed Insights test on a recent blog post—“Ampersand in Winter”—published on SaranacLake.com. It scored 6 / 100 on mobile, failing the Core Web Vitals assignment. The same post fared better on desktop — 48 / 100 — but still did not pass the assessment.

The marketing plan goes on to say how ROOST has assembled a committee of nearly 30 members to assist in the rebuild process. While I have no doubt the volunteers on this committee are working hard for the betterment of our village, what the website really needs is a proper SEO company to conduct a full site audit. The audit would identify the myriad on-site SEO and user experience issues currently plaguing SaranacLake.com.

One major issue I noticed was a failure by ROOST to set up 301 redirects after much of the website was seemingly recategorized. For example, the blog post “Local Family Friendly Swimming Spots” contains six links, five of which are broken, sending users to 404 pages. A more comprehensive review conducted with a tool like the Screaming Frog SEO Spider would likely show many more broken links across SarnacLake.com.

I fear the problem will only get worse following the rebuild of SaranacLake.com, as ROOST says it is going to restructure website navigation with new page development. A sloppy restructure could certainly compound the issue with broken links.

Video? Vide-NO!

The video marketing strategy plan leaves much to be desired. There’s no YouTube strategy, despite the fact that YouTube is the second most popular search engine in the world, and that Google is increasingly placing videos on search engine results pages (SERPs).

There’s no strategy on short-form video content, despite the explosion of platforms like TikTok, Snapchat Spotlight, and Instagram Reels. YouTube also recently launched YouTube Shorts, their response to TikTok and other short-form video platforms.

These platforms are particularly popular among younger demographics. For example, 48% of U.S. adults aged 18–29 use TikTok, according to a 2021 Pew Research study. ROOST’s plan to build “brand awareness” among a younger and more diverse travel demographic centers around leveraging “influencers and ambassadors.” ROOST could accomplish this goal, organically and more sustainably, by investing resources in a comprehensive short-form video content marketing strategy.

Despite the popularity of YouTube, and the potential it has to bring tourists to Saranac Lake, ROOST has only uploaded two videos to its YouTube channel in the past year. While the last bullet point of ROOST’s Video Content Marketing section reads, “follow industry trends and implement best practices for video content,” it’s abundantly clear that’s not happening.

Interestingly, the “Changes In Search” section of ROOST’s plan reads:

Top search results continue to fall further down the page as the pay-to-play market increased with more ads at the top.

Saranac Lake 2021 Marketing Plan, Page 33

The number of ads displayed at the top of Google SERPs has been four as long as I’ve been in the industry. Perhaps more advertisers are bidding for keywords ROOST is targeting organically.

One relatively new thing that’s pushing down existing search results is the increase in Featured Snippets, particularly video Featured Snippets. A comprehensive video content marketing strategy would allow ROOST to reach a wider audience and appear more prominently on SERPs.

What Comes Next?

The “new” SaranacLake.com launches in June (despite the marketing plan saying the website would be live in “early 2021”), and the village’s contract with ROOST expires on July 31, 2021.

I strongly believe the village would be much better spending the $12,500 on a one-year contract with a company that has an understanding of current SEO and content marketing trends. ROOST simply doesn’t.

Our village has limited resources—we need to be sure they’re spent responsibly.

A follow-up article will be written when the new SaranacLake.com is live.

Go Deeper

This story is the first of several that will examine the relationship ROOST has with the communities the organization serves.

Harrietstown board rejects ROOST, again


David Lynch is a professional content marketer working for a digital publishing company. His articles have generated more than 20 million pageviews since November 2016. Videos he has co-created have been viewed more than 87 million times for a cumulative watch time of more than 4,000,000 hours. He has been cited as an authority on the topics of search engine optimization and content marketing by various outlets including OutwitTrade, Databox, and UpCity.