Website Overhaul for Common Man’s 17 Restaurants

January 12, 2022

Common Man is a hospitality brand that owns/operates two hotels, 17 restaurants, a concert venue, a spa, and several event venues in NH.  In Jan 2020, ownership realized the need to overhaul the restaurant collection’s website because:

  • Customers were publicly complaining the website was “so annoying,” and restaurant call volume for hours/location was too high.
  • The restaurant managers found it “painful to update.”
  • The ecommerce store was “a nightmare” to manage.

When we began the site overhaul in Feb 2020, our technical/design audit identified multiple root issues underlying those frustrating human experiences.  After the audit and interviews with the restaurant team, we set these goals:

  • Redesign site for a better visual, ecommerce, and mobile-optimized experience.
  • Improve overall user experience, to reflect in a healthier balance between bounce rate and pages per session (which was totally out of whack), increase in total users, and increase in direct traffic.
  • Increase overall and organic sessions by at least 50%.

Owners gave us two non-negotiable requirements for this overhaul:  1) a simple CMS/ecommerce platform so non-techies could manage both in-house and 2) the site had to perform organically because they still didn’t plan to devote an ad budget for marketing.

Using WordPress/Shopify, we built a custom, mobile-optimized, SEO-friendly site that exceeded the goals.  A few notable hurdles we overcame during the process:

  • 2020 restaurant website traffic patterns were erratic due to the pandemic. We couldn’t test anything in real time on the existing site.
  • Achieving design consensus from decision makers was, for them, emotional and elusive. No brand/design guidelines existed (except in one 20-year veteran’s head) and they struggled with design/layout/sitemap decisions that would improve site performance but felt unfamiliar to “the way things were before.”  Our mood boards helped foster design negotiation.
  • We ended up overhauling the ecommerce operation. One example: our analysis determined that 80% of sales came from 20% of items.  By curating a nimbler inventory of easy-to-ship, best-selling, and highest-margin items, it saved them much time and money.

The site we launched dramatically improved user experience with visual designs (see before and after designs here) and under-the-hood mechanics.

Specific results included (all numbers YTD at 12/15/21):

  • Overall website sessions increased by 70%
  • Organic sessions increased by 60%
  • Direct sessions increased by 90%
  • Total users increased by 68%

Most importantly, average bounce rate sits at around 64% and average pages per session is 1.67, which might be the single best achievement of this project.  With the former website, the bounce rate was absurdly low at <20% and average pages per session was absurdly high at 6.15.  This was strong evidence that too many clicks were required to find simple things like hours, locations, and menus.  The balance with the new site reflects a more effective user experience, as stats show that users find the specific restaurant they seek through search, get hours/location/menus, and leave.

We also created training manuals and hosted training sessions for in-house staff for CMS and ecommerce platforms.  They’ve managed the new site completely in-house since its launch in Dec 2020.

Launching an Online Sweepstakes to Drive Engagement for USTOA

January 12, 2022

The pandemic held tour industry operations and international travel hostage long after many other travel segments had restarted.  By late Jan 2021, global vaccine rollout plans were emerging, and the tour industry needed something positive to promote despite tours still being on pause.

To meet this need, we created the United States Tour Operators Association (USTOA) Bucket List Travel Bracket Sweepstakes, a March Madness style competition in which destinations/tour experiences competed in multiple rounds of online voting match-ups.  Shared solely through social media directing voters to a landing page, the sweepstakes encouraged consumers to vote with each new match-up, ultimately resulting in a destination final champion.  After voting closed, a random sweepstakes winner was awarded a $10K travel stipend to use with a USTOA member tour operator to the champion destination, which was subsequently announced.

In just 30 days, we got this entire sweepstakes ready to launch, including:

  • Internal membership campaign to secure destination and tour operator sponsors/experience entries.
  • Formalized legal sweepstakes rules.
  • Massive coordination with all 37 sponsors: confirm their entries, secure proper logos/links/visual assets need for landing page and socials, communicate rules and share social post templates/suggestions, etc.
  • Creation of all sweepstakes digital assets: landing page, graphics, banners, match-up templates, asset library, etc.
  • Identify and orchestrate appropriate sweepstakes management program.
  • Craft other announcement materials – blog post for USTOA website, email blast for USTOA database, and press release – to launch the sweepstakes.

The sweepstakes launched on 3/11/21.  New brackets with match-ups for voting were posted every Monday and Thursday in March.  The championship matchup went live on 3/29, with the voting ending 3/31 and the sweepstakes winner announced on 4/1.  The winning destination travel experience was announced on 4/5.

The results exceeded expectations despite an extremely tight budget.  Appetite for this sweepstakes among USTOA members was bigger than we hoped.  37 destinations signed on as sponsors to submit entries, and their pairings with tour operator members resulted in 64 travel experiences being entered for the matchups.

See the highlights reel, which includes results stats like 33,000 entries, nearly 40 million media impressions, social reach of 25+ million through USTOA member posts alone, 65% consumer database growth, and more.

Website design and marketing success for a brand new venue.

October 16, 2019

At the start of 2020, the Barn on the Pemi in Plymouth, NH had been open for 18 months.  It had also exceeded its total financial projections by 40%.  How?  A website precisely designed for the Barn’s target customer and a digital campaign that generates thousands of qualified leads each year.  Here’s how we made that happen.

New venues – whether hotels, restaurants, or event spaces – all face three key challenges in digital marketing:

  1. Launching a website that inspires sales leads long before the venue exists
  2. Evolving content strategically to keep pace as the venue development evolves
  3. Once the venue debuts, implementing a high-octane marketing campaign with enough staying power to shepherd success past the “new venue buzz” phase and well into sustainable growth

When the folks launching Barn on the Pemi asked us to build and then market their new website, we took one look at the architecture and design plans…and we drooled (it’s pretty gorgeous).  Then we wiped the drool, rolled up our sleeves, and implemented a timeline with military precision that went like this:

Jan 2018:  Debuted (after extensive brand positioning discussions to craft the appropriate vibe and tone) with area visuals, design drawings, inspirational descriptions, and sophisticated RFP tool.

Feb – April 2018:  Launched thoughtful digital campaign to foster search traction and visibility for the site, while also adding regular enhancements to content:  construction updates, new photography, event opportunities.

April – May 2018:  Enhanced the site fully with breathtaking inspirational photography showing styled detail and vignette shots of the venue in “soft opening” mode, along with staged “wedding scene” photos.  Escalated intensity and reach of digital marketing campaign.

June 2018:  Barn is fully open and hosts first few weddings…a system is immediately put in place to get consent from couples and photographers to use their event images on the website moving forward.  Also, a comprehensive digital marketing campaign is launched, which includes an integrated three-pronged strategy for generating referral traffic, organic traffic, and paid advertising (PPC) traffic…with a strong focus on sales lead generation and RFP completion.

Fall 2018:  Quarterly analytics review drives decision to build and launch more robust online gallery, and orchestrate year-long shot list to diversify images by season, style, and special features.

Dec 2018:  Barn ends the year with 1,200 qualified leads coming through the RFP tool, 44% more weddings than projected, and revenue projections exceeded by 40%.

2019:  Continued targeted digital strategy in place, with consistent focus on growing reach with the three-pronged approach.  Quarterly analytics review discussion with the sales team aligns planned strategies with evolving business goals, and aligns messaging with emerging business patterns.

And where did things stand as 2020 arrived?  Here are some stats for you geeky types:

  • Traffic to the site was up 25% year-over-year
  • Bounce rate was down 15% year-over-year
  • Lead generation was up 32% year-over-year
  • Sales projections for 2019 were exceeded by 40%

Fast forward to late 2021 – ahem, skipping over “the pandemic months” – and Barn on the Pemi is in its strongest position to date.  In fact, Wednesday Weddings are now “a thing” because the venue is booked every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday and most Mondays and Thursdays as well.

And stay tuned because we’ll be unveiling a completely redesigned website for the Barn in early 2022!

Integrated social influencer & content campaign: The AFAR ambassador program for USTOA.

September 18, 2019

Five years.  Six continents.  21 countries.  10 states.  27 tour operators.  And countless cups of coffee (and perhaps a few adult beverages) to lend adrenaline support.

That’s what it took to orchestrate this complex, long-term partnership program for the United States Tour Operators Association (USTOA) and AFAR Magazine that culminated in 2019.

Flashback to 2013, as we assessed USTOA’s strategic growth runway:  We saw a need to create a robust content strategy that could evolve over several years to support new consumer communication channels the association planned to unfold.  One key initiative we designed within the content strategy was the USTOA AFAR Ambassadors Program.

What is it?

The program was a multi-year (2014-2018) integrated content development initiative that sent prolific journalists/social influencers (dubbed “AFAR Ambassadors”) around the world with USTOA members.  Each of the 15 ambassadors had immersive tour experiences armed with a list of content-generation assignments:  multiple editorial articles for, blog posts for, social media posts/shares/takeovers, photos, and more.  In our role as USTOA’s comprehensive marketing and PR partner, we thoughtfully planned and orchestrated the association’s entire annual content calendars – blog, all social channels, consumer e-newsletters, travel trade byliners, and more – around these rich, unique anchors.

Why was this program such a success for USTOA?

AFAR Magazine was selected as the ideal partner for this program because the audience it reaches aligns perfectly with USTOA’s target audience.  The win-win partnership not only delivered breathtaking content for AFAR’s readers/viewers from destinations like Myanmar, Taiwan, Croatia, Kenya, Colombia, Manitoba, and Arizona, it also provided USTOA with consistent, frequent, and compelling exposure of its messages to AFAR’s coveted audiences over a period of five years.  Moreover, it…

  • Offered USTOA tour operator members a highly cost-effective way to collaborate with leading journalists and influencers, receiving widespread editorial/social media coverage for their specific offerings
  • Shared costs among all the partners involved, yet also shared content among all the partners involved… so the price per trip was low, while the benefit per trip was incredibly high
  • Provided extensive reach for USTOA messaging, as stories, photos, and videos from trips were shared across social and digital channels from AFAR, USTOA, each influencer/ambassador, tour operators, destinations, and a high percentage of USTOA’s members
  • Delivered significant content results for USTOA, including 44 blog posts for, as well as hundreds of social posts across Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram (story takeovers in 2017 and 2018 alone resulted in 6+ million impressions)
  • Aligned destination content strategically with several of our other high-profile initiatives for USTOA, such as the USTOA Travel Together video series with, which fed annual distribution to USA Today, MSN, Amazon Prime, and more

We LOVED orchestrating this entire program, from ideation to analytics, and we executed every single element of each trip, as well as directing all the content generation and placement.  See the highlights reel here.

(photo credit: Megan Murphy)