|Since April 1995 -
Promoting Ozark Outdoor Recreation Through True-To-Life Photography And Non-Hyped Candid
Information is our mission.
The husband and wife team of Gary and Mary Cooley has produced Twin
Lakes Area tourism web sites since April of 1995. They have also been directly involved in
the sale of 57 area small resorts, either as listing and sales real estate agents, or as
consultants to owners and buyers selling their resorts. Mixing the resort sales experience
with helping resort owners increase gross sales via Web marketing taught the Cooleys a
great deal about what works and what does not in Ozark tourism promotions.
The Cooleys have "worked both sides of the story". In
addition to working closely with resort owners on promoting Ozark tourism, they have also
carefully monitored what their web site readers are looking for and expect. It's been a
long process of testing, testing, testing.
By using precise traffic reporting (web site analytics) since 1995,
and by closely tracking what search phrases people use to find their sites, and by having
direct contact with thousands of their site users by email and telephone since 1995, the
2Cooleys have learned what the majority of their readers expect and need in relationship
to Ozark tourism.
What Makes 2Cooleys Unique
When researching tourism promotion the 2Cooleys, like millions of
other consumers, found that many tourism advertising programs the world over exaggerate
and embellish what is offered. Close-by waterfalls that are miles away, or beautiful lake
views visible only when leaves are off the trees, altered photographs, and a long list of
other mis-representations seem to plague the industry.
The 2Cooleys decided their Unique Selling Proposition, that which
they felt would "set them apart", was simply to be totally candid in all
presentations. They tell it like it is. Needless to say some of their advertising
customers did not like this. However, many advertisers welcomed the honesty as they too
wanted to give consumers a real look at what is offered here. Most area resort owners know
that their long-term success depends on repeat business, and so they want people to return
for many years. Only the truth works for that!
Tourism promotion organizations all over America tend to be
comprised mostly of tourism business owners. Chambers and other non-profit organizations
work for those member/owners, who also sit on and control Chamber boards and committees.
This is a normal and understandable system. In fact it has been common for many decades.
Yet this system is famous for exaggerations. Within the advertising industry those who
write ad copy have a term for it called "Chamber Hype".
Consumers the world over fully expect this hype and for the most
part look past it in search of the "real truth". Indeed producers of magazines
like Conde Nast and Frommers built publishing empires based on "Truth In
Travel". So have many newspaper columnists. All of this is proof that the American
Consumer does not trust or believe much of what Official tourism promotion efforts
2Cooleys has no committees, no memberships, and
receives no government funding. They owe allegiance to no one except their Readers. They
survive only by producing a profit resulting from providing useful information free from
hype, aggrandizing, and embellishments normally associated with tourism promotions the
For many years 2Cooleys traffic reports show that
fully 60 percent of all hits on 2Cooleys sites comes from people who by-pass the search
engines and simply make direct entries of 2Cooleys various domain names. Indeed many
2Cooleys site readers grew up in families who vacationed here using 2Cooleys sites to plan
those vacations. Those same children grew up with 2Cooleys domain names and now use them
as young families to plan their vacations. That level of branding does not happen if the
sites are not popular. If readers did not find 2Cooleys sites useful those sites would not
have prospered for so many years. And that is the best vote of approval anyone can get.
Truth In Photography
The Cooleys produce commercial grade photo shoots of outdoor Ozark
recreation. Without great photos a tourism web site will be considerably less successful.
Commercial grade photography is also important in selling tourism businesses. All of the
photos you see on all 2Cooleys sites are their own works.
The Unique Selling Proposition of Candor is especially visible in
2Cooleys photography. Look for the copyright symbol and the 2Cooleys name on any photo.
2Cooleys photos are not enhanced and retouched in PhotoShop. For example, fall foliage
photographs are greatly "Photoshoped" in many other sites. Not in 2Cooleys
sites. What you see is what it really looks like - or better than in the photos.
Seeking True Leadership
The Cooleys hire top level consultants in travel, technology,
advertising, and photography. These consultants range in price from $350 an hour to as
much as $600 per hour. The Cooleys spend many thousands of dollars on information from top
pros, which is a lot for a Mom & Pop operation. Yet as Gary Cooley points out,
"Our resort advertisers think nothing of spending $10,000 to
$50,000 on remodeling cabins or buying rental boats. That's their capital equipment, their
investment. It is necessary to the success of their business. They rent those cabins or
boats out for years to come and make a repeat profit off those investments. Our investment
in information serves the same purpose. It is information we invest in instead of boats or
cabins. But unlike a boat or a cabin, our information needs, our capital equipment,
changes every few months."
Mary Cooley says, "With technology and American culture
changing so fast there is no other way to stay on top of change other than reading,
watching, testing, and studying. You have to constantly re-invent yourself or lose
business and site readership. We take what we learn from these sources and test it on our
own sites. If it works we share the knowledge with our customers. So many think all you
need do is "just do it", but that rarely works. You have to test, test,
Technology Changes, Human Nature Does Not
Back in 1995 there was no Google, no Facebook, no smartphones, no 3D
printers or TV sets. Yes, the 2Cooleys have seen many many technical innovations and
changes. Yet the use of all these innovations remained the same - people needing
information, good information. Fall foliage remains the same year after year, how to catch
large trout has not changed in decades. But how information gets to people sure has. The
trick is not to get lost in all the technology, to stay focused instead on what people
need as well as how they get it.
By reading, by constantly experimenting, using top consultants, and
by polling 2Cooleys readers, the Cooleys have come to learn what works and what does not
for tourism Web promotions and resort sales. Yet there is always something new to learn ,
especially from web site traffic reports (analytics).
Traffic Reports Show The Truth
Much of what the 2Cooleys learn about what works and what does not
is from the 19 years and thousands of traffic reports they have run, not only on their own
sites, but customer sites. "There is no other source of information that's more
useful than web site traffic reports. It's just plumb crazy not to follow your traffic
reports. Sure, it's not easy to learn. But what you learn is well worth the effort!"
says Gary. The Cooleys have also tracked the results of hundreds of banner ad
As Mary likes to point out, "There are thousands of people who
claim to be pros. However, in our experience, many really are not, they're really just
"wanna bees". We have found that it cost less in the long run to find the true
pros, the ones who are at the top of their industry, pay their price, and learn from them.
Especially with traffic reporting! We adapt their principles to our own efforts. Those who
claim to be pros but don't have the proven real-world track record to back their claims
cost much less in terms of dollars. But they sure cost far more in mistakes and weak
results. You get what you pay for!"
Consultants With Candor
The Cooleys find the higher the price a consultant charges, the more
willing those consultants are to admit their mistakes, the big mistakes they've really
learned from. Gary says, "Sure, a $2,000 consulting bill is expensive. But it never
fails - the true pros always save us far more than they cost us. This level of knowledge
is passed on to our customers after we test it on our own sites. Our level of information
is as good as, or better than, any other source - large, small, or Official. What we share
is real-world results produced right here in the Twin Lakes area."
By combining the knowledge of top pros with their own tests the
2Cooleys have developed the area's most visited tourism Web sites. 2Cooleys sites enjoy an
average combined readership of 70,000 to 75,000 unique visitors (readers) per month. Page
views run into the 300,000 to 350,000 range each month. According to published traffic
numbers for other area tourism sites, this puts the Cooleys ahead by at least a 4-to1
ratio in total monthly readers. And of course when it comes to the Web, exposure is what
It Takes A Lot More Work
Says Gary, "We are just two people with three desktop computers
(2 Windows stations and one Mac Pro station), 3 laptops (2 Windows and one Mac), and a
collection of pro digital still and video cameras, all crammed into a small home office.
All our competitors have full-size office suites with 20 or more employees. Yet we
out-produce them by a wide margin in terms of exposure and readers for the Twin Lakes area
tourism industry. This is only because we spend a lot more time at it. If we had to pay
ourselves what all of this time would cost from a 3rd party, we could not afford to do it
Gary further says, "This happens only because we specialize in
tourism. It is also the advantage of having the right knowledge. It is not just the
technology, it is the people pushing the keys. Letting one's ego drop, and listening to
those who really have done it, the true pros who have made it to the Big Time, that is our
secret. And we have also learned a great deal from several very good long-term
The 2Cooleys looked long and hard to find the right server
technology, and the right people to run those servers. Says Mary, "We can't use the
inexpensive $15 a month hosting services. We have way too much site traffic for those,
they can't handle the load. And we have to have people who understand how to fight all the
denial of service attacks, spam, and other security issues."
The 2Cooleys use two server systems, both highly specialized. One is
for serving content, the other is for banner ad serving. Each is with a separate hosting
company, and these hosting accounts cost far more than $15 a month.
Tourism Real Estate
The 2Cooleys commercial real estate activities of selling small
resorts has helped them learn a great deal about what makes a small resort successful and
what makes them fail. Over the years the 2Cooleys have helped over 130 resort owners
consider selling their operation, what price and terms to offer, and the financial
analysis of the operations. When the 2Cooleys list a small resort for sale they "pull
out all the plugs" and promote those resorts on all their web sites. The purpose is
to get gross sales up as high as possible to make the operation an attractive buy. Using a
combination of banner ads, classified ads, and other web marketing efforts, 2Cooleys have
always been able to raise gross annual sales for the resorts they list for sale - if the
"Getting gross sales up takes strong co-operation between us and the owners",
says Mary. "It's a very co-operative thing. They have to be willing to try new
techniques in advertising. We have to listen to what they experience with their guests and
get a handle on their unique selling proposition."
It's The Owner/Operators
Most 2Cooleys advertising customers have been with 2Cooleys for well
over 12 years running, many for over 15 years running. The Cooleys have promoted several
area resorts which have been owned and operated by two, three, and even four different
owners. The Cooleys see the effect an open or closed mind can have on the same property.
In most cases it is not the property, but the owners that make the difference.
In the end the 2Cooleys admit while the consultants and tourism
publications help, and while they have learned a great deal on their own, their many
customers have been the richest information source of all.
The Future Is Mobile
In the fall of 2011 the Cooleys accepted that their future was in
the Cloud and Mobile web services. As tablets and smartphones began replacing the desktop,
as social media began replacing email, and as server technology changed to route all the
new standards mobile devices need, the 2Cooleys once again faced major technical changes.
Past experiences with major technical changes like these lead the
Cooleys to seminars, workshops, and educational web sites. But this time the Cooleys
decided that only by going out onto America's highways and using mobile would they truly
learn how Mobile and Cloud work.
Further, the recession starting in 2007 killed commercial real
estate, and for the 2Cooleys this meant resort sales were over for a long time. Thus, to
replace lost income from real estate sales, and to learn Mobile the right way, Gary and
Mary Cooley went to work as 18-wheel truck drivers. As a husband wife truck driving team
they covered some 120,000 miles, driving America from coast to coast, border to border,
using Mobile every day in many ways. Needless to say, they learned a great deal about
Using two laptops and two smartphones the Cooleys learned how to
maintain all their web sites, and those of their customers, from inside the truck as well
as from hotel rooms. "Aside from the road hazards it's not much different than when
sitting at home at the computer. Nothing changes. We always worked by desktop and by
telephone. We see most of our customers face-to-face only if we run into them at the local
Walmart. Over the years we rarely met with our customers face-to-face. And now with online
news resources being what they are, staying up on any given area is not hard." says
The 2Cooleys now work in America's oil fields as truck drivers, and
they are picking up web business there as well. Unlike over-the-road driving, the Cooleys
get a lot more time off in the oil fields, which leaves them plenty of time to continue
working on their Ozark tourism web sites via Mobile and the Cloud. Mary says, "We are
proving just how powerful Mobile really is. Our customers are always very slow to adapt to
new things because they have seen so many new technologies and web fads come and go. By
the time they all figure out they need a strong Mobile program we'll be way ahead and be
able to give them what they need."
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