Q&A With CampgroundViews.com’s Mark Koep
Mark Koep is the founder of CampgroundViews.com, a website developed in 2013 to help RVers evaluate RV parks before making a reservation. The site features thousands of short videos of campgrounds to give guests a feel for the park’s condition and amenities.
A full-time RVer, Koep also works with campgrounds to create professional looking websites and help them with search engine optimization. He recently talked with Woodall’s Campground Management about his views and his endeavors, including a recent partnership with Outdoorsy.co.
WCM: Why did you develop CampgroundViews.com?
Koep: The RVing audience has changed in the past 10 years. Most people are going online to research parks and to make reservations. Few people use printed books, and most of them are older. Granted, the directories have accurate information and descriptions. But, when evaluating campgrounds, pictures truly speak a thousand words.
I think every camper has been enticed by a photograph or professionally written description of their park only to arrive and discover that it’s not at all what they were expecting. So, in our case, a video gives a very accurate description of where the playground is and what kind of equipment it has. Is there a pool? Are the sites close together? What is the view like? Are the sites shaded? All that can be easily answered by viewing a short video.
When we started fulltime RVing, I found it difficult to find sites that offered or accepted videos and photographs of their facilities. So we started this as a side project by taking videos of campgrounds we visited or that were within driving distance; the traffic spiked and we took the next step. When we build a website for an RV park, the first thing we put on the home page is a video of the park because that’s what people really want to see.
WCM: How many people have viewed the videos?
Koep: We already have 2,100 videos on our site, and YouTube tracked 50,000 views in April alone. All of our videos combined have been viewed more than 1 million times. We are averaging 20,000 unique visitors to our site each month and the traffic has been trending steadily up.
We also produce a monthly newsletter that is emailed to 2,000 RVers. Our videos often rank in the first page of search results for that park. Google really likes videos because people like viewing them.
WCM: Where do the videos come from?
Koep: Most of the videos are taken by our team, but we are now seeing others submitting videos to us. Our website features a how-to video to show people what type of content we are looking to publish. After watching the video, they simply walk the park and capture some images, then upload it to Dropbox and send us a link. We carefully edit the videos, set it to music and upload them to YouTube within a week.
I am always surprised by how many people view our videos. We’re talking thousands of views within the first week we post the videos. We post links on Facebook and our viewers are also sharing them on social media sites.
We ensure that the content is relatively current by limiting photos, videos and reviews to five years. And we generally won’t allow people to copy a review from another site and paste it into ours. We want original content and, besides, many other websites consider reviews submitted to them to be owned by them.
WCM: Can RV parks submit their own videos?
Koep: Certainly. And they don’t need to spend $5,000 to have a professionally filmed video produced. Our guests don’t want to see a commercial. They just want to view an accurate visualization of what the campground looks like so they have an idea of what to expect when they arrive.
However, if we are in the area and the campground would like us to shoot a professional video for them, we will for just $500. We have a lot of demand to create videos for the parks, and our biggest challenge is getting to the parks.
If we are in the area, we don’t even charge a travel fee to visit the campground. This year, we will be focusing our travels on California, Nevada and Arizona. However, if a campground really wants us to film a video for them and they are outside the area we’re visiting, we can do it, but have to charge a travel fee to cover our expenses.
WCM: Do you use drones to film overhead views?
Koep: No, we can’t. First of all, it is illegal to use a drone to film a commercial production without approval by the Federal Aviation Administration and a special pilot’s license. I know RV park owners get approached by customers and professional videographers with offers to film their parks. But, they should be very wary of those companies.
It is a huge no-no for someone to fly a drone over a public place. The government is worried about safety if the drone operator loses control and the drone falls on someone and cuts them badly with the many spinning propellers.
Campground owners need to crack down on the use of drones in their parks. We encourage them to call their insurance companies and find out what they have to say about it. Most RV park owners will be surprised to discover that injuries caused by a drone are excluded from insurance coverage.
Also, if the video is going to be used for any commercial reason, like putting it on a business website, then the campground must get a written release from everyone appearing in the video or the owner could be sued for what is called misappropriation of an image.
WCM: Does that mean you can’t include people in videos you post to CampgroundViews?
Koep: Before we post a video, we take great care to blur people’s images and even license plates to remove any identifiable information. You really never know who shouldn’t be photographed at a campground. There may be police officers, foster children, and even people in a witness protection program staying at the park. Posting identifiable images can put those people at risk.
We aren’t the only company that blurs identifiable images. Google has been doing that on the Street View images in its mapping function.
WCM: How do people search for campgrounds on your site?
Koep: They have several options. First, they can look for the campground name directly. That way, if they have a park narrowed down, they can look for that video as a final confirmation that’s where they want to stay.
But, if the camper is undecided about where to stay, they can enter a location and search within a 10-, 25-, 50-, 100- and 250-mile radius of that location. It will bring up a list of all the campgrounds within that perimeter. Some people ask why we would include a search radius to 100 or 250 miles. That’s to help with trip planning and finding the next place to visit on their route.
We also list campground amenities as well. So, if someone were looking for a park with a pool, cable TV, pull-through sites and Wi-Fi in an age-restricted RV park that allows pets, we can narrow down the selection by whatever they indicate as a preference.
WCM: Can people rate the sites, too?
Koep: Yes, people can submit reviews, but they have to register on our site first. Not only does that keep spam to a minimum, we think it tempers the reviews to be more accurate than if someone were submitting an anonymous review.
WCM: Is there a cost to view the videos?
Koep: No, the website is completely free to visitors. And there is no charge for a campground to submit a video either. However, if a campground is interested in advertising on CampgroundViews.com, we offer packages for as little as $59 per month.
WCM: Why did you get into website development?
Koep: For over a decade I ran a boutique search-engine-optimization company that focused on helping small businesses get to the top of Google search results. Some RV park owners hire a nephew or some kid they know to create a simple website, and the person they hire often does it wrong.
RVers today grew up on the web and they know a bad website when they see it. Many people, especially Millennials, will judge a campground simply by the appearance of its website. If the website looks sloppy, they perceive the park to be sloppy as well.
We’d rather see campground owners hire us to create a well-planned and professional looking website because we can do that without being at the park. Then, the park owner can hire the nephew to walk through the campground shooting video and we’ll edit that to make it look good, too.
WCM: Where do you see the future of RVing information going?
Koep: RVers and campers want to be able to find the right place for them. We are dedicated to creating amazing content about campgrounds and RV parks with the right information for them to make up their own minds. In the end that is where the future is taking us — providing the best quality information in the easiest and least-biased format possible. It really comes down to looking where you’re going.
WCM: How did your partnership with Outdoorsy.co come about?
Koep: I have been hired as a search-engine-marketing consultant to help Outdoorsy with their placement and performance in natural search results. Also Outdoorsy has placed targeted advertisements throughout campgroundviews.com due to our perfect alignment with their target audience for owner RV listings.
CampgroundViews.com attracts sophisticated RV owners and travelers allowing a tech-centric company like Outdoorsy to receive a great return on investment for their marketing dollars. For Outdoorsy, I was the perfect candidate to come in and help them refine their organic SEO with my decade of SEO experience combined with almost seven years living the RV lifestyle.
WCM: How will that help CampgroundViews?
Koep: The reality is that both Outdoorsy and campgroundviews.com are ahead of the curve and the industry. It is a no-brainer for the two companies to work together for the benefit of the camping and RVing audience because we both solve real problems and fill real needs.
For CampgroundViews.com, we can leverage our relationship with the startup to continue creating awareness of our tools to an audience of travelers who may be heading out on their first RV trip in the rental they booked through Outdoorsy. It goes back to the question of how do people find campgrounds now? I can tell you that this audience uses their computers and phones first and foremost, and that is where we are.
WCM: How can a campground owner contact you?
Koep: The easiest way is by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. We generally respond within a few hours, unless we are traveling. We also have a form they can fill out on our website at www.campgroundviews.com/contact-us. We welcome and encourage owners to take advantage of our many free and paid tools to reach the RVers and campers they want to reach.