Anna Vanlandingham is an award-winning economics teacher turned Pinterest Pro. Today she manages Pinterest accounts for companies of all sizes and trains businesses owners to grow through social media marketing. Here she shares her best tips for using Pinterest to generate sales, and explains why hospitality, real estate, and the wedding industry may have the most to gain.

Pinterest has undergone a fascinating evolution since it was founded in 2010. It’s still a place to save inspirational images and tutorials, but it’s also so much more. It’s a search engine, a marketplace, and even a ‘to do’ list for many users.

“I was recently meeting with a lady from a networking group in Tampa, and she said ‘I love Pinterest! I plan my whole life on Pinterest! I know what my wedding is going to be like, what my house is going to look like, and all I need to do is go on Pinterest when I’m ready and know where to buy everything,” says Anna Vanlandingham, founder of Pinterest Pro, a social media training and management company that helps businesses grow, primarily, through Pinterest.

Perhaps most importantly for businesses, Pinterest has proven itself to be a powerful lead generation engine.

Omicron research found that “ 93% of active pinners said they use Pinterest to plan for purchases and 87% said they’ve purchased something because of Pinterest.”

Anna says the reason Pinterest works so well is that “you’re catching them in that aspirational state.”

And for industries that rely on aspiration to make sales—like the wedding industry, travel and hospitality industries, and real estate—Pinterest can be especially potent.

But before we get into how to use Pinterest for these three industries (and best practices that apply for any business), Anna says we should clear up a few common misconceptions.

These three misconceptions about Pinterest come up the most:

  • Pinterest is for women only
  • Pinterest is a bunch of recipes
  • Pinterest is a social media

Anna says, “None of these myths are true. Over 40 percent of new users last year were men. In addition, 1 in 3 US dads use Pinterest. Furthermore, the top two Pinterest categories for men are technology and food & drink. Pinterest includes everything from recipes to muscle cars. Pinterest is a huge driver of website traffic across all industries and is responsible for about 5 percent of all referral traffic.”

Pinterest Mens Style
Men's fashion is a popular category in Pinterest

Thousands of Pinterest boards are devoted to “hipster beards”—and Canva has a template to get you on-trend.

Get on-trend with these men's fashion templates from Canva: White Men's Grooming Pinterest Graphic and Grey Photo Men's Grooming Pinterest Graphic

Pinterest isn’t really social media either. In an interview with Fortune magazine, Ben Silbermann, Pinterest’s co-founder, said “I think that’s a very different thing than a social network. The objectives of the two are different. On a social network, you upload photos for other people to like. Pinterest, on the other hand, is self-serving.”

The very nature of Pinterest asks people to save what they want—for their homes, their kitchens, their vacations, and so many other parts of their lives.

And when those desires can be had with a couple of mouse clicks, then Pinterest becomes more than a bookmarking tool—it becomes a marketing tool.

Pinterest as marketing tool: It’s all about the search

Anna says that in order to understand the power of Pinterest, business owners should stop thinking of it as social media and think of it as a search engine. "A Pinterest strategy needs to be developed and the power of Pinterest SEO utilized.” In fact, Pinterest’s algorithm is called “search ranking” which it uses to curate each user’s “smart feed.”

The algorithm ranks (and places) pins based on the quality of the pin, the quality of the source of the pin, and a Pinterest rating from the “smart feed content generator.” The content generator curates the images of a feed based on the current pin in question and how other pins taken from the same source have performed.

There are many templates in Canva covering specific topics and categories, like the Photo Skincare Pinterest Graphic and White and Blue Beauty Skincare Pinterest Graphic

What you need to know is this: the best pins, according to the above criteria, show up first. Not the newest. The best.

That’s why if your friend goes on a pinning spree collecting Sauerkraut recipes, your feed won’t be bombarded with cabbage.

The “best” images are clear, relevant, have minimal text but include helpful pin descriptions.

That last part is particularly important, because like other search engines, Pinterest relies on keywords. “You have to get your keywords in place. Don’t use cute board names. Use accurately descriptive board names that include keywords people are searching for,” says Anna.

For example, interior designer and Pinterest curator Maryann Rizzo is the second-most-popular Pinterest Influencer with more than 9 million followers—and the vast majority of her boards have very clear, keyworded titles.

Maryann Rizzo board
Maryann Rizzo has more than 9 million followers on Pinterest

Anna says the other important area for keywords is in pin descriptions. “With every pin, you can write a description. It’s about 600 characters. And most people leave it totally blank! That’s where you need to put keywords that help you get found. That search bar on Pinterest is where so many people find companies.”

This works for local businesses also, who can use keywords like “condo remodel in St. Petersburg, Florida” to target clients nearby.

Keyword optimization on Pinterest also comes with another benefit: You’re also optimizing for Google.

Anna says “Pinterest can help you get found on the front page of Google. By applying SEO strategy to your Pinterest account, you will also reap benefits on Google. Often a Google search result will have Pinterest account images as the first results.”

Pinterest for travel & hospitality

Pinterest is a hot spot for travel, with an average of 2 million saves per day. It’s one of their top 10 categories with a total of over 3 billion travel-related ideas. The planning process (where, how, and what) starts to rise in January and peaks in June, when Pinterest sees an average of 4 million saves a day. - “2017 travel trends: Top destinations, and how to be there before they book,” Pinterest Business

Some of Anna’s favorite clients are in the travel and hospitality industries, and she says those industries in particular have much to gain with a Pinterest presence. Not just because travel and hospitality are inherently aspirational—who doesn’t want a vacation?—but because hoteliers and travel providers are losing a lot of power to online travel agencies.

“Hotels’ biggest pain point is online travel agents. I talked to a gentleman about this who owns a boutique hotel, and it’s amazing how much power online booking sites have. For most of the hotels, 35 percent of their reservations come from online travel agencies, which means they have to pay them. Why not be on Pinterest, where you can reach people before they even think about making that reservation?”

Pinterest images can link directly back to the hotel website, circumventing the typical search engine results on Google that almost always put online booking sites at the top (not to mention Google’s own travel products).

travel pinterest example
Trekaroo organizes their pins in different boards with clear titles and descriptions

Of course, the challenge of this approach is that those images have to be really good—by Pinterest’s standards. And boutique hotels and small travel businesses can have a rough time sourcing those images.

“If you’re selling engagement rings or bikinis, they have tons of images online already. But your typical boutique inn, for example, usually hasn’t been taking a lot of pictures of their local area. So I emphasize the importance of that. It’s better if they get someone out there taking photos. They can be taken with your cell phone, that’s fine, but you need a lot of them.”

Got some must-see sights of your own? Share them on Pinterest with these travel-themed templates Outdoor Photo Travel Blog Graphic and Green Mountain Photo Travel Story Blog Graphic

Anna posts more than 100 images per month for each account she manages. So when she says “a lot” of images, she means it.

And those images should be original and showcase the unique local environment, as well as what the hotel would like to be known for.

“If your hotel is really good at weddings, emphasize that. And any activities in the area, people who are looking for outdoor activities like hiking trails, white-water rafting, will be drawn to that. If your hotel is in an area of beautiful mountains, show activities you can do in those mountains (not just pictures of the mountains). Activities, shopping and restaurants that are more of the ‘eat local’ type.

People want that inside information, that local perspective. That’s where I see people messing up. They don’t emphasize local things that are going on.

She says The Four Seasons does this incredibly well, using Pinterest “almost like a concierge for people.”

Four Seasons pinterest
The Four Seasons showcases not just the hotel, but also activities that give guests more reason to stay

Pinterest for wedding industry

Pinterest recently commissioned a study from DeepFocus on wedding-related pin activity, finding that more than 40 million people turned to Pinterest “for guidance across the wedding planner journey” every year. In BRIDES 2014 American Wedding Study, they found that 64 percent of brides use Pinterest for inspiration, and 54 percent use the site to show planners and vendors what they’re looking for. Photographers, planners, venues and DIY materials all get found on Pinterest by eager nearly-weds, and Anna has seen results for her own customers, firsthand.

Share your own wedding inspirations with the Pink Shape Wedding Pinterest Graphic template and Ivory Couple Cross Lines Wedding Pinterest Graphic template

For a jewelry business client, she created a board for wedding vows, “and those vows are clickable links to the engagement ring site.” And, of course, she posts engagement ring photos.

She says businesses shouldn’t be concerned if they see a high bounce rate for incoming traffic from Pinterest: “Pinterest has one of the highest bounce rates of any social media. And that’s because people see something, like it, and want more information about it, which takes them to a specific page on your website.

Product images, like photos of an engagement ring, for example, are more targeted—those images can lead back to the exact product for sale.

But not everyone is careful about how they share images on Pinterest. Too often, images are pinned from Google Images results, rather than from the originating website. And that’s why it’s recommended to use watermarks, so Pinners can trace the picture or product they love back to its original source.

Pinterest for real estate

"Real estate agents can do so much more on Pinterest than just pin their listings,” says Anna. “They can go to a real estate website to see that.”

“What you need to remember is that pinners are in an aspiration stage when they’re looking on Pinterest. So don’t just limit your posts to photos of your properties. Branch out. Show the big draws of the local community, like parks, farmers markets, cute little downtown shops. Make infographics of the local school systems using the information that’s publicly available. Think like the potential buyer or seller.”

Real estate Pinterest example
Pins like these can help homeowners market their houses and attract buyers

A few board ideas Anna shares in her blog include “home decorating,” “my dream home,” “best kid room ideas,” and architecture style themed boards like “Colonial” or “mid-century modern.”

Most real estate agents want to attract buyers and sellers, and when you’re attracting sellers, Anna says “having a board about how to maximize ‘small spaces’ can get their attention. How to organize things in your house to sell more—with boards like “kitchen cabinet organization”—they’ll look for things like that to help them sell their house.”

Looking for interior inspiration for your own Pinterest board? Canva’s got you covered with these templates: Cream Photo Homemakers Pinterest Graphic and Interior Styling Tips Pinterest Graphic

Pinterest for everyone

Anna’s list of companies who excel at using Pinterest may surprise you—they come from all industries.

Lowe’s might be expected—DIY home improvement projects are every bit as much the bread and butter of Pinterest as are recipes.

Lowe's Pinterest account and boards

Nordstrom, similarly, you might guess - fashion and home decor are popular categories.

Nordstrom's Pinterest account shows off fashion inspirations

But Bank of America?

pinterest bank of america
Bank of America's Pinterest reflects what their customers are interested in

Bank of America is a case study in how to design boards around what your customers are interested in—rather than creating boards that are only about what your business specifically does.

These boards include tutorials on money management, but also entertaining on a budget, date night ideas, DIY projects, budget travel, and running a small business.

Anna says there isn’t a lot of difference between the strategies large companies use versus those that small, solopreneurs can use.

Anyone, with any budget, can use Pinterest to get the same results—if they do it right.

“I would say the biggest difference between the two is that big companies have the revenue to hire someone full-time to do it for them. Most small companies try to do everything themselves. As a result, they end up not being consistent. But if they can be consistent, they can be just as successful. They can compete with the big dogs on there! It’s just how much time, money and effort you want to put into it.”

And the return on investment is good. She says, "On average, the returns I’ve seen are at least double. If you spend $5K on Pinterest marketing, you’ll see $10K come back to you.”

So how can you do Pinterest like a Pro?

Pinterest Pro’s 5 best tips for Pinterest marketing

1. Consistency
You have to be pinning every day. With Pinterest’s search ranking, part of that formula is how active your account is—are you pinning and repinning? Are other people pinning your pins? Activity is very important. Now, that’s not all original content. That also includes repinning other people’s pins to your boards. Some businesses have a problem with repinning their “competition,” but my philosophy is: If you’re good, why worry about the competition? There’s enough business out there for everyone. Just like when I was coaching high school basketball, I’d always say ‘when you’re the best, you don’t have to worry about the rest.’

2. Always use keywords
Pinterest is poised to be the next big search engine, and that’s where conversion value is the greatest. Keywords and longtail phrases on your boards and pin descriptions really count. To find keyword ideas, look at the categories on Pinterest related to your industry. If you’re a hotel or restaurant, look in the travel category for what words are often used. Pinterest also gives you suggested words and phrases when you start typing in the search box, which tells you other people have searched for those things. A lot. Those are the keywords and longtail phrases you should be using.

3. Think like the consumer
When choosing board topics, don’t think of your business first—think of your consumer first. What are they interested in (even if you don’t offer it directly as a product or service)? Look at Bank of America for inspiration. Most of their posts aren’t “How to invest.” They’re about ways to live well on a budget, including budget recipes. Do you think Bank of America sells bakeware? No!

4. Choose your linked content wisely
Make sure your images link to the exact location on your website that gives pinners the information they’re looking for when they click through. Don’t just link to your home page or general product page. If you’re a San Diego hotel, for example, and you post a photo of a beautiful San Diego beach, that image should click through to a page that tells people where that beach is, how to get there from your hotel, and whether it’s better for surfing or sunbathing. Yes, that means you’ll have to create a few pages on your website - but that’s not expensive or hard, and it gives your prospects a valuable resource.

5. Notice which pins do well and what they have in common
I’m constantly looking at analytics, and I started noticing that, for one of my jewelry clients, pins that had an image of someone’s hand with an engagement ring on it were pinned more often than pictures of just an engagement ring. Pay attention to little things like that, so you can duplicate them.

For more tips, you can sign up for Anna Vanlandingham’s Pinterest Pro newsletter and catch her Facebook live videos at Pinterest Pro Solutions on Facebook.

Community Growth at Zest.is. Moderator at Product Hunt and Growth Hackers. Previously: Growth at Inbound.org. I teach SaaS Founders how to build, engage, and grow communities for their SaaS products. Check out my book: The SaaS Growth Playbook.