Travel companies need Pay-Per-Click (PPC) campaigns that work throughout the buying cycle -- reaching consumers at both the holiday research and the purchase stages.
Travel advertisers that have the strength and depth in their business models to offer the pricing quality and value that the consumer is searching for will benefit now, and come out a lot stronger after the recession. These players are currently upping their search spend, offering competitive deals and offers and are rewarded with targeted website traffic and far stronger conversion rates.
Operators such as Low Cost Holidays have grown revenues dramatically over the last 6 months through aggressive search marketing -- profits are up year-on-year as they find they are hitting a sweet spot of high value, low cost holidays.
So how can travel brands ensure that their search budget works harder for them over the peak summer booking period? At my own agency, we recommend that travel brands follow five practical PPC principles:
Choosing the right keywords
Don't rely on Broad Match and generic search terms if you want to keep your CPA low. Instead, ensure that your PPC campaign covers a really extensive mix of the resort and destination specific keywords that consumers are searching on. Include long tail search terms such as "family holidays in Majorca in August" as well as the groups of keywords around actual hotel or resort names.
Make sure you continuously add negative search terms to refine the relevancy of your campaign. This saves costs by ensuring you control when your ads appear and, importantly, when they don't. For example, to avoid having your business associated with high prices or disasters, you might add 'expensive' or 'plane crash' to your negative search terms.
Ensuring that ad copy is closely tailored to search keywords is critical to drive clickthrough and aid Quality Score. It is imperative that ad copy contains competitive prices, offers, dates and a strong call to action, for example, "all inclusive Ibiza holidays £189pw -- Book by 3 August for free transfers". This will encourage click-throughs and differentiate your offering from competitors. Keep testing copy variations to push up click through and conversion rates.
Dont forget that consumers are looking for security after a string of travel industry failures such as plane crashes and PR disasters, like Ryanair's recent controversial response to negative blog posts. To create trust, make sure your trade body memberships, such as ABTA or ATOL, are prominent in ad copy and on landing pages.
Remember that search is an acquisition channel, so it's your website's job to turn visitors into customers. Reports from Travelsupermarket show that while traffic to travel brands sites is increasing, conversions have dropped by 20 per cent. It is imperative that your landing pages absolutely reflect the keywords and the ad copy message. For example, do not offer holidays in Turkey from £199 in your ad and then have £250 on the landing page. Consumers will feel duped -- and remember that your competitors are only a click away.
Ensure that users are not dumped on your home page, requiring the extra effort of searching again on your site to find the offer. Consumers are impatient online and will look elsewhere.
The booking process
Be explicit about any extra charges, such as credit card charges and booking fees, early in the booking process. If not, you will have high shopping cart abandonment and unhappy consumers, who will tell others about their poor experience!
Your booking process should be simple and fast to hold the attention of the potential customer. Get urgent usability advice from experts if your traffic is high and conversions are poor. One of our travel clients made a few site tweaks after a usability evaluation and saw conversion rates increase by 50 per cent. That's 50 per cent more revenue for the same marketing budget every month.
A successful search campaign will include both paid and natural search, ideally closely integrated to maximise the opportunity for the search channel. Optimise your natural listings around the converting keywords that are too expensive to compete on via PPC, and around the high volume terms that will deliver consumers early in the buying cycle.
Do not think about search in silo and ensure it integrates across the marketing mix. Research by Yahoo has revealed that online users exposed to both search and display campaigns purchased the advertiser's products and services a massive 244 per cent more online and 89 per cent more offline compared with users not shown the ads, as well as increasing their number of page views by 68 per cent.
Search is a long game, but well worth the investment. Travel brands should partner with a search specialist who really understands the travel sector, that can advise on the nuances of the channel and on Google's changing rules.
Nigel Muir is the managing director of DBD Media.