The travel industry has evolved considerably over the past decade, driven principally by the digitalization of travel services and a growing worldwide travel trend. The sector is becoming ever more ingrained in the digital space and the social media landscape, with the proliferation of mobile devices further supplementing this evolution. In the world of modern travel, people are regularly – almost religiously – tapping into a maze of online media: they use their smartphones to research and book hotels; they provide daily updates on their latest adventures via Instagram, and then, when they return, they turn to review sites to give a commentary on their experiences. As these technologies unfold and new ones emerge, the rate of change will accelerate faster than at any other time in history, and travel brands will need to assess what strategies will empower them to engage with consumers at every step of their journey.
The market today is undoubtedly undergoing a period of consolidation as leading OTAs quickly snap up any burgeoning start-ups and small players disrupting the space. The result of these monopolies is tough competition; a field of extremely thin margins. The core challenge arising for those in the travel industry is gaining the attention and loyalty of consumers of all languages across the globe. The solution is multi-dimensional and lies in the implementation of frictionless technology, leveraging socio-demographic targeting, and designing highly optimized booking experiences. Together these trends are shaping how consumers expect to connect with brands in 2020 and beyond. In this article, we take a look at the ways travel marketers can get ahead by thinking user-first and delivering more relevant interactions at scale.
The Evolution of Micro-Moments
New societal behavioral patterns have contributed to the emergence of a more complex customer journey in the present era, and this is none more prevalent than in the travel industry. As smartphones increasingly permeate our everyday lives, buying cycles have become progressively comprised of collective on-the-go micro-moments. Long gone are the days when one would simply walk into a brick and mortar travel agency and plan a high-flying getaway or exclusive weekend break from start to finish in a single sitting. Travel planning is now all based around short, relevant research sessions over an extended period of time that typically cover all the stages of planning a trip – right from reading up on dream destinations all the way to booking tours and activities. As a result, people are becoming more demanding with brands – they want all the insights they need at each specific phase of their journey right at their fingertips.
The problem for those of you managing travel sites, then, is that if you’re not visible for any one or more of these micro-moments, your chances of winning the conversion at the end of the cycle swiftly diminish. For many, this is an impossible challenge to solve: only the big players in the space have the financial clout to remain ever-present each step of the way. Those not blessed with a massive budget to spend need to claim search engine real estate in the moments that really matter – the booking stage – and the best way to do this is to be highly selective about who you are targeting and when.
This begins with exercising high-intent keywords. In such a competitive space, online travel marketers should look to avoid users who are performing informational or navigational searches and clicking on ads without the design of purchasing. Instead, you want to be employing transactional verbs like buy, purchase, book, or reserve; a niche where there exists a strong indication that when those terms are hit, the searcher is ready to take action with their credit card digits in front of them.
To illustrate, a tour company based in London is unlikely to see great returns from the keyword, “things to do in London”. The intent here is low: the term is broad and implies the user is still in a process of consideration – the dreaming stage. The likelihood is that they are early in their initial research phase, weighing up destinations, running comparisons with other cities in western Europe, or checking to see if London meets the criteria of their desired holiday. Take, in contrast, the keyword, “book tour to kensington palace”. This is much more likely to yield positive click through rates and conversion percentages. The visitor is expressing, quite clearly, that they want to book a tour and that they want to visit Kensington Palace specifically. If your ads appear here, you’re maximizing your chances of success and ensuring your budget is being spent efficiently.
The second key strategy comes in the form of time and geo-targeting. In today’s hypercompetitive ad marketplace, taking a deep dive into your account and identifying past trends can be an invaluable exercise. You should be able to determine what times of day and days of week users are more likely to convert on your website in addition to any specific geographic locations that are bringing in the majority of your business. Once meaningful insights have been derived, you can create campaigns for specific places using targeted ad copy and targeted landing pages that together make for a unified journey along a customized funnel, which will undoubtedly translate into higher conversions. A further benefit of running targeted operations is that relevance is a key determinant of your Quality Scores. The more thematically consistent your advertisements are with your landing pages, the better your Quality Scores. The better your Quality Scores, the lower your cost-per-click (CPC) will be. Essentially, by cherry picking the best search opportunities for your business, and compounding that with precise messaging, you’re ensuring a reduction in spend and a program running at its peak.
The Importance of Ad Rank on Mobile Devices
Smartphones have become the primary device of choice when we research and book our holidays online. Throughout the past five years, the volume of travel website visits on mobile has been growing exponentially, and, because the convenience of smartphone searching is helping people discover what they want more quickly, mobile web conversion rates in the industry have increased by more than 85%.
Unfortunately for advertisers, getting ads to appear on mobile screens poses a serious challenge, chiefly because there is less ad real estate to compete for. In a recent study conducted by wordstream, it was found that mobile CTRs drop off a massive 45% between positions 1 and 2, and positions 3 and 4 are the equivalent of landing spots 4 and 6 on desktop respectively. In essence, if your ads are not occupying the top position, they’re going virtually unseen.
So, what does all this mean and how can you pinch that highly-coveted top spot. In all likelihood, you’re simply going to have to loosen the purse strings and bump up your bids on select keywords. Since the beginning of 2012, CPCs have risen by a whopping 150% on mobile – three times the growth seen on desktop during the same period. The bottom line is – it’s pay to play. To help negate the financial effects of such necessary bidding upgrades, marketers can look to employ lofty mobile bid modifiers on those high-intent keywords we discussed earlier while simultaneously reducing – or eliminating entirely – bids for search terms displaying low intent. By adopting these approaches, you can ensure you’re taking part in the great game of mobile advertising and staying visible across multiple online touchpoints.
Creating a Highly Optimized Buying Environment
Having done all the heavy-lifting in terms of helping users navigate their journey to the point where they’re on your page ready to take the plunge, the final element you must take into account is providing a seamless booking experience. Simply put, if a user on your website is ready to invest their money in your services, you need to make it as uncomplicated as possible for them to do so, and this applies across all devices.
The first thing you must do to safeguard against losing easy conversions is establish mobile-responsive web pages. There’s nothing worse for consumers than awkwardly trying to navigate a website that does not adapt to a smartphone and this will doubtless lead to the loss of sales if not implemented properly. Thereafter, it becomes a question of applying a series of straightforward tweaks and experimenting with A/B testing across all device types to surface what combination of design and text yields better results. A few components to consider include:
- Site speed: Are your sales pages loading quickly? Are there any optimizations you can make to page elements to prevent them from loading slowly?
- Navigation: Can users easily navigate through your booking procedure? Is there any extraneous content you can remove?
- Booking fields: Is it easy to input credit card information and contact details? Are you only asking for information that is absolutely necessary?
- Phone number: Is the phone number of your support team omnipresent? Is it easy for users to get in contact in the event that a booking fails?
These practices may all sound simple, but there are still players in the space not adhering to them. Stay on top of your buying environment and you’ll be reaping the benefits in the form of improved conversion rates and a better return on ad spend.
SEM Travel Trends – Wrapping Up
The labyrinthine world of digital advertising is shifting at an unprecedented rate and so, too, are the demands of travelers. This dual transformation is bringing about new marketing trends that you need to be cognizant of in order to get ahead of your competition. From doubling up on high-intent keywords to segmenting your audiences with greater precision and building a mobile strategy – together these tactics will ensure you’re unlocking new insights and delivering more relevant experiences at scale.