Guest Post: Don’t let the wrong choice of words hurt your e-commerce strategy

Guest Post: Don’t let the wrong choice of words hurt your e-commerce strategy

By Kevin Ashbridge, account director, travel and hospitality at SDL

As a scriptwriter for a Travel teleshopping channel ten plus years ago, I was as guilty as anyone of using that well-worn phrase, “Something for everyone”.

It was the only way you could market hotel and cruise holidays when speaking to a mass market over a mass medium.

We used a lot of words to sell the benefits of the holiday to an audience of ‘everyone, but no one in particular’. We were selling the dream, and we covered all the points.

When the mass marketing of travel moved squarely from the TV screen to the desktop screen, it took with it TV’s mass medium approach.

Instead of a presenter, we now had long, copy written descriptions that took full advantage of the scrolling page.

And, wow, was the industry chasing a word count. For example, five years ago Expedia’s description for the MGM Grand in Las Vegas ran for over 16,000 words. Something for everyone, indeed.

In 2015, Expedia’s MGM Grand description commands just 500 words. It’s a phenomenon that repeats across most of the major OTAs who source their own copy.

What happened? Quite a bit, really.


The commercial realities of trading globally means that translating a 16,000-word article across dozens of languages is simply too expensive.

Verbose copywriters are overkill when a few hundred words are “all we have the budget for”.

In response, the copy has become short facilities descriptions that anyone can write, and can even be generated automatically using computer-based templates.

Selling the dream has disappeared. Am I upset? No. In fact, I believe that words in travel hardly matter at all anymore. But, I also believe that the words that are left on the page are the wrong words entirely.

Text versus Imagery

Travel and hospitality has always been a visual industry. Glossy brochures and TV programmes full of ‘stunning’ imagery fuel the imagination for our next escape.

When travel marketing moved online, bandwidth was tight and text was cheap, so we moved the imagery into long poetic descriptions, illustrated with a couple of photos.

Desktop users lapped up this new content, travel blogs sprang up everywhere and you could watch a few minutes of Flash video if you could wait for it to stop buffering.

The Millennial Impact

Then, the ‘Millennials’ started to develop their consumer power. Here is a generation that grew up with social networks and are after instant gratification on a small screen device. Bandwidth is cheap and plentiful, and video is de rigueur.

To sell to the Millennials you need four things: rich media, social ‘approval’, a good value offer, and – here’s the kicker – individually relevant, contextually sensitive descriptions of 100 words or less.

This is why words are becoming less important. And it is why having the ‘wrong’ words on the page is hurting the travel industry. You have less than eight seconds to capture your audience’s attention.

The content must be personally relevant and contextual to a customer’s situation. A mother with two young children travelling to London is not after the same information as when she is travelling there alone on business trip.

And, language matters.

Recent research by Common Sense Advisory shows that, when choosing between similar products, 75% of consumers choose the one with information in their language; 55% said that they prefer to buy only from websites in their native language. For consumers with limited English, that statistic jumped to over 80%.

Creating personalised material is a challenging task. It demands an ‘individual first’ approach.

It’s no longer about demographics and consumer profiles. We must step out of the mass market mindset and look for ways to source, build and present truly individual presentations. That is what the Millennial demands.

To properly serve the individual, you need to know what their motivation is, what their circumstances and preferences are, and the touch points they took along their purchasing journey to arrive at a decision to buy.

The individual components required are here today. Customer Journey Analytics provides an understanding a customer’s touch points as they move from phone to tablet to desktop in their search for information.

Social Intelligence provides a backdrop for brand reputation, motivation and awareness. As they interact with websites and apps, Millennials will trade their private choices in exchange for personal service.

E-commerce engines can create targeted content using all of this contextual data, and automated translation systems can localise it.

It is when all of these individual systems are tied together that a level of synergy achieved to deliver a personalised customer experience. We live in exciting times.

Yes, I can’t wait for the wrong words to disappear from travel, as long as the right words are left behind – the words that I am interested in, in the language that I speak.

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience. Learn more