Top tips – How to be a successful start-up

Ever wondered how to get a travel site off the ground? How important is content, how much do you need and how can users access your information? Here, Alex Bainbridge and Tim Hughes give us their top 15 tips for online success

1. Content: lots of it. The main source of traffic you are going to receive is from search engines. For a search engine to trust you and for the scale of long-tail traffic to be sufficient, you are going to need to be judged as ‘relevant’ by search engines. Nothing establishes relevance better than a constant stream of good, quality content. This does not mean that size is better but it needs to be a mix of quality and quantity. Chances are you will need the help of consumers to get you to the quantity threshold (ie user-generated content). TH

2. Index: a fantastic Google-friendly index and expertise in search optimisation. It is no good having great content if the search engines can’t read it or find it. Yury Shar of said design the site for both Google and consumers. You need smart consumer/user interface people and smart search engine people to work together for the index that speaks to both. TH

3. Access methods: varying ways and means for consumers to access the content. Consumers are choosing very different ways to access and use content – old fashion websites, RSS, e-mail subscription, embedding in blogs, widgets, social networks etc. You cannot provide all things to all people from day one, but your system needs to be able to support different access and sharing methods or you will cut off customers. TH

4. Patience: time (and money) to wait for the traffic to build. It takes time for the search engines to trust you and for the consumers to care. It takes intestinal fortitude to survive the peaks and troughs of the whims of consumer behaviour. Bursts of traffic will come and then go away – inexplicably. Advertisers (outside of Google Adsense) will want to see a history of success before committing to big juicy CPM campaigns. TH

5. Create the right environment, where people want to publish their own content via your site. Instead of hiring 10 writers (or photographers), convince people that the benefits of putting their content on your site outweigh the time it will take them to do otherwise. For example, if you are a travel photo website, then you need to generate more benefit to a user so they post their holiday photos on your website instead of on someone else’s, or just chuck their photos on a CD and put them in the post to their family and friends. AB

6. Distribution to other websites. Once you have content, let it free to travel around the web… this may either be full content, or a ‘taster’, bringing people back to your central website. If your content is your key asset then consider creating related content that is distributed widely rather than distributing your core assets. AB

7. Keep it fresh: content goes stale quickly. You need to be constantly revisiting old content to check it is still correct. Even better, get your users to alert you to old or stale content. Some data is also ‘self correcting’. For example, if your website displays villa availability, ensure that the villa owners use your system not just for sales via you, but also for other channels – it is more likely to be maintained in a correct state. AB

8. Try not to monetise through CPM advertising – but use “something else”. Try selling products or ebooks etc. If its great content (and can’t be found anywhere else), then try a subscription model. AB

9. Let people manipulate content on your site. One reason people may want to come to your site is if they can alter the content around what they want to do. If you have lots of interesting information about different holidays that people can take in a certain destination – let people create travel itineraries using this data – which can then be shared between friends etc.  AB

10. Do one thing well – rather than everything at a superficial level. For example, do one destination at an amazing level of detail – rather than an entire country (or the globe). Perhaps instead of creating an entire tool box, you should create a hammer, a screwdriver etc… but make the best hammers, the best screwdrivers… let someone else create the saw and the tape measure. AB

11. Track what people are doing on your website with your content. You may be able to understand trends from this, and these trends may have commercial value to travel companies. If you start getting lots of people researching a new kind of travel via your site – this data may be interesting to a travel company. AB

12. Decide if you are going to be ‘expert led’ or ‘user led’ (and then stick to it). If you are an expert on a topic – then somehow expose this expertise – but without doing so in such a way that a less expert (but knowledgeable) person could come and ‘borrow’ your ideas and information. If you are user led (by community) then stick with that. If you can join both together you could have a powerful combination. AB

13. Try to create content that is ‘year-round’. Will people just be looking for content when they are thinking of researching their trip, or when buying, or just before travel, or post travel when they want to remind themselves what it was like? Many travel websites focus on the research side of travel, but tend to forget about all the other opportunities. You may think this conflicts with rule 10 – do one thing well – but unless you are year-round, your revenue stream may not be constant over the year. This can lead you either to believe you are doing wonderfully – or that your website is never going to work, leading you to give up early. AB

14. I prefer content (or any business) that is based around need rather than around desire. Travel (as a holiday) is normally desire based, but once you have decided to go on holiday, you may need to know certain information. However, business travel is often need based. You need to go to a particular meeting in a particular city. It’s often easier to create a commercial model based around the principle of need. AB

15. Get your copyrights sorted out. If you are employing writers, get agreements in place. If users are creating the content for you – what reuse rights do you have? If in two years’ time you want to publish a book – or make a video – can you use the content? What happens if you receive an offer to put your content on another website? Are you covered, or would you have to renegotiate with your users / writers? AB


Alex Bainbridge is managing director of Travel UCD and Tim Hughes commercial director for HotelClub and Orbitz Worldwide in Australia.

Read their blogs: Musings on Travel E-commerce (Bainbridge) and The BOOT (Hughes)

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