Consumers visit 20 travel sites before booking – Google

Companies worried about web conversion rates should know Google reports the average online travel consumer visits more than 20 sites over the course of a month before making an initial booking.

Google senior ecommerce project manager Graham Cooke told the Travolution Summit: “Companies have been focused on acquisition and retention of customers. Conversion has been the weak link.”

That appeared not to matter as the web boomed. “Everyone was growing with the rising tide,” said Cooke. But since the onset of recession: “Trying to capture indecisive customers has never been more important.”

Research by Google suggests the average travel customer makes 12 online searches, visits 22 sites and takes 29 days from initial search to first transaction.

Cooke recommends online retailers monitor their traffic continually – tracking the number of visitors by channel, the amount of revenue by channel, by visit and by retail basket, and the conversion rate by visit.

He said retailers are most likely to lose potential customers on basket and check-out pages, but also lose users during on-site searches.

Cooke advised a programme of multivariate testing to improve conversion rates – trying a series of options to improve each aspect of a page – and demonstrated Google’s Website Optimizer which tests user reaction to changes and tries different combinations of these to boost the conversion rate.

For example, a study of one travel retail site found a greater than average exit rate on the accommodation pages and a survey suggested people were quitting because the hotel images were not clear enough. Improving the images and re-positioning them increased the rate of conversion.

However, Peter Matthews, managing director of web consultancy Nucleus, cautioned: “Conversion rates can be unreliable guides. Many applications in travel are complex and conversion will always remain an issue.”

He added: “If you only show the price at the point of booking, conversion will be poor because it is the only way to check the price.”

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