Cruise is one of the most talked about travel sectors online. Travolution brought together a high-profile panel of agents and operators for a search workshop with digital specialist Propellernet
A successful search campaign should be built around a two to three-year strategy that addresses the three core elements that search engines look for: structure, content and authority.
Propellernet managing director Nikki Gatenby said there was a mismatch between most firms’ spend and where people actually find their results, with 88% of budgets going on pay-per-click (PPC) while 73% of clicks are on organic results.
Although the top five results on Google account for 67% of clicks, within that list the first position attracts 23.3% and the fifth just 7.6%.
Gatenby said: “Have you seized the opportunity, and is your spend balanced across paid and natural to deliver the optimum return?”
Although there were differing levels of search expertise among the panellists, some of the cruise operators felt they had plenty to learn while agents were more advanced. Peter Shanks, president of Cunard, said: “I don’t think we are good at any of this stuff but we are learning, and I think we are getting there.”
Anil Swarup, marketing director at Silversea, said: “We are looking to start with PPC and we have done trials before. With SEO it’s probably someone who already knows your brand, who is not using generic terms. We’re a relatively small, niche cruise line so we’re not up there on the first page of Google.
“The ultimate aim is to collect customer data and then we will bombard them with other things.”
Kirsteen Fox, marketing development manager at Iglu Cruises, said: “It’s really good if PPC can back up the organic results with a tactical message. Using tracking you don’t need to bid for the number one spot to make it worthwhile. So depending on where your organic ranking is you can have a tactical position on PPC.”
Kathryn Beadle, Hurtigruten’s UK managing director, said one of the challenges for cruise lines was moving into a arena already dominated by their partner agencies.
“Retailers were much quicker to this area of business than we were and so we have to manage it very diplomatically because they have been providing us with business and we are now saying we want to be in that space,” she said.
Having the right structure in place is vital for a successful search strategy, but once it is established a less controlled, randomised approach can bring ever greater rewards.
Stefan Hull, business director at search agency specialist Propellernet, said cruise firms should bring some PPC search term discipline into their SEO campaigns and not try to “take on the whole world at once”.
“Structure is important because if search engines can’t find your amazing content you are effectively dead in the water; it is the foundation,” he said.
“Rather than trying to raise the ceiling you’re trying to drill a hole in it knowing that hole will get bigger and bigger. Pick your battles.”
Who’s involved in SEO in our company? Everybody: our staff, our visitors, our customers. We are at the stage where we want to be randomised.
Hull said firms should target particular search terms or categories, and understand their own strengths and weaknesses and those of their competitors.
“Once you know that you can start saying ‘what will it take to get us to position one [on Google]?’
“You can then start forecasting. That means you can start mapping a return on investment. You are trying to bring a PPC campaign approach into SEO.
“In some of these markets you are trying to push against people spending vast amounts of money.”
Seamus Conlon, managing director of specialist agency Cruise.co.uk, agreed but said his website was now a stage further in its evolution.
“You need to do the whole structure thing, but we are at the stage now where we can be completely unstructured,” he said.
“It’s completely randomised. People build the site for us. Who’s involved in SEO in our company? Everybody: our staff, our visitors, our customers.
“Every consultant writes their own blogs. They create their own links. We have no idea what they write. We are at the stage where we want to be randomised. Google likes randomised.
“We are not the only ones doing it but you have to do the whole structure thing initially, then you get to the scary stage. You’ve done all the structure stuff, you planned it, controlled it, saw every single bit of it, but for it to continue you’ve got to throw all the controls out of the window because it has to grow at such a speed.”
Asked when he knew his company had got to that stage, Conlon said: “When we could not police the amount of content that was coming to our site.”
We are very, very visible in the online arena, therefore you’ve got to be whiter than white because if you’re not it can quickly destroy you.
Phil Nuttall, director of agency Cruise Village, said the task of creating content and making it work for his company was done inhouse.
“There’s three of us including me. It’s constant, full on. Unique content is one of the key things, but you have to have structure and pull the links back into your site and it’s important to make sure those links are valid. There’s no quick way, it’s a lot of time and effort.
“I don’t know what the value of the keywords we target is. All I know is that what we focus on works and conversions are good. Your business has to be on the ball and the people who work for you have got to deliver.
“I have this conversation with my staff on a weekly basis: ‘Do you realise that we are very, very visible in the online arena, therefore you’ve got to be whiter than white because if you’re not it can quickly destroy you’.”
Hull added: “The technical side of it is incredibly important. You want to have a nice big marketing pie; in fact the pie wouldn’t be there if you did not have the technical stuff.
“But you can’t afford to be exclusively focused on the technical side as your marketing competence is judged in terms of content and how you generate your online reputation.”
Part 2: Content >