By Vicky Bruce, senior international manager at Affilinet
The online travel market is an aggressive and dynamic sector. To stay ahead of the competition, travel companies need to be able to ensure that they can adapt to trends and stay in-step with their tech-savvy customers. Here are seven tips to help you do that.
Any travel merchant that is serious about their online presence needs to have a fully-optimised mobile site. Not only do nearly half of travel searchers in the UK use their mobile devices for researching their trips, but a substantial number of these users will go on to complete their bookings via mobile. Investing in a mobile-optimised site, which can take a customer from the research phase through to booking, will encourage these travelers to take their business to you, rather than your competitors.
Know your audience
The online travel market is complex, and there is a tendency to view it as a single sector. But this could be a mistake as there are many different kinds of travel merchants, and the affiliate channel can and should support each one individually. For example, a short-haul budget airline will wish to target a different audience to a long-haul tour operator, and both will need to be promoted in a different way to a car-hire provider. Therefore put yourself in the shoes of your target audience and think about which factors are most likely to influence their booking decisions. Is price the most important factor, or would a free room upgrade to improve the holiday experience make them more likely to choose you over a competitor?
Get to grips with data beyond the last click
Advertisers have access to a lot of data, but they are struggling to use it effectively. User data is particularly important for travel merchants, as the customer journey is often extensive and part of a very thorough research process. On their journey, the user may interact with search, price comparison, review sites and myriad other content sites. Research may also take place over several days, and potentially over a variety of different devices. This can make analysis of the sale path even more complex than it already is! Affiliate marketing is based on a last-click-wins model; this often means that hundreds of sites who played a part in the user journey are not being credited for the sale that they contributed to. Recognising this and being open to compensating high value ‘initial interest’ sites in other ways is a good way of ensuring that you retain a good mix of affiliate activity that broadens out your reach.
Integrate product-level tracking
Product level tracking (PLT) is a necessity for any advertiser offering more than one kind of product. Not only will this give you greater control over your margins, but it can be used to sell distressed inventory and last-minute bookings by offering higher rewards to affiliates on these items. PLT also offers valuable insight into locations, durations, and all other aspects of the booking, all of which can help to improve the way you target future and returning customers. You can also make comparisons between different affiliates – are certain publishers more effective at pushing certain destinations than others? The key benefit of product level tracking is that you can use your learnings from your data to adjust your promotional activity, and run a more successful programme as a result.
Segment your affiliate base
It is no secret that there are a wide variety of publisher models. But all too often travel companies don’t take advantage of the uniqueness of each channel and instead use the same communications with the same offers across multiple platforms. Segmenting your affiliate base won’t just help you to understand your programme better, but it will allow you to target relevant sales and offers to different publishers based on their strengths. For example, if you are having a sale of flights to Barbados, wouldn’t it be useful to have a list of affiliates that specialise in traveling to the Caribbean? Spend time to develop a strategy for each segment. For example, provide relevant content sites with destination-specific creative, or bespoke commission rates for particular sales. For Voucher sites sites, you might want to look at providing minimum spend vouchers that can assist in increasing your AOV across these sites. Each segment will behave differently, so make sure you understand each one so you can optimise them efficiently.
Manage that feed
A well-managed data feed is essential for any travel programme. Not only will this open up opportunities with price comparison websites, it will also be invaluable to longtail affiliates who need to ensure that they are always displaying the most up-to-date offers without manually updating their site every day. The more frequently your feed is updated, the higher your conversion rates will be: Users are much less likely to drop off if the price of their holiday is the same price they were advertised.
Create a tool-kit
Make it easy for affiliates to promote your programme by providing the right tools. Interactive banners which allow users to search for the trips they want will drive much higher conversion than standard banners. A deeplink generator will take the hard work out of driving customers directly to your best offers. Providing an ad-creator tool will allow less tech-savvy affiliates to promote your programme quickly and easily.