Get it right, and you’re laughing. Get it wrong, and it’ll cost you. Is your business making the best use of online marketing? Linda Fox reports
Dave Simmons is not afraid to admit he was a virgin when it came to online marketing. But in the past 18 months he has been on a steep learning curve and there have been mistakes along the way.
For the chief executive of Global Travel Market, which counts AustraliaTravelMarket.com among its brands, there are a number of fundamental steps to take before embarking on any form of online marketing. A website’s design and content, for example, are crucial components of successful digital marketing, but many companies overlook such basics, says Simmons.
“It’s important to get input from people who understand search engine optimisation from the outset to ensure the presentation is right. All these things are fundamental in terms of achieving natural listings. If a developer does not have a deep understanding it can take up to 18 months to get the site corrected.”
He adds that this was one of the traps he fell into and ended up having to invest more in pay-per-click mechanisms when the service should have been achieving natural listings.
Simmons also advocates an integrated approach to online marketing, and while many companies bandy about terms such as PPC and SEO, he takes a wider view.
“I think about search engine marketing and include elements such as online public relations, blogs and other forms of social media. You have to consider all these factors for a successful campaign for a website.”
At long-haul specialist Kuoni Travel, head of marketing Naomi Wilkinson also adopts a mix of media, including paid-for listings, natural search, banners and rich media. The operator takes a flexible approach combining the different elements of natural and paid-for listings at different times of the year.
Wilkinson says: “We use these in various combinations for a year-round presence, which we flex at certain times of the year to coincide with key booking periods. With more than 80 destinations around the world, we need to have year-round business.”
Kuoni uses banners to raise brand awareness as well as to get tactical messages out to market, while paid-for listings and SEO work well for tapping into consumer demand for a specific destination or holiday type.
Although most agencies swear by PPC in terms of driving traffic, Simmons is more sceptical.
“PPC is critical to get volumes quickly and it’s very trackable, but it is quantity versus quality. Global Travel Market does not drive quantity and the difference between the two is conversions to bookings or enquiries,” he says.
He also urges caution when it comes to PPC spend and says the company is now getting up to 50% more out of its budget just by changing the people handling the account.
“You have to make sure the people are sweating your investment for you. You can’t just give them £1,000 and let them spend it.”
Cruise operator Norwegian Cruise Line launched a PPC campaign a year ago and found that prices kept creeping up as rival cruise companies were also running campaigns.
Head of marketing Mark Persad says: “The website was not giving the consumer what they wanted and we had a high drop-out rate.
“It has to add some value to the guest so we’re now working on getting the website right and then we will drive them to it.”
The company has since been shaping up its UK website to tap into online customers through natural and paid-for search. The company is currently adding code to web pages to tell it what customers are doing, where they have come from, where they leave and what search terms they used.
NCL is also planning affiliate marketing and banner advertising, and has employed a company to identify suitable partner websites, which match the company’s customer profile.
Persad says: “It’s not something you can play at. It forms part of your entire communications strategy.”
The Scenario: Beds in the Med Holidays is a large operator sending more than 350,000 people annually on holidays to mainstream Mediterranean destinations. The company has a monthly budget of £250,000 to spend on digital marketing.
The Search Works travel account director Cheryl Tayler advises the company to ask itself the following questions before creating an online marketing strategy:
- Level of in-house knowledge
- User-friendliness of existing website
- Is the back-end set up to cope with additional traffic and sales?
- Target market and target customer
- The aim of the strategy
- The impact of seasonality
- Is a tracking mechanism in place?
Tayler says: “To achieve goals and create successful search engine marketing campaigns requires constant monitoring and management. There are no quick fixes.”
Companies embarking on a cost-per-click strategy need to be flexible to allow for changes in product offering, such as additional destinations, changing user behaviour and reaction to market trends. Tayler also urges companies to think about timelines and technology to push, pull or pause activity according to call-centre or office opening times.
Search management technology is also vital and The Search Works account managers use BidBuddy. This enables the team to view traffic, spend, sales, profit and wastage and see areas where revenue is being generated.
Tayler also stresses that online marketing is interactive and therefore budget should be considered differently to other media. “The customer is looking for your products or services at all times of the day, week, month and year. You may as well shut your shop door with a queue of customers waiting outside or leave call-centre phones ringing.”
Adprecision commercial director Alasdair Cross would take 70% of the budget and devote it to PPC marketing, splitting that 70% between Google (60%), Yahoo (30%) and MSN (10%).
“That gives the best return. It is getting competitive but we have technology that allows companies to produce adverts and keywords for every single product and every combination that someone would type in – the long tail of keywords.”
According to Cross, technology like Adprecision’s can also be used for yield management, only displaying holidays on the search engines with availability. Ensuring the landing page of the website is well optimised and relevant is also crucial. “Too often advertisers point people to the home page. Even if you remove one or two clicks the conversion rate improves.”
A further 20% of the monthly £250,000 budget would be invested in natural SEO and creating specific landing pages for every single product to improve rankings through easy ‘spiderable’ pages.
The final 10% would be spent on price comparison sites such as Travelsupermarket, Kelkoo and Sidestep to ensure the entire holiday product range was included in their listings.
“PPC will still dominate for some years but comparison sites are creeping up,” says Cross.
The Scenario: Fly and Flop Holidays carries 20,000 to 350,000 passengers to the Med annually and has a monthly online marketing budget of £25,000.
Steak Media director of strategy Duncan Parry says: “The first step is an audit on the company to find out its market knowledge, demand for its product and the impact of seasonality, so that the budget can be ‘unevenly’ spread throughout the year. The audit would also look at site design, URLs and general accessibility as well as what content needs adding or improving.
“This is crucial because the business could have a problem that is not related to the website – companies could be wasting their money.”
Analytics is also vital to provide companies with enough information on where sales are coming from. Parry adds: “That can give you 10% to 25% more conversions. Once you know where sales are coming from you can put your team into working harder on those areas. The technology takes 10 minutes to implement.”
In the short term, Parry believes companies should focus on maximising paid search and once optimisation improves and traffic rises they need to reassess the budget.
If companies can increase the online budget they should start looking at buying space in other websites such as Teletext. Parry also says companies should have both online and offline marketing activity for credibility and advises looking at other online techniques such as e-mail and affiliates.
Moving on, Fly and Flop Holidays has now got a successful website attracting 1.5 million visitors a month but needs to work on conversions.
Neutralize technical director Edward Cowell says: “We would look at the analytics the company has in place because it seems it doesn’t know what is driving its conversions.”
Following that Neutralize would devote 30% of the budget to organic search and 70% to PPC. Cowell also advises looking at the structure of the site because it appears 1.25-1.4 million visitors are coming to the site
organically, which is worth maintaining.
For the paid search strategy Neutralize would focus on improving conversion by optimising landing and conversion pages. “We would focus on the most profitable areas because it cannot afford to compete with PPC. If it can get a 1% rise in conversion it would be a huge boost to sales.”
It also needs to squeeze more sales out of the traffic it receives, putting 10% of the budget into conversion issues or a client e-mail.
The Scenario: Sandcastles in the Sky is an operator carrying less than 20,000 passengers to the Med every year. It has a monthly online marketing budget of £2,500.
Cheeze marketing and business development group head James Lunn says for more modest budgets, blogs and podcasts have potential. It’s a less mature market when it comes to pricing structure and competition.
Using planning tools such as BLAD, Cheeze’s blog and podcast advertising directory, the firm could buy inventory on a blog that could generate thousands of page impressions. However, it’s a fickle market that needs to be optimised and monitored closely.
With a monthly budget of £2,500, a realistic option would be to work to develop a natural SEO campaign. It’s a good way of attracting targeted traffic on a limited budget. The challenging aspect is aligning the client’s site with competitive core search terms. Optimising against tail terms, which is often easier to achieve, can supply traffic with a higher propensity to transact with your product or service. It’s a proven way of generating cost-effective sales.
An alternative to SEO would be to approach an affiliate network. By working out what you can afford to pay for a new customer, there’s no reason why you couldn’t strike a payment-by-results remuneration package with the affiliate network. This approach provides a taste of the benefits of digital advertising, but with less risk.
The scenario has changed slightly and Sandcastles is now specialising in luxury spas.
Latitude Group account director travel/leisure, Brendan Crawford, would split the £2,500 across all online channels and look to use as much free functionality, such as Google Earth, as possible. He would devote part of the budget, about £700, to direct mail or a newsletter and getting a story out on a facility such as PR Newswire because of the increasing popularity of well-being holidays.
Crawford would also invest in link directories as well as having links to all the individual destinations and resorts the operator offers and a site such as Wellbeing.com.
“It makes your site more and more relevant to the person on it,” he says.
Blogging and product reviews would be more effective than investment in banners and pop-ups because, being a luxury spa specialist, the operator’s staff would have a strong insight into the product and could give first-hand experience of the resorts.
The remaining £1,800 would be invested in search, but focusing on the long-tail of search or deeper terms, which could be related to a special type of treatment, for example.
“The person buying is educated on what they are buying and where they are looking for it.”