Peter Matthews – Site Seeing: Ad clicking

I read recently that less of us are clicking on Internet adverts – particularly those ‘skyscrapers’, beloved of media websites and newspapers. According to Adtech, an ad-serving technology firm (who should know about these things) only 0.11% of users now click on these pulsating vertical billboards, compared to 0.2% who click on good old-fashioned horizontal banners. Overall, click-through rates for online ads averaged 0.18% in March 2007, dramatically down from 0.35% in June 2006.

So, isn’t it just a little weird that while average CTRs are at an all-time low, Google, Microsoft and WPP are all paying eye-watering multiples for Internet advertising companies? Google’s just paid $3.1 billion for DoubleClick, Microsoft $6 billion for Aquantive and, not to be left out, WPP forked out $649 million for 24/7 RealMedia. Do they know something we don’t know, or do advertisers not know what we know?

Having studiously avoided clicking on online adverts in the past for fear of being ‘cookied’, I have just spent a few hours experimenting. My purpose? To see what kind of travel sites are spending big-time marketing bucks on display Internet advertising, and whether the sites they are promoting this way would do better investing some cash in usability or design.

There is a wise old saying about advertising, which went something like this: “I know I’m wasting half my advertising budget; I just don’t know which half”. Now, with decent web analytics telling us some heavily promoted travel sites have bounce rates of more than 50%, perhaps it’s a case of “I know I’m wasting 54.75% of my advertising budget; I just don’t know what else to do”.

And for Google, Microsoft and WPP, where there’s waste, there’s wonga…

Advertiser: British Airways

At the time of writing, British Airways’ New Club World was running an online promotion with the travel section of my favourite newspaper, The Independent.

A typical banner advert leads not to the site, but to a promotional page sponsored by BA, but also featuring other advertisers such as Villas4You and Channel Five. The rest is well-designed editorial of the calibre you would expect from Simon Calder’s talented crew.

Click on the next British Airways logo and you link to and an explanation of the New Club World product.

I’m quite an admirer of the booking side of the website and use it all the time to look for flights and check prices. What I particularly like is the ease with which you can change one element of your trip (ie. the destination) and everything else is held in your session. This way you can select dates and just change destinations to work through numerous options. Excellent. My only rant is that it only accepts six people in a booking and with six kids I can never get us all on one booking.

Getting back to New Club World and its part of the website, it’s pretty much basic boring templates here with various pop-ups to add some elan. Most of the content is ordered in fairly rigid small blocks of text, with ‘find out more’ links to more small blocks of content with ‘find out more’ links.

I quite enjoyed the ‘Bill’ ‘Bob’ and ‘Karen’ passenger perspectives, with good use of in-sync videologues, but the ‘New Club World take a tour’ had me totally befuddled. Was this really what you get at the terminal, or an allegory for what it’s like on board? Take a look and tell me if you’re confused, or just confused.

Then there’s BA’s innovation of sleep podcasts for Dr Sleep to synchronise your inner bodyclock…

BA scorecard

Design: 19/25
Usability: 21/25
Content: 17/25 (would have been higher but for fatuous ‘take a tour’)
Revenue generation: 16/25 (for influencing preference/upgrades)
Overall score: 73/100

Advertiser: Thomson

The new-look TravelMail has just launched, featuring refreshed content and sporting a new design, destination guides, promotions and more.

Thomson appears to spending big money on advertising with TravelMail with a conventional click-though approach and adverts leading to the home page.

The home page asks you to select ‘holidays’, ‘flights’ or ‘hotels’ plus a ‘fantastic destinations’ map and not one, but two ‘search Thomson’ search boxes. The proposition seems to include something for everyone, articulated as ‘book your whole holiday or the bits that suit you’ with ‘whole’ and ‘bits’ highlighted in red.

Beneath ‘holidays’, ‘flights’ or ‘hotels’ appears a secondary set of choices: ‘villas’, ‘cruises’ and ‘city breaks’, so with a half-term break in Corsica or Sardinia in mind I selected ‘villas’.

The search was easy to use; by selecting France/Corsica (surprisingly the only destination available in France) the results showed seven villas, most with plastic loungers. I settled on La Tour de Micalona, a lovely looking converted 14th century tower near Porto Pollo, sans plastic loungers. The expanded details were good and more photos were available than on many comparable sites. I was feeling confident.

Then, I changed the destination to repeat a search for Italy/Sardinia. There I found another seven results and at number six was another villa called La Tour de Micalona, a lovely looking converted 14th century tower near Porto Pollo… I tried again, same result. I looked at the other properties, and some of these were also featured in my first search and others weren’t, but all were in Corsica, not Sardinia; France, not Italy. Was this poor geographical orientation or a product database issue? I was alarmed, my early confidence was wrecked.

Thomson scorecard

Design: 20/25
Usability: 22/25
Content: 16/25 (oh dear; so near, but so far)
Revenue generation: 16/25
Overall score 74/100 (could have been 80+, but for the data woes)

Advertiser: Mandarin Oriental

Where do you go to intercept a city high-roller online? Well, I tried the Financial Times’ website and swaggered to the travel section.

Compared with the other newspapers, the travel section was rather thin in terms of content and generally uninspiring, with some eyewitness city guides and half a dozen other articles.

However, this paucity of content didn’t stop Mandarin Oriental buying the main banner, so with little else to engage me here, I clicked on the attractive advertising and became a fan. Or did I?

Being a great admirer of Mandarin Oriental’s hotels and, in particular, its Asian perspective on service, I expected great things of its website. Oh, the gaps you often find between brand promise and reality…

The opening flash movie’s soundtrack put me in an Asian-fusion mood, but it lasted mere moments before it left me hanging with only a graphically fragmented home page and fussy graphics for company. Where I had expected to be immersed in soothing, tempting images and narrative I found only flotsam and ephemera.

I headed for Hong Kong and one of the finest hotels in the world. But instead of being indulged in impulse purchase, I found myself clicking on ‘book now’ and looking at a basic Synxis booking engine that generated results with no more flair than a website.

When I found a room description page, it didn’t make me feel much better. Small pictures or unnecessary, superimposed templates continued the over-designed theme.

This is a crying shame when the brand is as good as Mandarin Oriental. The website works, but not as a brand experience.

Just compare this with the soon-to-be-launched Amanresorts websites…

Mandarin Oriental scorecard

Design: 11/25
Usability: 17/25
Content: 17/25
Revenue generation: 17/25
Overall: 62/100 (this fan is very disappointed)

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience. Learn more