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August 12, 2009

Four Paths to Success in a Tough Travel Economy

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We’re in the vertical & B2B track for this one. Our moderator is Elisabeth Osmeloski, Director of Online Media, Adventures in Search. Our speaker line up is:

  • Benu Aggarwal, Founder & President, Milestone Internet Marketing
  • Michelle Stern, Client Services Director, iProspect
  • Roger Wong, Product Manager, Bing Travel
  • Carrie Hill, Director of Search Strategies & SearchEnigineWatch Expert, Blizzard Internet Marketing

Benu Aggarwal
Benu Aggarwal, Milestone Internet Marketing

Benu steps up first. She’s going to focus on the organic path. For a comprehensive e-marketing plan, start with market and customer analysis. Then think about the product and incorporate that in your marketing strategy. But before you start doing research, think about geo-targets, lines of business, USPs, niche travel words and attractions. Make a table with these headings as columns and you’ll have a table for focusing your plan.

If you have a travel package, be sure you’re including unique and valuable offers.

Site conversion factors:

  • Offer exceptional value packages
  • Lowest rates guaranteed
  • Customer reviews
  • Maps and directions
  • Blog featuring local info
  • Ad promotion on social media networks
  • Search engine friendly two-minute video
  • Offer trackable time-sensitive coupons
  • Phone number, address on ever page
  • Photo gallery
  • Flat site architecture
  • Reservation menu
  • Crawlable community maps
  • Printable ebrochures

Visitors are coming to your travel site because they want to find things to do, see photos, book reservations and get offers.

You should have an organic promotion strategy. First things first: own your local listing! Upload your profile, add pictures and videos. Also make sure your info on Internet Yellow Pages are correct. Then contact your local chamber of commerce. Add attractions to Wikipedia. The links aren’t followed by the traffic will come.

Ultimately, your goal is to rank high for your name and for relevant keyword phrases. Why your name? There are going to be travel sites that rank for your name. With an enhanced listing, with a map or a blog, they will get to know you.

If you have a duplicate local listing, combine them so you don’t nullify both because of the duplicate.

Final tips:

  • Create comprehensive marketing plan
  • Identify long tail keyword phrases and bundle it up
  • Add conversion facts to your site
  • Add coupons, time sensitive value added offers
  • Track online and offline conversions such as calls, coupons
  • Focus on enhancing and verifying local profiles, validating feeds
  • Get links from authoritative local site in that area
  • Identify relevant niche markets and create strategies to convert those
  • Make sure key Internet Yellow Pages have accurate information

Michelle Stern
Michelle Stern, iProspect

Michelle is up next. She asks the audience to raise your hand if you have a rotary phone in your home. No one raises their hand. That’s because it doesn’t meet our needs. There’s a need for search marketing campaigns to evolve as well. But how to do that in a down economy? Let’s look at a case study. WTH is one of the nation’s largest leisure travel company, partnering with companies like Orbitz and Expedia.

This happened last December — the economy’s big dive and an important time for WTH. With the economic turmoil, conversions in December and January decreased. But people were still searching. They planned to improve conversions by looking at the 4 highest traffic terms in the campaign. They looked at search volume year-over-year. Three were steady but one, “cheap cruise”, had really spiked. This was insight into the consumer mindset. You may not want to negatively impact the brand by emphasizing cheap travel, but you may be able to mitigate any damage by balancing it with customer reviews and service.

They realized that not all travelers are created equal. They recognized four profiles and decided to test copy for each profile groups around the keyword. In tests they saw the new copy had a decreased cost per click and a higher conversion rate. Conversions increased 16 percent year over year for top ad groups.

Lessons learned:

  • Integrate with other channels. Search is an opportunity to get a real-time pulse of consumers.
  • Speak in the customers language, not yours. They will listen! It sounds basic, but it’s so often not applied.
  • Create promotions and a sense of urgency. Give them a reason to buy now, creating promotions that set you apart from your competition. Capture contact information so you can remarket those who don’t convert at a later point.

Carrie Hill
Carrie Hill, Blizzard Internet Marketing

Carrie’s next and will focus on social media, touching on mobile and local marketing as well. She’s going to look at dealing with shrinking budgets, especially in the not-so-accountable social media space. But what happens if you ignore social media? You’re leaving opportunities for competitors and won’t know what’s being said about you or your industry.

How do you find out who your audience is? Use demographic keyword tools. Watch the bloggers that cover your area by searching your key terms In blog search. And look at your referral traffic. You can always ask as well.

Getting involved isn’t about being everywhere. It’s about being where the conversations are, which vary depending on who you are and what fits your client. Track the conversation with URL shorteners that track clicks. Correlate tweet and FB updates with spikes in site traffic (use this to sell the C suite). Alerts are useful, too.

What’s the ROI?

  • Brand recognition
  • Track revenue from social networks with Google Analytics event tracking
  • Happy guests that talk about their experience
  • What is the return on ignoring?

Facebook tips:

Be genuine, personable and always professional.
Set up a fan page and promote it on your Web site.
Don’t only post links and promotional material. Share videos, images and stories and answer questions.

Twitter tips:

  • Grab attention with deals
  • Offer exclusive deals and codes
  • Answer questions
  • Promote your presence on your site
  • Don’t auto DM followers
  • Don’t post a link in every single update — it looks contrived

Integrating your approach:

  • Use a client to help you. She likes Hootsuite with Ping.FM
  • Post to Twitter, Facebook, MySpace and LinkedIn all at once
  • Schedule tweets for future posting
  • Save keywords searches
  • Track link clicks
  • Integrate in your staff’s email signature
  • Don’t forget to tell the visitor where they can find you in social media

And finally, here are a couple mobile and local tips:

Local & Mobile Search slide

[David Mihm’s Local Search Ranking Factors –Susan]

Roger is here to give us practical tips for Bing Travel. Online travel continues to grow. Most travelers still plan to take trips in the current economy. And many travel companies are reacting well to the environment. Information reported in June 2009 from PhoCusWright Inc. shows that boomers are being hit more than other generations. This means that marketers can target the user groups that aren’t as heavily affected by the recession.

Roger Wong
Roger Wong, Bing Travel

Test ad copy optimized to target younger travelers expected to spend more on travel and are less impacted than boomers. Go beyond looking at just keywords to better understand what motivates different segments of the population to travel and what features/messages matter to them and tailor campaigns to target those users more effectively.
Expect future systems to incorporate more advanced segmentation.

Travel metasearch Web sites, travel guide web sites and social networking web sites are standing out as three typically used shopping travel sites. Some major SEM engines also provide text ad syndication to many travel sites. Ask your account manager where your ad could show up and find out what keywords these partners use to request ads.

Search behavior and the long tail is another area to pay attention to. They looked at travel research overall and found an increased sophistication in the way searchers look for travel info. There’s been a huge growth in the long-tail of car rental searches. They’ve taken advantage of these trends in Bing by building out pages that refine things like hotel info.

As for staycations, there’s evidence that people are taking shorter trips and staying closer to home. They’re helping travel clients build out local attractions and targets. One adCenter client increased hotel and vacation packages traffic significantly by targeting local attractions such as museums, national parks and tourist attractions.

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