A look at travel distribution online in SEARCH – Beyond Google. Part-One of a Two-Part series.
Over the past 5-years, online travel booking revenue has grown by more than 73%, with 57% of all travel reservations now made online. (eMarketer; 2014)
Travel marketers know that a large portion of their digital advertising budgets should be focused on driving targeted traffic to the website, and that organic search and paid search advertising campaigns in Google are a critical part of hotel distribution in today’s connected world.
During this time Google has become the MOTHERSHIP of search engines. Consumer use of search has skyrocketed with no signs of slowing down, even with time spent online becoming increasingly divided by time spent on social networks, news platforms, gaming and streaming of media, as well as search. Having said that, Google Adwords is an extremely smart advertising platform that has set the standard in the digital industry, and absolutely offers marketers the tools, the reach, targeting options, and the conversion data to prove it.
The current state of search for Travel
Over the past decade, the travel sector specifically has become heavily reliant on search, and all signs point to more to come. Device targeting and other smart optimization tools will continue to bring advertisers closer to the point of consumer conversion.
” The challenge in our reliance on Google search as a key distribution channel for travel is that Google Adwords is becoming increasingly expensive, with other large travel category advertisers such as OTA’s, brands and meta-search sites driving up the cost-per-click and overall cost of paid search. “
To add to this, Google is still adjusting how organic and paid search displays with ongoing changes to where locally optimized businesses are placed.
This is getting extremely complex when we look at travel search in Google, with changes happening continually in how results are displayed.
I am sure all travel marketers would agree, it has become more expensive to play the search game year over year, which is also reducing its efficiency in providing targeted reach, and converted sales – at a reasonable cost-per-conversion for advertisers.
The travel as a sector is heavily reliant on search, more so than in other industries including retail, automotive or consumer packaged goods. OTA’s, Hotel brands, Airlines, Meta Search engines, and other travel aggregators and intermediaries continue to dominate the paid search and content networks.
With increased costs associated with search, it will be difficult for smaller advertisers to continue to up the ante to compete for the consumer click.
In the past, only those located in markets like major city centers and popular destinations had to deal with high CPC’s, and usually the cost-per-acquisition of paid search compared with other advertising channels still made it an extremely effective sales channel.
Now with increased advertisers, specifically in Google’s paid search ad platform, search will likely become as expensive as television was in the past and perhaps more of a place for brand marketing and awareness campaigns.
This leaves travel marketers at a place once again of needing to shift digital dollars to a channels that have both the reach and engagement of the consumer – and that provide a healthy cost-per-acquisition.
Can travel advertisers afford not to look at other digital marketing channels?
Google Search will likely continue to be populated by larger travel category advertisers including major hotel brands and hotel groups, OTA’s, Airlines and other travel intermediaries such as meta-search engines like Trivago and even Tripadvisor.
Google Adwords will continue to offer extremely localized campaign options with more of a mobile focus for advertisers to target consumers closer to the point of conversion, but both CPC’s and cost to manage such complex marketing campaigns will continue to demand investment.
Travel marketer’s will need to be smarter with digital marketing planning and use smart data and analytics now more than ever. Annual digital media planning must include consideration and testing of other online advertising platforms to ensure hoteliers remain in control of their online sales channels as the travel buying process continues to become more and more fragmented across multiple devices and platforms.
Where should marketers be looking to spend digital marketing dollars? My recommendation is to plan ahead and test the waters.
Diversify your digital Adspend. Test and measure.
As search advertising continues to increase in cost, travel marketers should consider shifting online budgets to allow for testing of other digital distribution channels.
The sacrifice of a less mass audience reach may result in a more targeted consumer – at a lower cost-per-conversion. There are many of these marketing channels to explore.
Smart marketers will ensure that analytics are in place with key performance metrics and goal tracking, and then consider testing the waters more aggressively with some other highly effective digital marketing channels such as:
- Local Search (Google Places and Business pages Optimization): with deep segmentation based on device, geo targeting and call and link extensions.
- Yahoo/Bing Network Search: Approximately 1/3 of all search in US and Canada is delivered by Yahoo Bing. CPC’s are much lower, and audience is highly targeted for the travel industry. (more to follow in part-two of this series)
- Social Media: Content and resources to support with some adspend allocated will ensure that brand reputation is strong. Social media is not as likely to lead to a direct conversion (yet), but plays an important role in the consumer buying process. It is critical for marketers to manage CRM and the ever-important travel review.
- Tripadvisor Business listings provide for direct to property contact links (phone, website, deals pages) and special offers to drive direct, noncommissioned bookings.
- DMO’s – Destination Marketing Organizations need to play an active role in being the travel guide and destination expert via social media marketing and strong website assets pointing travelers to stakeholders to convert. Stakeholder partnerships, combined digital media buys on behalf of the destination, content partnerships and optimized business/property listings to drive referral traffic to hotels are a must.
Specifically, Hoteliers can expect that the OTA’s, hotel brands, major airlines and other major travel category advertisers will continue to increase their investment in search.
Moving forward, small to medium sized hotels and travel advertisers can leverage this. Hotels and other travel suppliers will need to be well positioned within each channel (Expedia, booking.com, kayak, Tripadvisor, etc.) – and then let the larger advertisers do the heavy lifting on digital channels such as:
- Google search and display, content and video (YouTube) ad networks
- Bing/Yahoo Ad network and content sites
- MetaSearch Engines (Kayak)
- Tripadvisor destination pages, display advertising, PPC
- Online travel advertisers such as Expedia, booking.com
- Brand marketing programs offered within major hotel chains such as Starwood and Marriott
Overall, travel marketers should be focusing on deeper optimization of ad campaigns across all platforms to keep spending as targeted as possible, and cost per conversions low.
Search marketing is important but will continue to increase in cost.
- According to eMarketer, 128 million people, or 63% of Internet users, will research travel online on their computer or through their mobile device this year. Of those, 83%, or 106 million people, will actually book travel
- Travel advertisers should consider advertising on other search channels: Consider placing some adspend towards Yahoo/Bing Search. According to YahooBing (and comscore), its search platform serves 1/3 of search to those not using the mothership (Google) and reaches 34% of the overall Mobile Search Market . This is key as consumers continue to increase time spent on mobile devices over desktop.
- Marketers need to continue to focus on analytics and campaign performance analysis with marketing, sales and revenue departments working together to ensure search drives rate as well as direct consumer acquisition, with a focus on price transparency in all places online.
Part two of this article will explore other digital advertising tactics that can provide deep customer targeting and access to travel consumers online and who are close to the point of sale. Until then, time to review the budget for 2015 and allow for some budget to test the waters – outside of the mothership.
Alicia Whalen is a digital + social media marketing strategist, author and speaker specializing in the travel and tourism industry. Alicia has spent over a decade driving successful digital marketing campaigns and educating tourism professionals about how to embrace digital and social media. An avid tweeter and lover of travel, technology and the Ah-Ha moments.
Additional article references: