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The Online Marketing Toolkit for Travel Start-ups

Author's avatar By Expert commentator 19 Jun, 2013
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Search and social media marketing advice for travel marketing

It’s not an uncommon process for a firm at start-up level to take their passion for a product or a service and jump head first into an enterprise that can very easily run away, become unsustainable and ultimately fail.

The advent of the online option for travellers to purchase was a great leveller in the travel industry. Distribution was not limited to high street chains as independents could conceivable set up a shop window with 24-hour visibility, seven days a week.

Several years later, the big names have flexed their financial muscle in an attempt to dominate the online channel but I’m a firm believer (and more a fan of David than Goliath) that there is enough for the little guy (and gal) to make a nice living.

This post is not intended to be a review of business models, simply a guide with some relevant links to digital marketing best practice that can be employed by one man bands, home workers or high street travel firms looking to make the most of a sexy product. After all, selling holidays to people probably beats selling sewage treatment to folks [Ed: I use to develop software for that market and it rocked!].

Data, data, data

So let’s start with knowing your data. It’s essential that whatever activity you carry out, you’re able to review what impact it had (or didn’t have) on your site.

Google Analytics probably represents the best value for money tool there is for any business with an interest online. Work your way through these suggestions and you’ll have this great tool ready and able to offer up actionable insight into how your site is used:

Ensure Google Analytics is installed on every page of your site, otherwise your data could become seriously flawed. The above link will show you how to run that check with the mighty Screaming Frog.


  • Set up an 'All Data' profile to capture everything, this will act as a data back up for the next point…
  • Set up a profile that has a filter excluding traffic from IP addresses that regularly use the site (staff may use it as a reference tool) and from the IPs of those that perform site maintenance
  • Set up a profile that filters data for significant entities like a regularly updated blog. Should you want to review data for this part of your site, having a filtered profile will allow you to navigate the standard reports easier. Again, add a filter to exclude data from 'internal' traffic

Brian Clifton has a useful 10 Point Check List to Setup Your Google Analytics Properly and Dan Barker can bring you up to speed on the recent Nine Google Analytics Changes to help you understand where everything is.

These might seem too 'techy' if you’re first starting out, but time spent getting Analytics set up now will pay off in valuable insights further down the line and this will save you money, if not make you money.

Now it’s forgivable to be overawed by the scale of information Google Analytics can give you, so it’s worth thinking about what you want to get out of the data.

So taking into account the major traffic mediums, you could start by saying the following are key to understanding how your site is used:

  • SEO traffic – what traffic comes to you following a query in a search engine
  • Paid traffic – traffic that comes to your site following a click on an ad you’ve bid on
  • Social Media traffic –traffic attributable to social networks

Our very own Anna at Koozai has written extensively on getting the most out of your free Google Analytics account, but the best post if you’re starting to get to grips with Analytics, which also includes free dashboards and reports ready to be pasted into your account, is her post following her Quickfire analytics speaking slot at BrightonSEO last year.

So let’s look at how you’re going to get busier than ever… Google AdWords – PPC

Google Adwords for the travel industry

Travel has lowest Click through Rate, but highest Average Cost per Click (CPC) of the major industries reviewed by Wordstream. With many commission reductions having caused ripples in the sector, there is less meat on the bone for what is potentially a risky endeavour.

Working a bit smarter should help mitigate that risk and allow you to take advantage of the only way of guaranteeing top spot on a search engine result page.

Tips to help with your ranking

  • For money terms such as brand names, my recommendation would be to break brands out in to separate brand based campaigns to isolate any poor performance and protect your successes with long tail terms.
  • Keep reviewing your Search Query report for any unnecessary negatives. Eliminating wasted impressions will improve Click through Rate and benefit your Average Position.
  • Take advantage of the site links/location/email extensions AdWords allow. The improved richness of your ads will attract more clicks.
  • • Break out campaigns to target specifics like locations, mobile and tablet. Here you will be able to tailor your ad copy to really sell that click.

Google AdWords - Remarketing

Remarketing came to the fore in the latter part of 2012 as greater functionality and low Cost Per acquisitions made this an avenue worth spending time understanding.

The facts are that it can be efficient, cheap, and great for branding too.The art lies in identifying and building specific lists of users to remarket to. 

Some suggestions might be to target:

  • People looking but not buying, ie shop cart abandoners
  • Those who buy habitually, ie book their holiday at the same time of year each year
  • Upsell high spenders.

Then, using a cookie from Google Analytics, you can present a specific advert to that audience on sites that have opted into Google Display network –pretty clever stuff. Make sure you comply with the privacy requirements though. This post has a great set of tips for getting the most out of remarketing -last plug for Koozai honest!

Developing Organic Traffic

Moving to on-page topics now, there are a million and one posts on how to 'optimise' your website, but the facts are you need to understand what it is your visitors want from you.

Once you’ve grasped that, you can 'lightly' label your site to help search engines extract relevant information and present you as an authority on a specific topic.

The big thing to remember here is that this is a long game. Ethical SEO (which in itself is another blog post) works. Unethical SEO works too (pause for dramatic effect) however the longevity of each approach is very different.

If you’re prepared to commit over the long term, you will yield more by concentrating on becoming known by users and search engines as a reference point for a particular subject. Google in particular is getting smarter at adjusting ranking positions for sites that are 'over optimising.'

So have a clear idea of what term your page is most relevant for and use that in its Meta structure. Spend some time looking at the Schema vocabulary search engines are developing in order to understand and present specific information.

Some examples would be:

  • Authorship: if you have a blog that is updated regularly (praise be!) then take advantage of this rich snippet. As demonstrated on the right, there are further trust signals demonstrated when Authorship details are shown which can increase Click through Rates
  • Local Business Information: contact details and address details as well as longitude and latitude dimensions written up in Schema will aid your presence in local results as search engines will be able to quickly understand a description of your business and the area you operate in
  • Geo Tag: perhaps not strictly Schema, but if a local presence is vital to you then you might consider adding a Geo Tag to your site. This will help verify your location and chime those location signals search engine look for
  • Reviews: this type of mark-up gives your search engine result (your advert basically) an extra dimension as, in spite of the Trip Advisor fake review scandal, people still like to know what people think of a possible holiday destination
  • Product and Price: Schema exists to add a clear description of a particular product and also to display prices in your search engine result. These are massive incentives for users to click-through with

For more guidance, visit this page from Google’s Web Master Tools for an overview of using Schema mark –up  and this site for a handy Schema generator tool which will take some of the coding headache away for you.

Turning On The Social Tap

If ever there was an industry with a synergy for social sharing then it is travel. Social media is another great leveller.

Success isn’t achieved here by gaming an algorithm, it is simply down to tapping into what people want to talk about.

Travel has an almost unique aspirational value to it, in that people spend time literally daydreaming about going on holiday, but more importantly, are likely at least once a year to live out that dream!

And what better tools of distraction and daydream fuel is there but social networks.
Establishing a presence on Facebook should now be mandatory, firstly in order to build some interaction with potential users of your site, but also so that your brand becomes known in the soon to be deployed Graph Search.

Make sure your business, service, contact details and location are labelled correctly in your Facebook page so that you don’t miss out when the indexing starts.

There is massive opportunity to tap into Pinterest’s strengths. To the uninitiated cave-dwellers, Pinterest is a social network based on image sharing. It has become one of the fastest growing networks, ranking 4th in January 2013 with 85 million visits per month. Users create boards by topic, share Pins to those boards which are displayed to a user’s follower base and also go into Pinterest’s own feed which can be segmented by a number of topic groupings.

What I see as the great match Pinterest provides to holiday dreamers is that it is a tool more for discovery than for networking, that’s just a fringe benefit. In fact, you don’t really need to connect in order to consume.

But there is so much to consume and discover that it is a MUST for travel companies, as not only does this present itself as a good source of inbound links if you’re clever with sharing original, captivating content, but it can also drive some serious referral traffic - Win Win!

Case study on Jetsetter

A great case study is the contest ran by Jetsetter, a website set up by a community of travellers to provide travel information.

They saw a 150% increase in referral traffic off the back of a Pinterest contest.

The concept was not revolutionary, but simply tapped into the desires of holiday makers. It was well thought out though, taking advantage of how you can build a brand on Pinterest whilst engaging with a user base.


For more details on how the campaign was realised, see this link to Mashable’s Jetsetter Pinterest Contest write up.

I hope there are some actionable takeaways from this post. I may have missed an obvious tactic or there may be other relevant case studies to be learned from. Either way, let me know. Thanks for reading.

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