Since the dawn of the Internet, people have been gradually changing the way they shop for vacations.
Fewer people visit travel agencies now, choosing to assemble their own vacations by buying the different elements separately.
This helps them get the best price, and also to read and share reviews of vacation experiences. It means that consumers are more informed than ever before.
Of course, there's still a place for travel firms that build the vacation for customers -- but, again, the web has changed the market and they have to compete online if they're going to compete at all.
Having worked on many travel search campaigns during the last few years, here are 10 top online marketing tips for the travel sector.
1. Plan Your Paid Search Budget Well
Many companies simply split their paid search budget into 12 pieces and market evenly throughout the year.
Travel is a different area, though, and the web-based traffic isn't equal throughout the different months. You need to manage your budget carefully so that you have more to spend during the summer, particularly at the start of the year when people are planning and booking their trips -- plus you may get some late opportunities in August when you can scoop up last minute bookings.
2. Don't Settle for the Sale Alone, Build Relationships
People value their vacations and they want to know they can trust the company they book with not to go out of business, send them somewhere unpleasant, or gouge them for every extra.
So if you've delivered great travel service, stay in touch with your customers. Send them e-mail offers, welcome their feedback, and remind them to book again the following year.
Chances are that if you served them well once, they will book with you again.
3. Invite Reviews
Again, the web allows people to read more about their specific travel destination than ever before -- and they will search for reviews.
Don't risk losing them from your site before the sale because they go looking for a review elsewhere. Give them what they want. Encourage satisfied customers to post a review of their trip on your site so new customers will be able to book with confidence.
4. Let People Share Content
It's not just reviews that get people coming back to your site. Why not encourage happy travelers to leave photographs to inspire future customers?
You could run competitions for the best travel picture each season and award a prize (perhaps a small discount on their next trip).
Photographs will build a sense of community on a site, encouraging repeat visits and inspiring new customers.
5. Run a Travel Blog
There are some enormously successful travel blogs out there and I've used a few in my time for travel inspiration. They are also great for your organic optimization.
Travel content containing lists and photos always works incredibly well to generate social media traffic and natural links. Here are some sites that will all help inspire a sense of possibility and excitement in your clients:
- 22 Incredible Photos of Faraway Places
- 28 things I wish I'd known before I started traveling
- Top 10 Baths with a View
- Top 10 Backpacking Travel Destinations for 2010
Many people want to do more than sit on a beach two weeks every year, but lack ideas. A blog is the perfect platform to inspire.
6. Make Use of Affiliate Marketing
Undeniably, affiliate marketing plays a considerable role in driving sales online.
Whether it's a travel comparison site, a blog, or a highly specialized website devoted to a particular travel niche, there's often good value for money in making use of affiliates.
7. Show You Care
Once your happy customers return to your website, delivering a really personalized service will cement your relationship.
Make sure your e-mail marketing is targeted to their demographic. If they booked two adults and two kids onto a family friendly cruise last year, there's probably not much point in offering them an adults-only trip to some island of excess.
Sending irrelevant travel information will obviously be less effective, but it will also alienate them and encourage them to associate your brand with spam.
8. Join up Your Online and Offline Marketing
There's no reason why your online and offline promotions should be working separately from one another. In fact, they should complement each other if you want your budget to work as hard as possible.
In an age when many of us play on the web while watching TV, any advertisement that doesn't encourage you to read more online is missing a trick.
9. Usability Has Never Been so Important
When people are shopping, chances are they will be using more than one website. That means your onsite usability is incredibly important. Potential customers simply won't accept any barriers to purchase -- they will go elsewhere.
One thing many travel sites fail to do is let people search by their own criteria. Not everyone knows what destination they want. Instead, they want to pick some dates and see some offers. Others may want to state their budget and be offered deals within that amount.
Make it easy for them to choose their trip based on their criteria, not yours.
10. Optimize for the Long Tail
Search engine optimization is hugely important for successful travel websites and it's most definitely worth targeting the more niche phrases.
People search for some pretty specific stuff when they're looking to booking a vacation, so this is a perfect opportunity to optimize your pages.
For example, [cheap flights” will be very hard to rank for but [cheap flights to Berlin”, [cheap flights to Moscow”, [cheap flights from London” -- these will be slightly less competitive. On top of that, you're targeting customers who are expressly interested in what you're offering and likely to be toward the latter stages of the travel buying cycle.
Meet Your Favorite Search Engine Watch Contributors
Many of SEW's leading expert contributors will be at ClickZ Live, the new online and digital marketing event kicking off in New York (March 31-April 3). Hear from the likes of: Thom Craver, Josh Braaten, Lisa Barone, Simon Heseltine, Josh McCoy, Lisa Raehsler, Greg Jarboe, Dan Cristo, Joseph Kerschbaum, John Gagnon, Eric Enge and more!