In my last column, I started exploring some of the tools my fellow search marketers use daily, not only as a matter of discovery, but as a practice of developing deeper online marketing strategies for client sites. But what I'm left wondering about and pondering daily -- among all the excellent examples of the most basic tools we use for travel SEO/SEM -- are we getting left in the stone age, or are we moving forward with making real business decisions around the data?
Are we just so mesmerized by the glitz and glam of the coolest, latest and greatest iteration of FaceSpace, MyBook or SuckedIn -- or whatever the flavor of the day is -- that we've become oblivious to basic principles of marketing? How about creating a product that fulfills a specific need, is well positioned against its competition, is priced appropriately, and is promoted within the right context? How can you even know if you're going in the right direction if you don't have a virtual roadmap?
In all of the examples for keyword research, traffic trends, and metrics, I found it most surprising that no travel marketers mentioned categorical reports focused on online travel or Web search behavior, including those from industry organizations focused on travel, such as PhocusWright, EyeForTravel, and Forrester Research. It's even more surprising when you consider the industry's propensity for data-gathering, traditional metrics, and analysis when it comes to consumer trends in travel.
Now, I can make the case that the world of search marketing and traditional travel marketing haven't fully met each other yet, but that doesn't mean there's not room for maturation on one side, as well as awareness and acceptance of new technologies and fresh approaches on the other.
We know that Travel 2.0 companies and the (now) well established OTAs clearly understand the latter. Their overall authority in the online space helps them compete in search, but what about the less mature companies? Or at least, how can the niche players in the travel industry rise up among these category killers, who are slowly, but surely infiltrating every aspect of online travel media?
Going back to my responses from travel search marketers, some comments from Dennis Deacon stood out to me: "As my clients tend to be niche agents, the challenge I face is tweaking the keywords used to target only a specific sub-type of travel, such as adventure or small-ship cruises instead of general mainstream cruises."
The comprehensive 'state of the travel industry' reports from Hitwise are, at minimum, a general gauge on the pulse of the traveling public. They give a glimpse into how they use the Web for travel research and planning. While the 'top sites' and 'top keywords' reports are typically filled with the usual suspects, the 'Fast Movers' category is often filled with promising new entrants, prospective advertising and promotional partners. It also shows some excellent examples of niche travel products such as those that Mr. Deacon mentioned. Secondarily, the demographic and geographic data is incredibly useful to hone in on your prospective travel buyers.
If nothing else, such categorical reports and surveys are an excellent starting point for competitive intelligence, but you may come across a site -- or several -- that provide a refreshing bit of inspiration to craft your own masterful campaigns.
How to Go from Tools to Tasks
Sitting under a pile of data, it's easy to see how many companies become overwhelmed with the process of sorting through it all, honing in on the best strategy (or strategies) to implement based on resources available, and executing on at least one in a timely and successful manner. Choosing which project to focus on based on the opportunity, resources available, and your chance to be a 'fast mover' in any arena is a daunting task, particularly without any clarity of purpose.
At the end of the day, all the keyword data in the universe doesn't amount to anything if it's not in line with your business objectives. It's equally useless if you don't have a good idea of who your potential customers are, as well as what elements will help drive them to the point of conversion.