5 Tips for Travel Search Marketing in a Down Economy

Speculation has been rampant about how the travel industry will weather the economic storm, while search marketers everywhere scramble to squeeze whatever they can out of marketing budgets before they dry up completely. Justifying the cost of SEO and SEM is only one piece of the battle, and trying to get resources for social media marketing proves more difficult when few have figured out an actual monetization strategy.

Here are five tips that may help stretch your budgets in the short term and grow your business in the long term.

1. Bid Smarter for Less

Paid search campaigns might be the hardest hit in this market. If a PPC program isn’t performing, it probably will be one of the first to go. Re-tool and fine-tune your campaigns with some of the tips found in Search Engine Watch’s Profitable PPC column, by focusing on conversions of course, and consider prudence versus aggressiveness in your campaigns.

2. Capitalize on Content Opportunities

The weak economy is one of the best excuses to focus on created deal-driven content. Producing features covering cheap eats, free family activities, and destinations with favorable exchange rates will pay off dividends, even after the markets bounce back.

Mainstream media and traditional journalists will eat up any budget-busting tips you can send their way, so good old-fashioned media relations will be a solid investment. And don’t forget to push links out through online PR channels.

3. Target Your Travelers

Seems like a no-brainer, but if you aren’t getting into the mindset of your audience, you aren’t getting into their wallets either. Of course, price slashing will have the most impact on direct sales and, unfortunately, your bottom line in the short term. If you can gain the loyalty of the traveler by offering rewards for friends’ trips booked, you might successfully grow your customer base for sunnier days.

Experiential and eco-friendly travel are both still hot, so appealing to those sensibilities will make travelers feel better through escapism.

Also, think local, not global. You may uncover an entirely new customer base in your own back yard. Appeal to those within a 50 to 100 mile radius (with special offers) and target those who are staying close to home because they can’t afford anything further.

4. Connect with Consumers

Use this time to dig into tools like Twitter, blogs, and forums to discover pain points with your audience.

Online reputation management here is critical. You can’t afford to lose customers due to a bad rap, so highlight your commitment to customer service. Many consumers are willing to pay a little more if they feel they have a relationship with you.

If you can re-tool any product offerings that would resonate with complainers, like ditching checked bag fees because a competitor doesn’t charge for them, now is a good time.

5. Creativity Counts in SMO

Companies are starting to experiment with different methods of effectively monetizing social media, beyond the typical sponsor messages and Google Ads appearing before video content. For example, the Facebook App, GeoChallenge has free games, but if you want to play the European Tour, it’s $4.99, or you can sign up for a free trial if you’re willing to accept offers from marketing partners. Co-branding and cross promotions with related travel companies in situations like this will help stretch limited marketing budgets further.

Another route: create game apps that always run for free, and have a limited time offer or coupon code for high scorers. As players move up in points, the offer changes. I’m a becoming a big fan of the hybrid model where you get an incentive for participating and inviting others while building links and brand awareness at the same time.

Over on YouTube, Mount Snow Ski Resort created their own channel for smart marketing on a shoestring budget. Their regular episodes of “Right Arm” and “Mount Snow Minute” are fun, engaging, and extremely targeted at their audience. Even aging Gen Xers (like me) and older will enjoy this young and fresh video for the information in it. You can also tell there isn’t a lot invested in production costs, which makes it all the more appealing. It simply works.

If you’re having trouble thinking of creative YouTube ideas, hire some college interns (cheap!) to come up with storyboards and produce clips that will go viral. After all, this is the medium of the next generation — they get it. Just remember to layer your experience and savvy as professional marketers on top.

Don’t just create the content and forget it. Spread the word through the appropriate social channels and identify key influencers to grow page views. Create those calls to action at the end of videos to book a vacation with special rate codes (highly measurable), send around incentives (free lift tickets) to forward e-mails to friends, and you’ll see subscriber lists grow.

See Elisabeth Osmeloski speak at Search Engine Strategies Chicago December 8-12, where she’ll be leading the conversations for Igniting Viral Campaigns, Getting Vertical Search Right, and Brand and Reputation Management.

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