What Matters Most to Travel Search Marketers in 2008?

Now that we’re nearly through the first quarter, it’s time to check in on the accuracy of the many predictions for the future of search. Let’s take a look at some of the most common predictions, and see how they are beginning to play out in the travel space.

Universal Search — Will it Blend?

It’s coming. It’s here. Of course, if your travel company is already following the trend of creating multimedia content, such as making videos to post on YouTube or encouraging user-generated reviews, then you’re already well on your way to getting some additional play in blended or universal search results.

I’m going to go ahead and lump local into this group, because it seems to come into play most frequently when the search engines return location-specific results for lodging, attractions, and transportation information. But you’ve got to be prepared to implement this properly. For those who don’t have a true physical location in a popular travel destination, and can’t make use of local phone numbers and addresses, I hate to say it, but you better come up with Plan B. Fast.

SMO & Facebook Failures

Let’s face it, getting on the front page of Digg is not likely to be tops on a travel marketer’s list of priorities. Perhaps by the end of the year, though, getting popular on Mixx might be. Now that this button is showing up in hot places like the New York Times Travel section, alongside the Facebook icon, where you can also manage your submissions and feeds, we may actually see some results coming down the road from getting Mixx’d.

Along with your basic local listing information, you’ll also need to make the most of your social network profiles. That means you must engage in the activity, join the conversation, and contribute to the network.

Unless you have the resources to manage an unlimited amount of profiles – and who does? – you must prioritize by testing a few and then dropping those that don’t produce any return. Of the profiles that show early promise, your best bet is to build up a select few and stay on top of them.

There’s little doubt that travel lends itself well to the most popular social networking tools on the Web. As I write this, there are 174 travel applications on Facebook, but of those, it seems like only two have actually been able to prove themselves. The two most popular examples – TripAdvisor’s Cities I’ve Visited (with more than 60,000 daily users) and TravelPod’s Traveler IQ (with more than 20,000 daily users) – both blow away the competition. No other apps even come close.

Talk about a blow to the ego – you think you’ve developed the next killer Facebook app, only to have it flop. Try, try, again, and find some way to jazz up the creativity in your approach until something sticks.

You’ve Got a Bad Rap, Now What?

Oh the humanity of user-generated reviews! Nothing new of course, but we’re finally starting to amass some decent buzz-monitoring tools to track what travelers are saying about service providers. If you’re not in tune to some of these new tools, then you’re already behind in getting ahead during 2008.

Here’s the good news about semi-negative reviews (or even positive comments): you can join the conversation once you discover the same problems popping up again and again. Was there a problem with the front desk staff? Let users know you’ve fired them or at least provided new training or implemented new customer service policies. Got complaints about a bad night of sleep in your hotel? Share the fact that you just replaced all the sagging mattresses with pillow top pleasures.

Mo’ Ads, More Problems?

Of course, we can’t forget good ol’ paid search advertising. The one constant in online marketing is paid search advertising and how competitive it is. The saving grace may be that this aspect of SEM (define) is getting even more sophisticated. But that means more time and resources must be dedicated to running these campaigns effectively in such a competitive space. With average CPCs (define) topping 72 cents, you better be ready to pay for play.

Since I’m in throes of finalizing the agenda for the SES Travel Forum, I’d love to get some reader feedback on what really matters to search marketers right now in the travel space. You can contact me with your most pressing questions, concerns, or comments about what’s happening in the travel search industry, and we may address them in a few sessions at SES Travel, or right here in this column.

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