What’s In Your Travel Tool Bag?

Last year at SES Travel, we had a well-rated session on what most travel search marketers use for SEO/SEM tools. Most online marketers have a bag of tools to reach for when faced with mission-critical tasks: keyword or competitive research, Web site analytics, or trend tracking. While there’s nothing particularly sexy about this topic, there’s no question most of us have a few favorites when we need to get data about site performance, market potential, and opportunities.

I recently asked a few search marketers who either have travel-focused clients or perform search marketing in-house for an online travel business what tools they use on a regular basis. Despite receiving a wide range of answers, there were commonalities within them, beyond just the names of off the shelf-software or subscription services.

Among the biggest complaints is an overwhelming frustration with a lack of quality data in any one category or from a single provider, leading several respondents to note they’ve built their own tools for certain analytics or intelligence gathering tasks. Keyword research and ranking tools seem to be the category most likely for marketers to use multiple services or build their own.

It shouldn’t be a surprise to most search marketers that WordTracker and Trellian are among the most popular keyword research tools, as well as Google Trends and Yahoo Buzz. But even these tools have their limits.

Mike Churchill, CTO of KeyRelevance, has long relied on a mix of these commercial tools, as well as building out proprietary tools to crunch and analyze data from a variety of sources. Michael Gray adds, what “is really missing is the ability to go back to a particular month, day, or week and look for popular searches for that timeframe. For example what are the top 5,000 searches for March 2007.”

Mining for Links & Directory Traffic

SEW Expert Carrie Hill, who works primarily in the same vertical as I do (vacation rentals), says that using Yahoo’s Search Marketing and Site Explorer tools is a great way to find more obscure directories and listing services for clients on smaller budgets. Hill said that because of the unique differences in SERPs and paid ads for niche keywords, Yahoo often provides greater opportunity to find new link partners and sources of well-qualified traffic. I agree with this, as I’ve had similar experiences.

Unfortunately, Google’s results for extremely competitive travel categories always seem to have similar characteristics: mega-sites with little opportunity for partnership, scraper/spam sites or outdated pages. The last category is perhaps the most frustrating, because while these pages arguably had valuable travel information at the time of publication, they rank only for the simplicity of the page, or exist on a dot-org or dot-edu domain with some age factors behind it, and they often are a poor user experience.

Community Counts

In the travel sector, it’s all about joining the conversation and adding valuable information for travelers, not just promotional content. For that reason, Marty Weintraub, SEW blogger and writer of the AimClearBlog, notes that leveraging your research and organic optimization is more important than ever when it comes to engaging in social media.

“We encourage our travel, tourism, and hospitality clients to research ‘Buzz Pockets‘ in social communities to determine who is chattering about what and where,” Weintraub said.

It seems so simple, yet the medium offers incredible opportunity to fail. Because community and social media is not a push medium, it’s far more successful if you look closely before you leap, investigating what others are doing within related communities — whether it’s a special interest/travel group on the major social sites (StumbleUpon, Technorati, Facebook, Twitter) or on a travel-specific community site like IgoUgo, Fodor’s forums, or Gusto.

Tailoring the message to specific audiences is the first step to building a community, and delivering timely information without incessantly pushing a product. In search marketing, we always preach about having fresh content, but having something to say is what will ultimately keep visitors coming back for more, and simultaneously attract new visitors via search by creating new content. And that’s pretty much the same principle that any reputable tourism-based business should be operating on. But on the Web, it certainly has even greater meaning when the message can spread so far, so fast.

Once you’ve built the foundation of a community on the quality of information, only then are you in a position to market to this core user group. For the site parkRideFlyUSA, Marty notes that a combination of a blog and newsfeed strategy has been quite successful in attracting targeted visitors, who then subscribe to the feeds and are now repeat visitors (presumably more valuable) to the site’s operations. Now that annual traffic averages 100,000 plus visitors, “we’ll start serving them text ads and banners,” Weintraub said.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of this article, where travel search marketers share more practical tips and tools. Have something to add? E-mail me now.

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