Online Travel SEM Addictions: Web 2.0, Paid Links, Social Media

Every year the holiday season brings personal reflection and empty promises masquerading as resolutions. Kick the habit. Make new friends. Trim down, buy a new scale.

Search marketers want to connect with the next generation of online consumers. In today’s rapidly changing search marketplace, ideas, and technology move faster than the speed of light. Search marketers need to catch up, if they can.

If your company’s at a crossroads, is it time to pull out the AJAX map and satellite imagery to steer your ship in a different direction?

Kick the Habit — Web 2.0 to 2.Overdose

Shiny, new wrappers on long-established sites don’t revitalize the concept of meaningful content. Lost in the rapid rise of UGC and multimedia content, relevancy is missing in action. Web 2.0 has generated so many lookalike travelogues and sharing sites, none are unique.

Think an injection of UGC will do the trick? Watch out for Web 2.Overdose. These botoxed Web sites won’t fool anyone on close inspection.

That’s not to say Web 2.0 won’t make a significant impact on user behavior. But Web site visitors may have an allergic reaction.

TripAdvisor’s new streamlined look may be a facelift for a site aging rapidly, compared to younger, cuter AJAXed sites. The fundamental concept of TripAdvisor is simple. It’s now lost in clutter.

What matters most is quality of content. Web 2.0 is only skin-deep.

Cool tools and wow functionality for today’s social platforms are only relevant if they help consumers. The shininess will wear off otherwise.

Don’t Abuse Social Media Sites

Remember the three Cs of Web 1.0 — content, community, commerce? Social media has subtracted the third C and divided “community” into “conversation, connectivity, and collaboration.” At last month’s PhocusWright conference, Cindy Estis Green, author of the new TIA report “Travel Marketers Guides to Social Media & Social Networks,” argues that the three Ps of marketing (product, price, promotion/positioning) are being replaced by the Five Cs:

  • Content
  • Control
  • Conversation and context
  • Connectivity
  • Collaboration

The five Cs have put marketers in a tailspin, trying to figure out how to insert themselves into consumer networks and relationships. How can you control millions of inaccurate and divergent conversations? The answer: you don’t, you can’t. You can only influence and learn to steer the ship.

Whether brands can actually make some headway into social media — using widgets and applications, viral campaigns or effective social adverting — remains to be seen. Every travel marketer should look at the social space with a more critical eye. Stop participating just because it’s cool. Add some real value.

Paid Links: Necessary Link Building Evil?

The recent debate over paid link advertising certainly has drawn some attention to the travel space, where promises of qualified traffic are highly dependent on the value of a link from an authoritative site.

For many, it’s made sense to advertise with the sites that also provide some link value, in addition to direct traffic and sales. But in this industry, which continues to be plagued with link exchange schemes, paid links will continue to be a necessary evil, and the modus operandi of SEM (define) agencies working for travel sites.

As link building fundamentally gets more difficult for travel sites, there’s hope on the horizon. Link building will continue to mature and transition in-house. It’s much easier to control the brand message and work with the new trade press: bloggers with real influence.

Social Search Success Metrics: The Cure

The core message in social search: Travel planning funnel has become refillable flask. With a social media play, conversions are not simply bookings. Interaction and conversation driven by the consumer after the experience assists in driving future bookings.

The concept of return on engagement (ROE) looks at a multitude of factors and timelines to draw meaningful conclusions from data surrounding SMM. To measure ROE, key performance indicators (KPIs) include:

  • Conversion rate
  • Time spent
  • Share of wallet
  • Dollar spent per transaction
  • Brand favorability
  • Aided/unaided brand awareness
  • Product development feedback loop
  • Word of mouth (WOM)/buzz

If you need further proof meaningful metrics are needed, look at the results of Southwest Airlines Ding, a successful, albeit prehistoric, version of a 2.0 widget. Since launching, Ding has generated more than $150 million in ticket sales. The widget increases visitors and consumption of the Southwest site, since Ding users visit the site 16 times more often than users who don’t Ding.

During Ding visits, users consume fewer pages, representing increased efficiency. They’re more familiar with the Southwest site, so they finish transactions more quickly.

Visitor frequency also translates to buyer frequency. Although Ding users spend fewer dollars per transaction, they buy more on average. That means more dollars overall per buyer.

Southwest later found that Ding users are more likely to engage in social networking. They’re more active.

The heaviest users? More likely to purchase. Not only brand loyal, they’re highly engaged in the process.

That means visitors to your travel Web site won’t be dead on arrival.

And your CEO will never overdose on ROE.

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