Search for the Best Travel Deal
Shopping for travel online often comes down to getting the best deal, and during the recession travelers are even more concerned with finding a bargain. In fact, some people are willing to pick their destination based on price.
"Consumers are extremely price sensitive," said Henry Harteveldt, VP and principal analyst of airline and travel research for Forrester Research. "For example, 46% of consumers say that they allow their budget to dictate the destination they travel to, so clearly the recession is having an impact on consumers."
Search keywords like "cheap travel," "discount travel" or simply "travel site" are very popular among travel marketers for both paid and organic search. According to Google Insights, consumers are increasingly price-conscious and are looking online for travel deals. In November, Google found that searches for "low cost travel" rose 9%, from 65% of travel-related searches in October to 74% in November.
The search engine also found that consumers are increasingly aware of the value of package deals, as searches for "vacation package deals" are up 26% in 2009 vs. 2008.
"It is very much a retail environment in travel these days, and low-cost offers are winning the game," Harteveldt said. "Price is the beginning, middle and end right now. It is all about price."
Travel marketers tend to make wide buys across the spectrum of search terms to attract eyeballs.
"To capture searcher interest, travel marketers use a mix of head and tail terms, as well as geo-specific terms," said Roger Barnette, president of SearchIgnite. "Head terms are broad keywords such as 'car rental' or 'hotels' and are used to capture demand and funnel high volume search traffic. Other keywords might include tail and geo-specific terms to gain attention with searchers looking for specific travel deals, such as 'November airfare sales,' or in a specific region such as 'Atlanta hotels.'"
Search also offers flexibility. Marketers can bid on keywords in real time, which allows them to adjust campaigns immediately to accommodate specific promotions.
"The ease with which marketers can add, remove and adjust their campaigns, messaging and budget levels makes paid search an ideal advertising vehicle for travel marketers," Barnette said. "Promotional messaging can be created on the fly to promote special deals, such as when there are last minute sales used to deplete excess inventory."
During the recession, consumers are looking for more cost effective travel ideas. Instead of week-long holidays across the country, many are opting for long weekends at local destinations. Trying to capitalize on this local trend and to increase bookings of its recently constructed MGM Grand hotel, Foxwoods Resort Casino in Connecticut chose search as a cost effective way to get the word out.
Foxwoods worked with travel marketing agency MMG Worldwide to create a paid search campaign that would increase online revenue contribution in the competitive casino market, while maintaining a profitable cost/conversion. The resort spent half of its marketing budget on the channel. Foxwoods focused on geo-targeting to people in the Connecticut area and bought the term "casino" just for the Connecticut market.
"Nationally, that would be a poor-converting term, because it is normally considered a fairly untargeted term," says Craig Paddock, director of search marketing at MMG Worldwide. "But by buying it with a geo-targeted focus, it became very effective."
The campaign included buys on Google, Yahoo and MSN. More than 1,600 terms were tested. Campaigns were geo-targeted by IP address with regional targeting of broad keywords and national targeting of geo-modified keywords. The geotargeted terms led to a 50% click-through rate to Foxwoods.com and a 48% click-through rate to MGMatFoxwoods.com. In addition to geo-targeting, Foxwoods took advantage of the brand names "MGM" and "Foxwoods."
"We leveraged the brand names within the ad copy," says Paddock. "A higher click-through rate is not only rewarded with more visitors, but also a lower cost per click. Google Adwords figures that into their pricing."
These branded terms saw two to three times the conversion rate of generic terms with less than a third of the cost. The entire campaign saw a 1.5% conversion rate as defined by room bookings.
ACQUISITION: Red Roof Inn
Red Roof Inn, a national discount hotel chain with more than 350 corporate and franchise locations throughout the US, relies on local support to drive its overall revenue and bookings. Because of the large number of properties under its umbrella, the hotel chain is often challenged to find ways to help each location in its particular region, based on where in the country the hotel is located. In a recession, this is even more of a challenge.
At the end of 2008, the hotel chain hired search marketing agency 360i to redesign its Web site and power its search optimization and paid search. While the redesign was being implemented and integrated with their booking system, 360i helped Red Roof optimize its search at the beginning of 2009. The approach included researching consumer behavior around keywords in a move to identify what consumers were looking for during the recession.
"The value seekers were seeking more value. They were shopping harder and looking to get better rates," explains John Ragals, COO of 360i. "Other consumers were trading down from the upper and mid-tier brands to the economy brands."
Because of the findings, 360i decided to use geotargeted search terms and maps across 85 local search engines including Google Maps and YellowPages.com. The idea was to optimize search for every single Red Roof Inn location across the country.
"Local search allows you to optimize around every property location," Ragals adds. "And you are capturing a person who is intent on booking a hotel in a specific area, so it is highly targeted. We try to be one click away from the conversion event and local feeds really let you do that."
Because the properties are franchises, which are often bought and sold, the phone numbers are often changed. So, 360i also updated the phones numbers in the search feed and optimized to make sure that the most current phone numbers were showing up in search results and in maps.
The search engine optimization effort saw a huge lift in geotargeted search results, including consumers searching for hotels locally via mobile devices. Red Roof Inn saw a 3,600% increase in its premium search position — defined as natural search results ranking one through four — than it did before the effort. In addition, Red Roof Inn geo-targeted searches such as "Atlanta discount hotels" and "discount hotels Washington DC," increased Red Roof Inn's position in search rankings by 2000%.