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Search Over Word of Mouth? The Impact on Travel Marketing

Kristen Lindsey - Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Emarketer reported today that Internet search has surpassed word of mouth as the primary source of travel recommendations in many countries.

Though word of mouth and other sources still predominate in countries like Mexico and Russia, respondents in almost all other countries polled, including the United States, much of Europe, China, Japan and Australia all cited Internet searching over word of mouth as their preferred source for travel information.

Though travel research and booking have been established as predominant uses of the Internet for some time, this research provides insight into our relationship with the Internet medium.

The Internet's role as a companion community to our non-cyber community is demonstrated with research like this. We apparently feel comfortable in this online world and feel that having the control to gather information that we need for travel from an immense number of sources regardless of geography super cedes that coveted endorsement for marketers everywhere -- the personal reference.

The effective use of testimonials for promoting a travel business is a proven, effective sales tool - this research indicates that investment in effective search marketing is just as critical, if not more so.



A New Look at Keyword Research

Kristen Lindsey - Friday, July 08, 2005

The cornerstone of any search engine optimization (SEO) is a solid, targeted keyword universe. If you have a good, well researched, keyword universe, then you will have strong target keywords on your site pages and your rankings will improve and bring in more visitors.

What factors make for a good keyword universe? There are a large number of factors, but here are three of my top requirements:

1. All keywords must be absolutely relevant to your business.

Companies often err by trying to target keywords the want to rank for though they may not specifically describe their business. Avoid these and stick to your strengths, or else a large portion of your SEO could end up being unproductive.

Know thyself and keep your keyword terms as specifically targeted as possible.

2. Absolutely relevant keywords are good, regardless of whether or not there is a lot of competing sites for that term.

Many SEO firms use a service called Wordtracker, which helps develop keyword lists and ranks valuable terms by a formula measuring number of searches versus number of competing sites. The theory behind this is that targeting keywords with fewer competing sites will enable a site to rank better.

While these less competitive terms may be attractive, by no means are they the only terms worth considering. Focusing on the terms that are the most specific descriptors of your product and services, regardless of competition, will enable your site to rank well.

I am not saying Wordtracker is not a valuable tool - it is an excellent way to start building a keyword universe. It is just a start, and competing site counts is just one variable to judge a good or bad keyword.

3. Keep focused on the terminology of your customers, not of your business or industry.

All organizations can fall into the trap of communicating with customers using their own industry lingo. Doing this with keywords can cause your site to really miss the majority of potential search traffic.

A good example is in the hotel industry. Some hotels end up targeting and industry term such as "accommodations" or "lodging" when their potential customers are really using "hotels." These industry terms have only about one tenth of the searches of "hotels."

There is no one formula for selecting the best keywords, just as there is no formula for a successful marketing program. Staying focused on your customer needs and how your products or services meet those needs will provide the best perspective on which keywords are valuable much more than competitive ratios or other formulas.



On Vacation

Kristen Lindsey - Friday, June 24, 2005

Hi All,

I will be on vacation next week, so there will be no new postings until July 5th.

Happy Fourth of July, and see you on the 5th!

Kristen



Great New Google AdWords Tool - Live Chat

Kristen Lindsey - Thursday, June 23, 2005

Google AdWords has a great new tool (or at least new to me!) for its customer support center – online chat. Previously the only way you could ask a real person a question would be to submit an email form.

This chat option is great if you need an immediate answer to a specific question. I like live shat because you get an immediate answer versus email, and you have a transcript versus the telephone.

Not only did I want to point this out because it is a useful tool for AdWords advertisers, but also because Google’s particular execution of live chat is a case study for how to do it well. There were three things I noticed that really made it successful:

  1. When you get to the contact page there is an email form as always. If you start to fill out the form with your question and then realize chat is there and want to try it, your already typed message is automatically pasted into the chat window.
  2. The online agent responded to me much more quickly than live chat systems I have used with other businesses, perhaps indicating that it is well staffed.
  3. At the end the system gives you the option to either print your transcript or have it emailed to you.

These items are disproportionately impactful on the user experience and demonstrate yet again that little things can make a big difference.

Check it out at the Google AdWords help section.



A Reflection on SEO - Sometimes a Redesign is Necessary

Kristen Lindsey - Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Thought for the Day

I know it sounds crazy, but I can only speak from a variety of experiences in the past couple of years: sometimes conducting SEO without a site redesign does not produce results compared to when a site is redesigned.

I only have anecdotal, not empirical evidence at this point. On the one hand, it seems odd to me that a more professional, polished site would rank better; search engines, to my knowledge, do not include aesthetic factors in their search algorithms.

On the other hand, I have optimized sites for clients who chose not to hire a professional to upgrade their site, and those sites have not performed as well as those that did make such an investment.

Thought I cannot count out other, unrelated factors such as the particular industry, market, etc. that may be preventing larger ranking and traffic improvement, I have a hunch that design and SEO performance are interrelated.

My theory at this point is that a solid, professional redesign is more likely to include search-friendly design factors, content display, and less likely to include technical barriers, though this is by no means an absolute.



Search Terms Reveal Consumer Trends? Duh!

Kristen Lindsey - Friday, June 17, 2005

This morning DM News reported that frequency of search terms used on search engines can reveal important consumer trends, according to data from Hitwise.

My question today - why is that significant? Anyone who saw the term "uniform malfunction" rocket to be one of the top terms searched a couple of Superbowls back could make this connection.

Hitwise is bringing hard data to this concept, but you can track these trends on your won. Yahoo Buzz shows top trends being revealed by search terms, and there are a number of other sites out there that record search term trends.

Search has become a central aspect of the Internet. Pew Internet and the American Life project reported recently that the only use of the Internet more frequent than search is the use of email.

Search trends are yet another means in a marketer's toolbox to keep tabs on trends that can help or hinder the promotion of their products and services.



Internet Marketing News Around the Web

Kristen Lindsey - Wednesday, June 15, 2005

There is a variety of news and happenings in Internet marketing this week. Here are some highlights you might want to check out:

Internet Marketing - General

Internet Marketing - Travel



More Changes in Online Consumer Travel Habits

Kristen Lindsey - Tuesday, June 14, 2005

PhoCusWright released the seventh version of its "Consumer Travel Trends Survey" early this month, and it is showing some interesting trends at the top of the travel food chain (air, hotels car rental) that all travel businesses can take heed of.

Some highlights:

  • Convenience has overtaken price as the key motivator for travel purchase online. This is a great opportunity for websites that to date have needed to keep pace with operational efficiencies and inventory management to keep prices competitive. This shift will allow online players to work more on presenting the value of time saving measures and other forms of convenience to draw additional customers.
  • This trends towards convenience was more marked in respondents who tended to use one site to purchase their travel versus those who purchased from multiple sites. 37 percent of people who purchased using just one site cites convenience versus 25 percent who looked for values. This is flipped for purchasers who use multiple sites: 28 percent cited discounts versus 21 percent who cited convenience.
  • The number of Americans purchasing travel online grew another 14 percent in 2004, up to 40 million people.

According to ClickZ Stats, online travel purchases reached about 23 percent of all travel purchases in the U.S. in 2004 and is forecast to reach 33 percent by 2009. This absolutely huge compared to numbers for overall non-travel retail online purchases, which have reached only about 4.6 percent of all retail purchases.

Though the impact of the Internet on travel is obvious, the numbers start to show the incredible scope.



AOL Introduces Free Email to the Public

Kristen Lindsey - Thursday, June 09, 2005

AOL announced yesterday that they are launching a new, public and free email service designed to compete with Yahoo Mail, MSN's Hotmail, and Google's Gmail.

The product is comparable to Google's Gmail account in size, offering 2 gigabytes of storage. As with all other free email clients, it also includes anti-virus and anti-spam software as well.

This is the second product AOL has launched that is free and open to everyone, not only their subscribers. The other product is its popular IM Chat service, AIM.

This marks yet another move by AOL to find new means of revenue as their subscriber-only model continues to suffer.

The verdict on the AOL email's potential impact on email marketers remains to be seen. Other free services, such as Google's Gmail, caused a stir since it loads emails with all graphics turned off by default. Stay tuned to see how AOL's product may influence your email practices.



Pay-per-click Keyword Prices Down in May

Kristen Lindsey - Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Keyword prices for pay-per-click advertising dropped in May in almost all industry sectors, according to the Fathom Online Keyword Price Index.

Prices dropped 15 percent from April to May at an average of 31 cents. The mortgage industry was the biggest contributor to this drop, slipping 30 percent in May. Reasons cited by Fathom online included interest rate increases.

Of the eight sectors that the KPI measures, only automotive showed any growth in May.

The travel sector, which showed a surprising drop as the summer season looms, actually indicated a correction. The drop is not due to a retrenchment in the industry, but instead is due to heavy investment in April. Though there is a drop in May, there is still significant keyword costs in this critical buying period.

How does it look in your industry? What sort of keyword price pressure do you see?