Using automated email to convert new subscribers into customers

Good old fashioned email is still a great marketing channel, allowing direct, personalised communication with your customers in a place where they still (for better or worse) spend plenty of time–their inboxes!

put email on autopilot with autorespondersAutomated email (otherwise known as email autoresponders) is a great way to put some of that activity on autopilot.

With automation you can send pre-written emails on a predetermined schedule, timed to reach each subscriber at just the right time.

Used properly, this tactic can make email a major component of your customer journey, i.e. the path to purchase that people follow before making a booking with your company.

When people first subscribe to your mailing list, they may not be ready to book. You can use email automation to ‘drip’ emails into their inbox, gradually giving them the information they need to make a decision and book.

There are several big advantages to this approach:

  • You can split big messages into smaller ‘bite-size’ emails, and drip them out over time. This prevents overload and avoids people zoning out.
  • It helps keep your brand at the forefront of people’s minds for an extended period of time.
  • You get total control of the delivery and timing. Social media channels in comparison make it much harder to reach the right people at exactly the time you want.

This is especially powerful in travel marketing. We know that it takes time for people to move from the “inspiration and dreaming” stage of the customer journey down to actually making a purchase.

Email autoresponders are a smart way of priming new subscribers and moving them through this process towards the “purchase” stages of the travel purchase decision. You can use an email sequence to start with trip planning content, and gradually get more specific about particular experiences and tours, before finally ending the sequence with an offer.

travel customer journey to purchase

And what’s more, it’s fantastically easy to set up! Most email service providers (ESP) offer email automation features that are intuitive and straightforward to use.

Email automation best practices

Provide value

Getting people to read an entire sequence of emails is a pretty big ask. Before you do anything, think carefully about what you want to send, and why. For it to be effective it needs to offer genuine value to your audience, beyond just getting them to book a trip. Empathise with their needs and interests and use your expertise to provide content that they’ll enjoy and value.


Make sure people know what they’re signing up for, and that they can expect to receive a sequence of emails. Be clear on the duration of the sequence (so they know it won’t last forever!) and clearly explain the purpose of the emails. Show them where and how they can opt out.

Be concise

You’ll usually get better mileage from more, but shorter and simpler, emails. Each email should pivot around a single issue or question that is relevant to that phase of the purchase decision.

One approach may be to frame each email in FAQ style, with each email answering a single question from ‘real life’. You could even include an element of user generated content (UGC) from your previous customers–take the questions or concerns most commonly fielded by your sales team and answer them in these emails.

This allows you to put a ‘human face’ to your emails–real questions from real people. It also lets you demonstrate your expertise and credibility with well thought out and compelling answers.

It’s all in the timing

You need to find a balance in your email timings. Too frequent and you’ll just annoy people, too infrequent and they’ll have forgotten all about you when the next email comes around.

Generally speaking the first ‘welcome’ email should come immediately upon sign-up. After that you can move onto an email every two or three days.

Simplicity works

Aim for just one action or outcome from each email. The ideal action is either a reply or a click to your website. Give people just one thing to do–if it’s click, give them one link to click on. Don’t dilute the objectives with lots of different objectives.

Test and optimise

Email automation metrics fit into two categories: email performance/engagement and conversions (leads, enquiries, etc).

Performance is easy: your ESP will give you open, click and reply rates. You can use those to benchmark each email performance and compare with industry averages.

You should be constantly evaluating your email performance and testing variations in things like your subject lines, images, headlines, and body text to improve your numbers.

Monitor outcomes

To fully understand the impact that your email sequence is having on the bottom line (enquiries and bookings) you’ll need to tag your URLs for Google Analytics to know where the clicks are coming from.

This is straightforward enough using Google’s URL builder. You’ll also need to have goal tracking configured in Google Analytics. (Give us a shout if you need any support with this.)

Setting up an email autoresponder sequence is very easy. But perfecting and optimising your campaign takes time and effort. Start by putting yourself in your audience’s shoes and thinking about what sort of emails they might appreciate. Once you’ve solved that, you’re halfway there!

Questions? Need some help? Get in touch any time!

Simple ways to understand and empathise with your target audience

Understanding the audience is at the heart of all good content marketing.

Fundamentally, content marketing is an exercise in empathy: understanding and appreciating the audience’s needs and providing content that they’ll find useful prior to making a purchase.

The better you know your audience the better you can serve them great content that nurtures them towards a booking.

Much has been written about creating “buyer personas” (see here for a good primer), although at its most basic this is simply an exercise in empathy – putting ourselves in their shoes.

You can use audience mapping exercises like this one to explore your audience’s needs at different stages of the purchase decision, using those insights to plan your entire content strategy.

travel customer journey to purchase

Most travel businesses already have a fairly intimate connection with their target audience. Your knowledge of your own customers gives you an intuitive grasp of the types of content and information they respond to. You can supplement that with qualitative feedback from your sales and operations teams – what are the most commonly asked questions prior to sale, what are the areas of concern and other friction points?

Your website and other digital properties can yield a wealth of quantitative insights, too. Here are a few techniques to help explore your audiences and understand what makes them tick.

Low-definition: Google Analytics & social insights

For an extremely low-definition picture you can start with the Demographic and Interests sections of Google Analytics, but chances are it won’t tell you anything you don’t already know:

google analytics audience mapping travel content marketing

No real surprises here for most travel companies…


Your organic keywords report might offer hints of the types of questions your visitors are asking when they find your site, although this report has diminished in value over the years due to Google limiting organic keyword data. (To get around this, set the date range to several years to gather as many keywords as possible.)

google analytics keyword data audience mapping travel content marketing

Tip: Use an advanced filter to highlight keywords including the main question words – how, what, when, why, etc. These will often be ‘research’ phase questions that your visitors are using while planning a future trip, and might offer some good ideas for content topics.

Social insights

Your social media properties might offer some new insights, although these are also fairly limited. Facebook Page Insights will give you some basic demographic information.

Keep in mind that these are people who follow your Page, not necessarily those who visit your site (much less book a trip).

facebook insights audience mapping travel content marketing

Ditto for Twitter Analytics – again this isn’t particularly high-def, and it’s only for your followers, not your visitors or customers.

On the other hand combining Twitter data with some external tools like Followerwonk can yield some more useful results – see here for a great step-by-step from Rand Fishkin at Moz.


Try Quantcast for a more detailed picture of your actual website visitors. This is a free analytics tool, aimed mostly at publishers who want to provide rich audience insights to potential advertisers.

But since content marketing is all about businesses acting like publishers, there’s no reason this tool can’t be useful for us, too!

Quantcast gives us rich demographic information as well as shopping habits, media interests and all sorts of other lifestyle and purchase insights:

quantcast insights audience mapping travel content marketing

Set up involves adding a tracking code to your site, similar to Google Analytics. A major drawback is that data can be patchy for smaller, lower-traffic sites.

High-definition: Facebook custom audiences

Although the free Facebook Insights tool (above) is fairly limited, advertisers on Facebook are rewarded with access to a much more powerful range of tools.

With Audience Insights (note this is a totally different tool to Page Insights) we can analyse the entire Facebook user base in much more detail, drilling right down into very specific audience segments.

A useful technique here is to think about some other large Facebook Pages that your target audience might follow, and analyse those Pages’ followers (as opposed to your own) to learn more about their interests and preferences.

facebook insights custom audiences mapping travel content marketing

Another powertool for Facebook advertisers is to set up a Custom Audience of Facebook users who’ve visited your site and use the same Insights tool to analyse their data.

As with Quantcast, you’ll need to reach a certain threshold of visitors in your Custom Audience before you can access any useful data.

facebook insights custom audiences mapping travel content marketing

4K ultra high-def: Ask them!

Unsurprisingly, the most old-fashioned approach could also be the most effective. Some well-written (and well-timed) questions might tell you more about their interests, needs and purchase behaviour than any of the approaches mentioned above.

Surveys can be useful, although you’ll need to be careful with the wording of your questions to get genuinely useful information. A better approach is to ask sales reps and the people who have the closest relationships with your customers to interview them on their travel planning, researching and booking preferences. Just a handful of simple questions can reveal a wealth of insights.

But it’s what you do with it that counts!

These data sources are only as useful as you make them – once you’ve gathered these insights you need to figure out how best to apply them.

The starting point is to build these observations into your content strategy and editorial calendar(s). Once you know what people need, you can plan your content to serve those requirements.

This shouldn’t just be an infinite calendar of blog articles and Facebook posts. Plan your content strategically and with a defined purpose. It could be based around a single resource – for example, a downloadable travel guide created to address some core travel research and planning needs of the target audience early in the journey to purchase.

Another application is to identify the other websites that your audience visits, and run them through Similarweb to find similar sites elsewhere on the web.

This will give you a list of sites that should be highly relevant to your target audience, which you can then use with the Google Display Network to target placement of your display ads.

In the process you should get a feel for the types of content and topics that your audience is reading and engaging with – use this as inspiration for your own content creation efforts, particularly with information aimed at people early in the purchase decision.

Armed with these insights you’ll be able to create a laser focused content strategy targeted at the audiences most important to your business. Need help planning it all out? Give us a shout any time!

facebook instant articles for travel content marketing?

What effect will Instant Articles and AMP have on travel content marketing?

Moves from the web’s two biggest giants to shake up mobile publishing have been causing waves among mainstream publishers.

Two features, Facebook’s Instant Articles and Google’s Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) were launched last year, ostensibly to improve speed and overall experience for mobile users.

The initiatives are part of a broader shift in the tectonics of digital publishing, among a backdrop of debate around mobile speed and UX, ad blocking, the open web vs walled gardens, and other heady themes.

But while regular publishers grapple with the implications, could there be new opportunities opening up for content marketing too?

Instant Articles

Instant Articles is a way for publishers to post their content directly onto Facebook itself, allowing mobile users to load and read articles instantly without having the leave the Facebook app.

facebook instant articles for travel content marketing?

Instant Articles in the wild (Source


The company claims this makes the reading experience up to 10 times faster than the mobile web, making users more likely to engage with content and, of course, keep them inside Facebook’s walled garden.

Originally released for just a handful of major publishers, the platform is scheduled for general availability on April 12, meaning anyone, including travel businesses, will be able to publish their own Instant Articles.

The nuts and bolts are relatively straightforward. All content must already exist on your own site. From there it’s formatted into an HTML markup and submitted either manually or via an RSS feed.

Importantly, Facebook has accommodated publishers’ needs by allowing 3rd party ads, analytics and audience tracking.

As far as the mobile user is concerned nothing much has changed – you still share, comment and ‘Like’ links as normal, only if an article is available in the Instant format, that is the version that will be displayed to users on the mobile app.

Accelerated Mobile Pages

The clunkier sounding Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) is Google’s response to Instant. It works in a similar way – publishers provide a stripped down, mobile-friendly version of existing content that can be loaded much faster by users on a mobile device:

google accelerated mobile pages for travel content marketing

AMP pages in the wild (Source

Unlike Instant you don’t need to physically submit your content to Google, the search engine will crawl your AMP links and cache the content so it can be displayed instantly to mobile users.

As with Facebook’s platform, publishers retain their ads and analytics.

So what does it all mean?

The implications of all this for regular publishers and news orgs are complex. While the mainstream has already jumped in at the deep end, others are justifiably skeptical over giving up even more control and ownership to two already gargantuan platforms.

But for travel companies it could be an easier decision. If Instant and AMP make it easier to get your content in front of mobile users, it must be a no-brainer?

Firstly, it’s worth noting that these features are currently aimed at top tier news organisations and other mainstream publishers. Most AMP pages you’ll see ‘in the wild’ are breaking news and current events from well known sources.

That said, there is already talk of potential applications beyond news publishers. If AMP pages start displaying for a wider range of search queries, such as blog posts, long tail keywords, or even e-commerce and product pages, it might make sense for brands to jump on board.

For sites using WordPress there are already plugins out there to generate AMP and Instant Article versions of your content. The popular Yoast WP plugin announced they’ll be supporting AMP markup in the near future.

Secondly, don’t expect either features to provide a direct boost to your mobile visibility. Both Facebook and Google have explicitly stated that having content available as an AMP page or Instant Article won’t bring preferable treatment in the rankings or Newsfeed.

On the other hand, the AMP carousel does tend to appear high in Google’s mobile results, and in theory a Facebook post that loads faster should get better engagement rates, both of which mean there could be an indirect benefit to adopting these new standards.

Finally, although brands are constantly being told to act like publishers, they’re fundamentally different in that eyeballs alone are not enough – we’re looking for an action and conversion too. This means thinking creatively about how to get readers clicking off from the AMP/Instant Article and onto your site.

The jury is still out on all the above. A sensible position for brand publishers might be to wait and see how it all shakes out over the coming months, but be prepared to adopt quickly if they turn out to be an obvious win.

What's happening to rankings and keywords in travel SEO?

SEO: What’s happening to keywords and rankings?

A few days ago we published a piece for Tnooz on Google’s latest travel SEO upset, a tweak to the mobile interface which could cause problems for people targeting “short tail” travel keywords.

Coincidentally, in this week’s Whiteboard Friday, Rand Fishkin talks about the changing nature of keywords and rankings in SEO – with a specific focus on travel and flight searches. (Watch the full video below).

In our Tnooz piece we highlight the fact that although SEO is a fickle game, content-driven long tail SEO is still a reliable traffic acquisition channel, especially when used strategically in conjunction with other tools. (More on that here.)

In this short video Rand explains how content can be a good driver of organic traffic, provided it’s sufficiently useful, detail-rich and optimised not just for keywords but for user intent.

Time to turn your email strategy on its head?

Is there a marketing channel more used and abused than the humble email? Email has somehow managed to retain its importance in digital marketing strategy despite becoming synonymous with spam and sleazy, aggressive sales.

Perhaps part of the problem with email as a marketing tool is its versatility. Email (when used correctly) can be effective at various points in the customer journey to purchase. It can work at high-funnel inspiration and mid-funnel planning/consideration, it’s obviously good as a low-funnel driver of sales and it can be especially powerful with post-sale customer retention.

email spamGiven this versatility, the widespread misuse of email by unsophisticated marketers is mind-numbingly dumb and self defeating. Used as a blunt tool to hammer unwanted sales messages into unsuspecting inboxes, most commercial email is distrusted, blocked and filtered into the junk folder where it belongs.

Not that email isn’t good at producing sales – it clearly can be, provided care is taken with relevance, segmentation and the quality of the promotion and message (see this good analysis from Econsultancy).

But proper email strategy isn’t just about leads and sales. Used effectively, email can carry people beyond the moment of purchase and turn your satisfied customers into repeat business and word-of-mouth referrals.

This is a no-brainer. You’ve spent good money acquiring leads and customers, now you need to use every tool available to improve your Customer Lifetime Value (CLV). And email is purpose-built for the job.

Email can be effective much earlier in the customer journey too. We know that travel purchase decisions can be long and convoluted, with multiple inputs and interactions contributing to an eventual booking:

email in the customer journey to purchase - travel content marketing

Digital channels should work together to create a customer journey to purchase [click to enlarge]

Good email can be central to nurturing your prospects towards making a purchase, sowing seeds of inspiration for future travels, or delivering useful and informative content to help people plan and research their upcoming vacations.

But getting this right means turning everything you know about email marketing on its head.

With bottom-funnel email, the idea is to offer as relevant and compelling a promotion as possible – you’re selling yourself, your brand, and your offering. But that’s just a narrow band of the spectrum. Elsewhere in the customer journey your emails need to be about the audience themselves, their interests, and their needs.

You need to be thinking about what they want to read, not what you want to tell them.

For a start this means ditching the ubiquitous but utterly ineffectual “company newsletter” email. You know the type: a message from the founder, some latest news and a blog post or two. There’s a reason emails like this see terrible open and click rates: They’re branded and promotional and they exist primarily to serve the sender, not the recipient.

What would a reader-oriented email look like? Maybe it’s a “lifestyle magazine” that curates authoritative content from high quality sources around the web – all the stories and features that your particular audience would want to read, not necessarily just your own content.

For two good examples see “The Saddlebag” from or “The Latin American Traveler” from Ideal South America.

At first pass it might seem counter-intuitive to send emails packed with links to other people’s content but there’s some method to the madness. Remember this activity isn’t designed to drive direct sales, it’s aimed much earlier in the customer journey.

The goal is simply to maintain a strong relationship with your subscribers, bringing your brand to mind every time they open and read your emails and, when they are ready to book, guess who they’ll come back to?

With this as the cornerstone to a healthy distribution list you can insert some owned content (experiment with the mix, but an 80/20 split seems about right) and send separate, sales-focused emails aimed further down the funnel – taking precautions to segment your messages and not do anything that could damage the relationship with your readers.

Remember that proper content strategy is about using overlapping and integrated channels to nurture prospects along the customer journey. Use other tools and channels to achieve that: Facebook and Twitter custom audiences, Adwords search retargeting and SEO are all effective at reconnecting with your email subscribers later on when they approach a purchase decision.

Fundamentally this is about smart content marketing. Empathise with your audience and focus on their, not your company’s, needs. Identify what they want and then do your best to provide it. Build a qualified, engaged and loyal audience, and then create the necessary touchpoints to recapture people when they’re ready to make a purchase.

It’s indirect and takes much more thought and sophistication than indiscriminate sales and spam, but in the long run it’s well worth it.