Why small travel businesses fail at content marketing (and how they can succeed)

The theory of content marketing is straightforward enough: identify the information that is likely to engage your consumers and give it to them. This turns site visitors into audiences, builds your brand authority and gives you opportunities to sell to your audience with a relationship based on expertise and trustworthiness.

Your audiences may subscribe to your email list, they may follow you on social media, they may simply be so impressed that they return to your site for more over and over again. Each one of these touchpoints presents opportunities to market your brand and services.

As ever, things are much trickier in practice. Genuinely engaging content is, by definition, difficult and expensive to produce – consider for a moment the deafening noise of all the other competing content out there on the web; to succeed yours needs to outshine it all! This means hiring professional content creators or editors, which can get very expensive very quickly.

Then you need to find the right strategic approach: choosing what type of content to produce, figuring out how to promote it, at what volume and frequency, and how to do so in a way that is efficient at converting audiences into customers in sufficient numbers to deliver a return.

travel content marketing confusion

Does this sound like you?

It’s not surprising that most small travel brands’ content marketing efforts tend to revolve around posting a few articles each month on their blog, sharing them to their handful of social media followers and perhaps out via a monthly email to an equally modest subscription list.

Most hard-pressed and overworked business owners are unsure what impact this is having or how to measure it. But they’ve likely read that “content marketing is important” so they continue to spend a few hundred bucks per month commissioning articles and hoping that somewhere along the line it’s contributing something to their bottom line.

In 99% of cases it’s not, and the oft-presumed solution – more blog posts Scotty! – won’t help either. The fact is, as was argued persuasively by Mark Higginson on Travel Blather, churning out content at the quality and volume required to shift the ROI needle is simply not scalable or cost effective for many businesses.

That money and time could instead go into Adwords and send new leads like clockwork every month, all for a fraction of the effort.  And at our consultancy we’ve told more than a few small business owners that’d be the best direction to take.

This might seem like a strange thing for a content marketer to say, so here’s the inevitable but:

There are other content marketing strategies that are way more appropriate for SMBs.

The problem with most approaches to content marketing is the emphasis on publishing frequency, i.e. the belief that in order to and build and maintain audiences you need to be constantly pumping out new stuff to keep people engaged and the search engines interested.

Don’t even try. Leave this to large brands with larger content budgets. Online consumers have a finite attention span and you’ll always be upstaged and drowned out by the big boys with the resources to act like real publishers.

Instead of playing the (unwinnable) volume game, focus down at the other end of the spectrum. What are the handful of things that truly distinguish your brand and your expertise?  A single property hotel knows their neighbourhood better than anyone else. A local tour operator knows more about their destination than most guidebook writers. This unique expertise can be translated into highly effective content assets, and at relatively low cost – you already have the knowledge locked up in your business, all you have to do is convert that into digital content with the help of an editor or ghostwriter.

Content of this nature doesn’t need to be cranked out every day/week/month. A smaller amount of static “evergreen” content can be hugely effective into the long term, particularly if it’s properly optimised for organic search. Instead high frequency, focus on depth and detail. Create a content asset that makes a unique addition to the web, an authority resource that cannot be found anywhere else.

This is clearly a bigger undertaking than writing a blog post, but rather than trying to turn out ten (good) blog articles every month for uncertain returns, once this asset is done, your content creation worries are over for 6 months or longer.

Content Volume doesn’t matter, it’s how you use it that counts.

The critical step is to use and deploy your content in ways that will have an actual impact on your bottom line, with an understanding of how to measure the outcomes.

Simply chucking articles at a blog is not a content marketing strategy. Instead you need to understand how your content can be effective for people at the different stages of the customer journey, how they might engage with your content, and how you can maximise and benefit from those interactions.

Understand that consumers at the research/planning stage are not necessarily ready to make a booking, and informational content is unlikely to convert site visitors into customers, at least not on their first visit.

Instead focus on how you can capture an interaction and an opportunity to follow-up later. Think about ways you can continue the relationship, assisting people along the customer journey and eventually bring them back to your site to make a booking. Downloads & email list subscriptions, email autoresponders, effective content curation, remarketing campaigns and social media shares & follows are all useful touchpoints for follow-up marketing.

Optimising your content to facilitate these interactions and touchpoints requires a degree of background wiring and plumbing, but is essential for driving ROI.

If you build it, they probably won’t come.

Once your content is online and optimised you need to win the eyeballs and attentions that it deserves. Organic search is unlikely to suffice at this low publishing volume, and your content will likely need an extra boost – paid, earned or both.

Paid content amplification solutions include Outbrain, Facebook newsfeed ads, etc. The goal here is simply to put more people into the top end of your marketing funnel.  Audience targeting options vary by the platform, and again you’re unlikely to convert many sales direct from this traffic (but that’s not the point.) Instead you can use this initial paid traffic to kickstart your engagements and start following up with your new audiences as outlined above.

Earned promotion is essentially old-school PR in a digital context: reaching out to relevant bloggers, journalists, publications and other influencers and asking them to promote your content. Outcomes tend to be directly proportional to the quality of the content and its relevance to the individual influencer, and although you’re offering content that is of intrinsic value to their audiences, some will expect payment for promotion.

Measure and optimise

The final, but essential, piece of the puzzle is to monitor your content performance and understand how and where it is contributing to traffic growth, leads and bookings.  This breaks out into two broad categories: ROI monitoring and campaign performance.

Since the content itself isn’t driving conversions directly, accurate ROI monitoring requires an understanding of how the content and interactions have assisted bookings throughout the customer journey. A typical customer journey might look like:

Referral from a blog article to your content > Downloads your content asset > Sees your remarketing ads > 2 weeks later Googles your brand name to research your service > 1 week later visits your site directly and makes a booking.

Your analytics monitoring needs to reflect the complex nature of these assisted conversions to give a full picture of how your content and channels interact to lead to the eventual booking.

Campaign performance is more straightforward: you’re looking for metrics that indicate how well visitors engage with your content. While traditional analytics KPIs tend to focus on sessions and pageviews, content performance will also look at page dwell time, pageviews per session, social shares, return visitors, and other measures of audience engagement.

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Getting all this right is no easy task but compared to the black hole that is high frequency content marketing, a content strategy like this can deliver meaningful direct returns, while also contributing greatly to your brand’s authority and credibility.

Ready to start your brand’s content journey? Get in touch to discuss.

2 Responses to Why small travel businesses fail at content marketing (and how they can succeed)

  1. Once again an excellent piece that sheds light onto the problem of the industry leaders saying “create quality content” and smaller businesses not having the time, bandwidth, or expertise to do it all. But the idea that the travel specialist have all the knowledge in their head that they should get out into an evergreen format is spot on.

    For tracking and evergreen piece of content’s contribution to ROI and bookings for example, would you just use Google Analytics or another tool such as Hubspot?

    • Thanks for your comment Joe.

      Agreed – small travel biz owners are often *the* definitive experts in their field, extracting that potential/stored knowledge is the key challenge but certainly not one that’s insurmountable.

      Google Analytics is more than sufficient for tracking content performance KPIs and ROI, particularly when following the quality over quantity approach. It takes some messing around with custom segments and event tracking but all the data is there. I’ll be writing on that shortly, watch this space 🙂

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