travel content marketing confusion

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.

Smarter search retargeting to support your content efforts

Even if you’ve never heard the phrase “retargeting,” chances are you’ve seen it in action. Ever notice how after you visit a site, the web suddenly seems to be filled with ads for that same site?

That’s retargeting (“remarketing” to Google) in action and usually, if you’ve noticed it happening, it means the advertiser is doing it wrong.  Done right, it’s a subtle but effective way at keeping people engaged with your brand once they’ve visited your site, keeping your product at the backs of their mind, and helping ensure an eventual conversion, lead or booking.

It can take a travel consumer up to 46 website visits[ref]Travel Content Journey: Expedia Media Solutions, November 2013[/ref] over weeks of research, review searching and price comparison before they make a booking and retargeting gives brands an opportunity to stay relevant throughout that customer journey.

This is especially powerful in the content marketing context: Retargeting gives you the ability to tailor specific ads to individual lists of customers, for instance people that have read or downloaded a certain piece of content can be shown specific ads to gently encourage them towards revisiting your website at a later stage and making a booking.

The problem is that this process of list building, i.e. segmenting customer groups and determining what ads to show them, how frequently, and until what cut-off time, has tended to be laborious and tricky to get right. Showing ads insufficiently is a waste of time, while overdoing it risks upsetting some of your most valuable prospects by giving them that creepy feeling they’re being followed and watched.

Fortunately “Smart Lists,” a new feature launched last week, makes it possible to automate list building and use Google’s technology to optimise ad display and rotation for each list.

Or, in Google’s own words:

Smart Lists are built using machine learning across the millions of Google Analytics websites which have opted in to share anonymized conversion data, using dozens of signals like visit duration, page depth, location, device, referrer, and browser to predict which of your users are most likely to convert during a later visit.

Based on their on-site actions, Analytics is able to calibrate your remarketing campaigns to align with each user’s value.

It’s likely that this feature will be of most use on smaller paid search & retargeting campaigns that don’t have the necessary resources or skills to properly optimise the campaigns in-house.  It’s also important to note that Google is using transaction data (i.e. ecommerce sales, not regular conversions) from millions of other Analytics profiles to optimise lists and campaigns. This will likely skew the feature’s benefits in favour of other ecommerce sites.

That caveat notwithstanding it’s still worth investigating for any advertiser that is investing time and money on traffic generation, especially with content campaigns. The opportunity to close the loop on otherwise “lost” traffic and bring people back to your site should not be ignored, particularly when Google is making it even easier to implement.

Give us a call if you want to learn more about how retargeting can support your content marketing efforts.

Further reading: 

Smarter remarketing with Google Analytics: Google Analytics Blog, 9 April, 2014

Google Analytics Adds “Smart Lists” To Automate Remarketing List Optimization: Search Engine Land, 11 April 2014

Converged media travel marketing funnel I&I travel media

Converged media and the travel marketing funnel [infographic]

The preeminence of “content” within digital marketing strategy is well established, at least in theory if not yet in widespread practice.

Many of the very principles of web marketing have been recast around the demand for quality content i.e. material that adds sufficient value to the end user, generates conversations & relationships, and ultimately drives consumer behaviour. This new orthodoxy is called content marketing and it has subsumed previously siloed practices & channels such as SEO, social media, email, etc into one singular and integrated whole.

Well that’s the theory anyway. As usual the devil is in the detail, particularly around the tricky issue of integration. Far too much of the current discussion has halted at the first step and still revolves around vague platitudes like “invest in quality content” and “avoid spammy links.” This might have been useful back in 2011 when the first Panda updates hit, but it’s over two years since then and there are still only a notable few travel brands that have truly adapted to the new landscape.

I created this graphic as an attempt to demonstrate how content, or converged media, can play a key role throughout the entire travel marketing funnel.  The purpose of this graphic is to sketch out how each digital channel interacts with each other, at what phase of the consumer purchase process, and how content can be tactically deployed within the wider inbound marketing strategy to maximise outcomes and ROI.

This is an ambitious (possibly over ambitious) task and each brand will have its own unique travel marketing funnel. This is by no means a blueprint and by and large, smaller brands will be less active further up the funnel. The intention here is just to demonstrate the potential of a forward thinking content strategy and how it could work in practice.

Converged media travel marketing funnel I&I travel media


Please feel free to embed this graphic onto your own blog or site, using the following code:
<p><center><img src=”http://ianditravelmedia.com/iandi/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/converged-media-travel-funnel.jpg” width=”670″> <br/>The role of converged media in the travel marketing funnel from <a href=”http://ianditravelmedia.com/”>I&I Travel Media</a></center></p>


Are you getting serious about the new search marketing?

Search Engine Watch published a great article this week written by Jeff Slipko, SEO strategy manager at Expedia, specifically relating to the travel industry, with some stark warnings about the changing landscape of search marketing, many of which dovetail with what we’ve been saying at I&I Travel Media for some time.

The article takes a broad view of all the recent and ongoing developments in SEO, including:

  • Google’s recent Penguin algorithm update which targeted link spam,
  • The previous Panda update which targeted on-site content quality,
  • The ever stronger competition posed by the major brands (Kayak, Expedia, Google flight & hotel search, etc),
  • The ever decreasing margins available from relying on PPC advertising.

Based on all of these long-term processes, Jeff argues that:

Looking at online marketing as just PPC and SEO isn’t enough anymore. In a post-Panda and Penguin landscape, sites need to be better than that.

Successful travel sites will look at online marketing as a holistic effort that includes as many pieces of inbound marketing as possible – SEO, content, social media, conversion, user experience, on-site merchandising, just to name a few.

And, because a picture always speaks a thousand words, SEW also gave us this handy graphic which encapsulates the idea of a broader approach to online marketing:

Image credit: http://www.seomoz.org/ugc/what-to-charge-for-seo-and-inbound-marketing-services-14703

At I&I Travel Media we always like to see someone else banging the same drum as us, especially when what we’re saying has so much overlap. Here’s a passage from our recent ebook “A New Paradigm For Search Marketing In The Travel Industry

But times are changing. The most recent changes made in search engine and social media technology has signalled that the future of online marketing lies very much with the development and creative deployment of smart and innovative content. More than ever, it is content that will underpin success in search engine rankings, social media visibility and reach and brand development. The days of cheap content written for search engines are over, and online travel businesses of all shapes and sizes will need to consider investment in professional, quality content as important as their other online marketing channels.

So, the question is: are you getting serious about these real and rapid changes? Do you have a strategy in place? Are you ready to take advantage of the opportunities, or are you more likely to be caught off guard and get caught up in the risks?