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Why is web content important?


­­­Joel Brandon-Bravo - General Manager, Frommers Unlimited

Today I'm going to talk about how and why content is important to the travel business. That applies to everyone from publishers, accommodation providers, tourist offices, airlines, ferry companies and all of you who have been so kind to come down here today. I'll be taking you through simple steps to the most effective ways to provide content to your existing and potential online customers. I'll also be touching on the future of content for travel providers. In this context, by content I mean the rich information (descriptive information or images, not  product) that evokes the experience that your product makes possible and allows you to connect with your customers.

Why is content important?

  •  It's a powerful tool to attract new customers to your site
  •  It contextualises your product, evoking an experience
  •  It's a way of talking to your customers, to build loyalty and encourage repeat visits

Attracting customers via the Search engines

Nearly all your customers are using search as the jump-off point. It will come as no surprise that the vast majority of UK users are using Google (with Yahoo and MSN making up the scraps). Just under three quarters of Google users click on the natural search results (not the paid-for sponsored links that appear at the very top of each results page).  The most popular use of search in the travel category is to research the destination. It's obvious from these statistics that the biggest single battleground for customers is in the natural search results of Google. And therefore, by providing compelling destination information in the locations where you sell travel products you are answering a real need, and opening the door to people who are searching for information and products on those destinations. You are putting your brand in front of the customer very early in their planning and buying cycle. In this way, you make sure you are front of the queue to provide your services. AND you are not paying for every click that comes through.

Everyone realises that in tough times every penny you spend has to work harder than ever. In most cases we have been able to show that every pound spent on content and optimisation works harder and longer than the equivalent spend on keywords. Let me show you how that can be put into practice with some of the work we've done to help our clients make their websites more effective marketing machines:

Virgin Atlantic Case Study

Virgin Atlantic were using a global travel publisher's content to provide destination information about the routes they fly to. While this was fine for customers who chose to visit their site directly, Virgin didn't rank on Google for the guides, or its most profitable search terms -  such as "flights to New York". We provided a set of guides written by our network of global travel writers, all of whom live in or regularly visit each destination, and who we've trained to write inspiring, relevant content that is optimised for search and in line with our client's brand tone of voice. We worked closely with Virgin and their search agency to integrate the phrases that meet customers' needs, and are also most relevant to their services.  Before our work, Virgin didn't appear on the search results of the first few pages for any of their key search terms. Now Virgin appears at or near the top of the results listings if you type in terms such 'Flights to New York, Mauritius, or any of their other destinations to Google's search box. This is bringing in a huge amount of traffic, at no incremental cost. And it's not just anyone clicking through, but only those specifically researching the destinations to which they fly, or researching flights only.

We believe that effective content should be relevant, UNIQUE and demonstrate up-to-date insider knowledge. In this way, it appeals to your customers and the search engines. We find that the most cost-effective content solution is to provide premium unique content (ie not duplicated elsewhere) where budgets allow, and supplement this with syndicated content for deeper coverage (to support the unique content and satisfy your customer's every research need).

Of course, to be most effective, every component on the page must work together as part of a co-ordinated strategy, from interlinking the content to using the same terms as the hyperlinks, and page title. That's  why we prefer to work closely with clients and search engine companies before delivering our optimised content solution. It will pay off if you do. And don't think that once your fab new content goes live, you can forget about it. Content is like a child - it needs constant nurturing. The more often content is updated the more your customers and search engines like it, and the longer it has been up on your IP address the better.

More marketing techniques

There is a role for content to play in other marketing techniques. Newsletters for example can be made a lot more interesting if offers are supported with compelling reasons to go. Linkbuilding is becoming increasingly important, helping to seed content about your services elsewhere on the web, to generate links back into your site. RSS feeds of updated information provide a means for other sites and individuals to take content from you and display it in their own reader iGoogle or websites linking back to you. Social Media is the big buzzword this year, for two main reasons - that's where the eyeballs are, that's where people are spending time online so everyone's following the traffic, and secondly because that's one of the easiest places to seed content. But in our experience this is complementary to your own branded content, your chance to communicate your brand, creating the grounds for a wider conversation.

Tricks of the trade

Even if you do choose to invest in a search agency, there are still plenty of things you can do yourself cheaply and easily to help you work out how much you need to invest and what ROI you should expect. For example, google adwords tool is a quick way to generate lists of keywords and to see how often those keywords are used:

For example input "Villa Rentals" and see it gets on average 40,000 clicks per month.

Spyfu lets you see how much is being spent on them, by whom, and how many clicks are up for grabs

"Villa Rentals" reveals £0.57 to £1.72 being paid per click but only 1 click per day compared with 40,000 searches indicated by googles adwords tool.

Here's an added bonus - your content and Google between them does the hard work that many media agencies can't be bothered to do -  making sure that the link on Google points to a relevant page in the site. For example, see how our content about EuroDisney on the Eurostar site ranks #1 and points to our content about EuroDisney as opposed to a paid for ad which links to the Eurostar homepage.  If your customers are global, you should consider the value of identifying your keywords in each language targeted for each market, and providing at least nuggets of compelling localised content to satisfy your global customers.

At this stage, I'd like to conclude my whistle-stop tour of why adding optimised content can be the most cost effective marketing investment you could make, and now consider your customers' needs once they land on your site.

Appealing, targeted content - your shop window

've argued since travel websites first began, that just offering information about your products is a little like the window in the travel agents only offering the destination and the price, with no alluring blue skies or amazing images to sell the experience. Things have moved on, with more product information than ever before. Whether it is images of the room and grounds of the property or short amenities descriptions. But many sites forget the thought process of their customers. You still need to answer your customers' first question - why go there? Why might it appeal to them (each demographic) specifically? You need to appeal to their emotions as well as their mind. Transport them in their imagination to the destination you want to send them to.

The annual trip is one of the most planned and largest expense families incur and I still find it amazing that many sites expect people to buy without providing information about the experience they are buying into, and not just the product they are buying. At the end of the day your customers aren't renting a seat on a plane, or the bed, they are dreaming of and buying into a travel experience so that is what travel sites need to be selling first, the flight is just one of the means to get there.

Think of how you research and book your holidays. Personally, I usually decide on where I want to go first, and then consider the best accommodation I can find in that destination that suits my budget and preferences.

So give your customers what they want - inspiring reasons to travel to the destination and integrate this compelling content deeply into your products.

I need a holiday - but where to go?

So should you just stick up a load of destination guides to places you sell and let the search engines and users do the rest of the work? I don't think so. People have notoriously short attention spans online and if they can't find what they want quickly and within a few clicks we all know they will move somewhere else. Perhaps to your competitors? I believe strongly that there is one area where sites are still failing to provide a service anywhere near as good as that provided by a travel agent - recommending where to go. Very often, we're just presented with a drop-down list to hundreds of destinations. Which is fine if you already know where you want to go. But maybe you just want a sunny weekend? Some farflung culture? An adventure of a lifetime? Where to start? Why should users have to read up on a whole range of destinations to work out what suits them when the web is perfectly capable of providing tools that can make those recommendations for your customers, offering another way into your deep content. In other words, your website can rival and even outshine the knowledge and understanding of a travel agent with a personalised recommendation tool.

Currently users can either go to OTAs and look at what destinations and offers are being highlighted. Or if they have some ideas about where they may like to go perhaps they go to the tourist offices website or publishers sites like Lonely Planet and Frommer's to read up on them. But that's time consuming and requires the customer to become an expert before making the decisions.

We are working towards making that whole process much more easy, quick and intuitive - to take some basic preferences from the customer and to use the pooled knowledge of our writers to suggest destinations. For Border's Bookstore, we built a simple interface to help book-buying travellers move from the dreaming stage of the travel cycle to the booking stage. We customise the look and feel of our trip recommending interfaces according to our clients and their customer needs.

Competing with online travel agents (OTAs)

Airlines have started to add content to try to compete with the OTAs to sell directly to their customers. In particular BA has brought together BA holidays to present their brand as a complete holiday solution. One of the ways they are doing that is with Content. Previously, people searching for holidays online were either not thinking of BA or not finding their packages when searching online. So we worked with them to create a range of content targeting the themes that motivate customer trips, such as "Romantic Breaks in Rome, for example. If you are promoting accommodation, the same model and thought processes apply. Ask "what are people looking for?" and provide content that answers those searches. So what about the property descriptions themselves?  This is becoming absolutely key. It's not that long ago you used to see search results on one of the largest OTA's in the UK and many of them had no images. Who's going to buy from a vendor who, with all the tools and content available, won't show you what you're buying?

Most sites have caught up and the more images and accurate and emotive descriptions you can provide, the higher the comfort factor and the better the conversion rate. But again, it's not that simple. If you're an OTA and the properties are providing the content, can you be sure it's accurate? Well written? Optimised for search? More than likely, not. We had one client who took content from the accommodation providers and they had a customer service issue when people booked online because the descriptive content told them the hotel was near the beach only to arrive and find that the hotel was indeed minutes from the beach - in terms of flying time!

So we worked on a project to visit many of the properties, conduct site visits and interviews with hotel GMs to make sure that the content about those properties was consistent with the brand of the OTA, inspiring and, most of all, factually correct. We recently undertook a project of a similar nature for Ramada Jarvis hotels and they saw a visible uplift in conversion rates on rewritten properties when compared with hotel-submitted descriptions.

It doesn't all have to be your own content. No matter how well written the copy you provide, users are increasingly looking for validation of that copy. As you know, a growing % of users check-user generated reviews about a property before booking. So if the only place those customers have to validate the accommodation copy is by going to Trip Advisor, with the associated danger of Trip Advisor linking them off to their advertisers, you've lost your customer. One way is to bring that advice back into your site, which is exactly what BA have done, by integrating Trip Advisor on their own website. Another option is to provide tools to get your own customers to provide that feedback. That involves emailing them when they get back to ask them what they thought, but isn't that simply good customer service anyway?

So you've pulled them in by natural search, provided them with inspiration for where to go based on their own preferences and your nifty recommendation tool, presented your product deeply integrated with emotive, on-brand content selling the experience, and shared other people's views of your product. They've embarked on a whole journey on your website and they're ready to book. Is that enough? Well not from the customers perspective. Perhaps they want to plan the details of their trip. They're your customer, you've worked hard and spent money on winning them, so why not also fulfil this need?

Whether it's booking confirmations, or before-you-go emails, there's a clear opportunity to add value and have one more shot at cross-selling related products. But you've got to do it the right wayWe did a test with a tour operator and they sent out emails with "have you booked a hotel, insurance, car hire etc ", and had very low click-throughs. They then sent ones saying "do you want to see the weather forecast, or what's on while you're there?" And the clicks went through the roof.

We're seeing increasing demand for geo-coded content so that users can display our attractions from restaurants to museums on Google maps and "find nearest" in relation to the travel product, such as the nearest hotel. You have an opportunity to work with Isango or Viator to sell in destination activities, and we are working with a San Fran tech company, Nile Guides, to allow people to build a customised itinerary and have it plotted on maps and emailed to them free of charge And if you have all this great content on your site wouldn't it be nice if they could print out stripped-down, personalised versions, tailored to each customer's needs?

We're looking at a whole range of different platforms to develop our content with our changing lifestyles. So we might send the personalised guides to your mobiles, for example. There has been a lot of expectation and talk over the last few years about mobile but the Iphone and the aps store has raised the bar on the ease and functionality of content on phones. Apple launched the ap store late last year and have downloaded 500 million aps since then. Our own Frommer's guide has sold incredibly well, and that's revenue that could be shared between the publisher and you.

To sum up, content is an essential tool in the battle for customers and winning their trust, but it also presents an opportunity for you to market yourselves cost-effectively and add more value.

They are your customers after all....look after them!


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