Travel Search Marketing: Not Just Direct Response Anymore

Moderator: Chris Sherman, Executive Editor, Search Engine Land moderated. The speakers were Bill Tancer, General Manager, Global Research, Hitwise (loves data), James Lamberti, Senior Vice President, Search and Media, Comscore, and Lorraine Sileo, Vice President, Information Services, PhocusWright.

It’s clear that search marketing is no longer primarily a direct response form of media. Search marketers not factoring offline ROI in conversion tracking (at least by conjecture) are likely missing a large percentage of the calculation, especially in travel. Exacerbating the issue is that 31% of Internet users delete cookies on a regular basis. These are the offline conversion stats for the following online verticals for sales taking place within 60 days after the Initial Click: Computers 69%, Home and Garden 69%, Toys 61%, Travel 88%, Jewelry 57%, Books, 56%, and Software 55%.

For every $1 dollar sold online there’s a $1.20 latent online bump. Factor in $.40 for cookie deletion, and a whopping $4 for offline sales. “Are you linking your search activities to the offline sales metric?” It’s critical to understand the true denominator when calculating the “real” value of ROI “It’s probable that your denominator is wrong.”

Search engines provide context for every aspect of “Travel Value Chain:” learn, shop, book, fulfill. The majority of people search on very few terms but the long tail matters more and more. Chris stressed the value of marketing to “long tail effect” for search marketers. “The tail is getting longer and people are using more words in queries.” In the travel categories, especially destination-searches, queries are heading into the 5-6 word phrases. Also zip codes are becoming more prevalent and are beginning to ramp.

ComScore mines data from a massive panel comprised of over 2 million users. Lamberti stressed a focus on the individual habits of individual users. “These are people, not just words and clicks. “Online population growth is massive” and travel is the biggest vertical on the net. There were 100 billion dollars in 2007 just in US travel sales Airlines drive the vast majority of the dollar volume and there is growth in all other sectors including hotels.

Lamberti stressed “know our consumer and understand their motivations for search.” Remember that messaging and the complementary nature between online and offline campaigns result in a classic synergistic impact of branding and sales. “[In travel] Search is only one aspect of the experience and part of an overall funnel. “

Hitwise monitors the largest worldwide sample of Internet users, over 25 million. Google dominates with 21% of the pie with Yahoo! search and MSN weighing in at approximately 5% each. Maps are the number one query at 35% followed by air travel 21%, destination 10%, accommodations 10%, bus/train 2%, and car travel 5%.

Vendors Vrs. OTAs
There is a never ending battle between the OTA (online travel agencies) resellers like Travelocity and actual vendors. OTAs tend to purchase many more generic terms like “cheap flights” and generally to purchase specific brand searches like Delta and Hertz. It is likely that vendors will begin to carve into the long tail.

Be aware of what motivates your users and message them appropriately. As gas prices go up and consumer confidence wanes, people are seeking more “contained” travel in a tighter geographic area. Theme and message search marketing directly to evolving social preferences. Target new and returning visitors differently with post search retargeting.

Lorraine Sileo presented data showing that meta-search engine (engines that search groups of engines) convert at approximately 12-17% and general search engines only 1-2%. This is the heat airlines feel as meta-engines grow in popularity.

He discussed natural language processing and personalization huge puzzle pieces. Vertical search. human assistance (ChaCha), semantic search, statistical search, contextual search, new site information (feeds/bloglines, etc…) will likely play a huge role in the future. Actionable analytics are, as always in search marketing, the definitive tool for increasing click through and conversion.

This was a hell of a kickoff for SMX Travel. The information came fast and hard and show tremendous promise for what looks to be another killer Chris Sherman-sequenced show. Yay.

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