Summer Travel Search: Are We There Yet?

Summer travel is a daunting prospect. Everything is packed: the planes, the hotels, the roads, and your cars (especially those with children). We have all witnessed epic meltdowns by fellow travelers and travel workers alike, the heat and the impatience pushing everyone to their breaking point.

Fortunately, the Internet has taken some of the hassle out of the process, offering up a myriad of options for research, planning, and booking. Search plays an integral role in this process and tells us quite a bit about both travel marketer and consumer.

Search clicks to travel sites from the Big 5 search engines (Google, Yahoo, Bing, Ask, AOL) are up 10 percent year-over-year reaching to 272 million in June 2011. This annual upward search trend tends to start in April and peak in July, so proper planning and execution is critical for marketers this time of year.

Summer travelers begin their planning process early and turn to search for information and advice on where they should go and stay, as opposed to lots of holiday season travelers that know where they are going (e.g., to see family, which requires much less preparation and lead time). Marketers must take this into account when they are preparing their campaigns for the season, as there will be many more touch points to reach their consumers during their purchase process.

Travel Search Clicks comscore

To further illustrate this point, 50 percent of the 2011 travel season search growth is driven by clicks to travel information sites. Travel information sites are content based sites where prospective travelers can read reviews, learn about different destinations, and engage with their fellow travelers in a variety of fashions (TripAdvisor is a main player in this space). Visits to these sites traditionally happen early in the travel purchase funnel and are great opportunities to work with one of the big search retargeting vendors like Magnetic in order to drive a higher conversion rate.

Search and display advertising synergy has been proven to work in tandem to deliver the latent activities that you covet, such as branded searches and conversions. Because the online travel purchase can take some time to develop, the earlier you imprint your targeted brand message into the minds of the travelers on these content-based travel sites (perfect for display advertising), the better your results are likely to be down the road.

Travel Information Search Clicks

One of the big reasons targeted brand messages via search and display are so important early in the travel purchase funnel is because travel searchers are incredibly brand specific later in their purchase process. They may start out their travel planning with a general term like “hotels in Las Vegas” or “flights to London,” but by the time they are ready to book they start typing in branded destinations.

Ten of the top 10 search terms driving traffic to travel sites are brands (although “cheap tickets” and “cheap flights” can have both branded and generic meaning). Online Travel Agencies (OTAs) used to completely dominate travel search share, but have relinquished much of that share to the supplier sites over the years (i.e., airlines and hotels). The battle is fierce, and every marketer will do whatever they can to get you to convert during your visit, since they know you’re beginning to reach the point of purchase when you visit their sites by way of branded search terms.

Due to how important these branded search clicks can be in converting prospective travelers, most every travel marketer spends a considerable amount of money bidding on their branded terms via paid search. This allows them to own multiple spots on the ever important travel SERP and deliver multiple targeted brand messages to the travelers during a critical juncture in their (search) journey.

Although it may be too late for you to launch a major campaign this late in the season (and with the annual August drop off fast approaching, I don’t recommend it), the numbers point toward a travel search renaissance following a considerable slowdown over the past couple of years. Organic clicks to travel information sites are king these days, but the OTAs and supplier sites aren’t far behind. Paid search should be combined with your display advertising strategy and pushed hard with brand messaging by April at the latest.

And most importantly, remember that “cheap” is a bad word… except when it comes to travel. As the second most popular word used by travel searchers every month, it should be in your search toolkit…don’t leave home without it!

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