“28pc of all travel-related queries in the UK came from mobile devices by end of 2011”

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IN-DEPTH: It’s absolutely essential for businesses to evaluate their current mobile experience for consumers conducting their travel related queries on mobile devices and to invest in improvements before being left behind. 2012 will certainly be yet another record-breaking year for mobile, says Mike Giannotti, Industry Manager, UK Travel, Google.

By Ritesh Gupta

Google recently acknowledged that it is beginning to develop a strong understanding of how shoppers engage with their mobile devices and tablets as they make their purchase decisions.

It is also being highlighted that tablets and smartphones, while still in early stages of adoption relative to desktop computers, are showing strong and accelerating gains in search share.

The travel industry needs to take notice of these developments as Google is the biggest source of traffic for most travel companies.  

So how did mobile search shape up in 2011? What were the major trends for SEO and PPC last year?

In order to know more, EyeforTravel’s Ritesh Gupta spoke to Mike Giannotti, Industry Manager, UK Travel, Google.

(Giannotti is scheduled to speak at the forthcoming Travel Distribution Summit Europe 2012, to be held in London (April 17-18) this year).

Excerpts:

What do you think were the major developments for SEO and PPC in 2011? What should the travel industry watch out for when it comes to search marketing in 2012?

By the end of 2011, we saw that 28 percent of all travel related queries in the UK came from mobile devices. Within that, tablets account for nearly one third. What’s more, during the weekend when bookings are typically highest, these devices account for an even greater percentage of total queries. It’s absolutely essential for businesses to evaluate their current mobile experience for these consumers and to invest in improvements before being left behind. 2012 will certainly be yet another record-breaking year for mobile.

In 2012, I expect that attribution will continue to be a hot topic within both the SEM and travel industries as marketers expect more insight into the impact of their campaigns. Last click is widely accepted as an outdated way of measuring search campaign effectiveness and can severely limit growth. The challenge, however, lies in ongoing channel optimisation and finding the right models for each campaign’s objectives without wild complexity. Google launched Multichannel Funnels in Google Analytics last year, offering insight on the interaction between campaigns and channels. Uncovering more data about how consumers are influenced will open up more opportunities for marketers, particularly in travel where research is very intense.

What do you think are the major challenges for travel marketers at this stage when it comes to SEO and PPC?

Beyond attribution, one of the other major challenges I see is real tactical alignment between available inventory, demand and campaign strategy. PPC especially has the ability to be extremely reactive to a changing market and where there are gaps in bookings.

Lately, I’ve seen some companies with excellent use of feeds and APIs to dynamically change the focus of their campaigns based on business need through ad copy, bidding and landing page changes. This tactical side of PPC could be more effectively exploited across the industry. It requires marketers integrating more deeply with trading teams and site developers for yield management.

While SEO continues to be a significant strategy with high return, a successful online marketing strategy needs to have other key marketing components such as SEM (paid search), social media optimisation, online reputation management, and ways to generate authoritative trusted links. What do you recommend when it comes to planning and budgets for search spend this year?

The best strategy is to build a consistent presence across all devices and media when consumers are looking for relevant travel information. Compared to the retail and tech industries, most UK travel companies are falling behind as consumers are finding new ways of researching, engaging and transacting.

Paid search will always be a demand-led medium. The most successful search advertisers budget for search as a cost of sale.  In other words, their booking rates and bidding control their campaigns rather than allocating a fixed “marketing budget” which can lead to restrictions or overspend if the market changes. This removes guesswork and risk from the equation, especially in a year that again holds many large questions for the travel industry, notably consumer spending and the Olympics.

It’s important to mention that every travel company from the largest to the smallest has a USP, and therefore can carve out a niche within search that works for them. Testing and data investigation will reveal where you can thrive, and then it’s a matter of maximising your campaigns within those successful areas.

Google clearly has the potential to alter the dynamics of how people shop for hotel rooms. Being on the supplier side of the industry, how do you think hotels need to be in the sync in the manner in which customers are shopping, and how to market to attract those customers directly to brand websites, which is what Google Hotel Finder can do?

I think there are a few things that hoteliers can do. One of the most important things to get right is to provide transparent and frequently updated prices for customers specific to their booking period. Price promise guarantees and loyalty schemes with real benefits are also major USPs for hotel suppliers. Hotels also have the assets to create excellent video and photo content for customers to review during their research. And, every customer appreciates an easy and straightforward booking process. If it’s a strength, make sure it’s known!

Finally, TripAdvisor published a survey in the U.S. recently that revealed that Wifi is the single most important amenity that hotels can offer, with 88 percent expecting free Wifi. It’s a sign of technology changing consumer expectations, and one that hoteliers should be eager to meet!

Social relevancy will continue to strongly influence search rankings.  Likes and dislikes of customers in social circle will impact the search results.  How should hotel marketers focus on this?

The integration of social information into search results is intended to make each user’s experience more personalised and relevant. Particularly in travel where recommendations are incredibly important, there exists a massive opportunity for travel companies of all kinds to benefit from the positive experiences they already provide to customers.

The best way to get started is to make it easy for customers to endorse your brand by installing the Google +1 button throughout your website, including at product level. Set up a verified page as the home for your brand on Google+ and engage with followers by providing regular and varied updates. Finally, tie all of the recommendations you accrue via your Google+ page, your website, on search and on ads together by enabling social extensions.

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