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The evolving travel SERP

Written by Darren | 05-Oct-2016 13:57:00

Search plays a pivotal role when it comes to travel. As users, we use it at almost every stage of travel planning from destination selection and finding the right hotel, to booking a taxi. We use search to research the ideal location, book flights, travel insurance, airport parking, to review and choose accommodation, and review and book excursions and restaurants in advance.

It stands to reason then, that Google pay special attention to the travel industry and over the years they have developed bespoke SERPs and ad formats for the travel researcher, which makes it a great vertical to research. It also indicates just how competitive and innovative the market is.

Extensions

One of the most interesting things about this industry is that it is fantastic for showcasing all possible PPC extensions:

  • Sitelinks: perfect for highlighting destinations and special offers
  • Call out extensions: - great for highlighting key USP’s such as no booking fees or added extras
  • Structured Snippets: to provide more information on destinations and customer ratings
  • Review Extensions: to give users instance access to your review star rating
  • Seller Reviews
  • Price Extensions: to showcase special prices for particular destinations
  • Location Extensions
  • App Extensions
  • Call Extensions to encourage immediate calls

A quick travel based search will show you advertisers utilising an array of extensions.

The travel industry is an important market for Google Once you factor in the mass market economy brands, independent hotels and holiday rental brands is easy to see why this is an incredibly cluttered market place and one where we are likely to see high Cost Per Click (CPC’s)!

The Market

The keyword planner gives us some suggested bids for a range of generic holiday search terms, which indicates a highly competitive market. From our experience these estimates can be conservative at best, so we would expect actual CPC’s to be higher in reality, especially around the key booking periods of the year.

This makes it imperative to ensure that PPC accounts in the travel vertical are well optimised and bids managed on a regular and seasonal basis to ensure efficiency. It also makes ‘niche’ spotting or exploiting your unique selling points (USP’s) imperative, and long tail expansions vital to make campaigns commercially viable.

The SERP

The travel industry is unique when it comes to PPC because there are ad formats available in this vertical that aren’t open to other markets. One that has rolled out to most countries now is the ‘3 pack’ ad as you can see below for the Ritz hotel.

You can see the ‘Book a Room’ ads are shown below the main hotel information; clicks on these ads direct you to the advertisers landing page. Previously these ads were shown in the knowledge card on the right of the SERPs, however after various tests (and probably falling revenue) Google have decided to move these in to the heart of the SERP.

Clicking on ‘View more rates’ unveils a small pop up window within Google which details more booking options from more advertisers; again any clicks here will take you to the advertisers landing page.

The ‘3 pack’ is only showing on hotel results at the moment. These ads are powered by the Hotel Ads API; they need to be feed based and work dynamically in order to serve accurate availability and pricing and could be expanded into other areas such as flights.

Seasonality

Google trends depict a distinctive pattern in search volumes in the UK over the past 5 years. As common sense would suggest, travel industry searches drop at the end of the year and rise rapidly in January, when users begin to plan for the year and Christmas is over with for another year.

Source: Google trends – ‘hotel’ searches in the UK for the past 5 years.

We’ve charted the average search trends for 2015 against the average UK temperature by month, our internal reporting interface (equiEDGE) receives temperature and rainfall data which gives us the ability to chart market trends against external factors.

Search volumes start high in January during the cold of the winter and after a slight dip in February, we start to see searches increase in line with the temperature. We see interest peak in April and May, dip in June, which presumably is when lots of travelling is taking place. Searches then surge again in line with the temperature and possible last minute deals, to its annual high in August. As the weather improves we seek more sun and the fear of it disappearing in autumn may well spur us on to grab one last dose of vitamin D. As we move from Q3 to Q4 we see interest fall; the focus is likely to be Christmas during this period and much of the UK’s excess cash is going to be earmarked for the festive period. The spike in December is mainly post-Christmas and New Year where users begin to plan for next year.

This highlights the importance of seasonality and understanding the market. Marketers in the travel industry need be on top of the trends that are particular to their brand to ensure they drive maximum volume during the periods of highest interest. Forecasting against trends and seasonality for your brand and allocating budgets to capitalise on surges in interest or changes in the weather are an important consideration when working to maximise cost efficiency and Return on Investment (ROI). Seasonal copy is also imperative within the travel industry. In a highly competitive market it is crucial to stand out and the cheapest way to do this is with quirky and seasonal copy.

A basic search for ‘holidays’ at this time of year shows us a seasonal ad in position 1.

Here, onthebeach.co.uk is attempting to service the underlying intent of the search. Given the timing of my search, it’s likely I am on the hunt for a late and potentially cheap deal.

When you compare this to the competitor ads below you can see that there is almost no seasonality reference in their copy.

There are many other advantages the ad in position 1 has, but for me the copy is far more compelling and my instinct (pre click) tells me I’m likely to land on a much more relevant landing page. The overall relevancy for the user here is crucial.

This highlights the importance of being agile and tailoring your PPC strategy to the market trends.

Agility is crucial when it comes to preventing wastage and protecting brand reputation. Global events have the ability to scupper the travel industry in an instant. Natural disasters, airplane crashes, terrorism threats and health threats all have a dramatic effect on searches and bookings. We know that searches around ‘Turkey’ in July would have been driven more by the coup rather than people looking for holidays. In this instance it would have been crucial to remove Turkey based copy and ads promoting holiday deals to the country or at the very least to have added negative terms such as ‘coup’ or ‘uprising’. The equimedia PPC team are well accustomed to staying on top of world, weather and seasonal events by using the tools at our disposal; real time reporting gives us the opportunity to spot surges in traffic and dips in conversion and react quickly.

If you would like to find out more about how we could help you maximise ROI from your PPC campaigns please do get in touch.

Other posts in this travel series