Last week I was the guest lecturer at the ITAA/DMI Diploma in Online Marketing course. My lecture, titled “Website Architecture – Building A Great Website for Search Engines & Visitors”, covered best practices in front-end architecture with a focus on the travel niche. I wrote last week about my experience with Falcon Travel’s lack of public email addresses, and I found many other cases that led me to the conclusion I draw in this post – the Irish travel niche is not leveraging the web anywhere near its potential.
Irish Travel Agent Websites
Good CRM and Customer Reviews Should be Friends
Looking through many of the Irish travel sites I visited the first thing that struck me was the lack of any customer reviews. Reviews are a great way to internally measure business success, and are increasingly being used by buyers to help select destinations. Just look at the popularity of Tripadvisor.
So where does CRM enter the equation. When a customer returns from a holiday how many operators/agents follow up to ask the customer if they enjoyed the trip? Soliciting feedback is a great way to build relationships and continuously improve your business offering. Feedback can also be a great safety valve to identify issues early. Soliciting feedback can also reinforce the belief that the business cares about its customers.
I know that I’d appreciate a quick email follow-up from any travel agent asking me was I happy after consuming their service (and by service I include the consumption of the trip or holiday). Amazon has been successfully following up with every single purchase for as long as I’ve been a customer.
LouderVoice for Business)
OPPOTUNITY 1: Travel sites that embrace user reviews, UGC and feedback mechanisms will nurture stronger customer relationships and offer superior user experience to new visitors.
Top Rankings Still Doing Good Business?
I think everyone realises that the travel niche is suffering acutely from out current economic woes. But I imagine high ranking sites are faring better than others. The trends are clear – migration to online channels is only increasing as people search out higher value propositions to offset economic woes.
So I was really quite surprised by how the Irish travel sites were competing in the organic results. Being blunt (many people have told me I’d never make the diplomatic corps) what struck me was the lack of serious SEO. And this struck a particular cord, reminding me of an important lesson – in SEO everything is relative.
You Don’t Have to Beat Best Practice, You Just Need To Beat The Other Guys
I work with a fairly diverse set of clients, most of whom operate in more competitive niches. So I’m used to working on projects that require significant resources (and budget) to see returns. But looking at the online travel niche here in Ireland I’ve concluded that the lack of sophistication is far more prominent than significant competitive forces in the SEPRs.
One of the sites I noticed doing very well for many short-tail travel phrases was gohop.ie. I was interested to see how they achieved their success, and from what I could see this is down to article submissions. Generally I’d consider article submission to be low-level link building, but to GoHop’s credit they rank, and in reality the means are far less important than the ends.
Article Submissions – low level, but effective
OPPOTUNITY 2: SERPs are wide open to a more sophisticated SEO campaign, and I think even a newcomer who embraces high quality content and user interaction can quickly become the online organic leader.
Website Architecture Isn’t Brain Surgery
When designing a good website architecture for both users and search engines it’s important to promote your most important pages. That means building a navigation which tells users, both human and machine, what’s important. Your site-wide navigation tells users more than most other mechanisms, and I have to say that I’m really disappointed to see that one of Ireland’s leading travel agents have commissioned a new website which breaks many of the most basic architecture rules. No names, but it’s also terrible (but unsurprising TBH) to see large agencies churning out such poor websites, and doubly so given that said agency also tout their SEO services on their site. I always wince when I see things like:
or internal links with 490 character target urls. Things like that aren’t stupid, they’re incompetent.
OPPOTUNITY 3: Non-branded travel-related search terms wont be “owned” by brands as long as they pay huge sums to developers who don’t understand organic search. Small niche players can dominate SERPs while the large brands continue to haemorrhage cash to offline branded advertising.
Cycles Come, Cycles Go…
While current conditions are exceptionally bad for the travel industry, opportunities abound for the group of survivors that compete in the next up cycle. Embracing UGC and interactive feedback loops will increasingly differentiate market leaders from “also-rans”, while user-centric design and content will reduce new prospect acquisition costs and increase customer loyalty.
In my opinion there’s massive upside potential in this online niche, and I hope that the guys from the ITAA course will go on to dominate the online space in times to come. Lastly, thanks to last week’s students for all the great discussions and ideas.