How Seriously Should Travel Marketers Take Google+?

Since Google launched its social sharing service Google+ 7 months ago, it’s remained at the bottom of the priority list for travel and tourism marketers – a poor third behind Facebook and Twitter. Even when Google launched brand pages to emulate those on Facebook, there was hardly a stampede of travel and tourism brands to set them up. But all of that has changed.


That’s because Google has announced the release of ‘Search Plus Your World’  – the integration of ‘public’ search results and private search results from the user’s social network.  And the user’s network is defined solely as their connections on Google+.


So now, if you’re a Google+ member and you search whilst logged into Google, you’ll see not only the usual results you’d expect to see from the public web but also content you’ve shared on Google+ and content your connections have made public or shared with you (see below).



Not only that but Google will also recommend ‘People & Pages’ results in a box on the right hand side of the main results page for certain searches – basically people and companies on Google+ that Google believes are authorities on the subjects you’ve search for (although the eg Google provides is a search for ‘music’ which returns Britney Spears as a recommended profile – debateable…).  This is a way of encouraging users to build out their Google+ connections but, as these results will also sometimes be delivered to those who aren’t logged into Google, it’s a chance to attract more subscribers too.


Now search has been a personal experience for some time.  For example, my results are tailored based on my location and, if I’m signed into Google, the sites I’ve shown a preference for visiting. But if Google+ and ‘Search Plus Your World’ takes off then the whole concept of chasing positions on the SERPs (search engine results pages) becomes meaningless as there won’t be a standard SERP for any query.


Travel companies have been rather slow to jump onto the social media bandwagon – you just need to look at the fact that British Airways has just 196,000 fans on Facebook compared to the following of another iconic British brand, Burberry, at 10m+. But this change is certainly going to make travel marketers sit up and take notice because it inextricably links social media with something we all know is a proven business driver – search.


By creating a Google+ page – and British Airways already has – building a following and creating and sharing content optimised for search, a travel brand increases the chances that the content created, and its Google+ profile, will appear in the personalised search results of their Google+ connections and the friends of those connections. And by focusing that content on a specific authority topic, they also increase the chance their profile will appear on searches related to that topic in the ‘People and Pages’ box.


Hence, social media is directly driving search results, and we know search engine results lead to traffic and bookings. Suddenly, social media has business case.


Or does it?  There are 4 drawbacks to note before rushing headlong to turn your social media strategy upside down.


Firstly, although Google+ is growing fast (90m subscribers announced by Larry Page last week) we don’t know where they are, who they are or, more tellingly, how much and what they’re sharing. Reports I’ve read suggest that the average Google+ subscriber is biased male and techy. How much sharing of holiday content is actually going on?


Secondly, marketers need to be where their target market is and their target market is more likely to be on Facebook and, to a lesser extent, on Twitter. Not only are their numbers bigger – much bigger in Facebook’s case – but we don’t understand how Google+ subscribers are using the service. Has it become their primary social profile or just a ‘handy to have’ extra on top of Facebook which they’ve subscribed to because they’ve subscribed to other Google services such as Gmail? And how compelling will social search prove to users – so compelling that they stampede to sign up to Google+?


Thirdly, how effective will social search be? Will it really drive traffic. We all know that recommendations from friends and family play a large part in the holiday decison process but will this translate to recommendations delivered ‘impersonally’ via search results?


And finally, I’m not sure this is the last move in what could be a long game. I can imagine antitrust legislators looking carefully at Google’s move to promote just it’s own social service within search results. Google must know this so maybe this is just part of a process designed to force the hands of their rivals and get access to more social data from Facebook and Twitter to enhance their search results and spike any attempts for Bing/Facebook to enhance their own search offerings.


That said, I’m recommending to my clients that they set up a Google+ page sooner rather than later.  The unknowns can tip both ways and I’d rather be playing the game and watching the impact on my business from the inside rather than wondered what’s happening from the outside.


So I’d recommend you set up your Google+ page, integrate buttons across your other channels (website, email etc) to build a following (although don’t raise your expectations too high – think Twitter following rather than Facebook following in terms of numbers) and start posting. To save time, you may want to post the content you’re sharing on Facebook anyway, although to make the most of the channel you’d be better advised to modify your posts to include your key search terms.


Then just wait and see. Watch referral traffic or changes in traffic from various search terms your posts are optimised around and let that be the guide to how much time you dedicate to managing your profile.


The 3 ‘Bs’ of Good PPC Creative for Travel Brands

Like many travel marketers, you may be finding the world of paid for search increasingly frustrating as your cost per click escalates and your click thru rates decline.


The natural thing to do is to keep fiddling with your bid levels – trying to find the optimum level that will deliver you the maximum clicks at the minimum price.  But I’d suggest you’d be much better advised to take a long, hard look at your copy.


I know, I know – you’ve got hundreds of keywords and the thought of re-visiting it doesn’t fill you with any joy.  And there’s nothing more frustrating than writing the perfectly pitched line of copy only to find it’s 36 characters rather than 35.  But finding the optimum creative for your ads really is the leg up your campaign will need to stand out from the competition and start seeing the virtuous circle of improving click thru rates, declining cost per click and increasing conversions.


As B is a letter clearly very close to my heart, I’ve entitled my tips for the optimum travel PPC copy the 3 ‘Bs’. Here they are:


‘B’ Relevant


To be relevant, you need to understand your potential customers, the context they’re in when they entered that keyword and how your brand ‘fits in’.


Put yourselves in your customers shoes and think hard what they’ll want when they enter a specific keyword. Look at what your competitors are offering for that keyword and then craft an ad which is relevant for your customers, the specific keyword query and, just as importantly, for your brand.


This will mean keeping keywords per ad group to a minimum so you can craft relevant copy, and understanding what aspect of your brands message is appropriate at different times.


Let’s have a look at an example to illustrate the point – I’ve googled ‘luxury holidays to Morocco’. The top 3 paid search ads are below.


The Top 3 Paid Search Ads for 'Luxury Holidays in Morocco'

The Top 3 Paid Search Ads for 'Luxury Holidays in Morocco'

All ads tick the relevancy box on a keyword level – the key phrase I entered is reflected in the titles of all 3. For Cadogan, it’s also reflected in the body of the text.  However, Cadogan has missed a trick in reflecting the search term in it’s ‘display URL’. Something like ‘’ would have been more likely to convince searchers that a click would take them to a relevant landing page.


All ads tick the relevancy box when it comes to being relevant to the functional aspects of their brands. Cadogan emphasises ‘Stylish’ and ‘5*’ to filter out those looking for budget breaks (and presumably those looking for un-stylish holidays). Travel Republic focuses on discounts and Hip Morocco talks about its accommodation offering, both in terms of type and location.


But Travel Republic is my favourite because they’ve been true to the more ’emotive’ aspects of their brand as well – presenting their discount message in an engaging and eye-catching way which makes them leap out from the crowd.


‘B’ Current


PPC creatives are not set in stone – one of the great advantages of the medium is that change is so easy.


So marketers should leverage this to their advantage and change their creatives as and when relevant. And those moments of relevancy are when your brand’s circumstances change or when your customers’ circumstance change.


A Question on Many Travel Marketers' Lips

A Question on Many Travel Marketers' Lips

The most obvious change in your circumstances is the advent of promotions, discounts and offers. These should be integrated into ad copy but the kitchen sink shouldn’t be thrown at consumers.  Different key phrases work at different phases of the purchase cycle and unless discounts is core to your brand’s message, I’d be wary of introducing discount messages for terms that are very high volume, generic and clearly used by customers getting their research underway.


However, you must also be aware that your customer’s circumstances change too. Maybe the summer holidays are on the way and they’re looking to keep the kids entertained (Another Day Entertaining the Kids? Alton Towers Makes It Easy), or a they’re looking to escape a particularly dismal winter and are looking for the sun (Brrr! Another Freezing Day. 25 degrees in Spain is only £299).


Taking account of the probable circunstances of your customer with regard to their current context helps keep your ads fresh and relevant, and helps you to build an emotional connection with your customers as you demonstrate to them you understand their circumstances.


‘B’ Prepared to Test


To reach your optimum performance, you’re going to need to test, and test, and test some more.


If you’ve got one ad creative running per ad group that’s not enough – you should be aiming for 3 or 4. Google will naturally ‘settle’ on the one that is the most successful in terms of clicks but once it has, you need a new set of challengers up your sleeve.


If you’re stuggling to come up with enough alternatives – try the principle of multivariate testing.  Write 2 alternative headlines, 2 alternative first lines, 2 second lines and 2 display URLs. Then you already have a potential 16 creative versions you can try.


You should see your pay per click advertising as a constant experiment as you strive for the optimum ad copy to maximise conversions, as long as all of these experiments are consistent with your brand. And be careful how you’re measuring success – it’s easy to get seduced by high click thru rates but if none of that traffic is converting, your attracting too many people who aren’t interested in what you’re offering. Focus on conversions.


PPC really is a discipline where you get out what you put in, but the result can be remarkable. I’ve seen 50% improvements in the performance of my own campaigns when I’ve been prepared to put the hard yards in, and seen examples of even more dramatic improvements than this.


So take a deep breath, sit yourself down in a quiet corner, open up your Excel and get typing. And remember, although this isn’t the most exciting aspect of your role, things could be worse – you could be working in the Accounts Department.