January 23, 2017
5 Things I Learned After Analyzing 26 Travel Agency Websites
A month ago, I gave away ten opportunities for me to give your travel agency website a no-holds-barred critique. Well, I accidentally left off the time limit on my scheduling software (no kidding.) Next thing I knew, 26 spots had been claimed. I had an Atlas Republic launch coming up. Combine the launch with a simple scheduling mistake and you have a man dancing on the skinny branches. I thought about canceling the extra appointments but decided to commit them. It was a lot of work but, in the end, worth it.
Many agencies signed up, gave me their website URL, and an hour of their time. In return, I gave them 10 years of my experience in building, marketing, and organizing websites and digital strategies. I then asked them questions about their site, their strategy, what was working and what wasn’t. I then gave them opinions and direction.
I found such a lack of direction on most of the sites that I critiqued that I had to create a list of the top 5 issues I saw. Today I want to share them with you in hopes that you can learn and avoid the same mistakes.
Let’s start this list countdown style:
5) You do not have enough content.
I know what you’re thinking “he’s going to use the cliche about content being king.” And I’m not. Well, not in the way you think, anyway. While blog posts are still giving websites 434% more indexed pages and 97% more indexed links, there’s a queen in town too. And anyone who’s had a queen around knows who’s really in charge. (hint - it’s never, ever, ever the king.)
That queen is your pages, itineraries, destination guides, landing pages, travel personality quizzes, stunning travel photos, destination videos, case studies, content from your returning travelers, virtual reality videos, reviews and recommendations, 360-degree travel images. Anything that can be digitized, shared on your site and measured is content you can use. It doesn’t always have to live on your blog. When your site content is focused on your target (read #1 for more on that,) it can do spectacular things for your travel brand by attracting the right people.
During these website review sessions, there was very little to look at past the basic home, about us and contact pages. In the few cases that had more content, it was completely arbitrary and not helpful to anyone. It’s like they were trying to attract everyone and in the process attracting no one. It was a sad case of spray and pray.
In one rare case, there was a ton content - which was great - but I found it confusing. Their brand name seemed to focus on a niche but the content distracted from the original impression the name gave off. In the end, it was a confusing message and didn’t have the consistency I’d expect from a solid brand.
Takeaway: Get clear on the fact that you need content to breath life into your site. It can’t be an online business card anymore. You have to bring your audience content that’s relevant to them. How? We’ll, that’s another post all together but you could start with these options:
- How to create easy yet actionable content marketing personas
- Signing up for our Travel marketing training (disclaimer - a free Atlas Republic Trial is required for access).
4) There are no clear calls to actions on content you do have
When I asked what the most desired action was on any given page, most people couldn’t answer. Upon further questioning, everyone had confessed that the point of their travel website was to get people to contact them. However, on page after page, there was no ask. Here’s something you need to remember; after the read, ask for the lead! Once someone’s done with your content, ask them to sign up for your newsletter, to contact you, to follow you, to friend you, to read something else, to download this, or click that - you get the idea. If you don’t ask for it, you won’t get it.
Not surprisingly, in the majority of cases, people weren't asking and they weren't getting the leads. Here’s what a call to action in the middle of a post looks like:
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- The Call to action content is related to the content it lives on
- We are asking for you to take action
- We used contrasting colors to make it pop
What you’re not seeing:
- This call to action is tracked in our analytics system. This helps us decide whether it was seen if it was clicked and if we decide to test it against other colors, layouts or offers, which one converted at a higher rate. We did this by sending an event to both Google analytics and our own custom tracking system.
- This took about 2 minutes to create in our Atlas Republic page designer
Takeaway: After the read (or even during the read) ask for the lead. Do it via a call to action that pops and asks for the user to take action. Do it via a button, do it via a link to another piece of content. Do anything that will keep them engaged.
3) You’re not utilizing landing pages or offers enough
Whether you're using paid advertising or an organic approach, to get the traffic to convert, you need to offer something of value. You can’t expect to have people contact you if you’re not giving them a reason. Especially someone that’s never heard of you before. What is a landing page? A landing page is a page that provides more detail on a promise that your call to action made. For example, if you have an ad that promised to show a user the best itinerary in Istanbul, the landing page gives more detail about that offer. It doesn't give away the itinerary (our offer) yet. Instead, it asks the user for information to get access to the itinerary.
Your landing page should focus on two core objectives:
The value of the offer to the person you want to attract.
The Offer Should Be:
- Something that an organization offers that has perceived value to website visitors other than the core products or services the organization sells
- Tailored to the persona and journey stage
A way to ask the lead for information.
The Sign Up Best Practices
- Always include a signup and submit (form button)
- The greater the offer, the more information you can ask for
- Make the submit button actionable and in an active voice (i.e "Claim My Spot" or "Give Me Access")
Here are some examples of landing pages that make a promise and ask you to convert:
In this example, Skift is asking you to buy the report or get an annual subscription to get access to the offer. The offer, in this case, is a detailed report. This is a traditional approach that can be effective - especially when the offer is rich enough. As a general rule, the amount of info you can ask for is proportional to the richness of the offer. The more you offer, the more info you get in return. In this case, they’re going beyond asking for information and are asking for a sale. That's acceptable and seems to work for them.
Now let’s look at a nontraditional approach:
Here’s an excellent example from Latin America travel specialists, Almaz Journeys (an Atlas Republic tour member.) They customized one of our landing page templates to help their visitors learn what it takes to travel to Cuba.
I love their landing page because:
- They focused their landing page on U.S citizens that want to travel to Cuba ( a targeted niche)
- They put the offer right on the landing page vs behind a click (the free info on what it takes to go to Cuba as a U.S citizen)
- They made the offer educational and not “salesly"
- They offered a no-risk opportunity for Almaz Journeys to follow up with them about more questions the user might have about traveling to Cuba. In other words, they asked for the lead.
I talked to Almaz Journey’s founder, Joe Sandillo, and he was happy to share some data with us.
The landing page converts 800% better than sending the same traffic segment to a general Cuba travel page.
800%! That is an astounding success story of using hyper-focused landing pages and offers!
If you create a landing page and they’re not converting visitors, you have one of following three problems:
Fix those and you’ll get traction.
Take away: Call to actions are important, in that, they drive visitors to your landing pages. Landing pages make sure that the end user gets more detail on the offer that your call to action promised. Ideally, it should be quick to create new landing pages so that you can test new offers and new ideas. Also, be sure to pay attention to analytics to understand if your travel marketing landing pages are converting your visitors. If your page isn't converting make sure you check one of the three items listed above to determine how to fix it.
2) You’re not doing a great job of building an email list
This was a big one. Email is the best way to nurture a lead into a customer. When looking back at the critiques, I saw very few travel sites asking for an email. Don’t get me wrong, to me, popups are proof of societies disintegrating social contract. However, society has also proved that they can work. That said, there are rules to follow on using email subscriber popups.
If you have something valuable to offer your target audience, you’re doing them a disservice by keeping them in the dark. I was recently speaking with an agency owner the other day that had sent out their first email for an entire year. That email got a 65% open rate and made a respectable amount of money for the agency. She mentioned that a lot of her clients were shocked to see anything from the agency(since they never send anything out) so it piqued their curiosity and got them to open the email.
What does it all mean? That email is still one of the best ways to communicate and drive people back to your site. According to Marketo’s study on conversion by channel, It may not always be the best converter.
But they do go on to say
“This is showing conversion by acquisition channel, which means if your lead source came from emails and nurture, you’re doing something wrong, or you’re just desperate, or…you’re a spammer (which also explains the bad conversion rate). And as we’ll see in an upcoming Marketo Institute blog, emails and nurture both have amazing ROI for multi-touch attribution after you’ve acquired the lead.”
The moral of the story: build the email list. While popups can be effective, don’t overuse them. It’s better to gather emails through landing pages and offer pages. Those leads will be your hottest prospects. Getting them to convert into paying clients will be much easier.
1) You want to attract everyone and thus attract no one.
Niche, niche, niche. I can’t stress how important this point is. If you don’t have an angle, you’re like everyone else. To figure out how to create the right niche, look at what you currently sell the most and what you love to sell. Consider making your site all about that type of content. I know, that sounds crazy - you sell “everything” but really, you don’t. You probably have 1- 5 things you sell the most of. In that case, stick to those. If you’re sprouting up, now’s the opportunity to put a proverbial content stake in the ground and start dominating your patch of digital space. Trust us; Google, Bing, Yahoo and, most importantly, your travelers, will love you for it.
Once you figure out your niche, research the people you sell that travel product to. Then, base your strategy with the findings. Let’s use one my favorite examples to illustrate this point:
You may have heard of “The most interesting man in the world” campaign by the beer company Dos Equis. That campaign was responsible for putting Dos Equis on the U.S map. According to AdAge, the vast majority of beer advertising features hot babes in minimal clothing, fancy cars, exotic locations or sophomoric humor. Well, Dos Equis did their homework and found two very interesting things
- Above all else, beer drinkers want to be interesting to their friends.
- Using a younger male model might feel threatening to younger male beer drinkers ( their core audience.) By using an older model, they can give the audience something to strive for and joke about without feeling threatened.
Those two insights not only increased sales but imprinted their name in the U.S market. It also helped them on the path to being iconic. Now, that’s what I call research. When you figure out who you want to attract and what makes them tick. It's easy to create the most interesting content in the world - to them. (sorry, I couldn’t help it.)
Niche sites are hyper-targeted and focused on a core audience with a secondary related audience. These sites tend to be tightly focused around keywords, rank higher in search and have more staying power with their audience. It’s also far easier to build an email list when you’re focused. Think about it; if you are into hot air ballooning ( who doesn’t love pointing a torch towards your only hope of surviving at 500 feet up?) would you sign up on the travel agency website that offered everything about hot air ballooning or a travel agency site that offered all types of travel but had one post about a hot air balloon trip?
Remember, If everyone is important then no one is. Focus your content on a niche and figure out what people want to know about that niche. Then use their own language, terms, and mental state to attract them and people like them. All the search engines will love you because you help them stay relevant to their searchers.
Overall, there was a lot to improve. Most everyone I worked with walked away with a much better sense of what to do next. The methods I've outlined above are by no means exhaustive but are what we've seen work time and time again - regardless of the size of your content team.
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