Published on Wednesday, February 23, 2011

TravelMole Guest Comment: Top tips on online marketing

Finding the best online marketing strategy is a tricky business. Matthew Barker, managing partner at Hit Riddle, an internet marketing consultancy specialising in the travel industry, offers some good advice:

"The eye-watering pace of change online presents travel marketers with a constant stream of new opportunities, along with an ever growing risk of getting bogged down in a cul-de-sac of over-hyped but ultimately ineffective tools, platforms and strategies.

I spend my days working with business owners and marketing managers in the travel business, helping companies navigate the bewildering array of online marketing services that exist. More often than not, I'm engaged in remedial work, helping people extricate themselves from bad decisions and shoddy services delivered by outsourced agencies.

Fortunately, there are some simple approaches that would have helped prevent most of their problems:

Forget about the latest bandwagons and fads. Barely a week passes without some new website arriving on the scene which claims to bring all the solutions to every travel marketer's problems. This week Google Places made waves, causing heady talk about the demise of industry stalwart Trip Advisor, then came the new Yahoo! travel portal, before that was claiming to reinvent the art of travel planning.

As useful as these tools may be, if we were to pay attention to all of them we'd never have any time for anything else. Instead, aim for long-term tactics that suit your product, capacity and market. Don't worry about missing the boat, instead think about what is proven to provide a reasonable return on your investment.

Most of the agencies that I work with have about enough marketing capacity to support a website, a blog, an email newsletter and perhaps a Facebook and Twitter profile. These should form the core of every online marketing strategy. This is where 99% of your customers will be searching, researching and interacting. Before you consider adding new tools to your armoury, be sure that you have the time and capacity to make them work.

Don't over-emphasise short-term results. I often see clients who have over invested in short-term approaches such as pay-per-click advertising, at the expense of long-term and sustainable work like search engine optimization. Sure, your sales people may be demanding leads (now!) and increasing your PPC budget is the fastest way to deliver. But in the long term you're pouring money away when you could be cementing your market position in much more permanent ways.

Instead, balance your strategy between immediate results and sustainable growth. Aim to taper off investment in short-term lead generation while ramping up the impact of long-term development strategies.

Don't try to cut corners. I'm ashamed to admit it but the search marketing industry is awash with unscrupulous contractors who promise the world and then set about breaking all the rules in the book to make it happen. If a marketing agency is making you an offer that sounds too good to be true, then it probably is. You should definitely steer clear of “get to the top of Google fast” services and try to find out more about the contractor's practices and approaches to avoid getting tied up in spam.

Instead, invest in legitimate and scalable methods. Clarify the ongoing costs of your programme and what options you have for expanding or reducing the campaign in the future. Ideally you should look for pay-per-performance agreements, legitimate agencies will have no problem guaranteeing your money back if performance targets have not been met.

The core of a solid online marketing strategy should include:
• A website that has been optimized for search traffic and designed for usability and easy navigation towards your main product/service pages
• An on-site blog (attached to your main domain, as opposed to on a separate URL) that is regularly updated with valuable content reflecting your brand's area of expertise
• A target to continuously increase the fraction of organic search traffic over pay-per-click traffic, gradually tapering PPC off towards your niche product areas
• Use a web analytics tool to constantly review your traffic sources and the volume of leads they bring your business, and revise your priorities as required
• A regular check of your social media profiles, review websites, travel forums, etc to respond and engage with any comments related to your brand."

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