According to Hitwise, the online travel industry is less reliant on seasonal peaks than ever before, however January still represents a key period for any travel publisher. A combination of winter sun holidays, ski holidays and early summer bookings makes it a busy time for online sales.
As Hannah Pitman from lowcostholidays.com comments: "Affiliates can expect a busy month of bookings in January. With sales to the traditional winter destinations including the Canaries and North Africa up year-on-year along with great growth in long haul destinations.”
Travel publishers, such as ourselves here at Weather2Travel.com, need to prepare now if they stand a chance of being ready for January. Although the online industry moves fast, planning activities now can make this period run more smoothly. Between October and December is a relatively quite period in travel. This makes it the ideal time to fine-tune strategy for January.
Of course, we all still need to maintain our own online businesses (i.e. publish, blog, develop, SEO, test and promote our websites), but finding time to engage with affiliate networks, agencies, data providers and merchants will improve our chances of having a successful New Year period.
As a content publisher working in the travel industry we are more than aware of the struggles we face. There has been a shift over the last 12 months towards ‘content marketing’ and everyone is joining the ‘guest blog’ gold rush. Google’s authorship and author rank has seen to that and we must always keep one eye on what the almighty Google is up to.
Last year many “affiliates” got wiped out by Google Panda, and the subsequent Penguin update in 2012. We can only second-guess what will come next. All we can do is focus on creating good quality content which engages with our users. The rest will look after itself hopefully!
Below are some of the essential activities that travel publishers should focus on to ensure they have a successful January period:
1. Engage with Affiliate Networks
Most affiliate networks are willing to interact with publishers and remain the best starting point for more information about an affiliate program. Good account managers are worth their weight in gold and should be able to answer any questions about merchants and products. Some networks even have travel ‘specialists’ who can help point publishers in the right direction.
2. Contact Merchants and Agencies Directly
Publishers should not be afraid to contact merchants directly or the agencies that represent them. If they are willing to listen and discuss how you can work together they are probably worth promoting.
According to Jo Addison at Jet2holdidays: “January is the peak trading time for Jet2holidays (and other travel merchants), and as such we will be putting a lot of effort into making sure that our affiliates are fully equipped with everything they need to succeed. This will involve working with our top affiliates to make them aware of our marketing messages and best offers beforehand, supplying our affiliates with fresh creative and extending our other online and offline marketing campaigns to take advantage of increased demand - all of which helps to improve our affiliates conversion rate.”
3. Ask questions and request what you need
Remember it is a 2-way street. Brands need long-tail affiliates to promote their products and drive traffic that they wouldn’t normally collect. Don’t be afraid to ask for data, deep-links or anything that makes your life easier.
4. Network at every opportunity
Publishers should try and meet merchants, agencies and account managers at networking events, tradeshows and conferences. Firstly, putting a face to a publisher’s website will raise their profile, while meeting in person gives the publisher an opportunity to explain how their business works and helps the merchant understand how they can help.
Events like the upcoming A4U Expo 2012 in London, Affiliate Window’s “All Aboard” Travel Event and Affiliate Future’s regular “Perfect Partners” all give publishers the ideal opportunity to meet with merchants.
5. Plug into Data and Technology
Now more than ever there are many tools to assist travel publishers to promote the top brands. Even for those not able to work with datafeeds and APIs can now utilise a wide variety of contextual widgets and dynamic search banners.
Datafeeds and APIs have been around for many years now, but are now much easier to implement and integrate into publishers’ site. Datafeeds can be used to create price related content with a short purchase path that compliments the other content on their website.
6. User Testing
I asked someone recently if they’d take a look around our new look site and offer some feedback. He suggested I did some “low tech” user testing instead. Simply get a random selection of people to sit down with your website and watch their movements around the site. Even if you record it on an iPad, you’ll learn more about the user experience in 10 minutes at almost no cost.
7. Blog, Tweet and Promote
Blogging and guest blogging is everywhere at the moment. Coordinating your blog, newsletter and social media activities are vital for a successful January, but don’t forget an old fashioned press release still works even if the links aren’t quite as valuable. Plan the press releases for January and make sure they tie into the overall plan.
8. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket
Publishers should not rely on one brand or network as things can quickly change. Publishers can spread their risk by working with many top brands and platforms. They can also combine CPA with other forms of advertising like CPM, CPL and CPC making a winning combination.
9. Be Flexible
Things change very quickly online, so be as flexible as possible. One of the great advantages of being an affiliate or content publisher is that you can be nimble and change strategies quickly.
10. Remember it’s your website
Publishers shouldn’t be afraid to stand up to a merchant or network as their website is their brand and business. If a merchant isn’t converting publishers have every right to turn them off no matter how big and well-known they are.
Publishers researching and writing articles for January will benefit from any information that merchants and agencies can share. The biggest challenge facing travel publishers is how to combine the knowledge they have learned, with banners/widgets, product data and their own website content.
Because travel websites by nature are destination focused presenting deep-linking banners/widgets and deals relevant to the destination is key to conversion. Remember, the more specific and relevant the deal and further down the purchase path the better. If a publisher can unlock this combination, they are well down the path to a successful New Year period.