There is one certainty about the digital consumer: they will shop how they want to shop. Mere marketers like us must either assist them with their purchase journey, or make way for someone else that will.
The online travel industry is fiercely competitive and digitally-savvy holiday makers have dwindling patience for websites that waste their precious time. Price-led sites such as Skyscanner and content-led sites such as TripAdvisor dominate the online space because their core offering is to make it as easy as possible for travellers to research and book their holidays. They refrain from monetising users at every possible moment, but in return they have built a level of consumer trust and loyalty worth millions.
With that in mind, let’s look at how would-be travel super affiliates can set about carving their own name in this competitive market.
Which part of the journey will you assist?
The purchase journey on a holiday booking is extremely complex, typically lasting 45 days and involving visits to as many as 38 different websites - not to mention all of the offline influencers! However when broken down to the bare basics, there are three key identifiable stages:
Travellers will typically look at a variety of sources when searching for holiday inspiration – friends, travel guides, television and of course the internet. This is where authentic, knowledgeable content comes into its own. Fun, well-written travel blogs offer a huge amount of value to those looking for ideas, but keep reviews honest and unbiased, and be upfront about use of affiliate links or any other incentives you have received. Your credibility will suffer if users feel misled. To boost the volume and diversity of your content, why not consider teaming up with a handful of other travel bloggers and using your combined knowledge and experience to give your readers an even wider source of inspiration?
There is nothing wrong with using great prices to encourage conversions at this early stage in the journey. Travelzoo’s award-winning Top 20 email has achieved success by strictly vetting the deals that they include, only showing the best offers that can often be made as impulse purchases. In return for protecting the integrity of their email, Travelzoo sees much stronger conversions on this newsletter than many other email providers in the travel sector.
Once a customer has a rough idea of the destination they want to visit, the pool of information sources they use changes. Travellers want to know what the local area has to offer, ideal hotel locations, information on currency, flight length, weather, language and culture. Destination-focused websites like InformationFrance.com that have detailed local knowledge are in a unique position to offer users invaluable information that can make the difference between booking their trip or backing out. Another example of an affiliate tackling the “advice” stage is Weather2Travel.com, who have carved out a niche for themselves advising on where to travel to get the best weather, and incorporating inspirational blog posts and price-led deals to boot.
3. Price comparison
This is the final stage before booking, and it is so easy to get wrong when short term gains are put in front of long term user relationships. I could (but I won’t) list dozens of price-comparison sites who choose to weight results according to how much money they are paid, instead of offering the best value for the users. This may make more money from your existing traffic, but your customer base will never grow if you put your own profits before the user’s needs – and neither will your affiliate revenues. Sites such as Skyscanner have built up an incredible level of trust with their users, who know that they will always be given the best prices on their flights for the parameters they have searched for. Instead of trying to drive users to a less competitive deal to make a slightly higher eCPC, give your users what they are looking for – an easy link to the best deal. That is the only way to make sure that they keep coming back.
The only way to be sure that you are giving users what they need is to allow them to talk to you. Keep lines of communication open and make your users feel involved and invested in your site. Offer the opportunity to run guest posts, run competitions, even organise events if the demand is there. Give your users a reason to keep returning, and give them something to engage with as a reward for their loyalty.
Look to build relationships with the main players in the travel industry. Whether working through agencies, networks or directly with advertisers, make an effort to get to know your main contacts and find out what their goals are. You will not only put yourself in the best position to decide how to drive the highest quality of traffic, but the merchant’s marketing teams will also be able to tailor the assets they give you to best suit your business model. You also put yourself in the best position to receive exclusive rates and offers that would not normally be offered to the majority of longtail affiliates.
Stay true to your values
If your core value is always to offer the very best prices to the users, don’t let this be compromised. If you have promised to always provide unbiased information, don’t let sponsored “native” stories outnumber your neutral content. Customers are aware of these tactics and unsurprisingly, most find them pretty frustrating.
As an affiliate website, the most valuable thing you can possess is a large, loyal user base that trusts you to put their needs first. You may occasionally come under pressure from merchants to bend these rules that you have set for your business, but by staying true to your values you will be in the best position to offer advertisers what they want the most: traffic from users who have the knowledge and confidence to complete their booking.