Conductor took a look at the travel, tourism, and hotel industries to get an idea of how both market leaders and smaller players are making their mark in organic search in such a huge sector of the global economy (bookings alone approach $1.6 trillion). We tracked nearly 45,000 search terms that consumers used to find products, services, and information on flights, attractions, hotels, and more in 2018, representing 12,044,660 searches by consumers.
With the overall contribution of the industry to the global economy estimated at $8.27 trillion, competition is fierce, and that means marketing leaders must protect their top acquisition channel — organic search — from disruptors. The best-in-class travel and hospitality brands are reaching consumers with great content through organic search. Let’s take a look at how leading brands finding success on Google are approaching organic search, and how that process looks different for large and small companies.
Market Leaders: Leading Brands Target Multiple Stages
The traveler’s customer journey is defined by multiple digital touchpoints in organic search. Forrester has an excellent visualization of this series of decisions that start with the discovery and exploration process and culminate in long-term engagements like loyalty programs and reviews.
It should be no surprise, when surveying the travel landscape, that large, established brands like TripAdvisor, Travel US News, and Cheapflights.com are the leaders at each stage of the journey.
But why? One of the ways many major players have tried to consolidate their gains and get a leg up on the competition is by expanding their service offerings. Expedia, for example, started life as a booking site. But that is only one of a slew of services now offered on Expedia’s site, from airfare to hotels to attractions and more.
That may have deepened Expedia’s overall footprint, but there’s evidence that this strategy left the door open for Cheapflights.com to overtake Expedia for the top spot in late-stage searches: in other words, bookings, Expedia’s traditional bread and butter.
The market behemoth TripAdvisor has also increasingly fashioned itself into a one-stop shop by integrating booking features and aggregating listings directly into their site through individual brands and booking sites.
In many ways it’s a natural extension of the trust and affinity people have built up for TripAdvisor’s reviews and rankings. By providing several options, it feels like another opportunity for to do some comparative research without ever leaving TripAdvisor.
Other examples of effective multi-stage brand strategy from market leaders we feature in our report include Cheapflights.com, a late-stage powerhouse that also has prioritized providing valuable information and educational content for potential customers.
Smaller Players: Making Their Mark with Focused Targets
One of the most surprising facts for many people unfamiliar with travel, tourism, and hotel digital marketing and search is that 56% of the total marketshare in the vertical is not consistently held by any one brand.
But those market leaders are actually competing in a truly massive number of markets, and in each of those markets they aren’t just squaring off with each other, but with the local competition. If you’re googling “hotels DC,” TripAdvisor and Hotels.com aren’t just squaring off against each other, or even just against Marriott. They’re competing with all of the local hotel businesses as well.
In some ways, local travel, tourism, and hotel brands have an advantage: they can create extremely focused, optimized sites specifically for their markets, where market leaders need to maintain thousands of such pages to factor in for search. Google’s Universal Search Results also become particularly important here, because hotel and attraction-related searches mean the most common type of first search results are local results, which appear at the top of Google’s results and are geotagged and link back to the business’s website.
If a prospective customer is searching for “hotels DC,” the first local result they see is for a Pod Hotel, a small chain in New York and DC that prioritizes low prices and out-of-hotel experiences in those cities. That’s a huge win for a small business: people search for “hotels DC” an average of 368,000 times a month.
That specificity can also work to small players’ advantage outside of local results. Our research found that discount booking service LowCostAirlines is at the top of Google’s organic results for several key flight-related search terms, including “cheap airlines,” which has a monthly search volume of 165,000. That service is beating major competitors like Expedia, Orbitz, Hotwire, and Kayak because they offer one service: booking cheap airfare. Smaller players should make sure they regularly crawl and consolidate unfocused pages because Google prefers focused sites.
Our full report also includes insights into mobile results, as well as further strategic guidance, successful brand examples, and data on organic top performers for searches around key industry areas: