Almost every tour operator is doing some form of “content marketing” these days. From writing travel blog posts and sending email newsletters to diligently updating Instagram accounts, we’re all content marketers in one form or another.
But, as a tour operator, do you know if your efforts are working? Is it paying for itself — like all good marketing should — or are you just crossing your fingers and hoping for the best?
The Pay-Per-Click Conundrum
One common problem regarding content marketing is that it is a buzzword, not a legitimate marketing activity in and of itself. Investing in content can generate a return, but only if you recognize that it’s a means to an end. “Content” isn’t a marketing channel, but you can certainly use content to improve the performance of your existing marketing channels.
Start by defining a proper and realistic objective that can be measured and used to attribute a return. For example, “sell more trips” isn’t useful, but “reduce ad costs” is. This is important because the cost of pay-per-click (PPC) advertising with Google and Facebook is causing real pain for many tour operators. I see businesses spending hundreds of dollars per day, with the cost-per-lead (not booking!) easily reaching $200 USD. That’s a serious threat to your margins!
This is where content marketing comes in. Smart content marketing is an excellent way to rein in those costs. Compared to other marketing channels, PPC ads are generally quite good at delivering qualified traffic — that is, people who are interested in your product, fit your target demographics, and are likely to book. But, even so, conversion rates — the percentage of clicks that turn into an inquiry — are still abysmally low, usually ranging between 0.5 and 2.5 percent.
Given that you’ve paid Google or Facebook for all those clicks, that is an incredibly high level of wastage. Up to 99.5 percent of your ad budget is being lost.
Using Content Marketing to Increase Conversion
There are many ways to boost conversion rates, from optimizing ad campaigns to improving website and landing pages. In addition, you can use content to build a warm and pre-qualified audience. In other words, using appropriate content can improve the chances of reaching the right people and help target ads toward people who are already familiar with your business. Focusing your PPC spend on warm, pre-qualified audiences is the secret weapon to reducing your overall ad spend and unlocking a return from your content marketing efforts.
What does this mean in practical terms?
First, you need to have and share the content that will genuinely qualify your audience. Think about the sort of questions people ask while researching the destinations and activities your company sells. What do people need to know? How can you help them in the travel planning process?
If someone searches Google for “family friendly hiking areas in Alaska,” it’s a safe bet they’re researching an outdoors-focused vacation to Alaska with their kids. Create content that satisfies this search, and you’ll start to build a valuable, warm, pre-qualified audience. And, no, an infinite stream of blog posts on the topic is not necessary. A single, high-quality, evergreen article that addresses the topic and answers questions this potential client may have will likely do the trick.
You’ll also need to get your content in front of the target audience, even if they’re not specifically researching an adventure trip for the family to Alaska. To get any real traffic volume, you’ll need to be proactive. This is where email marketing, Facebook ads, amplification tools like Outbrain, and social media all come in handy.
Getting this right takes some careful planning, and no one understands your own audience better than you. Build your content strategy around what you know: What are the most common questions in the travel planning process? Where are your audience members most active online? What type of content and media are they most likely to engage with? These audience persona and campaign planning tools are a useful starting point for brainstorming about your audience’s needs and the types of content that might be useful. Use what you know about your audience to create the content they want and need, and deliver it in a manner where they can act on it.
Content Marketing: The Next Steps
You’ve published blog posts with content your potential clients are interested in, and you’ve taken steps to proactively amplify that content to reach target audience members who aren’t specifically searching for your offerings. That’s a great start, but you also need to tap into the enormous power of remarketing (also called retargeting).
Even if you’ve not heard of remarketing, you’ve certainly noticed it with those ads that seem to follow you around the internet everywhere you go. That’s remarketing done wrong. Done right, it’s an excellent way to recapture people who are familiar with your company when they’re ready to book a trip.
For instance, let’s imagine potential travelers read your blog post about family friendly hiking areas in Alaska. Then, two weeks later, they return to Google and search for “Alaska vacations.” Using the powerful remarketing features in your Adwords search campaigns, you can ensure they click your ad and come back to your site a second time. We already know they qualified, they’ve been to your site before, and they know your company. Given these factors, the impact on conversion rates can be astonishing.
A case in point: This year we helped implement a similar approach with Wilderness North, an Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA) member that runs fishing and adventure trips in northern Ontario. We created this practical guide for planning fishing trips to Ontario and used it to generate a large, highly qualified audience Wilderness North could incorporate into its marketing channels. As a result, Wilderness North was able to reduce its cost-per-lead by an incredible 80 percent.
Of course, this isn’t the only practical use for what we lazily call “content marketing.” There are countless other ways to use content to optimize and improve the performance of regular marketing channels, but this actionable advice is a great reason to rethink how and why your company utilizes it now — and what it could be doing better — to generate warm leads in a cost-effective manner.
Tying content to measurable returns is easier than you might think, but it does require some strategic planning and a commitment not to just chuck content out into the void and hope something comes back as a result.