Learning the tips and tricks of Twitter for Travel Agents

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As a qualified Chartered Accountant even though I don’t practice accountancy I have to maintain my membership of the Institute of Chartered Accountant in England and Wales (ICEAW) by engaging in Continual Professional Education. Having qualified 20 years ago this has always been part of my make up that I have to continue learning and probably Screen Shot 2013-09-11 at 10.57.05was one of the reasons why I found it relatively easy to change paths in my career from Chartered Accountant to CEO of a Tour Operator to qualified Chef and then CEO of a travel tech business.

Going back 20 years it was only possible to learn by attending evening and weekend classes at times that suited tutors. The internet  has made access to learning so much easier and for travel agents running their own business, the rapid change in the way that customers now transact means that you simply have to start to learn how to deploy new marketing techniques to win new business.

Lots of people I talk to tell me that Twitter does not work for them. In nearly every case this is because in general they have decided not to engage in social media – or online conversations to put it another way. For the guys that it does work for, it’s because they have decided to look at social media and see how it can help their business. There is not one size fits all and so every person will use it slightly differently. One thing is for sure though – your customers are using online channels to talk, so you should be.

Mindsy is a new online learning site with a number of free videos to watch. You’ll find one on mastering Twitter for business below – it only takes 2 hours in total split into 17 lessons so even those of you who have not been learning for a while can manage this in bite size pieces.

Why Google Analytics is so important to use

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Never before has it been possible to record the actions of your customers so completely. The backbone to understanding your website is Google Analytics and all the most successful businesses spend a lot of their time analysing the online behaviour of users to increase their sales, improve their content etc.

Making your website clean and simple to navigate is really important to avoid losing users. Google released this amusing video to demonstrate in real life how poor web flow can affect sales. Enjoy!

Speed of Web Innovation leaves the small business confused

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The Web is changing fast. The iPad now has the iPad 2. Apps are the new goldrush and meanwhile consumers devour the web like it is their lifeblood.Â

Apple and Smartphone technology has made the web always on. The broadband revolution started the consumption, the ‘always on’ devices have made the appetite hungrier. After all, who wanted to check the web when it took 5 minutes to power up your computer?

What does this mean for small businesses such as travel agents? Well, 89% of all travel research starts on the web according to Google. If you have any form of travel business then you simply must be on the Internet. But not just that, you have to have a presence that can compete against the big budget brands or you will not attract customers (or worse – lose them). We have seen this already in travel with the rise of Expedia. The online agent Travel Republic has stolen £400m of the UK travel agency market through being internet savvy (the guys that set this up were not even travel agents).

Getting online in a meaningful way that engages the consumer, what with social media, blogging, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, not forgetting expertise in SEO and Paid Search is now a mindfield without a huge budget to outsource and who has that in 2011? Travel companies have always survived with remarkably small margins, certainly very little to re-invest in new technologies that aren’t guaranteed to provide an immediate return. So how does this unfold?

What’s the customer looking for and what are you selling?

The answer to this applies equally to bookshops and other businesses as it does to travel agents and tour operators. Asked what the business does and no owner or MD ever replies of these traditional businesses “We are a web company, investing in ways to ensure that we compete against other websites”. What they actually say is all to do with good old fashioned service, ability, expertise, BUT they have none of their time or budget available to do this. What they should be doing is investing time in blogging, engage their customer so the customer can believe in them. Launch a YouTube channel (check out Gary Vaynerchuk’s internet success phnenomenon using YouTube). Then vanity checks in and they worry about having the same site as a competitor and wouyld rather spend an aweful lot of money haveing a site designed that they felt gave them a differentiated presence for heaps of money – and then it went out of date in a year.

If you stand back from a business and assess what it stands for then the only answer to the internet presnece one is to rely on a third party to provide the technological innovation and share this with others. Don’t worry about the fact that everyone else looks the same (we all like the fact that the Veg isle is first in ALL  the supermarkets and certainly don’t compare supermarkets based on ‘ambience’). For any business a webiste should first and foremost give the user what they are looking for quickly and then the use of social media channel and blogs the compnay can start to engage in a conversation with customers to ‘sell’ their service and expertise.

Perhaps the reason why 96% of travel agents don’t have a website is because they just haven’t got the money, or expertise, or up until now a solution to be able to showcase their product to customers in a professional and cost effective way. That’s the reason we set up Net Effect Travel Web Solutions – to even the playing field and let everyone get on with their proper job rather than become sidetracked by the web.

SEO Tactics for Companies

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Watch out, the world is moving fast. Only last year I wrote a post about how a respected SEO agency was advising clients to ignore social media. At the same time I met up with an independent SEO specialist who described their job as ‘a link builder’. Could SEO really be as easy as link building? Did we all really think that Google could be beaten by savvy link builders to beat their algorithms?
The good news is of course that Google is on the case and developing ways of integrating influential users via all channels, including social media, in ranking authority. There will always be blips in the development of Internet marketing and a few savvy people will make some money. The danger is that traditional companies will believe those agencies that sell their services based on ‘beating google’. They will spend ‘000’s hoping that sem magic Internet savvy guy will be the answer to their prayers and make marketing as easy as it was in the last century.
All businesses need to look at their customer base and work out how they should attract and retain these people. Social media is going to be an enormous part of the process and companies will start to have conversations rather than ‘shout’ marketing. For the time being there are plenty of opportunities to find new business, and SEO while always important is no a panacea. A reasoned and budgeted approach to building businesses is the right approach, not throwing money in the direction of Internet marketers that claim they will solve all your problems.Why the Search Marketing Industry Must Adapt or Perish
http://mashable.com/2011/03/04/search-marketing-changes/

 

What Resources do Customers use for Holiday Research?

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A recent Survey of over 2,000 people found some interesting trending stats as shown below. The key to the future for independent travel agents will be to ensure that they can provide a relavant and searcheable site for customers. Customers clearly want this ability and prefer the ‘known’ agent to anytning else. Recommendations online and offline are increasingly playing an important part in peoples choices

Social Media via Facebook/Twitter/Blogging etc. is just a medium to engage customers and be able to hold conversations with them thorughout the year, rather than thourgh targetted mailshots or adverts in papers. News will find customers this way and customers in turn will get used to brands and companies finding them rather than the other way round.

For any travel companies that are not embracing social media now is the time.

Which resources do customers use for holiday research?

  • 53% of respondents used travel agent’s websites while researching their holiday purchase.
  • 49% head for Google or some other search engine.
  • 42% use flight or hotel search engines.
  • 40% are influenced by recommendations from friends and family.
  • Duncan Bannatyne may not like it, but 39% of respondents use Tripadvisor reviews as part of their research.
  • Just under 10% use Facebook and other social sites for holiday research.

and people still don’t get online marketing

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Avinash Kaushik just talked about what strategies education establishments use to market online. From my experience lots of commerce companies are struggling with this approach. Extracted from his post….

Thousands of websites engage in this type of online marketing:

1. Shout Marketing. We don’t care what you want or consider any signals of relevance you might provide, we’ll just shout at you about what we want to

2.Offline Marketing. We know how to print glossy brochures, and look how cool it is that now we can put all that online exactly as we did in the offline world.

3. Unimaginative Marketing. Our site was created in 1990 as soon as the web got cool. We are really working hard to figure out what has changed since then. Meanwhile here our 1990 site with the addition of Follow On Twitter & Facebook buttons.

 

How to get a marketing budget from thin air for your Travel Agency….

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What New Year Resolutions did you make this year? I’m a sucker for resolutions and while I can’t always keep them up for long, I have taught myself that making a resolution that works is the key and one that is easy to keep.

This year one of my personal resolutions gave me an idea for a business resolution for Travel Agents. I have signed up to a Dryathlon for Cancer Research following the passing away before Christmas of a close friend. I have 3 kids and a very busy life so for those of you with a similar set up I’m sure you know how difficult this will be! But Day 2 and I’m still OK…

dry

The thing about charity fundraising is that everyone asks for something these days and so it can be a little awkward raising money. If you are like me you end up adding in funds because you have not managed to collect as much as you intended then the difficulty is how much to personally contribute. How much is enough? Have I got any money left? What else could I spend the cahrity money on?

The brilliant thing about the Dryathlon is that the money you raise comes directly from another pot. By not drinking the money you save from alcohol eacxh day can be redirected to the charity. So at the end of this month I will have saved a whole heap of money from not drinking and instead I can send that money direct to Cancer Research.

So – how does this help me as a travel agent with my marketing?

Each month as I travel around travel agencies I hear the same thing – there is no money left for marketing. At the same time, the very same agents are struggling to find new clients and market to existing ones.

What some of my clients don’t know is that my business management experience does not just come from having run Specialist Tour Operators. Professionally I am also a Qualified Chartered Accountant. This gives me the ability (having also been a business ‘fixer’) to very quickly isolate areas of the business that cost more than they should. In the past year this has spanned from saving an agent £’000’s on their IT set up to £00’s on simple things like the amount of money an agent spent on email marketing (saving them nearly £700 on the use of the right software alone). In the past I used to go to companies and ‘audit’ their expenses and find cost savings. It’s something that business owners should do as a matter of course but nearly never do.

What’s the Resolution then?

In much the same way that I have found ‘Charity Money’ by not drinking for the month and putting my ‘drink money’ towards the charity, you can do the same in your business to find the all important marketing money. Simply looking at all your costs (or asking an expert to help you) and then reallocating that money to marketing is the first step to have a coherent marketing budget to get started on lead generation.

I think it’s a genius idea – what do you think? …. and if you think that there is no money in the pot to reallocate I’ll bet you there is. In fact I’m so sure that I could find you cost savings that I’m willing to bet that if I can’t, I’ll contribute £100 of our money to your personal travel agency marketing. You can’t get fairer than that.

So – let’s get the budget together and then start the marketing plan to make 2013 your most successful to date.

Best wishes

Steve

 

Day 14 | Creativity – Your World Has Changed, as has everything else

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Today’s post is really to start to get you thinking over the weekend. The crux to marketing is to be creative but all too often I go into businesses and they say “I’m not creative at all”. Having probed a bit, I just don’t think that’s true, it’s just that they have had the creativity beaten out of them from an early age. The Radio 4 Today programme was discussing the rise of China in the world economy today and in that the question of wherther China would really innovate and beat the USA in global dominance. Interestingly, the debate centred around the fact that the Chinese don’t like to step out of line and so as a result their creativity is stifled. 

One of the most crucial things you can do to have a successful travel agency business today is to not be afraid of thinking outside the box, be able to make marketing mistakes, not to be afraid of trying new things.

I’d like you to watch an amazingly inspirational speech from Sir Ken Robinson at a TED conference. He’s an amusing speaker so the 20 minutes will be as enjoyable as a dose of your favourite comedy show, but underlying to this is an urgency that we have to become more creative.

Have a great day.

Steve

Day 14 Tip: Unleash your creativity. Don’t keep doing the thing you have always done – think differently

 

 

 

PPC vs SEO – the debate rages (because it costs so much!!)

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Clicks on a Goog Search

Clicks on a Google Search

The heat map here shows the clicked search area of a typical google results page. What does it tell us?

The SEO Marketer

80 – 85% of all clicks on google come from natural listings. These cost nothing and your site gets 8 x the traffic than from paid search (PPC)

The PPC Marketer

The ability to carefully develop a PPC strategy that delivers profitable leads, within margin, with the ability to turn campaigns on and off due to seasonality is very strong. many business models rely entirely on PPC. Google has lots of research aimed at PPC because it is their only way of making money and projects like youtube cost about $500m per annum to run so they need the money! You can get up and running very quickly and compete with the big boys and it doesn’t take all year.

The Business Marketer

The heat map above shows that in fact in line with what you expect, and from your own research (how you google!), that PPc and SEO are both important. The key element is being in position 1 – 5 either via SEO or PPC. After that you really get a small share of the traffic. The bottom place on page 1 equates to about 3% of clicks. This therefore gives you probably less volume than the first three paid search positions. However getting to page 1 at the bottom on high traffic key words could have cost you a lot of money.

The online marketing industry, in its infancy and although ‘technical’ in many ways, there is a lot of common sense that should be employed. Traditional businesses, such as travel businesses, who are morphing into online businesses just want there to be a magic answer. They are currently spending oodles of cash, throwing whatever it takes to the agency that can say – ‘I can get you free relevant traffic!’. The point with all this is that everyone is forgetting the cost, and the make up of the marketing spend. The advice costs such enormous amounts that companies are currently signing up 1/3rd of their marketing budget to SEO agencies who have absolutely no industry knowledge, nor guarantee anything other than trying to get certain search terms onto the first page.

The Point

My point is really that the changing landscape online has just made the whole game a lot harder. Ill informed bosses are throwing money at agencies hoping they will deliver without understanding the sales funnel, their product, their budget or their alternatives. SEO is an important and vital part of the strategy and long term will yield great results.

However – let’s not forget that:

1. Consumers tend to research using natural listings and buy using all the listings. Let’s face it, if you want something and it stares you in the face at the top of the search results why click anywhere else?

2. Google continually make organic listings difficult by changing their algorythm. This is perportedly to make listings more relevant. However, it would just be strange if they hadn’t worked in the – ‘ if everyone succeeds at natural search we don’t have a business as our income drops off paid search’

3. The SEO guys would have it that paid search is’evil’ – ‘I never click on paid adverts’ they will say and that’s what customers think. Since when did we see adverts in magazines as evil? This just doesn’t stack and the PPC guys will argue that 1. some customers don’t know it is a paid advert and 2. paid adverts usually indicate a professional well managed business that can afford a campaign.

4. The only way to really tell is to measure results for SEO vs PPC and conversions on these. My guess is that the data is complicated to distinguish (and most companies just rely on their agencies to tell them the truth!! ha ha). If SEO was always the winner why else would brands appear at the top of SEO and paid search for a product – if it wasn’t for the fact that both work, both cost money and no one really knows what the answer is!

Why Groupon is Overvalued

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Groupon is overvalued at at $25Billion. Caught up in a whirlwind of Investors all hoping that it will be ‘the one’, the next Youtube or Facebook.

It can’t be because it isn’t anything different to a normal offline business and is easily copied. All software can be copied I hear you say and that’s true. However, the real difference is that in the businesses that have grown to be the biggest in their sector they always offer a Freemium service (as do Groupon) to customers but also actually have a business model for businesses that works economically. Google paid search works. Full stop. You might like the reliance on PPC but it has built many real businesses.

Groupon only offers an opportunity to sell stock at deep discount. Retailers rarely make any money other than covering costs and so the market is limited. I haven’t spken to once retailer that really likes selling thourgh Groupon.

Groupon only has Revenues of £700m. How does that equate to $25Billion valuation with 6000 employees? Only if it can’t be copied – but it can be and has been (they say Living Social will be bigger than Groupon next year). In truth any business with a large email list can offer a Groupon alternative and win (look a Travelzoo’s success with their version of Groupon now valued at $400m). If that’s the case my advice to any business is build your mailing list and then think of what you can flog them other than your main offering. If you do it quick you might find your local key cutting shop is valued at $300m!

Posted via email from steve rushton