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Melt Digital
March 11, 2020

How should travel marketers respond to coronavirus? A quick guide to digital

Customers are nervous about booking travel right now, and might be for some time – very understandably. And while the world undoubtedly has better things to worry about, that doesn’t mean this isn’t still a nerve-wracking time for those who sell travel. So what can you do as a digital marketer?

There are still many unknowns: how long will this go on for? How are the latest changes to public guidance and Government action affecting travel? What will be the longer-term impact for the travel industry? When will consumers feel confident in buying a holiday again? Some of these are, frankly, impossible to answer. However,  there are many things we can do as digital marketers during this turbulent time to mitigate business risk, maximise digital performance and make sure that digital assets are optimised and highly visible.

These considerations are essential for right now, but they’re even more important for putting you in the best possible position when holidaymakers return to normal booking habits – whenever that might be.

Focus on what you can control

Let’s start with first principles. This situation is unprecedented, but in times of crisis the best starting point for digital marketing is often the same as in the rest of life: focus on what you can control.

It’s easy to get caught up in the constant news cycle and drawn into irrelevant details. But the reality is that there’s a huge amount to this that’s completely beyond our control. If we can draw any lessons from previous crises that affected ecommerce, such as the financial crisis and the National Rail shutdown, it’s that adopting this as a first principle is a good initial step. And in digital marketing, ‘what you can control’ means your website.

Throwing everything at paid is a mistake

One of the biggest mistakes we see is people chasing demand with PPC and other paid channels. Paid is great for capitalising quickly at times of high demand. The problem is if the demand isn’t there, throwing more money at these channels in the hope of a quick win won’t magic up demand out of thin air.

Instead, this action can distract marketers from maximising website performance through SEO and improved user experience (UX). When demand returns, these activities will give you the best chance of capturing any influx of bookings once the crisis is over. They should be a priority right now. 

What digital marketers should do: Melt’s advice

Although SEO is a long-term strategy, it’s very cost-effective and something every business should be investing in if they aren’t already so it’s vitally important, especially in the competitive travel industry. 

It can take anywhere from two to six months to significantly improve keyword rankings in the travel industry. And as the virus isn’t going away any time soon, now would be a sensible time to invest in expert SEO services during this turbulent time. 

Keep a close eye on paid conversion rates

If your remit is multi-channel, we recommend monitoring conversion rates for paid channels very closely. It’s possible that customers who are or had been considering travel bookings may revert to window-shopping while the coronavirus situation evolves. This may equate to buying more traffic that’s never going to convert and if so spend should be diverted away from short term offers. However, while customers’ intent to purchase might be dampened, they may still want to see ‘what deals are out there’, maintaining to a certain extent. 

Set yourself up for the medium term

As an immediate action, start optimising for search queries related to last-minute booking and with high intent. When the crisis eventually ends lots of people will want to get away after a period of restriction and isolation – and quickly. That could well see a lot of last-minute booking behaviour, so make sure you’re optimised for it.

Keep thinking long-term

We recommend you maintain activity on organic and other channels with low or no CPA/CPC with a longer-term view on the situation. Cutting spend now on organic would risk diminished performance in the future when things return to normal (whatever that means!).

Technical SEO, content and general site performance are all worth looking at now. And if you have all the bases covered, it’s the time to look at links. Now is not the time to be trying to push good-news travel stories to journalists, or creating content offering time-sensitive guidance on impacted destinations but there are always digital PR opportunities for travel brands that can think creatively and cut through the noise. 

Balance your SEO and PPC spend

All this adds up to the potential to divert PPC spend to target customers searching for deals in holiday destinations that seem less affected. This comes with the caveat that nervousness around travel isn’t necessarily relative to the destination visited, but more broadly to the act of travelling. But if you can use your own analytics to see where commercial performance is more stable – whether that’s a particular product or a particular destination – it may also be worth diverting some resources towards organic for it.

In a similar vein, you might also consider reducing PPC spend on keywords where you already have position 1-3 keyword rankings. If traffic isn’t converting, it just doesn’t make sense to be bidding hard on keywords that you’re already nailing organic for.

Overall, maintain a balance. Lots of brands will have more pressing concerns. But keeping up digital marketing activity is key to making sure you’re not left behind once demand picks back up in the travel industry.

 

 

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