eSpotlight - Searching for Paradise
Problem: Aqua Hotels & Resorts, a full-service chain of Hawaiian-based hotels and resorts, sought to increase website bookings, its most cost-efficient booking channel.
Solution: The company hired a search engine marketing (SEM) firm to optimize its SEM efforts.
Results: Online bookings, room nights and revenues have increased; higher search engine rankings have led to better brand recognition.
Particularly hard hit by the recession, Aqua Hotels & Resorts sought a better way to lure travelers to its exotic locations in Hawaii. But expensive advertising programs weren’t producing the return on investment it hoped for. Targeting web-direct booking as the ideal growth channel due to its cost effectiveness — Aqua wouldn’t have to pay a middleman such as an Expedia or Travelocity — the company settled on search to drive that business.
Aqua didn’t rank high on the major search engines, and when consumers did see Aqua listings, the messages weren’t enticing them to click.
So Aqua hired San Francisco-based SEM firm Relevant Searches in October 2008 to optimize its search marketing efforts. Shortly thereafter, Aqua began using Relevant Searches’ SEO 2.0 services.
Keywords improve rankings and conversions
Improving Aqua’s SEM began with researching the brand to identify keywords that would drive conversions. Using a pay-per-click strategy for keywords, Aqua began to improve its search engine rankings, which led to greater name and brand recognition, and in turn higher clickthrough rates that eventually paid off in increased bookings.
“Because we now show up [on the search engines] for various keywords, people that were sort of brand agnostic before and weren’t specifically looking for Aqua find out about Aqua because of our high rankings,” says Amber Watt, Aqua’s director of internet strategy.
Watt and her team provide Relevant Searches with an outline of content to include within Aqua’s search listings, such as special offers, new hotels, etc. The vendor then crafts that content into messaging that’s appealing to would-be travelers.
“We’re fighting for clickthrough, because when the query is returned and Aqua is in position one, two or three, if we haven’t done our job with the titles, descriptions and quick links, they won’t get the clickthrough,” says Relevant Searches’ CEO Maury Domengeaux. “Our job isn’t merely getting the representation of their web pages improved in the search results; it’s making sure what we have written is compelling enough versus the competition so that Aqua is the one they click on.”
Real-time updates and reporting
With the ability to update its feeds to search engines in real time, Aqua can better compete with other hotels in the ultracompetitive Hawaii marketplace. These updates can be anything from special offers to availability of rooms to a response to a competitor’s offer. “As our booking window tightens, consumers are looking for real-time information,” Watt says. “And this has happened across the travel industry. They’re not searching for a deal six months or eight months from now; they’re searching for a deal two [weeks] to four weeks from now. So it’s important to identify trends and be able to change things on the fly. Be able to change with economic conditions or news, or to respond to competitors’ actions.”
Relevant Searches provides Aqua with real-time reporting tools as well, with up-to-the-minute access to clicks, costs and conversions for each web page. With this data, Aqua can determine what improvements/updates should be made or decide to remove underperforming web pages if they aren’t meeting campaign benchmarks. These reporting tools keep Aqua abreast of the ROI generated by its search campaigns at all times.
So far so good with those ROI numbers, according to Watt. Aqua’s online bookings, room nights and revenues are all up significantly in the year-plus that it's been using Relevant Searches’ SEO 2.0.