The B2C travel sector should be a sector that is ripe for content marketing.

Similar to fashion, for many people it is a pursuit in itself, while it's also an out and out leisure activity.

It is also wedded to social media. Many people can barely resist going on beach holidays without snapping a ‘hot dogs’ as legs shot or a refreshing mojito and putting it on Instagram.

About seven months ago, I published Four key trends from the Fashion Ecommerce and Content Marketing Report, which gave a summary of observations in that sector.

I’ve been taking a closer look at the travel space of late, and thought I’d do the same here.

Method

This was a smaller study than my fashion ecommerce report, which analysed six key aspects of 20 major fashion ecommerce sites.

For travel I opted to look at five large companies that sell a range of products - for instance, you can buy flights, hotels, entire packages deals and shortbreaks – and regularly advertised on TV.

There are so many different ways to buy travel, I thought it best I stuck to large providers that had big opportunities to experiment with content.

The sites were:

  1. Lastminute.com
  2. Travel Supermarket
  3. Travelzoo
  4. Expedia
  5. Thomson

A company that is often noted for good content marketing in the travel sector is AirBnb. It wasn't included in this study because it has a singular proposition of providing alternative accommodation. See How AirBnb is Using Content Marketing to Stay on Top.

Stock content

Here I was interested to see if travel companies were able to wed destination pages with content and commerce. 

There’s a lot to like about Thomson’s approach (Thomas Cook is very similar). It has a range of hubs that provide key information on destinations, with short descriptions, average temperatures and flight times – with product offerings listed; all this while subtly incorporating the booking engine.

The site  also goes deeper into certain destinations with further content – e.g Visit the Vouni Panayia Winery (Paphos). This content is somewhat thin, but nonetheless gives Thomson the opportunity to rank for long tail keywords.

Both Expedia and Last Minute had similar approaches around city breaks. These weren’t quite as user friendly or in depth as Thomson’s destination guides.

Expedia deployed a short description and an image gallery, while Lastminute.com’s text was at the bottom of the page and clearly used for SEO. Lastminute.com did notably rank at number one for a number of European city breaks terms.

Neither Travelzoo or Travel Supermarket had hub pages as part of their information architecture.

Blog editorial

A key finding of my review in fashion ecommerce was that blog editorial just wasn’t really working, so I was intrigued to see if the travel industry fared better.

There were certainly similarities – while all companies did have a blog of some description, it was not promoted well. Only Travel Supermarket had their blog in the top navigation – most weren’t linked from the homepage or footer navigation either. Expedia’s blog was on an entirely separate domain.

Lastminute.com’s editorial was confusing, given that it had published a number of engaging articles on the blog. But this wasn’t linked to from the main site, instead it included a link to a section called ‘The Mix’, which clearly aimed for the bitesized approach to editorial, through offering short blogs (with no access to individual articles) and 60-second stories.

It is a mix of pop celebrity (which has become a web commodity), events and fairly random internet news, which couldn’t perform well on natural search. Every article did at least link to a particular area of the site. They did, however, manage to publish six to eight articles a day, no matter how short they were.

Travel Supermarket had some useful content with strong headlines, but article volume was low (14 articles in June) and there didn’t seem to be any common thread in what was being produced other than it being related to family travel.

For instance, The world’s strangest and funniest place names and 11 things you probably didn’t know about holiday parks are lengthy listicles with a high word count. Avoid driving licence when hiring a car and The dos and don’t of renting a villa offer practical advice, but are both generic in subject matter.

The blog also had a couple of strange typography choices – 12pt grey Arial font (the main site uses a more readable 14pt black Arial font with Montserrat subtitles) and multi-coloured subtitles, which were quite confusing (what do the colours mean?).

In short summary, like in fashion ecommerce, travel blogs have some way to go until they offer value to businesses and the customers they serve. The saving graces were that headlines and the actual content produced was of decent value.

Social media

Travel brands enjoy massive social media reach – Expedia, for instance, has 5.1 million Facebook Likes, and Travelzoo 2 million. Out of this group, Travel Supermarket was the minnow, with just 9,000 Likes – surprising given their TV coverage.

Facebook was by far the largest network in terms of reach. Twitter was a very distant second, while Instagram and Pinterest – very well suited to travel – seemed somewhat underdeveloped. In the fashion industry, reaches on Instagram far outweigh twitter.

Lastminute.com had the standout approach on Facebook, and was clearly winning in terms of getting a proportion of its fans to engage with the brand.

It was the only of the group analysed that consistently created native content for social media and be topical. They also regularly incorporated their blog content – an important distribution point considering how well hidden their blog is.

 

Stay cool and stay sexy, people! #Heatwave

Posted by lastminute.com on Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Longform / ‘hero’ content

This is essentially large-scale content that is built to gain links and social shares. I would normally discover such content by running an analysis of top pages on the site by external links.

None of the reviewed set had anything like Thomson’s much cited ‘How Music Travels’ which is the third strongest page by Moz Page Authority, with 237 linking root domains. Published in 2011, it remains one of the most effective content marketing pieces for link building ever, but it is unmatched in this review. 

Expedia had an experimental community section with My Real London and My Real Stockholm being included, while Lastminute.com had an Inspiration section with six long form pieces.

Neither of these appeared to be very heavily shared sections given the effort put into production. Lastminute.com’s Things to Do In London had been liked 156 times, and very neatly linked to blog content. However, it seemed a shame that other large pieces had not drawn such rates of sharing (which is still quite low given the site's reach).

Clearly they had not been distributed particularly well and it was impossible to find them without knowing exactly where to look.

Thus, while there is appetite to produce large hero pieces for customer engagement and SEO, it seems that distribution seems a key issue. Companies are prepared to spend well on certain projects, but gaining shares and links once published appears to be lacking. You may want to check out my post Why content marketers should spend 50% of their resources on distribution.

Conclusion

Like in B2C, companies are clearly ‘doing’ content marketing and investing in it, but often execution falls somewhat short.

Probably the most commendable example of this review is Thomson’s guide pages, which seem to neatly create a good user experience while selling the product. Lastminute.com and Expedia also did this, but largely for SEO.

Again in a review of a B2C vertical, there remains a question mark over the production of regular blog content and what role this really plays. While most companies were producing a blog, it wasn’t exactly clear what it was there for. For the most part, publishing was either too low volume or not focused enough to have a strong impact.

Social media seems strangely underdeveloped in the travel sector – the reach has all gathered around Facebook, while there seems ample opportunity to drive high value from other social platforms like Instagram and Pinterest. On Facebook itself, Lastminute.com seemed the most focused on creating content that works specifically on the network.

Lastly, hero content can clearly work in the travel sector, but there remains the risk of it falling flat if it is not well distributed. Perhaps looking towards digital darling AirBnB would be a good place to start if you have the budget to create a robust content strategy.

James Carson

Published 1 July, 2015 by James Carson

James Carson is Director of Content at Made From Media and a contributor to Econsultancy. You can follow him on Twitter and connect on LinkedIn.

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