2020 onwards has been tough for the travel industry. Really tough. But the light is at the end of the tunnel! With Covid disrupting life less and less, now is the time to take advantage of everyone’s itch to travel again, and start investing in digital marketing.
Most veterans in the travel industry know that PPC (pay-per-click) Advertising is very powerful. You can of course build a following in your target audience through organic social media posts, but that’s a long-term strategy. It won’t produce anywhere near the same kind of results and revenue that paid ads will.
Paid search/PPC strategies are, in our not-so-humble opinion, one of THE most reliable and scalable models for filling rooms or booking holidays. People search for holidays, and these days an average of 25% percent of website clicks come from search ads, so you don’t want to miss out on all that demand by avoiding PPC.
PPC ads get your travel and tourism business in front of your target audience who are looking for what you’re selling, at that very moment they’re searching.
Creating a PPC campaign can seem daunting. It’s not cheap, so you don’t want to waste your budget by setting it all up wrong. But fear not! In this article, I’ll be covering all the basic principles and elements of Google Ads (the ‘big boy’ in the paid search world) if you’re doing them yourselves. You can read all about how we work with clients as a dedicated ad agency here.
As the title suggests, this blog is all about getting the most out of your PPC campaign specifically for travel and tourism brands. Whether you run a chain of holiday homes, you’re offering eco-tours, or you’ve started a travel agency – this is for you!
If you’re still working out your digital marketing plan and feel like you’re not quite ready to begin paying for clicks, then you should find our “Pre-launch checklist for paid ads” video really helpful for getting everything in place before you dive in…
What Are Google Advertising Keywords?
There are 3 keyword types you need to know about, and they’re each suitable for different situations and goals.
Keywords are words or phrases that are used to match your ads with the terms that people are searching for.
Selecting high-quality, relevant keywords for your advertising campaign can help you reach the customers that you want, when you want.
How We Explain It
We describe a keyword simply as a collection of words in a particular sequence. Search engines like Google or Bing then use this sequence of words as guidelines when finding relevant content for a user’s search.
A random sequence of words isn’t a keyword in Google ads until you put quotation marks around them in your ad account. By searching “African safari holiday” for example, you are bidding for your advert to show up for that Google search, or anything similar.
But first, you need to understand what each of the different keyword types do. This is the biggest thing that will affect the sort (and quality) of searches your ads will show up for.
There are broad match keywords, phrase match, and exact match.
What Are Broad Match Type Keywords?
A keyword match type allows your ad to show on searches that are related to the meaning of your keyword, which can include searches that don’t contain the keyword terms. This allows you to reach more searches than with exact and phrase matches.
How We Explain It
A good way to think of broad keywords is as the biggest, widest ‘net’ you can cast with Google ads. Out of the three match types available, broad gives Google the most freedom and flexibility when trying to find matches.
It will show your ad for any searches that are linked in any way to your chosen sequence of words. It’s the least strict option.
Let’s use the example “Sustainable surfing holidays”. If this was set as a broad keyword, your ad could show up under any of the following searches:
“learn to surf”, “Sustainable safari holidays”, or “camping holidays”
Of course, it is also possible that you’ll show up for anyone specifically searching your exact keyword, but the important thing to remember is that you can also end up paying for ad placements for irrelevant searches. It just has to contain one or some of the words in your keyword. Anything Google deems at all related will work.
The main benefit of using broad keywords though is that you’ll usually reach a much larger audience with your ads. So it just depends on your priorities. Some businesses have great success with broad keywords, but generally speaking we’d say it’s the hardest to make work for you in terms of delivering the best ROAS (Return on ad spend).
If you decide to use the broad match type, it’s vital that you keep up to date with your negative keyword work to block out any really pointless searches. I’ll cover what negative keywords are further down in this article.
Broad keywords require putting more time and energy into negative keywords than match types.
What Are Phrase Match Type Keywords?
A keyword match type that allows you to show your ads on searches that include the meaning of your keyword. The meaning of the keyword can be implied, and user searches can be a more specific form of the meaning. This allows you to reach more searches than with exact match and fewer searches than with broad match.
How We Explain It
Phrase match is the middle-ground of the 3 match type. It’s a less broad match, but not as tight as exact match.
If you ask any Google ads guru, they’ll agree that Google has actually been making phrase match type broader and broader over the years. Google makes more money the more clicks your ads get, so it’s in their interest to push your ad to as many different searches as they can. But for now, they are still a more precise option compared to broad keywords.
Overall though, phrase should help you show up for less irrelevant searches, while still keeping a decent search volume. It’s a match type we often use as a google advertising agency.
Remember to look out for the ‘close variant’ label in the search terms areas of your ad account if you’re using the phrase match type. This means they have found a search that matched your keyword pretty closely.
To give you an example, if you set “sustainable surfing holidays” as a phrase match, you could potentially show up under searches like “Sustainable surfing schools” OR “Eco-friendly surfing holidays”. Most of the time, we find these close variants are very much worth showing up for as they have a similar search intent to your original keyword.
But remember, Google is not perfect. Even when using phrase match, your ads can still appear under searches that aren’t really relevant to what you offer. For example, you could potentially still show up for “Sustainable diving holidays”. This may be similar, but it might be something you just don’t offer so people will be disappointed when they reach your landing page.
Negative keyword management is still very important for phrase match types too.
What Are Exact Match Type Keywords?
A keyword match type that allows you to show your ads on searches that have the same meaning or same intent as your keyword. Exact match gives you the most control over who sees your ad, but reaches fewer searches than both broad and phrase match. This allows you to reach only users who make searches with the same meaning as your keywords, including:
Misspellings, Singular or plural forms, Stemmings, Abbreviations, and Accents.
How We Explain It
You should think of exact match as the most precise ‘net’ you can cast across Google. It’s perfect for targeting a very specific, precise search intent in your niche.
When you select exact match keywords, you are telling Google to find only searches that are exactly or very closely matching your sequence of words. It’s the tightest guidelines you can use.
Setting the example above of “sustainable surfing holidays” as an exact match may still let your ads show up under searches like “sustainable surfing holiday USA” OR “Sustainable surfing vacation”. This is because Google deems these to have almost exactly the same meaning.
It is however much less likely that your adverts would show up for searches like “sustainable holidays” OR “Sustainable diving trips”.
Another big bonus of using exact match is that you’re avoiding a lot of wasted budget on searches that aren’t bringing you qualified customers, or that aren’t in your target audience.
But one con to using this match type is that you’re much more likely to have the ‘low search volume’ warning pop up in your ad account. This happens if your keyword is too niche, or too long tail and there just aren’t enough people searching for it.
This can also be useful though for identifying audiences that aren’t big enough to waste money on advertising to.
PPC Keyword Research For Travel And Tourism Companies
Now let’s talk about the most important part of any digital marketing, and paid search strategy: Choosing which keywords to bid on.
You want to try and show up for searches with exactly the right intent to buy your offering. But depending on your niche within the travel industry, you might need to go further up the sales funnel to a more broadly related term i.e. “Sustainable Holidays” Vs “sustainable surfing holidays”.
There are so many different PPC keyword tools available online to help you with your research, but we’ve actually found the best (and cheapest) method is just using Google’s own tools and your own imagination!
So here are my tips for starting your keyword research in the travel industry. First off, make a new document and begin typing out any ideas that come to you.
You’re trying to imagine what your target audience could be typing into a search engine if they were looking for what you sell. Why not have a brain-storming session with your team 🧠.
Shouldn’t there be a more technical, complicated process you ask? Not really! I’m guessing most people reading this use Google regularly, so you know how the average person structures a search, you instinctively know what your ideal customer might be typing out if they need the service/product you offer. It doesn’t take an expert in paid ads to know what people search.
That being said, there are some really useful tools I’d recommend utilizing at this stage, like the auto-fill feature in Google!
In the screenshot below you can see that when I wrote “sustainable holidays”, Google suggested lots of other additions to or variations of my search. For example “sustainable travel holidays”
This is a really helpful tool for discovering new ideas to bid on, as well as some commonly searched phrases that aren’t relevant and you want to eliminate with negatives.
You can also try the ‘keywords planner’ Google Ads provides. To use this just go to your ad account > Tools & Settings > Planning > and click Keyword Planner.
Instead of creating separate campaigns, we typically recommend that you split your chosen keywords into separate ad groups. Each ad group should contain keywords with similar search intent. This means you can effectively test and theories you have and test one search intent idea against another.
“Eco-tour operator” and “eco-tours” are very similar for example. Someone searching either of those is likely looking for the same thing (someone running eco-tours).
But with say “sustainable holidays” you might have that in a separate ad group because you’re specifically testing the hook of sustainability over the alternative ‘eco’ word.
This is also important because it helps your ads match with what someone is searching. If you group “sustainable surfing holiday” and “sustainable diving holiday” in the same as group for example, then someone looking for a diving trip who gets taken to a landing page of a surfing holiday company will be disappointed. It will be poor quality traffic unlikely to convert. They may not even click on your ad if the ad copy is unrelated to their search.
It is tricky, especially when your ads first go live, to find the most lucrative keywords for your brand. There will certainly be a lot of (informed) guessing to start with based on your knowledge of your business, the hospitality/travel industry, and your customers, but eventually, the data will guide your decisions.
How Much Ad Spend Do You Need In Travel And Tourism?
As a highly competitive and overcrowded market, PPC for travel companies can become very expensive very quickly if you aren’t careful. Typically the average value of a sale in a travel or hospitality business is high (100s-1000s), so it follows that the average cost you might be willing to pay for a click, or the cost per acquisition would also be higher than say a product-based eCommerce brand.
If you go too broad with your keywords you might end up competing with too many other travel companies all trying to rank for the big keywords. You could end up spending a lot of money per click and per conversion, quickly making it unprofitable.
It’s important your keywords and match types align with your available ad budget.
Paid Ads are a money game. It’s hard to say what the minimum is you should be spending on PPC in the travel and tourism space without knowing your profit margins, your average order value etc. However, to give you a general picture, £1000 – £2,000 p/m is a modest budget to start from in our opinion. Anything higher is even more ammunition to use to get to a return on ad spend (ROAS) faster. The more you can invest, the more A/B tests you can run.
If you’re using words/phrases often searched, or your keywords only have 1-2 words in them, it’s more likely you’ll get a high number of people seeing your ads. But if you use longer (longtail) keywords, or you bid on more niche searches, then generally speaking fewer people will see your ads.
The goal is to be as targeted as possible, whilst still just about hitting your set ad spend limits.
Competitor Ghosting In The Travel Industry
Competitor ghosting is a common strategy with PPC campaigns in most industries, and the travel industry is no different. If you’ve got a USP that makes your holiday, hotel, or airline a better offering than your competitors, and as long as you highlight that in the ad copy, it could be worthwhile bidding on your competitors.
We actually made a quick video all about this subject:
Let’s take the popular travel agent/holiday website ‘Expedia’ as an example. When I Google Expedia, I also see ads from competitors like “Lastminute .com” who have positioned their site as a more bargain alternative:
In conclusion, competitor ghosting can work for clean travel companies. But whether it is a worthwhile strategy for you completely depends on your niche within the industry, and your target customer. For example, if you’re selling spaces on volunteer holidays, and there is a well-known competitor who charges more than you, it may be worth spending a small amount of your budget advertising beneath them to try and poach customers.
But it definitely is a more expensive PPC strategy. This is because your quality scores won’t be as high on those ads chasing your competitors. Google can tell that you aren’t the brand name you’re bidding on, your website URL will reflect that, so your ad will never have as high-quality scores as your competitor. For this reason, they will pay less per click for their own brand name.
Negative Keywords For Travel And Tourism
Negative keywords let you exclude search terms from your campaigns and help you focus on only the keywords that matter to your customers. Better targeting can put your ad in front of interested users and increase your return on investment (ROI).
How We Explain It
No matter how long you’ve been running Google ads, and how much of an expert you are, you’re still going to occasionally show up for irrelevant searches that won’t make you money. Google is not a perfect system.
But the key to combatting this issue is using negative keywords! If you aren’t using them for your search campaigns, you’re missing out on a seriously effective way to stop wasted money.
As mentioned earlier, Google’s autofill feature is one really effective way to get inspiration for keywords you might want to block by adding them as negatives.
You should also be regularly checking the ‘search terms’ section of your account for each ad group. If you see any searches that aren’t relevant, add them as negatives and you won’t waste money on them again.
A common one is someone searching for jobs in your sector, or free versions of your service. They are obvious ones to block first.
Let's Have A Chat!
I hope this article has been useful for getting a base knowledge of PPC, and how your strategy might differ in the travel industry.
Of course, if you simply don’t have the time to put all this into action, or perhaps you’ve been approved for a big budget on a new digital marketing push but want to get the best bang for your buck out of PPC and really scale things up, then get in touch!
Book an introductory chat below and we can get to know your brand specifically, and let you know how we could help you ‘snowball’ your sales too: