Friday, March 17, 2006

An afternoon with The Boss

So it is the end of another hectic but interesting week in Travolution Land.

We’re finishing the April edition of the magazine soon so our wonderful team of freelancers [“I didn’t realise you wanted paying?!?”] have been busy filing their copy – and all on time.

Traffic figures for our website are increasing rather nicely and the Blog is doing extraordinarily well.

[My mole at AOL denies a link to Heather Somerville’s post this week was sent around the company. But a spike in traffic immediately after a new entry is always welcome!]

And then there have been a string of meetings with about as diverse a group of people from the travel industry as possible – a price comparison site, a search engine, an online research company, a hotel booking site, a usability firm, a handful of freelancers, an analyst, and a few others.

But perhaps the most intriguing encounter of the week was with the head of an online travel agent, who will clearly have to remain nameless but will be referred to as The Boss for the moment.

I sat with The Boss in their London office this week discussing, among other things, the complexities of marketing a medium-sized online travel agent.

The Boss said the traditional method of stuffing Sunday newspaper travel sections with classified advertising is over – response rates are slowing, the papers themselves are losing circulation but prices remain the same.

So obviously the best and only way forward now is through search marketing, The Boss claimed.

The Boss admitted to spending a sizeable sum on its optimisation for Google and Overture – sorry, Yahoo Search Marketing – to ensure top billing among the sponsored links.

I decided to put The Boss to the test. “So what if we type in the name of one of the hotels you plug – where will it come on the results?” I asked.

The Boss shifted nervously behind a desk, but eventually agreed. The relief that swept through room was obvious when hotel after hotel we searched for brought up the travel agent’s site in the top sponsored rankings.

“So how much have you paid for that one?” I decided to ask, clearly on a roll after putting The Boss on the spot a little bit.

Another nervous shift in the chair, but The Boss decided to play along and called the search marketing wizard sitting elsewhere in the building.

“Can you tell me how much we paid for [name of hotel]?” The Boss asked. A slight pause, before “yes, I know, it’s a long story but can you found out for me, please?”

We waited anxiously for a few moments, before the reply came. “Ok, thanks, 37p per click. Bye.”

The Boss leaned back in the chair, impressed that the team had got the top slot, for a good price.

[Not bad indeed as the keyword "Dubai" is often going for £3.50 a click these days]

“Well, let’s take a look then to see if it deep links?” I suggested. But The Boss replied swiftly: “Oh for god’s sake, we are NOT going to click on it!”

Kevin May, editor, Travolution

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