Content Marketing within the Travel Industry
A closer look at UK brand Thomson
Travel Company Thomson has been a high street name for 50 years in UK. Since it was formed in 1965 the brand has expanded (under the German owned TUI Group) to position itself in a number of travel verticals with Thomson Holidays, Thomson Ski, Thomson Cruises and Thomson Lakes. The company is even credited as the first business to offer “online shopping” with its IBM-powered, real-time booking system for agents in 1981, a full eight years before Tim Berners-Lee invented the web as we know it.
When it comes to content marketing, you’d think a company in its golden anniversary year would have a plethora of content to publish on the journeys that millions of Brits have enjoyed with them over the last half century. But no. Instead, the German owners announced plans to phase out the brand over the next few years. A disappointing descent, some would say.
Travellers Search Online
Travel has come a long way in the last 50 years, even more so the last decade with the growth of niche travel brands, flight and hotel comparison sites and the overall role of online search for travel makers. Cost and convenience are certainly factors for online holiday shoppers, but prominence in organic search is as important, if not just from a discovery perspective. Thomson has faced the challenge of dealing with price-focused brands like Expedia and Travel Supermarket in recent years, whilst another more traditionalist brand Thomas Cook has seen its position fall in comparison. In terms of online marketing, we know that in such a highly competitive space as this, content can be key in defining yourself as a brand, engaging with customers and influencing their purchasing decisions.
Ecommerce, particularly in an industry such as travel, is heavily shaped by consumers conducting online research; 65% of leisure travellers research online before they even decide where or how to go, according to a Google report from last year. From the same report Google stated that travellers rely on social, video, photo sites and search engines for trip inspiration, representing a clear opportunity for a compelling content-led strategy. It’s clear how searchers are conducting this research, with a huge emphasis on a pre-decided location, so how can travel brands take advantage of that?
Source: Google Consumer Surveys, May 2014
Thomson’s Approach to Content Marketing
In terms of the traditional purchasing funnel (Awareness > Interest > Decision > Action, or AIDA), online research for a holiday to a chosen destination falls within the Awareness and Desire stages. For brands to successfully cover this from a search point of view, they simply need content about the 47,000-odd destinations around the world (and that’s just the total number of airports!) – perhaps not then.
Thompson approach this content in two sections of their site: a prominent destinations section in their main navigation and a dedicated blog. Whilst their blog focuses on shorter pieces on specific countries and locations (recent posts cover guides to Dubrovnik and Croatia) the ‘destinations’ section of their site takes a step back to the start of the awareness section of the funnel, with recommendations based on type of holiday and accommodation, all nicely ranked in top 5/10 lists.
These provide clear starting points for any site visitors still at the very top of the funnel, with the categories presumably chosen due to their high conversion levels. There is an interactive map element on the top 10 lists, while clicking through for further details of any location brings up a ‘product’ page rich with in depth content, including hi-res imagery, stand out facts about the resort & area, key trust signals (including Tripadvisor ratings and reviews), maps and annual weather information for the area and, most importantly, an extensive ‘things to do’ guide. This certainly covers the majority of the popular types of queries Google highlighted by consumers as their starting point in search.
To support these in-depth guides Thomson publishes regular content on its blog. This is where its strategy appears to take a bit more of a scattergun approach: competitions to design cruises; win suitcases; and submit stunning photography. There’s a whole section on weddings abroad and a regular collaboration with ASOS for holiday fashion tips and looks. Then come the more ambiguous content titles:
- Our Top Language Learning Apps
- Strange Things People Have Tried To Take On Holiday
- Travel-Themed Home Accessories You Can Make Yourself
With each of these, and the blog content in general, Thomson looks to be trying to broaden the site’s reach by appealing to wider niches than just travel; with fashion, photography, crafts and tech all catered for, it almost feels like they are trying to cover too much. The destination pages are particularly strong, but before we suggest they stick to producing more of those content pages we should analyse what is really working for them.
Success of Content Marketing
Content such as the destinations pages, which visitors can easily navigate to once they’re on the Thomson site, is useful when considering the AIDA funnel. However, from a pure SEO point of view there’s one key reason for producing content: links. As an organic ranking factor, the number (and quality) of linking domains is still one of the biggest factors.
The below chart shows the top linked-to pages of the Thomson domain. The data from Ahrefs provides the total number of referring domains as well as social shares from a number of channels for each page. After the homepage, the best performing page is an Infographic from 2011: ‘The Evolution of Western Dance Music’.
Much like the broader blog content picked out above, content such as this infographic is a little further away from Thomson’s core product offering, but the simple fact is that it works. With over 600 domains linking to it (25% of what the homepage alone has) and significantly more shares across the important social channels it’s clearly a successful piece of content marketing. The link to the brand isn’t too tenuous either: ‘How Music Travels’ and a map tracking movement of music genres over continents in the last 200 years. Cleverly they’ve also added a small but relevant link to the Ibiza destination page (which coincidentally is the 5th most externally linked-to destination page on the whole site). The success of this piece may be the younger target audience, those more likely to share content such as this, but equally as important is the strong execution; it’s a well-designed page with a topic in line with the company’s core offering.
So are interactive infographics always the way to go? Seemingly not. Thomson have tried to replicate the success enjoyed with the music map by creating similar content on broader themes, including the Superbowl, a similar interactive map based on picking holiday locations and a moving timeline of the history of aircrafts. None of them came close to the number of links or social shares the ‘How Music Travels’ page received, yet each will have involved a similar amount of planning, development and promotion.
Keep It Simple
As well as the content aimed at influencing the awareness and interest stages of the purchasing funnel, Thomson has a section of its site dedicated to user queries, aiding the decision stage; this includes topics you’d expect most travel providers to cover such as information about baggage allowances and how to select your seat. Whilst it’s fairly basic, this type of content is a requirement for many travellers – and online searchers in general. In this case, holiday makers looking for specific answers on how much luggage they can take suggests a high intent to purchase; it’s as important to answer these customer FAQs as a lack of available answers could easily lead to lost transactions. These smaller, purchase-specific queries are often missed by ecommerce sites but provide a simple win.
The strongest content from a conversion funnel point of view are the individual destination pages, which are rich in terms of information and media. Whilst these appear to have had some natural traction, site visitors could perhaps be given more of a push to share these pages, such as with the addition of social sharing buttons. The top examples each have a good number of referring domains and social shares (predominantly on Facebook) but more could be done to assist this process, pushing this great content out to wider channels and to more consumers at the awareness stage.
During our research we stumbled upon a dated section of the Thomson site, the original area for holiday inspiration which possibly lacks a bit of the jazz of the new section!
Some of the old editorial section has been wisely redirected to the newer pages to pass on any link value and also keep site visitors away from the dated area of the site. This might be something the Thomson web team wants to review, if not just to refresh the look of any sections still in use. This includes the FAQ area on baggage allowance. Unsurprisingly this older format doesn’t pass Google’s mobile friendly test, another issues for site visitors as well as for the organic visibility of the page itself. With leisure travellers and online searchers in general more likely to be researching information across devices, being mobile friendly is vital.
The Google report on travellers’ decisions cited family, friends and colleagues as one of the top sources of inspiration for booking a trip. With that in mind, it seems that a level of personality or relatability is needed within any content, and aside from a few Tripadvisor reviews being pulled into destination pages the Thomson site seems to lack any user generated content. The brand looks to have a good level of interaction with followers on both Twitter and Facebook, but very little of this seems to be being used to support Thomson’s content marketing efforts. The Thomson Pinterest account follows a similar approach to the destination pages, featuring boards set up by location and a related ‘things to do in X’ board for each area. Again this looks like an area where the brand could engage with travellers and add strength or validity to their own content by sharing the experiences of others.
Thomson is by no means struggling with its approach to content marketing, with a strong product-based focus as well as wider and well executed ideas that generate links and exposure for the brand. Given its strong position in search the company is clearly performing well, and when compared to some of the other top brands highlighted at the start they have more to consider given others are so focused on one specific niche.
Next we’re hoping to explore the relationship between travel brands and bloggers to see how brands are working, and more importantly, to hear what bloggers think about their current campaigns. Keep an eye on our updates over the coming weeks.