One of the most interesting parts of our job at EveryMundo is performing SEM assessments for airlines. We have done this exercise for large, medium and small-sized airlines from diverse regions of the world. One might assume that, because airlines are highly complex businesses, they would have a high level of sophistication in their paid search efforts. However, we have found that many of these airlines lack a sophisticated and disciplined SEM strategy, which leads to underperformance in the paid search channel.

Here is a short list of some of the most common mistakes in airlines’ paid search efforts:

The airline does not protect its brand name sufficiently

Brand protection is crucial for any airline or other enterprise with a trademarked name. It is surprising to see that some airlines do not appear in the top results for their brand searches (the name of the airline alone or accompanied by a destination/route), including for searches in their home markets. This usually leaves space for competitors and online travel agents (OTA’s) to generate the vast majority of brand impressions and traffic. Brand traffic is the highest converting traffic comprising most brand loyal customers and generally representing the bulk of revenue generated by the channel (especially on a last click basis).

In addition, we have seen that brand names are sometimes used in competitors’ ad copy. This usually leads to confusion for loyal customers that are at the end of the conversion path, who might think that they are clicking on the airline’s ad when in fact it is an OTA’s ad.

Example: ‘Airline A’ was capturing only 78% of brand activity in its domestic market, thus failing to acquire all possible traffic by not reaching above 95% (our usual recommendation) of possible impressions for their branded searches. In this case, a local OTA with an aggressive paid search strategy was generating the highest impression share for the airline’s brand name and siphoning off valuable brand traffic.

The airline does not have an efficient campaign structure

A lack of proper campaign structure is characterized by unorganized ad/keyword segmentation, conflicting or underutilized geographic and linguistic targeting, and inconsistent or illogical naming conventions. Poor campaign structure and organization leads to inefficiency and underperformance for a number of different reasons.

The lack of disciplined naming conventions in campaigns and ad groups makes it very difficult to identify the target market, type of campaign, route or destination, language, geo-targeted location, etc. Visibility into all of these dimensions is essential for bidding, optimization and reporting purposes.

Example: In our analysis of ‘Airline B’ we identified that an estimated $7k of spend, during a three month period, was being attributed to brand queries in non-brand ad groups. Located in non-brand ad groups, these brand terms were not performing as efficiently as the same brand terms in dedicated groupings, and were artificially inflating the performance of the non-brand ad group, leading to a misallocation of budget.

Our colleagues at EveryMundo have written a great article on the importance of campaign structure and naming conventions, you can read it here.

The airline relies heavily on broad match keywords

When we analyze all the keywords contained in an airline’s paid search accounts, we usually find that a majority are broad match type. This is a critical mistake. The absence of a sufficient volume of exact match keywords tells us that this airline failed to execute comprehensive, sophisticated keyword build-out. We can generally infer that their search query report analysis is infrequent – or else they would have already migrated many of the converting search queries into their campaigns as exact match keywords.

Why is it important to use exact match keywords? They usually result in the lowest cost-per-click and cost of sale, or the highest ROI. Also, with exact match, you have a greater probability of achieving high ad rank.

Example:  The percentage of exact keywords that ‘Airline C’ had in its accounts was below 1%! Broad keywords represented almost half of the total keywords with the highest cost-per-click and cost of sale.

Keywords of ‘Airline C’

KeywordType % of Total Keywords
Exact 0.6%
Phrase 49.8%
Broad 49.5%

The airline is bidding on non-converting terms

We have seen that some airlines bid on terms like “baggage”, “telephone”, “offices”, “and complaints”; or that they are catching these searches with broad keywords.

We call these type of searches ‘non-converting’ terms since they are indicative of post/pre purchase searches or informational searches that may pick up incidental sales during a cookie lifetime, but do not represent user intent to purchase. These terms usually hinder PPC performance; thus, traffic for these search terms should be captured using targeted, language-specific SEO landing pages.

Example: ‘Airline D’ was spending an estimated 4% of its total spend on this type of keyword – around US$17k over a two month period – which could have been avoided by adding a thorough list of non-converting terms as negative keywords.

Closing Thoughts

Given the current extremely competitive landscape of the travel industry today, it is imperative for airlines to develop highly sophisticated and disciplined paid search strategies to compete with other airlines and the growing challenge that OTA’s pose. At EveryMundo, we leverage sophisticated campaign generation systems for airlines to execute disciplined campaign and keyword build-out to ensure their success in paid search.

What are some of the other common mistakes airline make? Please stay tuned to our blog because we will be posting additional airline SEM tips as part of this series.

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