As airlines navigate their many business development challenges – stringent regulations, tough competition, shrinking margins, and ever-changing traveler preferences to name a few – they have to pick their battles. It is essential for airlines to consider what to tackle first.

Consider the arena of online bookings. While a small number of carriers are aggressively combating online travel agencies (OTAs) and metasearch engines (MSEs) for customer acquisition, most are essentially ceding the search channel to travel aggregators – despite the vital significance of online bookings to airlines’ long-term profitability.

According to Google research, 64% of business travelers “always start” their travel planning with search, and 57% of leisure travelers do the same. According to proprietary data from EveryMundo, 30-40% click paid search results, 10-20% click Google Flight results, and 60-70% click organic search results. Typically, branded search represents the vast majority – over 90% – of an airlines paid and organic search traffic.

However, non-brand-loyal customers – those who have not yet decided with whom they want to fly – represent at least 75% of online searchers.

This represents a huge opportunity to increase online acquisition. Airlines can (and should) mine this segment for new customers that they can groom for loyalty, maximizing conversions over time. By failing to compete in the online search fray, carriers are missing out on their biggest marketing opportunity: converting non-brand-loyal searchers into long-term, brand-loyal customers.

For airlines, the key to winning back customer bookings is twofold: to capture more non-brand-loyal travelers through performance marketing channels including search; and to provide so much value to customers who book through the direct channel that it keeps them coming back.

Seize Non-Brand Loyal Travelers

Given that the global airline industry pays some $7 billion annually in commissions and fees travel agents, seizing even a small amount of search volume from the ‘big guys’ in the third-party online-booking ecosystem can represent millions in recouped revenue for airline brands.

Although OTAs, MSEs, and other aggregators dominate search results for many reasons, their deep technological resources, specialized expertise in search engine marketing – SEM & SEO – and mammoth marketing budgets are chief among them.

Sophisticated, cost-efficient new tools are finally helping airlines compete in this competitive ecosystem more effectively. EveryMundo’s airTRFX® solution, for example, enables airlines to quickly deliver many thousands or even millions of high-performance landing pages, in any language or country, matching the scale and sophistication that OTAs and MSEs are able to deliver with their own technology platforms.

As SEO becomes more technical and user-experience driven, high-performing technology platforms are becoming more and more essential for airlines.

The airTRFX® solution helped one major international carrier deploy over 200,000 performance landing pages in over 10 languages over a three-month period, resulting in a 29% increase in paid-search conversions and a 36% decrease in the airline’s associated cost of sales. Equipped with EveryMundo’s solution, the airline also continues to generate millions of dollars in incremental revenue from organic search, directly attributable to airTRFX®.

Keep Them Coming Back

While taking a more substantive approach to online search is important for all airlines – especially those wanting to mitigate the impact of OTA competition and commissions – providing a positive end-to-end customer experience is essential to cementing the customer relationship and generating loyalty.

That’s why the concept of value is so vital to boosting online bookings: consumers love using third-party booking portals and MSEs for price comparison, which commoditizes the airline offering. In response, the onus is on airlines to make consumers love using their websites even more. If you give travelers good reasons to buy via an airline’s direct channel, statistics show they respond favorably. Greater access to inventory and ancillaries, more useful flight information, and personalized offers and communications are a few of those reasons.

That’s why EveryMundo helps airlines produce and showcase dynamic, fare-based, conversion-oriented content on their websites – content that creates direct value for travelers and drives them to be loyal to the direct-channel-booking experience. Plus, EveryMundo’s solutions help optimize on-site content structurally for better search impact, leading to more clicks from undecided, non-brand searchers – the type of clicks that represent new customers.

Coupling direct acquisition with high-value, end-to-end purchase experiences is how airlines can cultivate lasting traveler relationships and, ultimately, win more of the booking battle long-term.

For more insights and best practices for fighting the ‘direct booking battle,’ check out a special report from Skift and EveryMundo: Airlines & Direct-Channel Booking: Cutting Out the Middleman.