Travolution Conference Round Up

November 9, 2006

I attended Travolution@WTM yesterday an wanted to share some notes from the conference.

In particular, I facilitated the session on promoting your business and wanted to share some notes from the presentation by Arjo Ghosh, chief exec of Spannerworks.

He made us laugh, he made us cry and most importantly, he made us think. Arjo’s remit was to talk about the role of natural search. Arjo encouraged marketers to “Make everything available. Help me find it.”

He provided an interesting take on the evolution of search. From a “science” focus, search is shifting to be about insight, in particular adding demography and behaviour data to the mix to improve the relevance of search engine results. I didn’t ask this at the time, but I assume Arjo was speaking of both paid and organic search results. The search engines, most notably MSN through Ad Center, are offering the ability to target paid listings by some demographics and behavioural characteristics. As yet, none of the big three (MSN, Yahoo! and Google) are doing this for organic results.

Gazing to the future, Arjo predicted that relevance will be determined based on “equity: synthesis and creativity”. This is where he sees a convergence of SEO, PR and social media.

In addition to Arjo, we heard from Lewis Lenssen of Netizen Digital and Martin Dinham of Neutralize. Lewis gave an excellent refresher on paid search and the benefits and pitfalls of automated bid management tools.

Martin presented trends in online travel bookings. He used some great Hitwise charts (I may be a bit biased in my praise as I provided him with the charts!) as well as some from PhocusWright. I found the following below chart particularly interesting. About 15 months ago, I presented some stats at a conference using Hitwise data that showed that travel agencies were declining whilst the tour operators were gaining ground. I have highlighted this several times since, and it was great to see that PhocusWright is also seeing this trend in bookings.

PhocusWright Travel Agency versus Tour Operator Bookings
Lewis also mentioned that 90% of search budgets go to paid search (£1.26 billion in 2006) according to e-consultancy. He then pointed to some research from Enquiro from 2004 that indicates that 63% of consumers prefer organic listings. He also cited similar figures from an iProspect study.

I must admit I have a real problem with these studies. I have seen no indication that consumers prefer paid or organic listings – instead they seem to prefer the listings that is relevant and first. I don’t know whether consumers can distinguish between paid and organic – or care for that matter. What I can see is that consumers click on the link that seems to fit what they are looking for. It also seems that there is some brand loyalty in what they click on. Sponsored search results for an unknown brand don’t seem to get clicked on as much as those for a known brand. I have only done cursory analysis on this, and hope to dig further in future.

We had some good discussion in the Q&A about MySpace and social networks. Are they dead – are they yesterday’s news? We all agreed that social media is about more than MySpace. Even if MySpace is yesterday’s news (which I don’t believe it is) does it matter? Social media is about more than just MySpace.

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