Blogs and banners power travel agency website

House of Travel's new site proves a hit

Eighteen months after its redesign, the House of Travel’s new website is delivering on its promise.

“In the last year we have seen the sales that we generate online grow [six-fold],” says Hilary Lewis, e-commerce director at House of Travel.

“We are currently transacting 20% of the direct turnover online.”

A year ago about 2% of the direct sales were transacted online, she says.

House of Travel created its new website in collaboration with website optimisation and e-commerce consultancy Netconcepts.

“Our number one focus was the website, to improve its usability and also to understand online customer behaviour,” says Lewis.

The website allows customers to search for and compare airfares and deals from all the different carriers in the domestic, trans-Tasman and South Pacific area.

“We also focused on the online marketing space, doing work around paid search, pay-per-click [advertising], online banners and search engine optimisation. And it is fair to say that when we launched the new booking engine [online marketing] was a skill we didn’t have. Over the last 18 months our understanding of the power of it has grown,” says Lewis.

Netconcepts audited House of Travel’s site and implemented strategies to increase online sales.

“We ensured that the search engine would be able to crawl through the pages within the site,” says Jacqui Jones, lead consultant at Netconcepts.

The consultancy also provided a content-optimisation training programme for the House of Travel content team.

“Essentially, it’s about finding the right keywords that people are searching for and incorporating those words into the copy on the site,” she says.

The results can be measured in increased traffic to the site and in keyword ranking, says Jones.

“For popular keywords such as ‘cheap airfares’ it is important that the House of Travel’s site is visible on the first page of results on Google, Yahoo and MSN.”

A quick search on Google shows that House of Travel’s website is the first result for the term “cheap airfares” in New Zealand.

House of Travel uses Netconcepts’ tool, Gravity track, which gives customers a dashboard view of how each channel is performing in generating traffic to the site.

“It looks at performance of email, pay-per-click advertising, natural search engine optimisation, banner advertising and text-link advertising, and we can measure what the return of investment is for each of these different channels,” says Jones.

House of Travel also has a blog on its website.

“It’s been a bit of an experiment for us, but the result has been very encouraging,” says Charles Coxhead, online marketing manager at House of Travel. “Blogs tend to rank very well in search engines and they lend themselves to a conversational tone in the communication with our customers. We are intending to make the blog a main feature of our site because we can see that it definitely has potential.”

He says that RSS feeds and podcasting are also technologies that have great potential for House of Travel.

“We have seen consistent improvement of our investment over the last few months,” he says.

Lewis says it was quite a challenge for House of Travel, which has relied on traditional marketing for 18 years, to move into the online marketing space.

“One thing we have learned is that our website is appealing to a completely different customer-set than House of Travel has traditionally appealed to,” she says. “Around 80% of the people who have booked online are new to our company, so understanding how to market, and what to market, to these new customers was quite different to what we had done previously.

“The online channel, and the continuing growth of it, is absolutely key for our business,” she says.

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