Google Ads, formerly called Adwords, and also known as Pay-Per-Click, or PPC, should be a key component of most tourism businesses’ marketing plans.
“It’s the best way to reach someone at the exact moment they’re looking for a solution,” says John Horn, a PPC expert and Google Premier Partner with StubGroup, who has managed numerous campaigns in the travel and tourism space. “PPC connects you with people looking for exactly what you provide.”
And as Google has given more space to Ads, organic search results keep getting pushed further down the page and in some cases don’t even show up until page two. The further down you go, the less likely those clicks will be. Increasingly it seems, Google is going to become ‘pay to play’.
Getting organic, adventure tourism SEO rankings is hard, long term work. With Google Ads, you can get those top of page results immediately, which can be great for selling last-minute trips or for special offers.
“PPC provides far more control over how much traffic you get, what types of traffic you get, and what messaging you use, than does SEO,” says Horn.
“It’s very important to know your ideal clients and your value proposition,” says Horn. “Test this and see what drives leads, but start with as good an idea of your ideal clients, as possible.”
So for example, if you’re running a remote Alaskan fishing lodge, and from your ideal customer research you know your best guests typically come from the Northeast US, are over 50 and business executives, and they specifically choose your lodge for its remoteness and small group sizes, you need to be creating compelling ads based exactly on that.
Figuring out your tourism marketing strategy takes time and energy. Many tourism marketing agencies simply throw stuff at the wall, in Google Ads, and see what sticks. This is a poor (and expensive) way to do things. Instead do the hard work and get it 90% right BEFORE running any ads, then adjust and optimize.
To get any meaningful results from Google Ads normally requires a 2K/mo ad spend, unless you’re in a very niche industry, explains Horn. Most standalone PPC agencies normally charge at least $500/mo or more in management fees, so for very small ad spends, learn it and DIY.
If you’re working with a tourism marketing agency, PPC setup and management should be included in your retainer, since it is such an integral part of the marketing mix. Whether you use a dedicated PPC agency or a digital marketing agency, whoever is managing your account should at the minimum be Google Ads Certified.
Better still, look for those firms with the Google Premier Partner badge, which is only awarded to the top performing digital marketing agencies.
Google makes nearly 90% of all its revenue from Ads. A disturbing practice that Google has been partaking in lately is reaching out directly to its Google Ads users and offering ‘free help’ with their accounts. Google reps, from call centers in India, have been known to relentlessly phone businesses directly, presenting themselves as ‘account strategists’ and offering to ‘help’ optimize their Ads campaigns. Their main goal is to get you to increase your ad spend. They usually recommend changing settings to ‘broad match’ (bad idea) and other tactics to increase clicks, and profit for Google. Best advice: tell them ‘no thanks.’
“One of the problems we often see with tourism operators is sending traffic directly to their homepage,” says Horn. “But often things don’t match up, and that leads to a bounce and wasted money.”
So for example, let’s say you’re a bike tour outfitter who is bidding on ‘bike tours France’ for a keyword phrase. But when someone clicks on your ad, they go to your homepage and there’s nothing that instantly matches that search term. Maybe there’s a menu somewhere with all the trips you offer, like rides in Spain, Argentina, Utah, and somewhere in there ‘France’. Most people won’t bother to look around long enough and will just click back to the search results page and go to the next ad. Google knows this. So because you haven’t bothered to create a landing page, and a good user experience, your ad quality score will suffer and your costs will go up.
New dynamic landing pages can instantly change copy, headlines and text to match whatever ad your visitor is clicking on, so there’s no reason not to create a good experience.
Your landing page should also address concerns your prospects might have. “A great technique is using testimonials on your landing pages to answer common questions,” says Horn. “For example, having a smiling customer with a testimonial saying, ‘The trip was amazing! Worth every penny!’ could be a great way to address a perceived barrier about cost or value.”
But sometimes having a poor quality ad might be a good strategy. If your research tells you a competitor is so well known in your tourism niche that they get a lot of direct searches, you might decide to bid on their company name. You would not put their name in your ads or landing page, so Google would give it a low quality score, but you could still steal some of their traffic with this approach. And when it comes to competitors, you want to know exactly what they’re doing and bidding on, and the best tool for this is spyfu.
The trick with landing pages is understanding your customer journey and knowing what you want your visitors to do next. If you’re selling high cost adventure tours, people likely won’t book on one visit, but maybe they will download a destination guidebook, and get on your mailing list, so that could be the goal you are optimizing for.
“We suggest 5-10% of the total ad budget is set aside for retargeting,” says Horn. These pop up display ads are for those visitors who may have had enough interest to click on your ad, but didn’t make it into your funnel. “But frequency is very important; you don’t want to be annoying.” Used in the right way, these ads can keep your tours top of mind and are very low cost compared to PPC.
Retargeting ads are like getting a second chance for a first date, so you need to warm up those cool prospects. Make sure to use stunning images from your actual tours or destination, not stock photos, and if you need to, hire a copywriter to craft super compelling headlines.
Although it is one of the more expensive digital marketing channels, you’ll soon discover Google Ads is a powerful weapon for your tourism marketing arsenal.