Let’s take a fresh look at Google Ads, their importance, best practices, and how they apply to tourism marketing.
Why do PPC?
Google Ads, formerly called Adwords, and also known as ‘paid search,’ pay-per-click, or PPC for short, should be a key component of most tourism businesses’ digital marketing programs. It’s one of the best ways to reach someone at the exact moment they’re looking for the type of tour or experience you offer.
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, so in many cases, you’ll need to be running ads to show up at all. Increasingly it seems, Google is becoming ‘pay to play’.
Getting organic, search engine rankings is hard, long-term work. With Google Ads, you can get those top-of-page results immediately, which can be especially great for selling last-minute trips or for special offers.
Primer on Google Ads Types
These ‘text ads’ are the most common types of PPC campaigns. They display your ads on Google’s search results based on a prospect’s search query. Search campaigns are great for driving immediate traffic and conversions as they target people who are actively looking for your tours.
Display ads appear on Google’s partner websites, targeting people based on their interests, demographics, or web browsing behavior. These ads tend to be more visual in nature, with images and graphics, but are less targeted than search campaigns. Display ads are more ‘top-of-the-funnel’ and are great for raising awareness about your tourism operation or destination and reaching a broad audience.
These campaigns utilize video content and are displayed on YouTube and other Google Display Network sites. Video campaigns are a powerful way of engaging potential guests with interactive content, and showcasing the adventure experiences you offer.
Remarketing (aka retargeting) allows you to target people who have previously interacted with your website. For instance, if someone viewed a specific tour package but didn’t make a purchase, you can retarget them with tailored ads promoting that same package. As these ads ‘follow you around the web’ it’s important to be gentle, or you’ll risk annoying prospective guests.
Do Marketing Strategy Before Doing Ads
This starts with knowing your ideal clients and your value proposition. Who exactly are they and what are the reasons they choose your tourism business over your competitors?
For example, if you’re operating a remote Alaskan flyfishing lodge, and from your ideal client research you know your best guests typically come from the Northeast US, are business executives over 50, and specifically choose your lodge for its remoteness and small group sizes, you should be creating compelling ads and targeting those people based exactly on that.
Figuring out your tourism marketing strategy takes time and energy. Talk to your guides or key staff and build ‘personas’ identifying as many demographic indicators as you can. Even better, consider interviewing your best guests to really understand what makes them tick, or hire a marketing agency to do that for you.
Nail the strategy to get it 90% right before running any ads. Then adjust and optimize.
Craft Compelling Ad Copy
Write attention-grabbing headlines that are clear, relevant, and spark enough interest to get users to click through.
Next, your ad description field should highlight the unique features of your tour or destination, along with any special deals or promotions. Use keywords that your target audience is likely to search for. Tools like Google Keyword Planner can help you find high-volume, relevant keywords.
Use professional images or videos, ideally from your business, not stock photos, to visually engage your audience. Always ensure they accurately represent the experience you’re offering.
Google Ads vs SEO—Which is better?
This is something we’re often asked by our tourism clients. The answer is, well, that depends. If you’re running unique tours to very remote or obscure destinations, you may find you have little competition, and organic rankings are quite easy to get. It would make no sense to spend money on Google Ads if you can easily get the top organic spot.
On the other hand, for incredibly competitive destinations, it might be near impossible to rank organically and you may have to spend on PPC to get some clicks.
It really depends on the resources you have and the type of tourism operation you’re running. If you’re an outbound tour operator, leading trips in dozens of countries, it would take a huge effort to organically rank for every one of those myriad destinations. Here, PPC is likely to be a major part of your online marketing.
On the other hand, for an inbound operation like an eco-adventure lodge, you’d absolutely want to be working on your tourism SEO.
PPC also provides far more control over how much traffic you get, what types of traffic you get, and what messaging you use, than does SEO.
For most tourism businesses we recommend a combination of both PPC and SEO. As you grow your business over time, and your domain authority and rankings improve, you can lower what you spend on Google Ads, as you get more traffic from SEO.
DIY or Use a PPC Agency
Getting meaningful results from Google Ads normally requires at least a $1000/mo ad spend, unless you’re in a very niche industry. Most standalone PPC agencies normally charge at least $500/mo (or more) in management fees, so for small ad spends of a few hundred dollars per month, it makes sense to do it yourself.
If you’re working with a tourism marketing agency, your Google Ads account setup and campaign management should be included in your retainer, since it is such an integral part of the marketing mix.
A good PPC agency should perform in-depth keyword research, be able to create strong ad copy and creative, and manage bidding strategy. They will have access to a suite of complex and expensive software tools, set up a detailed reporting dashboard, and be actively monitoring metrics like impression share, cost-per-click (CPC) and Return on Ad Spend (ROAS).
Once you get into the $2000/mo-and-up range, a tourism marketing agency should be able to optimize this channel to bring in a regular flow of high-value bookings.
Beware of Helpful Google Ads Reps
Google makes nearly 90% of all its revenue from Ads. Once you start running PPC ads, Google reps from call centers in India (and others purporting to be from Google), have been known to relentlessly phone businesses directly, presenting themselves as ‘account strategists’ and offering to ‘help’ optimize their Ads account. Their main goal is to get you to increase your ad spend by using ‘broad-match’ and auto-bidding. Best advice: tell them ‘no thanks.’
Landing Pages are Key
One of the problems we often see is tourism operators sending ad clicks directly to their homepage, but often things don’t match up, and that leads to a bounce and wasted money.
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. Most people won’t bother searching through your whole site to find the right tour page, and will just click the dreaded ‘back button’ and go to your competitor’s ad instead. Google knows this. So because you haven’t bothered to create a landing page, or send traffic to the right place, your ad quality score will suffer and your ad costs will go up.
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 such as using testimonials to answer common questions. Having a smiling customer with a testimonial saying, “The tour was amazing! Worth every penny!” could be a great way to address a perceived barrier about cost or value.
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 branded searches, you might decide to bid on their company name. Google allows this. 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 clicks 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.
Get’ em On Your List
The trick with landing pages is understanding your customer journey and knowing what you want your visitors to do next. If you’re selling luxury adventure tours, with a long lead time, people probably 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.
Don’t Forget About Retargeting
We suggest 5-10% of the total ad budget is set aside for retargeting. 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. Retargeting ads are like getting a second chance for a first date. But frequency is very important; you don’t want to be annoying or stalking.
Used in the right way, these ads can keep your tours top of mind and are very low cost compared to PPC. 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. Personalize your retargeting ads with software tools based on the specific tour packages or pages the user interacted with on your website. This makes your ads more relevant and compelling.
Grow Your Tourism Business with Google Ads
Although it is one of the more expensive digital marketing channels, you’ll soon discover Google Ads is a powerful weapon in your tourism marketing arsenal. If you need help setting up and managing campaigns or would like a free Google Ads account audit, by our certified ads expert Adam Kendrick, contact us today!