Retail sites are changing across the digital landscape, but no more so than in the travel and tourism sector where ecommerce is being bolstered with other functionality.
As social network traffic increases beyond search engine traffic, sites that were previously reliant on Google and chums are doing their best to address this by adapting their strategy for the social web with more engaging content.
As this happens, it actually presents a huge opportunity for public relations professionals.
I started thinking about this after I met recently with the new global content manager for Cheapflights Media.
They are undergoing a bit of a shift of focus at the moment, moving from a very direct sales approach and converting their sizeable search traffic into bookings for advertisers, to more inspirational lifestyle content with a social media strategy.
Cheapflights is an example of an online business that is heavily reliant on search traffic (the term “cheap flights” receives around 16 million global monthly searches on Google) but their recent rebrand as a media company, and the fact they are employing editorial staff tells you where they are heading.
This seems to be a sensible move - this shift is a particularly important one for travel retail sites, as purchases are high value and driven by inspiration, and as this Tnooz article explains from a retailer perspective, consumers are increasingly expecting to be inspired by travel sites.
What does this mean for PR? Well, as a destination, hotel, airline or operator it's easy to think that the usual consumer travel content outlets are your primary online media targets.
Unlike the ad planners, most PRs are not measuring click throughs and metrics, and return on investment is elusive.
For a lot PRs, an online strategy means looking at their targets in print media, and transferring that to their respective online presences.
The more ahead of the game are targeting some of the top travel blogs, but the debate on how best to approach this is still raging.
So, some numbers. If we take four of the top UK national newspapers, all of whom have strong travel content, and at least one of which will be a key media target for any consumer travel PR campaign.
According to Google Adplanner’s estimates, these are their monthly unique visitors:
Big numbers, but look closer and we see that on all of these sites’ top subdomain listings, travel is missing, and the smallest subdomain traffic ranges from 22k to 3.6k.
Google Adplanner doesn’t even list ‘travel’ as an audience interest on any of these sites!
Compare these numbers to those listed for four of the most popular UK travel retail websites:
Smaller numbers, but comparable, and once we’ve pared down the traffic of the newspaper sites to just their travel content, the retail sites win hands down.
For a clearer picture we can look at a pure travel publication, what a lot of UK travel PRs would consider the Holy Grail of media targets, Condé Nast Traveller.
The website CNTraveller.com receives 52,000 monthly unique users – a fraction of any of the retail sites' traffic.
Not only this, but retailers are geared more directly towards getting the user to book. The content sites are addressing this, coming from the opposite angle several, and are integrating search and/or booking systems alongside their travel content.
They are run to varying degrees of integration with the editorial content, but either way we can assume that less users have come to actually book a holiday than those on the retail sites.
The average Cheapflights user will actively be seeking some cheap flights, the average Guardian reader user is more likely to be a casual browser. Even as Cheapflights switch their focus to lifestyle content, this is unlikely to change drastically.
Of course none of this will be news to anyone who plans online travel advertising, but as retail sites start publishing editorial content and becoming viable media targets, PR deparments will need to rethink their strategy.
Should that next pitch or press trip invite go to a journalist from the Telegraph, who will write up a nice feature in the Saturday paper and on telegraph.co.uk, then hope that a few readers will go and Google your company name?
Or should it go to someone from Cheapflights, who’ll publish the story to a huge audience already in the mindset of researching or book their holiday, right next to a search or booking engine where they can do exactly that?
NB: This article is written by Ian McKee, a digital marketing executive at McCluskey International in the UK. The company runs PR for a string of travel clients including Silversea Cruises and the New South Wales, Jamaica and Hungary DMOs. Follow McKee on Twitter.