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Travel SEM Is at a Crossroads

Shift to mobile and increase in impressions define competitive marketplace

Travel marketers are well aware of search marketing’s importance to the online travel market. According to a Q2 2012 survey from iPerceptions, 40% of US online travel consumers entered the purchase funnel through search engines. And as smartphones and tablets become more ubiquitous, some of that search traffic is coming from mobile.

Notably, The Search Agency’s “State of Paid Search Report Q3 2012” found that tablets gained a full 8 percentage points of paid click share year-over-year, while smartphones also jumped 3 percentage points in that time period.

Of course, nearly 84% of all paid search travel clicks still occurred on the PC in Q3 2012, and mobile’s growth may be at least partially attributed to the relative newness of the medium. In other words, don’t expect desktop travel search to go anywhere anytime soon.

When it came to engagement with paid search travel ads, The Search Agency also reported that US overall paid search clickthrough rates for travel and leisure dropped considerably year-over-year from Q3 2011, falling 34%, from 7.94% down to 5.28%. Despite the precipitous decline, though, travel and leisure still leads all US industries in CTRs by a notable margin—with clickthrough rates 38% higher than the next best clickthrough performer.

The report noted that the decline was mainly due to the fact that impressions increased by 59% while clicks increased by only 6%, which points to increased competition in the search engine marketing (SEM) space.

Keeping up with search engine optimization (SEO) is more difficult than ever given Google’s significant changes to search algorithms. In addition, the increasing sophistication of Google’s Flight Search and Hotel Finder listings is making it more difficult (if not impossible in many cases) for organic travel content to show up above the fold on the first page of search listings. As a result, paid search will be even more contentious for travel marketers as Google’s search and travel developments evolve.

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Check out today’s other articles, “Tablet Size Can Shape Its Use” and “Advertisers in Mexico Tread Into Mobile.”

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