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Travel tech explained: All about digital optimization

May 23, 2019

Optimization can mean different things to different people. Depending on your background – operations, sales, SEO, CRO, design, engineering – ‘optimization’ can invoke anything from the color of buttons on your website to the broad use of technology to streamline business processes.

So, we wanted to dispel any ambiguity around the word and explain just what we mean when we talk about digital optimization in the context of travel businesses. When we say ‘digital optimization’ we’re talking about on-page conversion optimization for travel websites. Here’s a look at some of the key tenets of optimization and why it’s so important.


Getting the most return from your website

In a nutshell, digital optimization is about making sure that your technology provides both the best experience to travelers and the best commercial results for your business. That means a holistic approach to optimization, taking into account the full user journey from landing on your site through to booking.

The first touchpoint is traffic acquisition – how you use each marketing channel to attract travelers to your site. Next are merchandising and cross-sell recommendations. And then there’s the booking journey.


A clear user journey: Reducing friction

Friction is a key concept in user experience (UX). In a travel commerce scenario, it refers to all the hesitations and doubts that a user might have about booking on your site: whether it displays correctly on their device. Whether you offer the sort-and-filter functionality they expect. ‘What will happen when I hit this button?’ ‘Will it break?’ ‘Can I trust this site?’ Great UX does everything possible to minimize these points of friction.

While there are plenty of long-established guidelines (for more on these, check out our in-depth guide to UX for hotel bookings), when it comes to digital experience, best practice can change regularly. There can be all kinds of aspects of your booking user interface (UI) that might have been optimal two years or even two months ago that aren’t today. That means regularly reviewing your booking journey is vital to optimizing your technology. This is where analytics are invaluable – a huge range of data points can help you assess performance and optimize it, from bounce rate on key commercial landing pages to booking abandonment rate. A 2018 study found that while 42% of users on hotel sites checked the site’s booking engine for availability, 9% progressed to the booking process and 2.2% overall actually converted1. While the research referred to direct booking, it underscores the vital importance of reducing friction, particularly at checkout.


A holistic approach

Each point in the journey, from landing on your site, to searching to browsing to booking, can give you dozens of opportunities to make gains. Are you cross-selling package rates? Are you making best use of content, with prominent reviews and star ratings on search results pages? And while you might have starred reviews implemented on your site, are they properly marked up using (That’s the technical magic that allows star ratings to appear on search engine results pages.) After all, when you’re optimizing for conversion, it’s important not to lose sight of the importance of growing traffic to your site – growing conversion rate is essential, but so is traffic. That’s why we make the distinction between ‘digital optimization’ and traditional conversion rate optimization (CRO).

Optimizing your booking journey can range from wider changes like implementing map search to fine-tuning, like testing button copy, while channel optimization can mean examining your SEO or CRM strategy. It’s all part of digital optimization.


Test, learn, iterate

A test-and-learn approach is integral to optimization. After all, optimization is about making the best use of your technology. How can you know what ‘best’ looks like if you have nothing to compare your current version with?

The test-learn-iterate model is a staple of the CRO world, and is particularly powerful in an ecommerce setting, including travel booking, since conversion is relatively straightforward to measure. That’s not to say it’s easy to get results, but you can certainly see when you do. And because the travel booking journey is so multi-faceted, there’s a huge amount you can – and should – test, from image size and layout to default sort modes to upsell techniques. And remember: a failed test isn’t a failure, but rather a mistake avoided, and lesson learned. A success is a chance to iterate and see some real gains – that’s what digital optimization is all about.

Find out how the EPS Digital Optimization team could help you with a range of consulting services to drive bookings on your site.