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How Booking.com Learnt That Travel SEO and CRO go Hand in Hand

Iztok Franko

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“Measure everything,” we always say – no matter in which industry we work. But if you’re from the travel industry, Booking.com is probably your No.1 inspiration for both travel SEO and conversion rate optimization (CRO).

With more than 1000 split tests being conducted at any given moment and a 2- to 3-times higher conversion rate than their peers, Booking.com has set the bar high for all of us.

However, at the 2018 inOrbit conference, when we sat down with Leonardo Saroni, Senior Product Owner at Booking.com who’s been part of Booking.com for almost 10 years now, we learnt that they still hold a few aces up their sleeve.

It’s All About Customer Centricity

While on the stage, Saroni focused mostly on showcasing what we already knew. Yes, A/B tests rule their world. But if you think that they run all these tests just to pump up the conversion rate and earn more money, you’re mistaken. It’s all about customer centricity.

“Booking.com is a very customer focused company. We really want to do everything to improve the experience for the customers and testing stuff is the best way for us to kind of institutionalize that,”

says Saroni. For his travel SEO team (and other colleagues), running endless split tests is not just about is not just about maintaining a focus on pure data.

A/B tests keep them on their toes so that they never forget who is truly powering their company: the customer.

How SEO and CRO Can Work Together

It’s no coincidence that our 2017 Airline Conversion Rate Optimization Survey showed that customer centricity and number of tests performed on a regular basis are the top two things that define an Airline CRO leader.

However, while for CRO purposes a split test procedure is quite well-known, A/B testing with SEO is not often discussed. Still, just like with the classic CRO split testing approach, focusing on your customer is the most important thing – even if travel SEO is your main objective.

NOTE: If you want to know more about the potential CRO and SEO conflicts watch my whole video with Leonardo where we discussed this in detail.

How split tests come into play for SEO at Booking.com

Several speakers at inOrbit 2018 talked about the ultimate reader for which all SEO texts are written – the Google spider. Saroni, however, took this idea one step further.

SEO is frequently performed for technical purposes instead of for the users, but Saroni believes that if done right, great SEO pleases all three: customers, increased conversion rate, and web crawlers.

Saroni says that’s a win-win situation. Of course, it doesn’t happen all the time, but we should all keep in mind how important it is to check that our successful SEO efforts are serving our customers as well.

“I believe that SEO and conversion rates go hand in hand,”

says Saroni. He believes that some of the best CRO successes Booking.com has had were a result of SEO efforts which pleased their customers as well.

So, how does Booking.com actually perform SEO experiments, you wonder?

Saroni explains this with an ecommerce example. Split the set of pages you’re trying to improve in half. One half should be optimized according to SEO standards, and the other half should be left as-is.

How booking.com does travel SEO tests

source: Leonardo Saroni presentation

Remember you’re doing this for one user (Google), but you should also always be thinking about what the customer needs on these types of pages.

Your travel SEO experiment success metrics

Only traffic won’t be enough. Are visitors coming back? Do they proceed to booking flow? Do they subscribe to your price alerts, newsletter or start following you on your Facebook page?

Traffic should not be your only metric when doing travel SEO. Developing engaging content is just as important. You need to ask yourself how you can measure your SEO success besides upping your search result ranking and traffic increase. Like Saroni says:

“If you’re doing SEO you need to develop pages that are really interesting and engaging for your customer.”

At the end of the day you need both: high traffic and a high conversion rate. Without one or the other your revenue will not be as high as it could be.

Key Ingredient of a Successful Travel SEO Program

As Saroni explained in our interview with him, luckily the travel industry has a lot of opportunities for travel SEO. There are heaps of potential new readers and endless content possibilities. If you’re not sure where to start, do as Saroni suggests: use Google as inspiration.

“Look at how people consume […] travel related information on Google and basically try to replicate that in your SEO strategy – whether that’s at the architecture level, content level, but really start from the demand.”

This Mind-set Has to Become a Part of Your Company’s Culture

If you’re part of a bigger company, you’re probably experiencing a problem that the majority of airlines know all too well: different departments act with different goals in mind. That’s usually the main problem of a silo organization. However, there should be just one goal: please your customer.

A visitor that lands on your page because of your search engine optimized landing page or with booking a flight in mind should experience (at least) fulfilled expectations. Even though your SEO team is focused mostly on pleasing Google spiders and your CRO tribes are obsessing about increasing conversion rate, they should never work against each other.

On the contrary, if the ultimate reason they come to work every single day is to satisfy the customer’s needs, they will have to admit that their work wasn’t successful if all they did was pursue their own individual goals.

Neither your CRO team nor your SEO team should feel overshadowed by the other. As  Saroni pointed out in our interview:

“At some time, you need to educate people.”

Customer centricity must become a part of your company’s culture. Through implementing that, CRO and SEO efforts will automatically start working hand in hand. Bryan Eisenberg, founder and CMO of IdealSpot, explains this idea perfectly:

“The companies that excel at conversions have evolved a culture of customer-centricity. And not at the manager or director level, but from the C-suite down. The best companies experiment. They absorb conversion rate optimization learnings and incorporate them into strategic and operational changes. That makes them superior. And not just at fixing, but at creating customer experiences that delight their customers.”

What Should You Do Next to Improve Your Conversion Rate?

Iztok Franko

I am passionate about digital marketing and ecommerce, with more than 10 years of experience as a CMO and CIO in travel and multinational companies. I work as a strategic digital marketing and ecommerce consultant for global online travel brands. Constant learning is my main motivation, and this is why I launched Diggintravel.com, a content platform for travel digital marketers to obtain and share knowledge. If you want to learn or work with me check our Academy (learning with me) and Services (working with me) pages in the main menu of our website.

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