The increasing popularity of online booking agents and flight search platforms is creating a progressively competitive market. If the airline companies don’t want their services to end up externally commodified, they need to take charge of this market and extract maximum value for their brands.
Using market-driven competitive intelligence can dramatically increase your path to success, something that’s especially evident within the air travel industry.
For example, if easyJet looks at its market share using an old school limited keyword driven competitor report, they will think they dominate the market. But looking at the more dynamic market-driven Adthena data, reality hits hard, showing actually they don’t have such a strong hold on the market.
Market-driven intelligence can revolutionise your approach to sponsored search success. Although a keyword-driven approach may help you gain a fair share of voice (SOV), without adding market intelligence to the mix, you’re limiting the advantage you could enjoy over your competitors.
Although airlines are investing millions of pounds in their advertising campaigns, they’re leaving money on the table by failing to employ such tools as Adthena’s competitive intelligence for search. With no chance to benchmark their performance against the competition, airlines aren’t maximising their marketing potential to the fullest.
Looking for some data to back this claim up? Read on!
How Should You Put This Intelligence into Practice?
Below, we analyse the PPC marketplace for airline operators and look at some of the most heavily advertised destinations and how their keyword and/or market intelligence approaches are helping them earn greater market exposure.
As the graph shows above, Ryanair has traditionally shied away from spending on paid search, showing a flat line right at the bottom of the graph to match BMI’s performance, but as we’ll examine later, its organic search ranking is much stronger, suggesting it doesn’t need to spend extensively on PPC to get the bookings it needs to keep afloat. Although we saw a little PPC activity around the end of 2013, Ryanair has spent essentially nothing on paid search in 2014.
Another interesting insight to note from the graph is that British Airways had a huge peak in August, while in the month after, Monarch and Jet2 dropped SOV considerably, especially Monarch, whose SOV dropped to zero between September and November.
This could be a well-orchestrated strategy, with the low-cost airlines preferring to save their PPC for prime summer holiday bookings and cutting back on spend in the period directly following the school summer holidays, giving British Airways the opportunity to peak at this time.
Additionally, British Airways held a sale between the end of August and September, so this extra SOV could be down to the company pushing its worldwide promotion.
Although the company’s organic performance is more promising – it consistently took between 18% and 35% of organic SOV – it’s impossible to ignore the obvious decline starting in February 2014.
Whether it’s due to Google’s increasing emphasis on paid results, a systematic lowering of non-payers’ search rankings, or Ryanair’s inability to shift paid to organic search results, the one thing we can say for sure is that the airline saw a consistent decline in its organic performance over the course of 2014, which allowed for easyJet to take hold with a stronger SEO strategy.
Performing a simple search for Ryanair on Google exposes one big problem for the company: ad hijacking. In fact, although Ryanair is dominating the page for organic search on its brand name, eDreams is bidding on the same brand term as part of its paid search strategy. As a result, it displays the only ad that pops up for the airline in search results – an ad that links to a fake domain, no less.
Ryanair might not see this as a huge hit to its reputation, however. With flights available to book through a whole range of external sites like Skyscanner, eDreams, Bravofly, and other popular flight aggregators, Ryanair may have actually decided to let a partner bid on the brand term instead. After all, driving up sales without having to pay for the privilege is ultimately a benefit, right?
In comparison to Ryanair’s sluggish showing, easyJet’s performance was, on the whole, more positive. Although its paid search was a little bumpy throughout 2014, it effectively took on market leader British Airways (BA) at a number of points throughout the year, reaching a peak of 32% SOV in February while BA’s SOV dropped to 26%.
This of course could also mean that easyJet invested massively to get the Christmas business in and then just before Christmas saved some budget as the game was over. It’s also interesting to note that monarch disappeared for more than a month and then re-entered the market in October.
In the lead up to the summer holiday season, however, easyJet might have started bidding a little too late, with BA enjoying a massive peak in August – right in the season’s sweet spot – while easyJet didn’t reach its peak until October – and even then, it still got beat by BA.
It looks like easyJet may have gotten off to a bad start in 2015 as well, with the airline’s SOV dropping in December, an unfortunately inverse trajectory to BA’s, which looks to be on another upwards journey after hitting a pit in November.
easyJet’s organic search SOV was head and shoulders above its competitors’, obtaining as much as 56% SOV at two different points throughout the year. The airline seems to have enjoyed a huge boost at the beginning of 2014, steadily building its presence until it hit a peak in March. From that point on, SOV was a little up and down between April and December, but this was basically in line with the slight increases in its competitors’ SOV (with the exception of Ryanair).
Additionally, easyJet doesn’t have to confront the same problem of brand hijacking as Ryanair, with organic search remaining the real focus of its campaign.
If you find your company in a battle similar to this one, using Adthena’s competitive intelligence for search tools can help you understand how your competitors are playing the paid and organic game, in turn informing your decisions on how and when to bid.
That said, the importance of keywords shouldn’t be disregarded, as a look at some of the key phrases and terms the competition bid on can help us get a better idea of which keywords easyJet and Ryanair should be bidding on, too.
Some popular keywords included cheap (888), inclusive (331), flights (1005), hotel (152), breaks (130), and deals (150). Surprisingly, there were no bids on the keywords value, special(s), or discounted, which could represent a missed opportunity for airlines in the form of appropriate offers.
Summer seemed to be the most popular season for airlines to advertise. The keyword summer received 36 bid variations while winter received only 25. The two months in which the competitors bid the most were September and October, with 37 and 40 variations, respectively. Other months were not nearly as popular, receiving an average of 11 bid variations.
As for location bids, the warmer climates prevailed: Tenerife, Ibiza, and Majorca received a lot of attention, as did Turkey, Spain,, Egypt, Cyprus, and London (okay, not all warm climates).
Best Ad Copy
A closer look at the top-performing ads based on these keywords further confirms Ryanair’s paid search performance is not an area of strength, with none of its ads grabbing any of the top three ad placements for high-value keywords.
To the contrary, easyJet has established a clear niche at the top of the ad rankings, as its ‘cheap flights to amsterdam’, ‘flights to paris,’ and ‘flights to prague’ ads demonstrate the company’s intent to own destinations rather than the more generic keywords in its ad copy.
Additionally, the rankings show that each airline has a unique and defined ad copy strategy, with Jet2 focusing on the 22kg baggage allowance and % discounts on flights, whereas easyJet includes a specific price and the word ‘cheap flights’ in its ad copy for ‘flights to amsterdam’. The latter airline takes a slightly different approach to its ads for Paris and Prague, focussing instead on flights in October in an apparent attempt to get ahead and gain back some of the traction it lost during the summer months.
Optimise Your Own Campaigns
After analysing the airline industry’s keyword-driven and market-driven performance, as well as easyJet and Ryanair’s performances in particular, we can clearly see how solid analysis of both aspects of SEM forms the basis of a comprehensive marketing strategy and helps you grab the greatest SOV possible.
Adthena gathers in-depth information on your competitors’ strategies by enabling instant review and analysis of both sets of data. These would be virtually impossible to gather manually, and include the most accurate competitor spending estimates in the industry.