2021 from the Urban Perspective
While 2021 started slowly for urban tour operators, TOMIS clients regained their footing coming out of the first quarter, with a number of them ending the year on a very high note.
Many of the trends that we saw in 2020 persisted throughout 2021, including a higher percentage of online bookings, a focus on the local market, and alternative tour options for consumers. New, or more prioritized, trends in 2021 included hiring, automating internal operations, streamlining the customer journey, and refocusing on core offerings. Our urban clients who were able to meet the demand for safe and unique experiences on and offline saw growth throughout the year.
With the average amount of time spent online in the US increasing each year and more emphasis being put on the user experience, a primary focus for 2021 was improving the online customer journey. We worked with clients to adopt new communication tools to reduce friction in the booking process as well as streamline internal operations, optimize their digital presence, and deploy an integrated funnel strategy.
In this post, you’ll find insights and strategies that TOMIS leveraged with urban operators throughout 2021. Topics range from Google Ads to an integrated website strategy that focuses on the user experience.
The Power of Google Search Advertising in 2021
Looking at 2021 compared to 2020 and 2019, Google Ads proved to be an increasingly strong revenue-driving channel for our urban clients. The conversion rate increased by 111% (2020) and 142% (2019), while cost per conversion decreased by 35% (2020) and 55% (2019). In certain urban markets where OTAs are leveraging a significant budget and able to largely control the paid ad space, TOMIS deployed competitive search campaigns that ensured clients held the majority impression share for ads, all while keeping cost-per-conversion affordable and conversions increasing.
In our highlighted case study above, our featured party boat client is based in the Nashville market, where there is a large amount of competition from both other operators and large OTAs. We worked with them to drive a 26x ROAS with Google Ads, with 485 online bookings and 467 additional leads.
Paid Social Advertising in 2021
Despite the iOS 14 update that impacted our reporting and partially limited our audience targeting capabilities, paid social remained a strong revenue driver in 2021, with over $600,000 in attributed revenue across our urban clients. The average return on ad spend hovered right around 4.29x with website visitor retargeting campaigns averaging 11.85x.
While we couldn’t report on all the directly attributed conversions and traffic from paid social campaigns due to the iOS 14 updates, we can look at it from a holistic perspective. The overall website traffic and online revenue, specifically that which is attributed to the ‘Other’ channel in Google Analytics, is tracked by the UTM links added to our paid social ads. Looking at those KPIs, we can get a good idea of the impact paid social advertising plays in overall growth.
Video accounts for nearly half of the time spent on Facebook — a trend that we have seen reflected in the performance of video ads over the past year. Clients have seen well over a 10% click-through rate on video content and that is not limited to high-quality footage. Adding simple animations and creating slideshows have proven to be effective as well.
In 2021, TOMIS launched paid Tik Tok campaigns with clients looking to test the advertising channel. While relatively new to this space, we have a few insights to share from our experience.
The daily budget ranges from $20-$50 per day per campaign — it’s worth noting this is a much higher budget than Facebook and Instagram. Similar to these platforms, the power of retargeting campaigns on TikTok relies on website events that are being tracked by the TikTok Pixel that you’ll need to install on your website. For new brands looking to utilize their TikTok Pixel events for retargeting efforts, it’s important to keep in mind that you are only able to retarget attributed events. Similar to Facebook and Instagram, the attribution of Tik Tok campaigns is limited. However, clients running the Tik Tok campaigns did add a “How’d You Hear About Us” question to their booking flow. In looking at bookings with “Tik Tok” associated with it, one client could attribute ~$8,000 and another client ~$14,000 over 4 months.
Regardless of paid social’s attribution limitations, TOMIS still sees direct value in advertising on these social platforms to reach customers at multiple points of the purchase journey.
Search and Page Experience Optimization in 2021
We’ve said it before and we’ll continue to say it, organic traffic is the key indicator of overall business health. In 2021, a large number of TOMIS urban clients saw a return to 2019 organic sessions with a number of them surpassing previous benchmarks — a good indicator that things are turning around in many markets.
Organic traffic growth for these clients came through keyword diversification via well-informed page-specific keyword strategies and complementing Content Marketing strategies (i.e. strategic blogging).
However, getting a user to the site is only half of the equation. Google’s algorithm updates in 2021 emphasized the importance of page experience, technical website health, and relevant, trustworthy content. The Core Web Vitals (CWV) update, in particular, indicated the increasing weight Google is putting on a favorable user experience — both from a technical and content perspective. Learn more about why CWV and page experience matter to tour operators and how TOMIS has helped improve scores.
For tours and activities SEO and Content Marketing strategies in 2021, TOMIS worked with urban clients to establish E-A-T (expertise, authority, and trustworthiness) onsite. This strategy was leveraged through blog optimizations and hub-and-spoke style posts.
For clients that had rich historical blogs already, we focused on optimizing the blog post eCommerce conversion rate and lead conversion rate. On one blog, Best San Francisco Tours, we increased sessions by 66% (2020), target keyword ranking position by 10 positions, and eCommerce conversion rate by 591% (2020). This blog had $8,000+ in attributed revenue in 2021, which is 1,912% more than 2020 and ∞% more than 2019 — and this isn’t even the operator’s highest revenue blog post!
We also worked with clients did not have an established blog content and limited site pages. To increase their keyword diversification and therefore their online presence, we configured a blog page, template blog posts with an optimized format for conversions, and a Content Marketing strategy to get them off the ground. When TOMIS launches a Content Marketing strategy with a client that’s just beginning to build out their blog, we start by tailoring content towards key customer personas and addressing typical customer pain points. We then build out topic clusters to support other tour pages and blogs.
Vista Trail Bikes is a bike rental company based in North Lake Tahoe who opened their doors in June of 2020. We worked with this operator in 2021 to not only develop a new website but also to build out a Content Marketing strategy — both via blogs and key site pages to showcase their E-A-T within Tahoe tourism.
Urban clients who leveraged an integrated on-page and off-page marketing strategy — technical and content-focused — saw significant growth in KPIs. The page experience and content focus will continue to be emphasized by Google and online users as we move into 2022.
In talking with several urban clients in the first month of 2022, the majority are optimistic with plans for business growth. Many urban operators are looking to acquire businesses, while others are looking to expand to new locations and diversify their offerings.
TOMIS knows the importance of direct bookings for small to medium size operators — it has been and will continue to be our main priority as a digital marketing agency for tour operators. We leverage proven integrated strategies across channels and markets, with our strongest asset being our ability to connect operators with the right people and the right tech to reach their goals.