Travel sites and Google Analytics Site search – essentials

Travel industry is extremely rich in terms of data collection opportunities. Using Universal Analytics great new features online travel agencies and tour operators can easily implement and use this data for numerous tasks – mainly to gain insight on on site behavior and plan ahead (using data).

This, first in a series, article will deal with one of the main travel site tools – Search, Site search.

Why is Travel industry so specific when it comes to internal search?

Travel search usually does not use only one parameter in search but instead a series of parameters which best describe the end user intent – need.

The basic query usually consists of:

  1. Arrival date
  2. Check out date
  3. Destination and / or Location and / or Product (Hotel, Resort, Brand, Rental)
  4. Number of adults
  5. Number of children

If we were to translate this query in simple terms we would end up with a simple question:

What is the best offer for me and my better half in May 2015? We’d like to see Spain for 14 days and we believe Barcelona would be a great fit …

Now the search engine as the online salesperson – yes it is a 24/7 sales tool, needs to render best possible offers. If applicable it can/should ask additional questions to filter out offers not suited for the for mentioned couple.

These questions could be:

  1. Hotel category
  2. Price range
  3. Additional services (wifi, pool …)
  4. Activities (hiking, dancing, sleeping …)

The ideal follow up action set would include (a basic funnel):

  1. Looking at the product page for more details
  2. Booking process
  3. A long overdue vacation
  4. Repeat purchase:)

Looking back at the entire process we can determine the main points of interest where we can collect data and gain valuable insight.

  1. Initial search
    What was the users initial query – ideally we would need to track:

    1. Arrival – YYYYMM
    2. Destination or product
    3. Number of adults (good to have since we can easily use segments and push remarketing campaigns accordingly)
  2. Search refinements
    Each subsequent search performed during the session

    1. Add additional parameters to the search
    2. Completely new parameters
  3. Site Search monetization
    Did the search process end up with:

    1. Site exit
    2. Booking entrance
    3. Booking success

All main activities usually occur directly on search result pages. Depending on how the site was built we have many options on how to retrieve these desired values and send them to Google Analytics.

Before we get all technical lets look at what we can do with the data collected and hopefully answer why is it worthwhile to invest in tracking site search.


Why do it?


Aside from the default segments (built in) sessions with or without search you can explore user behavior based on their queries – destination, hotel category, arrival date. This will help assign value to segments – revenue based on desired destination, hotel, activity ….


So many options here – basically each query is a remarketing opportunity where you can choose to be more or less specific. Just think of a display ad containing Spain / Majorca, desired date of arrival, total price for 2 persons, image includes spa (which was additionally selected) and if you can afford give 2 tickets to a party (if the user selected dancing as a favorite activity) – the possibilities are endless.

Search behavior

Evaluate the efficiency of your search engine. There are some decent metrics available in the reports such as:

  1. Total Unique searches – evaluate between search terms and total demand
  2. % Search Exits – % of searches resulted in the user leaving the site
  3. % Search Refinement – % of searches resulted in a new search

The standard Behavior > Site Search > Usage report can help determine how sales friendly is your search engine in terms of purchase behavior of those who searched and those who did not.

Research tool

After collecting the data for a significant period you will have massive insight into some specific cases for example:

  1. When do people start searching for a specific query? (and when they actually buy it)
  2. When do people from Germany start searching for a vacation in Spain with children
  3. Which of the additional services are important to visitors from Italy and which selection did lead to a purchase?
  4. And much more …


Technical setup and options

Step 1.
Which parameters to track

Which values will you actually use in reporting, remarketing or segmentation tools and decision making.

Step 2.
Retrieve the values

This is the part where you may ask for some help from your developers. I said may as there are situation where you can do it without the help.

It is also important to know are you using a tag management system like Google Tag Manager or are all of your tracking codes implemented directly into site template structure.

Values in URL
If the values are exposed in the URL as query parameters (/?arrivalDate=20150522&…) or as anchor (/#arrivalDate=20150522&…) you can and should use Google Tag Manager where Macros / Variables are your best friend.

Values via a dataLayer.push (for Google Tag Manager)
But if the situation is not as simple a good way would be to ask your developers to render all required information inside a dataLayer on all pages related to search – just a simple piece of code inserted on your page which can look like this:

// Insert before GTM snippet or add a custom event if this is not possible
window.dataLayer = window.dataLayer || [];
‘searchArrival’ : ‘20150522’,
‘searchDestination’ : ‘Majorca’,
‘searchAdults’ : ‘2’

Step 3.
Format data and send

After we retrieve the raw value we may sometimes need to reformat data to conform it to reporting needs. In this simple example we would like to send this data in two basic ways.

Site search term
The values become available inside Behavior > Site Search reporting in Google Analytics – but as the query is complex we would need to combine these 3 values into one single entry where the end result would be ‘20150522,Majorca,2’

Technical needs
Option 1. Use a virtual page view method and override the default URL so that the URI reported in Google Analytics looks like this – ‘/searchresultpage/?mySearchTerm=20150522,Majorca,2

Option 2. Use view filters – Custom advanced filter where you would extract Custom Dimensions values and combine these into Search term.

Custom dimension
It would be wise to track all three of the values as separate dimensions as you could more easily report on trending and correlation of these dimensions – so CD1 would be searchArrivalMonth where we would put only the month part of the string, CD2 would be searchArrivalYear only the year part of the string …

Technical needs
Define the custom dimensions inside Google Analytics admin (property) as hit level dimensions. Use the indexes either in GA universal tracking code or via Google Tag Manager (preferred implementation) and assign the values to each custom dimension on each pageview hit (related to search of course).

Added bonus – read this fine article by Simo Ahava which explains the site search technical stuff – highly recommended –

Step 4.
Additional info to acquire (Opportunities)

Consider setting up additional tracking features:

  • Content grouping value as search result page entry.
  • Enhanced e commerce to see product performance based on search result lists.
  • Custom metric which will report on the number of offers found for a specific query where you will definitely keep your eye open for the dreaded ZERO search result – meaning no offer could be found in the search process.

Importance of initial Google AdWords campaign setup

In this article I will briefly refer to one case with which we have met. It is about the client who more than a year ago decided we should set up his AdWords campaign and be in charge of it for few months. After these few months it was decided to disconnect clients AdWords account from Escape MCC (for us every client is the owner of his AdWords account and can at any time “disconnect” from us).

Recently there has been a re-cooperation with the same client where we got access to the same AdWords account that we have previously set up (more than a year ago). After a short overview of all settings in AdWords campaign but also overview of all the results that are achieved in that time we came to the conclusion that there could be some improvements. However, we were pleasantly surprised with the achieved results of this campaign during that year in which we were not involved.

In short, below you can see some information for this client who advertises on different markets (countries). The period in which we did not have access to the campaign is between July of 2013 until mid-September of 2014.


AdWords change history

The image above shows a report from the Change History. Here we can see who was, and if, doing any changes on the campaign itself. What we can see is that there were not too many changes on the actual campaigns during this time. Campaigns were active in the way we had it set up during initial set-up.


adwords results 2013-2014


On the picture above we see the results which the campaign achieved during this period. If we consider that it was advertising in several foreign markets where competition is strong, we can conclude that the campaign had very good results. Very low cost of clicks (around 0.35€), big CTR but also good average position that was held during that time just shows how the campaign was well set-up & managed at the very beginning.


analytics results of campaign 2013-2014


Data from the Analytics only confirms that all campaigns in this AdWords account were well set from the beginning when it comes to targeting users and targeting specific keywords and/or phrases. These claims are proven with data from bounce rate, number of pages viewed per session and the average duration of visits per user – all of these data are better than average data for the entire web page.


How the Adwords campaigns behaved over time?

First of all let’s look at how the cost-per-click price ranged during this time.


cpc adwords campaigns 2013


As we can see, for the first 6-7 months, price was stable around 2.55kn (0.3€), in the second period price moved upwards and was about 3kn (0.4€).


ctr adwords campaigns 2013


The above graph shows that the CTR (click-through rate on the ads in regard to number of showed adds) initially went up the for first 3-4 months but then stabilized at slightly below 10 %, which is not bad.


position adwords ads 2013


The graph above shows the average position. Initially it was increasingly improved and nearly come close to the position 2 but then rose and stayed a little under 3.5.

We can conclude that after first six months the client lost an average position that he had. Also, cost per click went up after first 6 months. The good thing is that CTR remain almost the same during entire period. In conclusion, if we consider that there was done almost nothing on this campaign during this period – the achieved results are excellent.


Can we make even better AdWords campaigns?

We can, of course. Maybe not for double improvements but some improvements can be expected ;). It should be noted that the AdWords system actively changes over time and new things are introduced that can help us in the management of the campaign and achieving results. Further pictures show very briefly what happened when we took over the campaign.


cpc adwords campaigns 2014


Immediately visible was a reduction in the price of clicks on the entire account. This was achieved by additional structuring of specific campaigns and redistribution of the budget.


position of adwords ads 2014


At the same time, besides CPC reduction, we managed to achieve better positions. Now it is at an average position of 2.

Data on CTR was not put in as it moves generally the same as before, so there are no excessive changes.

As it can be seen, the proper initial setup of the campaign, as well as its “initial optimization” of at least first 2-3 months can lead to such a campaign which we can “forget” for the next year 😉 . Of course, we do not suggest that you completely forget your AdWords campaign – it has to be checked regularly.

How are your campaigns settings? If you are not sure – you can always contact us if you want an audit – overview of the campaigns.

Note – measurement of any conversion was not set in the account. Unfortunately, in order to measure conversion properly, it would be necessary to make certain demanding changes to the client website that would entail high costs that are not in his annual investment plan.

Good AdWords campaign – but no results?

Sometimes we encounter situations in which we made all that is needed ​​in clients Adwords campaign but, simply put, in the end the results are non-existent. What many forget is that the AdWords system exists to bring the “appropriate targeted” users to your website. We bring “potential” customers who are interested in an offer that your web page shows them – will then these “potential” users convert into “true” customers does not depends on us. Converting users into customer depends only on you – and your website.


Design is one of the most important things on the website. The design must always be focused on what is the main goal of the website – getting new clients. If the user finds your page for the first time and if  “at first sight” it is not clear what your web page is all about – then you’ve probably lost him right away. Some of the things to watch out in web design are:


  • simplicity of orientation – the user always has to know “where he is” on web page and how to get to what he wanted to find out
  • transparency – the website must be clean and clutter-free
  • sometimes “less” is actually “more” – do not overwhelm users with unnecessary information, give him only what is necessary and what will interest him (the same can be applied to offers – do not immediately show him all the offers that you have – instead give him yours best 3 or 4 offers with the ability to see other offers if he is interested)
  • emphasizing what you want the user to do – for example if you have a web shop, you might want to highlight in other colors button for “purchase”
  • emphasizing of your advantages/additional benefits for users – similar to the above text, only here we mean all those advantages that you have over the competition (like price or free shipping)
  • consistency – make sure you whole website follows a specific “theme”


These are just some of the things to watch out for when you design a website. But apart from these, it would be good to keep an eye on some technical things (for example was there incorporated one of the analytical tools to monitor how users behave when they get to your website).

Using Google Analytics, we can see how much time users spend on your website. In addition we can also see how many users are abandoning your web page immediately as they found themselves on it. These data can show us how well the website is made and if it “immediately” conveys the right message what this web page is about.


bounce rate of analytics channels


As we can see in the picture above, we can immediately see how users behave when we divide them by channels from where they came (direct, organic & paid channel). So right away we can compare which of the channels is better and which is not so good. In addition, one should be aware that today we see more and more users who use their cell phones and tablets in surfing the Internet.


mobile users in analytics


In the case above we see that approximately one third of all users come from mobile devices (for that client). However, if we look at some data about those users, we will see that they are generally worse than the “desktop” and “tablet” users. It is very important that in these day and age you have a website that is compatible with cell phones – responsive website!


Check your webpage for opportunities for improvement


One of the important things is the speed of the website – its loading time or, should we simply say, the speed of downloading it in our browser. There can be found various studies that show if your website does not load within the first 4-6 seconds – you will lose majority of your potential users who will not wait for web page to fully load.


Page load time by device


There are several services in which you can check the “speed” of your website, we suggest a tool from Google itself, which is located at this link. The good thing is that you immediately get suggestions what you should change on your website to make it go faster.


Speedtest of web page


In addition, it would be very helpful to monitor users during the process of buying things/services. From where most of them enter the system of purchase (shopping cart, booking system, etc.) or on which of the steps most of them give up and leave the process. Sometimes, it happens that already on the first step most of potential customers give up and leave. Check out all the steps, see what can be changed on the website (every individual step in buying) or even remove some of the steps to improve the conversion of users in customers.


Funnel visualization


These are just some of the things that clients should look out for and are related to the behaviour of their website. For all other information, I suggest you contact some of the SEO or web agencies that will make a detailed analysis of all the shortcomings of your website.

Our mission is to bring to your website, thru advertising campaigns, the most relevant users (those who are interested in your offer), but it is not our task to transform them into customers. It is the task of your website, and that’s the reason why it must be correctly made​​.


If you want to check how your AdWords campaign is made, ​​as well as other information about the “success” of the campaign – contact us.