16 Feb 2010
Trent Blizzard on LinkedIn recently commented on average figures and benchmarks in the vacation rental market. That got me started on my first contribution this year on Reporting and Trends.
He focused on a few figures to come up with conclusions on where the market is going, let me sum it up here by looking at our own measures as compared to the US market.
Trent's conclusions may not necessarily jive with our own
1- Return visitors are better than first time visitors: sure, yet this sparks a dilemma. There has been a lot of arguing on the necessity of building functional/user friendly websites which can get the visitors' job done fast. Is that the opposite of a sticky/engaging website? After all you're here to get a vacation rental booking not to get 'engaged' in many other ways.
We're rather from the 'get it done fast' school, therefore I've been looking at this more from the perspective of repeat customers and the closest you can get there on analytics I think is:
Direct Traffic VS Organic Visitors.
A--They represent 26% of our traffic and are 50% more likely to book then organic visitors and surprisingly,
B---17% more likely to bounce off the website
In A--- we're comparing direct traffic with organic. Trent was looking at Returning Visitors VS New Visitors. Returning represent 44% of our visits, they are 3x more likely to book and, paradoxically, some 18% more likely to bounce off, although I think they are less representative of Returning Clients than direct traffic.
In B--- owners are not filtered out from the direct visitors and when they log in to the backoffice I think analytics assumes they're leaving the website. That may explain the higher than average bounce rate.
Conclusions: Denying that returning visitors are a bounty defies logic, it is obviously nice if they keep coming back. Yet we believe the focus must be efficiency and it is ideal that travelers get they're job done once and for all on their first visit. Focusing on engagement may end up wasting the travelers' time and that's not our vision.
A good question is why aren't we reaping as much as the American competitors from returning clients. We think the reason may be paradoxical, we offer far more properties than your average vacation rental website and, notwithstanding a sophisticated booking engine (see next paragraph), many travelers still prefer to linger on unfiltered lists of apartments. One more reason I guess is that we don't take bookings over the phone and don't have a call center. That is likely not going to change since call centers are not part of our business model. Phone calls is one of the many variations of giving the feeling of a personalized service to the guests. We don't believe this is efficient either for the traveler and our operations. Personalizing, when you're dealing with more than 10 properties, often matches with the 'selling an aura' marketing technique, which in one way or another manipulates the final user and we don't like that. We are also assuming costs of personalization push final prices up.
2- Booking engine mattered: you bet! But not as much as we thought!
Our Booking Engine is right on the homepage, so we would have thought the vast majority of visits start there.
---Save bounces, only 20% of visits start from the booking engine
--49% of pageviews are on index or search, the rest on the apartments' descriptions and other.
---The first 9 pages in top content for us are either homepages (different languages) or search engine, the 10th is the terms and conditions. FYI: perhaps unsurprisingly the 'sort by price' search engine page is the second most visited...
-- ca 4.5 pages on the booking engine
-- ca 3min in the booking engine (not counting Terms & FAQ pageviews)
Conclusions: though the booking engine has been king of our website since 2006 only 20% of our visitors start from it! Most visitors like to linger on random apartments' descriptions rather than looking at the exact dates, area, amenities they are supposedly looking for. Finding this out was a wake up call for us and we'll make 'hanging out' possible asap! That may eventually create some more 'stickyness' although it will be a visitors' free choice to do it
3- Our average $Value is 3.5$. Although this figure is not segmented and it includes owners' visits to the website, taking that into account we easily go over the 5$ value market benchmark.
-- Directs have a 50% better $ value and conversion than Organic although not of PPC (which give a 6x return compared to average), Referrals convert 50% less then average (with the notable exception of blog referrals which have 4x over the average conversion rate)
4- Online Revenue:
-Referral Sites: 9%
Notes & Conclusions: It's really noteworthy how well Organic search works for us and how Referrals aren't working for us.
Most referrals come from feedback websites like slowtrav and tripadvisor, guides, like frommers, fodors and travelandleisure and social websites like facebook especially and LinkedIn. They all convert far below average. The reason for it is really a mystery to us, most feedback on tripadvisor and slowtrav is positive. A take at it may be that referral clients are likely those that look at more alternatives and therefore they're statistically less likely to book.
Another important component of referrals are emails. These represent clients asking feedback and listing websites' requests. They have a dollar value and a conversion rate some 70% higher than average, yet they represent a tremendous effort for our office, which we're willing to reduce to the minimum.
Image credit blog.zzub.it