Understanding the customer journey, in its entirety, is a puzzle that continues to challenge digital marketers, particularly when it comes to perfecting the process of online travel marketing and booking. The reality is that there are so many factors that impact whether a consumer makes a final decision to purchase travel – these factors take place on and offline, across multiple devices and over an unpredictable range of time.

According to market research firm PhoCusWright, consumers use 6.5 sites and devices on average to research before booking travel. What this means is that potential travel customers are literally all over the digital map when researching their travel plans. Because of this tendency, it is imperative that marketers understand how to simplify, contextualize and link engagement between each digital touch point. That way, when a consumer enters a brand’s booking funnel, they stay there until a purchase is made.

We have worked closely with our travel industry clients and together tried and tested the elements that will make for the most effective booking process. In fact, we just released a new client success story for redspottedhanky.com (how can you not love that brand name?). This online train ticket retailer in the UK increased its bookings by more than 5 percent by going through the process of better understanding its customers and then running a multitude of tests on its booking funnel.

For redspottedhanky.com and many others, the secret boils down to understanding what the consumer is telling you through the data collected around their journeys and optimizing it based on their preferences every step of the way. Below are five best practices that help you do just that:

1. Understand the travel visitor and his or her purchase process.
Understand the buyer’s journey and map your digital data to its key phases. Ensure you are able to analyze this journey as it spans different access channels providing a single view of a visitor. Understand the potential buyer’s shopping behavior, device usage, communication preferences and how well this information can be used to customize his or her digital experience. Consider the different segments of travelers that visit your site – known and unknown – as well as the attributes that can be used to tailor their experiences with your brand.

2. Measure all relevant data points within the booking process.
It’s imperative to collect robust data on the full booking process. Be sure that you can identify each step uniquely, and that all entry and exit paths for each step are captured and reviewed on a regular basis. Some steps are common to all channels, but others might be unique or different depending on the channel. Collect full error information so that corrective actions can be prioritized upon the impacted visitor segments. Also collect intra-page activity such as link activity, form completion and lightbox information to help understand both conversion enhancers and barriers to the sale.

3. Optimize for device type as matched to the appropriate stage of the customer journey.
Once you’ve measured the data points, you can analyze each point in your funnel with an eye toward device type. Identify shortcomings that are specific to one device – and fix them. Instrument your mobile apps properly to maximize data collection for tablet and phone, as well as any other non-standard booking channels (i.e. set-top box, gaming station, smart TV, etc.). Ensure your booking funnel is optimized for each of these device types.

4. Ensure optimal content is driving quality traffic to your booking funnel.
Measure the content and entry points that are driving the best results. Determine which content is appealing at each stage of the booking process. Content should be tested on an A/B or multivariate basis regularly. Pathing and aggregate event data are paramount, as their measurement will drive a deeper understanding of the value of content on the booking process. Tailor content based upon observed patterns that historically have led to a booking or to other monetization opportunities, such as, increasing partner or ad revenue when a conversion is not imminent.

5. Right-size the booking funnel.
Best practices in the travel industry support a three- to four-step process. If yours is longer, such as when regulations require many steps, review your process to see if any simplification is possible. Consider fewer steps by using more prepopulated information (e.g. zip code entry vs. city, state, country). Tailor the funnel process and content based on visitor intelligence, preferences and device type. Also, test to “right-size” the process for minimizing abandonment and maximizing completion rates. Pay special attention to how you land visitors in the funnel process. Think about relevance and convenience, avoiding the need for reentry and duplication of commonly available data.

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