by Erin Hogg
Namu Travel Group is always looking to improve its digital marketing efforts.
Owning three travel sites catering to Costa Rica, Panama and Nicaragua, the travel company leveraged Facebook to generate testimonials for the Costa Rican Vacations brand — leading to a surge in 203 new testimonials for the company
Since then, Casey Halloran, CEO, Namu Travel Group, and his team have been hard at work to improve the marketing efforts for their brands.
The company, which was founded in 1999 by Halloran and his roommate as a startup, now employs more than 60 full-time professionals in three countries.
Founded on their love of travel, Halloran and the team at Namu Travel Group work to build customized, boutique vacations to Central America.
Up until recently, Namu Travel Group had only measured part of the sales process to really see what was working for the company.
"We had been tracking cost per lead because we were just measuring how many leads we were getting and at what cost," Halloran said. "This is obviously a good step short of true return on investment."
The company utilizes pay-per-click advertising to help draw in customers. Because they are competing with other large travel sites, Namu Travel Group must battle with expensive keyword bidding and increasing costs of acquiring customers.
"Probably the real impetus for this is that now that Google has a near monopoly on this and our competition is much more global, meaning TripAdvisor, Orbitz, really, really big companies with enormous budgets, cost per click has gotten expensive. We had no choice but to get more efficient as our cost to acquire clients was rising and rising," he explained.
The team needed to find a way to truly see how their marketing dollars were working toward gaining new customers, and quickly.
Halloran began an initiative to utilize Google UTM (Urchin Tracking Module) tracking and implement it into the company's home-grown CRM system to truly understand what types of keywords and campaigns on PPC ads were generating the most revenue.
With UTM tracking in place, the team can see directly in the URL of the link clicked what campaign that ad belonged to and discover where clients were coming from.
As the sales were happening offline, this helped close the gap in knowing what ads customers were clicking and what keyword phrases resonated with them the most.
"The hard part for us was tracking that all the way to the point of sale, principally because our sale does not occur online. It was a matter of passing that information through several different tools to make sure that at the very end we could say, 'Oh, that's where this client came from,'" he explained.
Catering to couples and families primarily in the U.S., the company sells nothing online.
All sales are completed through a form fill on any of the Namu brand sites, and the customer is contacted by a member of the team to book a vacation.
Step #1. Incorporate UTM tracking in links
For the past decade, Namu has been utilizing PPC ad campaigns across all of their brands.
The No. 1 expenditure in advertising for the company is cost per click, and the team "thought it was time to try and dig deeper and analyze precisely what's working," Halloran said.
To start, Halloran looked at the PPC ads linking to the Namu Travel sites and added UTM tracking to the links to indicate the campaign name, the ad group and the keyword of that ad.
These pieces of information are tacked onto the end of the URL and allow the team to identify which links were being clicked through Google Analytics.
The UTM tracking code is generated by AdWords via the click ID that's appended to the end of a site's URL inside the Google ads.
One example of the UTM tracking code is this, which is tacked onto the end of a Namu link: /?gclid=CNfu8rPF5sECFQ9p7AodYUIAHA
The team at Namu performs a lookup of the code against Google's database and then converts it to the various fields in the database that correspond with each part of the UTM code, whether that's tracking ad campaign, ad group, keywords or ad spend.
Step #2. Integrate Google UTM code into CRM
"The trick is capturing that initial inquiry and making sure that UTM code is passed along from that initial form into whatever your CRM is," Halloran explained.
Namu Travel Group's CRM system is home-grown and written in .NET programming. Incorporating this new UTM tracking data into the CRM system required alignment with Marketing and the IT department at Namu.
"We laid out the reports exactly as we wanted to see them in a perfect world in Excel. We started with the finished product. We showed them the various reports we have now and what was missing, if we could fill in a blank with data we wanted," Halloran said, adding the team went through several conceptual iterations and wireframe mockups.
Once the marketing team laid out what they needed from IT, the programmers worked to incorporate both the existing CRM data with the new Google UTM tracked links.
"The real coding is occurring in Excel. It's passing all of this different data into a shared Excel spreadsheet. A lot of this is being done with queries and lookups in Excel," Halloran explained.
In the end, he said, it pulls seemingly unrelated reports together and compares the data. This process took three weeks with two dedicated programmers to complete.
Step #3. Build a custom report
With this custom report from the two data sources combined, Halloran is able to see how the ads are performing combined with how much is being spent in PPC ads.
In the report, Halloran explained it is similar to exported Google PPC campaign reports. However, the merged CRM data allows the team to see leads, sales and sales amount.
"That's how we were able to compare PPC spend against income, right down to the keyword level," Halloran said.
Through this new report
, Halloran could definitively tell which keywords and phrases were performing, rather than just relying on intuition and guessing.
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"We are separating out each of those pieces that says this is this campaign, this ad group, writing me a report that shows sales by UTM code, and comparing that report to the ad group keyword spend that I look at in Google AdWords, so I can see all of my spending versus all of my revenue," Halloran explained.
Step #4. Analyze what keywords are performing
"The tricky part always in pay-per-click marketing is we're all working on individual biases and some degree of guesswork," Halloran explained. "One of our assumptions was we really need to go after upscale clientele. We still do; it's just a question of risk versus reward."
Right away, Halloran and the team saw that phrases they were willing to pay upwards of $4 per click were not performing as well as they thought they would.
Phrases centered on luxury, such as "luxury resorts," "luxury hotels," "luxury vacations" and even "five-star," were underperforming, and the team decided to dial back on those spends, thanks to the new tracking data they now had.
Instead, Halloran and the team saw their long-tail phrases and keywords were performing and resonating better with what their potential customers were looking for.
This included things such as travelers looking for a niche experience, such as yoga or wellness.
"Having this report has allowed us to put a little more attention on those in terms of cost per click. If we see longer term returns, then we'll put some more emphasis of our SEO on those phrases as well," he said.
During the first month of this effort, the team was able to shut off some of the worst performing PPC campaigns and dial down some of the cost per click by looking to the phrases that better resonated with their audience.
Overall, the team lowered cost per click 10%, and received the same sales numbers as previous months, which more than paid for the project in the first month.
"If we hold at 10%, that's an enormous win for the business," Halloran explained.
From this simple addition of UTM tracking, Halloran believed it could be a game-changer for the way Namu Travel Group does business from a PPC and SEO standpoint.
They are now looking to explore more niche travel seeking groups and leveraging long-tail keywords to reach those prospects.
Also, the team can put this new knowledge of what's working best to use in other areas of Namu Travel's marketing efforts, including site content.
"Like many changes we've made over the years, we're embarrassed we didn't do it sooner," Halloran concluded.
- Custom report
SourceNamu Travel Group
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