October 25, 2006
How To

How JetBlue Allocates Their Search Budget (Hint: Don’t Try to Be No. 1 All the Time)

SUMMARY: Are you spending too much of your search budget just to find yourself No. 4 or 5 all the time? Why not go for No. 1 part of the time?

JetBlue was in the middle of the heap but switched tactics. Discover their results in MarketingSherpa's exclusive interview, plus:

-> How best search ad copy varies by marketplace

-> Why JetBlue avoids MSN PPC (for now)

-> Privacy policy rewrites & search

JetBlue Airways is lucky to get more than 50% of search engine traffic via organic links. They pay for the other half of incoming search traffic. And, although Web Analytics Manager Marc Koif admits it, even such a well-known brand's search budget isn't remotely infinite.

So, he and the online team have to buy clicks extremely carefully and stretch every dollars further than you might imagine. Here are 6 of the tactics they've tested recently:

Tactic #1. Better Analytics

You can't buy traffic responsibly unless you can track which keywords convert and for how much. The problem was that although JetBlue invested in high-end analytics software, they were stymied by a too-broadly written privacy policy.

The policy had guaranteed that no individual's activity on the site would ever be tracked at all as an individual, unless they proactively logged in as a member.

After careful negotiation and diplomacy, marketing convinced the legal team earlier this year that the site could keep tabs on some consumer activities without encroaching too much on their sense of privacy.

By choosing delicate policy language, Koif says, you can make both the lawyers and consumers rest easily. “Our policy now says that we will track you, but we won’t release any of the data. We’re not expecting any problems.” (See link to their new policy below.)

Tactic #2. Ad Position & Time of Day Bidding

Travel-related search clicks are extremely competitive. So, to stretch their budget, historically JetBlue's search team had bid for a lower position, such as number four or five, so they'd at least be visible in paid ads against important terms including destination keywords. However, influenced in part by MarketingSherpa eyetracking research, this year the team decided to switch tactics.

Consumers are 80% or more likely to view and click on top position ads than any others, so JetBlue switched to buying #1 positions only. To make the budget stretch further, the team made three key changes:

o The top two performing keywords -- JetBlue and Jet Blue -- have live #1 ads on Google at all times. They convert so well, it's worth it.

o Other keywords are only made live for times of day when consumers are most likely to convert: weekday lunchtime (11 a.m. to 1 p.m. EST) and evening leisure hours (7 to 11 p.m.)

Results -- “We’ve found that we are putting our budget to better use if we target certain hours and really go for the best positioning at those points on the clock.”

Tactic #3. Multichannel Bidding

JetBlue also synchronizes more general keyword buys with multichannel campaigns involving television, radio, email and print. For instance, “airfare” and “cheap tickets” are in PPC mode only when the other channels are aboard.

“Those are time-sensitive acquisition plays,” Koif explains. “We think that’s the type of situation in which we should try to play in that pool, because we can’t compete for those types of keywords every day. It’s too expensive.”

Tactic #4. Geotargeting

The airline also takes a swing at multichannel geotargeting, cranking up PPC to complement local TV/radio spots when the brand comes to a new city. As with Columbus, OH, earlier this year, JetBlue often uses Google for last-minute campaigns.

Key -- Koif's copy for ads in well-established markets focuses heavily on his brand name; the term 'JetBlue' may be written in a typical search ad up to three times (including the hotlink.)

However, for new markets where he’s not sure if the brand has so much traction, Koif focuses copy on brand differentiation messaging instead. Rather than saying "JetBlue is now in Cleveland", he might say something like "Leather Seats & TVs for all Cleveland flights".

The new-city search campaigns also reap the benefits of the blogosphere becoming populated with press releases and news stories after the announcement hits the wire.

Tactic #5. Search Marketing Beyond Google

Koif's team are not wed to Google alone.

JetBlue has been running a campaign through Yahoo!’s Search Submit Pro system that has seen a 4.25% sales conversion rate. In a program that Koif calls “paid natural search,” the airline gets charged a flat fee for a top position but not for clicks.

Leads from travel search sites do well, too. Sidestep is converting orders at a 21% clip, while Kayak is producing a sales rate of 12%. Rather than pay $5 to $10 per booking in a typical affiliate relationship, JetBlue worked out an annual flat-rate deal with both sites.

“Hands down, it is worth paying up front, if you can do it,” Koif says. “The conversion rates are high because the vendors drop off the click deep into the booking process. There’s not a ton of traffic that comes from them, but it’s extremely targeted traffic.”

However, notably, Koif has held back from testing MSN Search ads.

Why? According to Koif, as of press time MSN's standard advertiser contract did not have any click fraud compensation measures.

“I really don’t care if it’s just $10 or $20 because that’s probably inevitable,” Koif says. “But if all of a sudden we are live in a campaign’s first day and our budget is already gone, then that’s going to be a problem. If the search engine is not going to take financial responsibility for those cases, then I think that you have to hold your ground.”

Tactic #6. Even Better Landing Pages

Based on test results first announced in an exclusive MarketingSherpa Case Study earlier this year (see link below), JetBlue rolled out a new site design several weeks ago.

Key -- instead of requiring visitors to click on buttons or tabs to find their way around, the search function was expanded to a prominent, easy-to-use "mini-booker" form right on the home page and on critical search landing pages.

Results -- initial daily reports alarmed Koif because page views and clicks were irregularly low. But that turned out to be a good thing. The newly-installed mini-booker was an instant hit and simply shortened the route to purchase.

“Our [page-to-page] traffic dropped by 10 to 15%,” Koif says. “At first we said, ‘Oh, crap,’ because the volume was down. We then stepped back and saw it from a business perspective and realized that that’s exactly what you want.”

Useful links related to this article

JetBlue’s privacy policy:

Past MarketingSherpa Case Study on JetBlue's email tests:

Current MarketingSherpa search marketing research - including eyetracking studies:

Omniture - JetBlue’s vendor for Web analytics

Huge Inc. - JetBlue’s vendor for their Web redesign:

JetBlue Airways:

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