Affiliate marketing is a blind spot for the
travel industry. Unlike social media marketing, chatbots, voice-activated
technologies and other buzzwords, media rarely pay attention to CPA
For neophytes, performance is equal to gambling
or adult content; however, in certain cases, affiliate marketing provides up to
30% of the revenue in the online travel.
Dichotomy of affiliate programs
In this regard, the most prominent example is
Booking.com. The accommodation giant created the widest network for partners of
any kind. You’ve probably seen Booking’s links and widgets on travel blogs,
holiday websites or mobile apps. The third-party affiliate is a middleman
between the online travel agency and the customer. The relations are based on the revenue share
model, and Booking.com pays out 25% of its profit to the partner.
might be a dummy case, though it shows how the system works. The same is relevant
for other in-house solutions like Expedia Affiliate Network, hotel affiliate
program by HotelsCombined and Skyscanner’s affiliate products.
Meanwhile, instead of creating their own platform,
it’s also possible to join an affiliate network. It provides a variety of
offers by different companies (not exclusively travel), so webmasters could
choose the suitable ones.
For instance, eDreams and Lastminute.com work with
Awin, and there are also such networks as CJ affiliate and Travelpayouts (designed
for the holiday market solely). The cooperation with external CPA platforms seems
more manageable, especially for the newcomers.
performance strategy is also an option for the advanced marketers. For example,
Booking.com combines both, the in-house affiliate program and external networks.
All about the money
The backbone of the affiliate marketing is good
math. For the last few years, the cost per click in the online travel segment
has increased by 15%. The biggest spenders here are Expedia ($5.3 billion on
marketing in 2017) and Booking Holdings (respectively, $4.1 billion).
It is not
that easy to compete in PPC with huge budgets holders; it makes CPA networks
some kind of safe haven or at least the option to consider. Besides, a
short-term strategy could generate even negative ROI, while CPA tactics remain “in plus” since you’re paying for real bookings.
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The next big thing is organic search. Here you
need to deal with the constantly changing SEO environment. You have to be 100% up to date
with the latest Google policies and be ready to alternate the content any
Sadly, it’s not only about keywords anymore. Mobile optimization,
inbound strategies – it’s just the visible part of the iceberg. Though every
cloud has a silver lining. The good news is you’re not alone. Affiliates could
be your SEO flotation device. Even being dumped out from SERPs [search engine
results pages] by the search engine, you still have hundreds of pages related to
your brand. Obviously, it is not a panacea but better than nothing.
However, affiliate marketing is not only a plan
B for your omnichannel workflow. By knowing the economy of the product, you
could implement an entirely new approach to your marketing routines.
Despite the fact that affiliate schemes look
fruitful, certain marketers believe it might jeopardize the brand equity. A brand
manager’s nightmare: A branded link or widget appears next to a, let’s say,
questionable piece of content. But at the end of the day, it depends on you.
The CPA offer might be available for the pre-selected affiliates only – this is
how to minimize risks.
The next challenge is overheated PPC costs.
Technically, affiliates can’t use branded keywords. Technically!
In real life,
you’d better monitor SERPs, or an affiliate network can help you with it. At Travelpayouts, we operate a zero-tolerance policy to such violators.
Unfortunately, it is not the only example of CPA fraud. Stealing clients by
cookie stuffing is quite popular nowadays but – again! – manageable. Besides,
there are plenty of anti-fraud solutions, so it shouldn’t be a deal-breaker.
Last but not least, the challenge is to find the
right person. Affiliate marketing’s scope rarely can be handled by the general
marketing team, hence you need an external candidate. Although it’s still worth
exploring, especially considering market opportunities.
Hottest trends to consider
Experts believe the value generated by
non-aviation and non-hotels categories in affiliate networks would double in
the next 12 months, as online travelers use these services more often. Recently, Musement, a leading in-destination experience discovery and booking service,
has joined Travelpayouts. The in-house data reveals
that webmasters who are working on the experiences travel segment earn $4,000
to $5,000 monthly, and this amount is steadily growing.
The market demands new CPA instruments. The era
of banners is gone. Affiliates want more widgets, white labels, APIs, mobile SDK
and other options to customize their products.
Product is the king, and it
leads us to the third trend – forget about the funnel! Product is the only
measure of success, whether it’s a blog, a travel search, bargain tickets club
or mobile guide.
Put the interests of your audience above numbers! Brands like
Booking.com, BlaBlaCar, Aviasales, Rail Europe learned this lesson pretty well
and are already accustomed to this specific distribution channel. Affiliate
marketing could rocket your performance, so don’t miss the opportunity.
About the author…
Ivan Baidin is head of Travelpayouts, an affiliate marketing platform for travel brands.