A radical switch in SEO strategy from Rome2rio, which informs travellers on the best way to get from A to B, has almost doubled the number of visits to the so-called 'multi-modal' travel website over the past year and finally pushed company into profit – five years after it was founded.
CEO Rod Cuthbert says Rome2rio, which operates an affiliate revenue business model, started turning a profit during July as traffic surged toward 9m visits a month, making it the most popular site in the growing search niche.
"As more users realise they can get great results by asking Google questions like "How can I get from A to B?", the volume of search traffic with queries of this nature is increasing dramatically," he explained.
"To satisfy those users, we have so far indexed 70 million pages with Google, allowing us to grow our traffic from 4.58m sessions last August to 8.7m sessions in the same month this year."
He claimed this new way of search is important for the entire travel industry.
"These users are eventually booking trains, buses, flights, ride-shares, ferries and hotels, but they're not starting their search at an OTA or 'traditional' site.
"Rome2rio is emerging as the biggest of the multi-modal sites, and our growth suggests that it's not a trend that's going to fade away."
The company has switched its revenue model a couple of times – initially trying to make it as a B2B service for high-volume websites, charging them 1.25 cents for every search above 100,000 queries.
However that didn't pan out and the company switched focus to consumer around two years ago.
"While we were having trouble getting B2B partners to move, our consumer site was growing like topsy, so the decision to start preferencing development for the B2C side of the business was pretty easy.
"It wasn't really a "pivot" in classic terms; we just started giving priority to features that mattered to consumers."
Since the shift, revenues from B2B partners have dwindled to around 5% of the total.
"The bulk of our revenue comes from B2C commissions on our booking partner sites (transportation & hotels) and advertising (ads from Google)," Mr Cuthbert wrote in an email.
"Of these categories, hotels has been the biggest contributor (no surprises there) but ground transportation (rail, bus, rideshare) is growing really well as more suppliers get their act together with good booking sites and attractive partnership deals.
Rome2rio's biggest partners are Booking.com, Skyscanner, Deutsche Bahn, Loco2, National Express, Meinfernbus and BlaBlaCar.
"In each of these cases we send our users direct to the partner's site and receive a commission (or CPC) for bookings."