By Martin Kelly, Editor, Travel Trends

Search engine optimisation for travel sites also emerged as the key theme in website usability study by Global Reviews, which gave 98 consumers two online tasks: 1) find the cheapest flight from Tullamarine Airport Melbourne to Perth; 2) find the cheapest Brisbane hotel near the Botanic Gardens.

Half the users went straight to a search engine, 37% of these entering the actual website name rather than a search term. “Some behaved as if search engines are the web,” presenter Karen Grinter told the audience.

In other search engine findings, 18% clicked on paid search advertisements while nobody looked further than the first results page.

Grinter said 44% of users went to an aggregator site first. Webjet (12%) and Flight Centre (6%) were the most popular airfare sites; Wotif (13%) and lastminute (5%) well in front when it came to accommodation. These results reflect Hitwise market share research.

“It’s quicker (to do it this way) than visiting individual sites and you can compare instantly,” said one user.

But after finding a flight on an aggregator site, 45% would actually go to the airline website. A typical user said the aggregator site gave a good summary “but to avoid paying extra for this service I book directly from the airline site”.

For the hotel task, a high proportion of users (38 of 98) went to Whereis or Google Maps to find the best hotel option. Many who visited Wotif didn’t realise it offered map search, potentially due to poor positioning.

In summary, Grinter said:

 Users rely on Search (SEO is crucial)
 Users may ignore your key tools (must be emphasised)
 Users will not work hard to get the right option (comparisons must be simple and obvious)
 Users need trust and confidence to purchase (you must earn the transaction).

Travel Trends: September 3, 2008

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