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SEO-PRO // Advanced Internet Marketing

Friday, October 03, 2008

Affiliates XL at selling holidays

A friend of mine booked a holiday this summer to a resort in Spain. He spoke about how he'd enjoyed his time and how he'd booked online. (This was all prior to the recent XL closure and all the panic in the travel industry). He mentioned the name of the company and asked me how and why they could sell holidays online without a shop.

I casually searched the company and found the site, and as I went into an oft repeated speech about the cost benefits and secure transactions available to users online, I discovered the site was actually an affiliate website. The smug expression on my face went as soon as I saw all the affiliate links.

Noticing my sudden silence, my friend asked what was wrong… Well, nothing really, I’d just found an affiliate site that did a really good job of letting a user search and find a suitable holiday without the site looking like a complete mess of spam links and “optimised” copy about cheap flights and holidays to Florida. This site looked like the product of a good design and development team, and not something penned by Stevie Wonder with the input of a khazakstan based usability consultant called Borat. I was even more shocked to realise my friend had bought via the affiliate too. (I’d heard of travel and holiday affiliates generating serious money, but I was never totally convinced. This might be because affiliate marketing still hasn’t shaken off its dodgy spam image, even though it generated over £3b of sales last year in the UK alone.)

This brings me onto the importance of the function and interactions you offer users on your site. What struck me about the affiliate site was that there was functionality that benefited the user rather than endless amounts of copy sprinkled with some SEO links and affiliate tracking links. They have probably realised faster than several big name companies, that having a webpage with an actual purpose and use for a user is about as good as a well SEO'd site.

The intelligent affiliate sites worked out long ago that they were not the experts on travel, so why try to compete with Thomson on that front? Play to your own strengths, that’s what they say. Their strength was in SEO/web design and online marketing and so on. So they focused on where they could be superior to Thomson, that brought about innovations like interactive maps, RSS deal feeds and so on.

I have always thought that an affiliate site needs to compete in a different area to add value. Instead of competing with them, the affiliate should be looking at where their client is weak and targeting that area. The affiliates that do this usually have the sites you find and actually use instead of just being dazzled by the "optimised" copy.

A footnote to XL holidays
This must be quite a frustrating read for ex-employees of XL travel, it seems the only winners in travel at the moment are the very big brands and the travel businesses that are small and don’t depend on the volatile fuel market (affiliates and partners for example). They can survive the current storm surrounding the travel industry. The other smaller brands will be viewed as a high stakes gamble by the customer, and many more will go bust.

How low can the airlines go before they begin to run at a loss? Can Ryanair and EasyJet run anymore efficiently and make profits?

Plenty of websites will get some serious traffic from the flurry of searches for “XL”. Most companies in this area have brand pages that have optimised text to pick up searches for their ex-competitors brand terms.

The fast acting sites are usually the ones that understand the web best in any industry.It’s probably the cheapest and most efficient way to get passengers, so I imagine seeing a few offline agents being shut down and the money being invested where it works harder.

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