Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Content, content everywhere but who is getting the traffic

Content, content, content. Everywhere we look there is content. Back in August I posted that the next phase of online travel will involve consumers being bombarded with "too much information". Having mastered the art of booking travel online, consumers now found themselves overwhelmed with choice and information - looking for help. Recently I co-blog-erated with Alex Bainbridge on some rules for success for start-up content companies. With this background I was looking through my inbox at all of the different types of content companies that were writing to me. I found a spectrum of approaches to capturing long tail traffic with review and content sites.

Kango is targeting the tail through meta-search for review content. As per my Interview with founder Yen Lee here Kango have built a review meta-search business. Modifying business models of the meta-search booking sites like the combined Kayak/Sidestep, Kango has built an aggregation engine for reviews from a multitude of sites. It takes time to put together (hence the beta is only on two destinations - California and Hawaii) but Yen has been able to raise a lot of money and is working on balance between building search architecture and attracting content. UPDATE - Kango now called UpTake.

While Kango is looking to index content on a grand scale, I am constantly coming across or being approached by deeply targeted local content players. 71 miles covers weekend trips in a small part of Northern California. Volcanoetna.com covers - as the name implies - tours and travels around Sicily's famous Volcano Etna. While covering completely different parts of the world and travel experiences, Adam Rugel's 71 miles and Enrico Forte's Volcanoetna are at the longest point of the long tail - focused on detailed and informed content in a very specific location. The pluses for them is that the long tail loves targeted and specific. Nothing brings long tail traffic better than detailed, focused and informed content. The problem is scale - a highly targeted site can become the number one place for a specific piece of long tail traffic but you still need a minimum of traffic to generate advertiser interest. Rugel of 71miles admitted to me that traffic was not a problem but monetisation was proving difficult. Local advertisers who should have been interested didn't get it (online that is) and are spending their money in the local newspaper instead (my theory). Better to be part of a network - Rugel said.

So targeted brings the traffic but not the money. Want proof? Four years and GBP7.4 million pounds later and VisitScotland has shut its doors. Hotelmarketing.com has the story - but the short version is not enough traffic to justify and not able to monetise.

This is where Gawker Media's Gridskipper has an advantage of the hyper long tail sites. It has been around long enough and writes on enough material that it generates the long tail traffic. At the same time it has the network effect of the Gawker family (including Gizmodo, Lifehacker, Consumerist and the NSFW Fleshbot). UPDATE - Gridskipper no longer owned by Gawker.

Video is also playing a role in this race for content. Geobeats are trying to build a business around user gen travel videos. Players are racing into this space as well - driven by the phenomenon of youtube. Pixsy is in this space too (including a relationship with Lastminute). Both are following Travelistic (who I first covered here) who (as far as I know, tried to do it first). The advantage of video in this race is that video generates a greater engagement than a text site. They may generate less page views than text but good video sites keep people on the site longer and interested longer - all elements that advertisers love. As GigOM said "Page Views are dead, Engagement named as Heir".

The final style of player is the now ubiquitous social media, social networking and user generated player. There are a lot to chose from here in this post:

New players are rushing into this space:
  • Vailoma - still in beta- trying to build a community around content and guides UPDATE - Vailoma now called TripSay;
  • SimpatiGo - leading with the "classic" map mashup around activity. Trying to drive search and "engagement" through map and neighbourhood based information and search.
As I said in one of my early posts - the difference between a online content company vs a retailer is that it is significantly easier to launch a content company (no need to build extensive supplier relationships) but it is harder to achieve and maintain scale. This means that content companies have to innovate sooner, faster and more often to keep the traffic flowing. So after an analysis of a dozen companies I feel even more certain that my four rules of success apply.

1. Content - lots of it
2. Index - a fantastic Google friendly index and expertise in search optimisation
3. Access methods - varying ways and means for consumers to access the content
4. Patience - time (and money) to wait for the traffic to build.

What do you think? Who have I missed?


Peter Daams said...

Here's another "rule" I'd like to add to your list:

"Creating user ownership"

It seems to me increasingly important for users to feel a sense of ownership of the sites they are contributing to. After all, why spend hours contributing your expert knowledge when you are just contributing to someone else's bottom line?

When the internet was a novelty (and it is still is for many) this was less of an issue, but increasingly people are becoming picky about where they spend their time. Users who feel like a site is rewarding them for their efforts will be more likely to return. One obvious way this can be done is by allowing them to share in the site's revenue, for instance through ad revenue sharing programs or by offering bounties. Some examples of this would be Matador Travel, which pays writers to write about specified topics or, closer to my heart, our site Travellerspoint, which shares ad revenue from the travel guide among the contributing writers.

Of course there are many other ways a site can create a sense of ownership; soliciting user feedback, running competitions, engaging members in routine site tasks. Anything to make the users realise they are what really makes the site tick.

Anonymous said...

wow what a come back

lots of words and captures

welcome back to blogland

Gil said...

At www.triptouch.com we take a unique approach of a personalized location based travel homepage.

Our goal is to create a useful tool for travellers during their trip.
We've built our sevice especially for independent travellers with relatively long and flexible trips.

Our concept is to create a personalized travel homepage, that lets you get updated information, services and community features wherever you go.
We cover more about 4,000 destinations worldwide.
We aggregate and integrate content from sites like Wikitravel, eventful, eventfinder, Google maps, Kayak, HostelWorld and more.
Traffic is building- only 3 months from launching we get about 350,000 monthly page views.

Darren said...

Great post.

A complete guess, but I reckon 85%+ of my traffic comes from long tail keywords.

I'm not sure I agree that too much information as bad, but I think what is more worringly is the amount of in-accurate information for travellers.

I found through my own recent trend tests that write too much, you'll find participation drops, traffic increases so it's getting the ratio right.

harinair said...

Here is another take on the 'too much of content' debate. More content is critical to getting SEO traffic, so the business does demand it. But overdose of content is a real issue for users now (eg. 281 reviews for a hotel is clear overdose). An approach to help users navigate this content is to build 'tools' that help users extract the right content for the relevant purpose. A 'wizard' like tool engine that helps users find travel solutions using the underlying content and the underlying intelligence buried in the content, is probably the next step.

ProjectJamaica.com said...

hey Gil,
Nice turn-around with traffic. We are a Jamaican based UGC travel site in its final stages of developement. Any advice as to how we can market our site to visitors and/or potential visitors to the Island?


Anonymous said...

We've successfully developed a content network of 10 travel content websites and growing (self funded) that generates over 2 million users per month.
It take times time, plenty of hard work, many talented people, and for us not following the hype like so many web 2.0 companies do.

Going forward it will be much more difficult to gain the easy organic search traffic since everyone is doing it also Google places preference to specialized sites, keyword domains, and such.

I've kept an eye on Tripadvisor's purchases over the past year and for the most part their performance seems to level off after begin aquired. wonder why?

Tim Hughes said...

@anon question for you as someone who has a network of content site. Can you continue to build this organically. OR - because organic search is so domain name and keyword based do you need to acquire to grow. (whether or not TripAdvisor is successful at integration/post-acquisition management is another matter)