A Web Site Gets the Royal Treatment

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Customers booking vacations to Alaska are not going to be sold on pretty pictures alone. Princess Lodges learned this lesson when it discovered conversion rates per unique user on its attractive Web site were less than 1 percent. Although the industry conversion rates can be as low as 2 or 3 percent, the numbers were dismal. "I had agony," says Robert Morgenstern, manager of asset marketing for Princess. "We had a Web site that was by most people's accounts a nice quality Web site but it wasn't producing enough bookings." The company had chosen a traditional ad agency with design capabilities but lacking in search engine expertise. The Web site was largely graphical, which search engines can't read. So the company rebuilt the site with help from Portent Interactive to look the same but be more search engine friendly. "Most [companies] have false assumptions, believing traffic equals results. It's not about traffic, it's about the right traffic," says Ian Lurie, president of Portent. "When Princess came to us, the story was they had a moment of clarity. Their Internet marketing was broken. There was no call to action for visitors. Despite a Web site that looked like a really nice magazine ad, it was not a two-way medium. The process was very frustrating for customers and had a very high bailout rate. "The best model ties together marketing, design, and two-way communication. We took Princess's Web site and made it a true communication marketing medium," Lurie says. The company put together an initial strategy, adjusting campaigns as audience behavior changed. Portent looked for key words people typed, built a picture of Princess's users, and rebuilt the site using those concepts. As a result, Princess's Google ranking climbed from the top 20 to number one for "Alaska hotels" and "Alaska lodges," and showed up in the top four for "Alaska vacations" and "Alaska tours." "Before it didn't even appear on the first three pages. Within the first year, their online revenue increased 400 percent," Lurie says. Bookings increased 77 percent in the first year and 243 percent the following year; site traffic has doubled from 4,000 in 2002 to 8,114 in 2004. Soon, Princess became too popular. It was selling out but didn't want to abandon customers. A cruise line owns Princess Lodges, and its travelers are the hotel's primary customers. "We have very acute availability issues. The hotels are either filled to capacity or nearly empty when no cruises are taking place," Morgenstern says. People would find no rooms available on the days they wanted to travel. "It was a huge bailout rate and it was killing our ability to close a deal." To find the soonest availability customers were forced to search the site instead of having a calendar clearly displayed. Bookings for the company's Alaska rail tours were even more problematic because they start on specific dates. Now if the date a tourist selects is unavailable the site will pop up all dates available in a one-month range. It also provides a 24-7 telephone number for people to call, helping conversion rates, as approximately 70 percent of bookings are completed through the call center. Conversion rates for rail packages and hotels grew from roughly 3 percent to 10 percent, and at approximately $800 per person. Morgenstern says, "That's a nice chunk of revenue." Princess sold 38 percent more rail tours online in 2005 than 2004 with 60 percent less product availability. In September 2005, Portent launched Click Sight for Princess, which shows exactly what a person clicks on even if there's no link. Dots that look like ink splotches demonstrate what clicks turn into orders. "It's so much more powerful to show a designer that picture. It's a revelation to them," Morgenstern says. It delivers another way for the company to make its Web site more customer friendly by providing clues to customers' actual behavior. The Payoff By using Portent Interactive, Princess Lodges:
  • increased bookings by 77 percent the first year and 243 the second;
  • climbed its search engine ranking from the top 20 to number one; and
  • sold 38 percent more rail tours online in 2005 than in 2004.
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