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Americans are car people by nature. Unless they reside in a major city, train travel is at best a vague notion—a fact realized quite quickly by Rail Europe, the North American distributor of train-travel tickets for 32 railroads in Europe.
“North American travelers have no clue what a train in Europe looks like,” says Frederick Buhr, Rail Europe’s vice president of e-business. Prior to last summer, the company’s RailEurope.com site was more about transactions and bookings than about travel and engagement. Rail Europe had been using a free version of Web analytics software Webtrends but was unable to analyze in depth the people coming to the site—let alone attract the people it wanted to come to the site. In July 2008, Rail Europe turned to Technology Leaders, a Web analytics consulting firm, to develop a stronger Web strategy and to parse out customer data.
“In terms of redesigning our Web site, we based [decisions] on Web analytics and highly customized reports,” Buhr says. “We started to gather information on our users and we saw some trends that would basically put us out of business.” Sales were falling and visits to the Web site were not turning into transactions.
Technology Leaders soon engaged in some deep analysis. Through keyword analysis and evaluation of site engagement, the team found that searchers were often coming to the site with vague keywords such as “Paris Travel” and might be more in the planning stage than in ready-to-purchase mode. “We needed to catch customers much earlier in their planning cycle,” Buhr says, adding that the next challenge for Rail Europe was finding out how to convert the “lookers” into “bookers.”
Rail Europe decided that becoming the equivalent of a Travelocity or Orbitz of European train travel meant having a site that captures site-visitor information at a much-earlier point in the decision-making process. “It’s now more of a planning tool than just a book-me-a-seat-on-the-train tool,” explains Andrew Edwards, the managing partner from Technology Leaders, and the lead on the implementation.
Rail Europe and Technology Leaders added loads of content to the site—from interactive maps to photos to how-to articles—spending a great deal of time and money aggregating content deemed of value to those planning European vacations.
To decide what exactly to put on the site, the consultancy and the travel site customized Webtrends so that reports delivered information about various groups of users. Segmenting allowed the company to categorize users based on engagement level, measuring and monitoring keyword searches and the level of user interaction with certain pieces of Web content. To illustrate, Buhr says Rail Europe soon found that interactive maps were immensely popular, leading to a lot of time spent on the site—and to eventual transactions.
With a highly customized dashboard offering many options enabling analysts to drill down, and then to create and consume reports, Buhr says that Rail Europe soon became Web-analytics–centric, but not without effort. “Webtrends out-of-the-box is pretty basic,” he says. “Technology Leaders is adding horsepower…. We would never have seen all of this on the dashboard without customization.”
The company couldn’t be more pleased. “We’ve [raised North American] awareness of train travel in Europe to a new level,” Buhr says. Not only have sales increased, but users are now treating Rail Europe as a preferred planning engine—and they’re doing so much earlier in their planning cycles. With the more-sophisticated Web analytics on board, Rail Europe’s conversion rate increased 28 percent during the crucial April-to-May time period. Buhr notes that, given the unfortunate economy, sales at many travel Web sites are down as much as 25 percent.
Users are now spending more time on Rail Europe’s site—up from about six minutes in 2008 to nearly
eight minutes in 2009—and the rate at which they bounce has decreased from 33 percent to 23 percent. Online sales during the April-to-May period grew 7 percent year over year.
Although the company has seen first-class success with its Web analytics strategy over the past year, Buhr says in no way is this the end of the line. Rail Europe’s next step, he says, is to open up the site’s application programming interface to allow third-party partners to engineer content—mashups—to populate the portal.
With Technology Leaders’ Web analytics, Rail Europe has:
- increased its Web-site conversion rate from 1.59 percent a year ago to 2.03 percent — a 28 percent boost;
- increased shopping-cart checkouts by 12 percent;
- increased total online sales by 7 percent;
- decreased its bounce rate from 33 percent to 23 percent; and
- boosted vistiors’ time spent on the site from 6 minutes 20 seconds to 7 minutes 55 seconds.
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