It’s 2018, and there’s now officially no question that your tours and activities website must be mobile first. The travel industry passed “The Mobile Tipping Point” in 2015 when Google announced that there were more searches being performed on a mobile device than via a desktop device. From now on, if your website doesn’t look and perform beautifully on mobile devices you’re going to lose customers.
Furthermore, this year Google is changing the rankings for both web and mobile to favor mobile first responsive sites. Google representatives are quoted as saying, “Google will create and rank its search listings based on the mobile version of content, even for listings that are shown to desktop users.” With the increasing usage of mobile phones by travelers all over the world, it is absolutely essential that tour and activity operators make sure their website is mobile first. According to this Google report on the Traveler’s Road to Decision 84% of leisure travelers rely on search engines via smartphones to find local information:
If tour website isn’t mobile first travelers will be frustrated and give up. Only 23% of visitors will push on and continue with a non-mobile friendly site:
Mobile First Data
The data supporting this is strong. According to a recent article on Phocuswright, Sojern data shows that in the US 26% of travel searches in the fourth quarter of last year occurred on a mobile device. In other parts of the world, it’s even higher: Travel searches conducted on a mobile device totaled 47% in Europe; 40% in Asia; 38% in the Middle East and Africa; and 34% in Latin America. And while search behavior is important, bookings are what really matter: According to research from eMarketer travel bookings derived from mobile devices in the US will reach $86.2 billion this year. Digital travel worldwide will increase by 10.4% in 2018 to reach $676B in sales, climbing to $855B by 2021. In the US, mobile devices already account for 40% of digital travel sales.
A recent study by CellPoint Mobile, a leading provider of sales and payment-side technology solutions for the worldwide travel sector, has released a new industry forecast called “Mobile Outlook 2018: The Future of Global Travel Commerce.” The report offers insight, analysis, and recommendations around key areas of travel commerce, including blockchain technology, mobile payments, and mobile booking. The report states that: “Despite the popularity and need for mobile capabilities, many travel suppliers still lack mobile first solutions. If travel suppliers hope to convert more mobile users into higher revenue, they will need mobile solutions that make the path to purchase seamless, frictionless, and tightly integrated into the overall journey.”
“Mobile Outlook 2018: The Future of Global Travel Commerce” can be downloaded here.
Mobile Causing Change in Traveler Behaviour
This shift to mobile first is also causing some major changes in traveler behavior. Travel marketers have traditionally focused their marketing activity during the peak season with light coverage during slow periods. But in a mobile-first world, this approach just doesn’t work anymore. For US travelers, 72% of all mobile bookings made happen within a 48-hour window prior to the booking. Travelers want more flexibility which mobile devices have delivered leading to a greater propensity to book last-minute. Travel is quickly becoming an impulse buy. Mobile apps like HotelTonight easily allow same-day bookings for hotel rooms. For last-minute flights, there are apps like Flight Out and OneTravel’s “Fly Now.” As the popularity of these new apps grows, more consumers will embrace last-minute bookings, creating new opportunities for marketers. However, travel booking behavior varies substantially – not just from person to person, but even from trip to trip. A person that books last-minute business travel from their iPhone, for example, may actually be a careful planner using multiple devices when booking a family vacation.
What this means for your organization is that with digital technology, marketing is not something you turn off and on. It works best when you educate and convert travelers at every stage of their path to purchase – from dream to destination. “Mobile commerce is fundamentally changing how business is done, especially in the travel sector,” said Kristian Gjerding, CEO of CellPoint Mobile. “Travel suppliers are integrating mobile commerce into every transaction from the beginning to end of a passenger’s journey, creating significant opportunities for additional revenue and increased brand loyalty.” Simplification will be the most important trend in mobile travel in 2018. It is vital for technology to help simplify a trip for a user, for example, by recommending the best itinerary and timing. Not having to endlessly shop dates and routes will save the traveler time and money.
What Exactly is Mobile First?
So what exactly does mobile first mean? First and foremost, it goes without saying that you need a mobile-optimized website which fits multiple screens. If it is not possible to view the website content properly without zooming in and out or rotating it will leave your potential customer frustrated. Frustrated customers leave your website and look for alternatives and search for your competitors. Having a solid user-experience across multiple screens is crucial. How do you expect someone to easily find information about your tours or brand much less actually complete a booking or transaction if they cannot easily navigate or figure out how to use your website? Mobile first uses responsive design, where the text, images, and page layout are automatically resized to fit the user’s screen, whether they are viewing on a PC with a large, widescreen monitor, a tablet, or a smartphone:
The advantage of mobile first sites is that they can be easily viewed on smartphone’s smaller screens:
Google further emphasized the importance of mobile first sites with their April 21st, 2015 mobile friendly ranking algorithm which determines whether your site is mobile friendly or not on a page by page basis (this is an on/off algorithm, with no degrees of mobile-friendliness. It is pass or fail). Simply put, if your tour website is not mobile friendly then the search engines will penalize your site and show it lower in their search results, meaning inbound visitors will have difficulty finding and using it. To learn more about Google’s requirements for mobile first, visit their guide here.
Mobile first doesn’t only refer to a website which resizes automatically for screen size, it also must take into account overall usability of page layout and menu design. Layouts are often changed with page elements stacked on top of each other in a single column, and some page elements may be turned off on mobile:
Finally, one of the most important mobile first considerations is speed. If your site is too slow to load mobile users will give up quickly and click back in their browser. But how slow is too slow? This report from Google shows that Speed is Key to Mobile Experience. In fact, you should aim for no more than a 3 second load time, as almost half of site visitors will leave after 3 seconds:
Mobile First Technical Requirements
- No pop-ups. Google has been penalizing mobile sites since January 10, 2017 for intrusive pop-ups on mobile devices (https://searchengineland.com/google-confirms-rolling-mobile-intrusive-interstitials-penalty-yesterday-267408). It’s best to avoid mobile pop-ups and find new ways to promote your specials and collect emails
- Website speed is an important ranking factor, particularly for mobile, so you want your tour website to be as fast as possible. Be sure that your website code is as efficient as possible and that all videos and images are scaled down as much as possible without sacrificing quality (Tool: TestMySite.WithGoogle.Com or Google Search Console)
- HTTPS. Google stated very clearly that starting in July 2018 if your site is not fully secure (https) it will hurt you in the rankings. Google will prioritize other fully secure sites over yours
- Schema.org markups
- Keep meta information in check → Less room to work with vs desktop
- Resource → Moz Mobile Optimization Guide & Google Mobile SEO Guide