The Nielsen Families. A group of selected households (mostly in New England I believe) who are used by Nielsen (the rating’s folk) to give a picture of what the U.S. nation watches on television. Long thought to be a less than random selection of households, some would say a chosen few, the watching habits of these families influences what TV programmes get made, where the advertising dollars get spent and what series gets a second run. Now Nielsen have announced (via Media Post) their intention to start monitoring the same families internet usage. They want to provide a single source measurement of television viewing across both traditional TV and online media which makes sense.

What they watch isn’t so interesting to me. I’d rather hear about how their watching habits differ between TV and online, whether the knowledge that their internet was now being monitored changed their habits (maybe moving them to watch more TV on the web and thus biasing Nielsen’s data) or whether it’s the younger or older viewer who likes to watch TV online. That kind of demographic data on user behavior is much more interesting than what soap opera they watch… Still at least they aren’t measuring their internet usage and they still do that at ISP level where you get broader, more representative results (of course depending on the ISP’s selected), at least I hope they aren’t.

Surely there must be a better way to measure television consumption in these digital days? Can’t they just measure TV through cable, digital and satellite channels at the provider end thus giving them a totally unbiased (depending on the provider) view of a large segment of the population’s television viewing? If decisions on quality/popularity of programming, who to place adverts with and who deserves a second series are being made by TV execs then surely the opinion of 600 homes in New England is not representative enough?

The best, most salient opinion piece on the Nielsen Families comes from one of my favourite authors Robert Anton Wilson have a read of page 59/60 below (just search for Nielsen in the Scribd doc) just for jokes 🙂

View this document on Scribd

So we’re officially in a recession now (according to official government figures via the BBC) with no sign of things getting better anytime soon. Marketing budgets are being slashed by many and redundancies are spreading like wildfire. So, if you want to either make the most of your marketing budget, or if you’re in marketing and you want to hold onto your job, where should you be putting your money in online?

It’s pretty simple to be honest, just keep spending but make sure it’s working for you!

Something I’ve been doing for many years is capping all my online marketing spend through the use of a CPA (cost per acquisition) limit. Work out what you can afford to spend per sale/referral/lead and still make a profit, optimise your use of the various marketing channels available to keep your cost per acquisition under the limit, and then keep spending!

Hard to justify in the current climate? Just build a business model to show your boss (or yourself) which demonstrates the returns available by keeping spend tied to a CPA.

This is one of my bugbears, especially with regards to PPC (paid search). If it’s working for you, your campaigns are optimised continuously, and you’re coming in under your CPA, then why not throw more money at the campaign? Yes, you have to be diligent to ensure that your CPA limits are adhered to, but once you have it embedded as a process in your organisation it’s not that difficult to grow your spend and as a result your return.

So where should the marketing spend go (in online)? Well, into channels which are measurable and where you can track the returns. Paid search, affiliate marketing, banners (yes, you can work to a CPA if you use the right tools), social media campaigns, viral and of course natural search (search engine optimisation). Of course SEO deserves a different CPA to other channels as it’s naturally cheaper to do as long as you stick to the principles and don’t get sold by an agency looking to charge you the earth for something that costs nothing but common sense.

ComScore has released some figures on traffic growth in January for the UK. As expected travel features prominently.

January is the peak booking month for holidays in the UK and as such the number of web users researching and buying is much bigger than any other month of the year.

January’s figures show that the biggest increasing category in travel was hotels/resorts with a 54% increase in traffic from Dec-Jan. Airlines were next with 46% and online travel agents third with 43%. Quite where tour operators come in there is a bit of a mystery to me, it would be really interesting to see them broken out to compare with OTA’s.

Within travel two websites saw huge growth, First Choice grew 140% and TUI Group 122%. British Airways, Moneysupermarket Group and Priceline all feature as well with good growth.

Nothing unexpected in any of this but it does highlight the gaps in ComScores data as the market as a whole is not very well represented.

Of course it would also be intriguing to know if their booking numbers increased by similar percentages…

Travel predictions for 2008

February 5, 2008

PhocusWright has released it’s 2008 Travel Trends report which looks at some of the developments in the marketplace that it expects to dominate the year. There’s a brief overview here.

In short they expect:

  • Mobile to grow (no massive surprise there, it’s been coming for years but travel has been very slow on the uptake)
  • Consolidation in the industry to continue (again a safe bet, I don’t think we’ve seen the last of the mergers, however this year I expect to see online only concerns looking at mergers to stimulate growth and increase market share)
  • Social and e-commerce approaches to converge (strange one this, I know there’s a lot of social experiments that are totally unconnected to a companies e-commerce facility but this will continue as players find their feet in the social waters. Any decent foray into social should always have an e-commerce edge anyway, even the most brand focused campaign should be aiming to drive bookers at the end of the day)
  • Metasearch to come of age (this could be the biggy! I’m waiting for Kayak or someone like that to launch fully dynamic packaging through metasearch, that could be a clincher that sees off the competition. I also expect tour operators to move towards a more metasearch model online by supplementing their product through GDS’)
  • Media-based pricing (interesting move from Expedia earlier this year that has triggered this one, will certainly be interesting to see if others move this way, especially those with their own stock as price flexing to match their media spend will be more difficult)

I think they’ve missed one big thing that we will begin to see on travel websites and that’s intelligent or guided search. My number one complaint is the lack of relevance in cross/upsell offerings that are pushed at you during an e-commerce process. The rise of tagging and meta data on products will help push this forwards (as well as the rise in technologies that provide this kind of functionality). Another interesting area to watch will be semantic web, expect to see a travel site of some sort try to get this right this year. Interesting year ahead!

Here’s an amusing look at the web back in 1996, the year I started designing myself. I would provide links back to some of the sites I built using the internet archive but sadly all have so many broken links they aren’t worth viewing. I’ll post up anonymised screenshots of a range of sites I’ve built another day…

If only web design was still so simple 🙂

ComScore have released figures for the biggest U.S. web properties for December. MarketingCharts have the detail here. Obviously, retail is the big show, and as usual Yahoo just pip Google, even though they have many more pages. Google should overtake them soon.

Travel shows with Expedia in 41st place. January should be a very different story as travel sites shoot up the rankings.

Full list of the top 50 below:

IMRG the online retail analyst is to release a report stating that it is critical that retailers invest in online as more of the UK population shift to making their purchases through the web. They say that retailers who refuse to move online risk losing half their business over the next ten years as they estimate that 50% of all retail will be online by 2018.

Growth of the online retail channel outstripped all other channels in the run up to Christmas and the volume of shopping online in 2007 was up over 50% on the previous year. This kind of growth is expected to continue (although slowing gradually).

I believe this will apply to travel even more quickly than retail. The shift to online is happening much more quickly and it’s possible that half of all travel bookings could be online within the next two years in the UK. The U.S. is already there according to the report here. Investing now will put you in a good position to capitalise on that growth. It’s especially important for any travel companies who don’t have a web presence yet (there really are some who don’t still) as they really need to get their brand known online and get their online marketing processes in place asap.