It’s well known that expanding any business brings new challenges – and for Hostelworld, which offers backpackers access to tens of thousands of lodgings around the globe, expansion has happened faster than for most. “We use a wide range of channels to communicate with consumers and Search is among the most important,” says Hostelworld CEO Gary Morrison.
“The introduction of automated bidding has been something of a revelation for us. Getting the algorithms just right has been a challenge but the rewards have definitely been worthwhile, as it means the considerable amounts of information that we gather can be condensed into a more digestible manner, allowing us to make decisions more easily. We use a combination of automated bid options to maximise conversions and we adapt depending on the campaign, the customer and the time of year.”
With an ever-increasing range of destinations and properties, keeping cost per acquisition down has been a priority – and Dynamic Search Ads, which can cover the gaps left by more traditional keyword-based campaigns – have been a key solution. These ads consist of headlines dynamically generated by Google’s machine-learning algorithms, and deliver visitors to the best landing page for their query – capitalising on traffic from Search requests that can’t be easily anticipated. At the same time, Hostelworld has also been able to tweak its more standard ads to cater to its audience’s specific needs. Since the company began using DSA in 2015, they’ve achieved conversion rates six times higher and cost per click 30% lower than those achieved by generic keyword campaigns.
Hostelworld has been able to tweak its more standard ads. “One of the most surprising things that we’ve gained from Search is a real insight into consumer behaviour,” says Morrison. “Consumers today have a much shorter attention span, so content also needs to be shorter. Ads must not only address the need behind the search, they must also do it in the most concise and clear way. In brand, the ‘need’ is to get to our website. The user does not need any other information, and they do not want to read through 70-character headlines to find Hostelworld.com. Therefore, our ad simply says “Hostelworld | Hostelworld.com.”
“Everything we do is with our customer in mind, thinking about their journey and what they need.”
– Gary Morrison, CEO at Hostelworld
Crucially, explains Morrison, Hostelworld has used Google’s features to improve efficiencies and automation in order to grow at pace and scale. “We’ve invested in technology and people,” he says. “Everything we do is with our customer in mind, thinking about their journey and what they need. It’s one of the main reasons why we’ve always been quick to look at the latest developments in digital marketing, so that we continuously improve and adapt to the needs of our customers.”
Going forward, Hostelworld plans to expand further, with Search a key part of its strategy. And as Search evolves, the company is adapting too. “The key to making Search work is knowing your audience. Search is no longer just about researching keywords, it’s about understanding who your customer is, what works for them, what content resonates, what information they need to make a decision,” says Morrison. “Search is also a demand-led channel and it should not be run with constrained budgets. Having a fixed budget per month or per year prevents you from responding to changes in demand. In the travel business, where demand can be incredibly seasonal, it’s important to have greater budget flexibility so that when customers are searching, they can find you and you can capture that demand.”