We sat down with Danielle Schwolow, Senior Growth Strategist for Multiplica US, a full-service digital marketing agency that offers optimization, analytics, and UX/UI services for the travel industry. Danielle’s been named a “woman making waves in ecommerce” by Ecommerce Magazine and will be co-host of an upcoming webinar with Monetate [register here]. She specializes in creating data-driven digital optimization and personalization strategies for big brands, particularly in the travel and hospitality industries, that increase conversion rates, improve the user experience, and grow revenue.

What are the biggest trends in conversion rate optimization (CRO) that travel websites should pay attention to?

DS: AI has and is changing the way digital marketing teams create their conversion rate optimization strategies. Every brand wants to provide exceptional experiences to their customers and win bookings with the least spend… this is obviously easier said than done, but AI is making it much less difficult than it used to be. Having tools like AI that are capable of getting those results are obviously crucial to your business’s success.

What’s the most frequently misunderstood thing about CRO? 

Travel marketers and digital specialists often assume that there is just one big experience that will revolutionize the way users engage with and ultimately convert across their website. Conversion rate optimization is meant to be a series of ever-evolving experiments — not one-off experiences — that continue to improve the customer experience over time. Continual improvement means running multiple experiments in parallel across device types. There is no one test that wins them all. 

How do travel websites versus other types of ecommerce sites (like retail) differ when it comes to conversion rate optimization? 

The customer journey for someone travelling is much different than a traditional ecommerce experience. Travel websites have to accommodate users who have multiple factors influencing their decision-making. Rather than considering a single product or purchase, as in some retail sales funnels, travel users have to consider multiple decisions when booking: When will I leave? Where am I going? When will I return? What am I doing on my trip? Where will I stay? How will I get around? (And the list goes on…) They have so many more factors to take into account as they move through the funnel, which is why travellers take much longer to purchase and to plan their trips.  

What are the most important things that all travel and hospitality websites should be testing? 

Retargeting is a commonly overlooked testing segment. The returning user may or may not know what they are looking for, but retargeting can help them pick up where they left off. Users are often frustrated by having to type in long search queries identical to the the search queries they previously searched within the same session just by going back to the home page. Something as simple as storing the user’s search history within the same session (and for some time after) can improve click-through rates by double digits. 

What’s the best result you’ve ever seen from personalization? 

Actually, the upcoming webinar we are doing together with Monetate showcases one of our cruise clients and their AI use of retargeting based on destination; it yielded some of the most positive results across the board we’ve seen with personalization. The user experience that resulted from plugging in the AI to power our personalization efforts for this client is exceptional, and what’s so amazing about this experiment is that it just continues to evolve and get smarter everyday. This means the client, Celebrity Cruises, is benefiting from a kind of ongoing, continuous conversion rate optimization as the AI keeps personalizing the content in real time. It’s pretty cool stuff.

How can travel marketers move from simple A/B or MVT testing to a more sophisticated personalization strategy as competition among travel brands becomes more intense? 

Having a testing strategy that makes sense for your team and your resources is essential for entering the personalization arena. You have to realize your strengths and weaknesses as a brand and as a team. All too often big brands jump into personalizing without realizing that they need a strong team along with the tool they are using to execute personalization, and all of this should be supported with a testing structure to make things run smoothly. All of our optimization teams, for example, have at the very least a dedicated project manager, UI/UX expert, strategic lead, developers, QA tester, and an analytics expert, and everyone follows a proven testing process throughout the project.   

What do travel brands not understand about the customer experience? 

I think sometimes travel brands (and potentially all marketers!) will get so caught up in achieving their own goals and key performance indicators (KPIs) that they forget about the goals, needs, challenges, and desires of the customer. We see this a lot in end-of-funnel testing when brands try to guide users to create an account in order to checkout or book a trip; they get it wrong when they show too many required fields to the user and ask for too much information. It’s clunky and can annoy users. who don’t want to be bothered at this point by filling out a lot of unnecessary fields. 

When we test this type of experience with travel clients, one of our biggest winners time and time again is showing users the option to create an account by simply entering a password during checkout. By not forcing them to log in with long form fields or to create an account reduces friction, prevents cart abandonment, and improves the overall customer experience.

Is there an analytics or data skill you recommend all travel marketers try to master? 

Mastery is a strong word; to get the most out of your efforts, I would advise travel marketers to have useful skills that can be applied to everyday situations that make their lives easier and the teams run more smoothly. For example, hover over an element on your website and left or right click (depending on your mouse) on “inspect element.” You can now edit the element, and it’s only visible on your computer. This is what developers use to find bugs and such. But marketers can also use it to manipulate various elements on the website without getting their dev teams involved. It’s just a nice quick workaround to have in your wheelhouse. Say you want to see a different text or change a button color… You can simply do this instead of burdening your creative or dev team with minor tasks.

It’s already holiday travel planning season prep time for many travelers. Any trends or tips for this season on how travel websites can capture more holiday bookings and increase online revenue this season? 

One of the biggest trends this holiday season will be multi-touch retargeting. For example, if you know the user is interested in a particular product, you can showcase this to the user via retargeting by placing it on the homepage, recently searched, or even at the top of their search results. Making it easy for the user to engage with the products that interest them in the least amount of clicks as possible will always be a big conversion rate winner, holidays or not. 

How do you determine the success of an optimization project? 

Before we begin an experiment, we always ask ourselves, what is the goal(s) and how will we measure success. We establish clearly defined KPIs, and they are often tied to the control and the variation to determine overall impact. We take into account what we need to achieve our goal, and how long will it take. Once we know what we want to achieve and have a clear strategy for performance tracking throughout the process, we can set up overall measures of success. 

What are the biggest challenges travel brands face in conversion rate optimization, and how can they solve them? 

Lack of data or poor data, lack of a clear strategy, and a fragmented marketing stack are three of the biggest challenges I see with travel marketers. I discuss this in greater depth here, but, in short, don’t bite off more than you can chew when optimizing. If you want to run five experiments a month, for instance, but your team doesn’t have the resources to support this and make it all worthwhile, then start a bit smaller and keep your goals simple. Be smart, deliberate, agile, and data-driven when you’re scaling your optimization strategy, and recognize when you need to bring in additional resources to support it. 

Danielle Schwolow is a Senior Growth Strategist for Multiplica US