About Southern Sun
Southern Sun Hotel group is one of South Africa’s largest hotel chains, having a large number of hotels across the world in countries like Kenya, Zambia, Seychelles, Tanzania, Mozambique and Middle East. They provide accommodation across all markets, but mainly in major urban centres and select key destinations of South Africa. It was founded in 1969 by the South African Breweries and hotelier Sol Kerzner. In 2012, it merged with Tsogo Sun gaming and Tsogo Sun holdings to create Tsogo Sun.
Southern Sun’s Business Objectives
With a vision of expanding their business, Southern Sun launched their new website in 2006, which had a new look and feel, containing better quality and quantity of information and enhanced functionality. As it is generally seen, a site re-launch can lead to loss of good organic search rankings, if not executed with proper planning. Southern Sun also lost its organic ranking as a result of their new website launch and lost out on valuable bookings generated by organic traffic. Due to this, Southern Sun had to look into ways to meet the following objectives on their newly launched website:
- Ensure steady flow of bookings in spite of low organic ranking
- Generate traffic to study and analyze user behaviour and response
- Build trust in the search engines and climb up on the lost rankings
- Increase their number of online bookings
- Tap the international travel market
In order to meet these objectives, Southern Sun had to think of innovative and unique ways of generating leads to their website. One way was to increase their offline promotions and promote their online bookings through attractive offers and discounts.
Approach / Strategy adopted by Southern Sun
Southern Sun approached Quirk, a marketing agency, to design and sustain its campaign. Quirk designed a PPC campaign to meet its objectives of generating more traffic, especially international and also analyze various areas of improvement.
They achieved this by building separate campaigns for the following:
- Local vs. international traffic
- Hotel specific vs. place specific
- Normal traffic vs. traffic through special offers and campaigns
In this way, a proper control on the budget could be achieved and a proper analysis of all statistics gathered, could be done. An extensive keyword research exercise including the long tail keywords research was conducted. This gave a good head start on the traffic generated as well as judicious use of the budget allocated to keywords generating maximum traffic. The keyword research led to generation of keywords targeting customer groups like families, businessmen and women, couples, tourists, etc. In addition to keyword research, multiple adverts were setup to test what worked well with the customers i.e. the response received for various marketing messages like for the Southern Sun brand, offers, location, facilities, etc. This analysis gave better clarity on which group of people responded to which type of promotions.
In addition to the above exercise, landing page split tests were also conducted. Spilt testing is a method of conducting controlled and randomized experiments for the development of a website performance.
Various stages of a booking process, starting from hotel room quote to final thank you page, were tracked to understand customer experience. This would help the team to exactly pin point any issues faced by the customer during the booking process. Also, it would help the team to improve the customer experience by improving the booking procedure.
Results achieved by Southern Sun
With the launch of the PPC campaign, immediate results were visible. The campaign was launched along with the launch of the new website, which resulted in traffic generation from day one. An average of 7500 clicks per month was received in the first 3 months. This essentially meant that the website was visible to the search engines when a search for hotels in South Africa was conducted.
Analysis results of Split testing were as follows:
- Best response was received for Southern Sun as a local brand, from the local market. This essentially meant that use of highly competitive keywords gave good click through rates. It also meant that Southern Sun was known more in the local market and had very less penetration in the UK and USA markets, thereby meaning that in order to expand the business in these territories, Southern Sun will need to look for innovative and unique ways to make an entry and establish themselves as key players.
- Contrary to what is normally seen, the PPC marketing was more successful in online website advertisements as compared to offline marketing. The offline campaign had an average booking conversion of 0.38% as compared to a whopping 3.45% average booking rate from the landing page supplying a list of hotels.
- Response received from the international traffic was different from that received from the local traffic. Southern Sun was perceived more as a local brand than as an international one with an ROI of 780% vs. 430%.
Following results were observed at the end of the PPC campaign:
- Increase in conversion rate by 125%
- Decrease in cost per conversion by 67%
- An ROI of 20:1 on their PPC campaign
The following learning was observed through this case study:
A PPC campaign can generate traffic from day one when a site is launched or re – launched. This helps to make up for any loss in organic rankings. It is important to rely on various channels to generate traffic and gain trust from the search engines to feature high on the search lists. Relying merely on one method can lead to loss of advertising investment with little revenue generation. Continuous monitoring should be done by conducting analysis through various modes like split testing, multiple adverts, keyword research, etc to exactly pin point the area needing improvement. The results of these analyses should be used to further strengthen methods giving positive outputs and improvise on ones which need further attention.