Thomas Cook unites in-house SEO, social and PR teams to drive competitive edge
Thomas Cook is driving collaboration between its in-house search, social and PR teams as it looks to create stand-out in the increasingly competitive travel sector. The travel firm has kicked off its collaborative strategy with the launch of one of the brand’s first responsive design-based campaigns, aimed at boosting natural search rankings, driving engagement and sales. The brand worked with iProspect to create the campaign, which centred on a New Year’s resolution calculator that provides details on how much money people could save from their resolutions and then directing them to holidays they could take with their potential savings. People could enter details of habits they were looking to reduce including alcohol, chocolate, takeaway food, and coffee they consume each week. The calculator then returns them an estimate of how much money they could save if they cut out those habits, showing details of holiday packages they could spend the money on instead. The brand and iProspect worked together to co-organise blogger events, which generated further content and coverage in national newspapers including the Daily Mirror. Social networks were used to generate buzz and direct people through to the campaign site, with Thomas Cook using its official Twitter feed to contact journalists and bloggers in the finance and travel sectors. This resulted in coverage across over 20 sites. Thomas Cook’s SEO manager Nikita Mistry told The Drum it is vital the brand integrates its SEO, PR and social departments to work closely together on campaign activity which it can also link to PPC and electronic customer relationship management (eCRM) strategies. “The travel sector is so competitive now we have to be smarter when it comes to carrying out SEO by combining it with PR and social. In fact it should not stop at those alone but should be incorporated into all Thomas Cook channels,” she said. The brand also tied the calculator into its eCRM strategy, sending email newsletters to its database, and its own PR teams fed the work into their overall PR plans, which resulted in coverage in the Sun newspaper. Mistry said there is a need for more collaboration between channels. “Social signals can be a ranking factor so we really need to leverage that,” she added. iProspect’s associate director, SEO, Stuart McLennan said most brands are “unresponsive” when it comes to providing such integrated support and helping to reach existing customers as well as new ones. "There is usually a lack of collaboration between PR, social and SEO within brands, which regard them as separate entities,” he said. Google has made significant changes to its algorithms in the last few years in a bid to crack down on “unnatural” SEO tactics, rolling out its Panda update in 2011 aimed at reducing the prevalence of low-quality websites, and following it with its Penguin update last year, which targeted web spam tactics. McLennan said: “A few years ago it was possible to buy links on blogs and get away with it, and that drove results. But Google’s updates last year were significant and led to some big brands being dropped in the rankings as they had been bending the rules.” Mistry agreed the changes in the algorithms, along with search engines’ overall push towards more personalized search experiences, is challenging. “I believe this marks a step forward in our use of SEO, social and PR. With search engines changing their algorithms it’s harder to maintain positioning in the rankings, which makes it all the more important to create engaging, useful content that creates value and drives SEO and social performance,” she said. It is now looking to develop the activity over time and will look to extend it around peak holiday periods throughout the year. Brands are still being caught out by Google’s strict ranking methods, with Interflora the latest to be demoted in the rankings after being caught out for using unnatural SEO tactics which flout the search engine’s best practice rules.