Travel content marketing across the funnel: Moving from IF to HOW

NB: This is a viewpoint from Matthew Barker, founder of I&I Travel Media.

Here we go again: yet more nagging about SEO and keeping up to date with the almighty G’s latest industry-wrecking whims? Well, almost but not quite – hopefully.

Like you I’ve had more than my fill of-well meaning SEO advice. Yes yes, we all know that “quality content is key” and that cheap links are now more toxic than crack (but still just as addictive).

We’re regularly told that SEO is dead, dying or fast becoming impossible for anyone smaller than TripAdvisor-sized titans.

And along with all those horror stories about algorithm updates and ranking penalties you could be forgiven for giving up entirely and throwing your stretched marketing budget at Adwords (which is exactly what I see many smaller companies doing – much to the detriment of the wider online ecosystem).


A little over a year ago I contributed an article to this very site on the changing landscape of search marketing which identified a number of risks and opportunities that online travel brands faced in light of Google’s increasingly aggressive stance against link building and other “manipulative” SEO techniques.

A year in SEO is a very long time indeed and since then yet more algorithm updates have left “content” centre stage and all alone as the last legitimate approach to SEO.

But as a commenter on my previous article robustly pointed out:

“Investing in content’ is so bleedin’ obvious as to be completely unhelpful.”

Well, he had a point. Even back then the question wasn’t really if but how we should be looking at the role of “content” in the online marketing mix.

But unfortunately that is largely where the debate has stalled, with plenty of talk on vague platitudes but very little in the way of practical, tangible approaches to integrating content into online marketing strategy.

I think the reason for this could be that the rise of “content” is actually part of a much bigger evolutionary shift in the way that online marketing works.

It’s not that we don’t get content, it’s that we don’t really see the bigger picture, where previously siloed channels and approaches like SEO, PPC, social media, and email are being subsumed into one singular, integrated whole.

New order

In this view of digital marketing, each channel interacts with the other through the entire marketing funnel to create a vast web of experiences and engagement opportunities for your target audiences at various stages of the purchase process.

In this way channels and activities contribute to others in capturing prospects and guiding them further down the funnel until the point of conversion, lead or booking and then further onwards into an on-going relationship with your brand.

This is a profoundly different view to many established techniques, which still rely on contractors and outsourcers to build links, churn out content and “manage” social media profiles on your behalf.

But this new approach needs more than that. It demands a sense of brand, of narrative, of passion and expertise. It requires us to proactively think about what our audiences need and how we can deliver it to them.

And it requires us to think about our activities in terms of creating experiences and relationships, not exclusively about wringing the most leads possible from each channel.

It’s within this view that the previously vague idea of “content” gains some meaning.

Content isn’t a channel or approach in its own right, it is the raw ingredient to all of the above. It’s the fuel that powers your brand’s online performance, and the better fuel you have the higher you’ll fly.

That still sounds quite nebulous, I know. So the following graphic is my attempt to sketch out what the online marketing funnel could look like from a content perspective:

[Click image for larger version]

This is by no means intended as a blueprint, each brand will have its unique configuration and by and large, smaller brands will be less active further up the funnel.

The intention is simply to offer an overview of how content strategy could work in practice. It’d be good to hear about some other brands’ configurations in the comments.

NB: This is a viewpoint from Matthew Barker, founder of I&I Travel Media.

NB2: Please feel free to embed this graphic onto your own site, using the following code:

<p><center><img src=”” width=”670″> <br/>The role of converged media in the travel marketing funnel from <a href=””>I&I Travel Media</a></center></p>

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About the Writer :: Viewpoints

A founding principle of tnooz was a diversity of viewpoints from across the spectrum. Viewpoints are articles by guest contributors from around the travel and hospitality industries. The views expressed are the views and opinions of the author and do not reflect or represent the views of his employer, tnooz, its writers, or partners.



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  1. Mike Lewis

    Matt –
    This is a great post. Over here at Kapost, we are seeing similar trends and behavior from our customers.

    We do hear the frustration that it’s too hard, too expensive and too vague of a strategy. One thing we recommend for those folks are to do one big piece of content a quarter. A big eBook on a topic that’d be useful for your customers. From the one eBook, you can then republish bits and pieces (the interviews, infographics) of it on your blog and in your nurture emails. That one big piece can be the key to getting a quality content program off the ground.

    Again, I really like this post. More please!

    Mike Lewis
    Co-founder, Kapost

  2. Andy

    Thanks Matt,

    I agree in part what you are saying. Brand building is so far off what most small businesses do however. The internet, in my view, is the leveler of all levelers. Prof. Michael Porter once said the internet will kill business. And it does. Day in, day out.

    It is a place to search for the cheapest, not the brand.

    Of course I am talking from one side of the pendulum and there is give to what I say but you have to agree, with 94% of the UK economy made up of small enterprises, the opportunity to market on content in an attempt to leap frog the big guys is complete and utter folly.

    Who was it who said, “Half of all adverts make money? The problem is I don’t know which half.”

    That is true of content marketing.

    The only way I would pay for content is if it came with a detailed plan about how it was going to rank on the keywords I set for it and with an idea of traffic and conversion for that term and how much it was going to cost me to get the content to page one, number one.

    Otherwise it is the same as an advert…I just don’t know how it’s going to make me money.



    • Matthew Barker

      Two quick responses Andy:

      – This is all becoming very measurable thanks to things like multi channel attribution modelling, and will continue to do so… but:

      – I agree with you 100% that a lot of this is still beyond the reach of the great many companies with modest budgets & resources, and I totally sympathise with those who opt for solutions with more direct returns, such as PPC.

      Which is a shame because it’s often the smaller, independently-owned brands that have all the passion, energy and expertise that we’re talking about.


  3. Jeremy Head

    Nice idea in theory. Have you ever managed to get a client to work like this in practice? Virtually impossible. It’s clients that are set up this way in silos… and getting them to change the way their business is organised is like turning around an oil tanker.

    • Matthew Barker

      I think you’re exactly right Jeremy – there’s an entrenched mentality that leads to the fractured/siloed nature of the marketing mix. We created I&I as separate to Hit Riddle Travel to try and facilitate this conversion for our clients – we’re working less as service providers and more as consultants to help internal teams reconfigure themselves around this approach. It’s slow work but we’re getting there, especially now that the basic message of “quality content” is filtering through to business owners.

  4. Matthew Barker

    Hi Andy, thanks for commenting. It’s perfectly reasonable to point out the bias to my perspective, but an important caveat (perhaps not very well explained above) is that I’m not pretending that this is the be all and end all to online marketing. These are really just my thoughts for how content specifically can be used to inform and drive the various digital channels.

    This relates to some of your other points too. The macro idea is that online marketing should no longer be viewed as a set of distinct, separate channels, and that we should be weaning ourselves off the idea that we have to perform certain actions to maximize outcomes from each channel.

    It’s been repeated to the point of cliché but I generally agree with the idea that we should be less concerned with how or why Google is “measuring the quality” of our content (although there *are* numerous quantifiable ways that they do this) and more concerned with the idea of building compelling brands and creating opportunities for our audiences to experience and interact with our brands.

    And that’s where the hard work starts, because as you rightly point out – what sounds find on paper is bloody difficult in practice. But getting it right now will be immensely rewarding.

  5. Andy


    Well put.

    Few points.

    1. While I agree with your points ‘to a degree’ it has to be said that you are paid to create and manage content. So your view is somewhat tainted to your own ends because that’s how you make money.

    2. Rather like SEO, content marketing appears to me to be driven by content marketers. Hmmmm.

    3.. I’ve asked this question many, many times and no one can answer it.

    “What is quality content, in the eyes of Google?”

    It is perfectly acceptable to write for the reader but that has no bearing on Google unless it is somehow measuring the validity and credibility algorithmically. I still believe it is doing this by counting the links that go to the content, not by social metrics in any meaningful way.

    If it was measuring it by social metrics blogs would dominate every search result you can care to mention.

    4. There is so much content online that trying to compete to get to the top while not knowing what Google is measuring it by is folly.

    5. When you’re selling commodity what the hell can you write that isn’t already written. Several hundred times. Holidays for generic consumers do not require detailed historical insights, they need price and availability. Full stop.

    OK. I’m going on a bit. Hopefully you get my drift. I just don’t see creating more and more content as the answer.


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