The Future of Search
This past year, BusRates.com was discovered by hundreds of thousands of visitors through online search engines. In addition to extensive search engine optimization, a growing segment of traffic arrives to our directory via consumers already aware of the BusRates.com brand; visits from users keying in our web address directly has substantially increased.
Yet charter-seeking customers and group planners finding our site is only half of the conversion battle. Responsibility in guiding these visitors through to listed operators that best fit their group carries no less weight in our optimization efforts. We are building aggressively for the future, allowing our audience to easily contact bus-owning companies directly and plan entire itineraries in a convenient and user-friendly database.
We’ve had a sneak peak on the new redesigned BusRates.com earlier this year, and 2014 will see its release upon the travel industry. The site will sport a new look, optimized to scale from handheld mobile devices to full-screen desktop resolutions.
Increased usability across a variety of devices will enhance the flavor of our site for audiences, but the next big feature will be in how these users orchestrate grander aspects of the travel experience. Hotels, attractions, restaurants… a directory can list all of this but is still only as powerful as its search function. BusRates.com will implement an intelligent search query and suggestion engine with the redesign to assist group planners looking to build complete itineraries for groups.
This new search functionality for suppliers listed within the BusRates.com directory will funnel more visitors to these travel partners, increase conversions and further establish BusRates.com as a central hub for kick-starting group transportation by charter bus.
Even for individual company websites, building a brand with search engines and information retrieval in mind sets up an online presence for increased business. Learning how search engines started, how they index content, and utlimately, where search is headed helps us predict how to build what’s next.
Marcus Tandler, a speaker at the TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) conferences, delivered a brisk, informative presentation regarding search including ways in which search will be affecting our life in the future. Tandler discussed the changing nature in which users find and assimilate content online. His overview of current search technology (much of which even still sounds futuristic today) and upcoming trends are applicable to all current and evolving projects in the web space.
The BusRates.com team wants to wish all of our readers and members a joyous holiday season and a new year of health, happiness and prosperity. The staff will be in and out of the office this week but also accessible via email. Happy Holidays from BusRates.com.
Database Undergoes Largest Update Yet
The BusRates.com website received one of its largest updates yet. The update was pushed to live servers on the night of November 9 in a smooth transition and included nearly 100 fixes, additions, upgrades and functionality for site admins and end-users alike.
Eric Elliott, general manager of BusRates.com, likened the update to Google’s recent Hummingbird algorithm: “It’s a big update but if we did it right, you should never know it happened.”
Items across all user-experiences were edited and updated for usability. For instance, group leaders will now find company contact information better organized in form-submitted confirmation emails. Enhanced photo-cycling for profiles that have opted-in to the Expansion Suite was another important, but easy-to-miss feature that rolled out over the weekend.
“The sprint added many small features, cleaned up a lot of inefficiencies in existing coding and also laid much of the HTML5 framework for the new responsive site design,” Elliott said. Although the upcoming responsive website design will appear brand new, it’ll be pulling data from the current customer management system that was built from the ground up for BusRates.com. “An example of an internal feature we’ve developed but that isn’t directly seen by our members would be an auto-log of account activity,” Elliott said. “We’ll have historical data for each company to better help us consult with our members on what worked, what isn’t working and how each operator can make changes to better improve the efficiency of their profile.”
“A lot of what we’re doing here is more advanced than a banner advertisement,” Elliott said. “Rather, we’re crafting mini-websites that properly represent each listed operator to play to their strengths, helping connect charter-seeking customers whose needs match up, and enabling the interaction.”
Because the BusRates.com website is developed using an iterative and incremental framework, new functionality can be added to the website in sprints that change small portions of the website. This strategy is known as Scrum software development.
Have any suggestions for new functionality on BusRates.com? Share your advice in the comments.
Statistics Show Promise
Fallen leaves, pumpkins on porch steps, and fun-size candy are surefire indicators of the changing season and our arrival in October. We’re already seven days into the month, so let’s pause for a moment and catch our breath after a particularly busy September. Official numbers from BusRates.com indicate a record-breaking autumn for 2013.
Sep 2013 vs. Sep 2012
- Quote Requests: 18.9% growth
- Phone Calls: 17.5% growth
- Company Webpage Visits: 10.8% growth
- Direct Emails: 5.6% growth
We experienced 4 days in which customers emailed more than 650 quote requests to companies listed in the BusRates.com directory—a previously unsurpassed benchmark for this time of year. Users continue to favor phone calls as the preferred method of contact with 45% of clicks being phone number requests, followed by company websites which pull 33.8% of click activity. Usage of direct email ranks third in initial contact preference among customers with 17.6% of clicks.
How has traffic to your business compared with previous years? If you’re looking to gain more leads, take a moment to update your profile, examine and bid for higher placement, or give us a call at 703-838-2955 and we’d be glad to consult.
Turning Leads to Clients
If you’ve been receiving leads via phone and email but aren’t experiencing the level of conversion that you expect, brush up on some of our past guides on the blog. These include tips to improve conversion percentages when selling via email and strategies to properly identify your customer’s needs by adopting a new approach to sales.
Once the bookings are in and the buses out of the yard, you may be faced with managing future clients as well.
How To Say “I’m Booked Up”
Many booked-up companies may be faced with turning potential customers away this season. We strongly encourage companies to reply to customers letting them know one way or the other—one of the most common complaints from charter-seeking customers is that the bus company they submitted an RFQ to did not respond to them.
Drafting a template strategy can help increase conversions, but it’s also handy for saving time when you are unable to meet a customer’s current needs. We recommend an approach similar to the following template, which leaves the door open for flexibility and future business.
Example Template Reply
For use when your company lacks availability for a given date:
Dear [Customer Name],
We thank you for your interest in selecting [Company Name] for your charter needs, but we are unfortunately booked for the dates you have requested.
Should you be flexible with your dates, please call us at [Phone Number] to explore alternative possibilities.
We hope that you keep [Company Name] in mind for future charter trips as we look forward to serving you. Bookmark our website at [website address].
We own and operate a fleet of [number of buses] and are fully licensed and insured with the FMCSA for interstate passenger transportation (USDOT[#]) . We carry the best possible safety rating.
Keep us in mind! Happy chartering,
Maintain Rep with Reviews
Follow-up with clients after the trip and ask them to put in a good word for you. You can include a unique URL for your company profile on BusRates.com to allow customers to easily share their trip experience with future planners. Contact the BusRates.com team for assistance in linking a free BusRates.com Badge to solicit reviews from your customers.
In addition, keep an eye on past reviews, and don’t let a negative review harm your reputation. View our strategies for dealing with online reviews to attract new clients.
Closures Affect Group Travel
Shock waves traveled across the nation as barricades and guards sectioned off hundreds of federally-funded tourist destinations during the first day of the government shutdown. The reverberations were absorbed by millions of Americans, including charter and tour operators who experienced first-hand losses in the form of reservations and revenue.
The country has now entered the fourth day of the federal government shutdown with few signs of the two political parties resolving appropriations for the 2014 fiscal year.
The United Motorcoach Association, who owns and operates BusRates.com, issued the following mailer to its members today:
Date: October 4, 2013
From: Victor S. Parra, President & Chief Executive Officer
Re: Federal Government Shutdown and Economic Impact
|Congress’s inability to pass a Federal budget has resulted in the closing of government owned and operated facilities and has disrupted businesses around the country, including the motorcoach travel industry.The ramifications of this action are being felt far and wide. We’re hearing from many operators that trips are being cancelled and revenue is being lost. And our revenue losses will continue to grow the longer the government remains closed. This is a serious problem that’s wreaking havoc in our industry.
To make sure members of Congress fully understand the economic impact of their inability to resolve their budget differences is having on your business and the industry as a whole, we’d like to compile information on how much industry revenue has been lost since the government shutdown on October 1.We are asking you to assist us by keeping track of how many cancellations you’ve experienced and the resulting loss of revenue. Please keep track of the following as it applies to your business:
Once the government re-opens, we’ll come back to you and ask you to submit all of your information on a simple questionnaire page. We will then compile the data and present it to the Congressional leadership.
Thank you for your assistance.
Measuring the Impact
Operator and supplier members of BusRates.com are also invited to track cancellations and resulting revenue loss due to the shutdown. A survey will be provided to UMA and BusRates.com members when the shutdown is lifted.
The survey data will be compiled and submitted to the Congressional leadership.
UMA Survey Illuminates State of the Industry
United Motorcoach Association conducts an annual Membership Survey and Industry Assessment to help gain insight into the current state of the motorcoach industry, and to better understand the needs and challenges of their members.
Overall, survey responses cited significantly improved business in 2012, with operators expecting a good 2013.
The primary business of assessment respondents was charter work (with 96% of responses offering charters), but many also assist groups planning tours. Nearly 50% report assisting with hotels, 49% with attractions and 45% with restaurants, while 40% of UMA operator members assist with complete package tours, despite not classifying their businesses as “tour operators.” The BusRates.com directory expanded to include group-friendly travel services in 2010 and continues to grow its databases for these buyers, as well as welcoming first-time planners.
Top Marketing Challenges
Several components of the UMA Industry Assessment examine specific aspects of marketing. The top three marketing challenges facing members were reported as:
1) Maintaining customers
2) Reaching new customers
3) Tie: Competition
3) Tie: Increasing website traffic
Survey responses indicated a variety of marketing tools used to overcome these challenges, with BusRates.com ranking a close second place to address these concerns.
In comparison to the 2011 Industry Assessment, many traditional methods of marketing declined in 2012. Yellow page advertising declined by 5.6% (as forecast in our previous post about consumers ditching the book). Usage of newspaper, direct mail, and radio ads also diminished. Conversely, electronic marketing increased this year, with BusRates.com, Twitter, and YouTube reported with higher usage.
A candid response from the survey shared, “We are slowly dropping all yellow page advertisement and trying to figure out how to get on these damn search engines.” The move to online marketing can be frustrating, but BusRates.com presents significant value and resources to operators looking to get connected in the Web 2.0 world.
Wireless internet access and 110v outlets are desirable and are increasingly sought after by charter-seeking customers each year. Some operators have moved to monetize these valuable amenities, such as charging additional fees for WiFi usage. While 64.1% of surveyed operators offer WiFi on-board their coaches, less than a third charged for WiFi usage (of those that did charge, the average daily rate was $6). A similar 63/37 split for 110v outlets on-board coaches for passengers was reported.
How Does Your Company Rank?
Benchmarks are inherent in the motorcoach industry and function as a baseline to help you compare, measure performance or assess the quality of your services.
|See Related: UMA 20 Groups
One of United Motorcoach Association’s member services centered on benchmarking success is its UMA 20 Groups program, managed by Spader. These groups consist of motor coach operators in non-competitive locations that share business practices, financials, and intelligence to identify solutions through comprehensive peer-to-peer comparison. Call 703-838-2929 for details.
Make the Most of your Listing on BusRates.com
Profiles on BusRates.com perform best when they are up-to-date with relevant information for consumers. Previously, the BusRates.com blog looked at bidding, listing rates for local use/low miles, and the Expansion Suite among other features. If you’re curious of ways to fine-tune your profile, give the friendly BusRates.com team a call at 703-838-2955. In addition, the following are 3 lesser-known tips to help attract and convert more business right off the bat.
#1| Make Your Company Description Count
The company description on a BusRates.com profile sits underneath the contact information and above the fleet table. Make best use of this real estate by including “Feature – Advantage – Benefit” (FAB) statements about your business as opposed to subjective content.
A commonly used example of subjective content is “we have great drivers.” A much stronger (ie, convincing) FAB statement about your company would be “Our drivers have over 5 years of experience so they know how to ensure your trip will go smoothly.” Focus on factual selling points that can be converted into benefits. These statements build value and express the significance of your company opposed to your competition.
A persuasive company description invokes a call-to-action for the customer to initiate contact.
#2| Designate Multiple Employees to Receive RFQs
Ensuring a prompt and succinct reply to all emailed inquiries may require you assign more than one employee for RFQ follow-up. If your company has more than one person who responds to emailed RFQs, make use of the “Additional Emails” feature of BusRates.com. This feature allows you to include up to three individuals who can automatically receive copies of customer-submitted RFQs.
Prompt responses to RFQs increases the odds of landing a booking, and proper follow-up can lead to recapture rates of 33% (see our article on RFQ follow-up and two other RFQ mistakes). Another way to access full details for each customer-submitted RFQ is within the My Account area of BusRates.com. Running a Report for any date range while logged in will display all activity your listing received.
#3| Link to a Landing Page
Another popular method in which customers connect with your business occurs when they first view your profile on BusRates.com and click through to view your company website for further information. Most companies simply direct customers to their company homepage, but a specially designed “landing page” could substantially increase conversion percentages.
A website click-through indicates the customer has already recognized your business and is curious for further information. The lead is no longer a cold-lead, but has had their interest piqued from your profile on BusRates.com. A design that welcomes visitors of BusRates.com, communicates a call-to-action (most likely presenting contact information), and including FAB statements are essential elements of a successful landing page. Point the customer to your DOT registration page and BBB record page. Backlink to BusRates.com to build organic ranking (BusRates.com has a Page Rank of 5). Read our August 5 blog post for visual elements that lead to conversions on landing pages.
Need Help Updating?
If you require any assistance in updating your company’s profile please call us at 703-838-2955. We are glad to assist and provide suggestions on how to best represent your business to the 100,000+ visitors that use BusRates.com each month to book their group travel transportation.
Impressions Make an Impact
The media team at BusRates.com created an infographic to visually depict how much activity the BusRates.com directory received in 2012. More than 100,000 group planners visit BusRates.com each month to search, contact, and book with the companies listed in its directory. Click the image below to view the full-size version for traffic statistics.
Second Half of 2013 Promising
More charter-seeking customers are rallying behind BusRates.com to plan their trips than any other online directory. Emailed quote requests are up in the first half of 2013 by 7% over the same time last year. Traffic models indicate continually increased activity over the latter half of the year.
The number of customer phone calls, web visits, emails and RFQs continues to increase. Customers are ditching the national brokers and going direct with local businesses they find within the BusRates.com directory.
Is Your Listing Up-to-Date?
Any operators presently listed on BusRates.com who need to update their company’s information for the second half of 2013 can login using the link on the right-hand side of the blog, or contact our team at email@example.com or call 703-838-2955.
Photos, descriptive text, social media links, fleet updates, amenities, brochures and more can be added and customized on your listing. Take a moment to review our May 21st blog post about maximizing your profile.
Make sure customers get the best first impression of your company. Take control and customize your listing to best represent your business for a prosperous 2013.
Partnership with UMA Extends Services
In August, BusRates.com will accept orders for bus driver compliance products including JJ Keller daily log books, vehicle inspection reports, and passenger safety DVDs. The products are offered with renewal forms as a convenience for BusRates.com members.
The delivery of the driver logs, DVIRs and other products are made possible through United Motorcoach Association (UMA) who will be processing and shipping the materials.
The BusRates.com team continues to enhance its services for subscribing members by working closely with UMA. BusRates.com is a product of UMA’s mission to help the motorcoach industry be successful and to give its members a competitive edge.
Ask Me About UMA
BusRates.com team members are available to share how UMA brings value to your business: contact us to discover the benefits a UMA membership can supply your company and employees. All of UMA’s products and services, including BusRates.com, have strategic value for operators.
Motorcoach Academy courses, the Motorcoach EXPO tradeshow, discounts for the industry newspaper Bus and Motorcoach News, and powerful representation on Capitol Hill to support your interests are just a few of the many valuable UMA-member services. Discounts on BusRates.com postings are also part of the package; view our blog post from March 8 for details.
History of BR & UMA
From its birth in the Windy City, to its upbringing in western Michigan suburbs, the BusRates.com directory now resides within the offices of the United Motorcoach Association in Alexandria, VA.
BusRates.com, founded in 2004, announced a strategic partnership with UMA in early 2008. The partnership provided UMA motorcoach operators reduced rates for joining BusRates.com and an opportunity to grow their business with the directory’s proven lead generation capabilities.
As of September, 2012, UMA assumed full operational control of BusRates.com, the most-visited group travel directory online.
Although BusRates.com is fully owned and operated by UMA, all compliant motor passenger carriers are eligible to post their equipment within the directory, regardless of association membership. General Manager Eric Elliott states that, “By allowing all operators to post their services on BusRates.com, a stronger marketing alliance is formed.”
Subscription revenue from BusRates.com is heavily invested back into the platform itself to attract more charter-seeking customers, and revenue is also invested in UMA’s efforts to represent coach owner/operators and serve as their voice in Washington D.C., in addition to protecting and promoting their interests and welfare.
If you are not yet a UMA member and are interested in the strategic benefits the association offers, please contact us for information. Keep an eye out for new order forms that accompany BusRates.com invoices in August.
Tracking Clicks and Returns
The charter & group travel directory BusRates.com provides extensive tracking information for its listed operators and suppliers. Detailed copies of all customer-submitted quote requests are accessible for historical reference, and phone, email and website click tracking is included with accompanying timestamps and IP addresses.
These traffic reports can be accessed from the My Account area at any time for review.
What’s a Phone Click?
On each operator and supplier profile listed within the BusRates.com directory, phone numbers are visible via a click action. Each time a customer clicks to a view a phone number on a profile, the action is logged.
Does each click guarantee the customer called? Beginning hypotheses intoned doubt, so we began a comprehensive study which revealed surprising results.
The Study: Clicks vs. Calls
A dozen companies were involved in the study which replaced the local telephone number on their profile with a brand new toll-free forwarding number. The forwarding service provided detailed call logs of originating phone numbers, call duration and further statistics.
For a duration of two months, phone clicks from the BusRates.com reporting features were compared with the log of actual phone calls that were routed through the forwarding service. Conclusive results revealed a ratio of 80-120% conversion rate in phone clicks as related to actual calls made for each company.
This study revealed a ratio of 80-120% conversion rate in phone clicks as related to actual calls made.
How did the number of actual calls exceed the number of phone clicks for some companies? After all, the toll-free forwarding phone number listed on each company’s profile for the duration of the two months was the only occurrence of the number being published.
Some of the calls logged from the forwarding service were from the same originating phone number, so it became clear that a percentage of those must have written down the toll-free number or added it to their contact list for repeated calls. Even still, the number of actual unique calls was still more numerous than unique clicks in some cases, so it was determined that redistribution of the forwarding number must have occurred.
As is common with inbound calls our team receives at BusRates.com, many users perform research, collecting company names and numbers in our directory, before forwarding them onto group leaders or others in charge of making the buying decision. In instances where the number of unique phone calls surpassed the number of unique clicks, geographic caller data supports the theory that the telephone number must have been recirculated to others.
These percentages show the significant power that the BusRates.com directory has in routing telephone calls to your business from interested parties. Most customers indicate that they found you on “the internet,” and lack specificity. Reporting features for BusRates.com provide hard data on the effects of your marketing campaign on the most-visited group travel directory online.
Need to Run a Report?
If you presently have a profile on BusRates.com and need assistance in generating a traffic report, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call us at 866-375-0800.