This is “Case Study: Southern Sun”, section 7.7 from the book Online Marketing Essentials (v. 1.0). For details on it (including licensing), click here.

For more information on the source of this book, or why it is available for free, please see the project's home page. You can browse or download additional books there. To download a .zip file containing this book to use offline, simply click here.

Has this book helped you? Consider passing it on:
Creative Commons supports free culture from music to education. Their licenses helped make this book available to you. helps people like you help teachers fund their classroom projects, from art supplies to books to calculators.

7.7 Case Study: Southern Sun

Southern Sun ( launched a new Web site in May 2006. The changes included an updated look and feel, a greater quantity and quality of information, and better booking functionality. As often happens with a site relaunch, Southern Sun lost all the previously good organic search engine rankings. A new Web site needs time to climb up the search engine rankings, and it can take a minimum of three months before it starts receiving organic traffic. Southern Sun could potentially have lost out on bookings because of the decrease in organic traffic. Therefore, they required a way of ensuring that their site still did the following:

  • Continued to receive a steady flow of bookings despite temporarily poor organic rankings
  • Received enough traffic to analyze user behavior and responses
  • Received enough traffic to generate trust from search engines and climb up the SERPs (search engine results pages) as fast as possible

With the new site, Southern Sun hoped to increase the number of bookings made online and to tap into the international-tourist and business-travel market. This meant they needed to migrate a significant amount of their offline promotions and special offers to their Web site in such a way as to attract a favorable online response.

Quirk eMarketing, the online agency for Southern Sun, set up a PPC (pay-per-click) campaign with the following intentions:

  • Sending traffic to the site
  • Attracting international traffic
  • Split-testing campaigns

Separate campaigns were built for the following:

  • Local versus international traffic
  • Brand- and hotel-specific versus place-specific traffic
  • Special offers and campaigns versus normal traffic

Quirk did an extensive keyword research exercise to identify high-traffic-generating keywords in order to get as much traffic as possible, as well as niche long-tail keywords for better cost per conversion. Keywords specific to Southern Sun’s various customer groups were targeted, such as families, business travelers, couples, and tourists.

Furthermore, advertisements were set up that tested the best marketing message, that is, whether people responded best to the following:

  • The Southern Sun brand
  • A special offer
  • A wide variety of hotels and brands
  • Location and convenience
  • Facilities

As a result, Quirk could assess whether different groups of people were influenced by different advertisements, as keyword research had been done according to customer groups.

In order to determine whether people responded better to special offers and campaigns or just hotel and area details, landing-page split tests were conducted. Tracking for various different stages of the hotel-booking process was implemented, including the hotel room quote and the final thank-you-for-payment page so that it would become evident where any drop-offs occurred.

One of the great advantages of PPC is that it gets immediate results. As soon as the new site went live, so did the PPC campaign, which meant traffic from day one. The traffic generated by the PPC advertising ensured that the site was noticed by search engines and was trusted as a valid South African hotel site.

Split testing revealed some very interesting and useful behaviors and trends:

  • The overall best response was to the advertisements containing the Southern Sun brand, particularly from the local South African market. This was very positive for Southern Sun and gave them a distinct PPC advantage with regard to Google’s quality, as it meant high click-through on competitive key phrases like “Cape Town hotels.” It also showed that its brand was not as well recognized in the United Kingdom and the United States.
  • Search marketing is driven by meeting a need, whereas offline marketing involves creating a need. Split testing picked up that the (very successful) offline marketing campaigns were not so successful when actively marketed through PPC and that they do better when advertised from within the Web site. The campaign had an average booking rate of 0.38 percent. The landing pages that supplied a list of hotels in an area or offering a service far outperformed this, with an average booking rate of 3.45 percent.
  • International traffic responded differently to various offers and hotel details compared to local traffic. In general, there was a better response locally with an ROI (return on investment) of 780 percent versus 430 percent.

Running a PPC campaign when you launch or relaunch a site will do the following:

  • Attract enough traffic to ensure you don’t lose business
  • Test site structure and browser behavior
  • Allow you to assess where traffic comes from, so you can test and optimize presentation of your product to your customers

Case Study Questions

  • What information from the PPC (pay-per-click) campaign could be used to help optimize the Web site?
  • Why does a PPC campaign give instant traffic while SEO (search engine optimization) does not?
  • What is the importance of landing pages in a PPC campaign? What sort of different landing pages do you think would be used?