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Selling River Cruises Using Google AdWords Search Network 

Selling River Cruises Using Google AdWords Search Network 

Written By: Tom Ogg



Years ago, my wife and I owned a Hawaii wholesale tour company named Windansea Vacations. We marketed a sophisticated Hawaii FIT product through travel agents in the 11 western states. Based in La Jolla, California, we did a good amount of advertising in the San Diego Union Tribune to drive business into the local travel agencies. We had signed a 1,000-column inch display-advertising contract and ran a 2-column by ten-inch ad in every Sunday Travel Section. At the time, the UT (as the paper is called here in San Diego) had a distribution of a little over one million readers. It was a very expensive process that had few guarantees, but we deemed it necessary to stay on top of the market. At the time, we were the dominant advertiser in the UT for the Hawaii category and, due to the advertising, became known as the Hawaii experts in San Diego. 


I always wondered what would have happened if I had met with the folks at the UT and told them I wanted to continue advertising, but only wanted my ads to appear in those papers that were being delivered to people actually considering a Hawaii vacation on the day the paper was delivered. After all, delivering ads to hundreds of thousands of people that will never buy my tours seems kind of nuts. Then, to make it fair, I only wanted to pay for the ads that were delivered to that target group of subscribers that actually called, and I had a chance to sell them a vacation. I suspect they would have thrown me out of their offices, or worse, had me committed for insanity. As an advertiser, why shouldn’t I have the right to qualify to whom my ads appear, and why shouldn’t I only pay when the ad works and someone contacts me? It makes perfect business sense to me. 


That is exactly how contextual advertising works and why it has enjoyed explosive growth with advertisers. 


The History of Contextual Advertising 

Formerly GoTo.com, Overture.com launched its sponsored search service enabling advertisers to bid for search result placement based on keywords relevant to their businesses in June of 1998. Google then entered the search service market by introducing their AdWords program for advertisers in 2000. But, it wasn’t until February 2002 that Google introduced its PPC (Pay Per Click) model, and that is what precipitated contextual advertising to become the giant that it is today. Realizing tremendous success with the AdWords program, Google created a program for publishers of content on the Internet that would allow these content rich private websites to also offer Google sponsored ads. Google’s AdSense program was launched in early 2003 and introduced an entirely new business opportunity for content providers on the web. Yahoo subsequently acquired Overture in October of 2003 with the intention of competing with Google’s AdWords and Adsense programs. 


Today, Google still reigns as the king of contextual advertising, but Bing is hot on their trail with its own formidable contextual advertising program. While there are dozens of advertising networks to work with, by understanding what Google AdWords is and how it works in detail, we can see the advantages and opportunities of contextual advertising. 


Google AdWords 

Here is how Google defines their AdWords Program; 


Google AdWords is Google’s online advertising program. Through AdWords, you can create online ads to reach people exactly when they’re interested in the products and services that you offer. 


  • Google AdWords is a product that you can use to promote your business, help sell products or services, raise awareness, and increase traffic to your website. 
  • AdWords accounts are managed online, so you can create and change your ad campaign at any time, including your ad text, settings, and budget. 
  • There’s no minimum spending commitment, and you set and control your own budget. You choose where your AdWords ad appears, set a budget that’s comfortable for you, and easily measure the impact of your ad. 


While this may be the understatement of the century, Google had indeed invented a better mousetrap. It is easy to sign up for Google’s AdWords program. Simply visit Google (www.google.com/AdWords) and sign up. Once you have joined as an advertiser, your account will allow you to access a wealth of information on how to best run your advertising campaign for maximum effectiveness. There is an entire library of tutorials (both video and textual) to walk you through every last detail of running a successful campaign. To get going, here are the steps. 


There are actually two networks iterated by Google. Google’s AdWords Search Network which allows you to place ads in Google’s organic search engine results and Google’s Adwords Display Network which allows you to place ads on websites throughout the Internet. 


Googles Search Network  

Decide on Your Keywords: Running an AdWords campaign is pretty straightforward. You should have a good idea about what keywords potential customers might use to find the specific product or information that you are offering.  


As an example, if you are selling a 7-day Romantic Danube river cruise on the AmaSerena that you have group rates on for several departures.  You might want to run with the keywords “Romantic Danube AmaSerena River Cruise” or “7-day Romantic Danube Cruise on AMA Waterways”. The more specific the keywords, the more likely the Internet surfer will click on your ad. Your account at Google has some wonderful tools for selecting appropriate keywords. One tool will actually crawl through your site and suggest keywords that you might consider bidding on and another will run popular keywords that you might consider once you submit your primary keyword search string.  


Text ads on the Search Network show above and below Google search results. A text ad on Google search is the simplest online ad that AdWords offers. It has three parts: headline text, a display URL, and description text.  



People are most likely to notice your headline text, so consider including words that people may have entered in their Google search. Your text ad consists of two headlines where you can enter up to 30 characters each to promote your product or service. The headlines are separated by a dash “-” and may show differently based on the device someone is using when they view your ad. 


Display URL 

The display URL, usually in green, shows your website address. This display URL is made up of the domain from your final URL and the text in the optional ”Path” fields. These fields are designed to help people who see your ad get a better sense of where they’ll be taken when they click it. Your path text doesn’t have to match the exact language of your display URL.  



Use the description to highlight details about your product or service. It’s a good idea to include a “call to action”—the action you want your customer to take. If you’re an online shoe store, your description might include “Shop now” or “Buy shoes now.” If you offer a service, you might want to add something like “Get an instant quote online” or “See pricing.” 


Length Limits 

Headline25 Characters 

URL30 Characters 

Description80 Characters 

Path15 Characters Each 


You can boost your ad’s performance by adding extensions to your ad. The two extensions that make the most sense for selling river cruises are the “Call Extension” and the “Message Extension”. The Call Extension includes your telephone number or a clickable call button to your ad. This encourages the reader to immediately call you from their cell phone. The Message Extension encourages the reader to send a text message. The extensions themselves cost nothing, however when a call is made from the clickable call button, you may pay twice as much as a typical click, ditto for the Message Extensions.  


You can also add dynamic sitelink extensions to your ad depending on the number of landing pages that may apply to your ad. As an example, if you have 4 specific departure dates for aa river cruise, you can add a dynamic link to each specific landing page for that cruise. The dynamic sitselinks would appear as 4 separate dates below the ad with links to each landing page. Callout extensions are helpful in featuring special client benefits that you offer.  


The Google ad for the Danube River Cruise might look something like this: 


Ama Danube River Cruise 


Special Group Pricing on Danube  

Cruises – Click to See Pricing Now 


Note that this ad is focused on potential clients that have decided to cruise on one of the 3 Ama ships that operate on the Romantic Danube itinerary and is structured to get them to the landing page to book. 


Select the Geographic Location that Your Ad Will Be Shown

This is one of the most powerful tools AdWords offers advertisers. AdWord’s Location Targeting function allows you to pick the exact location that your ad will appear. You can pick by countries around the world, just some countries or specific states or areas within a states, or states. You can select a range from your business like you only want the ad shown within a five-mile radius of your business. You can also have your ads shown by zip code.  


Establish Your Advertising Budget

Once you know your keywords, you can then find out the bid range for them. Google offers a tool for selecting your keyword strings. You simply insert your primary keyword search string and what you are willing to pay per click for the search string. It will then pull up all relevant search strings and let you know what the cost per click would be, as well as how your ad might rank with others that are bidding on the same keywords. 


The higher your bid rate for keywords, the more prominent placement your ad will achieve and hence, the higher the click-through rate on your ad because of its exposure. By using the keyword bid tool, you can focus in on those keyword search strings that will give you a high placement, but may be available for minimal click through rates. Google will track your ad performance for click through rates and help optimize your campaign with tools that understand how to best present your ads. The more successful (ie: the higher the click through rate) the less you will pay per click, so it behooves you to continually work on the effectiveness of both your keywords and your advertisements themselves. 


Launch Your Campaign

Now that you have established your keywords, designed your ads, set your budget and click through cost, it is time to start managing your campaign. Your AdWords account will provide you with detailed information about your campaign, but there are a number of things that you can do to enhance the outcomes that you are after. You are obviously running the campaign to achieve specific results, and the more focused your results are the easier it will be to obtain them. Here are some ideas that you might want to incorporate into your campaign. 


Optimize Your Landing Page

In our example of selling a 7-day Romantic Danube River Cruise on the AmaSerena, if your landing page is the home page of your travel agency website and not specific about the Ama Danube Cruise, you stand a good chance of paying for a click, but losing the potential customer simply because he clicked for a specific reason. He followed the link on the advertisement to gain more information about that particular cruise. If he has to wade through information irrelevant to his search or spend time looking for it, in all likelihood he won’t waste the time. The link on your ad should lead to a page built specifically for the product or service for what the client is clicking to find. It should also have a way to complete the call to action with one click. Note that the ad we made for this cruise had a call-to-action tag of “Click to See Pricing Now!” The sole function of the landing page would be to convert the visitor into a sale. By following the advertisement, they have already made a commitment to make a booking. 


AdWords Expanded Text Ads

By selecting an expanded ad you can make your ad much more effective. The expanded ad allows you two 30 character lines in the total and the two headlines will be separated by a comma. Here is an example of our cruise ad in an expanded ad 


7-Day AmaSerena Romantic Danube 

Cruise – Click to View Group Pricing 


Special Group Pricing on the AmaSerena  

Damube Cruise – Click to See Pricing Now 


The Expanded text ads also offer you the ability to create your path to the content that you are offering in a way the potential clicker can understand where they are heading if they click. Let’s say that you are going to point at an interior landing page on your agency website and the true url might be http://www.YourAgency.com/RiverCruises/AMA/DanubeRiver.html. By using AMA in your path 1 and Danube in your path 2 it will then show the url http://www.YourAgency.com AMA Danube as your clickable url. This is an excellent way to get potential clients to click. 


You can see that with a little more text it is easy to refine your offer and call to action. Again, the landing page is optimized for converting the click to a sale.