Liftopia Gets Skiers To Bounce Off Moguls, Not Its Website

liftopiaSome people dread winter. Others revel in it, and it’s to these powderhounds that Liftopia caters.

Using Liftopia, skiers (and snowboarders) can reserve significantly discounted lift tickets for specific resorts on specific dates. The company wears many hats. Its prime function is as an ecommerce site, yet because it offers lift tickets to ski resorts across North America, it also gets visitors looking for information about the terrain (black diamond-blue square-green circle ratio, for instance), snow conditions and resort amenities like where to spa and party.

And depending on where visitors come from – email, organic search, direct entry or through a display ad – Liftopia needs to serve up the right information immediately, or risk losing a potential sale.

“We’ve always prided ourselves on being a data-driven organization,” said Ron Schneidermann, the company’s CMO and co-founder. He recalled the company’s founding in 2005, when it had a $2,000 marketing budget for the entire season.  “We couldn’t afford to misspend any dollars,” he said. “[Today], with all the marketing we do, we’ve always gravitated toward direct-response channels that we can measure and quantify in as close to real time as possible.”

In order to get those responses – either conversions or click-throughs – Liftopia uses tools from Optimizely to carefully calibrate its site based on what it predicts incoming visitors expect. Liftopia knows that visitors from different entry points have different goals.

“There’s nuance from source to source – whether it’s email, SEM or CPC programs and display – between how much information we show [on the site] or don’t,” Schneidermann said. “Which is why we test on a per source basis.”

Visitors that come through email, for instance, are likely familiar with the company – which is why Liftopia strips out any distracting up-sell or cross-sell elements and pushes these individuals into an expedited buying cycle. First-time visitors, by contrast, will likely receive information about a broader range of resorts, in an effort to keep them on the page longer.

Direct visits and organic search together account for 50% of Liftopia’s total traffic. It has 250,000 subscribers on its email list, another significant source of traffic. And Liftopia also maintains CPC partnerships with different media companies, independent bloggers and ski condition news sites.

One such partner is OnTheSnow, which aggregates snow and weather conditions from around the world. Liftopia runs direct-response campaigns (mostly advertisements to purchase lift tickets, since OnTheSnow doesn’t have ticket inventory) on this partner and, in return, receives a significant amount of traffic. The problem is that visitors from OnTheSnow have different expectations compared with visitors coming in through organic search.

“We’d noticed there were some pretty substantial bounce rates for people who were referred from OnTheSnow,” said Dave Nuffer, Liftopia’s product manager. “Our assumption was that people were clicking on those links thinking they could actually buy tickets on OnTheSnow, but they get sent to a third-party site they’d never heard of. So we tried to take some of the colors and themes from OnTheSnow to make the transition easier.” It was a correction, Nuffer said, that “substantially” dropped bounce rates.

Liftopia’s strategies around site optimization underscore a marketing trend that in recent months has emerged among businesses: the tightening of the formerly-disparate disciplines of content, commerce and advertising. One ability the company now has since it began using Optimizely’s tools is around optimizing actual conversions instead of simple CTRs.

It’s one thing to get new visitors, another to get them to stay and still another to convert them.

The focus is on reducing bounce rates, Schneidermann said. “The hypothesis being if we can reduce bounce rates, therefore less people are leaving the site, therefore more people will buy,” he explained. “Let’s take that a step further: Let’s say we reduce bounce rates. Are there different signals on the site that can improve conversion rates as well?”

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