Despite Bumpy Economy BusRates’ Growth Soars

October 15, 2010

ALEXANDRIA, Va. – More and more people are discovering the best way to find the right motorcoach company to handle their charter is conduct the search themselves.

And that doesn’t mean spending hours combing through website after website on their computers, or thumbing through page after page of assorted telephone directories.

Instead, they are turning to BusRates.com, the self-help website that puts travel planners in touch with nearly 1,000 reliable carriers from across North America.

Founded just five years ago, the website now draws about 110,000 hits a month from people looking to book charters for their organizations, businesses, schools, churches and other groups. That’s up a whopping 20,000 from just a year ago.

Of those visiting the website, more than 3,000 follow through each month and ask for a price quote from as many as 20 carriers.

Several thousand more use the information available on the site to contact individual carriers directly, either by telephone or email to discuss pricing and availability.

And all of the thousands who search for carriers through the website aren’t just from the United States. Last fiscal year, more than 160,000 of them — that’s more than 13,000 a month — were from foreign countries, including Canada, Japan and most of the European nations.

“We’re getting contacts from all over now,” says Eric Elliott, who manages the website from a small, two-person office housed in the headquarters of its owner, the United Motorcoach Association.

UMA purchased controlling interest in the business in January 2009, from founder Mark Greer, to bolster the services it offers its members and to help them grow their charter business.

What’s behind the growing interest in the charter search website?

“A lot more people are buying off the internet now and that’s certainly part of it,” explains Elliott.

But, he notes that one of the keys has been the game plan the company developed to get its name and services in front of potential computer-savvy customers.

The goal of the plan was to make certain that when someone searched for operators that provide charters, BusRates.com would always be among the first few businesses to pop up.

“We have it now where of the 100-most-common search terms for bus charters, BusRates.com comes up in the top three on all of them,” Elliott said. “We hit all of the search words on the head and that’s why we are ranked so high.”

Elliott said the company goes a step further to assure that its name also gets a high profile spot from the few search words or phrases where BusRates.com is not among the top responses. The company buys small ads for those words so that its name and website link still show up on the first page.

To maintain the top spots, BusRates.com continually monitors the search words and terms to make sure that its name stays as far out front as possible.

While getting potential customers to visit a website may be the first order, getting them to work the site and eventually use it to make a buy is paramount to success. And, according to Elliott, that’s where BusRates.com excels.

Unlike a bus broker that handles the actual booking for its customers, BusRates.com is something of a phantom middleman that doesn’t actually get between the customer and the motorcoach company. Instead, it hooks them up and then gets out of the way.

Travel planners simply go to the website, check the type of vehicle they are looking for — motorcoach, minibus, trolley, limo or whatever — and add the city and state where the charter would begin. Instantly, companies that meet the request appear.

But that’s not all. A few more mouse clicks and up pops comprehensive and valuable information about each of the companies, including their U.S. Department of Transportation data and safety history.

There also are reviews of individual companies written by happy and unhappy customers, and company responses to any criticism that a customer might have mentioned in a review.

A few more clicks and detailed requests for quotes go out to as many as 20 carriers at one time. Plans are in the works to trim that back to possibly 10 carriers because some operators aren’t pleased with getting in the mix with so many companies.

Elliott said the services — all of it free to both the customers and the carriers — is a step or two above bus brokers because brokers generally mark up their prices by at least 25 percent.

“By going through BusRates.com, our customers get to deal directly with the carrier and save money, too.” he adds.

Plus, carriers get to bid more realistic prices than when they are dealing with brokers.

“Since we are not a broker, we help to provide bus companies the ability to charge their cost for each charter,” he notes. “And since most brokers go with the lowest bidding bus company, we allow bus companies to sell their services at their pricing levels.”

Elliott said all of the carriers in the BusRates.com database asked to be there. The only criteria to be included is that they own their own buses, are properly licensed and certified by the U.S. Department of Transportation, and carry the required limits of insurance necessary to remain approved by federal and state transportation regulators.

Because all of the services provided by BusRates.com are free, the company earns money by selling advertisements on its website to motorcoach operators and other transportation-related businesses.

“We have bus companies pay for ads on the website so we can keep it free to all of our customers,” he said.

BusRates Reveals Upgrades, New Tools

ALEXANDRIA, Va. – BusRates.com has upgraded and updated its website.

BusRates.com is the free, searchable database of nearly all USDOT-registered bus companies that makes it easy for buyers to find a charter or tour bus that best suits their needs.

The site draws more than 110,000 visits monthly by groups looking for a bus.

The upgrades to the BusRates’ website provide its coach operator subscribers with new tools and options to customize and optimize their listings to receive the highest-quality leads possible.

“These improvements help our subscribers customize their listings to make themselves even more visible to potential customers,” said Eric Elliott, BusRates program manager.

“And these enhancements in turn also improve the user’s experience by allowing them to more easily find the bus company with whom they want to do business,” Elliott added

The improvements include:

  • One-click profile and fleet updating
  • Easily forwarded request for quotes (RFQs) to multiple email addresses
  • Bid for placement options
  • Easily add and remove metro areas
  • Upload and resize bus images
  • Run monthly traffic reports
  • Customer review and reply options
  • Integration with RBS system

More information can be found at www.busrates.com.

 

Internet Marketing: Where Are We Today? UMA Motorcoach EXPO 2010 Seminar Notes

Internet Marketing: Where Are We Today?

Las Vegas Convention Center

1.Search Engines In, Yellow Pages Out

Leading yellow page publishers R.H. Donelly Corp. and Idearc Inc. file for bankruptcy this year.
(Reuters December 14, 2009)

Meanwhile analysts continue to project that paid search marketing spend in the U.S. will grow from $13 billion in 2009 to $26 billion by the year 2014.
(Search Engine Land December 23, 2009)

 

2.Internet Growth Continues

Number of people who go online is increasing
80% of US and Canadians go online compared to 75% last year and 71% the year before.
(Harris Interactive Poll December 24, 2009)

Only 23% of the rest of the world go online

Hours People Spend Online is Increasing
13 hours per week compared to 14, 11, and 9 in years past.

 

3.Yellow Pages Will Pay Off Debt by Going Online

Yellowpages.com (AT&T) Reach: .14%
Superpages.com (Idearc) Reach: .11%
Dexknows.com (R.H. Donnelly) Reach: .03%

 

4.Yellow Page Sites v. Search Engines

Google reach 42.76%

 

5.Search Engine Market Share

65% to 70% of Daily Visitors use a Search Engine

Google 65.6%
Yahoo 17.5%
Bing (MSN) 10.1%
Ask 3.9%
AOL 2.9%
(Comscore December 16, 2009)

 

6.Knowing the Difference Between Paid and Organic Search Engine Results is Important

 

7.Paid Search is Becoming Crowded

The more advertisers, the more expensive the advertising since people are bidding for placement.

In 2004, 50 cents per click got you 1st place out of 5 advertisers
Today, over $3 per click puts you in 1st place out of 40 advertisers

As PPC rates increase, the trend is for advertisers to become more precise about targeting the best keywords.

 

8.The Trend is that Paid Ads are clicked less and less as Organic Listings are Clicked More

 

9.Exposure from Search Engine

More than 60% of people do not go past the 1st page of search results.
More than 90% don’t go past page 3.
(They end up refining their search instead)

Organic search accounts for 80 percent of search engine traffic, moving up in search results through organic efforts can take as long as a year. With paid search, the results are nearly instantaneous.
Paid search accounts for less than 20 percent of overall search engine traffic.
(Paid search results show up as “sponsored links” in Google.)
*Prairie Business Magazine December 7, 2009

 

10.There are 5 Essentials to Web Advertising

 

11.One, a search engine-friendly website with proper meta tags, labels, keywords

110 of 907 (12.1%) bus companies listed on BusRates.com do not have a website. (2 years ago it was 18%)
393 of 907 (43.3%) bus companies do not have professional email domains like john@smithcharters.com and still have emails like smithcharters@aol.com. (2 years ago it was 57%)

 

12.Two, free submission to Google Local/Google Maps (Yahoo, Bing also)

 

13.Three, build links to your website.

 

14.3 Great Tools for Assessing if a Website is a good place to advertise

Statbrain.com provides traffic estimates for websites
Alexa.com provides traffic reach and rank
The Google Tool bar provides a PageRank (PR) value from 0 to 10

 

15.Four, a search engine pay-per-click campaign

 

16.Five, a free tracking service with Google Analytics or other tracking service

 

17.Necessity of Tracking Services Like Google Analytics

Will monitor your traffic growth and tell you if you are making progress.

Will tell you where your best advertising dollars are spent
Example: busstation.net is sending you 50 visitors per month and you are paying $20, you can calculate that at 40 cents per click this is a better deal than yellowpages.com which may send you 200 visits for $150/mo (75 cents per click).

Will tell you which sites are sending you the highest-quality traffic.
The higher pages and time spent per visitor, the higher the quality. Example: If visitors from busstation.net spend on average 3-1/2 minutes and visit 5.5 pages, this is higher quality than a source that is sending you visitors that spend 30 seconds and an average 2 pages per visit.

Will track visitors that filled out your “request a quote” page.
Find out which sites are sending you the most conversions.

Will identify click-fraud
Services or websites sending visitors averaging 1 page per visit (a bounce) are click fraud or very low quality for some other reason.

 

18.Case Study with Cali Party Bus

Link-building strategy is huge for establishing their organic placement.

Uses the Google Toolbar to display page rank

Its all about keywords. “San Diego party bus” keyword sends them triple the traffic of their 2nd best keyword.

Use a tracking service like Google Analytics to identify that sites like our directory sent them 34 visitors, averaging 6.3 pages per visit with only a 17% bounce rate last month.

The old school of thought is that it’s all about corporate contacts, yellow pages and word of mouth, but it’s all about the internet today.
Receive 20% of their business from word of mouth, the other 80% directly from the internet.

 

19.Call Tracking Services: Call tracking services offer 866 numbers that count the calls forwarded to your main line.

Will tell you which ads deliver you the most calls
Provides caller ID information
Records your inbound calls for sales training

Kall8.com offers numbers for $2/mo and 7 cents per minute

 

20.How Marketing Can Solve Two Issues in the Bus Industry

What if there was a way for all bus companies to charge more for their service?

What if there were a way to reduce the presence of online brokers on the internet?

 

21.Survey Results: “What things do you look for in a bus company when trying to determine if you will use them?”

1.Good Customer Service 30 (Makes an Effort/Quick Response/Flexible/Accommodating/Knowledgeable)
2.Competitive Pricing 19
3.Updated Buses that have all the Amenities 16
4.Reputation for Being Reliable 9
5.Positive Reviews 8
6.Confidence they will Receive a Good Driver 5
7.DOT and Insurance are in Order 4
8.They had the right size bus for our group (35 pax) 4
9.Large Company Size with Facility 3
10.Location 3
11.References 2
12.BBB 2
13.Fair Policies for Cancellation 2
14.Lack of Extra Costs 1
15.Confidence the Bus is Mechanically Sound 1
16.Affiliation with Association Memberships 1

*40 Customers Provided 110 things they look for in a bus company.

 

22.Survey Results: “What things have you seen that have dissuaded you from using a particular service?”

1.Older Buses 8
2.Poor Customer Service/Slow Response 7
3.Price too High 7
4.Negative Reviews 5
5.Lack of Information 4
6.Believe they will not get a Good Driver 3
7.Small Company Size 2
8.Lack of Pricing on the Website 2
9.Poor company image from website 2
10.Hidden Add-on Costs 1
11.Lack of School District Pre-Approval 1
12.No Affiliations 1
13.Appears to be fly-by-night 1
14.Did not honor request to contact me by email 1

*40 Customers provided 45things that dissuade them from using a particular company

 

23.Feedback from Pella Windows

“We were looking to take our contractors to an industry expo… Most importantly, I wish it was easier to separate those companies that offer corporate service from those who offer low-end service. How a company answers the phone; if they are professional; if they provide an outlined quote with specifics, options, and done with prestige and care goes a long way. We ruled out bus companies that answered the phone unprofessionally or were driving their bus while on the phone with us. The years of the buses are important, prior reviews from customers, a website that is well put together and any signs that show they are in it for the long haul, not just trying to make a buck are what we look for.”

 

24.Feedback from Boardwalk Pipelines of Kentucky

“I basically went for the company that gave me the lowest price and was willing to negotiate. I am only needing transportation from a downtown hotel to the racetrack and back, so little things don’t seem to matter as much.”

 

25.Adopting a New Approach

Don’t automatically assume all your customers are the type seeking the lowest price

Try one of two approaches:
Assume all customers are the type looking for higher quality professional service
Or qualify them by asking at the start if they are interested in higher quality or the lowest price

Posting rates appears to help customers more quickly find the companies that offer the right level of service for them

 

26.How Quickly do Bus Companies Respond to Quote Requests?

We Sent out a Test Quote Request to 105 Bus Companies

Companies that replied:

The same Day: 45 (43%)
Within 1 Day: 14 (13%)
Within 2 Days: 1
Within 3 Days: 6 (Within 3 days: 63%)
Within 4 Days: 0
Within 5 Days: 2
Within 6 Days: 1
Within 7 Days: 1

Total that replied: 70 (67%)

Companies that Never Replied: 35 (33%)

 

27.How Many Bus Companies Followed Up After the First Email?

Of the 70 Companies that Responded 6 companies sent a follow up email

Sent one follow up email: 2
Sent two follow up emails: 2
Sent three follow up emails: 2

 

28.How Do Bus Companies Respond to Quote Requests?

Companies of the 70 that replied with:

Two sentences or less and a price: 29 (41%)
A few paragraphs and a price: 15 (21%)
An attached picture: 19 (27%)
An attached quotation form: 14 (20%)
An attached terms and conditions: 3 (4%)
An attached a flyer or brochure: 3 (4%)
An attached CC Auth form: 1 (1.4%)
Attached all of the above: 1 (1.4%)

 

29.Closing percentage of the 1 company that attached all of the above: 90%

 

30.Benefits of Improving Customer Service

Builds More Value so You Can Charge Higher Rates

Fewer Customers will Resort to Using One of the Online National Brokers

 

31.A Tool for Improving Sales by Phone

Many online services enable you to record sales calls for training.

Enable your salesperson or manager to listen to the call afterward to see what he or she could have done better.

Successful calls can be saved as a file and used to train new staff.

Cogi.com offers this service for $30/mo

 

32.Tips for Avoiding Online Advertising Pitfalls

Advertise Directly with the Website You Are Interested in, not Through a Broker

Make sure a Click is Defined as an Actual Visit to your Website, not to their Internal Page

Avoid Advertising Networks

NTA to Promote BusRates on Website

ALEXANDRIA, Va. – The United Motorcoach Association has secured an agreement with its travel industry partner, the National Tour Association, to post information about BusRates.com on the home page of the NTA website.

The posting is expected to attract NTA tour operator members to the BusRates.com website, as well as consumers who have gone to the NTA home page looking for charter bus providers.

“This agreement adds real value to all BusRates.com subscribers,” said Victor Parra, president and chief executive of the United Motorcoach Association.

In return, BusRates.com will prominently post the NTA logo and description of its services on the BusRates home page, along with a link to a list of NTA members.

Motorcoach Marketing: Web Presence Website is Not Sufficient to Harness Internet Power

ORLANDO, Fla. -Building a website isn’t enough to turn the power of the internet into an effective business tool, says Mark Greer, founder and CEO of BusRates.com.

You have to apply methods of bringing traffic to it, and then that traffic can translate into bookings, says Greer, who was part of a panel – at UMA Motorcoach Expo here — on leveraging the internet.

Upwards of 75 percent of adults use the internet, according to Greer. And 70 percent of users find websites through a search engine. More than two million searches a month are bus related, he noted.

The older the website the better, says Greer, calling it “domain aging.” It’s best to put a site up while you’re still working on the finished product so search engines begin picking it up. He also advises that the site be updated every five days.

Gene Wright II, promotional marketing manager of B&W Charters in Kalamazoo, Mich., also warned that websites need to be updated regularly. “If you’re not, you’re giving your money to brokers,” he said.

“Look at what the competition is doing … some things can be copied, others cannot. Look at the ones that are successful,” said Wright.

He suggested operators make a page for each town they are targeting. Make sure you put relevant text for those towns, including attractions. Next, you can make links to those towns and their attractions, asking them to do the same for you. That increases your ranking on search engines, which is called “search-engine optimization.”

Pictures should have tags on them and you should make sure you have the right key words for your business. This also increases your placement on searches. And make sure your site is easy to navigate.

“People are not going to fill out a lot of information. There are brokers that have big long quote forms,” said Wright.

Social networking tools, such as a blog, a Facebook account, Linked In and My Space, also are good ways to have a presence on the web, according to Wright.

He also said you need to have “proper key-word density,” which means you want to say “Michigan charter bus” enough times but don’t do overkill.

Greer suggested operators focus on quality content.

Raymon Land III, president of Fabulous Coach Lines in Branford, Fla., tries to welcome visitors to his website with an abundance of photos. “Take pictures of your coaches. I get some of my best pictures when I drive the coach myself,” said Land.

Land highly recommends BusRates.com as a good way to spend your money and have a presence on the web.

He said money spent on a website is money well spent. “It’s $1,200 for an alternator. I think you can get a hell of a website for $2,400.”