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SeaLink Marine & Tourism: All aboard the ferry to ROAS-land

02 November 2023

SeaLink: all aboard the ferry to ROAS-land

We worked with SeaLink, one of the biggest tourism operators in Australia, to take their Pay Per Click (PPC) and Search Engine Marketing to the next level with a data-driven, proactive approach.

After choosing Refuel to spearhead their PPC campaigns, SeaLink had increased their conversions by more than 600% and decreased their cost per conversion by 78.36%. 

The impact


About SeaLink

Today, SeaLink is part of the Kelsian Group, the largest integrated multi-modal transport provider and tourism operator in Australia. However, our relationship with SeaLink extends long before Kelsian; SeaLink even consulted the Refuel team on the name and the SEO potential before it was signed off.

For South Australians, SeaLink is best known as ‘the ferry to Kangaroo Island’. But they’ve grown over the last 30 years to become the leading way that Australians get access to our islands around the country. Since 2020, they’ve expanded to be a true integrated transport provider, incorporating bus operations in Australia, the USA, Singapore, London and the Channel Islands.

What was their problem?

SeaLink reached out to the Refuel PPC team to take their Search Engine Marketing (SEM) to the next level.

SeaLink isn’t just a single entity, the organisation is split into several different business units, each focussing on a different area, i.e., SeaLink SA and SeaLink NT.

SeaLink were engaging an agency, but these accounts were being under managed and SeaLink believed that there was potential to grow revenue from online advertising through a more engaged agency partner, and working with the same partner nationwide.

Scope of work

The first thing we did for SeaLink was conduct an audit, highlighting the key opportunities for growth and development across the accounts.

Following this audit, we then carried out a complete Google Ad account restructure. As their accounts had been handled across several different business units with little communication, there was no uniformity in how the accounts were managed and little data on what worked and what didn't wasn't actually shared.

Next on our plan was to build a new SEM strategy for SeaLink. This strategy would focus more on non brand search terms as opposed to branded SeaLink keywords. This helped to ensure that travellers who weren’t aware of SeaLink were still served ads, also helping them to continue to be competitive against their competitors and continue to be the answer for anyone searching for an island travel provider.

Conversion tracking would be a crucial element in the project. Without up-to-date, accurate conversion tracking, we wouldn’t know what was working and what wasn’t. We were tasked with providing expert conversion tracking consulting to ensure that all SEM activity was monitored and tracked for future learning.

After the initial set up was complete, we would then begin monthly Google Ads management to optimise, improve, and respond to data according to trends, proactively ensuring that success would continue into the future for SeaLink.

"I definitely recommend Refuel as a digital marketing partner...they've been able to articulate and demonstrate that they've got skills and strengths in all key digital marketing aspects."

– Tim Grady (National Digital Marketing Manager, SeaLink Marine & Tourism)

The challenges

The challenges started for us in late 2019, with the Kangaroo Island bushfires. Starting on a Saturday, we worked overtime to help the SeaLink team pause and adjust campaigns proactively as the island was extensively impacted by bushfires.

The Sydney fires were also a huge challenge, because while they didn’t directly impact the client or product, they resulted in thick smoke over Sydney, and this meant a lot of people stayed indoors instead of enjoying cruises of Sydney harbour.

We had only just started recovering from these disasters before COVID-19 knocked us down. It goes without saying that a government mandated travel ban and social quarantining requirements would hit tourism companies hard and this was the case for SeaLink.

Initially we responded by dropping campaigns back as impact was assessed. Spend was cut and monitored, as people stopped shopping for travel options when they didn’t know when travel bans would end (link to blog about covid trends in tourism).

As this started to soften, we started focusing campaigns on intrastate travel, as opposed to interstate and overseas. People couldn’t leave their state, but still wanted to travel, so this started to boom.

The government flooded the market with business and tourism support grants, which led to a huge increase in competition, with costs increasing and new competitors appearing in search.

The solution

We worked with SeaLink across several Google Ads accounts to rebuild and restructure their PPC campaigns under a single plan. This consolidated all business units into one way of running their Google Ads, allowing for streamlined reporting, optimisation, and sharing of wins and losses between accounts.

We worked with the team at SeaLink to tighten their targeted keywords into specific ad groups that captured their target audience and led them to the SeaLink service they were looking for.

In addition, working closely with the SeaLink team, we ran ad tests, iterating and optimising as copy to get maximum return on investment.

Finally, we widened how SeaLink were using their Google Ad campaigns in the past. We expanded campaigns to formats like YouTube, performance max, and display to further reach their target audience and get massive returns on their investment. We also launched their Bing ad campaign, set up retargeting campaigns, and used adroll to support a national competition for the BT launch. Finally, we also helped SeaLink launch the Brilliant Travels business with a data-driven PPC campaign.

The results

Since starting project in 2019, SeaLink has seen over a 650% increase in conversions; 270% increase in conversion value; 78% reduction in cost per conversion; and 62% increase in spending.

651 percent increase on conversions for SeaLink 78 percent decrease on cost per conversion for SeaLink271 percent increase on conversion value62 percent increase on spending

"They're a great bunch of people...You can have a real conversation with them and at the same time, they're really excited when our business does succeed as well."

– Tim Grady (National Digital Marketing Manager, SeaLink Marine & Tourism)

Sam Hutchinson

Sam’s the resident writer and office DJ at Refuel. With a background in academia, journalism, and marketing, Sam can find the words our clients need to attract, engage, and convert those tricky leads.