Clipper Vacations’ objective in 2017 was to increase overall e-commerce conversion volume to improve the fill-rate for their vessels. Paid search was viewed primarily in isolation, with little credit coming from incremental phone call conversions due to tracking limitations. Wheelhouse DMG was brought in to support digital advertising strategy.

Our Work

For this campaign, Wheelhouse DMG targeted a regional audience and adjusted bids to be more aggressive toward cost per lead (CPL) goal. We focused on three key areas for improvement:

  1. Brand vs. Non-Brand: We restructured the account to more accurately break out brand vs. non-brand campaigns and launched these in April, ahead of Clipper Vacations’ peak season (May-Sept).
  2. Location Targeting: Wheelhouse also separated campaigns between location targets to enable proper bidding-to-value (separating Victoria, BC, and the US-wide market). Previously, the Seattle market was being undervalued because data from other DMAs was being aggregated. We implemented expansion efforts against a competitive set, messaging appropriately based on user location, and coverage of the account.
  3. Non-Brand Keyword Coverage Expansion: Expanding on non-brand keyword coverage and structuring ad groups to focus on separate service offerings (round trip ferry tickets, ferry + hotel packages, whale watching and other local day trips) allowed us to scale and efficiently bid to the value of each offering based on varied CVR and AOV.

The implementation process focused on both restructuring the account as well as expansion efforts to drive more traffic. The restructure focused on splitting brand and non-brand and applying negative keywords for proper funneling.

The campaigns also focused on Victoria, Seattle, and US DMAs separately, due to the desired variation in ad messaging, as well as varied performance.

  • US campaigns targeted customers who were traveling to Seattle and would be taking the trip while visiting. Therefore, ad copy was more detailed for individuals less familiar with the area and focused on education of the nature of the Pacific Northwest.
  • Seattle campaigns targeted customers who were more familiar with the company, so creative emphasized pricing, services, and packages with more competitors in the area.


In order to continue to make improvements, Wheelhouse continuously monitored search queries for additional restrictions and improved keyword matching. We also continued to make bid adjustments to more specific US locations, noting that higher volume West Coast campaigns outperformed and converted better than the Midwest or East Coast.

The Results

Paid search campaigns drove a significant amount of the YoY growth for Clipper Vacations in 2017, which led to a 93% fill-rate for their Whale Watching service, and a 632% increase in orders period-over-period. During their peak season (May-Sept), orders increased 117% year-over-year, with a significantly lower CPL.

Due to the success of that summer, Clipper Vacations has been able to expand into international markets. The expansion has provided additional volume within their efficiency target.


Increase in Orders


Decrease in CPL


Increase in Site Traffic

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