An IAC Applications Ad Broke All Our Click-Through Records: Then We Blocked It.

It’s natural to pay attention when you discover one of the ads on your site has a click-through rate eight times higher than average. That’s what we discovered as we reviewed advertiser reports a few weeks ago, so we decided to look a little closer to understand what was going on.

Here’s some background: we introduced advertising onto the site in 2015, and it’s been a fast-growing revenue contributor ever since. With traffic peaking at just over 11 million sessions in August, we have plenty of available inventory, even taking into account our high floor prices. We use Google’s AdExchange and CSA systems to acquire advertisers, and those systems work well for us. Most of our advertisers have a click-through rate around 1.1%. When a particular ad is consistently at 9%, you definitely take a closer look.

The advertiser in question was IAC Applications, a unit of industry powerhouse IAC that was previously known as Mindspark Interactive Network. Learning that, we felt a little more comfortable. After all, IAC is a highly respected company; their board includes Barry Diller, Michael Eisner, and Chelsea Clinton. Seems pretty safe.

The ads that concerned us were from an IAC property called MyTransitGuide. As we looked at the ads, we immediately realised that our users were probably confusing them for an element of the Rome2rio site, and clicking on the ads with the intention of getting deeper into our site, not navigating away from us. That visual confusion would explain the super-high conversion rate.


Understanding that our users were confused was quite troubling: during August an average of 1,700 users were leaving our site via the MyTransitGuide ad each day. While that represents only a tiny proportion of our traffic, 50,000 confused customers each month is way too many, and there was a view within our team that we should block these ads immediately.

We also considered the view that if our users were happy with where they landed, perhaps we shouldn’t worry too much. After all, our competitor GoEuro is also an advertiser on Rome2rio, and we’re happy for our customers to check out their offering. So why not this advertiser?

Sadly, it’s hard to form a positive view of MyTransitGuide. A web search for mytransitguide is dominated by links that describe how to remove it from your browser. Frankly, it’s got a terrible reputation: here’s a typical 1-star review from TrustPilot:


We tried to understand how MyTransitGuide works, and why IAC would spend money promoting a product of such apparently questionable value. As we continued our research we discovered some independent virus tracking sites had written extensively about the problems associated with it; here’s an analysis from

The purpose of the modifications referred to above is to increase web traffic to 3rd party websites and generate PPC (pay-per-click) revenue. Search results influenced by MyTransitGuide rank 3rd party domains highly. Additionally, it injects a stack of advertisements into the non-affiliate websites.

Here’s another quote, this one from

MyTransitGuide or MyTransitGuide Toolbar by MindSpark Interactive Networks LLC is considered a malicious browser hijacker. When installed onto a customer`s computer, the redirector will attach to every popular browser on the PC, in order to compromise the browser`s settings such as the home page and the default search engine. When the user performs a search, it will be redirected to The search results will be compromised, and they would show up information loaded with spam and third-party advertising.

We didn’t need to read too many of these summaries to decide MyTransitGuide had to go, so we quickly blocked them as an advertiser. While we are disappointed to lose the revenue, we figure we’ll have someone filling those slots soon enough. The bigger question, though, is one we can’t figure out: why would a respectable company like IAC be involved in practices that so many in the industry consider shady, promoting products which appear to have little or no value to consumers?

We’re still scratching our heads on that one.

Rod Cuthbert


How Changing One Word Increased Our Flight Booking Conversions By 30%

It was a warm night in March and I was going over my research for the unified booking experiment to prepare a presentation for the Rome2rio team the next day. The results had been really great, and I was in a good mood. I was assembling the slides when I noticed something, something I’d missed when doing the experiment.

Our ticket looked like this:

Some of the other tickets in my slides looked like this:

Spot the difference? We’d decided to go for the label “Book ticket” on our book button. However, many other sites opted instead for the label “Select”. Some sites even opted for using an arrow or arrow shaped button. It was time for another experiment.

The Experiment

The baseline for the experiment was our original “Book ticket” label. It was serving us well so far so it would remain as the control for the experiment.

Our second variant was DisclosureButton and simply involved adding an arrow to the existing book button.

Our final variant was SelectButton which involved adding an arrow as well as changing the label to “Select”. This was the one that the research suggested would succeed — or at least was the button style used by most other websites.

The Results

DisclosureButton performed 12.5% better. What? Just adding an arrow performed 12.5% better —that seemed like a crazy win for such a small change. What was even more surprising was that changing the label to Select and adding the disclosure arrow performed a whopping 34% better.

The Moral Of The Story

Your research isn’t done once you start developing concepts. It’s important to look back over all those user stories, screenshots and concepts after you’ve completed work. It helps to tear apart any biases you may have had during that exciting pre-development phase and can give you big wins if you catch something you may have originally missed.

Revamping Our Flight Booking User Experience

It was early 2016, and I was sitting at my desk in Melbourne’s Inspire9 co-working space in a corner that Rome2rio peacefully occupies. In front of me were printed out screenshots of the existing Rome2rio flight booking user interface. We all knew that the user experience needed work, what we didn’t know is what direction we needed to go in to fix it. On top of that, concept-to-development would have to be fast to keep with the Rome2rio ethos of experimenting in the wild rather than in the lab. This process was going to be a challenge … here’s what we did.

Our old flight booking experience


The travel industry is huge. In 2015 alone it generated $341 billion dollars in the US.  I was sure that all the top companies had A/B tested their booking flows to the limit — it was time to do some research. I collected screenshots from some of the leading travel websites and printed them out. These would be my reference; something to continuously look back on throughout the entire process, something to benchmark my ideas. I laid out the printed screenshots, organised a meeting with the rest of the front-end team and so it began.


Crafternoon materials


Flight tickets — the similarities and the differences

In order: TripAdvisor, Webjet, GoEuro, Kayak, Adioso, Momondo, Expedia, Wotif.

Step 1 was isolating the tickets used on eight big name flight booking sites and attempting to find similarities and differences.

Six of the eight tickets contained summary columns on the right-hand side; each ticket contained a button with either a green button or a button in the brands colour. I was onto something! Green buttons can’t just be a coincidence, especially when nothing else on the page, or in the brand, is the same green.

Another feature of the summary columns was per ticket prices. The search on all sites was for three adult passengers yet only GoEuro displayed the price for the entire order, all the other sites displayed the per ticket price. If users were going to be comparing Rome2rio’s ticket prices to other flight search websites, we were going to need to display tickets in the same per-passenger format.


Outbound and return journeys are presented as rows, the exception being Webjet who presented the data in columns. This layout would make it easy to present one-way and return tickets using the same design without creating awkward white space.  However, it is easier to scan a large list of tickets if the journeys are presented in column format so this was a real estate vs. convenience challenge; one which we may re-visit in the future.

Another similarity we found was the use of +1/+2 to represent international dateline changes. This is common in long distance flights that span timezones. We’ve talked about other ways we could present users the date of their arrival if it’s different to their date of departure. However, this research seemed to reinforce a standard, one that we’d be brave to deviate away from.

It’s all in the details

Another thing I quickly noticed is that what was presented on the ticket result wasn’t the full story. All but Webjet and GoEuro used the term ‘details’ in their call to action to view more information about the ticket. The wording and methods of progressive disclosure were consistent across the sites. The call to action was always located at the bottom edge of the ticket result and mainly towards left side — as far away from the main call to action as possible. I wonder why? In 100 Things Every Designer Needs to Know about People, Susan M. Weinschenk suggests that progressive disclosure provides people with the information that they need only at that particular time.

Rome2rio’s new ticket design

Armed with detailed knowledge about what users expect from a ticket I designed and built a concept for the Rome2rio ticket. After about a week  I came up with a candidate to test in the wild.

Our split testing method

As a rule at Rome2rio, we split test all features and improvements. Some of the benefits to split testing everything are:

  • Gives us a deep understanding of just how much impact a change we make has.
  • Allows us to quickly turn off new features/improvements if something went wrong.
  • Forces us to develop code that’s decoupled, more flexible, and better designed.

We ran the experiment at 20% English Language, desktop users. It was a fairly small sample size of our entire user base. However, it was big enough to get us accurate results while still insuring us against the possibility of failure.

So the results?

Users were 61.5% more likely to make it through the booking process with the new flow.

Admittedly this was an easy win project as the old design was in serious need of an upgrade however it’s incredibly rare to get this kind of increase overnight on a high-value part of the product. We graduated the experiment to 100%, ported the design to desktop, removed the legacy code and eventually submitted the new strings for translation.

The journey has just started

Conducting this research and experiment process wasn’t about an end goal, it was about creating a solid, well-researched foundation for future experimentation. I’ll soon be posting some more articles about future enhancements we’ve since made and the results they’ve had to our booking counts. Until then feel free to check out the work we’ve done and make any suggestions on how we can improve the flight search experience!


Find more articles I’ve written about how UX and UI plays a role in influencing travel on a global scale in my blog UsableTravel.

Welcoming Katie, Tim & Alex


Katie Tim Alex

Meet Katie, Tim & Alex


Rome2rio is expanding in every direction; launching onsite ticket bookings, introducing our Global Flight Pricing Ranking and now, welcoming new people to our team. We are pleased to introduce Katie, Tim, and Alex.

Katie joins us after completing her BSc in Computer Science and Interactive Media at Northeastern University. Her passion for travel has brought her to us from her home in the United States to work on front-end projects alongside out front-end team. She has previously worked at Hubspot and Ronik.

Tim is an experienced software engineer with a Ph.D. in Computer Science from ANU. His research focused on measuring search engine quality, something that we’re hoping will come in handy here at Rome2rio. He’ll be joining the data science team, and although he has already getting stuck into making graphs, it’s perhaps more important to note that he has also begun A/B testing the local coffee houses.

Alex studied an Electrical Engineering/Computer Science double degree at the University of Melbourne. He has previously worked for Goldman Sachs and the NBN, and he’ll join our back-end team to work on projects such as expanding our partner API.
It is delightful to welcome such talented developers to our team. Are you interested in joining us?  Keep an eye on our jobs page for opportunities.

Rome2rio, based in Melbourne, Australia, is organising the world’s transport information. We offer a multi-modal, door-to-door travel search engine that returns itineraries for air, train, coach, ferry, mass transit and driving options to and from any location. Discover the possibilities at

Introducing The Global Flight Pricing Ranking

Screen Shot 2016-07-25 at 4.29.43 PM

When Rome2rio first wrote about this topic, back in December 2012, we didn’t realise how much interest our analysis would generate. Tnooz also carried the post as a guest article, and between them, the two pages attracted thousands of readers: not bad for an analysis of airline pricing, heavy on data science and light on celebrity gossip.

Now, almost four years later, we’ve decided to take another look at our model, and see how things have changed. Once again, our analysis is intended to be a conversation starter, not a definitive statement on pricing trends or a given airline’s place in any particular pecking order. Our focus remains on airlines; prices for trains, buses, ferries and taxis tend to be more constant than airfares, which fluctuate with supply and demand. However, airfares do follow certain obvious trends; longer flights cost more, and some airlines are more expensive per km flown than others. We’ve analysed our data to provide a snapshot of global pricing across international and domestic carriers.

Top 50 Global Flight Pricing

To delve further into the full report visit Rome2rio Labs.


Rome2rio, based in Melbourne, Australia, is organising the world’s transport information. We offer a multi-modal, door-to-door travel search engine that returns itineraries for air, train, coach, ferry, mass transit and driving options to and from any location. Discover the possibilities at

A Story Of Fandom And Photobombing


Team with Shot number 1

A few of the team at Rome2rio

The team at Rome2rio enjoy hearing from the people who use our product. We get plenty of feedback that helps us to improve all part of the site and the app. We also get lots of fun stories from people who have used Rome2rio and recently we received this email from a user, Fernando.

“Hi, my name is Fernando, and I’m a big fan of you guys; been using the site and following you since way before the app.

The reason I’m contacting you guys is because one of the backgrounds of the site, the one for Granada, on the lake by the Nasrid Palace, features my girlfriend and me as photobombs, and though I know it’s silly, it made us feel very proud as fans.

Because of this, I was wondering if you guys could maybe send us the picture. It would be a nice souvenir. If you guys could put the Rome2rio logo on it, it would be even more awesome, almost like an autograph.

Anyway, thanks in advance, and keep up the good work.”

Thank you, Fernando!  We found the photo you are looking for and it is currently winging its way to you. Enjoy it, and your future travels.
– Kirsteene
Do you have a story about how Rome2rio has helped you that you’d like share?
Email and let us know.
Rome2rio, based in Melbourne, Australia, is organising the world’s transport information. We offer a multi-modal, door-to-door travel search engine that returns itineraries for air, train, coach, ferry, mass transit and driving options to and from any location. Discover the possibilities at

My Work Experience at Rome2rio

Today’s post come from Christopher who has recently joined our team as a work experience developer – Enjoy!

My name is Christopher, and in June 2016 I was lucky enough to have the wonderful experience of doing work experience for a week at Rome2rio.

I am currently completing year ten at John Monash Science School. I’m interested in IT, maths and science, and in my spare time, I enjoy programming, making music, gaming and wasting my time on the internet.

During my work experience, I was given a variety of tasks around the company, so that I got a good feel of how all the different roles come together to form Rome2rio. I was involved in adding and verifying data for the content team, some PR work, and some coding.

On Thursday I was given a mock interview by Miles in which I was asked some coding questions and had to work through them, explaining my thought process, how the code works, and what problems I had on a whiteboard. The task was hard at first, but I think I did well once I got the hang of it.

Coding school with Mr Miles

Throughout the week I was introduced to many people working as freelancers and at other startups and was given a brief overview of how the architecture of Rome2rio works. I also attended as many meetings as I could, and gave a presentation about myself and my thoughts about Rome2rio so far at the weekly team meeting on Wednesday.

The week was a really exciting experience, as I had never experienced working in a traditional workplace, let alone in a coworking environment like Inspire9. The team at Rome2rio and the rest of Inspire 9 are a very friendly group of people, and I really felt valued by them during my time there. If I had the opportunity I would definitely do it again, and I would highly recommend doing this if anyone else gets the chance in the future.

I’d like to thank Marty for such a brilliant mentor during the week, as well as the rest of the Rome2rio team for making my work experience so enjoyable.

– Christopher

Rome2rio, based in Melbourne, Australia, is organising the world’s transport information. We offer a multi-modal, door-to-door travel search engine that returns itineraries for air, train, coach, ferry, mass transit and driving options to and from any location. Discover the possibilities at