A couple of years ago, when this guide was originally written, neither SEO nor travel itself were what they have become today. Back in the day, people used to walk into a travel agency, browse a catalogue, settle on a destination, and the agency would do the rest.
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The State of the Travel Industry
Today, you can be your own travel agent, and with websites like Booking and AirBnB getting larger by the day, small travel agencies are having to fight an uphill battle to start ranking, and more importantly, to continue selling bookings.
With an online travel market share of around 40%, online travel agents have certainly stepped into the ring, and are putting up quite a fight. If you consider the fact that the industry’s gross bookings amounted to $1.6 trillion in 2017, you can just about imagine the size of that ring, and the quality of the gloves you need to have to put up a decent show.
Before we dive into the actual ranking factors and SEO best practices, there are several key points to bear in mind about the niche itself:
- There are two types of websites competing for the tops spots: those offering services (travel agencies, hotels, airlines, etc.) and those promoting content (personal blogs, review websites, etc.). You will be competing against both, to a certain extent.
- Search engines have become a traveler’s preferred way of doing research about all things travel.
- People will most often enter more general terms as a search query – they will rarely look for a specific agency or hotel – in other words, ranking for long tail keywords is crucial.
- A visitor will not convert on the first visit, and will almost never visit just one website – they will do a fair amount of research, explore several options, and then make their choice. Your goal is to have them come back, rather than get that conversion as soon as you can.
To better illustrate that last point, and to better acquaint you with the journey a visitor is on when they land on a travel website, here is a very short overview of the different stages of their buyer cycle:
- Dreaming moments – the “looking for inspiration” stage, where people are still not sure where they want to travel next.
- Planning moments – once they have settled on a destination, people will start to look for accommodation, flights, and things to do while they are there.
- Booking moments – once they have done their research, and have found what they believe to be the best deal and the best option, they book their stay and transportation.
- Experiencing moments – while on holiday, people like to share their experiences, or relive their happy memories once back home.
While you will certainly want to be a part of their “booking moment”, you should never underestimate the power and allure of any of the others. After all, customer awareness is a step closer to a conversion than customer ignorance.
Now for the actual facts.
Top Ranking Factors in the Travel Industry
According to SearchMetrics, the five most important ranking factors in the travel industry are:
- Word count – pages that rank in the top 10 will often have more than 2500 words.
- Content relevance – the information you present on the page should match user intent. In other words, don’t try to force a sale on every page.
- Number of images – pages that rank well will have a lot of images, but it’s more due to the quality of said images, than their sheer number. You want to tell a story, help people imagine themselves there, and illustrate the destination – not pile on random images of random beaches.
- Bullets per list – pages that rank well will have more bullet points – due to the fact that people actually want to find relevant, structured and useful information, information they can easily skim through.
- Number of internal links – top ranking pages boast over 150 internal links (23% more than average). This is especially true for large websites with thousands of pages. In other words – make sure your visitors can seamlessly browse your website, and that your internal linking structure is logical not only to crawlers, but to your potential customers as well.
While these factors are considered to be the most important ones, let us not forget that they are only one part of a larger puzzle. In fact, here is how Cube Digital does travel SEO – a shorter and sweeter version of our own blueprint that is. Please bear in mind that we could have gone into much more detail on any of these points – but we do want you to give us a call, don’t we?
If you have been running a travel website for a while, you already have a lot of assets in place (both on and off your pages). The first step in any successful campaign is a website audit, which will tell you what to focus on to see the best results as soon as possible. This may unearth anything from duplicated content issues to crippling internal linking.
In fact, these are the two factors that most often cause ranking drops – large websites will often inadvertently have a lot of duplicated content, which is at times an easy fix, but can also take a fair bit of work, depending on what else we find.
Another issue we often come across is poor website structure, one that makes it very hard for a user to find their way around. This will not only hurt your rankings, it will also have you losing customers. Which will again hurt your rankings.
Page speeds, loading times, image sizes, server issues and everything that falls under the “technical” category is usually a one-time fix. In the age of the mobile-first index, making sure your pages are responsive is a given. Having an SSL certificate is just as important, as is making sure you are GDPR compliant.
Once we know what your assets are, we take a look at what your competition is doing. This will involve anything ranging from the keywords they are and are not ranking for, the destinations they are promoting and how, the images they are using, the stories they are telling, and the backlinks they have in place.
Parallel to the said competitor scrutiny, we do a keyword research specific to your website and your offer. This will tell us two things: what you should be ranking for, and what keywords should you stop chasing. You’d be surprised how driving traffic to a seemingly non-converting page can up bookings. If you have the right website structure, and tell the right kind of story, of course.
It will also be easier, and often much better, to rank for more specific keywords (for example, “couple’s rock climbing holiday” instead of “adventure holiday”). It will target a visitor at a more specific stage of the buyer’s journey, when they are much more clear on what they need to find. These keywords can often be less competitive, but their main advantage is that they drive better conversion rates.
Pay Per Click Advertising
Running an Adwords campaign in the travel niche can often be an expensive undertaking. This is why we run yet another keyword research, PPC specific, and see what your odds of outdoing the competition are. While investing in paid ads can often drive some quick results, we would always give our other tactics a spin too – they are more focused on the long term, and will remain in place long after your PPC ads have stopped running.
Building links in the travel industry can be quite a challenge. Since there is certainly a slice of cake to be had, and since most people blogging in this industry are aware of it and have already started nibbling on it, you are often faced with a demand for a freebie in return for exposure. However, the fact that the industry is as large as it is means that there is certainly someone out there looking for just the services you are trying to promote – the trick is only in finding them.
Even though people believe it extinct for some unknown reason, email marketing is an excellent way to reach existing and interested parties, and perhaps inspire them to start planning their next trip. The main challenge here is to find that proper blend of promoting your latest deals, and showcasing a destination you are putting together trips for.
We have touched on the importance of telling the right story several times already, and now we finally get to explain why we keep going on and on about it. In fact, storytelling is much more important in the travel industry than in any other niche online.
Even though we are discussing content and marketing it last, this is actually a step that needs to be taken somewhere between the research and the marketing part of your SEO journey.
Crafting landing pages that are not hell-bent on selling – pages that will be detailed enough, informative and captivating enough to capture a reader’s imagination and that will answer a certain query will have a much easier shot at ranking. While they themselves will not convert, a clever internal linking structure and call to action will nudge your visitors in the right direction.
You may or may not have such landing pages in place. If you do, and already rank somewhere for them, we can take it from there and work on them. If not, we can create these pages for you – but we would still prefer to have your input on the actual text. After all, you know much more about your destinations than we do.
Having original images in place is also a bonus – you can use them to draw in additional links, and having a unique style of photography will help you stand out and stay memorable.
Once we have a page everyone is happy to work with – promoting it becomes our focus. Depending on the purpose of said page, we will attract links to it as if by magic, all the while secretly counting down the days until our own holiday begins.