Comprehensive Guide to SEO in the Travel Industry
If your business operates in the travel industry then establishing your digital footprint only becomes increasingly important with time. The tourism industry is larger than ever and more consumers are turning to digital channels to organise their holiday.
“The value of global tourism has reached $5.29 trillion in 2017 — and the size of the market only continues to expand”. – Trip Advisor
“Search engines are among the most popular online planning sources for travellers, particularly among leisure travellers”. – Google
Search engines play one of the most important roles in the online success of some of the biggest players in the travel industry. In fact, organic search contributes to more traffic than any other digital channel for websites that successfully implement their SEO strategy – with the occasional exception of direct traffic.
In an ever-increasing competitive landscape, ranking in the top 10 results across search engines is imperative to online success. To do this, your SEO needs to be on point. If you’re wondering what SEO is then read this article through to the end. We’ve put together a comprehensive guide to SEO and how it applies to the travel industry.
What is SEO & how does it work?
Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is the practice of appearing at the top of Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs) for keywords related to your business. For example, when a user searches “things to do in Sicily”, the website that’s best optimised for the keyword will appear first. As a result, it will also inherit the most traffic.
Important SEO factors:
SEO is relevant to almost every business. Below are some key factors that validate SEO as one of the most important components of any digital marketing strategy:
- 81% of consumers on the internet find products and services by using search engines.
- 72% of people who conduct a local search will eventually visit a physical store as a result of that search.
- 78% of local searches on search engines lead to a purchase being made offline.
- Websites that secure the top position on Google search results inherit 34.36% of all clicks related to a given query.
Imagine that you operate tours to Stonehenge. Based on the above numbers, chances are that consumers will look for your service online — more specifically, by utilising search engines. It’s up to you to successfully implement an SEO strategy that will get you to the top of search results, in order to be visible to consumers.
So, how do you get to the top?
We’ll go into full detail about that later, though here’s the short version:
- First, you need to define which keyword you want to compete for. To do this, you perform keyword research. Note: The keywords need to be relevant to the work that you do e.g. “tours to Stonehenge”.
- Next, you need to optimise your website or landing page to compete for that keyword. In the SEO world, this is referred to as on-site optimisation. Through this process, you’re telling search engines what your website or webpage is about.
- Finally, you need to give search engines confidence that you’re the most authoritative source of information for a given keyword. You do this through a process called off-site optimisation. As the name suggests, these are optimisations you make away from your website.
Why is getting to the top of SERPs important?
Simply, the higher you rank the more traffic you will receive. Additionally, if you’re not in the top 10 search results then chances are you won’t be found at all. The below chart demonstrates the average click-share percentage websites receive across all industries and keywords.
SEO is one of the most effective parts of any successful digital marketing strategy. The reason being is that SEO is an inbound marketing technique. Google and other search engines strive to show users only the most relevant information to their search query. As a result, more consumers have turned to search engines over time, particularly Google.
How does SEO apply to the travel industry?
In 2014, Google published ‘The Traveller’s Road to Decision’ report. One of the major facts that Google included in its report related the role that search engines play in the traveller’s decision-making process.
According to Google, leisure travellers use search engines more than any other online marketing channel to begin their travel planning. For business travellers, search engines are the second-highest source of information that contributes to online travel planning. The chart below goes into more detail.
Maps site/apps are also heavily relied upon source of information for leisure and business travellers. About 51% of travellers use destination-related search terms when they first begin to plan their travel, bringing local SEO into play.
Furthermore, leisure travellers are increasingly turning to search engines first vs. branded sites/apps for online trip planning. This is because search engines have worked hard on gaining consumer trust by providing only the most accurate results. Below, you can see where leisure travellers typically started online travel planning.
Branded websites/apps led the way when Google made this report in 2014. Though, there is a significant jump in search engine traffic across Car Rental, Air Travel, Accommodation and Cruise websites from 2013.
Most users predominantly use desktop devices during any part of the travel process. Though, smartphones play an ever-increasing role in the travel process, including looking for inspiration, research, purchasing, travelling and post-travel. This means that websites need to be optimised for the user’s mobile experience as well. Additionally, Google’s mobile-first indexing has made mobile website optimisation necessary as well.
Device type used during the travel process
Mobile-first indexing means that SEO marketers need to focus on their website visitor’s mobile experience. Responsive design is considered an SEO ranking factor and having a mobile-friendly website will influence your rankings positively.
Top players in the SEO/Travel Industry Space:
Below are some top websites from the travel industry in 2019. You will notice that for each, organic traffic represents a significant amount of website visitors.
Based on data from https://similarweb.com/
Most of these websites provide you with information or connect you to services. Though, SEO applies to a whole range of businesses, including restaurants and cafes, local walking tours and airport transfer services.
Advantages of SEO marketing in the travel industry:
SEO is a long-term inbound marketing strategy. That means you won’t see results come through overnight, as you would with PPC. Though, there are some major advantages that you inherit when you successfully implement your SEO strategy.
Generate qualified leads:
Firstly, SEO allows you to build relevant website traffic. As a result, more qualified leads will be visiting your website. Again, imagine that you operate tours to Stonehenge. It is highly unlikely that anyone who is not searching for this service will visit your website. This is due to searcher intent — essentially, what is a user searching for when they input their query through a search engine.
More cost-effective vs other digital marketing channels:
Next, SEO is more cost-effective than the next best digital marketing channel — Pay Per Click (PPC). Engaging with PPC such as Google AdWords is a viable marketing option. As with SEO, you will be targeting relevant traffic through keywords and user intent. Though, long-term is a much more cost-effective option over the long term.
With Pay Per Click, you are limited by budget. If you run out, you will ultimately lose traffic and lower your conversions. Essentially, the moment you stop paying for ads is the moment you will stop showing up in search results. On the other hand, you will continue to receive traffic when you stop engaging with SEO — as long as search engines determine that your website is still one of the ten most trustworthy source of information for the keyword you’re competing for.
Growth is guaranteed
Finally, carrying out a successful SEO strategy can guarantee business growth. Let’s apply the Stonehenge scenario again and assume your website has 3,000+ monthly visitors. Given the nature of SEO, your visitors could be highly qualified leads. You can imagine how many bookings you will receive from such a constant flow of relevant traffic.
The major drawback with SEO is that it takes time. Once you’re at the top though, you’re unlikely to significantly lose your ranking within a short timeframe. Google (and other search engines) have confidence that your website is the best source of information for a particular keyword. The likelihood of significant changes being made to your ranking is low.
How to utilise SEO for your travel website
Keyword research for travel companies:
The starting point to any successful SEO strategy is keyword research. You need a tool such as KW Finder or SEMrush to find keywords that you can compete for. When performing your research, make sure your chosen keywords are highly relevant to your business.
Let’s work with an example keyword – “tours to Stonehenge”
The above screenshot from KW Finder gives you information about searches performed for our chosen keyword. Let’s break down the facts about this keyword in point form:
- 3,600 people search for “tours to Stonehenge” each month.
- The Cost Per Click is $4.81
- CPC competitiveness for this keyword rates at 73/100
- Keyword difficulty for this phrase rates at 38/100 (medium difficulty)
KW Finder has also suggested some additional keywords that are relevant to your search. To effectively perform keyword research for SEO purposes, you need to find relevant keywords with low competitiveness e.g. “Stonehenge inner circle tours”. This keyword has much less traffic and is much easier to compete for, rated at 25/100 (easy difficulty). It is also considered a “long-tail” keyword.
Long-tail keywords are more specific search terms. These search terms usually have much less search volume. Though, it’s much more likely that the searcher is more prepared to make a purchase than the user searching short-tail (less specific) keywords. Overall, long-tail keywords tend to present more value.
What about searcher intent?
We mentioned that you should make sure that the keywords you compete for are relevant to what you do. You also need to think about why a user might type a particular keyword. This will help you make better choices about the keywords you want to target.
Seasonality is a big thing in the travel industry. Simply, tourists travel more during certain times of the year. Keyword research tools also give you information about trends. That is, what search volume looks like throughout the year for our chosen keyword.
As you can see above, more people searched for “tours to Stonehenge” during warmer months of the year than during colder ones. This just comes with the territory when it comes to the travel industry — there’s an on-season and an off-season.
In the SEO world, content is king. You need high quality, engaging and relevant content to be able to give search engines the confidence to place you at the top of their results. You also want your content to be optimised to turn visitors into customers. Below, we’ve detailed some items you need to check off your list to create an engaging experience that converts visitors to customers.
Once you have conducted thorough keyword research you can begin to think about your website’s architecture. Your website structure should take into account your business model, which you should have kept in mind during keyword research. Remember, everything needs to be relevant to what you do.
Let’s say your business only operates tours to Stonehenge. You can utilise your homepage to target that keyword and will probably have a rather small website. Though, what if your business operates tours to multiple locations? It would then be a good idea to utilise your homepage to target more general keywords i.e. “tours from London”. Then, you can use subpages to target keywords that are specific to each destination that you run tours to i.e. “tours to Liverpool” or “The Beatles tour”.
The content you create for your various webpages needs to be optimised for the keywords you wish to compete for, as well as for the user experience. This is known as on-site optimisation. As a starting point its important to get familiar with on-site optimisation elements, including:
- Title tags, meta tags, URL slugs, alt tags
- In-depth and legible content
- Keyword density
- Page loading speed
- URL structure
- Calls to Action, and more…
Your goal should always be to create engaging content. That is content that will draw the user’s attention and get them to take action. This is more important than writing walls of text in order to optimise your page around a keyword. By focusing on the user experience, you will increase the chances of generating leads and ultimately turning visitors into paying customers.
Writing blog posts:
Blog posts are a great way to pick up additional traffic that’s relevant to your niche. Through blog posts, you can also demonstrate your knowledge and instil confidence in your website visitors. Research is one of the early stages of the travel process. You can expose visitors to your brand at this early purchase phase by providing them with free information. For example, an article about the ‘history of Stonehenge’ could help attract relevant traffic and even turn visitors into customers later in the purchase cycle.
Off-site optimisation: breaking through online and building your brand
Everything you’ve read about keyword research and content creation is part of the on-site optimisation process and is considered ‘Part A’ of getting found online. Off-site optimisation — or ‘Part B’ — is all about promoting your brand through outreach. Part B will get you to the top of search results. Though no SEO element on its own will make you successful, off-site optimisation (link building) has the greatest impact on your competitiveness.
What is link building and how does it work?
In a nutshell, link building involves getting other websites to link back to your website in order to increase your website’s authority. Why? Think about your website as a university research paper. When you write your paper, you make arguments and then cite relevant and authoritative sources to substantiate those arguments. By doing so, you give your research paper credibility.
A website works much in the same way. After you have created your content, it’s time to promote that content to relevant and authoritative websites. You are now building your website’s credibility. As a tour operator, just about any travel website or blog is relevant to you. Though, what you shouldn’t do is go to a medical website seeking backlinks. The website is irrelevant and any link you receive will hold no value.
So, how do you know if a website is authoritative? You can use tools such as the Moz Open Site Explorer or even Mangool’s Site Profiler to find out. As a starting point, you want to search for the following elements:
- Domain Authority (DA) – a score out of 100 that reflects the URLs overall authority. Higher is better. Each link you build should have a higher authority than the last.
- Page Authority (PA) – a score out of 100 that reflects a particular webpage’s authority. Usually, you will look at the PA of a website’s homepage.
- Citation Flow (CF) – a score out of 100 that reflects the value or equity a link from a website will pass on. This power of a link is also referred to as link juice.
- Trust Flow (TF) – a score out of 100 that reflects a website’s trustworthiness based on the links pointing back to it. You want to keep away from websites with a poor TF score.
One thing you should NEVER do is pay for links. This is considered a black-hat marketing technique and could result in your website being punished over the long term. Yes, some SEO marketers pay for links and manage to get away with it. Though, for any serious business in the travel industry, the risk is never worth it in the long run.
Link building methods:
There are several methods you can use to acquire links. We’ve prepared a list below and haven’t mentioned any black-hat link building methods that you shouldn’t engage with. We like to keep it white-hat here.
- Guest posting. This involves writing an article for another website/blog for free. In exchange that website will often offer you one or two links in the body of your article. As you have complete control over the anchor text that will link back to your website, guest posting is often considered one of the most impactful link building methods. It does take the most amount of work as well, though.
- Writing amazing content. Bloggers love linking to great content. Let’s say someone is writing about natural wonders in England and mentions Stonehenge. Instead of shifting the focus of their article to the history of the Stonehenge, which you’ve written about, they may borrow a sentence or two from you and insert a link in their article that points to yours. Informative blog posts work a treat in the travel industry.
- Use great images. Let’s face it. Most people won’t ask for your permission to use a great image you have on your website. Though, it’s common for people to provide a link to the original image. This is a neat passive link building method. So, get plenty of “instaworthy” travel photos up on your website and encourage sharing.
- Link roundups. Bloggers like to round up a list of websites that they link out to, in order to get traffic on their own website. For example, a travel blogger from England could write an article about the ‘best tour companies in England’. Getting a link back from that website could be as simple as asking nicely.
- Broken link building. Lots of articles on the web are outdated. Chances are, you will come across an article that points to webpages that no longer exist. You can utilise broken link checkers when you search websites to come across opportunities. Similarly to acquiring a link with the link roundup method, letting a webmaster know he has a broken link on his website could result in a reward in the form of a link to your website. All you need is an article that’s relevant to what the link was originally pointing to.
Measuring & reporting results
There are several platforms you can use to measure SEO results. Google Analytics and some form of rank tracker such as Moz’s Rank Tracker are a common combination.
Offered by Google itself, GA is able to provide you with information on just about any activity on your website. Basic information that you will need include:
- Unique website visitors
- Sessions – this includes return visitors
- Bounce rate – the number of people that visit one page or less on your website
- Average time spent on the website
- Sessions by location
- Sessions by device
With regard to tracking your rankings, Rank Tracker by Moz is a popular choice. If you’re after a free option then SERP Robot is also a viable choice, so long as you’re competing for keywords on a national or international scale.
Lastly, we recommend Google Data Studio to create amazing reports about your SEO progress. It integrates directly with Analytics and a host of other tools as well.