SEO For Travel: An Introduction
According to Google only 9% of U.S travelers know which brand they want to book with prior to doing a purchase. Research and comparison is a fundamental part of booking a trip, and this creates an amazing opportunity for travel agencies to introduce their brand and convince the consumer to book with them.
Of course it goes without a question that Google Search plays a fundamental role in the research and comparison process. Travelers will look up differrent travel agencies, search for destinations and compare offers, which brings us to the important question of how a travel agency can use SEO (Search Engine Optimization) in order to be found on Google in a way that will win over their prospective customer.
To get a more clear understanding of this research and comparison process, lets explore the ways SEO is involved in the hypothetical senario of a traveler looking to book his holidays to Majorca.
The process would start by Googling something like "Book holidays to Majorca", and then quickly deciding which pages from the first page are more relevant as you scroll down, then probably open them in new tabs for comparison. But at the same time you might use this as an opportunity to gather information about your trip that is necessary to make a good booking decision.
For example, you might find yourself clicking on the answer box about what are the most popular retreats in Majorca (Picture 1), or reviewing the information about what is the best place to visit Majorca if you plan a family holiday (Picture 2).
These are all opportunities for your brand to shine, as you provide the type of information that would be most useful to a potential traveler to inform his decision. This brings your agency in the unique position of creating an end to end booking experience with your brand at its center, and not just be considered as the provider of an end product (the actual booking) at the end of an independent decision making process.
Therefore, a good SEO strategy will allow you to build loyalty and brand differentiation. Factors such as addressing the searchers intent (being that he's looking for a family vacation booking or an impulsive city break), having a fast mobile site that gives travelers the information they need on the fly, or proactively suggesting things to do in-destination once they’re on their way, will without a question pave the road of success for your business.
Travel SEO: The Best Practices
SEO is the art and science of optimizing a website for search engines. In an era that search engines are geared towards providing instant answers and recommendations, optimizing the user experience of the searcher and providing instant access to services, there's often more than meets the eye.
Not all businesses operate the same way and this reflects on the way you should do SEO. Some agencies are strictly online-based whereas others make use of the "click-to-brick" model, meaning they rely on Google's local listings to drive customers to their physical location.
Our getting started guide covers almost all business scenarios, but not all the advice that is listed here can be applied to all types of businesses. Without further ado, here are the most important optimization parameters that will set up your travel agency for success:
How To Optimize Your Website For Local SEO And Google Maps.
If your agency has a physical presence, then local SEO will help your business show up in map results and on top of the organic results for location bound searches (ex. "Travel agencies near me", or "Travel Agencies in Bristol").
For this type of "click-to-brick" businesses we'd recommend using at minimum the Google My Business Listings and idially something like Moz Local SEO to manage your local listings.
How To Optimize Your Home Page, Destination Pages And Property Pages, To Reflect Your Target Locations.
This is generally considered one of the lowest hanging fruits in terms of SEO, as it is fairly straightforward to do, while remaining important enough to make it worthwhile. Generally speaking, unique, long and informative page content is considered to be good, whereas content that is short, duplicate, misleading or stuffed with keywords is a bad practice.
Each page should have a unique title that reflects the content of the page, and an informative meta description that explains what the page is about. As an example, if your agency is based in Dublin a good title for your homepage would be "Travel Agency In Dublin City Center – Brand Name". Or if you're optimizing your travel rental pages for business travelers, an example would be "Villas for Business Travelers in Chang May – Brand Name"
Note that I deliberately kept the homepage title below 70 characters (see Picture 3 below), to make sure that it's displayed properly on Google. Moreover, since the page title is a ranking factor, I decided to include relevant keywords that I want to rank for at the beginning of the title, followed by the brand name.
Also, in the first example I deliberately used "travel agency in Dublin city center" instead of "travel agency in Ireland" as I assumed a click-to-brick business model, and wanted to optimize for the physical location of my agency. Moreover, I strategically placed the brand name at the end of the title since the first keywords have more gravity and most businesses have little to no difficulty ranking first for their brand name (branded search queries).
When it comes to your destination pages and property pages, work on their content to make it unique and interesting. Use pictures and video when possible, and make sure with your webmaster that they include proper alt text for the media content.
Keep the titles and meta descriptions of these pages informative and precise. And whenever you remove a listing or destination page, make sure to create a 301 redirect to the currently most relevant page or category of your website, in order to avoid 404 Page not found errors and broken links.
When it comes to the page meta descriptions, try to keep them below 156 character and include short but informative text. Google will highlight words from your meta description (Picture 4) that match the search query your page was found on the SERPs (Search Engine Result Pages), so it's good to keep in mind possible searches that you'd like your page to be found for when writing this content.
Make Sure That Your Website Has A Working Https Certificate
Having a working https certificate is especially important if you want to facilitate any kind of financial transaction from your website, such as direct bookings but also for collecting user information through form submission etc. Moreover, having a secure website is an SEO ranking factor, so in case you don't have one installed already, then you should definitely put it on your list. I personally recommend using Let's Encrypt, that is free and easy to install.
Optimize Your Website For Mobile Devices And Speed
Mobile optimization is becoming increasingly important. Starting July 1st 2019, Google will predominantly use the mobile version of a website for indexing and ranking. This has profound implications, and you'll need to ensure that all your pages are optimized for top mobile performance.
Differrent website technologies handle this in different ways, some websites offer a responsive design whereas others have dedicated mobile versions of their pages. In either case it's recommended to audit your website to ensure that the usability and speed of your mobile pages don't deviate much from the desktop version.
Specifically in the travel industry, many search queries about destinations and bookings happen on the go, from mobile devices. Metrics such as page loading speed are known to affect rankings, and it often happens that these are different between your desktop and mobile pages.
Travel SEO: In–Depth Optimization Tips
Home Page Optimization For Travel
The homepage often is the most important page of any website. It gets most of the inbound links from other domains, and many times it is the first page that is visited by a potential buyer. In the travel industry this is especially true, as homepages tend to be content rich, contain listings and act as a gateway to a large number of sub-pages, such as destinations pages, property listings etc.
This creates a big SEO opportunity, and we'd recommend to keep an eye on the following parts:
1. Include Good Photos Of Your Properties Or Listing/Destination Pages, With Proper Alt Text, That Link To These Sub-Pages.
Good alt text and proper linking of images is especially important. These "alt tags” or "alt attributes" are elements used within the HTML code to describe the appearance and function of an image on a page. There are many used cases for which you might want to make sure that you include proper alt text for your images, from improving the accesibility of your pages, to providing image context information to search engine crawlers.
2. Use Drop Down Menus To Bring Your Pages 1 Click Away From The Main Page (see Picture 5 as an example).
Linking is also important, together with what we call "page depth" factor. Page depth is the number of clicks you need to reach a specific page from the homepage using the shortest path. What we recommend, is to make sure that you link from your main page to as many sub-pages of your website. Category pages such as for listings, destinations etc. are great for this job, espedially if you can also link to the sub-pages of these sub-pages (crawl depth 3) right from your main page.
If this all sounds too confusing, look at the screenshot from Amazon below as an example (this is also a popular hack in e-commerce, since many e-shops are often large, with many product and category pages).
Placing as many of your sub-pages within one click from your main page (crawl depth 2) is especially important if you have a large website with many automaticlly generated pages of categories, listings, destinations etc. Without going into too much detail, Google allocates a finite amount of time crawling each website (they have to crawl the entire web!), so you don't want to have pages that are buried too deep in your website, or pages that are accessible by only a few links from other pages.
Instead try to link to as many pages from your homepage (without compromising the user experience) and include plenty links in each page that leads to other of your pages.
Optimization Of Property Pages And Listings
1. Don't Forget To include Canonicals
Listings and destination pages are often plagued by a specific set of SEO problems. For example, because these pages are frequently generated automatically, there can be duplicates, or pages that are/look very similar (similar titles and page content), or pages that have thin content. Many times Google considers doorway pages, low-quality affiliate pages, or simply pages with very little or no content as thin content pages.
A great way to solve this problem, without changing your website and its pages, is to use canonicals. By using these HTML tags is like telling Google that a specific URL represents the master copy of a page. Because of that, you can prevent problems caused by identical or very similar content appearing on multiple URLs of your website.
<link rel = "canonical" href="https://YourWebsite.com"/>
Example of a canonical tag
The downside is that only the master copy of the page will appear in search results, but that is a great opportunity to make sure that this page is optimized for search, and then lead to the other subpages directly from this master page.
2. User Reviews And Rich Snippets
The vast majority of Google search results display the following 3 categories of metadata: Title tags, meta descriptions and the URL. These are called normal snippets and we covered a few optimization tips in the sections above.
Now, Google's rich snippets (Picture 6) is one of the best ways for increasing the visibility of your listings, click-through rates (CTR), and driving more revenue through organic search.
As you can see immediately, rich snippets in the SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages) are eye-catching, occupy more space and convey more useful information, making your page to stand out. It's also an excellent way to build trust in your brand by as an example display ratings for your properties.
Google gets their rich snippet data from structured markup like Schema, in your page’s HTML. Although using structured data is not a ranking signal for your website and will not increase your rankings, it will definitely result in higher CTRs for your pages, which is known to play a role in rankings.
Simply put, the more the people who go to your page from the search results, the more Google believes that your page serves better the searcher's intent, and the higher you will rank over time. And Schema markup definitely helps in driving these clicks from the result pages.
Google only indexes pages that can be jumped right into. Stateless applications such as single page applications built with Angular, often don't generate URLs for every page. They rely on the user to complete a specific set of actions, such as clicking a button ("See our available listings") or doing a search ("Search for a destination"), to then dynamically load the content of the new page.
Becaue of this, you need to make sure that every page that is being created dynamically as part of user action, has a full URL (and not a hashed URL, but one that contains actual keywords) . Moreover, the server needs to be able to serve this page right away.
When you follow the user journey, and then copy the URL from a page that was created using dynamic rendering, you want to be able to put it in a browser, and be able to see that page, not the homepage or a 404 page.
Keyword Strategy For Travel
The keyword strategy is one of the key components of any SEO strategy, as you want to make sure that your pages are being found for the right type of searches from your buyer persona, while taking into account the level of competition and the potential traffic from these search queries.
Especially for websites in the space that maintain an active travel blog, this step is a must and can help your website to be found online for those searches that don't include your business name (branded queries).
The Importance Of The Searcher's Intent
Before we actually think of keywords and searches, it is important to distinguish between the 2 major types of searcher intent.
First type of searchers are those that are doing what we call "buyer queries". These people know exactly what they want, and they are looking for a vendor. Such examples would be people who are searching for "Book Villa in Canggu" or "Tickets to Bali".
The second type are searchers that haven't made up their mind yet, and are in the information gathering stage of their buyer journey. Such searches could be "Best area to stay in Bali" or "Is Bali safe for travelers".
From a strategic standpoint, it's important to target both types of searchers. The first one might result to a direct conversion through your website, but the second gives you the ability to expose the consumer to your brand, and guide them through their decision making process while also promoting your offer.
How To Find And Compare Keywords
On the more technical side of keyword selection, I recommend using a tool like Moz Pro. Moz's Keyword Explorer will give you the estimated monthly traffic for a search, the difficulty ranking for it based on the level of the competition, keyword suggestions, and other metrics that can help you choose the right keywords to target.
For a balanced strategy, I recommend targeting a variety of long-tail keywords (lower difficulty, higher CTR/Click-Through-Rate, lower search volume, very specific searcher's intent), and short tail keywords (higher difficulty & volume, lower CTR and more generic searcher's intent); both for searchers that are doing buyer queries and searchers in the information gathering stage.
When it comes to keyword selection for your pages, blog articles etc. there's more than meets the eye, and I'd definitely recommend consulting with an expert (I also offer a Free Mentoring Session), otherwise you risk to not be found for the right searches, by either targeting generic searches that get a lot of traffic but are very difficult to rank for, or targeting keywords with the wrong searcher intent.
Keyword Ideas For Travel: Weekend Deals
As an example, the keyword "weekend deals" gets 51 to 100 searches per month in the US, and it has a relatively okay difficulty at 35 (the higher the number, the bigger the difficulty).
Some long-tail keyword suggestions based on this would be: "weekend deals flights", "weekend deals rental cars", "weekend deals to vegas", and "last minute vacation deals this weekend".
Some other ideas worth checking out are: "bank holiday offers" (you can itterate on the Bank Holiday's name) and "voucher for xyz".
Thanks for reading!
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