Tom Mcloughlin is the founder of SEO Travel, a travel marketing agency based in the UK. He’s also the host of The Travel Growth Podcast where he interviews successful travel business leaders about their experiences, challenges, and learnings from their time in the industry.
During the COVID-19 crisis that hit the travel industry, Mcloughlin found himself (like so many others) doing some soul searching. He realized he wanted to do more than just run a successful marketing business. He wanted his work to serve a higher purpose. Since then, SEO Travel has pledged to donate all of its profits to educational charities.
Impressed by Mcloughlin's expertise and altruism, I asked him to share both his story and advice with us.
Tell me about yourself. How did you get involved in SEO for travel?
I started my career working in PR, before moving to an SEO agency. All of this was in the wider pursuit of becoming a writer, and I started a travel blog to showcase my writing skills.
The blog became more of an SEO project as I learned the trade and as it gained more and more momentum the seeds were sown that I could create a specialist SEO service for travel companies.
In 2011, SEO Travel was born and I started to pick up clients through word of mouth as we did more and more great work for people and set ourselves apart from the usual agency model.
Tell me about your company, whom do you serve, and what do you do?
We’re a specialist marketing agency for small and medium-sized travel businesses.
We’ve worked with some big enterprise companies over the years, but decided to focus on smaller businesses as we loved working directly with senior people in the business and being involved in the commercial side of things, seeing the true impact on the business, rather than just discussing rankings and traffic.
It’s extremely satisfying to work with people and see the impact it makes on their businesses and their lives and to help them develop on that journey.
Can SEO help drive more direct bookings for travel and tourism providers?
We see it day in, day out. In most areas of travel and tourism, Google is the first place people go to start researching or booking a trip. If you’re not visible there, then you’re going to miss out on bookings.
How can independent hotel and tour operators compete for search rankings against the big chains and travel sites?
Broaden your scope.
Too often people get drawn into the ‘headline’ competitive phrases that are often unachievable as a small business when up against established brands with huge budgets.
However, the ‘longtail’ is packed with opportunities and is often overlooked by the bigger brands. Did you know more than 20% of the searches Google sees every day are brand new? Read that again.
If you create great content targeting areas that big brands overlook then there is a huge opportunity and you can compete. We see it consistently with clients we work with when we employ this strategy.
What is the biggest SEO mistake you see independent travel businesses make? What should they do instead?
It’s hard to narrow it down to just one!
One is thinking that you need to rank for the biggest, most competitive phrases in your industry to be successful. In many cases, you can completely ignore the big phrases and build a really successful business that drives lots of leads using longtail traffic.
Another is being misled by the SEO industry in general in what leads to success. This includes:
- Get more links. Many companies build low-quality links to get their numbers up (because SEO people tell them to/do it for them), when focusing on just a few approaches to get really good links will bring much bigger performance increases. Don’t obsess over your Domain Authority people!
- More content is better. It’s actually much more effective to spend your time and effort crafting fewer, really well-targeted pieces of content than sticking to ‘1 post per day/week/month/insertpointlesstimescale’ and then just publishing and hoping something sticks.
- Not doing keyword research. This should be the first thing you do. Identify what your audience is searching for and then create a plan to slowly but surely create content that targets all those different areas.
What advice do you have for travel brands who are looking to hire an SEO company?
It’s a minefield, but there are a number of things you can do to give yourself the best chance of finding a good fit.
- Do your due diligence. Speak to existing clients, look at reviews, ask for lots of case studies. Look for long-term relationships they have with clients, not just a case study from a client they’ve had for 6/12 months.
- Analyze where their website ranks for things. If they don’t rank for anything then there’s a distinct possibility they’re not the best option.
- Look beyond SEO case studies and assess their wider credentials. What do they stand for, are their people a good fit for you and your people, do your values align, how do they communicate? These are the things that lead to a long, successful relationship, not just raw SEO data.
- Beware of outreach. SEO companies love spamming you with email or LinkedIn outreach. This isn’t always a bad thing (we do outreach but in a good way 😊 ), but if someone initiates contact this way be even more diligent in the actions highlighted above.
- Choose a specialist. Ok, I’m biased, but someone who knows your industry inside out is far more likely to do good work than a generic agency who services all industries and has a wide service offering.
I see you give 100% of your profits to educational charities, can you tell us more about that?
As a specialist in the travel supply chain, the pandemic hit us really hard and created the hardest year in our existence.
The team came through with flying colors, coming up with amazing ideas to keep us afloat and create a stronger foundation than ever to build on.
After 6 months of burying myself in the office, I came up for air and started to question why I was doing it? I didn’t have good enough answers, so I decide to go looking for them and decided that we needed a new model with a bigger purpose.
We decided to give all our profits away to educational charities with the goal of creating lasting, sustained change over generations in areas that really struggle in this area.
The idea of the model is that it works for everyone. I believe that it will help us get more clients and convert more enquiries because we are working towards a bigger vision.
As a result, I believe it will help us grow the business, broaden our service offering and create a better service for clients so they get better results. I also believe it will help us recruit from the top talent pool and bring more fantastic people into the business who will help us get even better, also benefiting clients.
And, of course, the charities we’re giving to will benefit from our financial support, but also from pro bono work we do to try and help them broaden their reach to other benefactors.
And that circle keeps on going as the business keeps on getting better, clients get better results, the team develops and we can give more money away and have a bigger impact. Everyone wins!
You can read more about the story here.