There are any number of tactics you can use to drive traffic to your travel website: online ads, social media, and PR just to name a few. But perhaps the most misunderstood among them is SEO (search engine optimization).
There’s a lot of hype around SEO. Some of it earned. Some of it dated. Some of it merely lining the pockets of so-called “gurus.”
What you should know about travel SEO is that, when done right, it takes time and effort to implement. But if you’re willing to make the investment, it will help you build your brand and bring you business in the long run.
Where to start with SEO?
Before you start researching SEO keywords or optimizing web pages, you first need a solid understanding of who and what you’re optimizing for. (And no, the answer is not, “Google.”)
Who you are optimizing for are your customers. Your SEO strategy should be geared to answering their questions and providing them with a great user experience. To better understand your customers, it helps to fill out a customer profile.
What you're optimizing for are your goals. Your SEO strategy may differ depending on whether you are looking to make online sales, generate leads, or build your brand.
Get the tech right
No matter how well you optimize your SEO content, if your website doesn’t have the right infrastructure it’ll never climb the search rankings. Your website needs to be fast, properly coded, and mobile friendly. This is step one in SEO.
Choose a web host that provides fast, reliable service. Site speed is one of the most important SEO ranking factors and if your web host can’t provide blazing speed it will tank your rankings.
Then, either take the time to learn technical SEO yourself or be sure to work with a qualified web developer who can do it for you. The code that underlies your website plays an important role in your search rankings, so a talented web developer who understands what’s going on under the hood can do wonders for your SEO.
Choose your content topics
As you begin to plan the SEO content for your website, think in terms of what your customer may be looking for at different points in their purchasing journey.
For example, at the beginning of their journey, customers may be looking for travel inspiration and ideas. As they get more serious about planning a trip, they are likely to be looking for accommodations and activities. In the final stages, they are likely comparing prices and figuring out logistics.
You’ll want to plan content for each stage of the customer journey that promotes your specific goals.
For example, if your goal is direct sales, then you might want to concentrate your efforts on that last stage of the customer journey - price comparisons and travel logistics. However, if your goal is brand building, then you might aim to reach customers at the beginning of their journey with content that speaks to your brand values, like sustainable tourism.
Make a list of topics you can cover that match your customer’s intent (inspiration, research, or booking) and your goals (building your brand, educating travelers, or making direct sales).
Research keywords and popular content
Now that you have some topics in mind, you can begin to research what keywords related to those topics people are searching for and what content they are consuming.
One of my favorite keyword research tools is answerthepublic.com because it surfaces questions that your customers are asking. This is ideal for brainstorming blog posts and FAQs.
Another useful tool is BuzzSumo which can tell you what content is popular on social media. Use this to inspire content that is likely to get reshared by your audience.
Whenever possible, identify content gaps—topics that have not gotten a lot of coverage from other sources—to give yourself the greatest opportunity to rank well in search.
Plan content clusters
No page on your website stands alone. Search engines consider each page in relation to the whole. So the more content you have on a particular topic, the more your site will be recognized as relevant to that topic. Therefore, you should plan multiple pieces of content around any given subject.
What does that mean in practical terms?
It means if you offer scuba diving tours, then you might have:
- A category page that shows all available tours
- Separate pages that describe each individual tour
- Several blog posts about aquatic life in your region
- A gallery of photos of patrons enjoying your tours (all properly labeled with captions and alt text),
- And a page that talks about scuba safety
These pages should all link to each other to help both your readers and search engines find the related content.
Optimize your content
As you create your content, you’ll want to use good SEO practices. This means giving your content descriptive headings and subheadings, using keywords in your URL, optimizing your images, and making sure your content answers the questions your audience is asking.
There are lots of SEO tools out there that can help you optimize your content. If you’re using WordPress to manage your site, you might consider the YoastSEO plugin.
Master local SEO
Because travel is (almost always) destination specific, you can't to neglect local SEO. This includes making sure your local business address is on your website, listing your business with search engine directories like Google My Business, and creating destination-specific content that targets keywords (e.g. “scuba diving in Cozumel, Mexico” or “private cruise in Galapagos”).
Once your content is up on your site, you’ll need to promote it so that people see it, share it, and link to it. These social signals all contribute to SEO, and you can’t count on them happening organically.
Build a social media marketing plan that includes regularly posting and re-posting your content. Collaborate with partners and influencers who can help spread the word about your offerings. Host or participate in events (either online or in-person). And seek out opportunities to get mentioned in the press.
Bear in mind that Google rewards the brands that get the most clicks; and the brands that get the most clicks are the most well-known. Therefore, SEO shouldn’t be considered a stand-alone marketing tactic but rather a part of your larger business development plan.