Don’t overlook the local traveler.
That’s the message Alison Knott of Alison K Consulting has for tourism businesses. Ever since the COVID-19 pandemic began, her rebranding and web consultancy has seen an explosion of interest from travel brands who want to reach local consumers. And the reason is pretty clear.
With lockdowns and travel bans dramatically changing the travel landscape, searches for terms like “staycation” took off globally starting in May 2020.
And the trend toward increased domestic tourism is expected to continue.
If you want to attract more local customers to your tourism business, Alison K suggests optimizing your website for local searches that specify a destination. “It’s an amazing way to book yourself solid,” she says.
As an international public speaker, Alison K is on a mission to improve the web literacy of business owners. With her knack for making things like SEO both easy and interesting, I asked her to sit down and talk with me about local SEO as it relates to travel and tourism.
What is "local" SEO and how is it different from “regular” SEO for travel brands?
Local SEO and organic (regular) SEO are identical in almost every aspect. The difference lies in the search intent (the context of what people are looking for and why). In the case of local SEO, this means the queries being asked are specific to geography.
For example, “eco friendly travel tips” would be an organic search query. It’s an ‘informational’ query so we can assume that someone searching for this is just starting to think about eco tourism or planning a trip themselves.
“Eco friendly travel agents near me,” on the other hand, is a local SEO search query. Because it contains “near me,” it will trigger Google to display the so-called “Local Pack,” a map feature with local listings.
This is the main difference between local and organic SEO. All the content and technical aspects are the same.
Why should travel brands focus on local SEO?
There are a number of reasons travel brands will want to make local SEO part of their ongoing marketing considerations:
- It builds brand awareness in your area of operation. Making sure you show up for local searches helps guests find you even if they don’t know your business by name.
- It ensures details about your company are presented accurately. You’ll want to keep tabs on local directories and other listings to make sure your address, hours of operation and services are always up to date.
- It makes sure you’re relevant for localized search. Google and other search engines are getting better at context every day, but they make mistakes. Focusing on things like including your physical location on your website helps get you listed in the right kind of results.
- Working on local SEO improves your overall SEO strategy. Local SEO tactics make it easier for you and your team to get into the swing of things with regard to SEO. Thinking on a local level can generate new content ideas, lead to partnership and influencer ideas, and broadens the amount of queries you can rank for.
Why is SEO important to brand building?
SEO is important to brand building because people are going to form an opinion about your brand based on search results. You want to be sure that the information is accurate and tells your correct brand story. While we tend to focus on the SEO of our own website, don’t forget all the other ways your brand could come up in search. Things like local directories, review platforms, news articles, and guest blog posts. It’s important to Google yourself every quarter to make sure you have control over what you can.
How should a brand get started with local SEO?
Google My Business is one of the most effective (and easiest) tactics for getting started with local SEO. It is a free listing service offered by Google that is used to create the Local Pack we mentioned earlier. When you consider that 46% of all Google Searches are for local information, you know you can’t miss out! Here are my tips for travel brands who want to use Google My Business strategically:
- Claim your listing, and set up all your locations. It’s possible you may have a listing even though you didn’t set one up in Google My Business because it could have been generated automatically by Google. If so, nab that listing ASAP! Even if you have multiple locations, you still only need one Google My Business Account from which to manage all your locations.
- Fill your listing out completely. This can be tough because there are over 3,000 categories to choose from. If you find you fall into a few different buckets, focus on the most top-level or core-offering you provide. Once you’ve chosen a category it will bring up additional ‘attributes’ such as services, amenities, or features. Fill out all of these.
- Track Google My Business traffic with UTMs for all your links. Unfortunately, there is no built-in way to track Google My Business traffic in Google Analytics. So the secret is to use UTM parameters. It sounds complex, but it’s really simple. I’ve written an article all about UTM parameters that covers Google My Business in detail.
- Request reviews and respond to all of them. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, reviews are critical to your brand. Anyone can post a review on your listing, so be sure to respond as soon as possible, no matter if it’s positive or negative. If the review is fake, you can dispute it with Google Support. One of the easiest ways to get a bunch of reviews at the start is to reach out to reviewers on other platforms such as Yelp, Facebook or LinkedIn and ask them to repost the review on Google. Be sure to respond to all reviews, as this flags your account as being ‘active’ and may result in you showing up higher in the Local Pack than other listings who haven’t bothered.
- Review the Insights provided. What would a Google product be without some data built into it? Their newly revamped insights, while not as comprehensive as Google Analytics or Google Search Console are a great toe-dip into the behaviour of searchers. Their insights can tell you if people were searching on desktop or mobile, what terms they used, if they asked for directions, all kinds of great things that can help with your local marketing plan.
- Leave competition in the dust by being active on your listing. This is actually way easier than you may think. There isn’t too much to Google My Business so many brands set it up and kinda forget about it. Not you!
- Respond to all reviews as soon as possible, good or bad
- Add a new photo every month or quarter. Take an exterior shot of your location in all 4 seasons and vola, you’re doing great!
- Create posts. You can reuse social media posts, blogs you wrote, events, news appearances, etc. Posts carve up more real estate in your listing.
- And we want anything visually that will attract users eyes to your listing over others.
- Update hours, services and attributes in a timely fashion.
Besides Google My Business, what other local SEO tactics should a travel brand employ?
Honestly, the same things that matter for SEO in general is good practice for local SEO.
- Write content focused on locational search intent. Don’t wait for the local paper to write a top 10 list or guide and include you. Become the authority in your area on what you offer. You can write blog posts, case studies, white papers, guides, top ten lists… the sky’s the limit. Be sure that your title, headings and content are peppered with the name of your town/county/state as well as other important keywords. Especially if there’s a gap of coverage about the topic, this could be a winning way to grow traffic and brand awareness at the same time.
- Make sure your site takes a NAP. This stands for “Name, Address, Phone” and you’d be surprised how many websites fail to include this information. I recommend having a Google Map widget and detailed directions on your contact page. And NAP along every page footer.
- Pepper relevant internal links throughout your site. Did you know that if one page of your website gets a lot of SEO traction, it can ‘pass’ it’s authority onto other pages it links to? Context to this is key, but it’s a great way to build traffic to other areas of your site. So if you’re writing a blog post on 10 great canoe trips in your town, don’t forget to include links to other local guides you’ve created.
- Build your backlinks. Here’s the reality of SEO: no matter how great your content is, if other websites aren't linking to it, you’re not going to see results. Having other sites link back to your content is known as ‘backlinking’. Think of it like a vouching system for bots. The greater the number of established and respected websites in your industry who refer to your site, the higher your domain and page authority becomes. Besides, this is a great way to collaborate with other local companies and influencers to build your PR. Here’s a great primer on how to start with backlinks.
- Think of your newsletter as a partner in local SEO growth. Don’t publish content and wait for the search bots to find it. Link out to all this great local content you’ve created in your newsletter. This will train your audience to visit your website regularly, as well as share it with friends and family (who may, in turn, Google you in the future). This can also be a way to collaborate with influencers who may want access to your audience for cross promotion and other opportunities.
Will focusing on local SEO result in lower organic SEO rankings?
I often have clients worried that if they focus on local SEO too much, they won’t show up as well in broader searches.
First off, I want to caution that the exact ranking factors used by search engines are complex and highly guarded. There is no specific ‘step by step’ checklist you can use to guarantee results. Factors like your location, content, age of site, and competition will all influence your SEO results.
That said, there’s no point in thinking local SEO will interfere with your overall SEO efforts. Let’s say you own a boutique resort near Tampa, Florida. But you also want to market yourself to beachgoers considering a visit to Miami. Optimizing your site for Tampa may or may not mean you show up on a search like “beach vacation, Florida.” It all depends on how Google interprets the searcher’s intent and how much competition there is for that keyword.