The Current State of the Travel SEO Sector: OTAs
It is worthwhile to start with a few key concepts and key drivers in the travel sector. A good starting point is the relationship between Online Travel Agencies (OTAs), and the suppliers of services like accommodation providers and travel providers.
OTAs are the well-known providers of package holidays such as Expedia and Tripadvisor, as well as tour operators like TUI. They are third-party agencies that enable users to book directly by reselling a combination of hotel rooms, car hire, flights and more. Within this group, large companies like Expedia can be found, that comprises not just the Expedia.com brand, but also Hotels.com, Trivago and Hotwire.
Also within this group, you can find the rapid growth of specialised providers of hotels and private accommodation like Airbnb.
For many businesses in the travel sector, a top priority is the disintermediation of the OTAs. The suppliers of services are fighting back against the power of the OTAs, and we are witnessing the drive towards direct sales like Hilton’s Stop Clicking Around campaign and British Airways Book Direct for a Better Deal campaign. From best price promises to loyalty schemes, suppliers are looking to reduce commission fees, as well as maintain a close relationship with their clients.
Central to this shift is an increase in visibility of brands; whether via SEO, PPC, social or any of the other channels.
Inevitable Growth of Digital in the Travel and Hospitality Sector
Global travel industry gross bookings reached $1.6 trillion in 2017, making it one of the largest and fastest growing sectors in the world. We are seeing a marked change in behaviour in how customers are searching for and booking their travel arrangements.
First, we are seeing an increase in non-branded searches in what are called “category searches”; which are prime opportunities for an SEO campaign. Data from Google shows strong trends for category searches as part of the research phase in the buying process.
Mobile searching is a high growth opportunity, and SEO campaigns can be specifically designed to raise visibility in the mobile search results.
Understanding Travel SEO
SEO is the process of proving the relevance and value of our product/service/website for a particular search term, with a view to moving up the search engine rankings. With an online focus being so prevalent in the travel industry, travel SEO should be of high priority for any travel business seeking to succeed online.
But its value runs far deeper than simply being found on Google at the point of booking. Rather, the travel customer’s journey to conversion is hinged on the ability to research, discuss and share information, recommendations and reviews.
Google has defined four “micro-moments” that define four key opportunities for your travel business to be discovered in the search engine results. At each of these moments, you need to have an SEO strategy that will ensure your visibility for the specific intention or needs of your customer.
This includes the start of the process when a customer is seeking inspiration and ideas, through to the actual planning of the trip, making the booking, and then finally doing more research.
This is where the challenges and opportunities lie for travel SEO. With search rankings so vital across such a broad range of moments in the customer journey, ranking well for a small number of phrases just isn’t going to be good enough.
In the dreaming moments, I am starting to think about getting away. I may have taken inspiration from a film I saw, a display advertisement I saw on a webpage, or perhaps an advert in a magazine I read. My search behaviour will lead me to start the general research process, and the corresponding SEO strategy is to generate rich content that resembles those dreams. Your site needs to be found at this early dreaming phase in order to move onto the next critical stages. At this stage, a long tail SEO strategy can be highly effective, targeting highly specific phrases that show an intention to buy into your offering. For example:
- Family-friendly trip to London
- Luxury short break with Michelin star restaurant nearby
- Dog-friendly hotels in the Lake District
In the planning moments, your leisure visitors are going to use the internet intensely. But we also know that whilst visitors formerly visited on average 38 websites in the planning phase, we also know expectations for instant gratification is rising. As a result, some reports are indicating those planning their travel are visiting as few as four sites during the planning process.
Google has created its own “planning moments” portal called Google Destinations.
At the booking moments, it is all about your user experience. Visitors have no problems with online reservations, but everything has to work correctly and in a way that they can trust. In terms of disintermediation, your SEO strategy has to be about your brand. If you are a smaller brand then you need to be muscling aside the OTAs. If you’re a less well-known brand, then you need to make sure that all the variations of your brand name and spellings can be discovered. In terms of long tail searching, if I’m looking for something very specific, then you need to be sure that you are going to be ranking well.
Finally, in the experiencing moments when your guests are at your venue, your SEO strategy is all about ensuring guests can find the exact information about the surrounding countryside, things to do, and having a wonderful experience. It’s all about reviews, sharing experiences, and connecting with other people. This is the perfect moment of the integration of your social media and search visibility strategies.
Link Building and Digital PR as Part of Your Travel SEO Strategy
Travel SEO is also very much dependent on high-quality link building. During the research and sharing stages, it is likely that potential customers will look off-site for what they perceive to be “unbiased” information, and a link from a well-trusted advice site would put you in good stead.
To give a real-life example, independent eco-tourism resort in Tobago, Castara Retreats will have benefited enormously from this review and link in The Guardian as well as a link from sites like Moneyweek.
A robust digital PR campaign is essential for a number of reasons, including getting visibility in trusted and high traffic sites. There are a wide range of highly trusted, highly relevant sites that could play an invaluable role in your SEO campaign:
- The Telegraph Travel
- Gov.uk Travel Advice
- The Guardian Travel
- Money Saving Expert Travel Advice
- Condé Nast Traveller
- Mumsnet Travel Forum
- Lonely Planet
All of these links would be valuable to a travel business because they all have good domain authority, and they are all respected sources of travel information. This list would be hugely expanded based on customer understanding, further research and digging into the specifics of the brand. The challenge for the travel sector is understanding the value each business within it adds to the websites from which they desire links; and being able to speak to potential customers in a way that is relevant to the stage of the customer journey they are at – not simply placing sales messages across the web.
User Experience and SEO
As the search engines get more sophisticated and seek to provide users with the best possible set of search results, the role of user experience is playing a key role in influencing a website’s rankings in the search results.
In other words, the way in which users engage with your website and give signals that demonstrate their satisfaction with your site, could well be an important search ranking factor.
One important factor in website user satisfaction is the speed with which the page loads, and this is now a web ranking signal. You can read more about page speed and SEO here.
Another key influencer in SEO is dwell time: the amount of time spent on a page before returning back to the original search engine results page. It’s a very interesting concept, and this article gives a useful overview.
Your Comprehensive Travel SEO Strategy
Creating a comprehensive travel SEO strategy will touch on a wide range of different tactics and strategies.
The advent of ridiculously fast mobile internet connections, the explosion of voice search, the growth of personalisation and one-to-one search results all are reshaping how SEO works in not just the travel industry, but every industry.
We have written a number of articles addressing some of these specific aspects of SEO that may also be of interest to you:
- Mobile Marketing in the Tourism Industry
- Getting Found in Local Searches
- Four Types of Content that Work for Link Building
- Social Media and Event Marketing
Travel SEO: A Summary
The travel industry in the UK is huge, and its move towards an online focus is a smart one. Whilst travel agents still have their place, more and more we see travel consumers taking their customer journey online – from research of the holiday, right through to sharing their holiday snaps on their return home.
With this broad customer journey comes a world of possibility from an SEO point of view. By understanding the customer journey, exploring new and longer keywords that are relevant to every step of the journey, creating a high-quality link profile based on adding value, and engaging users through social media; the travel industry has the opportunity to excel online. It is for this reason that the travel industry cannot and must not ignore the value of travel SEO.
To find out more about the SEO services offered by Hallam, take a look at our SEO and Digital Strategy pages or contact us to find out more. Our team of expert consultants have a wide range of experience, including working in and for the travel industry.
Are you a travel business or working in travel SEO? What is your experience of SEO in the travel industry? Share your comments below.