According to the World Travel and Tourism Council, travel
and tourism generated a direct contribution of $2.3 trillion to global GDPs in
2016 and supported one in 10 jobs in the global economy.
More than three-quarters of that spending - 76.8% - is
attributed to leisure travel. It’s a massive market, and one that often starts
with a blank slate: Many consumers begin the travel planning process with a
simple desire to get away, without a specific idea of where, when and how.
For most travelers, the answers to those questions come
through self-directed online research. Searchmetrics, an SEO and content
performance platform, reports 60% of leisure travelers put together their own
itineraries, using the web, apps and social media to find and book flights,
accommodations and activities.
So it’s no surprise that travel brands are spending big - very big - on digital marketing as they aim to reach and inspire this receptive
In 2017, Expedia forked over a record $5.3 billion on
marketing - a figure that equated to more than half the entire group’s revenue
in that year and an increase of 21% over marketing spend in 2016. Rival Booking
Holdings reported figures only slightly lower - a $4.1 billion outlay in 2017
on performance advertising, a 19% increase over 2016.
Throughout June, we're looking at a variety of topics under
the umbrella of digital marketing.
We begin with an analysis of the current state of search
engine optimization, which today could be renamed Google optimization.
the ground is shifting as voice search gains prominence - and brings with it a
whole new set of strategies - for now a brand’s position in Google web and
mobile searches is still the dominant driver of customer acquisition.
As consumers spend more time on mobile devices and less on
desktops, Google is shifting its focus to mobile content.
In late March, Google announced it is implementing a new
system for crawling, indexing and ranking sites.
Mobile-first indexing means Google will predominantly use
the mobile version of the content whereas in the past it primarily used the
desktop version of a page's content when evaluating the relevance of a page to
a user's query.
Subscribe to our newsletter below
While Google says content gathered via mobile-first indexing
“has no ranking advantage over mobile content that’s not yet gathered this way
or desktop content,” clearly it’s a sign that search strategies need to
prioritize mobile interfaces.
“Most of our clients have more mobile traffic than desktop,”
says Kevin Gibbons, CEO of BlueGlass, an SEO and content marketing agency.
“If you don’t have a mobile-friendly website, you need one.”
Gibbons works with several travel brands including Expedia
and Orbitz. For most of his travel clients, organic search is their primary
referrer of not just traffic, but also new customers.
But the strategies to drive that search traffic have changed.
While years ago he says the focus was on analyzing ranking factors
and “trying to make them look like they should be number one in Google, now it’s
about how do we build a brand’s reputation so they deserve to be number one.”
The solution is a mix of public relations and content
marketing – creating interesting, engaging content that includes data-driven
studies “because people want something newsworthy and credible,” and packaging
it in a way that it is visually appealing and shareable.
“If people want to link to it from national media, publisher
sites, bloggers, influencers, etc … the stronger signal you send to Google in
terms of that content deserves to be number one,” Gibbons says.
Large OTAs such as Booking.com and Expedia dominate the
search engine results pages, he says, because they offer a vast array of
services and can rank in Google for a wide range of terms.
Rather than trying to fight them head-to-head, Gibbons suggests
smaller suppliers use a more narrow strategy driven by optimization around their
unique services and location.
“For example, quite often searches that include a
destination or location keyword will give you a Google map listing. So hotels
can rank higher than an OTA for the reason that they have a physical location,”
“It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do SEO. It’s just at a
boutique level you go more targeted, at a broad level you try to capture the
volume in the market."
And he says the good news for brands that don’t have the multimillion-dollar marketing budgets of the big players is that the “the majority of
traffic, something like 50 to 70% of clicks, will go to an organic listing. Typically
only 3 to 5% click on a paid listing. So if you are the number one organically, you’re
going to generate a lot more traffic than if you listed in just the paid search
Searchmetrics recently published its first analysis of
search engine ranking factors for the travel industry, based on 5,000
travel-related keywords in its database.
The findings paint a picture of best practices for search
engine optimization in travel, with insights regarding image count, word count,
use of keywords and more.
- Lists on
travel-industry websites have more bullet points than the average across all
“Lists are a form of structured content that make it easier
for users to absorb the information on the page. When you just have a lot of
text it is harder,” says Stephen Bench-Capon, content marketing manager at
“What the data shows is, in the travel industry, list tends to
be longer and provide a lot of information. People want lots of detail and descriptions
since often they are comparing options.”
- Top-ranking landing
pages in the travel sector use the searched keyword far less frequently in the
page body than the overall average.
“In the past one SEO tactic, referred to as keyword
stuffing, was filling the text, for example, trying to write 'Majorca' as many
times as possible so the search engine algorithms would pick it up and know it’s
about Majorca,” Bench-Capon says.
“Now it’s more about actual genuinely relevant content. This
tactic of keyword stuffing is generally on the way out, but in travel we found
that it’s not even slightly relevant. So the idea is to write a proper piece of
content that approaches the topic normally and not do any sort of tricks with
landing pages on Google’s first search results page use 38% more images of at
least 200 x 200 pixels than pages of other industries.
“An image can be used to inspire or to spark emotion or capture
attention,” he says.
“In other industries, they may shy away from images because
they don’t want to overload the page, but in travel we found images are popular.
Images should be carefully selected so they are relevant, but you should not
shy away from using them if it adds to the content.”
If you don’t have a mobile-friendly website, you need one.
Kevin Gibbons - BlueGlass
- Travel pages on
Google’s first page use 23% more internal links than the overall average.
“It’s always important to have a good internal linking
structure to help the user find their way around the page but also for the
Google crawler, and we found in travel there’s a much stronger connection
between the high-ranked pages having more links and the lower-ranked pages have
relatively few links,” Bench-Capon says.
“The more you can keep people in your universe the better it
is. We found that high-ranking travel pages seem to be doing that very well.”
- The content relevance
of travel URLs on the first Google search results page is higher than for pages
on average, when all industries are analyzed.
“Google has been saying for a few years now that the relevance
of the content is the most important thing that matters,” Bench-Capon says.
“We see that in the travel industry more strongly than
across the board. It means travel SEOs are doing something right.”
- Top-ranking URLs in
the travel industry have 57% more words than the general average measured
across all industries.
“We found that in travel, more words are better, but only if
they stick to being relevant. You can’t just fill it with words for words' sake,”
“One word we use quite a lot is holistic - trying to
provide a page that answers a range of questions the user might have. That’s
what we call a holistic, comprehensive piece of content and will appeal to a
variety of users, and Google should like you too.”
As Google has become more active in travel, Bench-Capon says
it will likely become even more challenging for brands to win at the game of
“If you Google any destination, you get a whole Google
travel section where they’ll give you flights and hotels, etc. Anyone who lands
there is kind of in Google’s world. And at the same time it takes physical
screen space away so it lowers the opportunities for normal websites to be
seen,” he says.
“Google seems to think it can get a big piece of the pie, which
is worrying. It means that the actual competition
and the organic search gets all the harder.”
Take Phocuswright’s survey on the state of travel advertising and marketing
Complete the survey here
and get free research, plus a chance to win an Amazon gift card.