NB: This is a guest article by Martin MacDonald, director of inbound marketing at Expedia Affiliate Network.
I’ll admit it: I’ve got an axe to grind. A big and rather shiny axe, one that has been resting against the cupboard called Lazy Travel Marketing for quite a while.
For those of you that don’t know me, my history is pretty much all organic SEO – I've worked in some of the toughest most competitive industries there are, from online gaming to entertainment, and now find myself in travel.
What’s bothering me is that things have moved on.
Really, they have – up until about a year ago I would have told anyone that you could get away with having distinctly average content, as long as it was propped up with a large amount of links, irrespective of the quality of each individual one.
It is fair to say that a lot of companies have got away with employing strategies, tactics, or even search agencies that simply depended on a volume of links and little else to rank in organic search.
Heck, a large percentage of every major industry relied on that strategy to rank well, leaving those with great content but limited link-building budgets at the bottom of the pile.
Well, things have changed.
The Panda updates this year really hit sites that depended on "less than magnificent" content. It really hit sites that depended on content sourced from affiliate networks or merchants – if that content also appeared on hundreds (if not thousands) of other websites.
The Penguin updates that followed hit sites that had been buying links for volume, rather than those that earned quality links.
Don’t get me wrong... Both of those things are actually really good for search quality, and ultimately user experience. Its not Google’s responsibility to give you or your site free traffic, it IS their responsibility to algorithmically serve the best possible results.
Put it this way, as soon as people don’t trust their rankings, Google are dead. Consumer behaviour is fickle, and it wouldn't take long for them to lose the one thing that has built the behemoth that we all know and mostly love.
The thing that I have an axe to grind with though is people and companies who just don’t accept that things haven’t changed.
As an industry (web marketers, not travel) we need to get real.
The old way doesn't work any more and those of us that have concentrated on building brands, creating content that adds to the user experience, and above all else, thinking about our websites visitors first and foremost, are now in the game!
Too many of us are still stuck in the past, with no real idea how to get out of the current situation.
Wise-up and move on
The funny thing is though – it doesn't need to be this way. We are incredibly lucky to work in an industry that people are passionate about. There are literally tens of thousands of people who write about travel for both pleasure and as a profession.
As an industry (again, web marketers) we still haven’t caught on though that there is a huge movement of these individuals who would love the opportunity to get their stuff on big travel retail sites – so WHY aren't we dealing with them?
You could make lots of arguments for this.
Primarily I guess because its hard to scale contact with potentially thousands of writers if you are a major point of sale online, but then you’re going to have to source it somewhere and lets face it: people who are passionate about travel ARE the people we should as an industry be dealing with.
I know I cant change perceptions overnight, but unless you start really thinking about this stuff, and your business depends in any way on organic search, then your days are numbered.
With the speed that Google are updating the algo these days I don’t see sites that only have syndicated content lasting another year.
With this in mind, I implore those of you that are responsible for developing online content to engage with travel bloggers.
I'm lucky enough to live in London, where there is quite a good community already, but you can find one in your local area on sites like Meetup.com – if one doesn't exist you could just start your own as well.
There are other larger established communities as well, for instance with TraveBlogExchange. Now I'm not saying that you should hijack these communities, but they exist, so you should be active in them if you want to engage with the right people.
Another way you could do it, is along the same lines as a beta test that I've launched this week EAN, where I’m testing the waters on a project to connect bloggers directly with a few of our partners to provide them content.
Over the coming weeks and months I will follow up on this article to let you know how it goes, but for now you can check out what I’ve started here.
Anyway, I guess that’s enough grinding of axes for now, but I would love to hear your comments here on Tnooz, or you can get in touch with me directly on Twitter on @searchmartin.
NB: This is a guest article by Martin MacDonald, director of inbound marketing at Expedia Affiliate Network. Follow him on Twitter.
NB2:Travel writer image via Shutterstock.