Travel is one of the most competitive verticals.
Travel brands not only compete against themselves directly but also against a plethora of other business models vying for the same users.
Competing for the same users are the travel giants, such as Booking Holdings (who reportedly spent $1.3 billion on “performance marketing” in a single quarter), versus smaller outfits with more modest marketing budgets, and Google itself.
The travel sector is also one of the most data-rich sectors, thanks to what is relatively inelastic and stable supply coupled with what is user-demand and seasonality that is predictable.
What makes it challenging is that the user journey isn’t linear.
The common user goal in travel is to go from A to B and complete an action or set of actions.
The complexity is that on offer within the market place, each facet and option possible is available either incomplete packages, such as guided coach tours or as individual elements that a user can piece together themselves.
A user may also conduct research on individual sites, before using an OTA to compare options and prices before booking.
There is the argument that Google favors larger brands within search results (which to an extent is true).
In order for smaller travel brands with lesser budgets to be competitive, they need to be more strategic with their efforts and resources and start to do SEO in the way right for their business model and offerings.
It’s also important to note that advancements in Google, such as BERT, don’t actually change the overall goal and objective.
Over the years, we’ve had to adapt our SEO approaches based on:
- Google cracking down on some practices through algorithms such as Penguin.
- Changes in user behavior such as the big shift to mobile – and not other IoT internet-enabled devices.
In order to do this, travel brands need to be smarter with data available to them and focus even more on creating user value and experiences rather than core commercial messaging.
1. Engage Travel Influencers on New Mediums
When it comes to engaging influencers in the travel sector to gain brand exposure and links, there has been a content shift.
- Larger brands now looking to engage those in the travel world with strong followings on YouTube and Instagram.
- Smaller brands have remained focused on bloggers and getting links.
While links are still important to rankings and Google algorithms, so is building a brand and being recognized. Unless you’re being featured on the biggest travel portals, you aren’t going to get the brand exposure.
The move toward working with influencers who don’t necessarily provide written content (such as YouTubers, podcasters and vloggers) correlates with user trends in moving away from written content for information discovery.
YouTube is becoming more popular amongst the younger generations as a content discovery platform. This is being enabled by:
- Advancing smartphone technology.
- Access to the internet becoming cheaper from cell providers.
- Increased “free” WiFi in public spaces.
Curating video content with travel influencers whose primary medium is YouTube or podcasts won’t necessarily return the link that a lot of marketers have been conditioned to perceive as being the objective.
That said, by engaging with the right ones in the right way (and not just sponsoring a channel so the logo is there), it can yield good results in terms of marketing and PR, thus building your brand and brand awareness.
2. Be Open to New Audiences & Markets
This is also important in engaging new markets.
Markets now hitting higher levels of internet accessibility are doing so through the same modern devices as the younger generations.
A good example of this is that 4 of the top 10 YouTube channels globally are Indian (according to SocialBlade data).
According to the UNWTO (United Nations World Travel Organization), by 2020 India will account for more than 50 million outbound tourist visits, and has been growing at a year-on-year rate of 10% to 12%.
When expanding into new markets, making sure that all the SEO elements (such as Hreflang and localized content) is important.
It’s also important to ensure you can provide good levels of customer service and support to different time zones and different languages.
I’ve seen a number of travel brands make this expansion step without making provisions for different customer needs and then attributed the performance of the expansion to other factors.
3. Leverage Micro-Moments in Content
In 2016, Google gave the world four travel-specific micro-moments and their place within the travel customer journey:
- Dreaming moments.
- Planning moments.
- Booking moments.
- Experiencing moments.
I wrote an article exploring these micro-moments in full in March 2018, but almost four years on there are still few travel companies incorporating these moments into their content ecosystems.
The majority of websites in travel are decentralized websites.
By Kevin Indig’s definition, a decentralized website is:
…a website with many points of conversion, used by ecommerce businesses, social networks, and marketplaces. They are “decentralized” sites with page templates they can scale, such as public instances, user profiles, apartment listings, products, or categories. Examples are Pinterest, Airbnb, and Amazon.
These moments have multiple intents depending on how far along the user is on their journey, and understanding how to be present at the various stages of the journey is key.
In the past, I’ve described this to travel businesses as curating content and user experiences for various stages of the funnel in order to ease understanding, as commercial content on its own is no longer sufficient (unless you’re a mega-brand).
Creating content around micro-moments and being present at the various stages of the journey not only reinforces your (brand) position with the user but also help improve the relevancy of the website as a whole by having great supporting content (to the main content), which will improve organic search performance overall.