Consumers are increasingly taking a self-serve approach when it comes to making purchase decisions, and it’s no different in the travel and hospitality industry. In fact, nearly half of all travelers start their planning with a search engine.

So it’s no wonder that Travel SEO has become a buzzword of it’s own. Ensuring that your travel or hospitality website is setup to be more visible on the search engines can help to capture these consumers when they begin their research, and throughout the travel planning journey.

Travel SEO require continual monitoring and optimization to ensure you’re building visibility and authority for your website. But if you are just getting started, here are six essential areas that you should focus on.  

1. Destination Optimization

When people search for travel, they’re using the destination in their search query. They search for “flights to hawaii” not “flights from denver” or “Paris hotel deals” not simply “hotel deals.” This seems like a no-brainer statement, but it’s crucial to your entire SEO strategy. It affects everything from site structure and keyword selection to content development and link building. So it’s important that destination is at the heart of your SEO efforts, regardless of whether you have a single destination (i.e., a hotel, tourist attraction, restaurant, etc.) or are marketing for travel destinations around the world.

Here are the key places that you should be using destination optimization:

  • Select keywords for each destination
  • Create geo-targeted landing pages/site sections for each destination and optimize meta data (more on this later)
  • Create value-add content about the destinations (e.g., “Family-Friendly Things to do in Nashville,” “Top 10 Beaches in Bali” or “3 Days in Mexico City? Here’s What You MUST Do”)
  • Optimize local and social profiles (more on this later, too)

When researching and selecting destination keywords, don’t simply focus on popular terms like “Vancouver hotel.” These shorter phrases only account for about 30% of all searches, and are extremely competitive. Consider the “long tail” keywords that present a better opportunity for ranking, and continually look for new keyword opportunities based on online behaviors, news, culture trends, language trends and seasonality.

Creating blogs focused on long-tail search queries creates new ranking opportunities while reducing competition.

2. Clean, Well-Organized Site

A website’s architecture dictates the way search engine crawlers find their way through your site. The goal is to get users to the most important content in as few clicks as possible. Pages that are easiest to navigate to will typically be the pages that are crawled first, which are usually the URLs linked to from the header and footer.

The search engines use URL structure to understand content found in websites. When pages are found “under” other pages as a subdirectory, it becomes more clear what they are about and when they should rank.

This is especially important for localized sections of your website. If you’re marketing multiple travel destinations, create a section for each destination with sub-pages for additional information and ranking opportunities. For example, site structure could be:

Additionally, be sure to create both an XML sitemap and an HTML sitemap. The XML sitemap allows search engines to crawl and index all pages on the site. This should be submitted to Google and Bing through their respective webmaster tools platforms.

The HTML site map is for human visitors not so much search engines; however, it does create internal links to each page on the site, which is useful for the search engines as well.

3. Meta Data Optimization

Page titles are one of the most important areas to optimize for keywords as they have a strong impact on organic visibility and are the first thing the searcher sees in organic results. You have limited space to work with in the page title tag (about 55-65 characters, or 512 pixels to be exact) so use it wisely. Include two to three relevant keywords and avoid using your brand name--the search engines are sophisticated enough to know your site should rank for your brand. If you must include your brand name, put it at the end.

A page’s meta description is important for organic click-throughs from search engine results. While it is not a ranking factor, it is a display factor, and it should be used on all indexable pages to capture searcher attention, explain page content, showcase a bit of brand flare and, ultimately, drive clicks. Meta descriptions should be no more than 156 characters.

Image alt text is another area where you can add keywords for increased relevancy, and for potential ranking on image searches.

4. Schema

In the not too distant past (yet nearly a lifetime in internet years!), when we talked about SEO, we were only concerned about the ten blue links that took up the bulk of the search engine results page (SERP). Today, however, the search landscape is much more complex and crowded. There are images, videos, answer boxes, knowledge panels, reviews, news articles, local panels, local “top sights” recipe cards, and even tweets. SEO software company Moz tracks nineteen major search features, yet there are other smaller features and Google is continually adding new ones and removing others.

Google’s Flights search feature.

Google’s Top Sights search feature.

Google’s Hotel Cards search feature.

Many of these search features can be influenced by adding schema (a.k.a., rich snippets) to your website. Schema helps to better organize your site content for the search engines to “read” and index, and can result in more visible and variable placement in organic search, such as some of the features mentioned above.

Facebook’s Open Graph Protocol is another form of schema used on the social networks. Similar to the search engines, Facebook and other social networks use Open Graph to organize your site’s content, and to create more robust posting on the social networks.

As a travel or hospitality brand, you should have the following schema implemented on your site at minimum:

Place/Local Markup

Review Markup

Organization Markup

Open Graph

Be as specific as possible with the type of schema values you use based on your business (e.g., you can choose hotel, resort, tourist attraction, golf course, ski resort, flight, etc.). Find more information on implementing schema and a full list of all types here.

5. Quality [Destination] Content

Search engine algorithms are extremely sophisticated. They can tell the difference between good quality and bad quality content based on length, word usage, reading level, in- vs. outbound links, frequency of posting and loads of other factors.

Developing high-quality content--content that will provide value to your audience, establish you as an authority, create opportunities for organic ranking on relevant terms, and pass the search engine’s sniff tests--takes skill, creativity, knowledge and, of course, time. You can’t rush quality.

Make sure that each page on your site has at least 75-100 words of text. This gives the search engines something to “read” and thus index, helps to avoid duplicate content issues, and provides more informational and compelling messages for human visitors.

As mentioned, creating geo-modified content for each destination creates ranking opportunities for these keywords. This content can be placed in separate destination sections on the site and/or can be used in a blog or resource section.

When coming up with topic ideas for blog content, a great place to start is your organic keyword data. Identify if any “question” keywords (e.g., “how to…,” “where...,” “what...,”) are driving impressions but have low positions and/or click through rates. Create original content to answer these questions and optimize the articles throughout for the keywords.

Create value-add, destination-focused content to increase visibility on and drive traffic from relevant keywords.

6. Link Building

Having a technically sound site with strategic, quality content merely sets the stage for the most important SEO factor there is: inbound links. A successful link building program today requires two things: 1. developing quality content that people will want to link to and 2. building relationships and contacts with sites that will be interested in linking to your content.

There are many different tactics to go about building links to a site. Following are some of the most common and successful methods for travel brands:

Local & Travel Directories - Submit business information on key local and travel sites, such as Google Maps, Yelp, Superpages, TripAdvisor, Expedia, Lonely Planet, Roadtrippers, etc. Take care to be consistent with the business name, address and phone number you submit.

Competitive Link Acquisition - By analyzing links your competitors already have, you can quickly identify immediate opportunities to acquire some of the same links.

Brand Ambassadors/ Influencers - Leveraging your super fans and people with large social followings can not only help to increase awareness and drive sales, but it can also result in links. Research relevant influencers (e.g., travel bloggers) and begin establishing relationships to determine how you can work together to obtain links. Consider offering free trips or travel credit in exchange for articles and/or reviews. Always take care to follow FCC guidelines when working with bloggers, which require a disclosure of the relationship and any exchange of goods or money.

Contests/Giveaways - Hosting a contest to win a trip or giving away a travel adventure can be a great way to not only increase awareness and collect email addresses, but it can also help obtain links, as bloggers and online publications frequently post announcements about these offers.

Trip giveaways and contests like this one can help to drive awareness, obtain email signups and generate links.

Ongoing Social Media Presence - Continuing to maintain active and engaging social media profiles will help generate traffic and build up brand recognition.

Travelers begin their planning journeys with search engines and use them throughout to book accommodations and find fun activities, making SEO an important part of any travel or hospitality brand’s digital marketing efforts. Starting with these six essential efforts, and continuing to monitor and optimize your site can help to drive traffic and increase bookings.

About the Author

Angie Pascale is a partner at Interstellar where she leads channel strategies, helping brand partners to increase visibility, engage customers and drive sales through search, social, email, paid and content initiatives.

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