A special thanks to our guest contributor, Ayako Ezaki from TrainingAid, the online learning platform for tourism professionals from around the world. Check out TrainingAid’s helpful and affordable business, marketing, and leadership courses.
Why SEO deserves your attention
If SEO seems too technical for you to bother, consider this: Online search matters to your customers. Travelers search for numerous answers to their trip plans, including the one that matters most to your business: “What should I do?”
The Internet is the #1 source of travel research & inspiration. More and more travelers around the world are booking online (and via mobile).
Ignoring your SEO strategy means missing out on the opportunity to attract potential customers to your site. And if they’re not finding you on page 1 of their search, you can be sure they’re finding your competitors.
So how can you take the top spot in Google’s results, out-market your competitors, and boost your sales? Keep reading.
Getting to know SEO
SEO, or search engine optimization, is the process of getting organic (i.e. non-paid) traffic to your site. The easier it is for search engines like Google to find your website among the billions on the Internet, the higher you’ll rank in results.
We’re actually in a golden age of SEO. Before, it was easy to game the system. But with more sophisticated search engines algorithms, quality is king.
But getting an A in one class doesn’t earn you honors. Yes, using the right keywords matters to an extent, but here’s the truth: so does everything else. To prove to Google that your website is worth a dime, you have to have all your digital marketing cylinders firing. It’s not just your website design or your social media presence, it’s all of it. When you nail that, you’ll win Google’s vote.
SEO as a key part of your content marketing toolkit
Let’s take a break from SEO and introduce content marketing for a second. Your content marketing includes what’s on your website, your posts on social media, email newsletters, and basically any written marketing content you publish.
These are your chances to talk to Google, and if Google likes what you have to say, your SEO improves. In other words, your content marketing is paramount to your SEO strategy and success.
I can’t say this enough: quality counts in SEO. Good content boosts your search ranking when it’s (a) relevant (does it interest your intended audience?) and (b) important (does it offer valuable information that satisfy the searcher’s need?).
So to optimize your content for search, you want to make it easy for your visitors to find helpful and trustworthy answers to their searches. Insightful content leads to a positive user experience, which in turn leads to more visitors staying longer and doing more on your site. All of that amounts to improvements in your search rankings.
So content marketing, say hello to SEO.
Your SEO Checklist
Now that you know the basics, execute your SEO strategy by starting with these fundamental questions:
- Who is your target audience and how well do you know them? You must understand your customer’s preferences and purchase patterns if you want to succeed at marketing. The more effort you spend profiling your target customers, the more effective you’ll be. Be sure to think beyond demographics, and focus on details such as what motivates your customer to tour or try your activity, whose advice they follow, and how they like to share their experiences.
- How does your customer find and connect with you online? Nowadays, your customers can find you online in any number of ways–organic search, review sites, and social media to name a few. You need a holistic view of how these different channels lead people to your tour so you can deliver the most relevant marketing at each stage. Tip: If you use Ecommerce reporting in Google Analytics, keep a pulse on your Multi-Channel Funnels report to assist with this.
- What’s your strategy? Based on a solid understanding of your customer’s needs and wants, develop a content marketing strategy* that supports your business goals. Regardless of the size of your marketing budget, strategic marketing always trumps the alternative: “shouting” aimlessly at people that don’t care about you or what you have to say.
*If you’re interested in learning more about content marketing, specifically in the travel and tourism context, here is a great article by i&i travel media that demonstrates how different types of content supports your business goals and how they can be used along the customer journey.
Will blogging help my SEO?
Blogging is an excellent tool for content marketing and SEO. It allows you to regularly publish fresh, search-friendly content and to highlight your expertise in front of your target audience.
Take it from Irene Lane of Greenloons: quality content drives business and SEO success.
“Offering content actually solved two problems. First, because [ecotourism] was such a focused market, I knew that quality content would result in high Google organic search results. Second, I realized I could save a lot of money on advertising / customer acquisition costs. That said, it took a very long time (approximately 18 months) of consistently publishing articles until it started to pay off in the form of revenue.”
But if you don’t do it well, it could actually hurt your ranking.
To blog well, you must keep your content fresh and substantive. But that requires something that runs in short supply for many tour operators: time.
If you don’t have the time to dedicate to a blog, nix it. But here are some tips for getting the most out of a blogging strategy without writing for hours.
- Invest in timeless content: You’ll get more bang for your buck the longer your content remains relevant. Think of some of the searches that every potential customer might make and map them to blog posts: e.g. a useful how-to guide for travelers, stories about the communities you work with, or little-known facts about your destination. As a bonus, these are also the types of content that are likely to attract links from other sites, which could help your SEO even more.
- Re-Use and Re-Purpose: Look out for user generated content (e.g. pictures or videos that customers or guides take) that you can repost on your website or social media profiles.
- Analyze your results: Performing occasional (e.g. once a quarter) audits of your content could help you zero in on what topics or styles best advance your goals. If your intention is to improve SEO, see which blogs are getting the most organic search impressions and clicks and build around them. (Here’s how you do this in Google Analytics.) Checking in to see if you’re on the right path is the surest way to save time in the long run.
If blogging is not practical for your business at this point, there are still many steps you can take to boost your website’s search performance.
Strong social presence, for example, will help your search ranking, and it’s not just not the number of shares and likes that matters, but also things like the authority of social accounts and the relevancy of social contents. Earning links from other (preferably trusted and popular) sites is also critical to your search performance, as inbound links are the best way to naturally expose your content to search engines’ crawlers.
That’s just one example–there are hundreds of factors that experts think impact your search ranking. (It’s important to remember that there’s no formula for SEO even if the experts want you to think so. Think of all these factors more as educated guesses for what works and what doesn’t.)
At the end of the day…
What all this advice boils down to is that you have to offer a quality user experience, from your content to your web design and beyond, if you want to maximize your SEO.
None of those things, however, are quick fixes. With each season, you’ll learn more about your customers and your business, and tailor your SEO strategy accordingly.
That takes time, but it’s certainly time well spent.
To learn more about the specific SEO steps and content marketing best practices, check out the TrainingAid live session (recorded in January 2015) on SEO strategies and best practices for travel marketing, and online course on SEO for tourism brands for even more details.