Recently, I received an email from a client – a travel SEO – expressing concern about their company’s increasing struggle to win more traffic. This comes as no surprise in the industry, however; the search landscape for travel companies has changed vastly in the last several years.
Not long ago, travel businesses had to put up with significantly fewer SERP challenges. The overall search opportunity was different, too.
Today, more than ever, an idea to go somewhere starts with an online search. Even if a person wishes to use a travel agent to book their vacations, they still use a search engine to research destinations or ideas first.
There’s plenty of data to confirm this. The interest in generic terms like “booking flights” or “booking hotels” has been growing steadily in the last couple of years, for instance. Consider the example below where I compared two travel-related keywords with car rentals. Note the stark difference!
But there’s more. According to Skift, a travel data and news portal, organic traffic drives the highest percentage of revenue for travel and hospitality brands at 46%.
Finally, Google’s article, “How to win travelers in the age of assistance,” provides further insights into the importance of SEO for the industry. It reads:
“Fifty-five percent of travelers we surveyed agree that they have to check too many sources of travel information before making a decision.”
Now, consider how do they find those sources in the first place? Well, by conducting a Google search, of course!
Unfortunately, SEOs must first overcome many challenges to benefit from the incredible opportunity SEO offers the travel industry.
Why Has Travel SEO Become so Challenging?
Positioning a brand in search offers incredible opportunities in many other industries, so, why has the travel industry become so testing?
The first indication of what makes travel SEO so difficult, I believe, lies in how travelers look for relevant information.
Let’s take search queries, for example. When looking for travel-related information, searchers are more likely to use general terms and keywords. In fact, according to the data from Google, only 9% of US travelers know which brand they want to book with, prior to researching.
Because of the above, category searches beat branded searches, forcing companies to rely primarily on long-tail keywords.
User behavior poses another problem. A typical traveler will rarely convert on the first visit. Instead, they will, most likely, visit many other websites before making the final call. But such behavior forces travel brands to focus on repeat visits, rather than immediate conversions.
Another issue? Search is becoming more about getting answers. Google is undergoing a transformation from search engine to answer engine. Searching for flights to Chicago from Dublin, for example, yields a direct answer now via Google Flights rather than a list of providers to research further.
When I search for hotels, I get similar results from Google Hotel Pack, providing me with a list of places to consider for a stay in London.
Even if I look for a destination, Google anticipates my needs and provides me with answers to the most common travel-related questions – the top things to do in the location, recent news, and even suggestions to plan my trip!
Certainly, the rise of voice search has affected the search results and how we interact with the search engine to find information.
What’s more, as users, we seem to prefer this way of searching. A forecast by Canalys estimates that in just short three years there will be more smart speakers in use than tablets.
Finally, younger travelers – the Millennials – often plan their trips using social media. They use Facebook, Pinterest or Twitter for travel inspiration, skipping Google research almost entirely. Instead, they prefer to see where their friends have gone on vacations and base their plans on that.
I think we can assume safely, based on the above, of course, that achieving greater search visibility in the travel industry requires a deep understanding of how travelers use search.
The Four Travel Micro-Moments
There’s a statistic that puts all that we know about search behavior in perspective. According to Google, the average session length in the travel industry has shrunk by 5%.
Allow me rephrase it to make it more relevant to this discussion - travelers spend less time on relevant websites. Instead, as other data points suggest, they research more sources during their purchase journey.
The journey, as the search engine reports, covers four stages, typically:
- Dreaming moments in which a person explores their options without a firm plan.
- Planning moments that happen when a person has settled on the destination and move to research flights, accommodation, availability, etc.
- Booking moments, a moment when they take action and reserve hotel rooms or other accommodation and book flights.
- Experiencing moments take place as the trip comes near. They involve further research, anticipation and further planning.
Where Do Many Travel Brands Go Wrong with the Above?
Look at the list of travel micro-moments again. I bet there’s one, particular micro-moment that caught your attention right away – the booking. That’s the step all travel brands aim for, after all. Unfortunately, by underestimating the remaining three moments, they miss out on opportunities to bring more travelers to a conversion.
First, as we’ve discovered already, most travelers will not convert during the initial visit. Your goal, therefore, is to earn their consideration as they progress through those micro-moments. Doing so requires targeting all moments with relevant content.
Travel searchers want assistance, too. As Google writes:
“Enabled by technology, travelers have greater expectations for assistance. When they need information or have a question, they’re looking for assistive experiences that are useful, personal, and frictionless.”
Unfortunately, that’s not everything travel brands have to put up with in search.
Challenges Travel SEOs Face Today
Let me break those by the two main types of travel businesses – hotel chains and OTAs.
- SEOs working in large hotel chains have to deal with multiple locations. Although it may not seem like a big deal at first, managing global AND local SEO at the same time is, indeed, challenging.
- Their colleagues at OTAs, on the other hand, often tell me how hard it is to scale traffic among the fierce competition. Because, although OTAs seem to be taking the market share from individual operators, in doing so, they increase the number of brands with whom they have to compete in the search.
Then, both groups face challenges with:
- Keeping up with the emerging threats. Much of the search real estate now goes to Google Hotel Search, Flight Search, Google Travel Guides and even Answer Boxes, after all.
- Differentiating their offerings on the market beyond various packages and price offers or reviews.
- Achieving scale with millions of keywords and pages to track, analyze, improve and maintain.
- Understanding nuances around search behavior in every country and language, airport codes, and so many more local queries.
I admit, facing either of the challenges could break the toughest SEO. Most of those working in the travel industry face all of the above at once!
The good news – There are ways to overcome those (or minimize their impact, at least.)
How to Overcome Travel SEO Challenges with a Dedicated Platform
#1. Evaluating Content Ideas
If you consider the problems above again, you’ll see some patterns emerging. For one, many of them relate to the type of information a website should include to rank and drive visibility. Differentiating the offering, standing out from the competition, achieving scale can be beaten by using the right content, for example.
How do you do that? By improving the relevance of your keywords and topics.
Using AI-powered tools like Topic Explorer, for instance, you can convert long lists of keywords into topics.
Topic Explorer lets you analyze your entire keyword landscape to identify what information related to your keywords searchers are looking for. What’s more is that it presents this information visually, allowing you to dive deep into relevant topics.
Let me illustrate that with an example, using the keyword, “London Eye.” The phrase relates to the famous attraction at the heart of the UK’s capital, obviously.
But running it through the Topic Explorer’s Landscape option, I learn something intriguing about the information searchers look for in relation to it. Much of the interest around it relates to accommodation in the London Eye’s vicinity. Such insights suggest the approach I should take if I want to ensure that my content covers all aspects of the topic.
Topic Explorer Landscape report.
But there’s more. I can click on any of the spokes in the graph to discover more specific aspects of the topic.
As a result, I can collect ideas to help me gain topical authority and in turn, increase the number of keywords for which I could rank.
Evaluating the search landscape is just one of the many analysis you can do in the topic explorer. The tool allows you to group keywords by the user intent as well, uncover keyword patterns and even analyze top competitors in search.
#2. Dealing with Data Limitations
SEOs in large hotel chains often tell me about their struggles with managing multiple locations, from getting all the data in one place to being able to correlate insights from different locations to draw conclusions.
Here’s what I recommend them.
First, use a platform that brings all the Google Search Console data, from all locations and properties, together. seoClarity’s Search Analytics provides data based on GSC to deliver insight about your SEO performance.
Next, ensure you’re getting all the data you need, without any restrictions. seoClarity provides ALL SEO data, metrics and the capabilities you need to scale your search visibility. We impose no restrictions, price tiers or other tool-related limitations on how you use the platform.
What’s more, we offer fresh, reliable and scalable data - from daily rank checks to operating one of the largest keyword indexes in the industry.
But how does that help you? For one, having unlimited, reliable data in one place means that you will never again be restricted by the information you can use.
And being able to build custom SEO dashboards, you can group the right data together to acquire the insights you need to drive further growth.
Ranking Performance Dashboard in seoClarity
#3. Dealing with Emerging Trends
Technology reshapes how we look for information and with what tools constantly. Voice search, voice assistants, for example, are becoming more and more common ways to search.
These changes enter the travel industry too. As a travel SEO, you have to be prepared to deal with them. Here are some ways to do that.
Voice Search. Much of the voice searches revolve around the answer box. That’s the content voice assistants use when providing answers, after all.
seoClarity offers a powerful feature to evaluate the answer box opportunity and discover the content to optimize for the Answer Box.
Answer box opportunity report in seoClarity
Apps. Many travel providers offer proprietary mobile apps to streamline the user experience. For you, however, this means being able to evaluate the app’s performance in search as well.
seoClarity offers App rankings. Based on the App ID Setting for your Own Domain, the report displays where your App ranks versus the number of results that have App result.
Video Rankings. Finally, with the popularity of video growing exponentially all the time, it only makes sense that travel brands invest in and publish YouTube clips too. Google, in turn, includes them in SERPs as a carousel. The problem? Monitoring video rankings.
This is where seoClarity will help as well. With the Video rankings capability, you can analyze the performance of any channel, be it your videos or a competitor’s.
Video rankings in seoClarity
Most travel websites winning greater search visibility more and more challenging. Why? Well, the user behavior around travel-related searches has changed, for one. So did the way search engines process those inquiries. You’ve seen many examples of that above.
As a result, travel brands must change their SEO practices. The most important change? Better quality data to increase visibility in the organic search. This involves all activities, from finding topics or new link building opportunities to improving the user experience or reporting.