A lot has changed in the world of search over the years. Here’s how SEO for tour operators works in 2021
There’s probably only a few things about search engine optimisation that haven’t changed over the years. It’s a long-term strategy and it requires time, expertise and dedication.
Everything that used to be incredibly important, such as backlink building to gather all that sweet, sweet link juice and keyword usage, has been downgraded because of spam and poor quality content. People learned how to game the system and so it was made less important. By all means, work on them — just don’t focus on them.
Quality is now the main thing that search engines, particularly Google, look for. They’re hunting for answers to the questions people have. And if they can, they’ll try to provide it themselves.
There’s technical aspects as well. If your SEO content can’t be easily found by the reader then it will be downgraded. If it’s being published on blog.amazinghappytours.com then it has little to no SEO value — it should be at amazinghappytours.com/blog.
There’s also still myths floating around, such as landing pages are better when they’re shorter or that every company must have a Google My Business. Longer landing pages are better for both SEO and conversions, and if your company doesn’t have a physical location for customers to visit, then a GMB will limit your reach when a search is not around your office address. A DMC, for example, may be better to put their effort into gaining a knowledge panel, which appears in the same place as a GMB panel.
Interestingly, travel appears to be the last bastion for SEO of direct sales on Google. A quick, and unscientific, test of best tours America, best coffee machines, and best computers shows this. The first pages for computers and coffee machines only return blogs, reviews and ads, while America is full of OTAs, travel agents, and a few blogs and newspapers. That means tour operators’ SEO should focus on both content and sales.
In general, commerce has moved onto social media where targeting is easier, intent is better known and the audience has significantly less work to do. For travel, that travel intent function on Facebook products works wonders.
Is SEO dead?
This is the perennial question to which the answer is always no. It has become less important.
Google wants to keep as many people using its own products as possible, and so is sending less traffic in the direction of unpaid content. Social media has become its own behemoth competing for clicks, and is generally better at holding people on sites and apps, and at retention once people have clicked away from the app. Its anecdotal, but people click an article on social media and then return to the app to scroll for another few kilometres. On search, they only return to the site if they haven’t found what they need or to perform their next search.
As sales have moved onto social, search engines have picked up on discovery — answering the questions people have. This is why most of the unpaid content for computers or coffee machines are soft-sell blogs and reviews. They’re providing value to the reader on the specific question they’re asking, and making their cash from ads and affiliate sales.
But, as we saw above, travel functions differently on Google. It’s still possible to get your sales pages to rank, and so effort should be put into those. However, perhaps the best way to get the top result would be to ensure your tours have the best reviews in your location. That would mean you’re on that OTA’s top-ranking best tours in America page, or whichever location you’re in.
The effect of social on SEO
Social media has a huge effect on SEO in two ways — branding and traffic.
Search for any brand on Google and you’ll be shown their social pages. Search engines aren’t just crawling your site, they’re crawling these as well. It’s all getting counted — the number of likes or followers you have, the amount of interactions with your content, and the sentiment of the people interacting. Put in effort on managing your brand on social and it will pay off with an SEO boost.
Secondly traffic. Social is the best place to get some quick wins here. Until you’re ranking on the first page for your keywords, social traffic will always outperform search engines. That extra traffic will indicate to Google that your site is important and useful. It needs to be high quality, inspirational and clickable.
If you’re not promoting your content on social, start now. Start small and test, test, test. Find what works for your audience and what converts, then ramp up the spend. In no time at all you’ll have a site flooded with visitors, and search engines will take notice.
Remember that you’re competing for clicks with the very best in the business. Every company is now a media company. You should be putting as much effort into your social share copy and images as anything else in the publishing process and continually optimising these.
Structure your site for SEO
This is probably one of the things that’s ignored the most when it comes to SEO — possibly because it’s not that noticeable. Essentially, it’s about creating a top-level structure that displays all the information Google wants to see — your about pages, what you do, contacts, support. All of that will be used by search engines to build the snippets that you see under the homepage on the search page results.
This structure will also be used to provide some of the information in Google’s knowledge panels, once they decide to give you one. Once you have a knowledge panel, you’ll dominate the search results above the fold. Knowledge panels are automatically generated from open source materials. Social media activity helps here, as do tools such as Yoast, but in the end it will come down to all the hard work you’ve put into your SEO already.
Usefulness and personalisation are now important for tour operators’ SEO
“With the Knowledge Graph, we’re continuing to go beyond keyword matching to better understand the people, places and things you care about.” That’s what Google says about the magic behind their search product. It’s a bit waffly and doesn’t say much about what they’re actually doing, but what it does say is: be useful.
From a content marketing point of view, that means giving as much well-written information as possible. As tours, experiences and activities providers, you’re already perfectly placed to do that. You’re experts that deliver this sort of information every day. Start with a keyword search — such as SEO for tour operators — but don’t worry about stuffing the article with these. Worry about the quality of it — are you being useful?
This content doesn’t necessarily need to be based on the content of your experience — it could be on nightlife in your location, for example — but why not blog in detail about exactly what people can see and do with you? People are already going to read up and research before their trip. Use your storytelling skills to boost your SEO and sell more tickets.
Personalisation is all the rage right now. Search results are already personalised to what search engines think each reader wants to see. If you can implement personalisation features on your sales pages this will go a long way to making search engines think you’re more useful.
It could be using geolocation to show prices in the shopper’s local currency, even if the final sale is made in your own currency. You could also use this to create region-specific offers. Even implementing language localisation, which has long been amazing for SEO anyway, would give a little boost here.
Provide value and give people the information they need
SEO is all about making little tweaks and changes until the search engines relent and realise just how amazing you are. It won’t happen overnight unless you get lucky. It’s also no longer possible to game the system, and you shouldn’t listen to anyone who tells you it is. They’re selling snake oil. SEO for tour operators is now all about providing extra value, giving people the information they’re hunting for and making that easy for search engines to display.
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