Travel is a popular motivator of online search queries and both lodging and tour operators face a lot of competition for travelers choosing where to stay and what to do. While the rules of search engine optimization (SEO) have changed (for the better) over the years, SEO remains an integral part of any digital marketing strategy for businesses that want to get found online.
Wikipedia describes SEO as the “process of affecting the visibility of a website or a web page in a search engine’s unpaid results,” and this is achieved by applying current SEO tactics – which are derived from an understanding of how search engines work and what people search for – to a website’s content and design.
The days of rampant keyword stuffing are over; search engine algorithms have become much smarter to filter out the good content from the bad. It’s not so easy for websites to trick the likes of Google anymore. This is great news for both seekers and providers of information – in other words, your customers and you.
A search engine’s purpose is to provide users with relevant answers and a good user experience and search engines are getting very savvy at identifying sites that do just that. Now, SEO relies on a more holistic and integrated approach that involves a combination of traditional yet refined SEO practices (like keywords and inbound links), content marketing and mobile friendliness.
The truth is, there’s no magical SEO equation. Increasing organic (unpaid) search engine traffic to your website is all about testing and analyzing what works for your business – and on an ongoing basis as search engine algorithms are constantly evolving and improving. However, there are fundamental search-engine-friendly practices that any hospitality and tourism business’ website (or any business’ website for that matter) should employ to boost visibility.
Here’s our SEO checklist for 2016:
Search-Engine-Friendly Site Structure
A well-structured, fast website is both search-engine friendly and user friendly. Search engines work by “crawling” websites and indexing web pages from which to pick when someone conducts a search. This means that your website must be easily accessible (crawl-able) to search engines in order to be indexed.
Search-engine-friendly design includes such features as HTML and XML sitemaps to help make it easy for search engine bots to crawl a website, mobile-friendly (responsive) design, optimized site speed, site security, structured data markup, and unique, descriptive URLs and meta tags (especially title tags) for each page that are representative of page content (use relevant keywords where appropriate).
Descriptive Content and Long-Tail Keywords
Search-engine friendly content is created for customers, not search engines. Descriptive yet concise written copy that conveys the unique experience and personality of a business not only engages website visitors and keeps them on your site, but also naturally contains descriptive phrases (or long-tail keywords) that prospective customers are typing into search engines.
Search engines are becoming more adept at recognizing quality content that answers users’ questions, and more and more users are using longer search queries to find answers to very specific questions. The trick to creating unique, descriptive content that engages your audience and helps your website get found is identifying what makes your business stand out – your niche. For example, instead of going for broad, short keyword phrases like “Surfers Paradise Hotel” (which all the OTAs and chain hotels have covered), describe your property as a “family-friendly hotel near the Surfers Paradise Beachfront Markets.” Customer reviews are a great place to look for inspiration, and Google AdWords’ KeywordPlanner can help forecast how keywords will perform.
Blogging is an effective way to create long-tail content that addresses relevant search queries, and regular posts show both visitors and search engines that your site is current.
Quality Inbound Links
Inbound links help Google and other search engines assess a website’s authority. In other words, if your website is listed on and linked to from a site that Google regards as an “authority” site, Google determines that your site is credible, which positively influences ranking. When it comes to inbound links, quality is important, not quantity; in fact, inbound links from spammy sites can actually be detrimental to SEO.
Authority sites that are relevant to lodging and tourism businesses include the official websites of local tourism associations, attractions, airports and even public events. Such organizations are often happy to link to relevant sites, especially when you also link back to theirs.
Blogging (done right) is a great way to gain reputable inbound links, so don’t forget to share your blog posts on social media.
Accurate and Consistent Local Listings
Local SEO is especially important for hospitality and tourism businesses because travelers search for places to stay and things to do in specific localities. Make sure your website is optimized for local searches by adding your business’ NAP (name, address, phone number) details on every page of your site (in the header or footer), and claim your business across search engines (Google My Business, BingPlaces), ensuring information is accurate and consistent.
Also make sure that your business details are correct across the Web on review sites like TripAdvisor and Yelp, and directories such as Foursquare and Yellow Pages. NAP consistency is key.
With mobile searches now exceeding desktop searches on Google, worldwide, it’s more important than ever to optimize your website for mobile devices to provide the best user experience. Last year’s big Google algorithm update, AKA Mobilegeddon, reinforced the importance of mobile-friendly web design with mobile-friendliness becoming part of the ranking criteria in mobile search results.
The more people engage with and share your content, the more inbound links are created and the more search engines take note. Because travel is such a popular topic in online social circles, social media – working hand in hand with your website – can be an effective SEO tool.
Whenever you can, link your social media posts back to website content as appropriate – to blog posts, special package deals, event services, etc.
Reviews are a great way to boost search ranking; the more online feedback a business has, the more credible a business is to both customers and search engines like Google. Encourage and manage reviews on Google as well as on respected review sites like TripAdvisor and Yelp.
It’s important to track your website’s performance (and the success of your SEO tactics) to identify areas that can be improved. Google Analytics offers a free tool (as well as paid analytics solutions) that allows you to monitor site traffic by adding tracking code into your website. Using such an analytics tool not only tells you how many people are finding your website and how, but can also help you determine whether or not your website is providing a positive user experience through data like time on site, bounce rate, pages per visit, returning visitors and conversions.
SEO is so important to hospitality and tourism businesses because, as Google says, “wherever travelers go, they’re online.” Deep-seated in customer experience, SEO is part of an integrated marketing approach. If your lodging or activity website features genuine content created first and foremost for your customers, and is easy to use across devices, it is already on the road to ranking well for relevant search queries. Follow the above suggestions to help drive your site to the top!
If you’d like further guidance, our experienced web designers can help!