Why Travel Brands Need to Look Beyond Google for Organic Performance .


Tried looking for a hotel or a holiday on Google recently? You may have noticed that things are a lot more ad-focused than they used to be.


The situation of having so many ads above the fold has been around for quite a while now, but it often seems like the travel market suffers more than many other verticals in this regard. The travel and tourism sector generated around $1.6 trillion in 2017, with no signs of slowing down, so naturally, Google wants to ensure that it can grab a good share of this in the advertising space.

However, depressingly, when scrolling down past all the ads – including those now all over the once-pristine Maps – you realise that the vast majority of the big ticket terms are being dominated by the same set of aggregator engines like Expedia or Booking.com or TripAdvisor. Always coming up against the same SERP competitors is old news if you’re in, the retail sector but for tourism brands, it can get immensely frustrating.


This is particularly true if you’re a specialist tour or hotel operator with a geographic or economic niche. With a laser-focused strategy, you might have a little more of a chance of getting some impressions on page one of Google, but it won’t stop your site being continuously hounded in the space by all the leviathans already mentioned.


It’s situations like these which often causes travel and tourism brands to ask if “SEO” is really worth the effort since the chances of consistently beating these giants is pretty remote and no amount of effort seems to meaningfully move the needle. Flights, hotels, package holidays, even specialist tours all seem to come up against the same problem.

The good news is there’s hope for travel marketers yet and no need to despair. Instead of algorithm chasing and fretting over Google positioning on any given SERP, the time has come to evolve your thinking and become truly user-centric in your approach to the marketing of all flavours.

Year on year organic growth is achievable, by any brand willing to make the investment.


The nature of this investment is a simple thing to write down but immensely more complicated to bring to real-world fruition; like the business whose (anonymised) analytics figures grace the example above, brands in the travel space need to start getting to know their customers a lot better than they do now.

Producing Great Content

This isn’t just about blogging and producing great content, it’s about how the nature and style of how this content was informed; a rigorously tested plan and led by heavily segmented CRM data in order to make sure that the brand was producing destination-driven material that their converting users were interested in.

For example, if your converting audience is mainly seniors then writing blogs aimed at millennials who want to skydive into the Grand Canyon is a waste of time because regardless of your achievements in this area… it doesn’t appeal to your audience. Instead, you should be writing about ‘The Best Sunset Locations Over the Grand Canyon’ with push on easy access and accessible by car content.


Some brands might scoff at this idea but what they’re missing is the full potential of this content that only comes with personalisation and tailored online experiences to help users discover (and rediscover) the most compelling elements of an offering.

If your website has cookie permissions and a personalisation layer, when that lady comes to your site looking for the perfect 60th wedding anniversary getaway and lands on back on the Grand Canyon page, you’re not showing her the same content and imagery everyone else sees… Instead, your site shows her the smiling golden oldies against the Arizona sky. Whilst this has no direct effect on Google, it will keep users onsite longer which sends back positive engagement signals and makes her much more likely to remember your brand. When she’s done browsing and ready to make a booking, top of mind and good experience are powerful drivers for that brand-driven last click.

A less generic and more tailored content approach is also applicable off-site too. Influencer collaborations can help travel brands reap the benefits of off-site organic performance by allowing them to reach a smaller but much more engaged audience which is infinitely more powerful than shouting into the void with everyone else, even if you’re currently investing in a broader digital PR project this is the perfect accompaniment.

Example: Whilst the top ten up-and-coming destinations for 2018 is great for your brand… what about who’s sharing/taking photos of the ‘best Kenyan Safari where you’re most likely to sneezed on by a giraffe’ those are the influences who have a real passion for what they do and their followers are more likely to engage with something they share.

In short, even with all the layers of localisation and personalisation, Google has to offer, it's still horribly dominated by large aggregator engines for big-ticket terms but this doesn’t mean smaller brands need to give up… Abandon the Google-centric space and enter the customer-centric one by thinking more carefully about the people you want to reach.

Your audience isn’t just on Google, they’re also browsing social media (are you using the right hashtags?), reading editorials and new sites (how do you get in front of them here), as well as searching for things in a much broader research mindset ‘why is the sea in Hawaii so clear.’

Gaining this deeper understanding of your customers not only boosts engagement, conversion rates and lifetime value, it also boosts your organic acquisition. Not because of links, content, speed or anything associated with more conventional “SEO,” but because a stronger brand means stronger traffic. It really is that simple.

The execution of this kind of data-driven transformation is hardly something that can take place overnight. Nonetheless, adopting the right user-centric mindset in your business is the absolutely critical first step towards long-term success and, in many cases, often the hardest one to actually take.



05 Sep 2018 - 8 minute read
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