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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.
Whatever your business, be it a regional or global brand, the content you produce plays a vital role in your success. You know that… hence you’re reading this.
A well formulated and executed content strategy not only drives more traffic, at the core, it defines what your business is and helps build a strong connection between you and your audiences.
So let's quickly look at why developing a coherent content strategy is important and how setting clear goals and understanding your audience will elevate your online performance.
What is a Content Strategy?
It's basic right? Content is at the core of how you define the way your business presents itself and an effective strategy should look to ensure that tone of voice, messaging and the core values are surfaced across all channels, from service or product pages on your website, to blog posts, through social media updates blah blah blah.
But let's keep it simple - your content strategy should be a clear roadmap that connects your marketing activities to your business goals. Align to your customer’s wants and needs and engage them at every interaction point and boom, you're in business.
Who are my Audience?
You likely start all your projects with this chalked on the wall because your business knows “exactly” who its customers are right? Sounds obvious but we often find its not been done forensically enough (not based on data), is too old (more than 12 months ago - forget it) or its a spin off from some brand work that was legitimately aspirational but doesn’t face the reality of who you your business is actually engaging today.
So start (or circle back) with audience research, building out those personas to understand their ambitions, their lifestyle, their pain points or concerns, and crucially their wants and needs - in your context.
Do I need to tailor content?
As part of your research find out where your audiences spend their time online and how they interact with content: Some may spend time thoroughly researching a product or service, whereas other audiences may want their content to be quick, snappy or easily digestible in the form of a video, infographic or short blog posts.
Ultimately, the key is to produce a strategy that creates the type of content your customers want to see:
What are the problems that your product or service will help them solve?
Who are they most influenced by?
What voices influence their behaviour?
What type of content do they consume?
Where do they consume content and engage with brands?
Different Content, Different Objectives
All content is not born equal: When producing your strategy, it is important that the objectives for each individual piece are defined, that these fulfil your marketing objectives and tie to the overarching goals for your business.
There are various content frameworks that exist to aid content development in this way, but one that is popular and effective is Google’s hero, hub and hygiene method: It provides a framework on developing content to achieve different goals and gives guidance on the effort needed to create each type of content.
Hero content is essentially campaign content, it is big splash ideas designed to appeal to a large audience with the aim of telling your brand’s story at scale.
Ways of measuring hero include the amount of PR mentions or links from authoritative domains plus social interactions and mentions of your brand across all channels.
Considering the scale of hero campaigns, this content is not regularly produced and is reserved for peak promotional times where it’s important for a business to stand out from their competitors.
Hub content is the stuff that keeps your audience engaged, it expands on the themes of product or service level content, educates users and helps create a connection between themselves and your brand.
Hygiene content is the bread and butter of any website, it is the BAU content for products and services, it is SEO focused and targets important keywords at a product, service or guide level.
How do I manage all this?
Content development is only one part of the ongoing work needed when working with an effective content strategy. We call it “feeding the beast” because it really is the fuel in your brand vehicle and once you start you really can’t stop (if it’s delivering results) but that’s where performance measurement comes in.
Your greatest gift in managing the outputs from your hero/hub/hygiene style efforts is to understand If your content is working. To truly deliver results your business must first understand the objectives and goals of each piece of content to effectively measure its success. That as a guiding light from day 1 will let you slow down, speed up, stop or start new content briefs and projects.
Remember - content strategies are not set in stone. They are living breathing things and should adapt and pivot as insights become available and your brand naturally evolves.
If ever you want to chat content and explore new initiatives we’re always here to help.