SEO Strategies for Travel Brands differ from other industries

Searchmetrics has published a new study on travel industry-specific search ranking factors that might help travel brands improve their visibility in Google searches.
It suggests that a focus on browsing experience, making information and comparison simple, and a comprehensive coverage of topics with greater content word counts, while better quality images can improve a site’s standing.
The research is informed by more tailored, industry-specific results, supplied by Google using AI and machine learning technology in its RankBrain system.
Daniel Furch, head of content marketing at Searchmetrics explains:
“Google now more accurately determines searchers’ intentions by analyzing the keywords and phrases they enter in the search box.
“It knows the context of individual searches — including whether they relate to travel, retail, finance or other verticals — and ensures that results reflect the characteristics that meet the needs of searchers.
“For travel marketers, as for marketers in other verticals, this means they can no longer focus solely on generalized, universally applicable rules to drive the best search performance.
They also have to take account of factors that are important in their specific vertical.”
Searchmetrics analyzed the top 20 search results on Google.com for more than 6,000 typical travel-related search terms—like ‘airline tickets,’ ‘vacation rentals’ and ‘budget rental car’.
The company identified the most commonly occurring elements that appear in these travel results, comparing those to a benchmark study of broader Google ranking factors for 10,000 general, high search volume keywords across all industries.
The major take-aways from these reports reveal that travel brands should ignore much of the conventional wisdom for SEO optimization, and instead focus on quality, informative service.
Those who are dreaming of travel want to linger a bit with those dreams, want to find clear and easy-to-follow ways to make those dreams a reality, and don’t mind spending a little time to get the journey just right.

Be browsable
Travel-related pages should focus on the browsing experience, with a concentration of internal links which let searchers click through to find related content on the same site. Travelers will want to find more background information on topics of interest, or information that helps guide their decision by comparing options.
The Searchmetrics study reveals that travel-related pages ranking in Google’s top 10 results have approximately 23% more internal links than benchmark broader industry rankings.
But internal links should follow a logical, relevant and informative structure. Furch says:
“Travel-related brands need to ensure their web pages intelligently link to related content throughout their site, so searchers can easily find relevant content and background to help them compare and decide on their travel plans.
“This is not surprising as planning a vacation for example involves so many details — from flight times and luggage allowance to insurance, car-hire, and seasonal weather patterns.
“Searchers want to be able to find answers to all those questions as painlessly as possible.”

The eyes have it
Unsurprisingly, those dreaming of travel appreciate visuals. While a large concentration of images may be a negative SEO factor for other websites, it can boost the value of travel websites to users—even if that greater concentration of images sacrifices some loading time.
The top ten Google results for travel-related queries use around 38% more images over 200 pixels per page.
Travel-related pages listed in the top ten results have a 40% larger file size and take almost 3 seconds longer to load, 10.6 seconds on average compared to the benchmark 7.8 seconds.

Words should come easy
As content specialists highlighted in our report on travel content strategies published this May, long form storytelling works.
Travel results which make it into Google’s top ten average over 2,500 words per page. That’s a 57% higher word count than the benchmark. The average for the top 10 rankings across all industries is 1,633 words per page.
Even so-called “listicles” should be longer by an average of four bullets. The top 10 travel sites had 18.3 bullets on average, whereas the top 10 benchmark sites had 14.4.
But don’t be repetitive. Searchmetrics finds that keyword (1) stuffing is a killer. Quality travel sites in the top 20 used the keyword (2) in an article about three times, compared to the 7.4 times other industries try to force the keyword (3) in.

Smart SEO
Other SEO factors which differ for travel sites from other industries include:
Top 10 pages in the travel industry are less than half as likely to use AdSense AdLinks as pages on average.
On average, travel landing pages are larger than the pages in our benchmark study
URLs ranking highly for travel-related keywords are less likely to use encryption than websites in general, when looking at high-ranking pages from all industries.
The average load time for top 10 travel pages is 10.6 seconds, more than 3 seconds slower than the overall average.
Travel websites have far fewer social signals than the overall average across all industries. In fact, the top 10 only have 609 social signals (likes, shares, etc.) compared to the 5,552 of other industries.

Social what?
Given the amount of coverage of the social media customer service habits of airlines in particular, this Searchmetrics finding on social signals may be surprising, but it’s very positive.
Brands with the budget to engage more on social media channels will get the edge over competitors, in terms of building a community of fans. But those who do not have the budget for heavy social media campaigns will not be detrimentally affected, at least in terms of their Google search rankings.

Bottom line
Tell a story, be useful, help travelers visualize their trip, don’t try to “game” SEO, and if you’re going to be sociable focus on quality over quantity.
Full report can be downloaded here.

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