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 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.

Mobile sites of Hotel and OTA are works of friction

The trade body for hotel distribution knows better than most that mobile bookings for hotels, via brand dotcoms or third parties, are now mainstream. The research accepts this as fact, and chooses to focus specifically on “barriers to [mobile] conversion”.

It has used a customer friction measurement tool – NTT DATA’s recently launched CFF Service – to rank 10 different suppliers according to three specific hotel booking scenarios.

Hotel and OTA mobile sites are works of friction

The results do not name names in terms of individual results, but, for reference, it evaluated the mobile search and booking process for Wyndham, Choice, IHG, Marriott and Starwood, while the OTAs under the microscope were Hotel Tonight,, Expedia, Priceline and
One of the scenarios was for a brand-agnostic, price sensitive user booking a nearby hotel for one night. Brand dotcoms came out the best in this instance – the average CFF score for all ten was 265, with all the’s better than the average.

OTAs came up short on engagement, where the evaluators felt that they were forced to spend lots of time on the mobile site looking for information, and on the ecosystem, which forced them to enter previously provided information. OTAs were also penalised for including adverts, pop-ups and cross-selling messages into the booking flow.

The results for the other two scenarios – booking a nearby hotel for a one-night stay based on established guest profile and utilizing a “click to connect” service post booking – also show that brand dotcoms came out better than OTAs.

But there is still a lot of room for improvement. The research found that the biggest gripe from the evaluators and therefore the biggest customer friction point was having to provide the same details at different stages.
Addressing customer friction is a short cut to increased conversions. One recommendation the report makes is that hotels and OTAs curate the search results so that there is less choice, which connects with comments from the evaluators that hotels and OTAs need to have a clearer insight into the intent of the trip.

Its suggestion that hotel and OTA mobile sites should focus solely on selling the room and “get guest in and out of application as quickly as possible” certainly makes sense in terms of reducing customer friction, but clashes with other research which suggests that the best time to upsell is when the booking is being made.

Suppliers have to balance streamlining the customer booking experience on mobile with maximising revenues. As the research says, hotels and OTAs need to create specific flows for mobile because many desktop functions will not translate to the smaller screen and mobile users have a different expectation and mindset.

“Mobile-first” was supposed to put an end to this, but from the HEDNA report it looks as if many OTAs and brand dotcoms still need to really look at how their mobile site works from the customer’s perspective.

HEDNA‘s mobile working group has identified and quantified “customer friction” in the context of booking hotel rooms on mobile.

In Travel Technology, Comfort Leads to Confidence in Booking

Apart from the advent of the Internet itself, no phenomenon has both captivated and terrified travel executives as has the rise of mobile. Its impact continues to evolve – but the implications are profound.

Phocuswright’s The U.S. Mobile Traveler in 2017 report provides a complete view of the mobile traveler in 2017, including who they are, how they plan and shop for travel, how they use their device in-trip, and what it all means for travel brands and the industry overall.

What Travel Brands Should Understand About Mobile Travelers
The mobile traveler population has been growing each year as more travelers own smartphones and use them to plan and book travel. Today, two in three U.S. travelers have shopped or booked either air or hotel on a mobile device (smartphone or tablet). Nearly half of those mobile travelers are under 35 years of age. But don’t count out older travelers – they too are driving the move to mobile. Mobile travelers are getting more comfortable planning on mobile, even as the population gets a little older. And with comfort comes confidence: 69% of mobile travelers feel they can find the same flight and hotel info on a smartphone as on any other device; 66% of mobile travelers are comfortable planning and booking a vacation only with a smartphone.

Mobile Travelers Take More TripsAnnually

When asked if travel is a very important part of one’s lifestyle, mobile travelers in the U.S. were more likely to “strongly agree” than non-mobile travelers. Plus, they take more trips and spend more on travel.

For mobile travelers, travel is a big deal. And that means they should be a big deal for travel brands. Dig deep into who the mobile traveler is, explore mobile traveler trend, and more with The U.S. Mobile Traveler in 2017

Three data signals travel marketers need to examine

Digital ad dollars and travel statistics aside, the travel industry could be doing a lot more to maximize its bottom line. Given the data, technology and systems that are in place, this can be achieved through a shift in attention.

NB: This is a viewpoint by Nancy Hall, senior vice president at Conversant.

There’s no denying size and scale. In fact, according to projections from eMarketer, the US travel industry laid out $5.69 billion in digital media spend in 2016. That number is projected to climb to a whopping $8.28 billion by 2020. Airlines for America estimates that an unprecedented 145 million travelers took flight in March and April this year.

So where is the travel industry falling short? Loyalty.

According to a study from the Center of Hospitality Research at Cornell University, hotel chains reap an average of 50 percent more revenue from customers who belong to their loyalty programs than from those who do not.
Why, then, do the hotels I stay at – where I am supposedly a loyalty member – greet and interact with me as if I were a stranger? Shouldn’t my loyalty be recognized?

More often than not, this happens because of companies which mismanage consumer data by not integrating that data across their entire organization. If you’re a brand marketer who wants to maintain a positive reputation and increase the value of your loyalty program, data needs to be an integral part of how you connect to and with your customers.

To navigate through the throngs of overwhelming data and maintain customer loyalty, here are three key signals to look for in your data that will help you talk to your consumers more effectively.

Firstly, you’ll want to identify users that arrive at your site.

Are they loyalty members or new prospects? Next you need to examine their site interactions. Not only should you be concerned with who’s visiting your site but also you should pay close attention to which area of the site they spend most of their time.

For example, if users are spending their time on specific property sites in Miami, you can easily tell that they have an upcoming trip to Miami, and there’s an opportunity to let them know about your relevant offers for that particular destination.

Conversely, if they are spending a fair amount of time looking for fun activities at your facility, this is your chance to upsell them during the post-booking phase based on the unique activities and/or excursions your hotel offers.

Another key data signal is location.

If you know, for example, that over the past year a user has booked flights out of New York and to San Francisco, then you can utilize that data to determine where their origin city is and which destination they’re traveling to, and whether the trip is for business or pleasure. You can also use this data to update their loyalty profiles. You can then provide them with local offers, personal or business, depending on how those locations align.

Understanding the distinction between customers’ geo-location and their home base is crucial to accurately identify contextual messaging. You don’t want to be a brand that sends hotel offers to someone in their home town.

Finally, you’ll want to pay close attention to the devices a consumer uses during certain steps of the travel booking process.

It’s important to target them most effectively in that ‘let’s book it’ moment. If someone is researching travel plans on a mobile device, for example, then that’s the correct device to target to compel them to convert – same if it’s a desktop computer on which they’re planning. Some customers may also use a combination of the two, so you’ll need to be cognizant of which device they use to actually book the trip.

Not surprisingly, more people are beginning to book entire trips in-app on their mobile devices, so marketers need to be ready to serve messages that connect with consumers across all devices. These efforts can be appended by messages shared through their loyalty account, further strengthening those relationships.

Travel marketers easily find themselves awash in a sea of data. While they may sometimes feel like they’re drowning in it, understanding how to separate the most impactful data signals from the data signals that create more noise, is the key to success.

You need to know who your potential clients are – not only their habits and what they like and dislike – and where they’re most likely to engage with your brand. Do they book in-app or on a desktop?

So the next time one of your loyal customers comes into your hotel or visits your website, will you be prepared to treat them as individuals, or will you treat them like just another number?

NB1: This is a viewpoint by Nancy Hall, senior vice president at Conversant.
NB2: Image by Bigstock.

How to define a direct booking for Online Travel Agencies and Hotels?

In our latest research report we dive into the direct booking wars, what is it really all about, and what does the current distribution landscape look like for hoteliers? Throughout the report we also illustrate key findings from our 2017 Direct Booking Survey powered by Skift and Trivago and totaling 370 responses from hotels worldwide.

One would think that given all of the industry attention on direct booking, there would be a more uniform way of looking at what it actually is. The most obvious type of purchase that all hotels clearly count as direct is the booking that occurs on the website or app where there is no third party involved in facilitating the transaction.

Things become complicated within digital direct because there are paid and unpaid components. By unpaid, we do not suggest that there are not costs associated with acquiring the guest. There are advertising, technology, operational, and other expenses associated with building a brand and winning a booking. The unpaid amount is referring to third-party distribution costs.

Hotel Search - Online Booking

For paid digital direct bookings, hotels will have the guest book on the site or app, but pay another entity for bringing the web traffic or booking. An example would be a hotel using a traditional metasearch company like Kayak or trivago, where a consumer clicks on the meta site to then book on the site.

The hotel will typically pay the meta site on a cost per click (CPC) basis for that click, though a commission model with cost per acquisition (CPA) is possible as well. It’s debatable whether this should count as direct with marketing costs or amount to another distribution platform comparable to an online travel agency (OTA). Our view is that the CPC model would be a marketing channel while the CPA model would be “OTA-like.” Regardless, the booking is owned by the hotel and pays a third party to lead to a booking.

NP: Skift Research
This is the latest in a series of research reports, analyst calls, and data sheets aimed at analyzing the fault lines of disruption in travel.

Time to connect Big Data with hotel visuals

Today’s travelers are starting to expect a personalized experience throughout all stages of travel – something that the emergence of “big data” is helping to lead.

Not only is there some degree of expectation, but apparently 74% of consumers feel frustrated when website content is not personalized.
This shows us that in the evolving world of travel marketing, big data must be utilized in order to please (and convert) our target audience.

Numerous companies are collecting consumer data – past searches, purchases, tracking cookies, loyalty programs, etc. – but the travel industry is still determining HOW, exactly, to use this data.

The initial picture

In terms of hotel visuals, big data needs context.
Rather than attempting to appeal to everyone, your visuals should be specifically targeted towards each particular consumer persona.
Knowing who they are and what they are interested in can help you to streamline your content to pique their interest.

For example, if you’ve gathered data on a particular consumer (tracking cookies, reward profile, Facebook, etc.) that tells you that they have kids and are most likely searching for a family vacation, you wouldn’t want to show them images of romantic dinners and honeymoon suites.
You’d want to show this person images of your property’s family activities or kids’ club.

If you know the age(s), you would even show different family friendly images – from toddlers to teens – there’s a vast difference.
Context can be added to images with relevant Meta-tags or tags. The more specific you get with tagging your images, the more specific of a consumer you will reach.

Big Data for Online Travel Agency
Big Data for Online Travel Agency

The bigger picture

This specific, personalized, content will help to convert more lookers to bookers because if done correctly, it should be exactly what they are looking for.

Data from Evergage’s 2017 Trends in Personalization study tells us that 88% of marketers using personalization report a measurable lift in results.
In addition to the benefit of personalization, tags can improve your images’ content score on various OTAs.

A higher content score means a higher page ranking, increasing your visibility to travelers browsing for hotel rooms.

With tagging on OTAs, however, comes the problem of standardization.
As big data becomes more widely used, meta tags will need to be standardized for the best results, just as the same Open Travel Alliance categories are used across the board.

Distribution technology that allows for meta tagging of hotel visuals will give your property an advantage because more of the right type of travelers will be exposed to it online.

If your property has a boosted ranking in OTA search results and is showing personalized images to consumers, expect to see increased bookings and engagement online.

NB: This is an analysis by Brianna Wenner, marketing coordinator at IcePortal.

How travel operators achieve digital leap? (part 2)

How we discover, dream, and plan vacations has changed radically as print has given way to digital and desktop gave way to mobile. Lost in much of this are the gatekeepers — legacy print brands on newsstands and in bookstores — which were slow to adapt: How travel operators achieve digital leap? (part 1)


Other travel magazines weren’t immune to the downturn. Vacations are one of the first things sacrificed by families during an economic downturn, and it follows that travel companies will be hesitant to purchase pricey print ads during these periods.

Travel + Leisure dropped from 1,481.11 ad pages in 2008 to 967.48 in 2011, according to The Association of Magazine Media. By 2013, both magazines would reorient their coverage towards luxury consumers in an effort to become a luxury lifestyle publication and attract higher spending advertisers. For these consumers, travel is a lifestyle instead of a yearly escape.

Travel Category Trend
Source: MPA

“I think what we’ve seen is that travel has just become more central to people’s lives,” said Travel + Leisure’s Lump. “I think that’s partially what has allowed us to grow, but I also think it’s allowed us to have more varying touch points with the consumer and lifestyle. I think it’s not so much that we’ve moved just moved away from core travel it’s that all the elements that people play, that have never touched travel before, have become closer to travel than they used to be.”

Part of this shift has involved more general interest clickbait stories on the Web, in a stark contrast to the long features and deeply researched packages print travel media is known for. The readership of magazines at large has shifted to older and more affluent readers. Research from the American Magazine Association shows that devoted magazine readers are more likely to go on vacations than those who prefer other types of media.

The use of mobile devices to view travel content is also on the rise, perhaps at the expense of print and digital magazine content.

There is the pain point of figuring out an internal work flow that functions across platforms. Journalists, writers, and content creators often have specialized skillsets, so asking one to write a story, create a listicle, take photos, and film compelling videos about a trip is a major challenge.

“We just started working more efficiently that way and it really, it’s painful to integrate digital and print,” said Guzmán. “The plays are different, the workloads are different, the story ideation is different. In doing this, there’s this huge cultural shift that is exciting and difficult.”

Magazine Media 360 - 2015 Travel Category Trend


Newspapers, as well, began to shutter their travel sections in order to save money.

In 2012, USA Today eliminated its print travel section, moving travel coverage to its Life section instead, mimicking the pivot of travel magazines to more of a lifestyle positioning. Dozens of other newspapers, ranging from The Los Angeles Times to The Washington Post stopped publishing print travel sections as well.

USA Today also tried to pivot by acquiring content and online travel booking companies, like the struggling Tripology in 2013 which it used to sell qualified leads to travel agents.

Newspapers adopted the wrong strategy at the time; instead of doubling down on quality content that would remain useful to readers in years to come, they either decreased quality in a move toward online clickbait or shut down their travel sections completely.

“Newspapers took the single most misguided step I can imagine; if you picture an entire newspaper’s content, there is no content that is more reusable in the future than the travel section,” said Spud Hilton, longtime editor of the San Francisco Chronicle’s travel section. “Let’s say I’ve had a newspaper that’s had a travel section for 30 years, and then I decide I’m going to throw all that away because it’s too expensive to run a travel section. If I just take the last five years of those and get somebody to update them or hire an intern, I have 250 weekend escapes that are professionally written and have professional photography. That can become an app, website, book, or any number of things that can be used again. Those newspapers were out and out stupid to bury that archive never to be seen again.”

The San Francisco Chronicle was perhaps uniquely well-suited to adapt to changes in digital media; it operates one traditional newspaper site and, which is a scale play that often attracts readers with lighter news.

“I could have written the greatest travel story ever known, and it would not have gotten on the cover of the traffic oriented site because a Swedish bikini team saved a kitten from a tree; which is going to be more popular?” said Hilton. “The Chronicle is a good example of what has happened and what sort of needs to happen which is separating out what is popular from what is good. The difference between what’s popular and what’s good, based on news judgement, should make the difference in the long run. Travel, honestly, has always been some of the weakest journalism there is, and unfortunately that’s because we assume people only want to be fed the cotton candy. It’s our job to give them something good, but also figure out how to draw them in in a way they want to read.”

Guidebooks, as well, were hit extremely hard by the economic downturn, with print sales falling by 50 percent overall. This slump touched off a wave of consolidation in the industry. Google acquired Zagat for $151 million, and proceeded to integrate Zagat restaurant information into its Maps listings after rebranding the company as Zagat Travel. Google also bought Frommers for $23 million, eventually selling the company back to Arthur Frommer without its social media accounts.

Lonely Planet was acquired by BBC Worldwide for $210 million total in 2011 in a series of transactions beginning in 2007. In 2013, BBC sold off Lonely Planet to a U.S. billionaire for just $75 million.

Today, Lonely Planet has emerged from the fray as the most successful guidebook brand in the world, while also expanding into the digital space with apps and video content. By investing heavily in its digital presence while growing its library of guidebooks and other print titles, Lonely Planet has been able to grow while other guidebook companies haven’t.

“We’ve aggressively rebuilt our mobile web and main web platform, that’s obviously been ongoing for a few years,” said Lonely Planet CEO Daniel Houghton. “We’re also excited about what’s happened with the guide mobile app, we’ve aggressively expanded the cities from 30 to north of 100 and we’ll continue to grow. We’ve got a big year planned. We’re still expanding our content coverage with more books and types of content, more coffee table trade and reference titles, titles far beyond just guidebook content.”

Lonely Planet’s quarterly U.S. magazine is based off of Arthur Frommer’s Budget Travel Magazine, whose assets were acquired by the company in 2014 for $2.4 million, and the company operates 11 other magazines around the world. This multi-platform approach seems to have benefits in consumer travel media, especially since it appeals to travelers across many different levels of the travel marketing funnel.

“We have a core audience that is a fan of our blue spine guidebooks, and we release different collections like our best of series,” said Houghton. “It’s more about having a different product based on the kind of travel you want to do. Lonely Planet means a lot of things to a lot of different people; some people may have never bought one our books but watched the tv show, some people may have just subscribe to the magazine and don’t have an awareness of the other platforms. The most important piece has been authenticity. It’s great content that helps you discover incredible places, we’re very proud of that but also excited to create content to inspire people when they’re not on the road. We all don’t get to travel all the time.”

Long-term Trends - World Travel Guide Sales 2010 - 2016
Long-term Trends – World Travel Guide Sales 2010 – 2016

Newer travel magazines seemed to fare better during the downturn. Afar, which launched in 2009, has grown its circulation and digital usership over the same period that legacy magazines struggled.

Long-term Trends - World Travel Guide Sales 2010 - 2016 (5 countries)
Long-term Trends – World Travel Guide Sales 2010 – 2016 (5 countries)

“We started with the print magazine in 2009, we really felt like it was a really strong kind of way to plant a flag in the sand and determine what our point of view and perspective on travel is going to be,” said Julia Cosgrove, editor in chief of Afar Media. “We were pretty early to the experiential travel movement and we held true to that mission and to that focus ever since then. I really see print as the place where you give people this great travel inspiration where you tell them … you give them great storytelling, you give them provocative photography, you give them whole design, and it’s this nice lean-back experience in magazine form. When digital comes in, it’s really all about service and providing resources to travelers to help them travel better.”

Afar magazine rate 2010 - 2017

Afar grown its traction among U.S. consumer travel magazines. Yet due to the move away from print advertising by travel brands, a more robust digital presence gives magazines like Afar the ability to appeal to advertisers with cheaper and more diverse advertising packages.

Afar magazine rate growth 2010 - 2016

Dozens of other niche travel magazines with sleek design and longform reporting, like Cereal, Suitcase, Boat, and others, have filled the gap as bigger travel media brands have largely worked to grow their digital scale. Yet these publications don’t really have an established business model behind them, despite their slick production and contemporary aesthetics.

Most print publications also have branded trips available for purchase online, with ads appearing in their print editions as well, representing another revenue stream in an industry searching for the way forward.

At its core, the struggle of travel media companies to adapt to the digital is tied to the habits and desires of consumers themselves. Not many readers will take the time to sit and read a lengthy story on a destination anymore, opting instead for a quirky but flimsy story that entertains them or a bevy of user generated reviews.

How travel operators achieve digital leap? (part 1)

How we discover, dream, and plan vacations has changed radically as print has given way to digital and desktop gave way to mobile. Lost in much of this are the gatekeepers — legacy print brands on newsstands and in bookstores — which were slow to adapt to the changing media landscape.

Two decades ago, travelers had limited choices when they wanted to research their upcoming vacation. They could open their local newspaper’s travel section, buy a glossy magazine, call a travel agent, request brochures from a resort, or even experiment on their dial-up modems with slow and confusing online booking tools.

Travel magazines, newspaper travel sections, and printed guidebooks represented the most trusted and popular way for travelers to find inspiration for their upcoming vacations and bring crucial information on the road during a trip.

Over the last 10 years travel magazines have shrunk in size while the global guidebook market has been halved as consumers have moved to websites and apps for their travel fix. Today, consumers can turn to TripAdvisor, Google, Yelp, online forums, social media, YouTube, and countless other content sources.

Consumer travel brands have had trouble cracking the digital space, for reasons both institutional and determined by the shifting media marketplace.

Print consumer media, in particular, has been most powerfully disrupted. As legacy consumer travel magazines withered from a lack of advertising, and staff cutbacks in the wake of the Great Recession, mobile and digital content became more popular among consumers. These brands did a poor job of appealing to readers on new platforms, despite their outsized influence and recognition among travelers.

Why have consumer travel media brands had so much trouble evolving? Skift spoke to editors, marketers, and travel media experts about the past, and future, of print travel media’s digital evolution.

Put simply, print brands were slow to adapt to the digital media ecosystem in ways that other media companies, particularly in the finance and general interest areas, were not. And the effect of abundant, free online content, particularly from sites like TripAdvisor, helped change the behavior of travel consumers while print brands struggled to move online.

“I don’t actually think [print travel media] ceded [authority] to TripAdvisor,” said Barbara Messing, TripAdvisor’s chief marketing officer. “They ceded it to the people, the authority of millions of travelers who post their opinions on TripAdvisor. We create the platform so that people could share. That is the power of TripAdvisor. It’s the community that is our power, not necessarily the corporate entity, and the fact that we created a platform where it was really easy to share, really easy to post photos, and we created it in such a way that people could find what they were looking for.“

Print travel media has gone digital, but not without growing pains. How do you reinvent a business model that has existed for decades, while wrestling with the constant churn and change in the digital media marketplace?

“The single biggest challenge that we face is exactly that,” said Nathan Lump, editor in chief of Travel + Leisure. “And I think successful digital operations are very clear about what they don’t do as well as what they do. There’s essentially a well that has no bottom and so you can’t fill it with everything. You have to be really purposeful about what you’re making.”


It can be instructive to look back to the mid-2000s, when it became clear that digital disruption was changing the business model for media companies. Some, like The New York Times, were quick to adapt to the digital space, while others lagged behind. Magazines, in particular, had trouble conceiving of a way to move away from selling expensive print advertising space. Why sacrifice such a lucrative source of revenue, even as readership began to decrease?

At Condé Nast, perhaps the world’s most preeminent media company, the question of what to do with industry leader Condé Nast Traveler was a challenge. First introduced in 1987, Condé Nast Traveler became one of the most visible brands in travel.

It became clear, however, that online booking and travel research was becoming important for consumers in the late 1990s. So Condé Nast launched a new brand,, to house online travel content and sell vacations online through a partnership with Expedia. The editorial teams of Condé Nast Traveler and were completely separate at first.

“Condé Nast had decided at some point that to test the digital audience, they really needed to create separate brands from the magazine brand,” said Peter Frank, who served as editor-in-chief of from October 2005 to December 2009. “So Epicurious became a food brand, and became fashion. Those had varying degrees of success and attraction for an audience by creating their own distinct personality vis-a-vis their print counterparts. While there are benefits of doing it that way, there are also a lot of disadvantages, mostly that you kept your print teams in their own swim lane and your digital teams in their own swim lane and you weren’t evolving either towards the inevitable future that most of us saw that, you know, print and digital would have to work together.

“At, that was a separate building, a separate business unit, and separate reporting structure, but we shared real estate on the web and that led to inevitable tension.”

It was clear to writers and editors at both brands that there had to be more collaboration between the two sites. Condé Nast leadership, however, was more hesitant and slowed many efforts to better integrate content between them. The scale wasn’t there on the digital side, so it made no sense to move resources towards the digital space when the print Condé Nast Traveler magazine paid the bills through print advertising and advertorial content.

“By 2006 it had become clear that there had to be more synergy between the print and online products,” said Wendy Perrin. “In 2006 I was asked to start writing a blog, The Perrin Post, so that print readers could interact with me online. But Condé Nast Traveler did not have its own website, so my blog was published on—which is where all Condé Nast Traveler content was published. was run by a different staff, in a different building, and it was endlessly frustrating that we had so little control over our online presence.”

While Condé Nast’s travel content was siloed, TripAdvisor had gained traction among consumers looking for travel information. In 2004, TripAdvisor was already the seventh most visited travel site on the web according to IAC, which acquired it that year.

In May 2007, TripAdvisor acquired Smarter Travel Media and The Independent Traveler, bringing a variety of niche media properties under its corporate umbrella. By May 2011, when TripAdvisor was spun off from Expedia, it was serving 50 million unique users a month on its site.

While the Condé Nast Traveler and teams would grow more integrated over time, the economic crisis of 2008 caused major headaches for media companies looking to experiment online. Condé Nast would shutter four magazines and lay off more than 120 workers, as well as reorganizing the staff of its travel brands. Fewer magazines means fewer ad pages, and the need for fewer staff members.

According to The New York Times, Traveler’s ad pages dropped 41 percent through the first eight months of 2009, making it one of the hardest hit magazines in Condé Nast’s stable. Overall, Condé Nast lost about a third of its overall ad pages in 2009.

Condé Nast Traveler’s print ad revenue did rebound, beginning to trickle upwards in 2010, with up and down years followed by solid three to five percent growth beginning in 2013.

How Travel Media Missed the Digital LeapWhat followed is what would become a familiar scene in the media world: shrinking issues, less ad revenue, staff layoffs, and eventually an editorially diminished print product. At the same time that Condé Nast Traveler would have been served by a robust online presence, it simply did not have the resources to develop one.

Frank worked on the print staff of the magazine in the 1990s, and saw the struggles as the publication half-heartedly pivoted to the web. Today, Frank works as a consultant with travel brands developing content for their brand-owned channels.

“Condé Nast Traveler was the authority in travel; we were the journal,” said Frank. “We were the ones who were going out there, saying, ‘Here’s what you really need to see, this is what [these destinations] are really like. We’re going to tell you the unbiased truth. We’re going to take down the sacred cows of the industry because we can and because we should.’ And we got a huge amount of accolades for that. We won awards, we thought, and we were a very successful magazine. But that base in journalism no longer resides in print, that kind of authority for the media no longer resides in magazines, if it resides anywhere.”

By the time Condé Nast Traveler began a digital revamp in 2013, when new editor-in-chief Pilar Guzmán took over, travelers had already been looking elsewhere for years. Eventually, the brand would be completely retired by the company.

“In terms of looking back I think it was really about doing a bit more of a broader goal search about what the brand could stand for,” said Guzmán. “How the mission of the brand would then translate to the different channels, not just the .com but also who we were on Facebook, who we wanted to be on Instagram, etc. And then of course the platforms just keep multiplying.”

Today, Condé Nast Traveler essentially operates one brand with interlocked content across many platforms; a writer researching a hotel for a print feature, for instance, will take photos and notes for use on the web, along with social channels. Other publishers have found success with this model, as well.

There is only one percent reader duplication between its print and web editions, and the site receives about seven million unique visitors each month, almost ten times its print circulation.

3 tips for optimizing your website for mobile users

According to GlobalWebIndex, the smartphone is the most important device for accessing the internet. But a lot of websites still don’t seem to be mobile-responsive.

A Mobile responsive website attracts more users, improves engagement, increases conversion rates, and boosts your Google ranking. But there has been a huge panic in the SEO industry because of Google’s mobile-first indexing. Google uses a bot to crawl websites as a desktop user would to add pages to its index. However, after launching mobile-first indexing, Google will crawl websites like a mobile user. This is because users are now searching more on mobile than on desktop, according to the search giant.

In this article, I will share the things my team and I learned in the following areas as we make our website mobile-optimized:

  • The fundamentals of responsive design
  • The role of a web page’s loading speed for mobile SEO
  • Mobile user experience

Responsive design

First, you need to test your site to see how it performs on mobile and find out the issues that you need to solve. Google provides an amazing tool that can give you detailed information about your site’s mobile optimization. Just enter your website URL and click Test Now to get started.

Here are the test results for our website. As you see, it scored perfectly, which is great.

But how did we get this result? Luckily, we built our site on WordPress and picked a theme that’s already mobile-responsive.

But what should you do if you’re already on WordPress but your website isn’t still responsive? There are two ways to solve this problem: either make changes on your site’s scripts or install plugins that will do the job for you. Here are two plugins you can use:

  • WPtouch: It makes a mobile-friendly version of your site, which passes the Google mobile test.
  • Any Mobile Theme Switcher: This plugin is useful for converting to a mobile theme. You can select different mobile themes for different mobile browsers.

After making those changes, you can test your site again to see if the improvements work. You can also use the search console to get a mobile usability report on the page level. It looks at six mobile usability issues:

  • Flash usage: Most mobile browsers do not render Flash and because of that, users might not be able to access your website properly.
  • Viewport is not configured: The viewport meta tag helps browsers in scaling a page to fit any screens.
  • Fixed-width viewport: This problem attempts to circumvent mobile design with fixed width pages. To shelve this issue, a responsive design has to be adopted.
  • Content does not fit viewport: The page’s content does not fit the window and the user has to scroll to view the content. This can be fixed with relative and not fixed widths.
  • Small font size: This is a scaling issue and requires users to pinch to zoom in on text.
  • Touch elements are too close: This is a popular usability issue where it is too hard for the user to tap a button without also touching the other buttons close to it.
    Solving all the detected problems not only improves your website’s performance on search engines but also attracts more visitors.

Page speed

  • According to Google’s research:
    53 percent of users will leave a mobile page if it takes longer than three seconds to load.
  • 70 percent of pages take seven seconds for the visual content above the fold to load.
  • On average, it takes 22 seconds to fully load a mobile landing page.Apparently, people want answers and results quickly and for that, your website’s loading time should be fast. Here’s our site’s speed score:

Google also lists the issues you need to solve to improve your website’s load speed. These are the recommendations for our website:

  • Eliminate render-blocking JavaScript and CSS in above-the-fold content.
  • Leverage browser caching.
  • Reduce server response time.
  • Minify HTML.
  • Optimize images.

(You can also use the PageSpeed Insights tool, which we also used, to test your site’s speed.)

Since we built our site on WordPress, we can use plugins to solve these problems. Here’s a quick list of what we have used and are planning to use:

  • W3 Total Cache: This increases our site performance and reduces the download time.
  • WP-SmushIt: This plugin scans every image uploaded on the website to optimize it.
  • WP-Optimize: It cleans up our database easily and safely.
    Also, we keep our home page as simple as possible by:
  • Reducing the number of posts
  • Removing unnecessary social media widgets
  • Deleting inactive and unnecessary plugins and widgets
    We monitor the improvements by checking the page loading time overview report on Google Analytics under Behavior > Site Speed.

Here, we can see that the average page load time of our website is 3.34 seconds, which is higher than the ideal two-second loading time. You would also notice that the average server response time is 1.12 seconds, but this falls short of Google’s recommendation of 200 milliseconds or below server response time. In that case, it may help if we change our hosting.

Mobile user experience

While web design and page speed are important factors for mobile SEO, you should also pay attention to user experience. You should know how your users interact with your mobile website. Ask these questions:

  • How long do they stay on your site?
  • What pages do they visit?
  • What are they looking for?
  • Which pages do they leave instantly?

Users should be able to navigate through your site easily and find the information they need quickly without having to perform unnecessary gestures like pinching to zoom in on content. The touch elements should not also be too close to each other.

To learn more about how users interact with different mobile sites and the factors that affect their behavior, you can browse through the report created by Google and AnswerLab. It also discusses some best practices for mobile web design which you can use to improve your site’s engagement and increase its conversion rate.