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12 min read

Travel SEO: Digital Opportunities in the Tourism Sector

This article was updated on: 07.02.2022

The travel and tourism market is one which thrives on the promotion of aspirational experiences and the delivery of unforgettable moments.

The British tourism industry is a huge contributor to our economy, set to be worth over £250 billion by 2025 according to Visit England. Beyond our own shores, 56% of Brits took overseas holidays in 2016 according to a report by ABTA, with Google’s own data showing that interest in holidays is remaining consistent, in spite of questions around the UK’s position in Europe and concerns regarding the wider economy.

Google Trends data for UK, past 5 years, query “holiday”

The same ABTA report states that 76% of holidays booked in 2016 were done so using the internet; with internet use growing every day, that percentage is no doubt higher than ever as we move into 2018.

With all of this in mind, how can businesses in the travel and tourism sector position themselves for online success in the coming years, and where does the opportunity for growth lie?

Take a moment for moments…

The biggest shift in consumer marketing in recent years is arguably that toward micro-moments. In order to appeal to our potential audience at all levels of the conversion journey, it’s important to first understand how that behave as they move through that journey, and where the important moments are happening.

Here’s how Google lays it out:


Essentially, travel marketing is no longer simply about being there when the consumer is ready to buy. Holidays are an aspirational product and have a longer lead time than your typical ‘chuck it in the basket with little thought’ style item. Travel marketers therefore need a strategy in place to engage users even before they think about booking, ensuring their brand is front of mind (and front of Google personalisation) when the time to buy comes around.

SEO and travel moments

The impact of a moment-driven marketing strategy is far reaching, especially in the travel industry, where, according to Expedia Media Solutions, a user visits an average of 38 websites before making a final decision.

Search engine optimisation (SEO) has long been a mainstay of most travel marketing plans, where the ability to rank well for phrases relating to a holiday booking has enabled businesses of all shapes and sizes to grow. But it’s this very tactic that has also paved the way for aggregator sites like Expedia and to dominate on destination and booking keywords.

Targeting the high volume “I want to buy” travel moments

One of the biggest challenges faced by travel businesses is therefore finding a way to gain visibility in these all important conversion terms. When competing with huge brands and well-backed aggregator sites, travel businesses of all sizes will no doubt struggle with fluctuating ranking positions and a battle for the top spots.

In order to rank in the top positions for keywords with high conversion intent, travel websites will need to show SEO excellence, particularly on the technical side.

Google’s move to a mobile-first index will be a game changer in the coming months, solidifying the position of mobile as the primary driver of online success. Broadly speaking, if your website isn’t providing an exemplary experience to its users on a mobile device, it won’t stand a chance in the competitive travel sector for high-intent search queries.

This is particularly pertinent in the travel sector, where users will use a multitude of devices to browse their dream destinations. Technical SEO excellence is a must in the travel industry; find out more about reviewing your website here.

On-page, your strategy around categorisation of content will also have an impact on your high volume “I want to buy” query rankings. Consider ‘topical silos’ as a method of organising your destinations or products (which we’ll discuss later in this post).

Off-page, your strategy will need to focus on high quality and quantity of links to compete against bigger and more established brands. Fortunately, travel is something that people love to talk about and therefore campaigns utilising the techniques of content marketing and digital PR have the potential to work really well here.

Tapping into the “I want to know” and “I want to go” moments with SEO

This is where the opportunity for growth really comes in, especially if yours is a relatively small brand with some big names to compete against.

Typically, when we’re trying to sell online, we focus on the search queries that will enable us to make that sale; “holiday deals Tenerife” or “book holiday cottage in New Forest” show a clear intent to buy, but those terms where our audience is simply researching or browsing can be missed – think “what’s the best time of year to travel to Tenerife” or “activities for children in the New Forest”.

These types of keywords are usually less competitive because they are weaker signals of intent – but this doesn’t make them any less (potentially) valuable, with the right strategy.

Consider, for example, the rise of voice search. James Murray of Bing gave a specific example from the travel industry when we interviewed him on the future of search, suggesting that it is the longer-tail, lower-intent queries that will drive voice search as it matures (and let’s not forget, Google predicts that 50% of all searches will be made using voice by 2020). In order to capitalise on voice search and the growing use of devices like Google Home and Alexa, savvy travel brands will invest in content that answers the queries people make before they even think of booking.

A key benefit of top-of-the-funnel targeting (tapping into those “I want to know” moments) is that is gives brands the ability to build relationships with users early in their journey. Recognition is an important psychological driver of sales behaviour; when we see a brand we recognise, and we’ve had a positive experience with before, we are more likely to consider them as a provider when we come to buy.

The same is true for Google; personalisation of search results means that websites we’ve visited before are often prioritised over brand new sites when we come to search relevant queries. This means that, even if you’re not number one for everyone, your website could appear top of the pile when a previous visitor is ready to book.

Rand Fishkin made this point well in his recent presentation on the future of search, which you can read in full here. The screenshot below explains the theory behind targeting users earlier in the journey, suggesting it’s much easier to compete at the conversion end when you’ve been able to engage users at the research end:

Rand Fishkin explains the idea of Google as a “suggestion engine”

Topic silos for content categorisation and hierarchy

Very very briefly and broadly speaking, we’ve spoken here about some of the opportunities and challenges facing the travel industry when it comes to SEO. The idea of reaching your audience at all points of the conversion journey is an important one, and savvy travel marketers will be looking to invest in higher-funnel activities as much, or more, than those at the ‘decision’ or ‘conversion’ end.

The idea of a topic silo, or ‘authority hub’, is not a new one. Look at the Impression site as an example, and you’ll see that the hierarchy of our folder structure is such that each service area is part of /digital-marketing/, and that within each service area is a plethora of information, where the deeper the page, the longer-tail the query. This approach allows us to show Google that digital marketing is a main area of expertise, and that within that sits SEO, PPC and so on, and within those, a lot more knowledge on their component parts.

The effect of this is that each higher level folder is bolstered by the quality and quantity of content within it, helping to solidify our high rankings for the high-intent and low-intent terms within.

In terms of marketing a travel website, the same is true. It’s no coincidence that many of the bigger brands are now investing in destination based hubs or silos, where the primary content of that destination is supported by many more pages exploring longer-tail, lower-intent terms.

Take a look at the Hayes & Jarvis website as one example of destination driven marketing (this page on Brazil, for example, ranks in position 1 for terms like ‘holiday in Brazil’ but also achieves featured snippet placements for terms like ‘best times to travel to Brazil’). If we were working with Hayes & Jarvis, we’d suggest they expand on this further with more content reachable via their hub pages, such as a guide to Iguazu Falls from their ‘things to do’ area, but overall, it’s a solid approach that’s working well for them.

PPC and the tourism sector

Another area to consider when looking at how to attract a travel customer is that of paid advertising – namely, pay-per-click (PPC).

Doing exactly what it says on the tin, PPC is based on a system of paying for every click through to your site, and can be done across platforms including within the search results themselves, across Google and Bing’s networks, and via social media.

At its most basic level, the techniques of PPC can enable you to be found for those high-intent keywords – providing you’re willing to pay the price to do so. Generally speaking, the higher the intent of the keyword, the higher the competition and therefore the higher the price you have to be willing to bid to be seen. With that said, ensuring quality scores are high and identifying the right platform (Bing suggests travel is a sector that performs particularly well on Bing Ads) can make those costs more manageable – though the investment will still, in most cases, be relatively high.

That’s where SEO and PPC can really work together for optimal results. By mining your search query reports within AdWords and Bing Ads, you’ll uncover longer-tail queries which are relevant to conversions, which you can then incorporate into your on-page SEO strategy. Those pages can then be the landing pages for PPC campaigns focused on the long-tail, therefore using paid techniques to tap into queries that occur higher up the funnel.

Similarly, once we start investing more in those “I want to know” moments, we can create engaging content marketing and digital PR campaigns which travel well on social media – and therefore play an important role in social media advertising campaigns. Facebook in particular can be a very cost-effective channel for advertising, though recent changes to the platform mean the level of granularity in targeting we once enjoyed is no longer possible to the same extent, which is worth bearing in mind. Twitter too can help you tap into the audiences of influencers in the travel sector, while Instagram and Pinterest are arguably the most exciting channels for brands who want to inspire action and encourage aspiration.

The role of language psychology in PPC for the travel industry

The travel industry is one which has faced its own issues in recent years, with volcanic eruptions, company closures and political uncertainties all plaguing what was once a relatively straightforward package product.

Language plays an important role in mitigating the concerns of users, and this is particularly powerful in PPC, where the right message can mean the difference between a user choosing to click on your ad, or selecting a competitor.

Our PPC team put together a blog post on the rules of ad innovation, which is well worth a read. Talking specifically about the travel industry, some considerations for language and ad extensions in your PPC campaigns include:

  • Trust signals such as ABTA membership or ‘established’ year
  • Payment protection messaging
  • Showcase your expertise – reasons to choose you over the competition/aggregators
  • Call extensions; if possible, allow users to call you or get in touch another way with questions

Social media and the travel industry

Search isn’t the only way people browse holidays, and we’ve already spoken about social media advertising. As a travel business, it’s also worth considering how you engage with your users on social media and, more importantly, how you empower them to become advocates of your brand amongst their own networks.

Brand advocation is so important, but more difficult to secure than ever, as savvy consumers respond more to the quality of experience and are less interested in loyalty, as a general rule. But as we’ve already shown in this post, personalisation of search results and opportunities higher up the conversion funnel mean that it’s still well worth investing in techniques that drive that early interest – with social media providing one such platform.

Brands like Crystal Ski achieve this through humour and questions, opening conversations with their audience and benefitting from their responses and additional tagging of friends into posts as a result:

Crystal Ski on Facebook

Pinterest has always been a key channel for the travel industry. The pinboard style social network makes it possible for its users to pin things they want or aspire to achieve, making it ideal for those brands looking to promote an aspirational product like a holiday.

In recent months and years, Pinterest’s functionality has evolved dramatically. Today, the network has an advanced approach to image recognition which allows it to pull out constituent parts of a photo and display those parts as purchasable products in its search results; consider how that might be used to, say, showcase landmarks in a destination you’re selling and then link back through to the booking page.

Pinterest can also be connected to your website in such a way that you can create boards within your site and have them link through to your Pinterest page, and vice versa. Consider using Pinterest to display your destination expertise.

Travel marketing: your digital opportunity

The popularity of travel both within and beyond the UK isn’t going away any time soon. In spite of high competition and complexities in user behaviour and tracking derived from longer lead times, it’s an industry that has potential to really lead the way when it comes to intent driven digital marketing.

If you’d like to discuss your travel business with us, feel free to get in touch, or let us know where you’ll be focusing your digital activities in the comments below.