Five little-known search marketing tips for the travel sector

Watch your business reap the benefits as you apply each of our handy, up-to-the-minute SEO & PPC tips.

 

1. Get your singulars and plurals right

Whether to target singular or plural versions of specific search terms is not an issue in paid search; the more search term variations the better. But in SEO, you need to decide how to optimise for singulars and plurals.

A page on your site could be optimised to rank for as many search terms as you want. But each term you promote will diminish that page's ability to rank for your most popular search term.

You could always target more pages, with each page targeting a different search term. But is there any value in creating different pages for 'hotel in York' and 'hotels in York'? And even if there was, would it be worth the risk of being penalised by the search engines because they assume the pages exist only for SEO reasons?

A page should target both the singulars and plurals of a search term, but give precedence to one. This manifests itself in the most searched-for variation appearing preferentially in the meta title, meta description and page title - and dominating the on-page optimisation strategy for that page.

Hotels and flights - singular or plural?
Consumer search behaviour in the hotel booking industry is heavily biased towards the singular. People looking for a hotel will normally search for 'hotel' over 'hotels'. But most hotel booking websites will name their pages 'hotels in London', 'hotels in Caracas' and so on. Don't make the same mistake. But be aware that there are exceptions. Check your destination on Google Trends first.

In the case of flight search behaviour, the reverse is true - most people search for 'flights' over 'flight'.

2. Make the link between sporting events and travel

Most travel sites take seasonality into account when planning their PPC and SEO campaigns. But where many fall down is they fail to take other events that drive consumer demand into account. These events temporarily increase demand for the destinations they're held in, with searchers converting almost immediately following their search.

The Champions League Final between Manchester United and Chelsea, played in Moscow in 2008, resulted in a clear increase in demand for hotels in the Russian capital, as illustrated below.

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Demand for flights also increased.

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While the 2004 Olympics in Athens and 2008 Olympics in Beijing both resulted in clear increases in demand for hotel rooms.

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Most major sporting events will lead to this kind of demand, even events with a smaller following, such as the Wimbledon tennis championship.

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When planning your PPC and SEO campaigns, don't forget sporting events. Keep a sporting calendar for the coming 12 months and ensure your website's SEO has a temporary bias towards these locations a month ahead of when demand for the event will start. Similarly, see that your paid search campaigns are ready to exploit the spike.

Our one caveat is make sure you don't bid against these sports-influenced location searches if you don't have any inventory left. Technology can help with this, such as Greenlight's AdApt platform, which synchronises paid search campaigns with inventory levels.

3. Don't forget secondary searches

Secondary searches are the ones people make following an initially unsuccessful search. They may be dissatisfied with the results of 'hotels in New York' so they make a search that's more targeted to their needs. In travel, secondary searches typically include one or more of the following:

• Star rating - '4 star hotel in New York'
• Amenities - 'New York hotels with disabled access'
• Brand - 'Hilton hotel in New York'
• Proximity to landmark - 'hotel near JFK airport'
• Type - 'spa hotel in New York'

Create a page for each of these secondary search queries and you'll rank in natural search (assuming you have good on-page SEO and focused link building). These pages will open up significant paid search opportunities to target these highly converting search terms, as well as pushing them to relevant, tailored landing pages.

4. Remember the SEO value of user generated content

User generated content on travel sites is typically found in user reviews of hotels, locations, airlines and tour operators, plus forums. Encouraging users to post UGC can positively impact on travel sites' SEO performance in a number of ways.

i. Using other words
Invariably, people will write differently to you, and will call things by names you're unlikely to use yourself. Your content may contain 'hotels in Cyprus' but a user contributing to your site may write 'Cypriot hotels'. The benefit for your site is that it will be seen as more relevant by search engines and will subsequently rank better for all Cyprus related-search terms on that page.

ii. UGC keeps it unique
There is a spectacular long tail in travel search behaviour. So there's always the risk a travel site will create lots of pages to tap into it but won't have unique enough content. This could diminish the site's ability to rank across the long tail, spreading PageRank thinly across the site and inviting penalties from the search engines. UGC helps alleviate this problem. Users will contribute to multiple pages, making them more distinctive in the eyes of the search engines and increasing rankings.

iii. Staying up to date
Search engines rank pages higher in their results if there's evidence of routine updating. An updated page suggests worthiness, timeliness and end user value. Updating your own pages every few days can be costly and time-consuming, especially if your pages run into hundreds of thousands. It's more cost-effective for users to add comments in a forum or similar. What's more, searchers tend to trust third-party comment more than less objective brand content. While you may need to moderate UCG content, this will use fewer resources than writing it yourself.

Routinely updated pages are visited more often by search engines, meaning your relationship with search engine spiders will be better than if you had a stagnant site. Your pages will get indexed and faster - a great benefit if you have a proactive publishing process to tap into seasonal trends and transient spikes in demand for certain locations with new pages and promotions.

5. Tap into trends

The travel industry is in a constant state of flux, with different destinations growing or declining in popularity all the time. This is based on a range of factors, including weather, politics, movies, exchange rates and tourism boards' ad campaigns whether people choose domestic or foreign locations for their holidays.

Emerging travel destinations (ETD) is one of the most important trends to watch. Ranking for an ETD in natural search is typically easier than for another destination because your competitors will be focusing on it less. Paid search is also cheaper for ETDs; the lack of crowded market means click costs are not inflated the same way they are for more popular destinations.

The Google Trends graph below represents the relative number of people in the UK searching for 'holidays in Brazil' over the last few years.

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Note that before Christmas 2005 there were very few searches made for holidays in Brazil, then suddenly there were peaks and troughs in demand for a few years, with 2008 showing stable demand throughout the year. If your site was last optimised for natural search or you created your paid search keyword lists in 2005, you'll have missed that Brazil can generate high levels of traffic all year round.

Bali also shows interesting demand trends, not dissimilar to Brazil.

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Costa Rica too.

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By contrast, searches for 'Spain holidays' is predictably consistent, with natural peaks and troughs.

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In terms of volume, the number of UK searchers keying in 'Spain holidays' far exceeds those searching for holidays in each of the ETDs. But in terms of revenue, the gap is not as wide. People travelling to ETDs such as Brazil tend to be more affluent and less price sensitive than those travelling to Spain. It also means the bid prices don't escalate so much.

To summarise

Secondary searches, emerging destinations, major sporting events, user generated content and singular and plural versions of search terms all have the potential to impact your traffic and sales. Consider each of these points - and you'll have every angle of your search marketing campaign covered.

If you would like to discuss any of the issues raised in this blog, email Andreas Pouros at [email protected] or call him on 020 7253 7000.

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