Search Engine Optimization - 9 Apr 2019
SEO Best Practices for Travel Industry Website
In 2010, I started a travel website for volunteer, applied learning, and teaching programs around the world. I knew nothing about website development and even less about search engine optimization (SEO) and search engine marketing (SEM).
I had a vision and I had passion. I also had inexperience and that rear edit’s ugly head immediately.
I naively felt that a vision + a nice website + supplier outreach + some press and social media + some good luck would be all I needed to create a community. This would prove wrong.
There are a few mistakes I’d like to do over, but none so much as being ill-prepared as to the value of SEO. For the uninitiated, the intention of SEO is improved discoverability. It is to reach the legions of Internet users who have no idea who you are, nor the problems you solve. This is not to say I hadn’t heard the term or didn’t know what SEO should do; I understood the ‘why’. I just didn’t understand the ‘how’ and the ‘where’.
SEO can be a rabbit hole that is both confusing, infinitely long, and ever deepening. It has become a specialist career, in which people are now charging anywhere from $70 – $125/hr CAD. For most people, the subtleties of the SEO tactics are less important than the understanding of the value it creates. And by value, I mean the measurable reduction in new client/user acquisition costs.
By a reduction in new client/user acquisition costs, I refer to the comparable costs versus paid advertising. For example, if you wanted to be on Page 1 on Google for ‘Costa Rica Vacations’ you can expect to pay close to $5 for a click, to speak to 40,500 searchers a month, in a highly competitive advertising arena. (Competition in SEM terminology is scored from 0.00 to 1.00, with the closer to 1, being more competitively sought after.) If you can use SEO as means to ‘organically’ reach the top, then every click you earn is ‘effectively’ like keeping $5 in your wallet. If you were to get 100 clicks a month on this keyword search term, you will have just saved $500. This is especially good in that once you achieve strong keyword ranking, you tend to be there for a while, meaning that it can keep saving you the same $500 month after month.
At least that’s the theory.
In order to get to a place where you can capitalize on the higher organic placement, you need to get your website’s ‘house’ in order. This was, and remains, my most regrettable mistake – ignorance.
Imagine you want to throw a house party for 50 guests. You’ve never met these guests, but you want to make an amazing first impression on them. You have decided to pick a Halloween theme for your party, have decorated the walls, and are serving similarly themed food and drinks. After all your hard work, the place looks great and your food smells delicious, but when 7 pm rolls around and no one shows up, you can’t figure out why. You are frustrated about the time and money you’ve spent and a little bit humiliated.
So, what happened?
You likely did everything you need to within the room and with respect to your Halloween theme, but the structure of your house wasn’t search-friendly, and Google, like a modern-day map tool, decided to hide it from the people driving by. Google looked behind the scenes to see if your sitemap (like your plumbing) deserved the traffic. They looked to ensure all your logos and images (like your wall paintings) were labeled properly and accurately (alt-captioned), and that each room of the house was similarly and clearly labeled, such as your ‘bathroom’ or your ‘basement’; and that every hallway led somewhere. They also looked at the roads (your inbound links) that led to your house; were they in equally good shape and did they end up where they were supposed to, or were people hitting dead-ends?
This is the first thing I failed to do.
I failed to appreciate that the structure of my site impacted my ‘deservedness’ for search traffic. I suggest that if you have the time and resources, tools such as SEMRush or MOZ can help you optimize your site for search engine friendliness. If you don’t have that kind of time, research and a web development and marketing organization, such as Nirvana Canada, can be of huge help.
Once we cleaned the house, we started doing Keyword Research, we recognized that although a similarly searched keyword like ‘Costa Rica Vacations’ offered us the traffic we wanted, the likelihood we could complete against entrenched sites like Expedia would be slim. So, we decided to go ‘Longtail’.
Longtail in the world of SEO refers to the small, personalized search needs and interests of web users. If we couldn’t get to Page 1 for something like ‘Costa Rica Vacations’, what could we get to Page 1 for? Research helps. Big time.
In this screenshot above, you will start to see some specific search requests that are related to the original term. A term like ‘resorts in guanacaste costa rica’ has a fraction of the search volume, but is comparably less competitive. A focused effort on this term, could still lower client acquisition costs, and likely deliver us a more qualified lead. One who already knows where they want to go. In theory, you have to fish with more little nets, rather than fewer large ones. Welcome to the new Internet for small business.
If you were looking to speak to the Costa Rica traveler, I would suggest a focused effort on 3-4 closely related terms. Create ‘subject matter expert’ blog posts, directly related to the term, do them well, and then push those same posts out on social media. Write your posts as if you want to help people and don’t make them overly commercial. Also, serving the posts up as helpful answers to Reddit sub-groups, or for questions on Quora, will add some momentum.
Other technical considerations
There are other imperative needs, such as proper page titling and meta-descriptions, and you should absolutely download a basic SEO plug-in, if nothing else. Yoast for WordPress is quite popular, helping with readability scoring, labeling and previewing the content on social media. Square space has their own section to access under Marketing>Discovery>SEO.
Regardless of the tool in your SEO toolbox, here is a starter 10-point SEO for Beginner’s checklist to get you going:
1. Do an audit to test if your site healthy. If not, follow the recommendations and fix as many of them as you can. If there are words you don’t know, look them up.
2. Do keyword research on the terms you want to be found for on search engines
3. If possible, and especially if you are just starting off, choose menu page titles that are, in themselves, sought after keyword terms. The higher profile the page (and top menu titles are high profile) the more ‘oomph’ you’re telling search engines to put behind them.
4. Download a plug-in or other SEO tool to tag, test, and preview your future posts
5. Write content that tells search engines that you are a trusted, reliable solution for people looking for the solution that you want offer.
6. Write content that is universally readable; not a thesis, but not a kindergarten sketch either.
7. Make sure you alt-caption all your images and don’t try to trick search engines. Artificial Intelligence means those days are over.
8. Create value. Give people tips, things to look out for, and what to consider when search users are looking into your industry
9. Share these posts on social media
10.Use Google Analytics to monitor how well they are doing
This is not to say that there aren’t other considerations as well, as this is where the rabbit hole begins.
Nothing draws a crowd like a crowd
In the last 12 months, our web-traffic from SEEtheWILD has grown 70% over the previous year. This is due in no small part to SEO considerations. It is still not a staggering amount of traffic and we have new problems that we have to solve, but we are well on our way. Momentum has also proven to be a factor, as the more traffic we get on one day, the more we seem to get the next. The funnel is filling, and this is really where the future begins.
Just because you are an SEO beginner doesn’t mean you are going to fail; it just means you have to dig a little deeper, and ask for help when you need it.