In the world of SEO, inbound-links are still the primary ranking factor responsible for the visibility of websites and their content in organic search results. Without great links – your site won’t rank significantly well for anything – and you will have to rely on other channels (e.g. paid-search, social media and ad-networks) to acquire targeted traffic and conversions.
In this post, Niall Ó Gribin from travel SEO specialists Digital Destiny Marketing looks at a number of scalable and creative strategies to build great links to your travel website in order to improve your organic search-engine rankings, in addition to increasing your brand exposure and bringing in leads and conversions.
In terms of backlinks, all links are not equal. Search-engines are able to discern where on a page or post a link resides, often rendering links were effective in the past ineffective or less-effective today (e.g. those blogroll links, footer links and widget links which ‘used to work’). Search engines know if a link is relevant (coming from a semantically related website) or not.
So what makes a ‘good link’ for a travel website?
Truly good links for travel sites generally have a number of characteristics:
They come from a travel related website (relevance), or from a travel section.
- Links are in content (not hanging off a sidebar or nestled in a footer – which looks ‘artificial’ or inorganic)
- The link makes sense in the context in which it is placed.
- The link comes from and authority site (i.e. a site with good domain-level metrics, such as a high number of referring domains, high toolbar PageRank and other metrics)
- The link should be ‘do-follow’ as opposed to nofollow
1. Boost your site authority with links from powerful niche travel-directories & business-directories
There are thousands of great business directories online, many with amazing domain-level metrics. Getting links from some of these directories can help to boost your site authority and PageRank (usually we don’t care about PageRank, however your crawl allowance is directly related to your domain’s PageRank, so the more you have, the better – especially if you have a site with a LOT of pages).
Ideally, you should aim to get links from the directories with the best domain-level metrics, and especially those with subsections dedicated to your own industry (e.g. if your site sells ski-holidays, you want to get a link from the ‘winter sports’ section for relevance).
A scrape of Google search-results for “business directory” “travel agents”, for example shows that there’s no shortage of candidate domains with really high PageRank (a good trust indicator) which you can get listed on – many of which will result in a do-follow link. Similarly, searching on Google for something like ‘“travel directory” submit a site’ yields a large list of great candidate domains to get listed on too.
Once you have a candidate list of domains you can use domain intelligence tools to help you to identify the great, the good and bad (based on metrics such as #of backlinks, # of referring root domains) or you just rely on PageRank. Once you have filtered your list of candidate directories submit to the best of the bunch.
Note – Getting links from spammy or FFA (free-for-all) directories is not advisable – in fact Google penalised a lot of these types of sites not so long ago. Quality and relevance is important.
The great part is that these listings and the resulting link are usually 100% free.
Directory Submission Tips:
- Make sure that your business description is unique with each submission.
- Use a tool such as PageRank plugin for chrome to check PageRank of domains before submission
- Tools like Majestic SEO display relevant metrics for any domain – look at the Majestic metric named ‘ACRank’ which is based on linking root-domains. Another great (and free) tool for this purpose is this SEOGadget tool.
- Only submit to sites with a lot of indexed pages (use the “site operator” on Google to check # of indexed pages per domain e.g. site:domain.com)
- Use a form-filler application (e.g. Roboform) to literally fill in the blanks (your address, phone number, location, URL etc) to save on time
2. Free links from Authority Showcase sites & CSS Galleries
Site-showcase sites and CSS galleries are a great way to get free links to your site. Although they don’t provide relevance, they do offer a quick and easy way to get free links from high-authority domains. There’s no shortage of free-to-submit-to CSS galleries out there with PageRank of 6 and 7 for example.
Also, it’s not uncommon for these sites to feature the best submissions each month on their homepage with a direct link to the site too – so if you have a slick design and good code ‘under the hood’ why not cash in on these easy-to-get links. Chances are that your competitors will have missed this ‘trick’
- Identify sites via the search: “CSS Gallery” submit a site or “site showcase” submit a site
- Submit to the sites with the best domain metrics
3. Become an Industry News Authority and Thought-Leader
Publishing coverage of ski industry news and events breeds ‘linkability’. The pinnacle of which is getting and publishing an exclusive (‘the scoop’) which gives you carte blanche to post about breaking news/events in related forums and in other targeted places (e.g. relevant blogs and social media groups on LinkedIn & Facebook related to the subject) – which then often leads to more links to your site, as well as more awareness of your company and brand.
You can take things a bit further by interviewing key parties about the news, making your article the reference point for anyone following the subject you cover.
Examples of sites which leverage travel industry news and events and gain plenty of links to their site from niche forums, blogs and even newspaper sites include ski companies such as the Ski Club of Great Britain and Iglu Ski – both of which offer excellent coverage of every aspect of the winter sports/holidays industry.
- Leads & Brand awareness - Writing about news and upcoming events in specific holiday destinations brings in valuable targeted traffic and leads
- Get links from your competitors – Your coverage will sometimes get picked up and linked to from your competitors (priceless!)
- Tactical Coverage fosters links, Shares & Relationships – People and organizations which get exposure via your news / specific vertical coverage will link to you, share your articles and even connect with you. When you feature a brand/company – make the effort to let them know. Connect with them on Twitter or LinkedIn, engage with them and make them a part of your own network, which can be extremely valuable.
- Syndication benefits – Getting your news-content accepted and syndicated on big aggregated news sites such as NewsNow (travel section), as well as via other distribution channels such as Google News can bring in huge volumes of traffic and eyeballs, which will inevitably turn into links and citations if the content is excellent, truly newsworthy and resonates with the target audience.
- Opening the door to guest posting on third party sites – Once you have established yourself as a niche authority, you use your existing great content and coverage as a springboard towards becoming a contributor on relevant authority industry websites – giving you a great opportunity for linking back to your own site while sharing your domain knowledge and expertise.
4. Do something Newsworthy / innovative – get Coverage and links from industry watchers
Travel focused sites such as TNOOZ, and newspapers with travel sections are always happy to cover interesting and remarkable innovations, research and events in the travel vertical.
If you have done or are planning to do something remarkable – make sure to leverage this by ensuring that the gatekeepers and editors who need to know about it do indeed find out about it. You can issue press-releases, track down editors on LinkedIn, Twitter, or just pick up the phone to start the ball rolling in order to get some coverage (and links).
E.g. have you recently released a unique app for Android or iPhone users which does something that no other travel app does? There are tens of thousands of technology sites out there which will gladly offer coverage of anything technology related which is new, different and noteworthy to write about (and link to!).
Get in touch with these websites and invite both tech and travel website owners and editors to review your app. You can also (legitimately) use press-releases to raise awareness of your project with relevant industry people too.
What types of links and exposure can you get?
The Walkonomics site (which is about to also release an app) – was featured on high-profile travel and tech related sites such as TNOOZ, as well as The Independent and The Guardian. Innovation & creativity fosters great links – and the best links are often those cannot be purchased, and are not paid for!
4. Leverage Charity Tie-ins and Sponsorships for Links + PR
Do something charitable and the links will follow. Everyone has a soft-spot for a good cause, and if your company decides to get involved in charity, there’s no problem getting coverage from the press, forums & blogs.
Creativity combined with good PR inevitably fosters links from related websites (which money simply cannot buy) in addition to boosting brand-awareness in appropriate consumer spaces online (links and citations which bring conversions are the best types of links/mentions!).
E.g. A plethora of winter travel companies have jumped to the support of Disability Snow Sport UK,- offering the companies positive brand-association benefits, a cool story to tell, and of course a ‘just cause’ to garner some quality links from well-linked-to charity sites..
Running themed events with charity tie-ins is a smart way to garner even more links from the media, local news websites and blogs as well as for attracting customer participation and social interaction (tweets, shares, likes) to generate buzz around your brand.
E.g. One UK ski-company recently got involved with charity when they ran a Ski Fête in London resulting in lots of great links as a by-product of the event. The event offered family-friendly fun and games; loads of charity-tie-ins and a mystery world-record attempt. The event generated plenty of media coverage and links galore from relevant and mainstream media sites such as ski forums, ski blogs, ski organisations tactical partnerships and local websites.
Use your imagination, get networking and anything is possible if you have a good hook or story to tell!
5. Use Celebrities in Your Content Marketing and the relevant links will follow
Tapping into the fan-bases of celebrities can be great for attracting site visitors, improving brand-awareness and credibility, and of course garnering links from relevant sites. Hiring a sports celebrity to blog on your travel website may be a good idea, and it’s something which Monarch Airlines have dabbled with.
Monarch hired top British woman skier Chemmy Alcott as a brand-ambassador and blogger on their own site.
This opened the door to easy and natural link acquisition from numerous sources, including winter sports blogs and sports forums (relevance)!
6. Know Your Customer & Write Great Content for Them
Nothing is more linkable than fabulous content. The expression “content is king” is there for a reason. However, if you don’t truly know your customer, you cannot satisfy their information needs and also acquire great links.
It’s therefore very important to have a good model of different customer types so that you can satisfy their needs by publishing compelling content which answers their questions and creating offers and deals which appeal specifically to each specific visitor type in order to convert them into customers/bookings.
Enter Personas – which are fictitious user representations created in order to embody behaviours and motivations that a group of real users might express, which can be used to represent and understand their needs. These user representations can created in many ways: through surveys, directly addressing the user, by collecting demographic and behaviour data during, and by interviews with real users or their representatives.
According to Cooper and Cooper and Reimann, personas are a gathering of realistic representative information which can include fictitious details destined to a more accurate characterization. The persona composition can be based on imaginary information, demographic and biographical characteristics of the personality under modelling. Personas have names like real people and can be represented through an image, or even a picture, to add realism.
Personas are valuable for marketers in any field, and developing a comprehensive array of customer personas before content creation is a valuable exercise.
Once you know exactly who you are writing for, writing the page-copy and articles to answer their specific questions, and to attract those specific customers to your website becomes quite a straightforward task.
Think about the popularity of Q&A Sites like Quora, Yahoo Answers and eHow.com, and the propensity for people to literally ask questions when performing a query on Search-engines – for example:
What is closest airport to [destination]?
What is the best restaurant in [City]?
If you truly know what questions your customers will ask, and why, then you can craft suitable content on your site to attract targeted visitors who are asking questions, giving you an opportunity to supply information and answers, and to make them aware of your services and brand as well as giving you the chance to ‘reel them in’ and convert a visitor to a lead / customer.
Tip: You should ensure that your travel website logs all user search queries entered into the ‘search’ box on your site (you can even log site search data via Google Analytics). The questions /searches they perform may surprise you, and these queries are golden in terms of assisting with development of your on-site content strategy, helping you fill in the blanks which your existing content may not be covering.
If you don’t have a search facility on your site, you are missing out on valuable data from real users who may slip through your fingers, and leave your website to find the answers they are looking for elsewhere.
7. Leverage Local Event Listings & Microformats for Easy Traffic
Ranking for events and event names in search is relatively easy, as there is generally low-competition for event names and related keywords. Additionally, people who intend on attending these events generally required transport and accommodation for when they arrive.
Listing events on your site which take places in regions which your travel company serves, as well as pertinent information on the event (hint: places to stay, cheapest accommodation in the area) is a great way to get visitors on your travel site who are likely to need your services and convert into customers.
Pro tip: Semantically marking up your data using appropriate microformats such as hEvent to makes it even more understandable by bots + web-spiders.
Fig 7.0 – HTML markup for an event – specified using the hEvent Microformat specification
An example in the wild: a travel site (mydestination.com) using Microformats ranking on page 1 (position #4) of Google for a live poker event in Malta.
Chances are high that if a searcher lands on a travel site when searching for an event, they may subsequently search the site for suitable accommodation.
Reasons for using event listings to garner traffic are numerous:
- Search-engines can now understand (and love) structured data
- Often whoever is running the event doesn’t specify the event data via suitable Microformats on their own website – giving you an edge if you do it correctly.
- Ranking for event names will be relatively easy due to low-competition if your own site has good domain metrics (with ehough PR and authority it’s easy to rank for low-competition search-terms and phrases).
8. Launch an Affiliate Program and Make Affiliate Links look ‘Natural’
An affiliate program is a system whereby your services and products are promoted by third parties (e.g. other websites), and they are paid a commission based on sales, revenues or leads. As well as bringing in new business, affiliate programs can be a smart way to build links too.
Search engines can usually identify affiliate links and discard them for ranking purposes (because they are not ‘organic’ and have been placed for commercial reasons as Matt Cutts discusses here),
By masking your affiliate links by giving your affiliates and partners non-dynamic clean hyperlinks to link to, and even their own bespoke landing pages, it is possible to gain link equity from these types of inbound links, as well as gaining citations and mentions of your brand on relevant sites too.
So instead of having affiliate links that look like http://example.com?aid=12345 a ‘natural’ affiliate link could look like http://example.com/partner-landing-page
9. Use Infographics & Novel Data Visualization to Share Data
Use your own internal data or research to create beautiful presentable shareable information. In an industry obsessed with data, statistics and case-studies, why not, why not analyse and publish some of your data on your site, making it look pretty by packaging it using data visualisation tools to transform it to an infographic or an interactive chart/infographic.
People love to link to and share interesting, insightful and well-presented data, and there’s no shortage of tools to jazz up your data:
iCharts – Give your charts interactive elements – you even extract the data from Google Docs to populate your charts
Exhibit –Fully open-source, and developed by the smart people at MIT, Exhibit lets you easily create web pages with advanced text search and filtering functionalities, with interactive maps, timelines and data-based visualisations.
You can find a bunch more cool data-visualization tools for inspiration here and here.
10. Capitalise on Universal Search with Videos
Video is one of the most under-used mediums by travel companies to acquire clicks from search engines and links from websites/blogs/forums. A huge percentage of results pages contain at least one video – for example over 70% of UK search-engine results pages containing at least one video.
According to Google’s 2013 Travel research which shows that online travel video usage is increasing consistently year after year:
- 51% of leisure travellers checking out videos before booking (up from 45% in 2012)
- 69% of business travellers watch online travel videos (up from 64% in 2012)
- 55% of affluent travellers watch online travel videos (compared to 50% in 2012)
Videos for SEO cannot and should not be ignored for many reasons:
- Currently, video results are integrated into organic results, and can appear at any position in the Search Engine Results Page (SERP).
- Video results are shown on over 70% of UK SERPs.
- The chances of getting a page one listing on Google increase 53 times with video because there is still much less competition for video pages (source: Wordtracker, 2011).
- Videos breed links: people like to embed videos, offering a great opportunity to get a backlink to your site if it is included in the embed code.
- Search-engines look at many factors when ranking a page – one of them is ‘bounce rate’ (how long a visitor stays on a particular page). Videos which engage users, keeping them on a particular page for a reasonable duration of time may assist that page with ranking well.
- You can avoid the third-party-hosting v self-hosting dilemma by using trailers or teasers on YouTube to drive traffic to your own site.
Other Video SEO considerations:
- You should always provide a text-transcription of your video for accessibility and to ensure indexation (based on the assumption that search-engines cannot yet decipher human voices with 100% accuracy)
- Self-hosting is a better idea than using third-party hosting as it will bring visitors directly to your own site vs Youtube, Vimeo or a third party site (also if embedding is available, you want the embed link to direct link equity towards your own video page / domain, although you can still get links to your own domain via YouTube videos).
With some creativity and a clear strategy you can bring in a lot of traffic to your travel websites via SEO.