I’ve worked with a lot of travel brands over the years, ranging from household names to niche tour operators, and while a lot of SEO best practice can be standardized across the board – the travel vertical has its own nuances and challenges that throw some elements of best practice into question.
I’m an advocate of approaching each website and project with an open mind, and ready to accept that not all playing fields are level, or the same, and not taking the immediate blanket approach that a website needs more links and linkable content (an approach which unfortunately still exists today).
The 4 Travel Micro-Moments
In 2016, Think With Google defined four travel-specific micro-moments, different to the typical Do-Know-Go-Buy micro-moments that we consider when looking at search intent.
These travel-specific micro-moments are:
- Dreaming moments.
- Planning moments.
- Booking moments.
- Experiencing moments.
By understanding these moments and the intent behind them, we can begin to tailor content to satisfy user intent.
This also means ranking for queries and intents across the user journey, and not just a small cluster of “money” keywords that drive sales.
By being present and providing user value across the user journey, you’re opening up to a wider audience.
Dreaming moments are users at the top of the metaphorical sales funnel, starting their journey.
There’s no guarantee that these users will ever progress down the funnel, they may have seen an ad or a location in a film and they’re now researching based on this spark of inspiration.
Users at this stage will be performing long-tail queries and conducting general research.
Don’t try and overload the user with specifics or prices at this stage. Provide them with imagery and stimulus so they can create their own version of the holiday.
This is where the old approach of creating pages to target specific keywords becomes outdated, as you need to provide an immersive user experience to provide the right kind of value at this stage.
Planning moments are exactly that, the user now has a destination or holiday type in mind and they’re in the process of intensive research.
Previously, users were visiting approximately 38 unique websites before booking travel specifics.
However, through the evolution of both Google’s search results pages (Google Destinations) and websites producing better content, this has decreased to just 4.4 unique sites.
This is an important change in user behavior, as larger online travel agencies (OTAs) have created consolidated portals, and have ultimately influenced user behavior.
Users expect more instant gratification to their queries, and if they’re looking to book a holiday in a location with a beach, it’s reasonable to expect that they’ll want to easily access related content without too much effort.
It’s also worth noting at this stage that it’s highly likely users are comparing prices and shopping at multiple websites for the best deal, for either the location or the hotel.
These moments are more about user experience than SEO.
Your online booking systems have to function seamlessly, with clear information laid upfront and clear steps they can trust.
The SEO element of this moment is about the brand, and ranking well for it and its variations.
By brand, I don’t mean exact match domains (EMDs), as this is an old tactic that used to work well, but the EMD update lessened the effectiveness of the EMD.
In some niches, this still works but it isn’t a substitute for building an actual brand online. Building a brand doesn’t come cheap and it doesn’t come from just SEO activities, it requires a multi-channel approach and time.
As eluded to earlier in the planning moment, in the experience moment it’s important to go beyond the sale and build the relationship with the customer further by helping them experience their holiday to the fullest.
This means producing content and resources on the where the user is going on holiday (e.g., places to eat, things to see).
My advice: try and instill a TripAdvisor style element to your content and leverage the reviews and thoughts of previous holiday-makers.
Positive reviews obviously come from both good customer service, and an active (but not intrusive) outreach system to harvest them. They also rely on something outside of your control, the holiday-maker enjoying the holiday.
This can be done by incentivizing them to share their experiences and is a great opportunity to use this content across other channels (e.g., social) important to the travel industry.
Incorporating Moments Into Your Content Strategy
From a top level, moments can be and should be incorporated into your content strategy.
Not only the words that are written on the page but also how the content is formatted and laid out for users. And saying that it needs to be mobile friendly and responsive is a given.
While content is important, it’s also important that users are able to transition between these moments fluidly across your site. This means incorporating moments within the user journey and site architecture.
By site architecture, I don’t just mean URLs and subfolders.
If a user enters the site looking at planning a holiday in Cephalonia, don’t take them to other parts of the site were they can see information for other destinations – immerse them in Cephalonia, and the other Ionian Islands, exposing them to other cross-sell opportunities such as tours, car rentals, and in this example, scuba diving.
Match Content to the Moment
By creating these great content resources and environments for users to discover, research, and plan their holidays, you’ll naturally attract links from travel news sites and online publications.
Links are still an important factor to SEO, but links are only a part of the equation.
In a competitive vertical such as travel, links won’t be enough without great content satisfying user intent, and moments.
From experience, a lot of keywords and search phrases that can fall into the dreaming moment category are often high search volume. As a result, it’s tempting to commercialize the content and elements of the page because they drive big traffic.
There’s nothing wrong with doing this, but you need to match messages to the intent of your user, so rather than having a call to action saying “prices from” or “book now”, play to their psyche and talk about “making their dreams affordable”.
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