SEO is an important marketing channel for most travel businesses, with nearly all consumers using a search engine at some point in their booking journey.
If you don’t have any visibility for the phrases that users are searching for along that journey, then you are undoubtedly missing out on potential customers and conversions.
But the digital world is fraught with misinformation, so how do you know what common SEO problems need fixing and how to prioritize them?
Look no further! We’ve pulled together the 7 most common issues that we find consistent with the travel sites we work on, along with solutions and best practices to maximise your performance.
It’s highly likely at least one of these will be affecting your site – put it right and you will undoubtedly see an improvement in your visibility.
1. Indexation problems
One of the biggest issues facing clients when they first come to us is the indexation of their site. They have large amounts of pages in Google’s index which aren’t genuine pages, and have been created as a result of poor website builds or strange technical functionality in the background.
One of the main offenders in this area is search results pages where holidays/tours/hotels etc are filtered in some way. This creates hundreds or thousands of URLs for each variation of search, none of which feature unique or quality content.
The issue with this is that you are forcing search engines to crawl many more URLs than they need too, wasting their time and energy and lowering their opinion of your site overall. This results in your overall performance being hindered for all pages on your site, not just the offending ones.
Follow the tips below and you will be well on the way to an accurate index:
- Create an accurate XML sitemap with only the pages on your site that feature high quality, unique content. Do not include pages you don’t want in the index. Submit this to Google’s Search Console.
- Do a site:domain.com search for your website in Google. Check the number of indexed pages matches what you would expect, and click through the results to ensure you can’t see any strange pages being delivered.
- Use a third-party crawling tool like Screaming Frog to crawl your site and check it doesn’t find erroneous pages (this is a paid tool, but there is a free version which will cover smaller sites).
- If you do have URLs like this being created on your site, be sure to add noindex tags to them to tell search engines that they are not to be included in their index. Then remove them in Google Search Console to speed up the process if you have time.
2. Poor on-page targeting
Historically, many people have thought about SEO as an activity where you pick 5 or 10 phrases and try with all your might to rank on page 1 for them. If that’s you, stop it!
SEO is about getting you more visibility in search engines for as wide a set of relevant phrases as possible, whether they are ‘headline’ phrases (generally 1 to 3 words, high volume of monthly searches) or ‘longtail’ phrases (generally 4 words and longer, fewer monthly searches, but a much wider variety exist).
This usually results in the homepage and a few key category pages being well optimized, and then the rest of the website being completely forgotten about. By doing this, you’re missing out 90% of your potential audience finding you! How SEO works is that Google crawls every page of your website.
Research all the different areas that users might be searching for you through the buying process, then ensure you have pages on your site to cover those areas, and that each of those pages is given care and attention to target the relevant phrases.
3. Keyword cannibalization
Having told you to ensure you have lots of pages to target all the different phrase areas your audience may be searching for, we’re going to temper that enthusiasm to ensure that you don’t duplicate your efforts with multiple pages targeting the same phrase area.
This is known as ‘keyword cannibalization’ and can lead to search engines being confused as to which page is the right one to rank. This results in none of the pages rank as well as they could do.
When doing your keyword research find the key phrase areas that you want to target, and then map that to your site, ensuring there is only one page for each of those phrase areas.
4. Low-quality content
The main question you should always ask yourself when wondering why you don’t rank well is ‘Is my content better than everything else on page 1 that Google is delivering?’.
Even if you are the best in class for the service you offer, if the page on your website that describes you isn’t then you won’t compete at the top of the search results.
Get out of the mindset of doing ‘just enough’ and start going above and beyond to create the best content out there. Stop writing 200 words and write 2,000. Add tables of information. Add video. Provide unique, engaging imagery. Be the best, and you’ll put yourself in the ring to compete with the best.
Google wants to deliver the best results to users they possibly can. If your content is copied from other sites where Google has already seen it do you think you’ll fit the bill? No, me neither.
The same goes for copying pages internally on your own site. When Google is deciding what the best result is, do you think it will deliver a page which is made up of content that also appears on 10 other pages of your site? Of course not.
Make sure all the content on your site is unique, not copied anywhere on your site or on other sites, and offers lots of value as a standalone resource.
6. Lack of presence on 3rd party sites (links)
To oversimplify SEO (in a very irresponsible way), you can basically say it comes down to two things; what you say on your own website, and what others say about you on their websites.
The second part of that equation generally comes down to links to your site, which search engines count as votes of recommendation. The strength of the vote depends on what the site is and how relevant it is to you.
This is the part of SEO that was formerly very open to manipulation, but which Google has become much better at judging. You can have the most fantastic website in the world with incredible content, but if no-one links to you then you are very unlikely to increase your visibility.
There are many ways to get links, from working with travel bloggers, claiming local business listings, or creating content on your site that attracts links naturally. This is too big a can of worms to do justice in this post, so I’ll simply point you to some of my favourite resources that can give you actionable tips on how to go and get links:
SEO Travel – A step by step guide on how we get featured on sites like Lonely Planet, Business Insider and the Washington Post.
Kaiser the Sage – Advanced link building strategies from Jason Acidre, one of the masters in the field.
Sujan Patel – Implement just a few of the strategies from this content marketing guide and you’re guaranteed to make progress.
7. Multi-language implementation
Travel companies by their nature often target users in a variety of locations and in a variety of languages. This brings with it certain technical challenges which, if not addressed, can pull your site down from the innards.
If you have translated your site into different languages you need to tell search engines that you have done so. This is done with Hreflang tags, which tell Google which version of your site is for which language.
This is a complex topic, so rather than give you a vague description, I’ll let you get all the information directly from the horse’s mouth – Hreflang Implementation Guide
Plus a bonus! Page speed
Page load speed is becoming more and more influential and it’s crucial that you do everything you can to make your site load quickly. Google doesn’t often openly tell people about ranking factors, but it has with page speed so you should make the most of it.
Use their PageSpeed Insights tool which will tell you what the main offenders are in slowing down your site, then fix them.
Images are usually one of the biggest problems so if you resize your images to the correct size for where they are being used that will help you make a good step forward. Travel sites are also guilty for using lots of large images in sliders – this is extremely bad for page speed, so consider changing this to having just one spectacular image instead.
A big part of SEO success is avoiding the major pitfalls, rather than doing anything out of the ordinary. If you can do that, and start to go the extra yard with your content and promotional efforts, then you’ll be on the right track to taking your business forward and attracting more visits and potential customers to your website on a more regular basis.
Tom Mcloughlin is the founder of SEO Travel, a travel marketing agency that helps small to medium sized travel companies grow. You can sign up for their free video course here and follow Tom on Twitter for regular tips.