12 Jul Travel SEO: Creative Link-building Ideas and Strategies
Link development for travel sites can sometimes be tricky, but building great links to your site and content needn’t be a tedious affair if you have some imagination and a plan which includes a number of clever & clean travel link-building strategies.
In this post we will look at a ten creative, scalable link acquisition tips and techniques which any travel website can employ in order to significantly increase volumes of targeted and relevant backlinks – which will in turn result in increased organic search-engine rankings, in addition to increasing your brand exposure and bringing in leads and conversions.
1. Grab Low-hanging fruit – Free listings & Site submissions
For starters, you should always acquire the ‘easy to get, but good’ free links wherever possible. If you know where to look, you can garner plenty of links which will deliver traffic as well as inbound links from well ranked domains as well as valuable relevant domains too.
1.1 Business directories
Businesses can (and should) take advantage of business directories. Generally these types of sites are 100% free to get a listing on, although of course there are exceptions.
In contrast to many free-for all site directories, these types of sites don’t tend to get slapped by search-engines for being ‘spammy’ or ‘free-for-all’ (FFA) due to quality-control and human moderation. Listing your business address and URLs on these sites provides additional benefits of providing genuine targeted referral traffic as well offering local SEO benefits too.
A quick scrape of Google’s search results using the ScrapeBox tool reveals a plethora of candidate sites to register your details on, ranging from small directories with some authority to high authority directories on newspaper sites such as the Independent newspaper’s directory website. Getting links from sites with semantically relevant sections is a bonus (e.g if you own a Ski company, try to get a link from a directory with a travel agents section, or winter travel section).
1.2 Niche Travel directories
Relevance is important in link building, so garnering links from niche travel directories is a good idea.
A quick look on Google shows that there’s no shortage of generic and more niche-based travel directories out there which offer free-listings – many of which have desirable domain metrics such as ‘domain authority’, ‘PageRank’, ‘large # of ‘linking root-domains’ etc.
Google has in the past banned loads of low-quality directory sites, so make sure to only submit to directories with visible toolbar pagerank (you can use a web-browser plugin such as this PageRank plugin for Chrome to check for PR) or lots of indexed pages (you can use the site: operator on Google to check for # of indexed pages on these sites) to avoid wasting time and/or getting links from penalized directory sites.
1.3 CSS galleries
Have you just spent £30,000 on a new flashy website, or do you think your website is an example of aesthetic nirvana?
Showcasing your site on CSS gallery websites is a great way to get permanent free links from some high authority sites. 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.
Tips for Scaling the Submission Process
Filling in zillions of forms and registering on lots of different sites can be very laborious and time consuming – so here’s some Pro Scalability Tips:
- Use a search engine results page scraping tool such as Scrapebox to harvest a list of potentially suitable directory sites from Google’s own search results using search footprints which contain relevant terms such as ‘travel directories’, ‘travel directory France’ etc (whatever is most relevant to your own business).
- Paste the list into a domain-intelligence tool such as the wonderful tool over on SEOGadget to get a clear picture of which domains have the best metrics (e.g linking root domains, Domain authority and social metrics)
- Filter the list, removing sites with low authority / linking root-domain counts / other important metrics.
- Use a form-filler app such as RoboForm to make repetitive tasks such as registration and form-filling on your list of target directories a one-click affair (remember to make sure your site-descriptions are unique in your submissions – don’t use automated form-filling for this part!). You can find a useful guide to creating and populating custom form fields in Roboform here
Filtering out the ‘good’ from the ‘bad’
Good domain-level metrics to look for in the sites and directories you choose to get listed are a high TBPR (however bear in mind that Google hasn’t done a toolbar refresh in a long time, so newer sites won’t have any visible number for PageRank) and (more importantly perhaps) a high number of linking root domains (you can get domain intelligence on candidate sites by using tools like Majestic SEO which can display a metric named ‘ACRank’ which is based on linking root-domains).
2. Become an Industry News Authority and Thought-Leader
- Leverage Industry-Related News & Events – Sites with travel news coverage/roundups like Ski club of Great Britain and Iglu Ski, for example acquire plenty of links from industry sites, blogs and forums simply by providing coverage on goings on in the winter-holiday industry.What’s more – writing about news and upcoming events in their supported holiday destinations brings in valuable targeted traffic and leads (people who are looking to holiday in specific places in order to attend events) via organic search.
- Get the scoop! – Getting and publishing an exclusive industry story gives you almost carte-blanche to go posting about it on and linking to the story on your website on relevant niche forums, linkedIn and Facebook group – even on sites (with forums and blogs) owned by competitors. Of course, getting any links to your own domain from your competitors’ sites = priceless.
- Tactical Coverage fosters links, Shares & Relationships – People and organizations who 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.
- Use internal linking to Pass Link equity and relevance to relevant sections & Pages – If you choose to internally link specific keywords to relevant internal pages on your own website inside news articles you can easily pass a lot of link equity and relevance from incoming links on the article / news posts to the relevant internal pages.For example, linking the word ‘Austria’ to your Austrian travel section in an article ‘New Ski lifts in an Austrian ski-resort’ will certainly pass on the ‘juice’ and relevance from links pointing to the article from third-party sites to your desired page.
- Get syndicated where it Counts – 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 will 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 audience.
- Guest Contributor Spots Once you have got some great content pieces and blog posts full of riveting perspective under your belt, and earned respect from your peers and/or the digital gatekeepers in your industry, becoming a contributor on relevant industry websites should be easy.Find out who deals with their content and make some article ideas and show them your work. Getting your name around and sharing your ideas and perspective may be a great opportunity to drive some traffic and links (which probably cannot be bought) to your own sites if you are smart what you write about
3. Do something Newsworthy and Tell the World
If you do something remarkable – yell about it and cash in on it. Get coverage from wherever is relevant, and wherever is vaguely relevant.
e.g. Have you recently released a unique app for android or iPhone users? There’s about 20 Zillion tech sites out there and the great news is that most of them are crying out for something 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.
The link you can get? Just look at the Walkonomics site (which is about to also release an app) – which was featured on high-profile travel and tech related sites such as TNOOZ, as well as The Independent and The Guardian. Creativity breeds great links which once again, cannot be purchased.
4. Leverage Charity Tie-ins for Links + PR
Everyone loves ‘giving’ and getting involved with charity and other good causes – and there’s no shortage of companies which leverage this fact to their own gains. In the ski-industry for example,. there’s no shortage of big-brands getting involved with worthy related causes like Disability Snow Sport UK, for brand benefits, a cool story to tell, and of course some quality links from these charity sites are suddenly available.
Running themed events with some charity sponsorship and tie-ins is a great way to garner even more links – from the media, local news websites and blogs. Fun Events are also a magnet for tweets, shares, likes and social buzz from the charities themselves and attendees too.
A great example of a travel company which got involved with charity to run a travel-themed event, and which gained lots of juicy links as a by-product was the Fulham Ski Fête which was set up by London Ski company Interactive-Resorts earlier this year in London.
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 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!
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!).
5. Use Celebrities in Your Content Marketing
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 Airlines celebrity blogging
Garnering links from other sports blogs and sports forums suddenly got a heck of a lot easier..
6. Know Your Customer & Write Great Content For Them
Personas 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.
This can be done in many different ways: through surveys, directly addressing the user, by collecting demographic and behavior data during, and by interviews with real users or their representatives.
Before you can write compelling copy for your customer which will engage them, satisfy them and convert them into customers / leads, you must first understand their specific needs and desires.
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 modeling. 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.
What is closest airport to [destination]?
What is the best restaurant in New York?
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.
Pro tip: You should ensure that your travel website logs all user search queries entered into your ‘search’ box on your site (you can even log site search data via Google Analytics). The questions they ask may surprise you, and their queries can really help to guide your content strategy, helping you fill in the blanks or ‘dead spots’ 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. Cash in on Local Event Listings & Microformats
People who need to travel to events need to both get there and usually need transport/transfers while travelling and lodgings 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.
an event specified using the hEvent microformat specification
Fig 7.0 – an event specified using the hEvent microformat specification
An example in the wild – Travel site MyDestination.com ranks on Google.com for a poker event in Malta.
Chances are high that a searcher who visits the page in question on the travel site will subsequently search the site for suitable accommodation.
The beauty of using event listings to garner traffic are numerous:
- Search-engines can now understand (and love) structured data
- Often whomever is running the event doesn’t specify the event data via suitable Microformats on their own website,
- 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).
6. Launch an Affiliate Program
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 either sales, revenues or leads.
As well as bringing in business, affiliate programs can be a smart way to build links too.
Generally search-engines will ignore links which appear to be affiliate links (because these links are not naturally occurring ‘votes’ – they are placed for commercial reasons as Matt Cutts discusses here), however by giving your affiliates/partners non-dynamic clean hyperlinks and even their own 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 ‘clean’ affiliate link might look like http://example.com/partner-landing-page
Moz.com has a great post on getting real SEO value from affiliate links.
7. Use Infographics & Novel Data Visualization to Share Data
So you have a travel company – you’re bound to have some unique insights to share from your own internal data. In a society that seems to love stats, figures and things that look pretty, why not analyse and publish some of your data on your site.
People love to link to and share interesting, insightful and well-presented data.
Great Tools to Jazz up Your Data
There’s no shortage of free and paid tools out there to turn drab sheets of digits and excel graphs into colourful, awesome imagery. Just like in catering, presentation is 9/10ths of the law!
iCharts – Charts can have interactive elements, and you can pull in data from Google Docs
icharts Data visualisation tool
Check out the Google Chart Gallery for some examples of how you can transform and style your data. Also check out the currently experimental Google Fusion Tables to ‘bust your data out of its silo! Combine it with other data on the web. Collaborate, visualize and share’.
Exhibit – Developed by MIT, and fully open-source, Exhibit lets you easily create web pages with advanced text search and filtering functionalities, with interactive maps, timelines and data-based visualisations.
Use exhibit charts to jazz up your data
8. Capitalise on Universal Search with Videos
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).
9. Reviews And SEO Benefits
Customer reviews can be used to improve your on-site and off-site SEO, and bring in additional benefits too:
- Rich Snippets to ‘Outclick’ Competitors in SERPs – using appropriate markup in for example a hotel review on your website can result in your organic SERP listing for that specific page receiving an enhanced listing (one with yellow review stars) which can dramatically increase your clickthrough rate compared with a listing in the same organic postion without stars. Use the hReview microformat specification for this. A listing in position 3 with review stars is likely to outperform a position 1 listing in terms of CTR!
- PPC – Encouraging satisfied customers to review your business on third party review websites from which Google aggregates data for use in pay-per-click ads (e.g. TrustPilot) will result in increased click-through rates (CTR) on your ads, reducing costs.
- Conversion Rates – According to Reevoo stats, 50 or more reviews per product can mean a 4.6% increase in conversion rates:
- User-Generated Content & long-tail targeting – Customer reviews are generally keyword rich, fortifying your on-page copy with almost unlimited long-tail keyword variations which can bring in targeted traffic
10. Tactical Content-Marketing Partnerships
If there is no conflict of interests, it makes sense to align yourself with other related service providers. You can recommend their services to your users without spewing any sales, and they can do the same. Both parties walk away with both SEO value (from in-content links) and actual sales/enquirers, which is ultimately the end-goal of all marketing activity.
Say you own an online ski holiday company which sells package ski and snowboarding holidays in Europe and the USA. Why not partner up with ski apparel companies or ski and snowboard vendors?
You can recommend their services and products by blogging about them and reviewing some of their products, which gives a natural opportunity to give them a few links (because linking makes sense for the user experience), and also giving you an opportunity to write something ‘a bit different’ but which is still genuinely of value / interest to your own site visitors.
Article ideas for such an initiative might include ‘A guide to essential ski-safety gear for kids’, ‘New snowboards from Burton for 2013/14 ski season’.
Be creative with Travel SEO and the sky is the limit!