NB:Â This is a guest article by Matthew Barker, managing partner atÂ HitRiddle.
Anyone who runs an online travel business will already be well aware of the frenetic pace of change in the world of search marketing.
Over the past couple of years weâ€™ve been subjected to a relentless barrage of major algorithm updates and technological changes in the way that search engines organise and prioritise our websites in their results pages.
Plenty has already been said about Googleâ€™s Panda updates, the integration of social media tools into the wider online ecosystem, and the introduction of social search with Google+ and the Facebook-Bing alliance.
It is fairly clear what each of these things mean to online marketers, and how we need to adapt to accommodate them.
What is less talked about is the bigger picture stuff; what all these things mean when taken together, and what that says about the future of search marketing as a whole.
When we consider all these changes together and view them as all part of a single process it is immediately apparent that a paradigm shift is taking place right now in the fundamentals of how search marketing works.
This change presents real and direct risks to many online travel businesses, while also offering great opportunities to those who are flexible and able to adapt.
The paradigm shift in question is the gradual but unstoppable move towards the concept of content performance as the major signal of websitesâ€™ relevance and authority.
Whereas the search engines of the past relied on various quantitative signals to estimate a siteâ€™s value to the user (inbound links, basic content volume, on-site SEO methods, etc), the search engines of the very near future will be making qualitative assessments of the quality and usefulness of content, and will use that subjective value judgment to determine the rankings and exposure of each website.
Their logic is irrefutable: SEO is a fundamentally spammable art. You can buy links, publish junk content and give a website the pretence of being authoritative and valuable.
But search engines and their users donâ€™t want pretenders to be ranking in the top ten results. They want to see genuinely useful, respectable and authoritative websites, and by rewarding sites with high content performance, that is what they will get.
How? Well itâ€™s actually easier than it sounds, especially for the army of geniuses who are working on this stuff in Silicon Valley.
Search engine technology is now sufficiently advanced that the major engines can monitor what happens when visitors arrive on a website, what they do when theyâ€™re there and how they interact with the content.
They do this by looking at:
- The percentage of visitors that leave without visiting any more pages (high bounce rate)
- The average time spent on site
- The number of pages visited per session
- If users manually block the site from their search results
- The volume and frequency of interactions via social media
That last point is especially important, as is the understanding that weâ€™re talking about social media as a contributing factor to the search channel, not social media in its own right.
Personalised search, recently introduced to great fanfare by Googleâ€™s “Search Plus Your World“, means that social interactions with content will have a direct impact on web rankings in the search results.
Put simply, if content is generating â€śbuzzâ€ť in the form of comments, likes, shares +1â€™s, tweets, etc, it will not only increase its exposure on local social platforms, but also in the universal search results, which have begun to factor the behaviour of our friends and networks into the results that are displayed when we search.
And this is massively important. Traffic sent via Facebook to the typical travel website tends to convert into leads at a very low rate.
But traffic sent by organic search results on Bing or Google tends to convert very well. Personalised, social-inspired search is the future, and it all revolves around high content performance.
So, the successful travel website of the future is one that is packed with useful, informative, entertaining and valuable content; content that is so extraordinarily good that it can generate the positive content performance signals that search engines are looking for.
That means we urgently need to recast the way we think about travel websites. They should no longer be seen as a â€śstore frontâ€ť or an online brochure, solely concerned with promoting and selling travel products. Instead they must be converted into entire libraries of resources that can inspire and engage travellers and potential clients.
The possibilities are almost endless, and are limited only by imagination and budget:
- first person travel blogs
- destination news and travel recommendations
- detailed downloadable travel guides
- interactive destination maps
- image galleries
- museum opening hours
- restaurant reviews
- photography guides
Weâ€™re all experts in our own travel destinations and the world is full of travellers who need that information. The key is in identifying the audience and giving them what they want and need.
But the most important thing to recognize is that OK content is no longer OK. In order to inspire the kind of reactions that social-search engines are looking for, content must become extraordinarily good. And thatâ€™s no easy task.
It is for that reason that online travel businesses must now start to think very carefully about how they will invest their marketing budgets in the future.
Search marketing strategies that rely on link building at the expense of content development are doomed to fail, leaving firms with the prospect of relying on expensive PPC traffic to maintain traffic and leads.
But for a fraction of the cost of most PPC budgets it is possible to create a full and comprehensive content development strategy that can put travel websites on a firm footing for the coming era of content performance.
NB: This is a guest article by Matthew Barker, managing partner at HitRiddle.
NB2: This is an abstract from a HitRiddle eBook – Content Is Not King – A New Paradigm For Search Marketing in the Travel Industry – which can be downloaded for free.