Industry Ranking Factors: The Road to Organic Search Success for Travel Websites

July 12th, 2017 | Analysis 3 comments

It’s that time of year when the search volume for the term “last minute” peaks, known to travelers in many time zones as “summer.” But for travel industry webmasters, now isn’t the time to head to the sandy shores. It’s never too late to optimize your website and improve your Google rankings. Our latest industry-specific whitepaper is your guide to how Ranking Factors for travel-related keywords differ from those in other sectors. In this article, we take a deeper look at how – even within the travel industry – sites have to behave differently depending on specific user intent. Not every tourist wants fun in the sun and not every user is looking for the same content.

Travel Ranking Factors, Searchmetrics

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Ranking Factors for the Travel Industry

While universal ranking factors can serve as a benchmark for evaluating the on- and off-page optimization of websites, industry-specific analyses are much more precise. The following is an excerpt from our infographic that shows the most important ranking factors in the travel industry, compared with the benchmark of the universal ranking factors.

Travel Ranking Factors infographic Excerpt

You’ll believe a dog can fly

Our analysis starts, as with most holiday plans, by thinking about possible destinations. Narrowing down options isn’t just a question of price, weather and tropical diseases. People with kids want somewhere family-friendly, singles probably want somewhere with no kids. This online research usually involves several informational searches to get up to speed on where to go and where to avoid.

Let’s take the example of someone going on holiday with a best friend, and look at the results for the search term “flying with dog.”

flying-with-dog-serpThe top-ranked page, in a direct answer box, is not from a classic travel page at all, but comes from nolo.com’s legal encyclopedia. Clearly, while many travel-related searches are well-served by images, no one searching for “flying with dog” wants pictures of dogs. They want clear information on laws, restrictions, challenges and solutions. An analysis of nolo.com’s page shows that this is exactly what it provides.

screenshot-nolo-flying-with-dog-extract

Clocking in at over 2.000 words, there is enough detail to answer most questions related to flying with a canine companion. The use of four bullet-point lists makes the content easy to ingest, whilst the Content Score of 85%* indicates that the text is highly relevant and not simply writing any old text for the sake of pushing up the word count.

If you’re going to San Francisco…

Couch-surfing and flat-sharing may have transformed the accommodation market, but the majority of holiday-makers still opt for a hotel. For example, there are 31,897 searches each month on Google.com for “hotel san francisco.” This is the next step, once someone has decided where he or she wants to spend the holiday – with or without a dog.

The top search result for “hotel san francisco” is from hotels.com. Unsurprisingly, users entering this keyword are not yet looking for a specific hotel, but want information on different accommodation options. This means that it will be difficult for individual hotels or chains to rank right at the top of the SERP for this kind of general query.

Let’s look at hotel.com’s page.

screenshot-hotels-com-san-franciso-scaled

Anyone can see that this page clearly differs from nolo.com’s page on flying with dogs. The first element is a hotel search tool in front of a large picture of the San Francisco Bay. This will serve all users who know their travel dates and are looking for available places to stay.

Thereafter, we find a long (unordered) list of 15 hotels, each with an image and a few pieces of key information. Other options covering transportation, hotel types etc. are also structured into lists. Further down the page (off the screenshot), there is a 600 word text entitled “What to do in San Francisco.”

Hotels.com’s page has a healthy word count of 2,074 a Content Score of 86%*, and, even with several hotel images, a load time of 11.6s, which is just one second slower than the average across Google’s Top 10 for travel pages. This shows that the site is matching up to industry standards, whilst specifically targeting the intent of searches looking for hotels in San Francisco.

Testimonial Alicia Anderson

Things to Do in New York…When You’re on Vacation

Once you know where you are going and how you are getting there, you might want to work out what you are going to do. If this isn’t determined by your destination (not many people go skiing in Barbados), you’ll want to conduct a “things to do in X” search, which, in spite of length, tend to be high-volume keywords.

Comparison of search volumes for "things to do" keywords, Searchmetrics

The page ranking in first position for “things to do in new york” is from Airbnb, and looks like this:

air-bnb-new-york-things-to-do-top

The striking thing about this page is that it dedicates almost half of the visible space to a map. The rest of the above-the-fold page area is filled with an inspiring image of New York and the H1 “Things to do in New York.” Scrolling down, the page contains information on 30 activities the Big Apple has to offer, all with links to more information. Coupled with the interactive map, this is an extensive, user-friendly service for people planning what to do during their stay.

Overall, the page has a word count of 4,185, well above that of the first two URLs we looked at, and above the already-high average for Top 10 travel pages, which is 2,572. People looking for “things to do” want lots of options with enough content to be both informed and inspired for their trip. At the same time, the content is not just long, but relevant, registering a Content Score of 87%*.

All this content doesn’t come without a price. The site takes 18.5s to fully load (tested with Gtmetrix). Even in an industry where load times tend to be slowish, this Airbnb site is lagging behind, showing that Google prioritizes other factors over site speed, at least on desktop and at least when users are searching for this kind of comprehensive information.

air-bnb-things-to-do-two-examples

Tray tables stowed, ready for takeoff

This brief analysis has shown that there are some general standards for pages looking to rank highly for travel industry keywords, in particular word count, content relevance and well-structured content. The table summarizes a few metrics for each page.

Table comparison of Travel Pages, Searchmetrics

So take a look at our whitepaper for more insights, data and recommendations to make your travel website stand out. With this, and an awareness of the precise user intent you are serving, you should be on the right track to scaling the dizzy heights of Google’s search results, and to giving your visitors a user experience to tell their grandkids about.

Download the Travel Whitepaper!

*The Content Score is a propriety metric calculated by Searchmetrics within the Searchmetrics Content Experience. It expresses as a percentage how well content addresses the topic surrounding the searched keyword, based on an analysis of high-ranking competitor URLs.

 

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My name is Stephen and I’m Content Marketing Manager at Searchmetrics in Berlin. Hi there. As well as posts on this blog, I write studies and other texts looking at various aspects of SEO and content optimization. As I’m English, I mainly work on content products for our British and American markets.
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Comments (3)

Comments (3)

  1. 2017/07/13

    This is amazing. We also ran a little study but I dont think we could come near to the amount of information you guys have. Very interesting info in here that we can take away.

    Thanks for putting this togther 🙂

  2. 2017/07/14

    So word count also matters even in the travel industry. Interesting. Thanks for sharing Stephen! I guess this applied to all niche then?

  3. 2017/07/18

    Hi Emmerey, it’s true that we’ve found word counts to be higher than average for our travel keyword set as a whole, and specifically for each of the three examples analyzed in this post. So generally speaking yes. Of course, there could still be some (highly) niche keywords related to travel that are better served by a lower word count and e.g. more images and/or videos. And don’t forget that it’s not just having lots of content, but providing relevant content that is really important.

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