SEO for Travel Agents
It’s a simple proposition; find a way to get your web pages on the first page of the search engines and you get more business. While the techniques of search engine optimization are relatively simple, I speak with many travel agents who are really lost about what SEO is and how they can use it. Below is a practical approach to SEO for travel agents.
First, understand that SEO is a puzzle. Now consider each SEO technique as a piece of the puzzle. If all the puzzle pieces are in place, your web site should rank with the search engines. If one of the pieces is missing, the puzzle is not complete and the site will rank progressively lower.
Now let’s define a couple core principles:
Definition #1 – SEO
Search engine optimization is about focusing a webpage on a three or four word phrase. It’s not random, it’s a focused approach. SEO is the skill of modifying web pages to highlight certain keyword phrases in areas the search engine spiders expect to find them. If done correctly your web page stands a good chance it will be listed as one of the search engine returns when someone types in a query for your targeted keyword phrase.
Definition #2 – Keyword Phrase
The principle of SEO is built entirely around the concept of the keyword phrase. A keyword phrase is the string of words someone might type into a search engine to find a web page with the information they are looking for. Keyword phrases are chosen through research. Choosing the right keyword phrases is a critical factor to the success of your website. You need to know how many people type in a phrase and how many other web pages are targeting that same keyword phrase.
Definition #3 – Duplicate Content
You cannot plagiarize copy from another website. Pages with duplicate content will not be included in the search engine return listings. Search engines have sophisticated tracking systems to eliminate pages with patterns of words they have already cataloged.
Think about it this way. If you typed something into Google and it returned 10 web listings which all had the same content, you wouldn’t think Google was real valuable to you. Right? Therefore, Google will not include a site with content which they have already seen. If you cheat and copy written descriptions from another website, all your other SEO efforts are worthless. You’re the expert in your travel niche. Craft copy in your own words and writing style about the travel experience or destination you are selling. There are no short cuts.
Definition #4 – The SEO War
In the highly competitive search marketing environment for travel, you can realistically target only one or two keyword phrases per page. Each page on your website is a soldier fighting the battle for search engine placement for a specific keyword phrase. So you now understand that the more pages your web site has, the more keyword phrases you can target. This is an important concept to understand as you figure out a strategy for page creation on your site (see tip #9).
With these definitions clear, let’s begin to examine how you as a retail travel agent can use these ten simple techniques to improve your online footprint. To implement these tips, you will need access to your web files and a bit of html knowledge. The first five tips can be done with little programming knowledge. Tips six through ten require a bit more programming knowledge to accomplish. While I cannot guarantee your search engine listing, these techniques should help increase your web page traffic.
SEO Technique #1 – Keyword Research
All of the industry experts say that you must focus on a specific niche to thrive in the travel business. This coincides nicely with the principles of SEO which force you to create web pages focused on a targeted keyword phrase. Finding which keywords to target on your pages is called keyword research. Keyword research is about finding the two to five words that people think of when they search for information you are trying to market. These two to five words together are considered a keyword phrase.
Keyword research is the basis for any success at online marketing. The critical factor in choosing keyword phrases is picking one that people are far enough along in the buying process to make them a potential customer. It is much better to focus on descriptive keyword phrases that are three to five words in length rather than short one or two word phrases. For example if someone types in “cruises” they are probably not very far along in their research and will probably visit many more sites before they actually buy. However, if you crafted pages that focused on a keyword phrase such as “7 Day Caribbean Cruises” or “Southern Caribbean Cruise Experts” you stand a better chance of getting a lead.
Keyword research involves finding if there is a sufficient number of people who search using a specific keyword phrase. Keyword research also involves finding how many other web pages are targeting your phrase. In other words, what is the ratio of people searching the phrase with how many web pages are you competing with that also focus on the same phrase? www.WordTracker.com does a great job of ranking keyword phrases vs. competitive web page ratio. They call it the Keyword Effectiveness Index or KEI for short. Wordtracker is a great keyword research tool however it requires a fee for use.
Google provides a free keyword research tool called Google Keyword Tool. Go to Google and type in: keyword research tool. You will find https://adwords.google.com/select/KeywordToolExternal listed in the first natural search position.
You need to find a main keyword phrase and two secondary phrases or each web page.
SEO Technique #2 – Separate Page Titles.
The title tag is the most important SEO item on the page. Think of the search engines as a card catalog in a library. The title tag is how they catalog your web page.Each page on your site needs a different title.
Put the three keyword phrases you chose through your research in between the (title)(/title) tags. Each of the three keyword phrases should be separated with a space, a pipe ( | ) or comma ( , ) and a space. There should be no more than 75 characters including spaces in the title tag. Your title should look like this:
(title)Keyword Phrase 1 | Keyword Phrase 2 | Keyword Phrase 3(/title)
The search engines use the title tag as the link to your web page in their return listings. Therefore the title must be unique, focused and compelling to entice a web surfer to click. The first two keyword phrases seem to hold more weight than the last. For this reason, I usually make that keyword phrase #3 an action statement. Something along these lines:
(title)7 Day Caribbean Cruises | Southern Caribbean Cruise Experts | Best Caribbean Cruise Deals(/title)
Note: substitute < for ( and > for ).
Titles should not exceed 75 characters including spaces.
SEO Technique #3 – META descriptions
The Meta Description tag is what Google uses for text below the main link to your site. Craft two enticing sentences that start with your main targeted keyword phrase describing the page. These sentences should compel people to click on your link. An example of a meta description tag is:
META description=“7 Day Caribbean Cruise experts offering hundreds of the best Caribbean Cruise deals”
SEO Technique #4 – META keywords
The importance of the Meta Keywords tag is fading as it was easily abused and stuffed with irrelevant keywords by unscrupulous webmasters. However, I include a unique set of 15 relevant keyword phrases (Keyword research) separated by a comma (,) and a space for each web page as some search engines do use them in cataloging. An example of a meta keywords tag is:
META keywords=“Keyword Phrase 1, Keyword Phrase 2, Keyword Phrase 3, etc”
SEO Technique #5 – Multiple instances of your targeted keyword phrases
Craft your descriptive paragraphs using multiple instances of your targeted keyword phrases. Your unique and grammatically correct descriptions of the destination, hotel and tour or cruise ship should have your targeted keyword phrase repeated at least 5 to 6 times. It is important that your copy be well written and not simply stuffed with your keywords.
SEO Technique #6 – Alt Tags on all images
Colorful images are what really make a web page interesting. But search engines cannot read images. All they see is a hole where an image is supposed to be. To let the search engines know what an image is about, use the Alt tag inside the image call. Alt text should describe the image. You should also try to incorporate some part of your keyword phrase. A good example of how alt tags are used on an image would be: alt=”Carnival Southern Caribbean Cruise Cabin” or whatever your image is about trying to incorporate your keyword phrase.
SEO Technique #7 – Keyword Phrases should place high in the source code
Search engines give higher ranking weight to keyword phrases that are found higher in the source code of a web page. Craft your web pages so that the keyword phrases locate as high as possible in the page source. Your web editor should have line numbers when you look at the source code. Your targeted main keyword phrase should appear within the first 25 lines of code. Your secondary keyword phrases should appear within the first 50 lines of code. There a couple ways to accomplish this.
1) Use breadcrumbs as top navigation. You have seen breadcrumbs as method of letting the web surfer know where they are on your website. I think they were created by webmasters looking for a way to tastefully put keyword phrases high in the source code. Each of the keyword phrases are created as a link back to the proper page on your site. Here is an example of breadcrumbs optimized for search:
Home >> Cruise Vacations >> Caribbean Cruise Vacations >> Carnival Cruise Vacations
2) Use a big, bold header with your targeted keyword phrase (see tip #6). When a web surfer stumbles on your page, you have about 1 second for the page to communicate what it is about. By using a large, bold font for your targeted keyword phrase, you are defining the page. Craft your web pages to have your main keyword phrase as your on-page header. This should be placed just beneath your logo and above your copy and pictures.
3) If you are fluent with CSS web programming then you can use absolute positioning to put all instances of the keyword phrase at the top of the page source and all the less relevant coding at the bottom.
SEO Technique #8 – Header Tags h1, h2 and h3
The search engines give greater weight to a phrase that is housed within a header tag.
In tip #5 above, I mentioned using a main bold page descriptor. This is a good place to use the “h1″ header tag. You should only use the “h1″ tag once on a web page.
Use the “h2″ header tag as a sub-header. A great use for the “h2″ tag could be as a paragraph descriptor. You can use multiple “h2″ tags with different keyword phrases.
Use the “h3″ header tag highlighting inline text in bold within the copy of your paragraph. In other words, you can use this to bold-face a secondary targeted keyword phrase.
SEO Technique #9 – Create an internal page linking scheme for your website
Search engines will give your site higher ranking based upon the number of incoming links to your site from other websites. The search engines think that the more valuable your web content is, the more other sites will link to it.
Most websites that place well on the search engines utilize a well thought out internal linking scheme that makes each page accessible from any page on the site. This is known as back-linking. It’s an acceptable technique to make the search engines think your pages are more popular. You can easily create a back-linking system on your site by creating destination or cruise line modules.
Let’s say you want to sell cruises. You would make a page targeting cruise vacations. Then you would create a page for each cruise line. Each of these cruise line pages is accessible by a link from the main cruise vacations page. This is a back-link. Within each of the cruise line specific pages you would create a link to a page created for each of the line’s ships. Each of the pages should be accessible from each other.
In your links make sure you use what is called absolute or long-form links such as http:///www.mywebsite.com/Cruise-Vacations.html.
SEO Technique #10 – All pages should be loaded on the root or top directory
If you must use a directory to separate files, do not create more than one level. You may think it’s easier to keep track of your web files in a bunch of sub-directories, but the search engines will spider or catalog pages on the top directory much more frequently than in sub-directories.
The techniques detailed above work. Type in Mexico Resort Reviews or Club Med Reviews or Hawaii Hotel Reviews and you will find a listing for www.ReviewResorts.com on the first page of Google Listings. With your mouse on the page, right-click your mouse and then from the menu click view source to see the code. Do the same for other pages that place high. Notice how the pages use the techniques above to highlight their targeted keyword phrases.
You can do this too. Good luck.