Understand SEO and Strategies to Meet Your Customers Where They Are Searching
Search Engine Optimization – you may have heard of it, but let’s put the jargon aside and talk about what SEO is and why it rocks for your tour or rental business’ website.
The organic search results are where you get answers when you type in something like “What is SEO?”
Once you push enter, you might get something like this:
These are the search results* for your query. If your website was the searchengineland.com at the top, you would be ranking #1 or in position #1. Search results also include the People also ask section, the images on the right hand, maps that appear, and more. But how do those websites show up in those positions?
*[search results: what comes up on a mobile device, tablet, or desktop when a user types something into a search engine like Google]
The answer is far from simple, but let’s break it down. Google has provided many announcements and documents on how they rank website pages for queries. There are several strategies for sending Ranking Signals that are always evolving as Google makes updates. Ranking Signals show Google that a website is worth ranking, but it is up to the algorithm to actually rank your website.
These strategies include, but are not limited to, creating and maintaining a baseline healthy site, doing extensive page-specific keyword research and implementing the strategy, optimizing how people who visit your site navigate it, how spiders* crawl your site through structured data and clear coding, creating meaningful partnerships with reputable websites to send quality traffic to your website through backlinks, and optimizing your local listings.
*[spiders: these are the ones you can’t squish, but they can be just as annoying! Spiders are also called crawl bots. Each search engine, like Google, has their own crawl bots. Without getting too into it. Crawl bots go in and look at the pages on your site, and store that information. When a user types in a query, that information about your site and other sites is used to populate the search results (along with other factors like where in the world a user is searching)
When these bots crawl your site, it takes energy, which costs Google money. Since they only want to spend so much money, they have a budget. So, think of this like cars on a road. Google fills up the tank on a Google bot’s budget and sends them to drive around your site to get to know it and understand if they want to show it to users. The more roads and confusing pathways you have on your site, the less gas they have to get to some of your major landmarks.]
Before we get into the different aspects of SEO, it is important to understand that these strategies you can implement, or can have an agency implement, are to build Ranking Signals. Ranking Signals are the steps we take to follow the standards Google upholds. Google wants websites to be user-friendly, authoritative, and satisfy the user’s needs.
One of the Ranking Signals you probably already know of is traffic. The more users that reach your website, the more authority you have in the eyes of Google; though, traffic is certainly not the only factor that plays into that. It is important to note that this traffic should be quality traffic since Google is able to parse out what traffic is coming from spambots or toxic websites. We don’t want to send spam bot traffic to increase overall traffic because this will likely negatively impact site rankings.
With a foundation of what SEO is (i.e. creating and maintaining healthy Ranking Signals), let’s dive into the specific SEO strategies to optimize for On-Page, Off-Page, Local, and Technical SEO.
On-Page SEO – Strategically Showing Google the “What” Behind Your Business
On-Page SEO is simply optimizing what is on the pages of your website. This takes into account Google’s best practices and some User Experience (UX) best practices that are aligned with Google’s golden rule of “give a good user experience.” Some of these UX strategies work best when they are implemented in tandem with what we typically do in Website Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO).
To create a great page experience for users and search engine bots, the traditional strategies and steps of implementation are:
1. Conduct keyword research – creating a page-specific keyword strategy to expand your site’s visibility in search results
2. Optimize your metadata – your title tag, meta description, and social metadata
3. Optimize your headings – these are the headings on each specific page. Even though the user can tell this is a heading because it is typically large and/or bolded, it is necessary to have it written in code on the backend. The code tells Google which heading is most important and which ones expand on the others. H1 has the most weight in the eyes of Google then H2, and so on.
4. Optimize other areas of content like paragraphs and image alt text.
The foundation of all of these areas for on-page optimization is keyword research
*[image alt text: can be added on the backend while uploading images. Google bots don’t see images, so the alt text tells Google what is in an image. This alt text is also used for those who are visually impaired and use a tool called a screen reader which reads to the user what content is on a page. An example of this is if you have an image of a group on a rafting trip, you would set the alt text as “family on a class C rafting trip.”]
KEYWORD RESEARCH – WHAT ARE MY CUSTOMERS TYPING INTO GOOGLE?
You may have heard of keyword research before, but how relevant is this to the tourism industry?
A “keyword” is that “query” mentioned earlier. These are words that are (or should strategically be) relevant to your business’ tour and rental offerings, your location, and the content that is on each unique page.
During this keyword research, it is best practice to map out which keywords you should focus on for each page so that you don’t end up having two of your tour pages competing for the same word.
Things to consider when matching keywords to pages:
- How many people are searching for this globally?
- How many people are searching for this in my local area?
- What do I think the intent of this keyword is (Looking for information? Ready to make a purchase?)
- What is Google’s perception of the intent of the keyword?
- This requires typing in the keyword and seeing what comes up. Now, your location is likely to impact the results, so keep that in mind as you review the search.
- Who else is showing up for this keyword? Are they big players with a lot of authority? Are there a lot of .org or .gov websites? Are there a lot of Ads at the top of the page for this query?
- Does my page satisfy the same need as the other pages showing up in the search results?
What words come to mind if you were to search your tour business? Now, track that by typing it in and looking at the search results. Keep in mind, there are many other ways to reword that search.
What are your customers searching for in the tourism industry and within your unique activity vertical? How many people are searching each query on a monthly basis?
How can you leverage these queries to get more bookings?
Here are the answers:
It’s the combination of: SEO Baseline Knowledge (this blog is a great starting point) + Keyword & Competitive Research + Matching Page Intent + Optimizing Pages for Chosen Keywords + Tracking & Further Optimizing.
In our ever-changing world, people change the way they search for things to do and tours, so this process should be reviewed quarterly and updated yearly to ensure that your keyword strategy is still relevant and driving strong organic traffic that will convert. It is no wonder SEO is an entire discipline within digital marketing. There are a variety of marketing agencies that can handle this keyword research, implementation, tracking, and optimization for you — TOMIS is just one of them that happens to also specialize in the tourism space.
OFF-PAGE SEO FOR TOUR OPERATORS – SHOW YOUR LOCAL AND INDUSTRY AUTHORITY TO BRING MORE USERS TO YOUR WEBSITE
Off-page SEO is essentially putting up signs about your site (links) in other cities (other websites). Some of these can be other websites and some can be online listings or directory websites.
An example of positive Ranking Signals from another website would be: a bike rental shop in South Lake Tahoe linked from the South Lake Tahoe CVB (Conventions & Visitors Bureau). The more relevant the page and the content, the better the ranking signal. In this situation, that link would ideally be from their activities>bike rentals page on their website with an entire paragraph around the bike rental shop’s website.
!! Not all links are good. If you are approached by an agency offering you x number of backlinks, they are probably not approaching off-page SEO in an organic way. Toxic links (from spammy sites which are easy to get) can negatively affect your performance. !!
Some cities may also have listing websites where you can pay or request to have your own listing on their website. There are ways to optimize these listings including relevant images, keywords, calls to action, and keeping hours updated.
Google has provided every business the opportunity to have their own Google listing, this is called Google My Business (GMB). A GMB listing is what comes up in maps either in the search results or the Maps app. You can create a profile for your tour business, but there might already be one that you can claim.
Once you have ownership of your business listing, there are a variety of tools you can use to optimize and share content:
1. Writing a description with relevant keywords
2. Adding services, categories, hours, and so on
3. Listing your products with prices and links to your website
4. Accumulating Google Reviews
5. Posting sales, updates, COVID information, and so on through GMB posts.
There are several ways to approach Off-Page SEO. For tour operators and rental businesses, this strategy should be approached through a local lens.
LOCAL SEO – THE LENS TO APPROACH ON-PAGE AND OFF-PAGE SEO
With the tools of On-Page and Off-Page SEO, you can improve how you rank locally. When a searcher types in a query, search engines (like Google) take into consideration where that person is in the world. That is why using the tools mentioned above can allow you to focus in on your local audience, as well as a global audience.
Without stuffing keywords all over the page, making it look spammy, we incorporate the local terms and places into your on-page strategy to improve your local rankings.
A business’ local listings and GMB profile also have a role in the way that Google understands your business from the local lens. These listings and business profiles give Google an understanding of your authority as a real business in your area and a reputable business in your industry.
Additionally, your reviews on Google and other sites, like Yelp and TripAdvisor, impact the authority of your website in the eyes of Google. With the TOMIS Marketing App, you have access to a Post-trip Review Generator which can help lead more users to leave you reviews.
TECHNICAL SEO – THE HEALTH OF YOUR WEBSITE
This is where SEO gets technical. Don’t worry though, it isn’t as complicated as it seems.
Technical SEO is essentially the baseline health of your site. Imagine Google as a picky matchmaker. They don’t want to bring you to their other client and have your hair disheveled or your shoes on the wrong feet. Whoever they match you with might be disappointed with their matchmaking services.
- The same goes for websites. You want your site to be technically healthy. Google has provided us with lengthy lists of requirements that we, as SEO professionals, have studied, implemented, and continue to keep up on. Google is a business that is always making improvements to their process, so we have to keep up with their improvements to keep rankings, clicks, and traffic to the website up.
Without getting too in the weeds, here are some vital areas that Google has provided of their preferred standards:
- Minimize pages with 301 redirects
- Code the site correctly
- Core Web Vitals – Give a good user experience with an emphasis on having a fast loading time (broken down into several measurements)
- Minimize other status code errors (5xx, 4xx)
- Crawlability (this has to do with the gas in the tank analogy. If a bot can’t “crawl” a page, it’s like you close a road to some place. This can be helpful if there are areas on the site you don’t want the bots to waste their gas on, but it can be bad if bots can’t make it to the Eiffel tower of your website because the road is closed.”
Sitemaps (the map you actually give Google of your website to let them know what they can find there)
- Duplicate Content
- Structured data
- URL structure
- Bread crumbs
While this doesn’t cover every aspect of Technical SEO, it provides a good picture of all that is at play on the backend of a website in regards to SEO. So when you see that another website is ranking higher than yours, there might be some general technical health optimizations you could make which could improve your rankings. You just have to know where to look for them and how to make those improvements!
SEO in Tandem with Other Marketing Strategies
SEO is essential for any tour operator who wants to increase online bookings because it drives organic traffic, which is one of the main ways to bring more people that are likely to book to your website and indicates overall business health and growth potential.
Within each of the facets of SEO, additional work is required to be effective. For on-page SEO, you need to be able to strategize and write optimized content. With content marketing, you can not only add more content to individual webpages, but you can also drive more traffic to your website for broader or lower volume terms through targeted blog posts with a strong SEO strategy behind them.
With services like paid social brand awareness campaigns and email marketing, you are able to drive traffic to your website. If your paid social ads and marketing email automations are set up correctly, this traffic would likely be considered high-quality. As we mentioned before, more high-quality traffic = a strong ranking signal. Additionally, when things in the world happen like natural disasters, the search terms for your local area may decrease resulting in less orgnaic traffic. While this can be inevitable, services like paid social and email marketing can help support the traffic to your website even when search terms drop.
Website Conversion Rate Optimization paired with SEO helps drive the users on your website to book a tour or rental. Additionally, CRO creates a better user experience which may lead to a lower number of visitors leaving your site. This marketing strategy can also help build out your content so you have a well-rounded site architecture.
Once users reach your website through organic traffic, they may have questions that aren’t directly found on your website. Instead of losing that potential customer, having a ChatBot allows you to interact with that user’s personal needs.
Google Ads and SEO go hand-in-hand and can play a complementary role to each other in several different ways. Data from a Google Ads campaign such as search volume or conversion rate can help inform what keywords are the strongest performers and can be considered in keyword research for organic search. You can also see real data of exactly what the search queries are which can be more informative than tools that forecast search data. SEO and Google Ads can be complementary to each other by picking up the slack in an area that may be weak. For example, if there is a very important keyword that we are having trouble ranking highly for organically, we can ensure that we have an ad at the top of the page for this keyword. Vice versa, if there is an important keyword that is very expensive in Google Ads, then we can put more emphasis on this keyword organically. Google Ads ‘Quality Score’ metric (arguably the most important ranking metric in Google Ads) depends highly on the landing page of the website incorporating the given keyword into that page’s content. So an ad group focused on keyword “x”, needs to have “x” selectively placed on the landing page in headers and paragraph text, ultimately improving the SEO for that keyword as well.
TOMIS’ Approach to SEO for Tour Operators
With the TOMIS Marketing App, we provide you with several reporting dashboards and customer management tools to implement these strategies on your own. However, not everyone has the time or resources to do so. That is why TOMIS offers monthly SEO services to create a solid foundation and continuously optimize that foundation for the changes in search engine algorithms. If you want to get an idea of where your website and rankings currently stand in comparison to best practices and your competitive landscape, reach out to TOMIS regarding a comprehensive Website & SEO Audit.
At TOMIS, we understand the tourism industry – tour operators are our people and we are their customers. With keyword research, we take into consideration not only high search volume keywords, but we also focus on keywords that match the content and purpose of a page. We match Google’s perception of a user’s intention to the content and goal of a webpage.
Along with our extensive understanding of the tourism and rentals industry, we take the time to get to know your customers and how they use those terms. We optimize the pages of your website for those keywords organically – no keyword stuffing.
Our off-page strategies consist of going after valuable, local, and relevant websites to create partnerships and boost your authority. We monitor third-party listings and paid listings to share what partnerships are driving traffic, online leads and online bookings.
At TOMIS, we stay up to date with the best practices in Technical SEO, which can change frequently. Our agency comes together to discuss how strategies are implemented in a general sense and within each specific activity vertical. This way, we can provide you with the best possible results for your offerings.