New research from Searchmetrics has found travel websites offering a highly browsable experience and plenty of related information do best in Google search results.
The insight suggests travel agents, airlines, hotel chains and other travel-related brands should cover topics comprehensively.
Searchmetrics even advises using more words and more large images, even if this means pages load a little slower.
The findings are included in the firm’s latest research paper, ‘Travel Ranking Factors: Data Insights for Performing on Google’.
It says understanding how Google works is getting more important as the search giant is better able to deliver more tailored, industry-specific results, assisted by the AI and machine learning technology in its RankBrain system.
Daniel Furch, head of content marketing at Searchmetrics, said: “Google now more accurately determines searchers’ intentions by analysing the keywords and phrases they enter in the search box.
“It knows the context of individual searches – including whether they relate to travel, retail, finance or other verticals – and ensures that results reflect the characteristics that meet the needs of searchers.
“For travel marketers, as for marketers in other verticals, this means they can no longer focus solely on generalised, universally applicable rules to drive the best search performance. They also have to take account of factors that are important in their specific vertical.”
Searchmetrics’ new travel sector study was based on an analysis of the top 20 search results on Google.com for over 6,000 typical travel-related search terms.
It identified the most commonly occurring elements that appear in these travel results, noting how they differ from its separate, broader Google ranking factors study which analysed the results from 10,000 general, high search volume keywords that apply across all industries.
The five key learnings that travel sites should consider when planning their content and search optimisation strategies were:
Make browsability a priority
Travel-related pages that rank higher tend to be more browsable. That is, they tend to have more internal links that allow searchers to click through and browse related content on the same site.
This suggests travel searchers are more interested in comparing a variety of similar options and gathering related background information.
The study found that travel-related pages ranking in Google’s top 10 results have around 23% more internal links (compared with general results that rank in those positions within its broader ranking factors study).
The number of internal links on a travel page and how highly it ranks were also found to show a high positive mathematical correlation of +0.21. Or, the more internal links on the page, the higher it ranks.
However, it’s not just having a high number of links that helps travel pages to rank well, it’s about having an intelligent internal link structure – using the menu, links from the page’s main content or sidebars etc – that guides visitors intuitively through the website.
Don’t be afraid to include plenty of large images
Pages that rank in the top ten Google results for travel-related queries use around 38% more images over 200 pixels per page.
Using more larger images can increase the file size and slow down page load times, and Searchmetrics’ analysis indicates that travel-related pages listed in the top ten results have a 40% larger file size and take almost three seconds longer to load (travel pages take 10.6 seconds to load on average, while the average across all industries is 7.8 seconds).
So, Google appears to understand that travel searchers value seeing more higher quality images above a streamlined site that loads quickly.
Be comprehensive – even if it means being more wordy
Travel-related pages that rank higher tend to carry more text than other high ranking pages.
In fact, Searchmetrics’ analysis indicates that travel results that make it into Google’s top ten results average over 2,500 words per page, which is 57% more than in the company’s wider benchmark Google Ranking Factors study (the average across all industries is 1,633 words per page for results that rank in the top 10).
Obviously, this suggests travel marketers should be comfortable using longer copy to cover topics comprehensively.
Use longer lists
Pages that rank in the top 10 results for travel-related searches have longer bullet point lists – nearly four more bullet points per list than pages in the general results published in the benchmark study.
As with the need for longer copy and links pointing to related content, this finding suggests travel sites need to prioritise satisfying searchers’ hunger for detailed information.
After all, using bullet points makes it easier to assimilate details – everything from hotel descriptions to holiday packages and car-hire terms.
Don’t fret about keywords
Travel pages that rank in the first two pages of Google use the searched-for keyword or phrase far less frequently in the text than other top-ranking pages.
The study found that travel results included the searched keyword on the page around half as much as search results on the first two pages for general searches (travel pages in the study mention the keyword three times on average versus 7.4 times for general search results pages).
Keyword matching is a simplistic, outdated SEO technique and it seems even less effective in travel, where brands need to be focusing on creating relevant, informative, comprehensive content that addresses the searchers’ needs.