Content strategy: What does it mean for travel brands?

iCrossing content experts - Jeremy Head, Trisha Brandon, Mark Higginson and Doug PlattsOver the last five years the digital landscape has changed so fast that many established brands have struggled to keep up with the newcomers.

We’ve all heard the terms ‘User-generated Content’, ‘Brands as Publishers’ and ‘Content is King’ bandied about but, what do they really mean to brands in travel?

The panel

Clockwise from top left

  • Jeremy Head
    Travel editor at iCrossing UK and industry blogger at Travelblather.com
  • Trisha Brandon
    Content strategist
  • Mark Higginson
    Head of social media
  • Doug Platts
    Head of natural search

What does content strategy mean to you?

Jeremy: Having a strategic approach to content creation is really just saying: ‘What do we want them to do when they read it?’. It never fails to amaze me how many travel companies have done little or no research into their online clients. It’s about refocusing on customers and remembering how powerful research can be for adding real value to your marketing.

Analytics can help, but it’s only part of the story – you need to know more about your customers than where they came from and what they did on your website.
Trisha: For me, it’s all about having content with a purpose. Far too often content is seen as a bolt on.

Having a content strategy from the beginning can give you a centralised plan that acts as an annual timeline to make sure you are including the things that you want to say, the things that you have got to say and the things that other people are saying about you.

Not only does this help to coordinate your own efforts, but it can help to organise the focus of internal teams such as digital, marketing and PR.

Mark: Content strategy is the what, when, how and where of the content you produce. Not forgetting the ‘why are we producing this content?’ – that needs to be clearly framed. Content is king but context is queen.

Doug: A content strategy is integral to any SEO campaign. Strategically conceived content allows us to build visibility within search engines for a broader set of search terms. But it is so much more than that. Gone are the days where the focus was on keyword density and overly optimising content. Search engines have evolved to look at more than on-page signals.

A well-thought out content strategy not only allows for increased optimisation within search engines, but it can also create both natural back link growth and social signals – both of which help increase rankings.

How has this changed over the last five years?

Jeremy: The majority of travel websites have developed in a haphazard way.

Initially they were just a shop window and stacks of info got dumped on there. Then social media came along and they added a blog. The result? A confusing mess for customers and prospects, and for the company too.

In the last year or so, more travel companies are realising this and seeing that they need to rethink what their website is for and who it is for. Content is no longer a load of product info – it’s an enabler, a persuader and an informer.

Trisha: Content has often been seen as a nice wrapper around a brand’s products or services that’s typically added at the last minute. But a brand’s digital influence isn’t just on its website.

The landscape has become more complex with attention scattered across social platforms, branded and third party. So it’s essential now that a brand’s marketing and content tie into a single strategy for effective planning and measurement.

A commitment to centralised planning can help break down the internal silos in organisations that are focused on channel marketing.

Mark: Technology moves faster than the ability of people to understand and integrate new ways of doing things. We’re constantly adapting to the way in which content is being generated and we need to be flexible and aware of this.

Doug: All of the recent developments in Google’s algorithm have been around continuing to try to deliver the best quality and most relevant results to the user. Putting effort and investment into content strategy, as well as the production of the content, is now showing true return.

What do you see as the potential opportunities for travel brands now?

Jeremy: Google and Comscore stats in 2007 revealed how people spend 29 days trying to find the right holiday online, visiting 22 websites in the process. Things haven’t changed. The real opportunities still involve helping people find the right holiday.

That’s why understanding customers and prospects is so crucial. Creating content that’s more targeted at specific customer types and working out where to put that content is where it’s at.

Trisha: Travel brands are in a great position, because travel is a passion for  many people. There’s an opportunity here for them to curate their key messaging to tap into this passion and optimise for the channels and formats that this content suits.

It’s more than just user-generated reviews and feedback, brands have the opportunity to seasonally connect with audience sectors with content that that user will find relevant, want to share in their social networks and respond to.

They have a genuine reason to be part of the conversation customers are having digitally. Doing this well, however, requires a commitment to staffing the right people, but also a commitment to understanding and meeting customers’ needs, being present, responsive and transparent.

Mark: The opportunity now is about taking the time to understand how people behave on the web. Is what you’re doing  fulfilling existing demand or creating new demand. Is the energy returned on the energy you’re investing making the activity worthwhile.

Doug: Having a strong content strategy and quality editorial will increase natural link growth and social signals.

Combining your offline marketing campaigns with online and offline content strategy will strengthen your website in search engine terms. This is a more sustainable search strategy in terms of your marketing budgets, future search engine updates and for your customers.

Launched by founder Arjo Ghosh in 1997 as Spannerworks, iCrossing UK was formed when the company was sold to the US digital agency of the same name.

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