After Google Penguin, Travel Sites Need to Get Serious About Inbound Marketing

Google’s Penguin algorithm update has impacted several travel affiliate websites. What did all those travel sites have in common? A search engine optimization (SEO) strategy that depended heavily on a non-diverse link profile with a majority of their links coming from low quality sites with over-optimized anchor text.

As a result, many businesses were decimated by Penguin, just like Panda before it. These sites won’t recover the organic traffic and rankings they once had unless they do some cleaning up and reinvent their online marketing strategy.

Now the focus for travel sites should be on how to create and implement a comprehensive inbound marketing strategy (although many of these principles apply to other segments) to not only recover from an algorithm hit, but to avoid one altogether.

In travel, the search engine results pages (SERPs) – especially on Google, less so on Bing – for high volume keywords are unsurprisingly dominated by big brands such as Expedia, Kayak, Priceline, etc. Smaller travel sites found their way into the SERPs by using exact match domains, link building practices that are now outdated, or by pursuing extremely narrow niches.

Other travel sites sidestepped the SERPs entirely by going with a 100 percent pay-per-click (PPC) model and built successful businesses using this approach. Organic visits and rankings weren’t a priority as they felt their resources were better spent increasing the reach of their paid campaigns.

However, as more players with deep pockets and vast resources enter the online travel space, the increased competition is greatly impacting the PPC business model. Over a three year period, based on data from some of our PPC partners, they have seen an average cost-per-click and average ad positions increasing over 40 percent. As a result, margins are razor thin and the trend shows no signs of changing.

Most travel affiliates don’t have a contingency plan for the day when their PPC model is no longer profitable. Not to mention having a plan for growing the business beyond what PPC can do by itself. Sure, some sites implement some basic SEO best practices, but few think about a more complete approach to marketing their site.

In order to grow and sustain success in the competitive online travel space, travel sites need to be better at attracting visitors from a variety of sources and get better at converting the traffic they have.

Looking at online marketing as just PPC and SEO isn’t enough anymore. In a post-Panda and Penguin landscape, sites need to be better than that.

Successful travel sites will look at online marketing as a holistic effort that includes as many pieces of inbound marketing as possible – SEO, content, social media, conversion, user experience, on-site merchandising, just to name a few.


Image credit: Chris Fernandez

  • SEO. It isn’t going anywhere, but it’s changing quickly. The sooner sites realize old tricks no longer work, the sooner they can focus their resources on SEO that will make a difference.
  • Build a brand. This is a necessity for success. What does your site offer that is unique? Why would someone visit your site and transact with you over a bigger, more established brand? A robust and strategic inbound marketing campaign will result in a strong brand identity, more customer loyalty, and link building will be a natural and Penguin-proof process.
  • Content. It makes the entire inbound effort come together. Whether it’s blogs, webinars, quality landing page copy, or videos, content is what adds value and distinguishes your site from others. Create content that is interesting for your customer base and don’t be afraid to be interesting.
  • Optimize for conversion. Making your user experience as good as possible and using better merchandising increases the chances of getting a transaction. By doing this, you will increase your profitability by turning those users you’ve been working so hard to get by turning them into customers.
  • Social media. Use this to interact with your existing customer base, find new ones, diversify your sources of traffic, and even rank better on search engines. In order to see the benefits, it’s essential to add value and encourage sharing of your content. Social shares are only going to grow in importance.

While many travel affiliates are nervous about the future, algorithm updates like Penguin should be seen as an opportunity to review your online marketing strategy. Those that see where online marketing is going will outpace their competitors.

Is your site taking an inbound marketing approach?

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