2009 is a Year of Change for Travel Search Marketing

The economy is forcing travel search marketers to change the way they approach online marketing. The travel vertical is already one of the most advanced groups of search marketers, but the industry has been under more pressure in recent months to make their campaigns count. With business travel tanking, leisure travelers looking for deals, shrinking marketing budgets, and tougher competition than ever, the stakes are even higher.

At this year’s SES New York, there are changes, too. A special vertical track has been added, with a session designed purely for travel search marketers facing the challenges of today’s tough economy.

Last time, I gave “5 Tips for Travel Search Marketing in a Down Economy.” The SES NY session will be somewhat of an extension of that article, focusing on four key areas: organic SEO, smart SEM, social media, and local/mobile optimization.

Leading up to SES New York, we’ll explore each area individually here, and talk about what must change for travel marketers in 2009. Today, we’ll start by looking at renewing and revitalizing your organic presence.

Revisit the Basics

You might think you have a handle on your target keywords, but in this economic environment, what your target travelers are looking for may have changed. Relax, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to change your keyword focus to “cheap hotels,” “discount airfare/cruises,” or “travel deals,” but you may discover new areas of opportunity or searchers looking for value. Package deals, inclusive prices, and special offers may be something you haven’t optimized your content around before.

It’s also difficult to take a risk changing any of your title tags, page names, headings, and so forth if you’re already ranking reasonably well. But you could be leaving some traffic on the table if you aren’t including location data appropriately, or capitalizing on related searches (e.g., “lodging near any National Park/attraction” or “things to do in anytown, USA”). It’s an opportunity to create new pages and internal links targeted at these specific searches.

If successful, you may start experimenting by folding these concepts into your main pages, or just go for it and add to them now. You can always change it back if it doesn’t work.

Make sure you’re using all the tools you have available to work efficiently and effectively. Google Webmaster Tools, Yahoo Site Explorer, and Microsoft Webmaster Center make it easy for smaller travel businesses to succeed in organic search, and put you on a level playing field with the big guns.

No Links Left Behind

Revisiting older mentions of your travel-related business to request URLs be live-linked, or enhanced with more specific keyword text is a must-do. The only thing it costs is time.

As more traditional travel media outlets update their online content, they’re also starting to learn about the importance of SEO, so they’re more willing to listen to suggestions. You might also leverage your advertising power here, negotiate for changes on older listings, or increase your visibility on already well-performing pages.

Building relationships with up-and-coming travel bloggers/Twitterers, local area news outlets, and specialty organizations are a source of high quality links and word-of-mouth traffic, all of which leads to more mentions, and more links.

Track, Test, and Tune

Sounds like an auto race, doesn’t it? You can’t lead a field of cars without taking a few practice laps and dialing in all aspects of your vehicle. You’ll need the right suspension setup (positioning your product in the travel marketplace), gear ratio (converting traffic to customers) and four well-performing tires (measuring all campaigns/platforms to ensure they’re working together).

Sure, you might crash and burn in a couple of races when you take risks, but you’ll learn from those mistakes, and drive forward. After all, winning championships is all about consistent performance.

Next time, I’ll write a little more about the challenges and opportunities that await travel search marketers in paid advertising campaigns. I’d also love a little feedback from readers about the biggest travel marketing challenges you have in this economy, so we can address those issues in future columns and at upcoming conferences.

Join us for Search Engine Strategies London February 17-20 at the Business Design Centre in Islington. Don’t miss the definitive event for U.K. and European marketers, corporate decision makers, webmasters and search marketing specialists!

Related reading

interview with SEMrush CEO
facebook is a local search engine. Are you treating it like one?
17 best extensions and plugins that experienced SEOs use
Gillette video search trends