Whether you are in the group of operators who have never used Google Ads, or you are in the group of operators who have cut spending in Google Ads due to coronavirus, now may be a great time for you to reframe your digital marketing strategies going forward. While now may not seem like the time to invest time and/or money in paid and organic search, the environment of Google’s search results for the travel industry has changed dramatically. What was once a hustling, bustling, busy city is now a calm, uncrowded small town with open fields and majestic mountains.
Large OTAs such as Expedia Group and Booking Holdings have cut their marketing spend by over 80%(opens in a new tab)! While they can afford to keep some semblance of a marketing budget at this time, most small operators in the industry cut marketing budgets early on when scaling down. Recovery predictions vary across the board, depending largely on location, but most do not expect anything real until next year, so those marketing budgets will likely stay relatively low for the near future. Luckily, the only investment you need to put into organic traffic is time, and operators have a solid amount of that while tours are slow or inactive.
Opportunities in Organic Traffic
To start, let’s go over why this is even an important area where you should invest your time. Organic traffic is anyone coming to your site from any of Google’s search results other than ads. I like to look at any site’s organic traffic as a dog. I like to bring my dog Boston (named after the city, not the band) to the park so he can run about and stretch after being in a small apartment. As soon as we get there, I can easily tell which dogs were trained and which dogs were not. The well-trained dogs listen to their human counterparts and play well, while the poorly-trained-if-at-all dogs don’t listen, jump all over other dogs, and tend to slobber all over my poor, old Boston. In no way am I saying the dogs are at fault, in the same way, I would not say that organic site visitors are at fault if they don’t “behave well” on a site.
Simply put, “untrained” organic traffic, similar to dogs, can behave extremely well with a bit of ‘training.’ The average organic visitor to your site will take at least one action on the site before leaving – so they will not bounce. Organic visitors are also going to spend more time on the site and visit more pages, which increases the likelihood of booking or contacting. Again, the best thing about the organic visitor is that you are not paying to bring them in!
Now that paid search has largely slowed down in the travel industry, the real estate in search engine results pages (SERP) taken up by ads(opens in a new tab) is much smaller if it is not entirely gone for many search terms. Organic results for travel terms are now generally showing as higher above the fold (higher up on the screen) than they have for many years. Getting good organic search results should have been – and should always be – a goal with your website, but now presents a special opportunity to push even more for first page results, simply because less of that first page is going to be taken up by ads. Higher visibility of your search results should also lead to a higher organic click-through rate, which will also increase organic rankings in a sort of positive feedback loop of relevancy.
Here’s a short list of some easy DIY improvements that can be done to “train” organic traffic:
- Use relevant, long-tail keywords(opens in a new tab) in meta titles
- Use active voice(opens in a new tab) and CTAs in meta descriptions
- Place testimonials(opens in a new tab) on the site
- Make sure your tour pages have relevant content(opens in a new tab), and consider writing a blog(opens in a new tab)
- Write alt-text(opens in a new tab) for your photos, and give them relevant filenames (when you save the image, use a filename that includes keywords and is relevant to the content of the page where the image will be)
- Check your site for any dead links(opens in a new tab), and make sure to remove them
Even if you follow all these steps in addition to other, more technical improvements(opens in a new tab), you will still need to account for the most disadvantageous aspect of growing organic traffic: time! Organic traffic will not grow overnight, and in many cases, it takes months to start seeing an increase in organic rankings, even if everything is done correctly on the site. Google needs to crawl (go through and identify) the site, decide who the site is relevant to, show it in rankings, see how people respond, and then adjust rankings accordingly. Organic traffic is very much the tortoise in its race against the hare – slow and steady wins the race – except now, there is no hare to race against!
The level of ad spend will not return to average until travel begins to do the same, so while you may not get a lot of site visitors in this time, Google will be able to spend a lot of time crawling your site and recognize your site’s relevance to the keywords you targeted with your headlines and meta titles. There are travelers who plan trips well ahead of time (now more than ever) and many people are searching up ideas for trips every month, so climbing in organic rankings could also deliver a more prompt pay-off for those types of searchers.
TourismTiger can also help with some aspects of building organic traffic that can be too difficult for DIY. Our services cover important pieces of both on-page and off-page SEO. We can help you track keyword(opens in a new tab) performance and adjust them on the site accordingly, as well as suggest new ones. For off-page SEO, we can assess your current backlink profile(opens in a new tab) – and the profile of some of your competitors – in order to help you build up some quality links that point back to your site. Backlinks are very important when it comes to your site’s domain authority(opens in a new tab).
Opportunities in Paid Traffic
While the decrease in spending on paid traffic opens up a nice opportunity for organic traffic, it actually opens up a couple of opportunities in paid traffic as well. Paid traffic (which comes from PPC platforms like Google Ads(opens in a new tab)) is the flip side of organic traffic’s coin. Paid traffic can deliver immediate results and, as the name implies, it is not free like organic traffic.
Perhaps the more seemingly obvious of the opportunities, the level of competition in platforms like Google Ads is lower than ever. With fewer people bidding, this drives the bids down – which means on average the overall cost will be lower. Lower costs give you the chance to make more of a profit on any conversions as well. The best part about Google Ads is that you only pay when people click – so if people aren’t searching for the terms you target, then you won’t pay. Now with low competition on the platform, when people do click on the terms you target, you will likely be paying relatively small amounts compared to the usual averages of the very competitive search in the travel industry.
The second opportunity in paid traffic is similar to organic – you have a solid amount of time before people start searching for travel at the same level that they had been before the pandemic. During this time, you can learn more about the basics of using Google Ads(opens in a new tab) and get familiar with the platform itself. Paid traffic can seem very daunting at first, but using this downtime to research as much as you can, as well as test out small campaigns can really help you gain some bearings so that when traffic returns, you can compete well in the paid atmosphere. Paid traffic is a lot more than simply bidding on certain keywords, and you actually have a lot of control over what can be done.
Accordingly, a common issue with sites, is that they probably aren’t taking advantage of that amount of control. Simply bidding on keywords and forgetting about it is a surefire way to spend way too much for way too few conversions in Google Ads. When something like that is being done, we can see very poor behavior of paid traffic in Google Analytics. Visitors bounce around 80% of the time, spend less than a minute on the site, don’t go to other pages, and are less likely to convert when there is no strategy in place on Google Ads. Put in the time now, and research how to build an ads campaign(opens in a new tab), how to optimize an ads campaign(opens in a new tab), and some bidding strategies as well! On top of researching, now is a cost-friendly time to test out some campaigns and familiarize yourself with the Google Ads platform.
Time is currently on your side, and it is unfortunate that many operators find themselves in this situation, but using this time to your advantage can bear some nice fruits when tourism returns. Improve the site sooner rather than later to boost organic traffic. Learn how to use paid traffic well and test out some campaigns while costs are low now! Google may be a small town right now, but it will return to big-city status again in the next year.
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