Speaking at the 8th International Congress for Rural Tourism in Pamplona last month, I was asked to deliver a talk that looked at the latest developments in search engine marketing and digital design, exploring how these have impacted travel and tourism businesses and providing top tips for success.

I think it’s fair to say, that digital has had a major impact on the travel and tourism sector, just as it has across nearly every industry. The world definitely has become a smaller place. And this, in my opinion, is a very positive thing.

This industry has always been about creating wonderful experiences and memories for people. Digital is undoubtedly offering further reaching opportunities for people to begin this experience with brands and destinations. No matter what the medium, the industry still needs to focus on delivering great experiences.

Why is search marketing important to tourism and travel businesses?

Digital is all about helping to connect the traveler with the destination. Search marketing and design are at the heart of this journey.

In 2016, Google reports that 60% travelers said that their largest discretionary purchase was a trip. But, in order to get to this end point, there are four key stages that Google has identified within the search marketing journey.

  • Dreaming
  • Planning
  • Booking
  • Experiencing

Before making this investment, travelers are taking time to research all their possibilities. In fact, over 40% of travelers say they bounce back and forth between dreaming about and planning their next trip - zooming in on the details for one destination and then zooming out to reconsider all the options again. And, this happens across various devices and within a multitude of contexts.

So you need to be there, in the ‘moments’, ready to facilitate users on their journey and transition them from dreaming to planning to booking.

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Let’s take a look at a short video to illustrate these points:

Whether you like it or not, Google is at the heart of this industry’s success online. We are regularly asked; when will Google’s monopoly end?

If brand value provides any indication then the answer is ‘not any time soon’. Forbes recently reported that Google is now the world’s most valuable brand ahead of Apple, valued at a staggering 109 billion US dollars.

So, what does this mean to your business?

Over the past few years, you may have been a penguin or a panda or a lovely hummingbird. How about you just begin the expert. This is where Google is going when it comes to search marketing.

“Poorly written content takes a lot of skilled SEO knowledge to rank well. But, great content with just a sprinkle of SEO know-how can be hugely powerful.”

- David Johnstone

So regardless of what animal Google wants us to be, never forget that at the end of the device is a human being.

And, as humans, we like to consume… this is where E-A-T comes into play. E-A-T stands for “expertise, authoritativeness, trustworthiness” and it’s the standard by which Google’s evaluators rank pages. High-quality pages possess a high level of E-A-T, while low-quality pages don’t.

How do you master E-A-T?

You can read all the points in the Google Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines here for more, but, the gist is this:

The page and its associated content should be expert, authoritative, and trustworthy for the topic in discussion. This means that content should be ample enough to satisfy the user’s needs and, where possible, supported by supplementary content and credible sources.

So the future is clear - it very much centres around quality!

Why is mobile so important to search marketing?

Towards the end of last year Google made an announcement on their blog which stated:

“Our search index will continue to be a single index of websites and apps, our algorithms will eventually primarily use the mobile version of a site’s content to rank pages from that site.”

Google, 4 November 2016

We’ve all been talking about mobile for a long time now, but this statement signals a massive shift, where mobile rankings will actually affect your desktop ranking. As a result, mobile technology increasingly dictates the way that people will search for their information and, due to this, Google’s power is waning in areas (as they do not hold a monopoly on the mobile device market and their associated default search engines).

With the web fast becoming a battle of the ‘walled gardens’ - with social platforms embedding media such as videos in order to prevent people from leaving the site and initiatives like Facebook Instant Articles and Linkedin Pulse - Google launched Accelerated Mobile Pages (or AMP for short). This is Google’s super-speedy mobile web initiative and is just one of the ways that Google hopes to reclaim dominion over the mobile internet space (and expand the reaches of its own walled garden in the process).

So, what does the future of SEO look like?

It’s safe to say that in 2017 SEO is not only here to stay, but it’s also evolving in exciting new directions. From optimising content for conversational and voice search to the continuing rise of mobile and user centred design, there’s definitely lots we can all look forward to.

Voice search is changing search marketing

When Star Trek: The Next Generation aired in 1987, having a casual conversation with a computer must have seemed like far-flung science fiction ideals. But according to the current state of voice search, we won’t have to wait until the year 2364 to get there.

Remember Ask Jeeves? The 1996 search engine which revolved around questions phrased in everyday language was actually, in retrospect, way ahead of its time. Twenty years on, search trends are finally moving towards ‘natural language’ queries. Unfortunately, all a little too late for poor deceased Ask Jeeves.

Voice search is set to dominate in 2017 and it’s no surprise. Because, why type in a search query when you can just use your voice to get the information you need? It’s so much easier. No wonder sales of Amazon Echo and Google Home type devices are expected to go from 1.8 million units this year to around 15.1 million in 2020.

Voice search is the fastest growing type of search. Already, 55% of teens and 41% of adults use voice search on a daily basis, and that number is only growing. The allure of voice chat is undeniable; it’s faster, it’s hands-free, it lets you multi-task, and (especially among millennials) it’s considered the norm.

These advances in search marketing mean you need to consider how you approach content creation. For tourism brands, this is great news. It means you can focus on delivering quality content, which is useful to the user and is written in an approachable, conversational tone.
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Show credibility through backlinks

While content is and will always be king, it’s not the amount of content that’ll get you traffic and exposure, as discussed earlier it’s the quality and relevance. In 2017, the only links that’ll move the needle will be those great links that users actually click on, read and recommend to others.

So, if you’ve not done it already, make sure to revise your content strategy for the year to come, and create content that is able to attract these natural backlinks. There are some great tools out there that can help you, such as Google Trends, Google’s Keyword Tool and Answer the Public.

Being mobile-friendly is no longer a choice but a requirement

As aforementioned, Google ultimately only want one index, so they’re rolling out a new mobile-first index, which means that you will see different ranks for mobile and desktop.

This is a major change, which makes having a responsive website more important than ever. A responsive site not only displays properly on all devices, but the content is also the same on a page-by-page basis from your desktop to your mobile site.

Another thing to consider is the speed of your mobile pages, as this will be a ranking factor in Google’s next mobile-friendly update. This is no massive surprise, as Google’s introduction of AMP clearly indicated its concern for page speed on mobile and optimising the user experience.

Create compelling experiences

UX design aims to provide users of a website with a great experience where they can easily browse, find relevant and quality content they’re looking for, and be presented with the most intuitive navigation to guide them to the next steps in the most effortless way possible.

But here’s the thing: you can have an amazing site but if it isn’t properly optimised and doesn’t perform well in search engines, no one will see it. That’s why SEO and UX need to work hand-in-hand, not separately.

SEO helps you increase your website’s visibility in search engines, which can result in more traffic. But it’s great UX design that will determine if you can keep these visitors on your website and entice them to take the next step – whether that is to subscribe to an email list, to buy something or to get in touch with you.

Put simply, people have to be able to find you online but, once they do, they also need to be engaged and compelled to take action. Which is why SEO and UX design working together is paramount to your site’s long-term success. This brings me neatly onto the subject of what constitutes good design and how it effectively intersects with SEO:

  • Less is more: Don’t overload your users with hyperchoice. Instead make the experience enjoyable and simple.
  • Leverage the medium: Digital design offers a whole different user experience to graphic design, with interaction and motion providing visual cues and meaning. Google’s Material Design is a great example of how these principles are put into practice.
  • Prioritise: Work from a user-first, mobile-first perspective when building out your website’s information architecture. This will help you strictly prioritise according to the user’s and business’ needs.
  • Focused efficiency: Ensure that essential tasks on your website can be easily achieved through precise, intuitive design and clear navigation.
  • Optimise images: As well as aiding accessibility, images can support your SEO strategy by being optimised to appear within image searches.
  • Tell audiences what you want: From meta data displaying in search results to landing page copy, visual cues and CTAs, make sure your messaging is clear, compelling and descriptive throughout.
  • Build out quality supplementary content: This allows you to create greater credibility and drive your quality score up over time. It also aids in the user experience once on your website.

There is so much more to cover, but this blog is long enough already, so we’ll look at schema markup, HTML and further UX design trends in future blogs.

But, if I can leave you with just one resounding message it is that no matter what you do, remember that behind each and every device is a human.