Study: The most important SEO ranking factors for travel brands in 2017

Google doesn’t rely on a single, fixed algorithm for each and every query anymore. The tech giant is now capable of analysing each search query and deciding which ranking factors are most appropriate – or, more specifically, in which order they should be prioritised.

This means, as travel search marketers, we need to understand how Google approaches queries related to the industry. Otherwise we could end up optimising for the wrong ranking factors.

A recent study from Searchmetrics offers some insight into how Google’s priorities change for travel searches.

These search ranking factors are more influential for travel

According to the Searchmetrics study, there are 13 ranking factors that have an above-average impact on search ranking for travel brands.

Top SEO ranking factors for travel websites

The top five SEO ranking factors for travel brands are particularly interesting:

  1. Word Count
  2. Overall Content Relevance
  3. Number of images
  4. Bullets per List (max.)
  5. Number of Internal Links

Before we say anything else, let’s just clarify what this list actually means. First, it doesn’t mean word count is the most important ranking factor for travel-related searches. It simply means word count is more important than normal – as are the other 12 factors in this section.

Essentially, travellers want information and lots of it to help them make booking decisions. Images are important (this is a visual industry, of course) but you want to be careful with image lists that neglect the text.

If Searchmetrics has got its numbers right, the best ranking travel pages average out at over 2,500 words.

The other above-average ranking factors for travel brands are:

  1. Content Relevance Central Area
  2. Presence of Unordered Lists
  3. URL Length
  4. Number of External Links
  5. Interactive Elements
  6. Presence of H1
  7. Presence of H2
  8. TLD is .com

According to the study, these search ranking factors have more influence on travel related queries than the average across all industries.

The usual suspects

Next up, we have nine ranking factors that meet the typical benchmarks across all industries. Again, this doesn’t mean the following SEO factors are less important than the ones already mentioned. Their importance simply doesn’t significantly change for travel-related queries.

The usual SEO ranking factors are important for travel too

So, the usual suspects are:

  • Bounce Rate
  • CTR
  • Number Backlinks
  • Number of Backlinks
  • Number of Domains Linked from the URL
  • Number of External Links from the URL
  • Number of No-Follow Backlinks
  • Time on Site

We know backlinks are one of the top three ranking factors for Google across most (probably all) search queries. We also know it’s probably the top ranking factor for most (or all) queries, purely because of how Google works. So backlinks can’t really be any more important than usual.

No surprises there.

As for bounce rate, CTR and time on site, these are your most basic engagement signals that tell Google your page provides what people are looking for.

These ranking factors are less influential for travel

Finally, we have the ranking factors that are less influential for travel searches than they normally would be.

Less influential factors for travel sites

There’s little change in the first few factors on this list but there are some interesting items in there. Generally, keywords in the usual places are slightly less important than usual but significantly less important in the body of the text. It’s also interesting to see that social signals are apparently less important than usual, considering travel and travel content are so sharable.

Travel content also seems ideal for video integration but it appears Google doesn’t see this as an essential.

As for the trio of load time, file size and HTTPS, this could be misleading. Loading times and file sizes are important but Google has to make allowances for the fact it expects more images to be included with travel content (thus increasing load times and file sizes). It’s a compromise it has to make.

While on the subject of HTTPS: if people are booking through your site, make sure you have encryption.

Takeaways from the study

Based on these findings, there are a number of takeaways to keep in mind for your travel SEO and content marketing strategies:

  • Create long-form, comprehensive content
  • Use plenty of images
  • Use longer than average lists
  • Don’t fret too much over keywords
  • Make browsability a priority

That last point probably needs a little explanation. The reason Google thinks internal linking is important for travel content is because users have a lot of information (and related information) to think about. For example, they narrow down their holiday choices down to the Maldives and then they want to search for flights, things to do and other info specific to that destination.

Wherever possible, you should be providing this information and linking to it internally – or externally, if necessary. Google wants to see this kind of navigational structure and you should also be using it to guide users through your website.

That’s it for today but we’ll be back with more travel SEO tips soon. If you need any help or advice in the meantime, get in touch with our travel marketing experts here.

Want more travel-related content?

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Chris Pitt profile picture
Chris Pitt

Chris is Managing Director at Vertical Leap and has over 25 years' experience in sales and marketing. He is a keynote speaker and frequent blogger, with a particular interest in intelligent automation and data analytics. In his spare time, he enjoys playing the guitar and is a stage manager at the Victorious Festival.

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