Google Mobile Armegeddon (or not)

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The travel press has been full of articles on the effect of the latest changes that Google have made to their algorithm for search. There has been huge scare mongering going on, but for small businesses worried about having to spend money making their sites mobile friendly there are a set of questions they should answer before hitting the panic button.

1. How well does your site do with SEO? Have you got a bunch of keywords that you rank highly for and do you rank highly for them on mobile?

2. Do you rely on your website appearing in natural listings to get any leads for your business?

3. What % of users who book a holiday do so from a mobile device?

For the majority of small to medium sized travel agents, the majority of their business will come from a number of marketing efforts and brand name would be probably at the top of the list in terms of SEO keywords. If you happen to have nailed the ‘honeymoon in the Caribbean’ keyword and you have a high converting landing page for that key phrase then of course you need to make sure that you have a mobile optimized site. For everyone else, reliant on a bunch of marketing effort to get new leads then don’t forget – this update only affects mobile search, not desktop in any way at all.

If you have a Google place listing ( and all businesses should have this as a minimum and it’s free) then any mobile search for your business name will always appear at the top because of the way that Google ranks its listings.

Sooner or later all businesses will have to upgrade their website to a mobile friendly one. If it affects your business then the cost of converting your site to mobile friendly will more than pay for itself, if it doesn’t, then upgrade as and when your budget allows.

Note – we are a tech company so we recommend that everyone has a ‘responsive’ mobile friendly website. In fact, websites by and large should be upgraded every 3 years ( 3 years ago no one  built responsive websites).

Ordinarily tech companies scare monger with the best of them so they get more business. We rely on giving fair expert advice to clients. We help make them make the right decision based on their budget  ( and their analytics which tell them how many people use their site on mobile and how many of these cam from search)

How some history of AVIS can teach you how to sell more holidays and make more money

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“If you are not in business for fun or profit, what the hell are you doing there?” so said one time CEO of AVIS rental Cars – Robert Townsend. It is also pretty hard having fun if you are not making a profit!

The travel press is full of examples of failed volume travel businesses in a price slashing frenzy racing their competition to the bottom. These companies may couch their downfall in blaming over regulation but the reality is, they sold too cheaply to get volume.

For the Independent Travel business owner the answer is – more customers, who keep buying for longer and spend more when they buy.

To do this you need:

  • a core central online marketing hub ( your website )
  • landing pages on your website that capture your prospects
  • Automated messages that charm enquirers and turn them into clients
  • Emails that stay in touch with them and get them to buy again and again

But going back to Robert Townsend, there is also a key to these messages that you send. You must have a USP ( Unique Selling Point). All successful businesses have one. In Robert’s case, he was selling a commodity – there were loads of rental businesses out there and when he took over, Avis was nearly bust.

Over the course of all the research that was done to work out what the USP of Avis was so that they could communicate it effectively they came up with the advertising line:

” Because we try harder”

What this line did was reposition the Number 1 at the time – Hertz, as too big to care. Sound familiar? Any travel companies out there that you fancy you could compete with because you are not too big to care?

Before you can start to market effectively you need to know what you are marketing and be able to tell someone your USP in one or two short sentences.

We started Net Effect because we wanted to help independent travel businesses compete more effectively online because we believe that travel is different and requires that personal touch that only Independent Travel Business owners are able to master.

 

Travel Agents – How to write Great Headlines for SEO

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[Tweet “How to write Great Headlines in your Blog Posts”]

Everyone skim reads these days and used to skim reading ipads and mobile devices for catchy headlines. Writing a great headline is the only way that you have any chance of your content being read and so spending time on a great headline is a really important element to your blog/seo work.

But getting guidance on what works and what doesn’t work as a headline has been tricky to the majority of website owners. Travel Agents are too busy selling holidays to spend hours looking at the headline to their blog post.

But help is at hand!. I came across this great free resource to help you write great headlines at CoSchedule. Applying their free and easy tool to the headline of this post I managed to increase my chances of this post being read by anyone as shown from 66 up to a potential 73

What some of you will notice is that by adding the words “Travel Agent” my score decreased from 73 to 68. This is a good example of how it is still important to use human common sense with tech. My audience are travel agents and so whenever I write posts I try and include the words Travel Agent as my target audience is most likely to use these words when searching for articles online.

For agents wishing to improve their blog marketing ability then using CoSchedule to manage your post schedule, or simply their free tools to help you is well worth trying – and their tips for success online are well worthwhile too!

headlinetool

SEO (or Content Strategy) for Independent Travel Agents & Tour Operators

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It’s been a while since I visited this subject back in 2012 with my blog “SEO vs PPC, the debate rages” and things have moved on a long way. Researching whether or not to engage in Paid Search ( PPC), knowing whether it is useful for your business  and what the ROI would be all depends on what you are trying to achieve and where in the sales funnel you wish to attract customers ( and ‘anywhere’ as an answer to this will only cost you lots of money! so it’s important to set out what you wish to achieve.

Update on SEO

The update on ‘Search Engine Optimisation’ in 2014/15 is that it is non negotiable. To have a successful business with longevity and sustainability that attracts customers from online, travel agents MUST have a content strategy.

AirBnB is arguably one of the most successful travel start ups of recent years. Transforming the ‘Bed and Breakfast’ short term rental market. This is how they approached Content Strategy:

1. Deliver tools for extended engagement: Airbnb Does Neighborhood Guides 

2. Inform and educate: Airbnb TV

3. Drive leads with testimonials: The Airbnb Lifestyle

5. Drive customer loyalty and trust: Airbnb Connections

4. Drive leads through social engagement and calls-to-action: The Strategic Use of Social Media for Promotion

The full article can be found here at The Huffington Post

STARTER SEO STRATEGY CHECKLIST OF TRAVEL AGENTS

The good news if you are reading this is that the vast majority of travel agents in the UK have NO content marketing strategy and so by starting 2015 with a strategy you will be ahead of your competition and by starting now you will always be ahead of your competition as Google will be ranking your content sooner than your competitors.

There are lots of areas of SEO to get used to – on page vs off page, meta tags, optimisation etc. In any one of my talks this is the point that a lay audience will start to glaze over so I only want to get one point across here. If you have no content then  there is no point in worrying about off page SEO, optimisation and metatags. Sure, if you have written a heap of content and no one is finding it, it’s time to talk about the other elements of SEO, but let’s get started first.

A | Brainstorm a ‘Content’ Strategy (on page SEO)

For travel businesses that arrange bespoke tours ( or act as a tour operator) then create content around your chosen activity/holiday type. As an arranger of these trips you are setting yourself up as an expert and a writing plan to showcase to your audience your expertise ( as AirBnB does in its City Guides) is a great way to develop an SEO strategy

For more general agents then a relevant content strategy may be to write about your educationals, your relationships with tour operators ( which operators you use an why?). Don’t be afraid of linking to tour operator websites so long as you have made it clear to the reader the advantages of booking directly with you ( same price, better value and service etc.) and if you have a content website from us then of course you can link directly to that Operators product in your own website.

The key behind the Content Strategy is to develop your ‘voice’ and ‘expertise’. Give your readers a reason for coming to your site so they can learn something. SEO and blogging is all about building your showcasing your expertise.

Writing for a Specialist audience is what content marketing is all about – read what the experts have to say on MOZ.com and read The Ultimate Guide to Content Planning here

B | Develop your Keywords Plan

Developing your keywords is essential to any good content marketing plan. Use Ducttape’s various resources to help you brainstorm keywords

C | Start Writing

Use in house resource but if you have not got anyone with a writing bent, find freelances on websites such as peopleperhour.com. You will often find travel writers whom are not expensive.

NOTE | Your Knowledge

For small to medium businesses with tight budgets – that is most travel businesses unless they have the might of VC money like AirBnB do 🙂 I would always advocate having someone you trust in your organisation to understand the very basics of SEO. While SEO is theoretically free, outsourcing someone to do this for you outside of your business is very expensive and normally outside the budgets of travel businesses. The great news is that there are tons of self learning programmes that cost very little to start to learn all about SEO. There are free resources online that may be relevant such as an explanation of someone else’s work – http://www.simplyclicks.com/Travel-Agent-SEO.pdf or for a more planned approach I recommend online courses such as those from ‘Distilled‘ – some of the modules are free and all are free tomorrow, 3rd December 2014

Google changes it’s policy on Keywords – and hides them on all searches

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SearchEngineLand confirmed that Google is now encrypting all search data not from Paid Adverts. Say goodbye to all your keywords reports from now on. At first site this looks like a pretty scary change and its not altogether clear why Google have made it. There is some good thoughts from experts:

Aaron Aders, Co-Founder, digitalrelevance:

“While secure searches may seem frustrating to many SEO marketers, this is actually a great move for our industry. Great SEO today is great content with powerful digital endorsements from relevant and authoritative websites, which results in business results that transcend the keyword conversation.
“SEO marketers need to be focused on raising organic traffic as a whole, achieving business objectives like online sales and lead generation, growing branded communities, and earning brand mentions. This move by Google will force SEO marketers to focus on business results rather than keywords — which is where the focus should be anyway.”
See more explanation on Hubspot. For travel marketers there are still lots of sites that will give you an insight into what keywords users use to search for travel products so your SEO strategy does not change, it just won’t be so easy to see the results in Google Analytics
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PPC vs SEO – the debate rages (because it costs so much!!)

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Clicks on a Goog Search

Clicks on a Google Search

The heat map here shows the clicked search area of a typical google results page. What does it tell us?

The SEO Marketer

80 – 85% of all clicks on google come from natural listings. These cost nothing and your site gets 8 x the traffic than from paid search (PPC)

The PPC Marketer

The ability to carefully develop a PPC strategy that delivers profitable leads, within margin, with the ability to turn campaigns on and off due to seasonality is very strong. many business models rely entirely on PPC. Google has lots of research aimed at PPC because it is their only way of making money and projects like youtube cost about $500m per annum to run so they need the money! You can get up and running very quickly and compete with the big boys and it doesn’t take all year.

The Business Marketer

The heat map above shows that in fact in line with what you expect, and from your own research (how you google!), that PPc and SEO are both important. The key element is being in position 1 – 5 either via SEO or PPC. After that you really get a small share of the traffic. The bottom place on page 1 equates to about 3% of clicks. This therefore gives you probably less volume than the first three paid search positions. However getting to page 1 at the bottom on high traffic key words could have cost you a lot of money.

The online marketing industry, in its infancy and although ‘technical’ in many ways, there is a lot of common sense that should be employed. Traditional businesses, such as travel businesses, who are morphing into online businesses just want there to be a magic answer. They are currently spending oodles of cash, throwing whatever it takes to the agency that can say – ‘I can get you free relevant traffic!’. The point with all this is that everyone is forgetting the cost, and the make up of the marketing spend. The advice costs such enormous amounts that companies are currently signing up 1/3rd of their marketing budget to SEO agencies who have absolutely no industry knowledge, nor guarantee anything other than trying to get certain search terms onto the first page.

The Point

My point is really that the changing landscape online has just made the whole game a lot harder. Ill informed bosses are throwing money at agencies hoping they will deliver without understanding the sales funnel, their product, their budget or their alternatives. SEO is an important and vital part of the strategy and long term will yield great results.

However – let’s not forget that:

1. Consumers tend to research using natural listings and buy using all the listings. Let’s face it, if you want something and it stares you in the face at the top of the search results why click anywhere else?

2. Google continually make organic listings difficult by changing their algorythm. This is perportedly to make listings more relevant. However, it would just be strange if they hadn’t worked in the – ‘ if everyone succeeds at natural search we don’t have a business as our income drops off paid search’

3. The SEO guys would have it that paid search is’evil’ – ‘I never click on paid adverts’ they will say and that’s what customers think. Since when did we see adverts in magazines as evil? This just doesn’t stack and the PPC guys will argue that 1. some customers don’t know it is a paid advert and 2. paid adverts usually indicate a professional well managed business that can afford a campaign.

4. The only way to really tell is to measure results for SEO vs PPC and conversions on these. My guess is that the data is complicated to distinguish (and most companies just rely on their agencies to tell them the truth!! ha ha). If SEO was always the winner why else would brands appear at the top of SEO and paid search for a product – if it wasn’t for the fact that both work, both cost money and no one really knows what the answer is!

Content is King – always

The race is on. If you are entirely an online Travel Agent then content is something that you just can’t ignore. It is the thing that will get you noticed on Google and help your search engine rankings. So it was probably just a matter of time before content morphed into something else as seen by the OTA – Black Tomato, with their new online lifestyle magazine. They were always producing lots of copy for their site so this was said to be just a natural progression.

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SEO – an Insider’s View

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Let’s just take one thing for granted. Google is the most powerful company on the planet right now. ALL it’s income comes from PPC Paid Advertising. There is no way at all that they will develop a system that will deplete their income potential model. Now – over to SEO:

I’ve recently had two meetings, one with an SEO agency and one with an SEO Expert. The interesting thing about both meetings was the fact that in order to get anywhere in SEO you need to commit serious money investing in it and won’t see a return for at least the first 18 months. Perhaps for the first 3 years you will have spent more money on it than was in the budget (seems that marketing online budgets are very flexible when it comes to PPC). Google admit to changing the algorithm regularly and so this is just an ongoing battle. You can really only ever afford to do SEO if you have a fast growing business. If you have a mature family business that is not intent on large growth then outside SEO expertise will just be a drain on finances (you are better off doing it in house over time).

The Agency Pitch

We work on the basis of being able to replace PPC and so in the long run you will spend less money advertising for new business. We have many mysterious and technical ways of achieving this.

The Consultant Pitch

I’m about risk management. Bypassing years of historical trading and internet presence to fool Google into thinking that I have a much better reputation than my new site would otherwise indicate. The nub of the issue is really link building, and tons of them. The technical stuff is just a given these days’ Content and link building are the only ways you can perform better in search and both costs lots of money and link building is quite dubious in some instances so my role is to manage the risk of building SEO for a new client.

Conclusion

There are no guarantees to SEO. You should of course SEO optimise and write great content and link build, but do this over the long term with an inhouse team. Write a budget for it (named investment in the future), but don’t throw all your other marketing activities (online PPc and offline) out of the bath. SEO is a long term investment. We are in a recession, spend at your peril (unless you happen to be a company that is immune to the recession) and concentrate on spending money to get immediate sales.

Foot Note: The consultant commented how difficult it is to make any money out of running an agency. Too many high cost people and too high an expectation from clients. In fact, if they did their job properly for the clients then they would not make any money. So, here’s news to those companies hoping to outsource the magic. You can’t unless you have very deep pockets. Get learning.

Posted via email from steve rushton

SEO Experts – What’s the Craic?

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SEO agencies and experts continue their quest for search engine domination. It continues to be a conundrum to me how and why Google would want them to succeed when their business model relies solely on PPC income.

There has also been much debate over social media and exactly how companies should or should not invest in social media platforms such as Twitter, LinkediN and Facebook. The debate rages on but one thing is for sure, it’s always difficult outsmarting an organisation such as Google that employs such talented and intelligent people. 

Check out this latest screen grab. All these results fell above the ‘fold’ in the page (I was using an iPad) and what is interesting here is the dominance of News feeds, Twitter streams in real time and of course PPC. Where are the natural search results? All below the fold and if you look at the heat map I published on an earlier blog you will see that of course it is the top of the page that the most activity. Any comments SEO guys?

Posted via email from steve rushton