SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) in the Tourism Industry

SEO or Search Engine Optimisation in the tourism industry is no different to the SEO of any other industry because the principles of SEO remain the same. The Engineers of Search Engines like Google have not engineered a different set of rules or formulae (Also known as algorithms) for people in the tourism industry.

 What is different in the tourism industry is the dependency of the industry when it comes to the need for high ranking on search results.

There is probably no other industry which are as dependent on internet marketing as the tourism industry.

With the tourism industry we mean the following businesses:

General Tour operators
Specialist Tour operators e.g. Birding Tour Operators
Accommodation establishments

In Cape Town South Africa we have secondary businesses that operate in the tourism industry such as shark cage diving operators, restaurants, art galleries and specialist tour operators like for example helicopter tours. These businesses are not as dependent on initial Internet Marketing as they can still get customers who find them via brochures or those who walk past their brick and mortar shops. Once a tourist arrives they will start doing searches using most probably their Smart Phones. The more specialised an industry, within an industry the less competition one is likely to face and the easier the task of SEO becomes. Using our example of Helicopter tour operators one would in all probability not find more than 3 such operators in a city like Cape Town.

In the Greater Kruger National Park area we have the same scenario where we have secondary establishments operating within the tourism industry such as game drive operators, restaurants, specialist activities such as elephant rides and hot air ballooning. Once again the more specialised the individual business which operates within the tourism industry the less competition one is like to face and the less the headache of SEO is for a business. Using these examples there can not be more than a handful, if at all 5, businesses which offers elephant rides or hot air ballooning in the Greater Kruger National Park.

In South Africa, as in many other countries worldwide, we have in bound tour operators who form partnerships or conclude contracts with marketing agents in other countries who find clients for them on their behalf. One such an example is AA Tour Operators. These inbound tour operators form relationships over years with their international marketing agents who rely in return on the reputation of their chose South African in bound tour operators. Over time the marketing agents and in bound agents understand each other when it comes to what a client / tourist expect for his dollar, pound or euro.

In a similar fashion it is possible for accommodation establishments and specialist tour operators like birding safari tour operators to establish relationships with their clientele and build up goodwill. They can build their businesses by getting not only repeat business but also by getting referrals trough word of mouth.

The SEO I want to discuss in the tourism industry are those relevant to accommodation establishments as well as tour operators (both general and specialist e.g. birding tour operators.). Once again one needs to distinguish between a new business and more established businesses. The newer any business the less goodwill it will possess. Not only will it posses less goodwill but it will also be behind when it comes to their business website and SEO. Why?

SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) refers to shaping your website to attract more website visitors, which in turn will hopefully become real visitors / paying clients.

How does one shape your website in these tourism industries so dependent on first page exposure on search engines like Google? By shaping your website like one would shape it in any other industry.

Firstly you need to understand that SEO is something which is done on your website as well as off your website. (On-Site SEO / Off – Site SEO).

On-Site SEO refers to creating great content (unique, informative, original, not copied from other websites, researched, in depth). It also refers to doing the basics right like including the right words , words you would like to be found for inside your website text e.g. if you want to be found for “Kruger National Park Birding Guide” all of these words or at least some of it need to appear in your website.

Off-Site SEO refers to the process of obtaining back links to your website which will include doing some basics like linking your business Facebook page or your Google My Business listing to your business website. By having great content you are more likely to have other websites linking to your website. In turn your Google My Business page which is vetted / verified by Google will include your precise geographical location. If indeed you are situated inside or adjacent to the Kruger National Park and you are a birding guide then it follows that people should find you when doing those searches. (Reality is that there can one be a few (handful) birding guides inside or adjacent to the Kruger National Park.). In recent years we have seen Google trying to provide more and more relevant search results and thus favouring local search where Google My Business listings carry a lot of weight. Also carrying more weight are local directory listings.

Sometimes when Google does a major algorithmic change it has a major impact on search results and it is given a name. Unfortunately these are often first rolled out in first world countries like the US and GB before it is rolled out in countries like South Africa so the news and the actual implementation often lags. The last two examples of favouring local results and directories being favoured were called Pigeon.
(A Pigeon always comes home).

If you think this is boring reading these articles imagine the accounting and auditing world where accounting rules are continually changed but the answer always returning to the same. So it is with the world of SEO.

Search Engines and their Software Engineers are continuously engineering newer and better ways to provide better search results for their users. We live in the information age with search engines like Google worth billions of dollars with billions in assets including cash resources. If you are looking for long term success on the internet then you should be implementing a long term strategy. Your strategy should align with what these powerful companies want. They want to service their clients best by providing the most relevant and accurate search results.

Good SEO always is about long term strategy and long term results and never about short term results. Short term results are often only achieved by practising bad SEO or black hat SEO, examples being spamming your website, hiding text and link farming. (Getting a lot of low quality websites to link to your website.) 2016 should see the second roll out of Penguin where more companies guilty of link farming / buying low quality links will be penalised.

I had a discussion yesterday with a person who has enjoyed the fruits of such practises for the past 6 years with the help of his brother who is a clever programmer. His brother is getting nervous because this work is done on his servers which are linked to all his websites and now his brother is threatening to close the spamming websites with thousands of generated pages. Search Engines like Google can blacklist complete servers when they detect Spam. (Either email spam or website spam). These spamming pages are created automatically by software programs. Considering that it has been profitable for the past 6 years I wondered if I should not learn more about these practises.  I mean should Google be viewed as the god of the internet and search and should we abide by their rules and guidelines? If you are looking for long term sustainable results then the answer is yes. They will continue using their resources to engineer clever software programs to provide a better user experience for their clients.

What other factors are more relevant to the Tourism Industry?

Once again the only reason we differentiate between the Tourism industry and other industries is because in most cases the people in the other industries are less aware of the impact of SEO on their business. Without good SEO a lot of businesses in the Tourism Industries would stop doing business. Not so easy!

Just outside Cape Town we have Aquilla Private Game Reserve. They are always visible in the printed media, be it brochures distributed by a company called Brochure Management or via Newspaper articles. They must be spending close to 7 figures on a monthly basis on printed advertising.

What are they doing differently or correctly? They have come to understand a concept called “cost of acquisition”.  It costs any business money to gain a new client. Even if you are only spending time on your website you are still spending money because time is money. The time I took to write this very article could have been spend in my web design business in many different ways.

This is what people in any business should come to understand. It costs money and or time to gain one client. There is a cost associated to it. You need to be able to understand these costs and weigh it against the income derived from one client.

I have invested close to 1,5 hours in writing this article. It will be posted as a blog entry on my website. I do get web design clients from my own website about web design. There can be few things as competitive as the web design industry when it comes to SEO. In our industry I patiently await the full implementation of Penguin where a lot of my competitors will see themselves penalised, even completely removed from Google’s index. I have a lot of sympathy and understanding for people in the tourism industry.

But what can we web designers or people in the tourism industry do differently?

  1. Understand the concept “Cost of acquisition “

We need to understand that there will always be a cost associated with gaining new clients and this cost could be your time and effort spend blogging on your own website or this cost could be a more direct costs such as advertising with search engines or advertising with Social Media platforms such as Facebook. The latter tends to generate more immediate and direct results which makes it easier to measure the cost of acquisition with the gained benefit of 1 new client. SEO is designed or better understood in the context of getting results from Google without paying Google. But because time is money there is not such a thing as getting something for free. You might have to pay a professional website copywriter to get you your desired “free” results but pay you will pay.

  1. Do the basics well

Even though you find yourself in a competitive environment you still need to do the basics well like having a Google My Business page, having a Social Media Presence, including the right words on your website, consider headings carefully, consider your main page titles, make use of Google’s free resources like Google Webmaster Tools.

Before expanding to including testimonials on your website or adding an interesting blog to your website you still need to do the very basics well. Do you know what are the top searches you would like to be on page 1 of Google. This needs to be clearly defined as part of your basic planning process.

  1. Blog about your products and services

Before blogging you need the experience. No one can blog about something they have yet to experience themselves.

In Cape Town we have the whales and the Penguins, Groot Constantia, Cape Point, Robben Island, Harbours , Beaches and Wine Farms.

In Kruger we have the big 5 (Lion, Leopard, Elephant, Rhino, Buffalo) . We have the small 5 and the big 6 in birding. We have the elusive Pels Fishing Owl. We have a lot of other birds, trees, fish and amphibians.

But what is the first thing any tourist (local or international) will search the internet for? They will search the internet for Tour operators or Accommodation establishments. It follows that if you fall in these categories you should blog about accommodation and about your tours. These should be the focus of your blog entries.

I have blogs and websites in the tourism industry. I tend to attract websites visitors based on the uniqueness of the content. In December I translated an article on the West Coast Lobster into Afrikaans. That 15 minute exercise generated a lot of website traffic or more website traffic than what 15 minutes of my time is worth. Sure it created awareness of my website but it did not result in someone making a booking. Not that I am aware off at least.

If you are a tour operator you should photograph actual tours and blog about the experiences experienced while on tour. You can spend hours and hours blogging about whales, penguins, Robben Island, Lions, Buffalo without gaining more value than the time invested. Why? Because it has been done on numerous occasions and chances are that your article or blog entry will be the 10th best on the subject and basically ignored by search engines. Why should they not ignore you?

You need to continuously add value with the information you submit to the Librarian. (The Librarian being Google.) The Librarian will only index those pieces of information which adds value to the mass of information already available on the World Wide Web. That’s the sum total of Google’s quality guidelines.

  1. Cheap research / benchmarking

Once you have planned for what words or search terms you would like page 1 exposure you need to do some searches using Google, Bing and Yahoo searching for exactly those search terms. Study the websites on page 1 of Google. You will have a realistic benchmark of what your website should look like at the very minimum to rank among these websites bearing in mind that age of a domain / website is an important factor when Google considers search results. When you are a new kid on the block you need to work harder than the more established businesses to rank among the best.

If you do not have the financial resources but time resources you will need to invest a pretty large amount of your time to rank with the top 10 for search in your industry. Exactly how much time is not a mystery but clearly visible on page 1 of Google, inside those websites listed.

What you cannot view so easily is the Off-Site SEO (Both black hat / white hat) these websites have employed. (Back links to these websites)

  1. Advertise with directories

The tourism industries are well known for its many large and specialised directories. Often you have no choice than to either advertise with Google or advertise on these directories if you want to appear anywhere on page 1 of Google. That’s the reality of search in the tourism industry. Doing the cheap research as per point 4 will include these directories.

  1. Ask the value added question

Whenever you are adding new information to the internet, examples via a blog ask yourself the question:

Am I adding value to the WWW? (World Wide Web)

Only proceed when the answer is yes.

  1. Financial analysis

You need to understand the value of one new client versus the cost of gaining the new client. Your website should be a once off expense when it comes to the initial design and layout. You will pay monthly hosting and then either advertise with Google or spend time working on the content on your website. You could try spending some time and asking people to link their websites to content on your website. They will only link if it benefits them or if the information you provide is valuable.

So we know that clients bring in income but that it costs money or time to gain these clients. If you find it does not pay you to advertise with Google there might be a problem in the product which you are offering. Your competition is advertising. Why can they afford to advertise while you can not? It might be that the product you offer is not profitable enough. In the web design industry we sell websites for between R2,500 and R4,000. My competition sells the same thing for sometimes up to R20,000.

The same scenario could be present in the Tourism industry be it accommodation or tour operators. In order to be able to afford Google advertising you might need to increase the profitability of your product offering. In the web design industry we could include additional services like Google my business registration or Facebook Pages opening off. Accommodation Establishments or Tour Operators could invest a little more in graphics or professional business photography and then simply increase the selling price of accommodation and tours.

The question of advertising with Google or not like the question of how much time and money to spend on a website is more a financial question than a mystery.

  1. Understand search

Point 7 leads into this important topic. You need to gain an understanding on how search engines work.

It need not be a mystery. Google functions much more like an accountant than like an artist. The design of graphics has very little to do with your search results.

 Google provides great free resources like Google Webmaster Tools, Google Analytics. There are forums where you can get free advice and information from people interested in search from all over the world.

You should partake in these forums and make use of the free resources thereby ensuring you really understand search.


  1. Optimal Return

Whether you spend money or time on your website there comes a point where no matter what you continue to spend or invest will not deliver a return greater than the effort required to create the content or to gain new quality links to your website.

A “difficult” new client in the tourism industry inspired this article. I am now going into 3 hours or 3,000 words plus. Fortunately I enjoy being creative with words and writing about this topic. My client will get a copy of this article so I will get some return on the time invested.  The topic is SEO in the Tourism Industry. It’s also the heading of this article. Time will tell if Google indexes this page and where it is indexed. If I were to blog for Search Engines then it would have done me better to do some practical cheap research / benchmarking as per point 4 to see the quality of information already available on the internet about this topic.

These 3 hours invested in this article might not bring me one more client via search engines but I will still use it because I target a lot of people in the tourism industry, be it in Cape Town or the Greater Kruger National Park.

Likewise people in the Tourism industry could invest time to research and then compile great up to date information on important things when planning your holiday to South Africa. We have unique and changing rules regarding Visa applications. This information can be shared with potential customers and made freely available on the WWW. It can also be shared via Facebook or Twitter. It will save you time in any event when you do get a new client on board.

But there does come a time when the time spend blogging or the money spend on graphics on your website are over capitalized. You should work your website to that point of Optimal return and not beyond.

Work that is done further should not be done with the expectation of gaining new clients but done for either practical reasons or for enjoyment. Both tour operators and accommodation establishments should consider blogging about experiences in their environment which could attract new clients via search engines. Tourists like sharing their holiday experiences on Social media like Facebook and one happy client can gain you many new clients. Ask your clients for permission to blog about their experiences with you and include pictures of them. If you do a good job chances are that they will do your Social Media marketing for you.

There will be ongoing development and opportunity to further develop your website and your path should take you over doing the basics well but there will come a point where you reach the Optimal return. The sooner that point is reached, the sooner you can carry on with your day to day activities.

  1. Measure results, adjust and repeat

Having a website is no longer a once off expensive exercise. Not with us in any event. Your website needs ongoing development bearing in mind the optimal return mentioned in point 9. (We daily market websites to people who have stopped working on their current websites a few years ago with the websites now being outdated.) Easy to use CMS like Kwikwap Software means that your website never needs to be come outdated with the option for affordable redesign being readily available without changing web design companies or software.

You need to measure your actual results using Google Webmaster Tools and then adjust your website content accordingly. What you put into your website is what you should get out of your website. Your web designer or SEO consultant should become like your Dentist. You need a visit every 6 months if you are serious about preserving your internet health of your business. We daily deal with search and we stay aware of the latest developments.

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