SEO for Tour Operators

2 February 2021

Search Engine Optimization, or SEO for tourism, is the ability to get your website to rank on Google when prospects are searching for the tours or activities you provide. But with all the other marketing channels out there, is SEO still worth doing? The answer is yes. More than ever. When you look at the numbers, putting your efforts into gaining organic traffic still trumps the rest by a longshot. An Alexa report shows 54.9% of all traffic for Travel and Tourism websites comes from ‘Search’ and for many adventure tourism businesses, that number much higher.

SEO begins with keyword research, so put yourself in your customer’s shoes (or sandals or ski boots) and think about what search terms they may be typing into Google to find a business like yours, and make a list. 

Build Your Keyword List

You want to grow that list by finding all the different terms that people use in the ‘research’ and ‘buy’ phases of your customer journey, then whittle it down to the most profitable terms to optimize your website for. Next head over to Wikipedia, yes, Wikipedia. Look at your destination or sport and see what Wikipedia has on it; scan the list of topics or categories and add these to your list. If it’s in Wikipedia, there are probably people searching for these subtopics. 

Then, go to good old Google and open an incognito window (so you don’t get results skewed by what Google already knows about you) and start typing in terms from your list. As you type, look at the ‘auto-suggest’ results that pop up, make note of any relevant terms, and add them to your list. Then, scroll down to the bottom of the page and scan through the ‘Searches related to…’ results. Anything that looks promising here should be added as well. 

By now you’ve probably got a decent sized list of a few dozen search terms your target audience is using to find you. Now, you need to look at search volume, cost-per-click (CPC) and competition data for each of your search terms. This data comes from Google Keyword Planner (KWP) and is intended for using Google Ads, but it’s also an important starting point for SEO. 

Keyword Research Tools

There are a bunch of SEO tools out there that take KWP data and combine it with their own data or just make it easier to digest. I like Keywords Everywhere, since it has a Chrome plugin and gives you this data at a glance directly in your browser and let’s you easily export CSV files. And it’s cheap. So build a nice spreadsheet for all your keywords. Generally, if the search term has super-low traffic, or is too vague, cross it off. If it has high competition, say anything over 0.7, I’d nix it too. Any terms with high CPC means they have a lot of commercial or booking intent behind them. Now here’s where a pricier paid tool can be a powerful weapon in your arsenal. Ahrefs, SEMrush and MOZ all have great research tools for really drilling down and telling you what it will take to rank for your chosen keywords. So plug in your top keywords and check the results; you’ll likely see your competitors pop up in the top spots. 

Choosing the Right (Longtail) Keywords for Your Tourism Niche 

I often find that many tourism business owners think they need to rank for uber popular keywords like ‘powder skiing’ or ‘best bike tours’ or something similarly so vague it can’t possibly be useful. But here’s the thing, people do search for those terms, and tour companies pay top dollar to bid on them with Google PPC ads. Let them. Here’s where really knowing your ideal customer and their buyer’s journey can save you a lot of extra money, time and effort. For example, if you know that your target client typically finds you with ‘Guided Colorado Ski touring’ instead optimize just for that and a few other longtail related terms. That same person may have started with a vague ‘powder skiing’ search, spent time reading articles (press) and watching videos (more research) bouncing around, and eventually decided that they want a guided ski touring vacation in Colorado. 

On-Page SEO for Tourism Websites

Work with your webmaster to make sure the page titles and URLs for your main ‘tours’ or ‘booking’  pages contain your target keywords. Include your keywords throughout your page copy but do not ‘keyword-stuff’ your pages. Photo or video-only pages might look stunning, but do little to help your search rankings. All important pages, including your homepage, should have at least 400-500 words of descriptive copy. If your site is Wordpress, use the Yoast plugin to optimize your page titles and descriptions. 

Now look at your Google Search Console and see if there are any error reports. If there are, have your web developer fix them. Google is now crawling most websites as ‘mobile first’ so make darn sure your site is mobile-friendly, but don’t just trust the tools. I’ve seen many sites that get a pass from mobile checkers, that actually perform badly on a real phone. Always test on multiple devices and make sure.

Create Content Hubs for SEO

Now it’s time to start creating content. Work with writers and make sure your content is professionally written and consistent with your brand voice. If you have an expert on staff, like a senior guide, they may be a great resource for a writer to work with to produce awesome content. But don’t overlook outside sources either. Think like a journalist who is going out and researching a topic, trying to create the best piece for your website visitor. Then plan to create multiple versions of your core content, such as blog posts, videos, podcasts, ebooks and social posts, all with the same focus keywords.

The goal here is to tell Google (and ultimately, your customers) that you are an authority in your adventure tourism niche. Aim to create content hubs, or Hub Pages with several long-form blog posts all based around that key topic you want to rank for. Those articles should be like spokes on a wheel, all pointing back, with links, to your key tour pages. What you’re actually doing here is using your content hubs to ‘lift up’ your most valuable pages. And that’s the basis of good SEO.