The Ultimate Guide to Digital Marketing for Independent Travel Agents
No matter what industry you’re in, digital marketing should start with the same building blocks – knowing who your customers are, knowing what they’re looking for, optimising your content to match, and optimising your website for technical SEO.
But you can find those basics – and guides on how to do most of them – everywhere on line. What about your industry specifically? How do you do digital marketing for an independent travel agency?
Well, there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to digital marketing. Where a finance business is better off putting their energy into case studies and Linkedin, you’re probably not going to see much effect from that approach. So, what should you do?
Here’s our ultimate guide to travel digital marketing
Choose the right social media platforms – and share the right things
It sounds simple, but not everyone does it. There’s no point putting all of your time into a social media platform that your customers don’t use. Make sure you know where your customers hang out. Instagram is used more by ages 16-34, while Facebook is more popular with the over 40s. That’s not to say there aren’t other users who don’t fit those averages, but make sure you do some research into where your customer base hangs out online, and spend the majority of your effort there.
If you’re selling travel, you’re selling aspiration, lifestyle, bucket lists, and dreams. So visual platforms are your friend. Just take a look at Instagram and check out how many travel photos get shared every second (hint, it’s a lot).
So, you’re on Instagram. Just make sure you’re using the right hashtags so that your posts get seen. Destination hashtags are a must, but also look at the hashtags used by the destination’s tourist board – if they spot your posts, they might just like, follow and even share your content.
Facebook is where people get excited counting down to their holidays, share snaps while they’re away, and check in to their destination to show off where they are.
On both platforms, people are primed to see travel-related topics. Your inspirational imagery will help them visualise themselves jetting away. And that’s the crux of it – you need great quality imagery to share. Travel marketing is all about visual content.
Evidence suggests that photos with large areas of blue (sea or sky) get the most engagement – but test that out for yourself. Use videos, too – research varies, but some suggests up to 60% of online traffic comes from video. Just remember that the majority of people don’t have the sound on when watching in their feeds, so don’t put the important information in an audio track.
Encourage your clients to share their images and videos – either on your page or using a hashtag you come up with (just check first that it isn’t being used for something unsavoury). You can like and share their content, which not only gives you extra content to use, it’s ‘user generated content’ which is usually more highly trusted and valued than content from a business or brand.
And even though Linkedin isn’t much of a travel platform, if you sell your services to business-people, high net-worth individuals, or specific industries, you might find it more valuable than the majority. It all depends on your niche. That’s why it’s important to do the research. But do bear in mind that Linkedin is a business platform, so sharing updates that are what people expect to see on Facebook won’t be very effective. Think about producing content specific to the business audience – tips on winding down, how to work and play, where to get WiFi in specific destinations – anything that would be genuinely useful or interesting to a business audience.
Optimise your website
Yes, this is one of the key tactics that you’ll find on every list, travel-related or not. You should make sure you’ve done your keyword research and technical SEO to get your website in tip top shape. Make sure your header tags are correct, your images have the right attributes, your pages load quickly, your meta titles and descriptions are completed and engaging…
But think beyond those basic optimisation tasks. Think about exactly what you want your customers to do – do you want them to book online or get in touch with you. If you want them to get in touch, make sure you have contact details and contact forms visible on every page. If you want them to book online, is it easy for them to do so? Are prices clearly visible?
Is your site secure? People won’t often trust a website that doesn’t have the right security – even less so when they’re paying out a lot of money. Make sure you have https security, and if you use a particular technology to process secure payments, include all the relevant logos and information to reassure customers.
Talking of trust, do you have tripadvisor, feefo, trustpilot or google reviews about your service? If you’ve got them, put them on your website. Having those logos and reviews visible can be a real trust signal for customers, especially those who haven’t used you before. Having testimonials is great – and you should do that too – but reviews from external sites have an extra layer of trust, because you could easily have changed your testimonials or ignored the bad ones but you can’t do that with external reviews.
We’ve posted before about the top ways to make your travel website stand out, so we won’t rehash them here. But make sure you take a look and follow those tips, too – they cover important things like matching your content to your customers, optimising the copy, and defining your niche.
Consider remarketing your travel company
You know when you’ve been looking at something online, and later you start seeing that same thing advertised on different websites? That’s remarketing.
Just think – you’ve been dreaming of a safari holiday, you look at a lot of websites to find out everything you can during your research phase (some research suggests that people visit up to 40 different websites while researching a holiday). You go away from your computer for a while, with those dreams and plans becoming clearer in your mind – you’ve got a lot of ideas now.
The next time you go online, images of zebras and elephants pop up while you’re doing something different. You’re online shopping but suddenly you’re right back to dreaming about your holiday. In fact, you can practically smell the savannah. You click the link. And you book your independent safari.
That’s how remarketing works – it reminds people of the things they were interested in. And, by being right in front of them when they’re reminded, you put your website at the front of their mind – ready for them to convert.
You can remarket to specific audiences, send them to specific pages, and set your targeting to be as broad or narrow as you like. You could choose to send people to a blog post rather than your homepage or a sales page, if you want to opt for lead nurturing. Or you could choose to send them to a destination page based on a blog post they read on your site. You can set your parameters so that your activity logically follows the actions that website visitor took.
You do need a reasonable level of website traffic to make remarketing possible – so if your traffic is low, this might not be the best option yet. Work through the rest of our guide and get your traffic up, then come back to this tactic. The bigger your audience is, the more effective your remarketing campaign can be.
Set up an Adwords campaign
It may sometimes seem like it’s just the big players who use Google Adwords and pay-per-click (PPC) campaigns, but there’s no reason you can’t get involved. The big companies may have a bit of a monopoly on the short tail keywords, but people don’t always search just ‘luxury holidays’ or ‘Kilimanjaro’. They search for a longer string of keywords – ‘luxury couples’ holidays in Mauritius’ or ‘best Kilimanjaro climbing tour’.
You might find there’s less competition for these terms. Get yourself an Adwords account and try it out. You don’t have to commit tonnes of money, although you do need enough of a budget to make sure your posts get seen so you can test whether it works or not. When you see what works and what doesn’t, you can refine your keywords or the wording of your adverts to keep improving them.
Do plenty of research before you start – find the right keywords for your business. If you don’t know where to start, here’s a list of 10 free keyword research tools to help you plan.
The aim of the game here is to get back more than you put in – Google says that businesses on average get back $2 for every $1 they spend. But that’s just an average and some companies get back far, far more than that. You just need to keep working on improving and getting the right ads targeted to the right keywords.
Make sure you send people to a logical page based on their search result. If someone is specifically looking for ‘active holidays for seniors’, there’s no point sending them to your homepage (unless that’s the entire premise of your homepage). That hasn’t answered their query and they’ll just click away to a different result. Send them to a specific page about the keywords your ad was targeting. If you want to create a campaign but don’t have an appropriate page, make one. You’re spending money on this traffic, so make sure it goes to a page that is designed to answer the question they asked, share the information they’re looking for, or sell the holiday they wanted.
Adwords isn’t scary, but if you need help testing what works for you and getting the most out of your budget, get in touch – we’re PPC experts, after all.
Try social media advertising
If you don’t fancy Adwords, or if you want an additional string to your bow, try using social media for advertising.
Where Adwords serves up ads based on what people are searching for, along with some targeted parameters (like location), social media advertising serves ads to the audience you specify. In fact, you can be incredibly specific in your advertising.
Take Facebook and Instagram (they’re both owned by Facebook, so you can set up ads for both using the same platform). You can choose where your audience lives – so if you want to run a local campaign, you can target people within a certain radius of your location. You can choose age and gender – so if you sell holidays just to women, or to the over 50s, you can make sure they’re the only ones who you’re paying to get your ad in front of.
You can even target by interests – someone who’s into climbing, diving, mountain biking and hiking might be the perfect audience for an adventure travel company. Someone whose interests include sustainability, recycling, meditation and yoga might be the ideal audience for an eco retreat.
Those are pretty generalised, but if you’re paying for an ad, you want it to be in front of the people who are most likely to convert into customers.
There are various different types of adverts available on the different social media platforms, from single images to slideshows to videos… Have a play and see what showcases your agency, your destinations, or your services the best.
Create plenty of rich content
When your potential customers are searching for their dream trip, they’re most likely starting with some research. They might have a destination in mind but no idea which area of that destination they should pick. They’ll be looking for things like ‘where are the best beaches in Zanzibar’ or ‘which is better Hvar or Split’?
If your website is full of helpful information, based on the keywords that you know people are searching, you’ll be providing value to people before they even become your customers. You’ll be giving them what they need at the same time as establishing yourself as an expert in your field.
The more content you have, the more opportunities your website has to be found and ranked in search. Of course, the content you have needs to be high quality and original – don’t copy and paste from one of your pages to another, don’t build pages that only have a couple of sentences, don’t copy someone else’s content – all of these techniques will get you penalised in search, and they won’t provide anything of value to your visitors either.
Do create pages and guides to your destinations. Do write blog posts with helpful hints, tips and information. Make your posts interesting, useful and engaging. Stuck for ideas? Take a look at Google trends and see what topics people are interested in right now. Take a look at your sales trends for the last few months or years – when do people start booking Christmas holidays? You should start thinking about your Christmas content at that sort of time.
Use your keyword research to find the specific questions people are searching for. Try a site like Answer the Public to find questions that people type into search engines. If you can answer these questions, create some content.
This is an SEO technique that used to be vital, is still important, and may change in the future. Confusing enough?
Essentially, it used to be important to get as many links to your website as possible to make it rank higher in search. So, people set up link farms and websites that were just lists of links. Obviously, these weren’t aimed at anyone ever looking at them, they were just to get links. The search engines figured this out and started to penalise low-quality and spammy links. So now it’s important to get links from quality sites that are relevant.
Rumours abound within digital marketing that links will become less important over time. Or that the thing that will be important about them is whether or not they actually generate any traffic to your website.
So, does that mean you should forget about link building? Nope. But we’ll focus on quality over quantity – don’t just get a link anywhere you can, try and get them on sites that are authoritative and within your niche, where the visitors to that site will be more inclined to click on them.
How do you go about link building? Well, there are plenty of ways and techniques – we recommend this article from Moz, it’s a beginners’ guide to link building and it goes into far more detail than we could here. But all that good quality content you created in the last step? That’s a huge part of it.
Use your emails more effectively
This one comes after a customer has booked a holiday, so it may seem like a stage beyond digital marketing. But it’s an amazing opportunity for engagement and for customer service. Happy customers are advocates, and pre-travel customer service has a significant part to play in creating happy customers.
When someone books a holiday with you, how many emails do you send them before they go away? The answer should depend on how far in advance they booked their holiday. If you’re just sending the ‘thanks for booking’ email, maybe along with another one with important details or etickets, you’re missing a huge opportunity.
You don’t want to spam your customers but if you can add value in the build up to their holiday, you can generate loyalty and positivity before they even pack their suitcases.
Think about the things that matter to them before they go – do they need to book airport parking? Could they book airport lounges for a smoother start to the holiday? Are there any legal things they should be aware of in their destination? Vaping is illegal in Thailand, for example. Driving in France requires more than just a ‘GB’ sticker on the car – do your clients know that they also need to have high-visibility vests in the car in case of emergency?
These emails can be an opportunity for you to upsell your services, but they’re also a chance to deliver exceptional customer service. And with the right email platform, most of the work is automated, so you don’t have to remember to do anything.
When customers return home, do you ask them for feedback? Do you send them a link to the review site you use? Give them the opportunity to tell you how they felt. If they’re happy, that’s perfect. If not, it’ll give you chance to put things right or learn for next time – both are valuable.
If you’d like more information about any of these ideas, or want to discuss how to make your travel business fly, get in touch and we’d be happy to help.