Mobile search

Covid Changes Everything – How Travel & Search are Affected

Our customers have inherently changed their conversion and research behaviour and this is a trend that is with us for the long haul (no pun intended).
A lot of big brand names have been publicly outed for their poor treatment of their core customer base; whether being slow with refunds or not offering refunds at all. There are two sides to the coin with this debate, but I would always argue that once a consumer has had a poor brand experience it is incredibly difficult (if not near impossible) to retain them at a future opportunity.

Add into the mix the physical changes to the search engines results page that have occurred since the beginning of the year; including two broad core algorithm updates and the addition of the Top Stories card to the list of Google features. Brands have a lot to compete within the post-Covid world, and no brands arguably have it more difficult than the travel vertical.

Enter me, the Senior Technical SEO Analyst for 3Sixty Digital. We specialise in optimising travel websites from conception to build to live, and into the future. I am going to talk you through the top 5 things you can be doing now to get ahead once the travel restrictions are lifted.

Optimise for the Covid-conscious consumer!

Working with data every day, I saw a massive surge of Covid related queries coming through my clients’ analytics profiles. From informational (Covid cases in Menorca) to reassurance (is it safe to travel to Japan?) and everything in between, the consumer consciousness was completely preoccupied with the Covid crisis; and understandably so.

Going forward we as an industry expect the consumer’s tolerance levels to be low and the need for purchase alibis to be notably high; it’s going to be a game of extremes for securing conversion for the majority of brands. This will be even more prevalent for new to brand transactions.

But what does optimising for these new, cautious website users look like?
In real terms, these users need a few very important alibis, including:

  • Dedicated landing pages. Think everything from purchase reassurances to terms & conditions, right the way through to the latest travel information.
  • Be transparent! Whether you can or can’t offer the user the appropriate purchase assurances, make sure you’re honest about it. A conversion acquired through dishonest means will cause more brand damage in the long run when things do go wrong.
  • Be findable. Don’t make your user go searching for the relevant Covid information. Have links in your main navigation and clear functional call-outs.

Managing your reputation beyond PR.

The world is watching right now.

Every poor review, every negative press mention; consumers can’t get enough. And it’s not just morbid curiosity at play. These consumers are collecting vital knowledge that will, at some point in the future, inform their purchase decisions.

Most of this information will be gathered by two methods; word of mouth via peers, and through organic searches. Where you have poor brand mentions online, users will find it.
So how do we counter this?

  • Utilise positive reviews. Have you given great customer service whilst managing the Covid chaos? Get your customers to write about it everywhere; social media, Trip Advisor, or any other searchable platform. Incentivising them with discounts is always a good way to ensure participation.
  • Feature and link out to reviews from the homepage, and consider adding reviews to your main navigation if it doesn’t live there already.
  • Make sure any accolades, awards and industry-specific logos are visible above the fold (top 30% of the page). This includes Abta, Atol, Travel Vault and any other memberships that will reassure users.

Now is the time to check your website speed!

With a big Google update on the horizon for 2021 which will affect the ranking ability of websites with poor performance, now is the time to ready your business.

Website speed has never been more important, not just for search engines but for human users too. The lower tolerance mentioned above also applies to how potential customers will respond to any delays in the length of time it takes for a web page to load, or the wait times to interact with elements on the page. In a post Covid world where website users are interrogating content in far more granular detail, they will lack the patience to wait for a page that can’t keep up with them.

Here are 2 free tools to check your website speed. Many things, like optimising images, you will likely be able to do yourself. Some more technical issues may need specialist support from an SEO or developer:

Content audits in a post pandemic industry

Making sure your content is on point will allow you to be up there ranking with (or ideally above) your competitors when lockdown ends. The search engine results page has always been competitive for those looking to acquire organic traffic. It is even more so now thanks to several algorithm updates and the addition of Covid specific features.

When we are talking content in an SEO sense, we are not just referring to body copy. We are mostly talking about Headers, meta fields, anchor text, navigation labelling and any other onsite markup that contributes to your SEO signalling. Here are a couple of self-service actions:

  • Log in to your analytics and identify pages that are not performing as well as you would have hoped
  • Check the meta fields for those pages. There is a great Chrome extension that makes this super easy. Is your meta description missing? And if not, is it engaging? With less SEO ‘weight’ than the meta title, its your opportunity to let your brand tone of voice shine
  • Make sure your brand suffix on your meta titles are consistent across the website and include your target term in the primary, secondary or tertiary position

Here is a free tool to measure the optimal pixel width (a fancy way of saying available length) for your meta fields and URL

Take on a tech project.

Structured data is predicted to be the next big thing in terms of ranking not just in the organic positions, but for the featured results that take up a lot of real estate in the search pages. Google has put a lot of effort into de-duping the results pages, with an early 2020 update ensuring that if you got the organic 1st position you no longer get a rich result by default. You now will need to make a choice between opting for the first organic snippet or optimising for the rich result using structured data.

In terms of competing with the distraction of paid ads, featured or rich results are a great part of your strategic toolkit, and the bonus here is.. Google has 2 tools to help you do this on your own, no coding required.

  • The structured data testing tool is going to help you to identify if you have any existing microdata on your site already. WordPress website owners may find that they have some existing data already in use.
  • The structured data helper is going to help you generate the code you need to mark up specific elements of your website for ranking. You toggle the element on the page and click the field that it correlates to.

Sounds complicated but it’s really very user intuitive and self-service. Once you have makeup all your items (like the business name, phone number, address and email contact in a footer for example) you export the code that Google has kindly generated for you and pop it in your website code, copy and paste style.

Whichever way we look at the Covid crisis and the impact on our vertical, it’s clear that for every change in user and search engine behaviour there are opportunities for us as businesses to learn, evolve and finesse our product and digital offerings.

As lockdown is lifted, we will keep you up to date with all the changes to search engine and digital marketing from the specific viewpoint of the travel industry.