The travel sector is one of the most competitive verticals when it comes to organic search.

With relatively low barriers to entry for most business models and an ever-growing and varying consumer base, it’s an appealing market to be a part of.

Earlier this year I wrote a post looking at how travel brands can be competitive this year, and then the world went into lockdown.

That being said, the three points I raised in this post are for me now even more important than ever.

In the new landscape travel brands need to be:

  • Engaging with influencers on new mediums.
  • Being open to new audiences and markets.
  • Leveraging micro-moments.

It’s also important to understand the current search landscape, take any learnings, and identify any correlations between the websites ranking well on search engines versus those ranking beyond Page 2.

Methodology

We took 1,000 of the most searched for travel queries in the UK from the past 3 years (to try and take into account changes in the vertical over the past 8 months).

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These keywords are a combination of:

  • [country] holidays
  • car hire [location]
  • cheap [location] city breaks
  • cheap flights [location]
  • cheap holidays [location]
  • cheap hotels [location]
  • flights to [location]

…and other more general phrases relating to month, trip duration, and level of boarding.

We then took these keywords and exported the 98,863 search results for them.

Using a combination of tools, scripts, and manual analysis, we looked for patterns and potential learnings that could benefit other websites within the travel sector (if not further afield).

From this analysis, we can then paint a picture of what a modern travel sector SERP looks like, with correlative data to measure against.

Competitive Spread

Given the breadth of keywords, and the diversified product portfolios of a large number of travel websites, I first wanted to look at the competitive spread at how often the same websites ranked for a variety of search phrases.

In total 11,373 unique domains ranked within the sample of 98,863 results.

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On average, each domain appeared 11 times within the total sample of search results, with the top three appearing 1,092 times, 1,024 times, and 958 times respectively.

Mobile Subdomains/Separate Mobile URI Paths

Notably, 89 of the 11,373 unique ranking domains were mobile subdomains/separate mobile URL paths.

As a whole sample, this represents 1,821 URLs from the total ranking set, with 236 ranking in the top 10 positions, and an average rank of 48.56.

Correlation Studies

Frequency of AMP Usage & Ranking Performance

AMP has been an opinion splitting topic since it’s conception.

In the travel sector, user experience and site load speed are important and often tricky given how visual travel websites are.

Travel sites need high-resolution imagery and dynamic elements (often being loaded through JavaScript).

For some, AMP is heralded as a white horse riding in with silver bullets to resolve all the speed worries.

Based on the sample of 98,863 results, only 7,217 (6.8%) that are ranking in the top 100 are AMP pages.

Out of the 7,217 AMP URLs in this sample:

  • 268 are on page one (positions 1-10).
  • 44 are in the top 3 positions.
  • 58.9 is the average rank.

So based on this sample, and this data, the two conclusions are that:

  • AMP is not a requirement to rank well within the travel sector.
  • The uptake of AMP within the travel sector isn’t high.

Rather than investing in AMP as a technology (which can be tricky given the AMP version of the page needs to be identical to the non-AMP version), you should use those resources to create a better, single, web experience with one HTML document.

Title Tags

It is relatively conclusive that a well-optimized title tag can influence and improve your chances of ranking well. In support of this are my own experiences, as well as a large number of studies that correlate this.

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As part of this data set, I’ve looked for correlations between ranking position and two elements of title tag optimization:

  • Title tag length.
  • The occurrence of the ranking keyword as an exact match within the title tag itself.

Title Tag Length

The average title tag length across the 98,863 ranking URLs was 46 characters (45.72 rounded up), with an average pixel width of 413 (412.76 rounded up).

For URLs ranking in the top 10 results, the average title tag length was 52 (51.64).

One page one there were significantly fewer title tags straying over the recommended 60 characters, indicating that a conscious effort had gone into optimizing these page elements.

Target Keyword in Title Tag

We then also looked at whether the target keyword had been included within the title tag itself.

We found:

  • 32.7% of title tags for the ranking URLs contained the keyword they ranked for.
  • 67.3% of title tags contained variations of, or didn’t contain, the keyword at all.

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For Page 1 (positions 1 to 10) ranked URLs, the number of URLs returning title tags containing the ranked keyword as an exact match increased to 46.4%.

The Modern Travel SERP

Based on this data, what can we infer that a modern-day travel SERP looks like?

We’ve known, and experienced, for a long time now that Google isn’t a linear Positions 1-10 and that it produces results and special content result blocks based on matching multiple multiple user intents.

Based on this analysis, the below indicates what a modern travel SERP will look like, based on probability of both the type of search result (commercial/non-commercial) and the frequency of Google special content result blocks, this way we can take into account the varied search intent of the queries that generated the 98,863 search results.

Across the keyword sample, a total of 10 different special content result blocks were surfaced (not including Google features such as Flights and Hotels).

The below table details how often these elements surfaced within the search results pages:

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SERP Feature Chance Of Appearing
Featured Snippets 2%
Thumbnails 88%
Knowledge Panel 2%
Map 10%
Local Teaser 10%
News 3%
Related Questions 36%
Reviews 66%
Video/Video Carousel 77%

Consolidating the Video and Video Carousel special content result blocks, it’s likely that video content will surface in three-quarters of searches made for travel queries, with one in three returning related questions.

The data also shows the need for using reviews (and potentially review schema) with two in three keywords surfacing review elements.

More Resources:


Image Credits

Featured Image: Created by author, August 2020





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