In 2017 the global travel and tourism industry grew at an exponential rate, with consumer (business and leisure) travel spending contributing US$2.3-trillion and 109 million jobs to the global economy.

Despite this, the industry has faced a great number of changes in recent years, and has had to adapt accordingly.

Consumer behaviour has also changed due to real world events, both positive and negative.

That being said, the travel and tourism sector remains one of the most competitive verticals for both organic and paid search.

Given the changes we’ve seen in the past 12 months, and the SEO predictions for the coming year, these are my top pieces of actionable SEO advice for travel businesses in 2018.

As a caveat, these strategies and thoughts should never replace the basics of having a technically excellent website, good user experiences, and content that adequately satisfies the user query and provides value.

Get ready for, and understand the role, of voice search in the user journey

A lot of people are talking about voice search and how it’s changing the face of search.

Voice search was actually introduced by Google in 2010, but the process was clunky and a user had to call a number and state their keywords before going back to their desktop.

Voice search is going to disrupt user behaviour thanks to new devices making it more accessible, but understanding which phase of the user journey it’s likely to disrupt in travel is important.

Thankfully the process has become a lot more streamlined with the adoption of smart devices and personal assistants, so more users are using voice search.

Optimising for voice search is one thing, but understanding the role it plays in your user journey is another.

I’ve written in previous posts about search intent, and for me, as an industry moving the focus away from search volume to search intent is a step we need to take.

Travel is a very visual industry, and potential holiday makers take into account a plethora of factors before booking flights and a hotel.

At the moment, people are trusting voice search devices such as Alexa to purchase day-to-day goods, low value items such as socks and soap, and making informational queries that benefit their day-to-day lives.

Applying this to the travel industry, it’s unlikely in the short term that users will be converting directly through voice search, and more likely that they’ll be making informational based queries, such as “when is peak season in Mallorca?” or, “when is Kefalonia hottest?”

The question then, is if the voice assistant is vocalizing “results from the web” and you’re not getting a brand mention, or further interaction following the query – where is the value for you?

Changes to SERP layouts and features

Over the past year Google has increasingly made SERP results more personalised and dynamic to individual users, making it far more challenging for SEOs and marketers, especially in more competitive markets such as travel.

From November 2017 Google began to push out rich snippets in SERPS, which meant that there is now less room for traditional text-based listings.

Users are now treated to video, images, local map results, and featured snippets before they even get to what you would understand to be traditional results.

It’s important that travel companies and marketing agencies know how to mark up content so that they qualify for rich snippets.

Articles for example, can be featured in the Top stories carousel and rich results, but the Top stories carousel requires that content is published in AMP.

You can find out how to mark up different types of content in this official guide.

It’s also worth knowing that towards the back end of last year Google, also added a few new functions to Google Flights, and early in January, began informing users which flights would be the most likely to suffer delays.

Perhaps more importantly however, it also started informing travellers the number of restrictions that can vary on budget airlines, such as overhead space or the ability to select a seat.

It seems that these additions are largely targeted at travel start-ups and businesses that use big data to provide information and services to travellers.

This means of course, that travellers are being offered an array of new functionalities outside of traditional search, which means that marketers and SEOs alike must keep up to date with the latest additions and changes to sustain a level playing field.

Match your content to user needs

Everything said so far leads us to search intent, which is a both a crucial and delicate consideration when it comes to the travel market — especially when user intent can change all the time.

As the travel industry is constantly impacted by changes around the world, it already knows how to be flexible, but it needs to be able to reflect this online.

By placing yourself in the position of a prospective traveller, and searching for particular results using chosen keywords, you can view results populating the first page and analyse what is presented.

Be sure to view result blocks, knowledge panels, and featured snippets to ensure that you’re incorporating a diverse range of scenarios and results to match your queries.

User personalisation will play a role in what is returned, as SERPs will take into account a user’s location and search history, but this is all the more reason to understand customers and the ever-changing reasons behind their searches.

Many SEOs will talk about keyword search volume, and although this is a factor to consider, user intent for travel is becoming increasingly valuable — any updates or new features throughout Google and its apps will tell you that.